Archive for the ‘research’ Tag

Found in the Stacks   Leave a comment

December 18, 2017 – Research. Post an interesting fact or facts you’ve come across researching a book.

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One of the things I like best about being a writer is researching interesting topics that I wouldn’t ordinarily find the time to research.

Image result for image of libraryMy mother was a farm girl, but except for being forced to weed her garden when I was a kid, I didn’t know much about farming until I started writing books that involved farmers. Most of the population of Celdrya are farmers eking out a living with crude plows drawn by oxen. The town of Emmaus is surrounded by corn fields. I knew nothing about Medieval farming when I started Daermad Cycle and I knew nothing about corn farming when started Transformation Project. Now I know arcane knowledge like farmers try to save money by allowing corn to dry on the cob before harvesting. This will save some lives in the series.

In researching how the town would survive the apocalypse, I learned about silos and why so many of them are being converted to other uses today – my son tells me of an awesome bouldering club in a grain silo. I worked that into the story – what do you do with all that corn you’ve been sending to the mega silos for the last 30 years now that it is in your best interest to keep it local? You can’t just dig a hole in the ground and bury it because the damp of the ground will turn the corn into hominy. But there are silos that are built into the ground – they’re called bunker silos. You see a couple in the hillside during the opening scene of Guardians of the Galaxy 2. So there is a way to do it right.

In Daermad Cycle, a king is poisoned and dies. I spent a fair amount of time studying up on poisons. Padraig, the central figure in an ensemble cast, is an herbman so I had to learn about herbal treatments. My main race are the descendants of Celts who stumbled into an alternative universe a thousand years ago (in their time line). They call things by familiar names, but these items are not necessarily exactly what exists in our world. The Kin are indigenous to the world of Daermad and they have some very different items because they have never lived in the world we know. I’ve spent a lot of time researching swords, knives, Medieval clothing and horses for Daermad Cycle.

In Transformation Project both my main character, Shane, and his grandfather Jacob are pilots. I grew up on the edge of the flying community – 80% of Alaskan communities cannot be reached by roads, so we fly a lot. I have even taken flight training. I could keep a single-engine plane in the air and theoretically know how to land one, though I have never gotten to practice that part. I thoroughly enjoyed studying about the planes that work their way into the story.

There are so many different things to learn, but I thought I’d go into detail on just one. Martial law plays a big part in Transformation Project. I wanted to have my facts straight before I played with them so I googled “martial law in the United States.” and learned about President Obama signing Executive Order 13603, titled “National Defense Resources Preparedness.” To be totally fair, President Obama was merely tweaking an existing Executive Order that goes back all the way to the Truman administration. So, it’s been about 60 years since the government gave itself the authority to seize all US resources and persons, including during peacetime, for self-declared “national defense”. The president is authorized to delegate authority to various federal departments and agencies identify, confiscate and reallocate food, gasoline, machinery, medicine, water, and even people.

A Threatening Fragility Front CoverOf course, no US president has actually done this, though it ought to make us nervous that they think they have such authority. Let’s hope it never comes to that. In Transformation Project, it’s a key big bad, because the people in charge weren’t elected by anyone and yet they feel they have the authority to take food, medicine, and crops and conscript people into a workforce to make this happen.

What do you do when what you need to survive conflicts with official policy?

The people of Emmaus think they know the answer, but are they willing to pay the price?

Are actual Americans willing to put themselves in that position? No, it can’t happen here … until maybe it does and then maybe it’s too late. Since I’m planning more books in the series, you can surmise that at least some of the people in Emmaus survive … but how well they survive depends on how much of their resources they were able to hang onto.

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Seattle’s Minimum Wage Has Been a Disaster, as the City’s Own Study Confirms | Alex Tabarrok   Leave a comment

Image result for image of seattleThe Seattle Minimum Wage Study, a study supported and funded in part by the Seattle city government, is out with a new NBER paper evaluating Seattle’s minimum wage increase to $13 an hour and it finds significant disemployment effects that on net reduce the incomes of minimum wage workers. I farm this one out toJonathan Meer on FB.

 

Source: Seattle’s Minimum Wage Has Been a Disaster, as the City’s Own Study Confirms | Alex Tabarrok

 

This is the official study that was commissioned several years ago by the city of Seattle to study the impacts of raising the minimum wage, in a move that I applauded at the time as an honest and transparent attempt towards self-examination of a bold policy. It is the first study of a very high city-level minimum wage, with administrative data that has much more detail than is usually available. The first wave (examining the increase to $11/hr) last year was a mixed bag, with fairly imprecise estimates.

These findings, examining another year of data and including the increase to $13/hr, are unequivocal: the policy is an unmitigated disaster. The main findings:

– The numbers of hours worked by low-wage workers fell by *3.5 million hours per quarter*. This was reflected both in thousands of job losses and reductions in hours worked by those who retained their jobs.

– The losses were so dramatic that this increase “reduced income paid to low-wage employees of single-location Seattle businesses by roughly $120 million on an annual basis.” On average, low-wage workers *lost* $125 per month. The minimum wage has always been a lousy income transfer program, but at this level you’d come out ahead just setting a hundred million dollars a year on fire. And that’s before we get into who kept vs lost their jobs.

– Estimates of the response of labor demand are substantially higher than much of the previous research, which may have been expected given how much higher (and how localized) this minimum wage is relative to previously-studied ones.

– The impacts took some time to be reflected in the level of employment, as predicted by Meer and West (2016).

– The authors are able to replicate the results of other papers that find no impact on the restaurant industry with their own data by imposing the same limitations that other researchers have faced. This shows that those papers’ findings were likely driven by their data limitations. This is an important thing to remember as you see knee-jerk responses coming from the usual corners.

– You may also hear that the construction of the comparison group was flawed somehow, and that’s driving the results. I believe that the research team did as good of a job as possible, trying several approaches and presenting all of their findings extensively. There is no cherry-picking here. But more importantly, without getting too deep into the econometric weeds, my sense is that, given the evolution of the Seattle economy over the past two years, these results – if anything – *understate* the extent of the job losses.

This paper not only makes numerous valuable contributions to the economics literature, but should give serious pause to minimum wage advocates. Of course, that’s not what’s happening, to the extent that the mayor of Seattle commissioned *another* study, by an advocacy group at Berkeley whose previous work on the minimum wage is so consistently one-sided that you can set your watch by it, that unsurprisingly finds no effect. They deliberately timed its release for several days before this paper came out, and I find that whole affair abhorrent. Seattle politicians are so unwilling to accept reality that they’ll undermine their own researchers and waste taxpayer dollars on what is barely a cut above propaganda.

I don’t envy the backlash this team is going to face for daring to present results that will be seen as heresy. I know that so many people just desperately want to believe that the minimum wage is a free lunch. It’s not. These job losses will only get worse as the minimum wage climbs higher, and this team is working on linking to demographic data to examine who the losers from this policy are. I fully expect that these losses are borne most heavily by low-income and minority households.


Reprinted from Marginal Revolution

Posted July 21, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in Uncategorized

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The Numbers Are in and Cash Transfers Don’t Work   Leave a comment

Angela Rachidi (American Enterprise Institute)

Found on FEE

Government transfers of cash to individuals and families have received increased attention in recent weeks, possibly because the presidential election revealed a disgruntled working class and left policymakers scrambling to find solutions. Even before the election, scholars across the political spectrum were advocating for unrestricted cash transfers as a way to relieve some economic insecurity for those at the bottom. But a recent study shows, similar to past studies on the same topic, that unrestricted cash transfers reduce employment and have few measurable positive effects.

Treatment decreased the probability that participants work in a given year by 3.3%.

Image result for image of negative effects of basic incomeThe study by David Price and Jae Song studied the long-term (40-year) impacts of the Seattle-Denver Income Maintenance Experiment from the 1970s. Like other income maintenance programs during that time, the experiment provided unrestricted cash transfers to beneficiaries (quite sizeable if no other income was in the household), which provided a basic income no matter what other resources were in the household.

The contribution of this study is that it looked at outcomes for the adults who received the payments, as well as their children, 40 years after the experiment. From the study:

We find new evidence of significant effects on adults, decades after the experiment ended. On average, treatment decreased the probability that participants work in a given year by 3.3 percentage points (4.6% of the mean probability of working for adults in our sample), and decreased average annual earnings by $1,800 (7.4% of mean annual earnings). Treated adults were also 6.3 percentage points (20% of the mean) more likely to apply for disability benefits (either SSDI or SSI), but were not significantly more likely to be awarded benefits, or to have died.

The authors also found no long-term effects, positive or negative, on the children of families who received the cash payments.

Policymakers should consider the long-term impacts of cash assistance.

The experiment only lasted for 3 to 5 years, making it unclear whether a longer guarantee of basic income would have had the same effects. But consistent with past research, it showed that cash transfers without requiring work will lead to reduced employment and other possible negative outcomes.

Image result for image swiss reject universal basic incomeCurrent proposals to provide unrestricted cash transfers to families fail to acknowledge this reality. Proposals to provide assistance not linked to work, such as a basic child allowance (here and here) or basic income may only make things worse without considering the long-term consequences. As Price and Song conclude:

Guaranteeing a minimum income above the poverty line ensures that a family is not in poverty while the guarantee is in place, but it alone may not be a panacea to break the cycle of poverty. Taken together, our results suggest that policymakers should consider the long-term impacts of cash assistance. In [the Seattle-Denver Experiments], assistance does not cause large observable benefits for children, and may lead to unintended consequences for adults.

Source: The Numbers Are in and Cash Transfers Don’t Work

By the way, the Swiss were asked to vote on this earlier this year. Only 23% thought it was a good idea and it was rejected in all cantons. The Swiss are extremely practical and liberty minded and the entire country favors limited government.

Posted December 23, 2016 by aurorawatcherak in economics

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Delving into Alternatives   2 comments

A part of being a speculative fiction writer is that you must research the alternatives. The world we live in is not the world we see in fantasy or science fiction, but that world must be adjacent to be believable. I try to base my speculations on research because the master authors of my genres did that. Heinlein actually calculated the trajectories to get to Mars. Well, actually, Mrs. Heinlein did, but the fact is that the extra effort paid off in the book. It read authentic, possible.

I don’t ever want someone reading one of my books to say “That just isn’t possible” and to stop reading because their willing suspension of disbelief hung up on a basic fact.

The Open Book Blog Hop is discussing research this week. Join us.

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For this reason, I do a lot of research. When I decided to include a plane ride in Objects in View, I researched possible planes and decided which one Ren Sullivan (loosely based on a Koch brother) might own, how long it would take to fly to Wichita, how long of a runway it would need to take off and land, and how much cargo it could hold. I’m not a pilot or a airplane afficionado, but I grew up in Alaska where planes outnumbered cars for most of my life, so I knew enough to go in search of the information.

This year, I was invited to submit to an anarcho-capitalist anthology. Agorists have a spectrum of beliefs and philosophies that I am somewhat familiar with because I am a libertarian (small l intended). The anthology submission guidelines asked for a speculative historical fiction. I haven’t written historical fiction since I was a kid and my 5th grade teacher forced me to write a western. I describe that as the moment I became a writer instead of just a storyteller. So, while I don’t generally write historical fiction, I liked the speculative and agorist features, so I decided to go for it, by starting with the research, hoping that during it a character or three would appear to tell me their story. I officially researched more for that short story than I have researched for all of the Daermad Cycle. I happened to be reading a book about the US Constitution at the time I saw the call for submissions. I knew that there was a lot of controversy about the Constitution and that its ratification relied on certain key individuals and events. I also remembered a book I had read a long time ago saying something about a George Washington letter that would have blown the whole effort right out of the water. So I went looking for that letter and found my pivot point — the thing that was different that changed history. Of course, the difference between a conspiracy theory and a work of fiction is the details — the characters, the setting, the plot. I knew a lot of old Wyandot tales, but I know you shouldn’t trust the stories your parents told while sitting around the campfire, so I had to revisit the history of the Wyandots in Ohio. Then I had to learn everything I could about the first white settlement in Ohio.

Most of my research is done online these days because it is convenient, but a lot of my research involves reading books that most people avoid. Bastiat’s The Law and Rothbard’s Conceived in Liberty are just two of the books currently loaded on my laptop. Our university has an excellent library filled with bunches of old dusty books nobody reads anymore … except for a speculative fiction writer looking for outrageous ideas that have some research supporting them.

So far, I’ve focused on the research and methods, but I want to tell you about an unusual bit of research I did some years ago.

My mother’s family is really huge. Grandparents had six children, who each had children, and now their children and grandchildren have had children. One of my cousins died when I was four and I grew up with that death looming over us. Harry was apparently everybody’s favorite, a gregarious fellow, a war hero, a man shot and killed by a drug dealer who was acquitted of his murder. Harry was there to buy pot and the guy shot him because drug dealers are ravening wolves. I accepted that story growing up because I didn’t know any better.

One way that I deal with things that bother me, that get in under my skin, is to write about them, but in writing Harry’s story, I realized that I really didn’t know the story. I knew one side of the story. I felt like I needed to know the other side … the rest of the story. So, I spent part of a vacation visiting the County Records in Seattle Washington and dusting off a 20-year-old file. What a mind-blowing experience! It caused me to ask more questions and get more answers from the family.

I learned things about Harry that my family was denying. Harry may well have been a great guy before he was a soldier in Vietnam. His high school grades were top 10% of the class, and maybe he did some heroic things as a soldier, but mostly, he got addicted to heroin. I was already familiar with that scourge from a friend who had also served in Vietnam and stayed very far away from the stuff. A lot of guys came back from the Nam addicted. The locals there mixed heroin or opium in with marijuana or tobacco and GIs could buy a little nirvana to relax with. Later, they’d come back to the States and want more, so they would turn — usually, first to codeine cough syrup and then to street heroin.

Harry was one of those guys. On leave between tours, he went AWOL and my aunt had to go find him in some waster joint in New Mexico. Harry’s CO liked him, so he skipped the brig and returned to duty, but not long after he was dishonorably discharged for dereliction of duty. My mother’s first husband brought him to Alaska for a summer in 1958 and he worked as a shovelman on Gold Dredge #8. He did fine that summer and Mom wanted him to stay, but stole money from her husband to return to Seattle where he started using heroin again. He stole from his parents, my grandmother, and his aunts. He was forbidden to come on my uncle’s property. He kicked around, did a lot of odd jobs, failed a lot, but somehow managed not to be arrested. There was no war on drugs yet. There were just veteran wasters wandering the streets.

Then came a night in 1964 when Harry needed drugs, but had no money. He broke into the home of a drug dealer with whom he was acquainted. The drug dealer caught him. Apparently, this drug dealer, while known to be a dealer by local police didn’t traffic in heroin or cocaine. He was strictly a pot dealer, which pre-WOD, meant the police didn’t really care about him. Harry was a big man, tall, trained in hand-to-hand combat, and his need for drugs made him aggressive. The drug dealer didn’t have heroin, but Harry wouldn’t hear that. He grabbed a big brass candlestick and threatened the man. The dealer was as clever as he was terrified for himself and his family. He said “okay, I have some in my den. Come with me.” His thought was to get this aggressive psychopath away from his kids and wife. When he unlocked the desk, he pulled out a gun and told Harry to leave. This had worked in the past with similar idiots, but this time, Harry lifted that candlestick and shouted “I’m going to rip your head off.” A single gunshot center of mass ended Harry’s life.

There was a trial and even my aunt, Harry’s mother, spoke up for the drug dealer. “He had a right to protect his family,” Harry’s dad told me during my research. “If I’d been in that situation, I would have done the same.”

The point is that research doesn’t always take us to the places we want to go or even the fantasies we want to believe. Sometimes it takes us to dark and uncomfortable head spaces where we ask difficult questions and receive fraught answers. Writers shouldn’t flinch from that. We’re the ones who reveal the truth by wrapping it up in a fiction. (Camus)

As a speculative fiction author, I try to see the world that is behind the comfortable facade we’ve convinced ourselves exists. I tear through that veil by research that goes a little deeper than the facade and sometimes find the worms of society hiding behind the veil.

Research   Leave a comment

This week’s blog hop topic is the most interesting research you’ve ever done.

I love research, by the way. I’d do it if I wasn’t a writer, but it wouldn’t be nearly so focused because I have vast and varied interests. Maybe that’s an outgrowth of being a writer … or maybe that love of research predisposed me to write. It’s a chicken and egg scenario, I guess.

My fantasy project, Daermad Cycle, started out with researching Celtic names for our daughter. My husband’s family are Boston Irish Catholic, so they bred like bunnies and they used up many of the Celtic names then repeated some of them to the point of nausea. My mother’s family is also large and they have a rule — you can’t name a child for someone still living in the family. This prevents the Sr/Jr, little-big, Stephen-Steve-Stevie syndrome. So, when Brad (not his real name) said “Let’s give her an Irish name,” I had a huge need for research.

For the purposes of this blog, our daughter’s name is Bri (Brianne being her actual middle name), but her real first name was taken from an aunt of mine who had died several years before. That name is very ancient, a Celtic-French name that came to the Americas with the French voyageurs and got mixed into my grandmother’s Wyandot Indian culture. It’s so old-fashioned that it sounds new and it sounded very French — until I researched it and learned it has Irish equivalents and goes back into European Celtic culture.

By the time I finished researching the topic, I had learned all about the Celtic pantheon of deities and culture and that kicked around in my head demanding an outlet that opened one rainy afternoon while listening to Enya.

Perhaps my most interesting research is the one I’m doing currently for a short story for submission to an agorist anthology. The assignment in short is to write a piece of speculative historical fiction by pinpointing an event in history that was significant and changing some element that would have been a benefit to the development of agorist society. Agorists share many of the features of anarcho-capitalists … they support the dissolution of the state to be replaced by a capitalistic based society that has rules without rulers. A part of the assignment is to show agorism, voluntaryism  or the principle of non-aggression working in this scenario.

There are many different points in history that I could choose to make a change. I started with three. One of those was the question – “What would have happened if the US Constitution had not replaced the Articles of Confederation?” I circled the question a few times because this is a short story, so I can’t explore all the ramifications of that alternative scenario. I finally settled on a very specific possible outcome of that alternative history.

My mother’s tribe, the Wyandot, lived in Ohio at the time. If the Constitution had not been ratified, how might that have affected my mother’s people?

This opened up a whole area of research I had not considered before. When you grow up with stories, they are just part of the family history, but when you dig into the actual history, you learn a lot that was not previously known. It wasn’t just the Indians who would be affected and I really needed to answer the question of why the Constitution might not have been ratified.

There’s a lovely kettle of worms in this topic because the Constitutional convention was technically illegal, some states resisted it strongly and would have continued to do so if they’d had been given even a small reason to do so. For example, did you know that George Washington wanted to be king of the United States? I know. We don’t learn that in school. But in the spring of 1787, before the Constitutional Convention, he and Alexander Hamilton were writing to one another. Amid complaints of rheumatism and a desire to work on his estate, Washington agreed that the United States was in desperate need of an “executive” similar to the one we’d just overthrown in England and that he would, if necessary, agree to be that person, if they could find a way to couch it in terms the public would accept.

Wow! What if that letter had become public prior to the ratification fight? Hamilton’s letters as Publius would have been viewed much more suspiciously. Patrick Henry might have been moved to actually speak out for the anti-federalist side. The stress might have made James Madison (known for a nervous stomach) too ill to do his part in writing letters. What’s more, it is well-known that certain of the Ohio Company were monetarily influencing Congress — the President of Congress in 1787 became the Governor of the Northwest Territories in 1788. Washington owned lands in Ohio, so had a vested interest in that. One of the main arguments for the Constitution was that the country needed a standing army that could crush the Indian uprising. The discovering of a letter where two key figures were conspiring to establish an American monarchy might well have prompted Congress to investigate what was actually going on, which might have resulted in the failure of ratification, thus leaving the Articles of Confederation in place. That document was not the colossal failure that it is sometimes made out to be … for example, it could be amended but only with agreement from all the states.

Of course, the Americans were not the only ones who might have been affected. I needed to research the Wyandot and the other Ohio area tribes and the key figures who might have interacted with the white settlers at what become Marietta, Ohio. I learned a lot about my mother’s people and the history of that time. Family “legends” sometimes didn’t agree with history, but they also added much of the fictional intimate details that make the story readable. I found a treasure trove of tribal stories on the tribe’s website that halfway agreed with what I already knew, but there was also a lot of room for fiction to blossom.

I have not yet submitted my story to the anthology, so I don’t know if it will meet the requirements, but I am very pleased with having done the research and with the story that I am now editing. I learned some fascinating facts and came to the conclusion that this was perhaps THE most pivotal point in American history that might well have had far reaching consequences for Euro-American and Native-American relations, but also with American relations worldwide. If things had gone differently along the Ohio River, that might well have set a different table for how things would have progressed as the United States grew. Imagine no northern (and possibly no southern) Trail of Tears. Imagine no Indian genocide on the Plains. Imagine if white settlers had been forced by a lack of military power to negotiate with the Indians rather than force them off the land. And that’s just the one branch of the historical tree that would have been different. There are many, many more.

Having now done more research for a short story than for all of the Transformation Project, I am considering writing a speculative fiction novel based on the premise of “What if the illegal Constitutional Convention of 1787 had not changed our course of government?”

Calling All Trump Supporters   11 comments

Why are you voting for Trump?

I’m curious. I am not a Trump supporter and don’t see that position changing, but I do want to know what others see in him. I don’t just assume that anyone who supports him is a nut. I think you-all must have valid reasons for your choice, reasons that largely escape me.

This is your forum to explain it to me. If I get enough responses, I’ll probably blog on my findings, so you might as well be honest and let’s see where that takes us.

Why are you voting for Trump?

Posted March 22, 2016 by aurorawatcherak in politics, Uncategorized

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Writer Sweat Equity – Research   1 comment

Thom Stark and I began a conversation following his author interview with me here and here (which I intend to run in its entirety some Wednesday when I need an author interview. It was far ranging, from writing topics to politics and religion. I intend to share these with my readers on Thursdays.

 

 

Thom StarkLELA: I enjoyed the part of May Day by Thom Stark that I’ve read so far, by the way. I could definitely see myself as a fan of the series. I like political thrillers when they’re well done. You clearly have done your research and you present some very striking images of what such a terrorist attack would look like. My hat’s off to you for a phenomenal work of future fiction.

THOM: Thank you. Like most writers, I love it when my work is praised by other authors.

Research is something I strongly believe should be a critical element of the writer’s tool chest – one that he or she should use early and often. It’s every bit as important as, say, a thesaurus, a spell checker, or a dictionary. Or a knowledge of proper grammar and punctuation, for that matter. The keys are to learn enough about a given subject to know how much to tell the reader about it, and to make sure that what you tell them is as factually correct as possible. That helps build the bond of trust between you that allows the reader to let go of his or her skepticism and enter fully into the world you’re creating.

In Robert A. Heinlein’s classic juvenile novel The Rolling Stones, he and his wife Virginia painstakingly worked out the orbital mechanics of a Hohmann Earth/Mars transfer orbit, using the Moon to slingshot the Stone family’s spacecraft into the proper trajectory. It was a major job of calculation at a time when there were no desktop computers, or even scientific handheld calculators. They did it all using slide rules and an astronomical ephemeris (and it’s worth noting that Ginny did most of the work, because, as Heinlein frequently noted, she was the better engineer of the two). They certainly didn’t expect his teenage readers to check their equations – or even to understand them, for that matter – but they put in the necessary skull sweat, because Bob Heinlein was convinced that getting the mechanical details right would help make the 21st Century human civilzation he was painting all the more believable to his readers. And he was right, too. As someone who read that book in 1959, I can attest to that.

 

DSC01494LELA: I definitely agree with the importance of research. My only published novel is a fantasy. Many people think that fantasy is just made up in the writer’s head, but I’ve researched Celtic mythology, poisons, hawks, horses, cheeses, clothing, hot springs, railroad tunnels and a whole host of other subjects in order to build the world of Daermad so that it makes sense. Whether a horse can see in color matters if one of your characters can actually talk to the horse and, while it might not matter to most readers, to the one reader who knows something about horse vision, it will be the difference between willing suspension of disbelief or spending the rest of The Willow Branch watching for my next mistake.

Heinlein is an example of a writer who never disappointed me with his writing and now I know why. I did not know that story and I am very impressed.

What sort of research went into writing The American Sulla trilogy? 

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