We’re all Conspiracy Theorists

ATULYA DORA-LASKEY
STAFF WRITER

You do not believe in conspiracy theories. The idea that powerful people would ever secretly conspire to maintain or strengthen their power is simply preposterous to you. America is experiencing a whirlwind of misinformation right now, and a clear line must be drawn between educated citizens and paranoid crazies.

You do not believe in lizard people or the Illuminati. The moon landing was clearly not faked. Qanon supporters are obviously insane. You definitely know Covid-19 is real. You do not think that there is anything suspicious about how Jeffrey Epstein died. In your opinion, everyone who thinks the American government engages in mass surveillance is too paranoid. You find claims that the CIA tried to invent mind control by dosing people with LSD to be outlandish. You sleep soundly knowing the American government has never considered committing false-flag terrorist attacks to build support for a war against Cuba. You also definitely believe that Donald Trump fairly won the 2016 presidential election, because believing he secretly made deals with Russian agents would mean that you were theorizing about a conspiracy. And you’re definitely not a conspiracy theorist, right?

Well, maybe not all of these personal statements are true, maybe you do believe in *some* of these theories. To be fair, the CIA’s mind control experiments and the story that the military tried to get President Kennedy to sign off on false-flag terrorist attacks have been proven to have happened through now declassified documents. Maybe you are a conspiracy theorist after all, or

at least you should be. Contrary to popular discourse, conspiracy theories have an important role to play in democracy––as paranoia about the rich and powerful conspiring is not unfounded. Painting all conspiracy theories as inherently ludicrous only serves to delegitimize heavily proven theories though an association with unhinged theories, and legitimizes unhinged theories through an association with heavily proven theories. It would be very silly to believe all conspiracy theories, but it would also be incredibly naïve not to believe in at least some of them.

Black History month can provides us with some learning opportunities to grapple with how conspiracies were often violently used by the American government against Black people. Between 1932 and 1972, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention secretly carried out their Tuskegee Syphilis Study by recruiting 399 Black sharecroppers who had syphilis and promising them free medical care, but only giving out placebos so the effects of syphilis could be observed. The Tuskegee Syphilis Study directly led to the deaths of 128 participants. Starting in the 1950’s, the FBI covertly began a program known as “COININTELPRO” which aimed to completely dismantle the Civil Rights movement and other left-wing organizations by sending in undercover agents to monitor the plans of activist organizations and sow discord whenever possible. The FBI even secretly bugged the residences of Martin Luther King Jr. and attempted to blackmail him into committing suicide by threatening to release audio tapes of an affair he had. In 1969, the FBI quietly conspired with the Chicago Police Department to assassinate 21-year old Fred Hampton, the incredibly successful Black Party chairman of the Chicago chapter who had pioneered the free breakfast program, fought against police brutality, and created a multi-racial working class movement known as The Rainbow Coalition.

While these historical events are known facts now, it is important to remember that they were once only perceived as completely outlandish conspiracy theories. In many cases, we only know them as historical facts because people were committed enough to these conspiracy theories to actually stop the conspiracy. In 1970, eight burglars calling themselves the Citizen’s Commission to Investigate the FBI spent months casing an FBI office and memorizing the routines of the residents who lived nearby. On March 8th, they broke in using a lockpick and crowbar, stole FBI documents and mailed them to journalists. “When you talked to people outside of the movement about what the FBI was doing, nobody wanted to believe it,” Keith Forsyth, one of the burglars, told the New York Times over 40 years later. The publication of these documents were what proved the existence of COININTELPRO.

None of this is in the past. We still live in an age of conspiracies because we live under capitalism, an economic and political system where money and power is concentrated among a select few. It is not unexpected that this select few will privately conspire with each other to maintain their positions at the top. They may cover up their own conspiracies or even help popularize unhinged conspiracy theories that lead people on a wild goose chases. Sweeping all conspiracy theories under the rug will not end this misinformation frenzy, but a simple analysis of determining whether a conspiracy theory elaborates on an effects of capitalism or simply makes excuses for the failings of the system by blaming hidden actors can help us stay critical of both misinformation as well as the powerful authorities in charge. At least in theory.

The tweet that broke the camel’s back

ARYAAN S. MISRA
STAFF WRITER

“I do not celebrate or feel pride in our having to ban @realDonaldTrump from Twitter” – Jack Dorsey

This was taken from a Twitter thread (ironically enough) tweeted by the cofounder of Twitter regarding their decision to remove President Trump from Twitter. That is a lot of ‘Twitter’ for one sentence, but I can’t help myself. It is as though Twitter is to discourse what Cajun seasoning is to a potato salad— the ingredient that enlivens an otherwise “meh” undertaking. Especially, since most discourse takes place on it.

Twitter: It’s What’s Happening (company slogan). Seemingly, it’s what’s always happening. It is this omnipresent, and arguably omnipotent, nature of Twitter that made the social media giant’s decision to remove the incumbent Commander in Chief of the world’s most powerful military from its platform international headlines.

What started with a platform which permits 280 characters rippled through corporations across the board— Facebook, Amazon and Snapchat— leaving many astonished that the billionaire President had Snap in the first place. But it wasn’t just social media companies. Visa, AT&T and Marriot all suspended their ties with Mr. Trump.

In light of this domino effect, many wondered if Trump just got #cancelled. Well, on Nov 4 President Trump was cancelled, democratically. The events of last month however, ranging from the Capitol riot to the rampant deplatforming of Trump, weren’t remotely democratic.

In Twitter’s defense, the company took several steps to warn @realDonaldTrump that his account was in jeopardy since his actions were directly in violation with the ‘terms of conditions’ he had voluntarily accepted. Twitter first disabled the ‘retweet’ feature on his tweets, then deleted specific tweets, then temporarily suspended his account (after which he continued tweeting from other accounts). His last tweet which called the rioters “lovely people” broke the camel’s back, and Twitter finally banned him.

But what about Amazon? Is the despicable insurrection attempt sufficient grounds for former POTUS to not receive 1-day Prime delivery?

While legislators debate the legal nuance of ‘incite’, they can do virtually nothing about Trump’s voice being sequestered. The Constitution protects private organizations from falling within the purview of the First Amendment. While Twitter and other companies didn’t do anything illegal, legal acts can be immoral.

I wager that free speech is as much an American value as it is a protected right, and it is the responsibility of American corporations to preserve that value. American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) stood against the decisions of tech giants saying, “President Trump can turn his press team or Fox News to communicate with the public, but others – like many Black, Brown and LGTBQ activists who have been censored by social media companies – will not have that luxury.”

“The key distinction between deplatforming Trump and traditional forms of censorship is that instead of the state restricting speech (such would be the case in China for example) restrictions on free speech are guided by media conglomerates,” says Luke Losie (’23). To allow corporations to wield such power is to set a daunting precedent, one which will be far more unjust for minority voices. Just because Mr. Trump is an unlikeable character, we rejoice that the online public sphere has become a saner place. But if Twitter existed in the Reichstag, Nazis would too have rejoiced at the suspension of Otto von Habsburg’s (Prince of Austria and an ardent anti-fascist) Twitter account.

“Partly it’s a monopoly problem,” said William Gorton, Associate Professor of Political Science. He adds, “Twitter, Facebook, and Amazon simply have too much market power. Perhaps Congress could look into regulating social media outlets via anti-trust legislation.” Regulating social media companies might be the key, and in fact anti-trust cases and allegations of monopoly marketing have been brought to the courts, but it will be a long time before Congress can reorganize the structure of such companies.

Nobody ever imagined 280 characters typed by the person with nuclear codes would determine foreign policy. Nobody ever imagined social media to become the dominant form of public discourse for every faction of the political spectrum. Twitter has more authoritarian leaders tweeting every hour, should they

be banned too? We are trudging through a new swamp, one that cannot be drained by banning @realDonaldTrump.

Alma College in World War I

WADE FULLERTON
STAFF WRITER

WADE FULLERTON
GRAPHIC CREATOR

“There can be no turning back.” These were President Woodrow Wilson’s words when he asked Congress to declare war on Germany in early April 1917. Debates across the United States ensued concerning the extent of militarization. Over one hundred years ago – at the cost of five cents per copy – on April 10th, 1917, The Weekly Almanian opened with this question to the campus community. Will military training become a part of the regular course of the male students of the College?

The College answered with an almost unanimous agreement to prepare students and select professors for training. The writer’s introduction begins, “now that war has been declared and that real action seems imminent, it is the duty of every able-bodied man to prepare himself for the aefence of the flag, and for the liberation of the world from a German autocracy.” Life at Alma – as well as the rest of the nation – was about to change.

Name-known figures of Alma College spoke their minds in The Weekly Almanian. Dean Mitchell – known now as the name of Mitchell Hall on north campus – was hesitant to military mobilization at Alma College. He spoke to the interviewer explaining that “I don’t’ believe in military training because I think it tends to create a military caste, where the civilian has no rights such as a military man has, when it comes to respect. However, I believe it is now in order, and we ought to have it.”

However, a multitude of students and professors were in favor of training. Many of the professors quoted in the article have had prior military training and believe it to be more beneficial than athletics. Aside from the recent declaration of war, Alma College life thrived as it usually did.

The Almanian added personal touches. Advertisements of local businesses could be found between the articles’ margins. Alma College Alumni took the time to write about what they were doing and where they have been after they graduated. Wright Hall once had a section of the Weekly Almanian where students would report where they were traveling to on weekend breaks from school. Although these early editions of the Almanian were – for the most part – not that long ago, much of their language read of mannerisms and topics from a bygone era in Alma’s history.

With the addition of this new section of the paper, histories long-forgotten; of times where students would gather by the Pine River or socialize in Wright Hall; might come back. Not in a physical sense, but in something far more important than that. Remembrance.

In the words of Frank Hurst – class of 1904 – to the song “I Want to Go Back to Michigan,”

“There’s a school in Michigan,

And I often wish again,

That I was back just to live those days once more;

Then was I a student gay,

And I’d while the time away

On the river at night; by day I’d study, snooze and snore.

And lonesome soul am I,

Here’s the reason why: –

I want to go back, I want to go back,

Back to Alma College years;

Back through smiles and tears;

Back to Wright Hall and the dears;

I miss the teachers – the cruel creatures

That made me bone ’till four a.m.

They thought we came to College just for knowledge,

Nevertheless, we bluffed in classes and buzzed the lasses;

And our work was mostly play.

My heart would jump with glee

Could I but only see

Alma today!”

Winter is coming

AISHWARYA SINGH
STAFF WRITER

As the Northern Hemisphere of our planet tilts further away from the sun, cold and freezing winds have already started to take over our days. The windbreakers are out, the socks are never off and a warm bowl of soup has become a Saga staple. But as the season to be jolly rolls around this year, there is a unique worry on our minds- COVID-19 cases all around us are getting worse.

Alma College saw its highest spike in cases ever since the semester began (28 positive cases) and the state’s trends reflect the same. The number of new coronavirus cases in Michigan has increased 39% in the past week, with many cities seeing their highest spike ever.

With this sudden and sharp rise in cases, scientists from all around the country are speaking up about the the impacts of the winter on the coronavirus. “This virus is going to have a heyday,” says David Relman, a microbiologist at Stanford University in California. “We are looking at some pretty sobering and difficult months ahead.”

In the past, a number of the most dangerous viral infections we’ve experienced have shown seasonal trends and while it may be too early to determine seasonal trends for COVID-19, its predicted the winter will only make things worse. For example, laboratory experiments revealed that SARS-CoV-2 favors cold, dry conditions, particularly out of direct sunlight; the 1918 influenza outbreak, the only pandemic that killed more Americans than COVID-19, was five times higher during the winter than other seasons. Even the flu gets significantly worse during the winter with 40 times more cases during fall and winter than in spring and summer.

While this virus may just like the winter better, that isn’t the only reason why COVID-19 cases might rise in the upcoming season. As winter comes along, indoor activities increase and more people gather together in confined spaces, many times with poor ventilation, to meet with each other. In times like these, the importance of social distancing and mask wearing has become more prominent than ever.

If these predictions come to fruition, the United States is likely to see another 400,000 deaths on top of the current death toll of 230,000. Just the current number of COVID-19 cases in the US (nine million as of October 29) have made it home to 25% of all positive cases in the world while it is home to only 4% of the world’s population.

States like Michigan which experience cold and long winters, a subsequent rise in indoor activities and an already existing high number of cases (the seventh highest out of all 50 states) have a task ahead of them, a task the college must undertake for its students too. The state must incentivize mask-wearing not just in public spaces but also in private spaces. The college, too, must continue with its Phase-I policy of minimal contact among students and regulated events around campus.

While Alma College only has only three weeks of classes remaining, our collective fight against the virus is far from over. Winter is coming and it’s time to prepare!

College tours in the age of COVID

Chelsea Faber
STAFF WRITER

Everyone remembers their first tour of Alma, hearing about our Scottish heritage, perhaps talking to coaches or faculty, even having your first meal in SAGA, however in a world dealing with COVID-19, what should this experience look like? Balancing the two pillars of keeping our campus safe and free from extra outside exposure, while providing this pivotal and critical experience to incoming students has been a recent topic of debate among campus.

Per campus policy, outside guests are prohibited, not only from residential halls, but some academic centers as well. Additionally, current students are highly discouraged to return home and are encouraged to only leave campus when necessary. Yet, despite these measures taken by the college, new ‘pods’ of individuals enter campus every day.

The Admissions website outlines heightened safety procedures including sanitizing of any check in materials, outdoor meetings, as well as a screening the day before. It is important to note the policy specifies that face coverings are required inside buildings, however there is no clarification as to whether this is also required when outdoors.

Students are not required to wear masks outdoors when in a situation that would allow for social distancing; however, campus culture has shown that many individuals continue to wear masks at all times when outside their own residence.

It would make sense that the policy would be universal across both sectors, but we need to remember that prospective students and their families are coming from all across the state, if not the country. They could reside in areas with a high rate of positive cases, therefore bringing a threat to campus.

Once again, this brings a complex issue to the forefront, how do we provide this experience in a meaningful but safe way?

Our admissions staff worked over the summer to provide a 360 view of campus as well as an improved walking tour –both with the hope to bring the experience of walking through campus to the screens of prospective students across the globe. Is this enough to convey the Alma College feel?

Let’s also consider it from the opposite end: anxiety about fully understanding potential college options in the age of the coronavirus is likely at the forefront of many high school seniors. Many campuses have not had as successful of a return to campus as Alma has. In fact, campuses across the nation have seen high rates of positive cases, with outbreaks continuing among students.

Keeping this in mind, potential students have to balance the nerves of experiencing a place that could become their temporary home for the very first time with the fear of contracting COVID-19.

Michigan has recently seen spikes in positive cases, specifically in areas that have fared well thus far in the pandemic. Many experts worry this is the beginning of the ‘fall surge,’ meaning the second wave of high rates of cases across the country.

With this being said, it is not the time to let down our guard, not even a small amount. There is absolutely no way to know if a ‘pod’ of prospective students would be the ones to bring and transmit the virus on campus, but with as fragile of an ecosystem as we have here, is this a risk we are willing to take?

Regardless of how a potential shut down would impact the college on the administrative and operational end, we have to consider the health and wellbeing of students, faculty and staff first. We cannot place ourselves in a position to shut down abruptly again. Therefore, as we move forward into what is poised to be a second wave of coronavirus, we must be extremely cautious and calculated in our actions as a community.

Are we creating terrorists?

ATULYA DORA-LASKEY
STAFF WRITER

On June 20th, Adam Fox invited some friends he had met on Facebook to hang out. They met in a vacuum shop, where Fox pulled a rug up to reveal a secret trap door to a basement. Then Fox collected everyone’s phone before they went down to make sure they were not recorded. Fox and the other men vented their anger at the recent policies set in place by the state to (successfully) curb the pandemic. The conversation then took a sharp turn to an another subject: kidnapping Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

These would-be Michigan kidnappers also used an encrypted group chat to communicate, where the rhetoric began to get more misogynist and violent. Fox clarified his intentions by saying that the group should just “Grab the f**kin Governor. Just grab the bitch. Because at that point, we do that, dude – it’s over.” These men discussed various strategies to target the Governor, and at one point Daniel Harris messaged “Have one person go to her house. Knock on the door and when she answers it just cap her…at this point. F**k it.”

How do we know this conversation happened? There was an undercover FBI agent who managed to record the conversation with a secret wire as well as log the encrypted group chat. As the plan progressed, more undercover law enforcement began to participate. Their involvement and testimony was integral to the arrest of these men on October 7th and stopping what could have been a deadly act.

As you might expect, the defense lawyers see it differently. The defense team for the Michigan men say that it remains to see what exactly the FBI agents contributed towards the “cause,” and whether or not these agents pushed the men into going forward with this plan. Unfortunately, the FBI has sketchy history when it comes to their undercover officers. And they can sometimes act less like informants and more like driving forces in creating a potentially deadly crime.

In 2012, Sami Osmakac filmed what the FBI would later call a “martyrdom video.” To the camera, Osmakac stated his intentions to avenge the deaths of Muslims being killed around the world while wearing something that looks remarkably close to a suicide vest, while an AK-47 sits propped up in the background. Osmakac was 25 years old, and had schizoaffective disorder according to the psychiatrists who examined him before trial. In this case, the FBI provided Osmakac with all of the weapons seen in the video, the car bomb that he planned to use, and even money for a taxi to he could get to his target. In files leaked to the Intercept, it is clear that Osmakac needed repeated prodding and persuasion by FBI agents in order to go through with the plan. The FBI agent who helped Osmakac make the video said that Osmakac “acted like he was nervous” and “kept backing away.” The FBI squad supervisor described Osmakac as a “retarded fool.”

The FBI radicalizing young Muslim Americans into terrorism and then arresting them for it was a staple of the post-9/11 era. It will have to be seen in the trial whether or not the FBI was a driving force with the would-be Michigan kidnappers the same way they were with Sami Osmakac. The Michigan men were obviously wrong for plotting what they did, they are the product of a society where the President has continued to call for Governor Whitmer to be “arrested” even after this story broke, despite the fact that it was this rhetoric that placed her in

danger in the first place. However, the core question is whether or not these Michigan men would have gone through with a kidnapping even without undercover law enforcement. Due to the FBI’s track record, Michiganders deserve proper transparency on how the Bureau operated in this case.

American Nightmare

ATULYA DORA-LASKEY
STAFF WRITER

Last Tuesday, the first debate of the 2020 Election got underway, and it went just as poorly as most Americans expected. Interruptions, yelling, and personal attacks dominated the stage. Yet, one moment seemed particularly horrific. The President refused to directly condemn white supremacist, and called for a group called the Proud Boys to “Stand back and stand by.”

The group granted this Presidential endorsement are a far-right, neo-fascist organization. The Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center designate the Proud Boys as a hate group, citing their numerous ties to white supremacy. The organization has made a name for themselves by assaulting leftists. Yet, the Proud Boys are not alone in their beliefs about violence. Recently, the amount of Americans open to committing political violence has increased drastically. In 2017, only 8% of Democrats and 8% of Republicans were open to using political violence to achieve their goals. In a Politico poll published this October, they found that the number had risen to 33% of Democrats and 36% of Republicans. These are symptoms of a sick and poorly functioning democracy, and it appears as though the fabric of American society is quickly unraveling.

No one can capture this moment in history better than filmmaker (and Michigan-native) Paul Schrader. Writing films such as Raging Bull (1980) and The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), Schrader has a well-deserved reputation as “one of the crucial creators of the modern cinema.” If you want to viscerally grasp why this country is teetering so closely to the edge, both Schrader’s Taxi Driver (1976) and First Reformed (2017) are required viewing.

At first, the protagonists at the heart of both these films appear starkly different. In Taxi Driver, Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) is a cabbie in New York City taking night shifts to cope with his insomnia. In First Reformed, Ernst Toller (Ethan Hawke) is a pastor who is struggling with his faith, preaching at the 250-year old First Reformed church that has now turned into a glorified tourist attraction.

As both films progress, you find that the two characters are united in their belief in an American dream that ultimately betrays them. Travis Bickle is a Vietnam veteran, who believes that working hard at an honest job will lead him to some kind of satisfaction. Ernst Toller is a veteran as well, and because his family considered military enlistment to be patriotic tradition he encouraged his son to sign-up. Bickle gets no fulfillment from his life as a taxi driver, and his isolation from others only grows in the process as Bickle finds that his job is “…like you’re not even there…like a taxi driver doesn’t even exist.” Toller’s life falls apart after his son is killed in Iraq during a war that Toller believes “…had no moral justification.”

The two men have their betrayals compounded as they are submerged repeatedly into a societal sickness, and they turn to uniquely American outlets in order to cope. Bickle, surrounded by poverty, violent misogyny, and child trafficking, decides to buy an assortment of guns and frequent a shooting range. Toller, surrounded by environmental destruction, the undeniable proof of climate change, and the refusal of world leaders to do anything about it, incorporates environmental activism into his preaching. Again these two are betrayed by their understandings of America. Even after shooting a man robbing a local store, Bickle can not satisfy his

increasingly violent urges. Toller is forced to stop his environmental activism as the megachurch that owns First Reformed is financed heavily by a wealthy polluter. Toller’s helpless torment watching the world light itself on fire is deeply relatable. During an argument with the director of the megachurch, he screams “Well, somebody has to do something!”

In the third acts of both their films, both men decide to fully embrace political violence. Bickle plans to assassinate a progressive senator running for President while Toller prepares to blow himself up in an act of eco-terrorism. Bickle’s plan is the result of untreated paranoia and isolation, while Toller’s believes his plan to be the only logical conclusion for a world that refuses to properly face an existential crisis.

These men are obviously not blameless for their actions, but it is undeniable that these men would not emerge in a society that was functioning properly. Throughout this country we have isolated Americans with no sense of support or community, stuck in jobs that do nothing for them and a political system that does even less. There are hundreds of Bickles and Tollers being created across the nation. If we don’t fix these issues, we can expect America’s third act to be just as violent.

Anti-racism vs. ICE Detention Centers

TAYLOR PEPITONE
STAFF WRITER

The following contributions are solely of the writer’s own views and are not affiliated with the Almanian and Alma College.

Robert J. Patterson, professor of African American Studies at Georgetown University, defines anti-racism as, “…an active and conscious effort to work against multidimensional aspects of racism.” President Donald J. Trump has taken down efforts to expand on the ideas of anti-racism and white privilege in schools and even the White House. The New York Times said that the White house called these trainings ‘divisive, anti-American propaganda’.

In some aspect these views may seem understandable, but I cannot consciously agree with that. We have reached a point in society where it is racists VS anti-racists. It is not enough to just be against racism; you must advocate and fight for those who are being affected by these foul ideas.

“I do think that the language around anti-racism in this moment and in our climate has become a way of division, even if it has not intended to be,” said director of Diversity and Inclusion, Donnesha A. Blake.

Mr. Trump has stated that he does not believe that there is a systemic racial bias in the United States, and that those who believe they are more targeted by the police, etc. are viewing things in the wrong way. This is simply not the case. Business Insider provided 26 charts of statistics stating how systemic racism exists in the United States.

This is no longer a case of just how racist some people are, or even how racist people believe Mr. Trump to be. This has become a matter of what we can do to rid our society of these biases. Reach out to your local politicians, read up on the different laws and policies, do whatever you can to help be a part of that change.

Critical race theory looks at how society and culture play a role in race, law and power. It closely examines how white supremacy and racial power have been protected possibly unconsciously by the law.

Mr. Trump has criticized critical race theory and said that he will not allow it to be a main priority in schools across America. The New York Times said that he advocates for a more patriotic education for students.

While it is important for students to learn about American history, it is also very important for them to understand the mistakes that past politicians and even society have made. If we prevent our students from learning about racism and what they can do to help make a change, we will never grow and develop.

There is a certain stigma that stands with the idea of Mr. Trump being against anti-racist education and him constantly advocating for stronger immigration laws and the ICE detention centers. The intention of the detention centers was to hold immigrants who have traveled to the United States illegally. These detention centers are supposed to just a holding place; they are no longer that. Conditions [of the centers] are horrid and vile.

While it is important to do things rightfully by the law, the immigration laws in America have reached a point to where it is nearly impossible to even apply for a visa, let alone citizenship. They have made it so difficult for immigrants to become citizens. It seems that this was intentional, with the way Mr. Trump speaks about people of certain ethnicities and backgrounds.

Whether you stand with or against President Trump, it is evident that there must be more done for anti-racism in America. Imagine if this was something that you had to deal with on a daily basis; racial slurs being said to you for your skin tone, people throwing things because of what you are wearing or even just being afraid to leave your house because of encounters you may have heard of. Do not let racism be the thing that America stands for. This is a conscious act that we must all be a part of.

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