Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #43

Dystopia, With a Dose of Sudden Death

“Any time a life is lost, it’s a tragedy. But when it’s young people, it’s even worse.” — Gilroy Police Chief Scot Smithee in the aftermath of a mass shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival, July 28, 2019.

“The United States was once grand, very grand,” she says. “The whole world idolized it. But now, I don’t know what’s happening. It’s becoming an ugly place.” — 13-year-old Ana Sofia Valverde, the niece of Elsa Mendoza, an elementary school principal from Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, killed in a mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, August 3, 2019.

“The house can be rebuilt. I can’t rebuild a father.” — Dion Green, a Dayton, Ohio tornado victim whose father, Derrick Fudge, died protecting his son and his partner, Donita Cosey, in a mass shooting in the early morning hours of August 4, 2019.

By Chris M. Barkley: As I write this on a warm sunny Saturday, several funerals are well underway. Some are taking place in California, Texas, Mexico and fifty miles up the road from where I live in Dayton Ohio.

It is also 48 hours before my partner Juli and leave home to travel to the 77th World Science Fiction Convention being held in Dublin, Ireland. We both are leaving with grieving hearts for the victims of these incidents of mass murder and wondering about America’s state of mind and mood.

I have been active in sf fandom for forty-three years. I am going the Worldcon in Dublin to attend and celebrate our annual “family reunion” and to advocate a trial run of a Hugo Award for the Best Translated Novel. I and a few others proposed this category as a signal to the literary world at large that we value inclusion and diversity in this troubled world.

In all of my years in fandom, I can say with some certainty that I have felt incredibly comfortable around fans, most of whom were white. I also felt assured that while I was in their company and, with a few rare exceptions, I was not judged by the color of my skin but the content of my character. That is, until recently.

Since the advent of the internet experience, I have been accused of being racist (by a File 770 commentator who was totally unaware I was black) and of being ignorant and unaware (by a prominent fan from the UK in an argument over judicial due process for police officers in the US) and of being insensitive to gender identity (by a moderator who walked off her own panel in protest).

I will be the first to admit that I am only human and I have apologized when it has been warranted. But there have been very disturbing personal attacks directed towards me because of my ethnicity. But I am quite fortunate in knowing that my friends and acquaintances who know me well far outnumber my detractors.  

Besides a brief foray via a cruise ship to the Bahamas for a wedding in 2015, I have never been off the North American continent before.

For my older sister Gwen, this was a cause for concern.I found it very amusing that Gwen, who works for a well-known insurance company, is actually fearful for my safety by flying over the ocean because “it’s not something the Barkleys do.” 

Well, if she was referring to herself or my late parents (Alice and Erbil) she would be right. The furthest we ever went with them in a car on vacation was north to Dayton to visit my numerous cousins (9), frequent visits northwest to Oxford, Ohio to see a maiden aunt, and south to Camp Marydale, where we were placed (dumped) for two or three weeks each summer to give our beleaguered parents a break.  

I told Gwen this: That statistically speaking, I am probably safer 40,000 feet in the air, squeezed into a winged, pressurized metal tube full of people, burning fuel and hot, roaring engines than I would be stepping out my front door and going shopping. Far safer, in fact.

Which is a shame, because I allegedly live in the greatest country in the world.

As a child, I used to believe that. Then I grew up. 

I grew up mainly in the 1960’s, one of the most turbulent eras of American history. (Then again, looking back over six decades, when HASN’T it been turbulent? The mind boggles.)

When I was very young, I was spoon fed the propaganda that America’s founding and history was just one stupendous struggle after another, all culminating in the magisterial greatness of our republic. 

Except, it seems, for people like me. Although I attended a Catholic grade and high school, it was quite evident that the people of color were treated differently than the white kids we went to school with. Even more so if you were overtly introverted, Intellectual, philosophically-minded or gay. That was a lower circle of hell that kids like myself had to endure.  

As I grew older, informed histories told me that America has always been embroiled in a conflict in which those who would stand for the values embodied in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution have always been in conflict with vested interests of white citizens, who in wrapping themselves in the flag, embraced nationalism, manifest destiny, racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia of others from foreign countries and a general fear of “the other” to ensure they maintain solid grip on their political and financial power. And this struggle continues to this day.     

So, when I do step outside, I know I am a marked man. My granddaughter, Lily is white and we are together five days a week as her mother works. It hasn’t happened yet, but I dread the day some racist busybody comes up to me demanding what the hell was I doing with this adorable child who is obviously NOT YOURS! (And fingers crossed, it won’t because we only go to safe spaces where our relationship is known.) 

Sometimes I can feel the hostile stares and see the aggressive stances people take in my presence. It is a statistical fact that I am more likely to be shot by the police than any other segments of the population. That when I enter any retail establishment, I am under a bit of extra scrutiny, that any move I make can possibly be misinterpreted, misconstrued, misunderstood or taken completely out of context, in which case. I may, MAY, find myself facing the business end of a police officer’s 9mm Glock. All because my skin color does not conform to white society’s alleged state of normalcy.

What do I do? Because by any sane person’s standard, America can be considered a dystopian state.

Some might argue that this very real dystopia isn’t anything new, it’s always been present, humming in the background as we went about our daily lives. The difference is that with the election of the current administration, the false veneer of civility that has been slowly eroding since the end of the Watergate era, has finally been ripped away and the hate and terror it abides is visible for all to see. Some see for what it is, others refuse to acknowledge it for what it really is. 

The current administration has not hesitated to pump out false narratives, “alternative facts”, unsubstantiated rumors and outright lies and present them as either facts or policy. Their main ally is a major news network (whose name I am loath to mention) that repeats these lies and distribute their own brand of doublespeak as relevant and vital information to be fed to an increasingly fearful segment of the population. Their sole concern is the profit margin that is dependent on getting the president’s attention AND pleasing his base of voters.  

As far as I’m concerned, one of America’s most urgent problems is that it is awash in firearms and in the grip of generations of a virulent and ugly gun culture. It is estimated that 22 percent of adults in the United States own firearms and that more than 90 percent of them are white and a majority of them live in the southeast and Southwest. Even if we, as a nation, decided to enact more restrictions on future purchases of guns, there are still more of them in circulation now than there are people in the country. 

As the investigations of the mass shootings have proceeded, they are being accompanied by theories from the administration, the NRA and gun enthusiasts that the root causes of these murders are the proliferation of violent video games, salacious movies and tv shows and, more prominently, people with “mental health issues”. 

This “theory” has been slammed by more coherent commentators, stating that other countries seem to be coping with video games and various media outlets but only America seems to have a chronic problem with mass shootings, which, as of this writing, there have been 249 incidents so far this year.

I find it particularly insidious that pro-gun pundits are stigmatizing the mentally ill with these murders. A majority of gun deaths in America are suicides by gun owners or people who gained access to them. They were mostly only dangerous to themselves. It seems to me as though the only motivations of these pundits is either retaining and propagating access to a variety of guns to as many people as possible. 

So, I am leaving my country in a very troubled state. But, I have hope. 

At this moment, politicians across the country, including those who have been ardent NRA supporters in the past, are reluctantly heeding the cries from alarmed citizens to do something; to eliminate the sale of semi-automatic assault weapons, legislate more stringent background checks and require the registration of arms and detailed sales records. Personally, I would make it as hard as possible to purchase any gun, requiring all of the suggestions above plus the mandatory purchase of insurance for each weapon, licensing, and periodic testing as well.   

And activists across the country are tirelessly working night and day, every day, to address gun violence, immigration policies, voting rights and election security, climate change and environmental issues. The enemy they battle is ignorance, fear, apathy and complacency.

Their concerns are my concerns. And their agenda should be your agenda. 

This is why I love fandom, especially our family reunions each year. When the World Science Fiction Convention convenes, it boldly endorses and embraces the diversity of literature, art, criticism and culture the world has to offer. We stand as one against the bullies, liars and false pundits who would see the world burn.  

Because those politicians, religious leaders, bigots, racists and white supremicists who inspire and perpetuate the violence are terrorists.

We don’t negotiate with terrorists. 

Neither should you.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the ONLY thing that ever has.” – widely attributed to cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead, 1901-1978.

31 thoughts on “Barkley — So Glad You (Didn’t) Ask: A Column of Unsolicited Opinions #43

  1. I’m going to just leave something out here for discussion.

    Sooner, not later, there will be a “mass shooting incident” at a science fiction, comics, anime, or other “media” convention in the United States of America – and it will be done by people who call themselves “fans”.

    Here in Boston a few years ago two losers who wanted to shoot up a Pokemon convention were caught in a motel with an arsenal before they actually did anything. Those two were stupid enough that the police were on them from the start. The next group won’t be so stupid.

    People choosing future Worldcons should take the current condition of America into account when choosing a site – not just the guns, but the government-encouraged racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and antisemitism – and I believe voting for “NO CONVENTION” is a legitimate choice. I do not say this lightly as I would really like to have a Worldcon that it would be possible for me to attend sometime in the near future.

  2. While racism and bigotry exists everywhere, I do think the absence of guns removes a level of fear. It is one thing being nervous about being harassed by the police. Another of being scared of being killed. And I think police fearing weapons less means they don’t go full authority figure in the same way.

    But Trump rethoric is everywhere. If not in mainstream media, then in all social medias. It is international now.

    Anyhow, looking forward to meeting you at Worldcon!

  3. @Jon Meltzer
    Actually, I do worry that there will be a mass shooting at a convention in the US eventually. After all, we know that some people take their guns along to a convention. Plus, alcohol, lots of people, emotions sometimes running high.

    Come to think of it, wasn’t there someone who tried to kill a Power Rangers actor at a con sometime ago? Though he was caught before he could do anything.

    Though I don’t think we should not hold any WorldCons in the US at all, but a firm “No weapons on the premises” policy is necessary. Won’t stop someone really determined, but it will give more security.

  4. Jon Meltzer on August 12, 2019 at 5:35 am said:

    I believe voting for “NO CONVENTION” is a legitimate choice.

    There is no choice on the ballot that means DO NOT HOLD A WORLDCON IN THIS YEAR. If you’re talking about NONE OF THE ABOVE, that means “I reject all of the choices on the ballot and want the decision to be taken by the WSFS Business Meeting instead, with the understanding that the Business Meeting could still award the Worldcon to one of the groups listed on the ballot.” That may not be what you think it means, of course, but wishing does not make it so.

    People who do not think any of the proposed sites for Worldcon for a given year should organize bids for places they think the convention should be, or propose any sort of practical alternative. Even a “MinimalCon” that would hold a WSFS Business Meeting (the only program item actually required by WSFS rules), administer the Hugo Awards (remember, a Hugo Award Ceremony isn’t required), and administer the site selection for the two-years-hence Worldcon. Then you have to convince the voters to select it, or to vote NOTA and then convince the Business Meeting to select you. Nobody’s going to do it for you.

  5. Chirs, I’ve been lucky enough to meet you a few times at Windycon and Capracon. This piece is great. No joke: Is there any way this piece can get a crack at a Hugo if enough of us nominate it?

  6. I’ve worked security, both at cons and for several security companies (mostly “get a guard, the insurance will be less” type postings), but there was one armed gig and another working with dogs (that I had not been trained to work with) as the “border guard” between two warring Philadelphia gang factions. (I had no troubles because, as I had guessed, the Burger King that was defacto no man’s land was, in fact, defacto no man’s land; found the head honchos, told em I was not there to hassle anyone, just to help keep the peace and the gig went off without a hitch, and another where I was told not to ever physically confront intruders, but was also encouraged to purchase one of those long, aluminum 5 battery flashlights I could use as a club if needed – just don’t write the incident up in your report); I’ve had to search for bombs at an Exxon facility; confiscate briefcases from executives, escort fired executives from a building. I’ve nearly choked to death guarding a warehouse full of artificial black cherry wishniak flavoring; sat suicide watch (for a guy in a full body cast) and worked in emergency rooms where I had the most physical confrontations of that particular career (mostly wrestling with drug-crazed individuals, but also chasing naked senile old ladies through the corridors)
    I’m making two points by laying out that detail:

    rarely, if ever, is anyone – including security personnel – fully and properly trained for what they might run into. 2. weird stuff can happen anywhere and the rules may actually prevent you from properly protecting yourself.

    I doubt very much that anyone routinely working security at conventions has received active shooter training (unless it was through their non-fannish job); a no guns policy would prevent a security force from being able to defend themselves, let alone attendees.

    The closest conventions I’m familiar with have come to handling their guests in such a situation would be the 3 am fire alarm – and those went about as well as you’d expect at a con with parties going on.

    If we’re going to address this issue at traditional conventions, there is a LOT of work that needs to be done and there will be a lot of changes implemented which may negatively affect the experience.

    I’m all for doing what makes sense, but one of the things that concerns me the most is that cons/fandom does not yet have a clearinghouse for information regarding serial harassers and trolls and other troublemakers, and it should, let alone a network for disseminating solid info on people within the community who might pose a risk. Somehow, we have to reconile the fannish desire to deal with these things on the local level with the needs of the environment we currently find ourselves in.

  7. While I don’t want to tone down the dangers with guns in abundance, I also think we should recognise that popular venues have been targets for terrorists in Europe too.

    As Cora, I think this as an argument for convention security, not for dismissing a country as a place for a Worldcon.

  8. I disagree with @Jon Meltzer that, if such a thing happens, it will be done by someone who calls themself a fan, or even by someone who cares that the event is connected to science fiction or fandom. Stochastic terrorism means the terrorists sometimes seem to pick targets based on proximity — a place they expect to find a crowd (a random street in Toronto, a shopping mall, etc.) — or the place where they expect to find a specific person they hate.

    Even with the sort of information clearinghouse @Steve Davidson hypothesizes, it wouldn’t include (for example) someone who was angry at having been fired by the Marriott, or who knew that their ex was going to be going to a convention. I suspect the set of “people who are known by someone who has access to a gun” includes most of the adult population of the United States.

  9. There is at least as much anti-Semitism in Europe as in America. Japan has its own prejudices and China has problems with Tibet, not to mention Hong Kong right now. If we only hold WorldCon in countries whose politics everyone likes, we’d have to hold it in a boat somewhere in international waters.

  10. @Cora Buhlert

    a firm “No weapons on the premises” policy is necessary. Won’t stop someone really determined, but it will give more security.

    If, as you admit, the policy won’t stop a gunman, it is difficult to see how it provides security. Active shooters seek out Gun-Free Zones.

  11. @Kevn Miller: there is no category particularly open to a single short work of nonfiction. In theory the essay could be nominated as Best Related Work, but it would be up against much more substantial material. Note that this is a completely unofficial personal assessment.

    @Steve Davidson: a no guns policy would prevent a security force from being able to defend themselves, let alone attendees. The thought of an armed security force would be enough to keep me out of the convention; even trained policemen use their weapons debatably, and I have no expectation that a private security force would be less dangerous to the attendees than a single shooter.
    ISTM that the absence of a clearinghouse relates less to fannish individuality than to fannish worries about liability — as has been discussed here extensively in the past.

    @Sam Lubell: the issue is not the politics of hatred, but the practice of expressing those hatreds with violence.

    @bill: respectable citation needed.

  12. The USA is the only developed country where mass shootings happen almost daily.

    A no-guns policy means that if security sees anyone with a gun they can dial 911 and have the police there quickly. Although the Dayton and El Paso shootings had police response in less than a minute. The weapons of war that these loons choose are designed to kill quickly. An AR-15 semi-automatic is designed to empty a 30 shot clip in less than 30 seconds The Dayton shooter had a 100-shot magazine on his rifle.

    I don’t know what the answer is. I do know that the USA has 400 million guns, for a population of 360 million. No European country has that sort of gun availability. Nor in Asia.

    The ‘only a good guy with a gun’ is nonsense. I’ve owned handguns and rifles since 1976. I think this country has gone gun-crazy. The 2nd amendment is not a suicide pact. In the Heller decision, Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority that the 2A is not unlimited and that there are regulations can limit the legality of possession of certain types of weapons.

  13. bill on August 12, 2019 at 7:22 pm said:
    @Cora Buhlert
    If, as you admit, the policy won’t stop a gunman, it is difficult to see how it provides security. Active shooters seek out Gun-Free Zones.

    Bill, that’s BS spread by the NRA and other gun apologists. Texas has some of the most gun-friendly laws in the US, and probably has the most people carrying guns in any venue. Yet, the El Paso shooter killed 9 people and wounded others in the ONE MINUTE it took for police to grab him.

    Weapons of war and high capacity magazines have no place to be in the hands of civilians.

  14. Dear Bill,

    I would like to compliment you on your superb job of mis-recasting a qualified statement of relative values into an absolute one that you could refute. It demonstrates superior reading comprehension and logic skills, to be sure.

    most sincerely yours,


  15. In talking about the reasons why Mass shooters target specific venues, one very important factor has not been acknowledged, that these days mass shooters target places where there will be people of colour and attack folks who they consider to be liberal.
    Fans in the convention tick both those boxes, with their incredibly diverse nature so would make a prime target for any would be killer.
    As for putting armed guards in and around the convention hall, what kind of asylum is the US that this would seem to be a good and reasonable idea?
    We’ve already talked previously about harassment of female fans, but imagine how much more terrifying it would be if the harasser had a gun that they could use to threaten and silence, and as mentioned above, there is no guarantee that an armed force would be able to defend civilians from a mass shooter.
    I think, and this may be against the rules but I think as well that when people’s lives are on the line the rules can be bent somewhat, it should be put to a vote as to whether there should be more conventions in the US, or alternatively anonymous surveys could be given out asking whether convention goers would feel safe attending cons in America .

  16. “a no guns policy would prevent a security force from being able to defend themselves, let alone attendees.”

    I think we absolutely should vote against every proposal where it is thought necessary to have an armed security force to protect attendees or even worse, to have to arm the attendees to protect against each other.

    And with regards to having the convention as a non-gunfree zone, I am more scared of impulsive shooters and idiots who don’t know how to handle their guns, than I am of organized and pre-planned shooters.

    And in case of one impulsive shooter, I don’t want to have idiot shooters around getting even more people hurt. It not as if the “good guy with a gun” concept has managed to do more than making the professionals, i.e the police, even more wary of entering a premise, which might mean more people hurt by the delay.

  17. @Annie: it is unclear that conventions have a public image of either diversity or liberalism. For one thing, conventions themselves are incredibly diverse: I can imagine someone figuring that GamerGate proves most gamers are on the Right side and deciding instead to attack the “perverts” at a Furry convention. Note that I’m not defending either of these conclusions — the evidence is that the violent tend not to be thinking at all coherently — but the idea that conventions are generally at special risk seems debatable to me. And we still don’t know the motivation of the Dayton shooter….

  18. @Bill – did you read the article? It doesn’t say that mass shooters look for gun free zones.
    It does argue against one size fits all gun policy.
    The end sentence:

    We save lives by focusing on a range of tactics to protect the different kinds of potential victims and reforming potential killers, not from sweeping bans focused on the guns themselves.

    Generously, it’s at best half true or outright manipulation of the facts. Finally, just be cause glorious leader Trump (or his flying monkeys) say it’s so, doesn’t make it so.

  19. Bill:

    He doesn’t even pretend to argue. He says “I looked at data”, then cites no data at all. Then he throws out apologetics. “So women are threatened by people with guns, but guns aren’t really any problem, because there should have been police there. So people commit suicide in large numbers with the guns, but that’s not really a problem, because someone should have helped them. So violent youngsters kill each other with guns, but that’s not really a problem, because we should teach them to de-escalate.”

    But the most important thing is that the article has absolutely nothing to do with the claim you made and was asked to support.

  20. @Chip Hitchcock,
    On the contrary, there is very strong clear evidence suggesting that mass shooters know exactly what they’re doing, that they’re impeccably rational and logical in their approach.
    There seems to be this view that these killers must be delusional, mad, insane because otherwise theyre just like you and me, and neither of us would ever go on a killing spree.
    @Bill, I don’t understand why this is so difficult for Americans to understand, in Europe, a violent anti-Semite can’t go into his local supermarket and buy an automatic weapon along with his daily Carton of milk or packet of bread, and off load on the nearest synagogue he sees.
    I mean, how would you feel if everyone in your city started carrying around swords and knives and machetes, would that make you feel safe?

  21. Annie: I don’t understand why this is so difficult for Americans to understand, in Europe, a violent anti-Semite can’t go into his local supermarket and buy an automatic weapon along with his daily Carton of milk or packet of bread, and off load on the nearest synagogue he sees.

    I’ll thank you to refrain from making sweeping generalizations about Americans. You really don’t have any idea what you’re talking about. 🙄

  22. @Annie

    @Bill, I don’t understand why this is so difficult for Americans to understand, in Europe, a violent anti-Semite can’t go into his local supermarket and buy an automatic weapon along with his daily Carton of milk or packet of bread, and off load on the nearest synagogue he sees.

    Although it is possible for Americans to own automatic weapons, it is much more difficult than going to the supermarket. The National Firearms Act of 1934 sets out most of the requirements.
    1. You need to live in a state that allows individuals to own machine guns (some don’t; most do)
    2. You have to find one for sale. The available quantity has been fixed since 1986 and the Hughes Amendment to the Firearm Owners Protection Act (around 175,000 weapons), but demand has continued to grow. The least expensive ones available are $6k; good ones (reliable, accurate, etc.) start at around $15k and go quickly up from there.
    3. If the weapon is not for sale in your state of residence, you have to find a local Federal Firearms License holder (who is approved to accept machine guns – not all are) who will be an intermediary in the purchase (interstate sales of all guns must go through an FFL holder). He will typically charge a modest fee.
    4. You need the federal government’s approval, which is obtained by filling out a Form 4 and paying a $200 transfer tax. Turnaround from the ATF is 10 months or more, lately. And it is customary to pay the seller for the weapon upon purchase, who will then hold your money and your gun, until approval comes through.
    5. You need, as part of the Form 4 process, permission from your local sheriff or chief of police. This is intended as a certification that the applicant isn’t legally prohibited from owning the gun (criminal record, mental defect, drug abuser, etc) and is normally fairly routine, but some of them don’t like to approve for various reasons, and will not sign off.

    So the process is, find a gun, pay for the gun, fill out forms, wait a long time, receive the gun. Then, to stay proficient in its use, you need to find a legal place to shoot it. Many ranges (indoor and outdoor) don’t allow full-auto weapons. When you find a place to shoot, you spend a minute or more loading a magazine, then a couple of seconds emptying it. Rat-tat-tat-tat-tat — $10. Rat-tat-tat-tat-tat — $10. Ammunition is expensive.

    The good thing about all of this is that once licensed, owners of fully automatic weapons are very safe people. There have only been two crimes committed by an owner of a legal machine gun since 1934 (one a murder; the other by a corrupt cop shooting a police informant).

  23. The point was that automatic weapons are not available at the supermarket. It is a long, involved, complicated, expensive process.
    The statement at the end was a sidebar, to show how nonintuitive the facts about weapons can be (That is, if semiautomatic weapons are more dangerous than revolvers/pump action/lever action, then fully automatic weapons should be even more dangerous. But they aren’t.)
    (And, fwiw, I checked the first 13 shootings in the list you mention, from Las Vegas, through Ft. Hood. All were in gun free zones. After a few minute’s looking, I’m not sure about Camden, but I know that many [most?] of the rest of the list were also gun free zones.)

    There are other problems with what Annie says: “these days mass shooters target places where there will be people of colour” — #1 on the list is the Las Vegas shooting, which targeted a country music festival. Hardly a concentration of melanin.

  24. @Bill,
    I do apologise, I seem to have got my terms mixed up.
    I did think that murderous fanatics were using automatic weapons to mow down innocent people, but now that I realise they”re only using semiautomatics, I feel much happier.
    And perhaps I was a bit premature with my comment that mass shooters are going to target people of colour, I guess we”ll just have to wait until the next one to see if the elpasso shooting is part of a larger trend.

  25. At the risk of pointing out the obvious, automatic weapons are not as dangerous; that is, they are not typically used in mass shooting in the US… because automatic weapons are highly regulated and fairly hard to obtain.

    I leave it as an exercise for the reader to hypothesize why semi-automatic weapons are used in mass shootings in America.

  26. @OGH: “Bill: And this exegesis was useful because…?”

    It was very useful! It demonstrates that America has for decades strictly regulated certain dangerous weapons and kept them out of of irresponsible hands, all without grinding liberty into the dust under our hobnailed high-heeled boots. I’m not sure that’s the intention Bill had it putting it out there, but the scroll finds its own pixels for things.

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