HEART(S) OF DUMBNESS: The associate professor saw right through the ruse!

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 15, 2019

The dumbness of all human tribes:
On Sunday morning, October 6, the New York Times published Monica Potts' unflattering portrait of Clinton, Arkansas, the small rural town in which she was born and raised.

You could almost tell the profile would be unflattering by the headline the New York Times placed on the unflattering piece:

In the Land of Self-Defeat, the unflattering headline read. By paragraph 5, we were expressly told that people in Clinton, Arkansas are frequently driven by "an attitude that is against taxes, immigrants and government, but also against helping your neighbor."

The unflattering essay was given great prominence. It appeared on the front page of the Times' weekly Sunday Review.

One week later, on Sunday, October 13, the Times published nine letters about the Potts essay. Eight of the writers seemed to have noticed that her profile of her home town was, on balance, unflattering.

One dissenter had seen through the ruse! His letter was published at the top of the list. And even as he saw through the ruse, he sang a familiar old song:
To the Editor:

Ms. Potts’s article about her small town in Arkansas fits into a genre of reporting that has flourished since the 2016 election in which sympathetic writers, often raised in Trump country, attempt to explain why people in rural America vote against their interests. Often these are written by people who themselves left these places because they were too small, too conservative and too narrow-minded.

In her effort to elicit an empathetic response from readers, Ms. Potts focuses on her subjects’ belief in self-reliance, hostility toward the city and conviction that they have to rely on themselves. Yet she neglects a very important fact. The rural conservative white voters who support Mr. Trump and are so opposed to federal spending often live in states that receive far more than their share of federal funds, especially in relation to those states with larger urban populations.

They don’t really oppose federal spending. They oppose federal funding for black people and others in cities. Perhaps if they were serious in their belief in self-reliance, they would vote to reject the federal funds that come to their state, and it could be used better in states that want it.
So went this, the letter which sat atop the list of nine. According to the Times, "the writer is an associate professor of labor studies at Indiana University South Bend."

For what it's worth, the writer isn't one of these fiery young kids; he received his Ph.D. from Boston University in 1988. He taught at SUNY-Empire State and at UMass-Amherst before coming to Indiana in 2002.

We were surprised, yet not surprised, by the professor's letter. Somewhat amazingly, he apparently thought that he had read as essay by a "sympathetic writer" who was trying to elicit "an empathetic response from readers" concerning the values and motives of the people of her old home town.

The professor had seen right through this attempt to make us sympathize with these appalling yokels. He went on to explain the real reason for the fact that the people of Clinton, Arkansas had ended up paying their librarian $19 an hour, not the $25 Potts found more appropriate:

What really drives the roughly 2500 people of Clinton, Arkansas? According to the associate professor, it's really their opposition to black people in cities!

In fairness, Potts had played this card herself, starting in her third paragraph. She never presented any evidence or information regarding the racial views of these pitiful bumpkins, but she had floated the card, though apparently not as aggressively as the associate professor would have liked.

Let's back up at this point. This letter was written by a professor who apparently thought that Potts was trying to elicit sympathy for the people of Clinton, Arkansas, many of whom did indeed vote for Donald J. Trump.

None of the other letter writers seemed to think that they'd read such a piece. But in this case, as in so many others, Associate Professor Knows Best!

The associate professor let us know what actually motivates the people of Clinton, Arkansas. He didn't even have to go there to check! He pretty much knew just because!

We're prepared to suggest that this featured letter was rather ugly and remarkably dumb, tilting toward a word we rarely use here—just plain f*cking stupid. We're also prepared to suggest that the professor was playing a very familiar card, and that his somewhat ugly letter represents one of the ways our own self-defeating tribe helped elect Donald J. Trump.

Also this:

Why might some people in Clinton look down on academic credentials? Could it be because they've read letters and essays of this very type from this type of professor before?

The associate professor struck us as especially unpleasant and especially narrative driven. By the ongoing rules of the game, Those People simply have to be racist! It's the story our own tribe most dearly loves.

To what extent are Those People in Clinton actually racist? We can't tell you that. Potts made no attempt to puzzle that out, though she sprinkled the accusation through her piece, starting in her third paragraph. The professor's pique stemmed from the fact she hadn't played this card aggressively enough.

In a remarkably uncharitable moment, Potts did say that people in Clinton tend to be "against helping your neighbor." Later, she added this:
POTTS (10/6/19): [T]he fight over the library was rolled up into a bigger one about the library building, and an even bigger fight than that, about the county government, what it should pay for, and how and whether people should be taxed at all. The library fight was, itself, a fight over the future of rural America, what it meant to choose to live in a county like mine, what my neighbors were willing to do for one another, what they were willing to sacrifice to foster a sense of community here.

The answer was, for the most part, not very much.
Poor Potts! What were her neighbors willing to do for one another? "Not very much," she revealed, bemoaning the way they'd failed to agree with her view concerning librarian pay.

Just for the record, the knuckle-dragging people of Clinton had built the new library in question just a few years before. This fact wasn't allowed to get in the way of the strangely unflattering portrait Potts chose to paint—strange in that she was willing to base such an unflattering portrait on this one relatively trivial matter, with a couple of Facebook comments cherry-picked for color and the illusion of validation.

On the basis of this small-bore salary dispute, Potts painted a very unflattering portrait of people who won't "do for one another." By the way, are These People willing to do for one another through their local churches?

Like you, we have no idea, nor are we especially interested in seeing the question explored. That said, we'll guess that Potts may not be the leading authority on this matter. Right at the start of her essay, she semi-complained about the fact that people in Clinton are "very religious."

That's another Standard Complaint From Our Own Self-Defeating Tribe. Snide remarks of that type down through the years also helped elect Trump.

We read a lot of comments to the Potts essay. In fairness, a lot of the comments did strike us as extremely narrow-minded and judgmental, but we're referring to comments from our own self-impressed, self-defeating clam.

People are tribal all over the world. People are narrow-minded within all human tribes.

Anthropologists keep coming to us to remind us of such facts. They even say our own tribe is wire such ways—is wired for judgmental dumbness and for self-defeat.

It's hard to say that these credentialed future experts are wrong. Then again, we've been alive for the past thirty years, and we've watched our own spectacularly useless "heart of dumbness" in action.

The other tribe is so dumb and so vile! It's the oldest of all "human" stories!

The associate professor typed it up, and it went to the top of the pile.

In search of the deadbeat people and states: In terms of federal expenditures versus federal receipts, Arkansas is one of the major deadbeat states, though it certainly isn't the worst.

How much of that money goes to people in Clinton? To the people who wanted to pay $19 per hour rather than the plainly more appropriate 25? To the handful of people who made the cherry-picked comments on Facebook? To the disappeared citizens who agreed to build the new library in the first place?

Like the professor and the people of Clinton themselves, we have no idea. The professor was simply singing a song which one group of haters most loves.

We humans form tribes, then find ways to hate. This impulse is frequently self-defeating.

We've been told these things by top anthropologists. Admittedly, they speak to us, despondently, from a dystopian future.

47 comments:

  1. "The associate professor struck us as especially unpleasant and especially narrative driven."

    Meh. Just a garden variety liberal zombie. Same as the Monica Potz woman.

    You know so much about your zombie cult, dear Bob; why are you still in it?

    And why are you still using weak euphemisms, like 'unpleasant', in describing your fellow zombies? It doesn't reflect the reality.

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  2. I see a new red hat coming for the 2020 election:
    Make America a Place Where The Connection Between Religion And Bigotry Isn't So Obvious Again

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  3. "The professor was simply singing a song which one group of haters most loves."

    Other than showing that the people of Clinton welcome federal funding when it doesn't help black people, the professor doesn't back up this charge with any facts at all.
    Bob, meanwhile, makes the opposite argument, while citing the fact that calling these people "racists" makes him sad.

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  4. http://alicublog.blogspot.com/2019/10/youngest-living-reagan-democrat-tells.html

    This is the kind of story Somerby should be criticizing.

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    Replies
    1. TDH writing a story criticizing a conservative's column in the NYY ? Hardly, TDH's specialty is defending the likes of Moore, Johnson and Trump.

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  5. Answering on delta of federal dollars.

    Fall of 2016, early September actually. Decided to drive with my first born to her college on the West Coast. Cross country, from the north east. Slow drive, 7 days for 3000 miles.

    Late evening, very very small place in Wyoming. Route 26. Stopped to fill up. The gas station was the place in this town - grocery store, liquor store (beer wine), and partitioned off place to eat pizza, burgers, fried chicken. Must be 7-7.30, the church next door let out a a bunch of kids. All ages. They walked into the gas station, with books and bags. Some explored the aisles. Some sat down at the table and continued with their assignments. Some ordered food (which when ready you pick up at the counter). Some just sat. Slowly parents came to pick up their kids.

    These folks, they never asked for midnight basket ball or tax payer funded care for kids. If they had issue with drinking water or crime, they likely handled it. They made a society where they could trust their kids to the care of a gas station! That single mom who picked up her boy did not begrudge my fancy car or school bound daughter. It was a very small town, may be two street lamps.

    Will never forget that gas station scene.


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    1. You see self-reliance, I see stupidity. Why couldn't the kids wait at the church until parents came for them? It is 7:30 at night, not after school. What "assignments" are they doing?

      I'll bet the school still has school buses. If it were after school, wouldn't you prefer that your kids wait for you at a public library or after school program and not hang out at the local beer/wine fast-food place, where kids tend to be vulnerable to early drinking, drug abuse (because dealers congregate there too) and bullying or abuse by older kids/men?

      You have no idea what else this town offers its kids, but how on earth would you know whether they ever asked for anything? If they were at church, this is a religious activity, not typically eligible for government subsidy.

      Who do you think helped pay for the street lamps, the highway, the farm subsidies, the actual schools? Did they refuse the money for that too?

      Although, if kids did spend their time in gas stations instead of schools or libraries, it would explain a lot about why WY votes red and why its people are (according to @12:59) too stupid to accept federal dollars for basketball courts.

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    2. Uh, you do that a great deal of the Mountain West was built and funded with Federal Tax dollars, and even now sucks off the federal teat with grazing rights and the like ?

      Delete
  6. Somerby, in his great wisdom, thinks you must go to Clinton Arkansas and interview each and every person before you can attribute racism to any of them.

    Then he mocks and kicks professors again, for not making that journey, although that is exactly what Potts did.

    And he calls this professor not just stupid, but "fucking stupid". For calling Southern people racist, as if he had done them a terrible wrong. Earth to Somerby, there are racist people in the South. The only question is whether and to what extent there are also racist people in the North.

    But I think people in rural areas don't want to pay appropriate wages because they resent others having what they cannot themselves attain. It is envy and resentment that kept them from giving that librarian a reasonable salary (commensurate with her education and responsibility, not with what everyone else gets as an average wage in Clinton). The comment about the racism of Clintonites comes from Potts's interview in which voters resent lazy professionals and freeloaders in cities, which is code for black people and minorities.

    Somerby, like deadrat, thinks we should take at face value the coded language now used to camouflage racism. He seems to think anyone writing a letter about the South must go there and administer a racism test before expressing an opinion. Even though he has not done so himself and thus has no basis for refuting this professor's assertions. Where is Somerby's evidence that these people are not racist, when they have a history of behaving in racist ways that goes back to the beginning of their state's history? They have not earned a pass on racism.

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    1. 'The only question is whether and to what extent there are also racist people in the North.'

      Of course there are. Somerby is example no. 1

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    2. Somerby, like deadrat, thinks we should take at face value the coded language now used to camouflage racism.

      Please quit telling me what I think. That’s my job.

      I don’t think we should take at face value coded language for racism. I do think that coded language requires a key of context. When Reagan gave a speech ostensibly about states’ rights at a county fair just outside Philadelphia, Mississippi, no one paying attention could have honestly thought this was a talk on American federalism.

      You have no such key in this instance. Your claim that small-town Arkansas residents think black people are “lazy professionals” is laughable.

      Where is Somerby's evidence that these people are not racist…?

      Sorry, but this is as dumb as anything said in Clinton, Arkansas. TDH isn’t making a claim that “these people” are not racist; he doubts the letter-writer’s claim that they are. The letter-writer has made a claim and it’s the letter-writer who bears the burdens of production and proof. TDH doesn’t believe those twin obligations have been met.

      You figure that the people in Clinton, Arkansas must be racist because “they have a history of behaving in racist ways that goes back to the beginning of their state's history.” You have to go back about 190 years to get to that beginning. Must be a lotta really old people in Clinton.

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    3. I never interpreted Potts' essay as arguing that the opposition to paying for a librarian or for a mild property tax increase was coded racism (in fact, she explicitly argued it was more complicated than that). What I took instead was that the decline/hard times of the region, compounded by the collapse of shale oil, had ingrained a narrow mindset in the residents that was suspicious of any public expenditures as "wasteful", even it ultimately benefited them.
















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    4. And what had "ingrained a narrow mindset" in you and in Miss Potts, to insist that any public expenditures "ultimately benefited" the residents -- when the residents themselves believe otherwise?

      Do you always think you know what's good for other people?

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    5. "Do you always think you know what's good for other people?"

      Good question from the forced pregnancy brigade. Good. in the sense it highlights their hypocrisy, of course.

      Delete
  7. "How much of that money goes to people in Clinton? To the people who wanted to pay $19 per hour rather than the plainly more appropriate 25? To the handful of people who made the cherry-picked comments on Facebook? To the disappeared citizens who agreed to build the new library in the first place?"

    Somerby hopes you will not have read Potts article. She carefully explains that the libarary construction was started during a shale oil boom that gave the town extra money, allocated toward the library when the town was flush. Then financial conditions changed because of a decline in shale oil revenues and the new vote about the librarian's salary was being made during harder times for the entire town.

    But $25 isn't a huge salary for a head librarian in any city and it is tiny for a bi-coastal elite. (Aside, my daughter made $25/hr as a tutor while in college 20 years ago.) It is an appropriate salary in Clinton, given that town's economy and it reflects austerity. The people should have voted that much because it was right.

    Did they not vote her an appropriate salary because she was female? Did they not vote her an appropriate salary because she was black (Potts doesn't say)? Why does anyone, even in Clinton, think that people should work for so much less than they deserve?

    A liberal would argue this case on the merits -- that work deserves fair pay and this isn't fair. Potts does that. But she also makes a larger case about illogical voting that defeats the needs of the citizens in Clinton. Somerby ignores that to chase a professor who called Clintonites racist (which they probably are, along with sexist, anti-intellectual, and undereducated, because that's what Trump voters are like).

    If Somerby were liberal, had any affinity for Bernie, the labor issue would jump out at him. But I suspect Somerby has no problem with underpaying women and likes to see them humbled by being forced to either quit or work for $19/hr (nearly the same as a Walmart worker). Why should she, with her uppity big-city training and her modern ways, get to live on any more than Jeb at the gas station? Who does she think she is, with her literacy and multiple college degrees? Bi-coastal trash!

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    1. The point is if people are not willing to do very much for their neighbors in Clinton, why did they build the library in the first place?

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    2. @2:03
      That isn’t the point. The library was built when times were good. Now that times are bad again, the library is at risk.

      The library is a symbol of the unwillingness of the more well-to-do to pay even a little more in taxes to fund community services. The town of Clinton, Arkansas is dying, and yet the residents not only refuse to raise taxes to improve their city, many also express a hostility to educated people with master’s degrees having the audacity to make more than the average wage in the county. That attitude doesn’t help improve the community. On the contrary, it means that it will continue to languish because it won’t attract new people, nor does it encourage ambitious residents to stay. And this attitude is distinctly political, often fostered by people who have ulterior motives.

      Private acts of individual charity undoubtedly happen all the time, but they happen against a backdrop of continuous decay and increasing isolation.

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    3. ''If Somerby were liberal, had any affinity for Bernie, the labor issue would jump out at him'

      Somerby is not a liberal. He is a clueless, lying, Trumpanzee.

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    4. Somerby hopes you will not have read Potts article....

      Opposum, how much into the article did you, yourself, read? You write:

      Did they not vote her an appropriate salary because she was black (Potts doesn't say)?

      Right, Potts didn't "say" whether their opposition to a $25/hr wage rate for the head librarian was because she was black. Instead, the article did leave a pretty big clue as to whether that was the reason: LINK

      Delete
    5. You feel confident judging this woman's ethnicity from that photo? I sure don't.

      Delete
    6. The library may be a symbol, but we can be sure that it’s a building, one that apparently the citizens of Clinton, Arkansas are having trouble paying for. If the town is indeed, as you say, “dying,” then why isn’t their refusal to raise taxes a refusal to pay money they themselves don’t have?

      It’s all well and good to tut-tut about how the community attitude won’t help improve things and indeed will cause continued languishing. But I suspect the continuing decay and isolation of rural communities arise from larger, external sources that the “best” local attitudes in the world are helpless to combat.

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    7. @deadrat
      Of course there are external factors weighing on rural areas. But there are well-to-do people in every county and community who, when faced with revenue drying up, refuse to contribute any extra. These people are often called “Republicans.” Rural areas deserve to be helped, but the local citizens who can afford it need to pitch in as well. The solution isn’t going to be found by opposing all tax increases, local, state, and federal, but that is the mindset in many conservative areas. And it certainly doesn’t help when they drive educated people away. That is counterproductive.

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    8. But there are well-to-do people in every county and community who, when faced with revenue drying up, refuse to contribute any extra. These people are often called “Republicans.”

      I couldn’t find 2016 election results for Clinton, Arkansas, but Clinton is the county seat of Van Buren Country, which voted 73% Republican. Very few of these voters are “well-to-do.” I had to stitch together several tables of demographic data for Clinton, but I estimate that about 10% of the population of Clinton has an annual income over $50K. That’s about 155 people. (Margins of error are high for earnings data, maybe 10%-15%.) Nobody reports over $100K per year.

      (For comparison, about 30% of the US population earns over $50K/yr.)

      These well-to-do people in Clinton, Arkansas who could save the library and pay the librarian what she’s worth outside Arkansas are figments of your hypothetical. More people in Clinton don’t have a high school diploma than have bachelors degrees or higher. The seven years before 2018 saw a slow trickle of people leave the city. In 2018, the city added six more souls.

      Regressive taxes are already high — 9% sales tax, of which Van Buren gets 2.5%. Income taxes are low and have been cut, the result being that the state shares less with its counties. Potts mentioned the shale oil boom. In case you’re wondering how that works, the owners of mineral rights pay property tax. Not to mention the influx of oil and gas workers who paid the sales tax.

      When the boom was over, Van Buren was left with trashed roads, and Clinton had contaminated drinking water from the hydraulic fracking. Civic dedication to abstract ideals can’t save Clinton from immiseration.

      As the bard sings, “Anyone with any sense had already left town.”

      Delete
  8. The Times was repeating the old canard:

    "Conservatives think liberals are good people with wrong ideas"

    "Liberals think conservatives are bad people with wrong ideas"

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    Replies
    1. All those hate-filled mobs at Trump rallies think liberals are "good people"?

      Another lie brought to you by another troll.

      Delete
    2. You have a good point, @1:33. That aphorism may be outmoded. Some conservatives no longer assume good faith on the part of liberals. E.g., why do liberals support policies that harm blacks? In the old days, conservatives thought the reason was lack of understanding. Today, racism is more viewed as the reason.

      Bob Somerby doesn't go quite that far, but he does accuse liberals of not really caring about black children.

      Delete
  9. Potts, who grew up in Clinton, Arkansas, and lives there now, versus Somerby, safely ensconced in his bicoastal elite ivory tower, and who has never set foot in Clinton, Arkansas.

    Maybe deep down Somerby is afraid Potts is right about these people. Did that thought ever occur to him? How would he know, if his idea of the rural white working class comes from Ken Burns documentaries and Hee Haw?

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  10. The Left is becoming a cult of sanctimony,disingenuous profiteering & fake purity

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  11. "We read a lot of comments to the Potts essay. In fairness, a lot of the comments did strike us as extremely narrow-minded and judgmental, but we're referring to comments from our own self-impressed, self-defeating clan."

    Somerby seems to be speaking also to the commenters on this message board.

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    Replies
    1. It is just that one troll here. Posts under a bunch of different names. Totally full of s*** Lawyers Guns and Money robot

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    2. Anyone who votes to increase a librarian's salary or to build a library has a right to feel self-impressed. It is those who denigrate learning who are self-defeating, since every single advance that humanity has made over time has been the result of the kind of investment in learning represented by libraries.

      Delete
    3. Does a library provide better service if the librarian gets a bigger salary?

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    4. "Does a library provide better service if the librarian gets a bigger salary?"

      If you were really a capitalist, and not the communist you think you aren't, you wouldn't have to ask that question.

      Delete
  12. 'and that his somewhat ugly letter represents one of the ways our own self-defeating tribe helped elect Donald J. Trump.'

    Of course your tribe of clueless, lying, Trumptards .. er Trumpanzees helped Trump, Somerby !

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  13. Bob,
    Can you cite a single instance in the last 20 years where you supported a liberal cause?
    Beautiful black children in Baltimore doesn't count.
    Once every 6 months you use them as your beard.
    Give me any other example where you took a liberal position on any issue.
    Cite one instance.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Or for that matter, cite an instance where you criticized right wing nuts.

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    Replies
    1. Another Anonymous Ignoramus demands of TDH,

      Give me any other example where you took a liberal position on any issue. … Or for that matter, cite an instance where you criticized right wing nuts.

      The subject matter of this blog is the failures of mainstream corporate media, especially the portions representing themselves as “liberal” or “progressive.”

      Beyond that, It’s not a blog about “issues.” Instead it’s a blog about how issues are reported discussed. It’s right up there at the top: “musings on the mainstream ‘press corps’ and the american discourse.”

      What’s so hard about this?

      You’re like a guy who goes to a chess tournament and demands to know of the organizers why contestants aren’t shouting “Bingo!”


      Delete
    2. BTW Bob criticizes Fox News and Donald Trump all the time.

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    3. Sure. It’s about the media. That’s why Bob calls liberals lazy, dumb and immoral and states that all of the Democratic presidential candidates are terrible. That’s “media criticism”...riiiight.

      Delete
    4. Somerby's main contribution to liberalism is to remind people that

      "one may call oneself a liberal again and again, and be a Trumpanzee" to misquote Shakespeare

      Delete
    5. Bob criticizes the New York Times, but not its Right-wing slant.

      Delete
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