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Author Topic: EP120: The Sundial Brigade  (Read 58215 times)

Jim

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Reply #75 on: August 29, 2007, 09:17:30 PM
Must... not... enter... theological... discussion... must... resist...

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Mr. Tweedy

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Reply #76 on: August 29, 2007, 09:20:12 PM
Actually, I never said that.  I haven't given an opinion here about my own morality.  As it happens I do have a pretty clear and specific definition of evil which works for me in most cases.  I just haven't offered it yet, and no one has asked.  I was addressing what you said.

You didn't here.  It was elsewhere, a few months ago.  Or maybe I'm reading to much into what you said then...  Anyway, I am now asking, if you're interested in explaining.  (You might not be–getting further off topic–but I am interested.)

But in the case of actual calculus, it's been proven that there are cases in which calculus can't be done.  (Church published a very similar paper about the undecidability of problems in lambda calculus a month before Turing's paper about the halting problem.  They're basically equivalent.)

If your moral calculus equates to God's will -- is it totally inconceivable that there may be cases in which, perhaps, God sees both sides of a problem?  How do you know this isn't possible?

We're getting pretty far out of my depth with the analogies.  I don't know much about calculus and I haven't read anything by Church or Turing, so it's quite possible I pulled out a bad analogy without realizing it.  I meant only this: The fact I cannot do something does not prove that it cannot be done.

I'm not sure exactly what you mean by "both sides of a problem."

God's will is not necessarily a linear track.  God made us to be free, and at any given time there are many right options open to us (as there are many wrong options).  There are many white paths and many black, but, no, I would say there are no gray paths, as romantic as the idea might sound.

I think you're using the word "know" in terms of scientific certainty, of irrefutable proof, and in that sense I don't really know much about anything.  (Are you the real Steve Eley?  I believe you are, but I can't prove it.)  I believe that there is no gray because that would mean that God Himself couldn't decide what was good and bad, and I don't believe that God suffers from such limitations.
« Last Edit: August 29, 2007, 10:06:14 PM by Mr. Tweedy »

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Leon Kensington

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Reply #77 on: August 29, 2007, 11:54:01 PM
Must... not... enter... theological... discussion... must... resist...

Just give in, it's not worth the brain hemmorage.



SFEley

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Reply #78 on: August 30, 2007, 12:21:42 AM
You didn't here.  It was elsewhere, a few months ago.  Or maybe I'm reading to much into what you said then...  Anyway, I am now asking, if you're interested in explaining.  (You might not be–getting further off topic–but I am interested.)

My definition of evil is based on a line from a Terry Pratchett novel.  "Evil begins when we start treating people as things."

Has a lot to do with this story, now that I think about it.

As for the rest...  It was an idle thought, prompted by what was really a side assertion of yours.  I'm not going to push this thread any further in that direction; what we've had so far is far too interesting to divert from.

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ajames

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Reply #79 on: August 30, 2007, 12:51:52 AM

My definition of evil is based on a line from a Terry Pratchett novel.  "Evil begins when we start treating people as things."


Reminds me of the second formulation of Kant's moral imperative, which loosely speaking states that we should never treat others as a means to an end, but as ends in themselves.
« Last Edit: August 30, 2007, 09:56:28 AM by ajames »



Jonathan C. Gillespie

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Reply #80 on: August 30, 2007, 02:31:26 AM
I guess what strikes me as interesting is the posit that there is no gray, rather a world of black and white.  I can come up with quite a few scenarios that are very "gray" in nature, for example the afore-mentioned bombing of Nagasaki.  Truman chose either dropping the bomb, or invading a country in the process of training its school children to fight with bamboo spears.

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Reply #81 on: August 30, 2007, 03:02:59 AM
I guess what strikes me as interesting is the posit that there is no gray, rather a world of black and white.  I can come up with quite a few scenarios that are very "gray" in nature, for example the afore-mentioned bombing of Nagasaki.  Truman chose either dropping the bomb, or invading a country in the process of training its school children to fight with bamboo spears.

I don't see where the
 "black and white"
 you are referring to is.
Your example appears to
 be supporting
 the dropping of the atomic bomb.
One of the reasons  given for
 dropping the bomb
 is that the Japaneses
 would be fanatical
 in defending the main home island
 and fight to the death
 as they did on other  islands
 and the use of kamikaze attacks.
It was estimated that the USA and its allies
 would incur causalities in the hundreds of thousands (500,000,000 or more?)
 if they invaded the main island of Japan.

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Mr. Tweedy

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Reply #82 on: August 30, 2007, 04:12:06 AM
My definition of evil is based on a line from a Terry Pratchett novel.  "Evil begins when we start treating people as things."

Has a lot to do with this story, now that I think about it.

I agree with you wholeheartedly, with the caveat that there's more to it than just that.  (You probably have more to say, but aren't for the sake of brevity, so no complaint.)

As a final aside, I think it's a very good idea to hash things out like this, because it keeps us from being too reliant on arbitrary labels.  Classifying people with terse labels does not do justice to human complexity, and it's too easy to assume that we know what someone thinks about everything based on one.  I've found here that the labels I've applied to myself often give people wrong impressions and vice versa.  Elucidation is good.

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swdragoon

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Reply #83 on: August 30, 2007, 05:26:13 AM
Sweet Steve and terry Pratchett think I'm evil.

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ajames

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Reply #84 on: August 30, 2007, 10:20:40 AM
I guess what strikes me as interesting is the posit that there is no gray, rather a world of black and white.  I can come up with quite a few scenarios that are very "gray" in nature [...]

Things can become gray when you attempt to calculate the outcome, and use your calculations as your moral compass.  Things stay black and white when you have moral laws or imperatives [back to Kant again] that you use to guide your actions.  The outcome is irrelevant in determining the moral action; the ends do not justify the means.

For example, Kant stated that you should never lie.  Ever.  If you do, it is immoral, period.  Doesn't matter what the situation is, or the outcome of telling the truth will be.  We aren't gods; we can't know the full implications of what we do.  Absent this knowledge, we must act according to what we know to be moral, if we are to act morally.

That is the most compelling argument I have heard for seeing the moral world in black and white, without shades of gray.



ajames

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Reply #85 on: August 30, 2007, 11:07:51 AM
Also, although I won't pretend to grasp the halting problem, Turing's Test, or Lambda Calculus ["Lambda" makes me think of Revenge of the Nerds, and all rational thought stops], maybe the argument above also addresses Steve's question, at least to some degree?



Jonathan C. Gillespie

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Reply #86 on: August 30, 2007, 04:32:17 PM
I see your point, and I respect Kant.  The problem is, Kant was a philosopher, not a leader.  I wonder how well Kant's principles would have held up in the gray world of politics.

Let's pretend Kant was the one deciding how to force a Japanese surrender.  Someone comes to him with U.S. Casualty estimates (I've actually heard as high as three million) in one hand, the option to send over a high-altitude bomber to wipe out 50,000 civilians in the other.  What would Kant decide was the black or white option? Would he even act, having been floored by something so outside the sheltered world of moral theory?

Or, since Kant sees everything in black and white, what would his response have been after the attack on Pearl Harbor?

Kant was wrong about lying.  Lying can and is acceptable when the ends do justify it.  Sound cold and immoral?  Consider this:  if the U.S. were attacked tomorrow by a powerful foreign nation -- say, Seattle was bombed -- and the populace was terrified, angry, or grieving...who do you want addressing the nation?  A politician that doesn't lie?  A guy that's going to stand up and tell you "You know what, we might not win this war.  Sorry guys, I give us about a 60/40 chance.  But we'll try hard!" or a guy that goes up and lies, saying "I know we're scared, I know we're angry.  But you know what?  We're at war now, and we're going to fight until we triumph."  I don't see anything wrong with a lie in those circumstances.  I'm not saying I'll approve of all lies, but some "white" lies are fine.

Kant strikes me as a wonderful person, as do most great moral philosophers.  But I think what they do best is tell us what we should all strive for in moral conduct, not what is necessarily feasible in the course of our lives.  Think of Artistotle's stance (I think I've got the right person in mind) on the "ideal" object:  We can't make it, as hard as we try, but we should do our best.

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ajames

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Reply #87 on: August 30, 2007, 11:51:04 PM
I see your point, and I respect Kant.  The problem is, Kant was a philosopher, not a leader.  I wonder how well Kant's principles would have held up in the gray world of politics.

I have very great respect for Kant, but disagree with him also, though for different reasons.   


Let's pretend Kant was the one deciding how to force a Japanese surrender.  Someone comes to him with U.S. Casualty estimates (I've actually heard as high as three million) in one hand, the option to send over a high-altitude bomber to wipe out 50,000 civilians in the other.  What would Kant decide was the black or white option? Would he even act, having been floored by something so outside the sheltered world of moral theory?

The black and white option is not to kill.  Once you cross that line, for whatever reason, you are allowing your moral landscape to bleed grey.  Someone breaks into your house and the only way to keep them from killing you and your family is to kill them.  Take the black and white option - you're dead, you're family is dead.  But your soul is safe.  Not the easy option to take, by any means.  But if you kill the intruder, and if you justify this action by saying it was the moral thing to do under the circumstances, you have opened the door for a lot of other exceptions and grey areas.

So Kant probably wouldn't be in the position to make such a decision in the first place [about forcing the Japanese surrender], and if he somehow did find himself in that position, he wouldn't have dropped the bombs.

Now, we know what happened after we dropped the bombs.  We don't know, and can never know, what would have happened if we hadn't dropped them.  Maybe the estimates and guesses about what would have happened were right on the money, maybe they were way off.

All we know for certain is that dropping the bombs killed a lot of people.  And one could argue that that is all we need to know to determine that the people who were behind the decision and action to drop the bombs acted immorally.

It is crucial when considering any morality based upon absolutes to determine its assumptions.  If you state that it is morally imperative that you never kill, or never lie, why?  One possibility is that your morality is based upon your religion.  If you are a Christian, for example, you could take the position that God gave us free will, but he also gave us knowledge of good and evil.  Our path to salvation lies in doing good, and leaving the consequences of our actions up to God. 

I'm not saying that all absolute moralities believe that killing is always wrong, or that all absolute moralities are based upon religion, or that all Christians believe in free will, doing good, or a black and white morality.

However, I would guess that most absolute moralities have some element of faith behind them, for it would be hard enough for someone to follow such a moral code even if they believed in some sort of supernatural power or cosmic plan, but t would be virtually impossible to follow such a code if you didn't.

Kant strikes me as a wonderful person, as do most great moral philosophers.  But I think what they do best is tell us what we should all strive for in moral conduct, not what is necessarily feasible in the course of our lives.  Think of Artistotle's stance (I think I've got the right person in mind) on the "ideal" object:  We can't make it, as hard as we try, but we should do our best.

I respect Aristotle, too, and like much of what he had to say.  And his morality was certainly more amenable to the types of situations one might encounter in the real world.  But, and I admit this is somewhat of a cheap shot, Aristotle also "proved" that slavery was a moral practice. 



Josh

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Reply #88 on: August 31, 2007, 01:41:15 AM
I loved this story! The storyline was original and the characters were believable, it was really interesting to see things form the other side.  Uh-oh, I think I've just been black listed  :P.



Mr. Tweedy

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Reply #89 on: September 03, 2007, 10:13:06 PM
Black and white...

I think of absolutes in terms of goals and values, not of rules.  I think that's what gets a lot of people confused.  People here "absolute" and they imagine an ironclad principle like "never lie," but anyone with a bit of imagination can quickly come up with a scenario in which a rule like that will be useless.

But absolute morality does is not a synonym for legalism.  It doesn't mean lists of rules. 
The "black" or "white" of an action has far less to do with what is done than with why.  For instance, I believe in this moral principle: "People should be free."  So if I kill for the purpose of bringing freedom to oppressed people, then my killing is moral and right.  If I kill for the purpose of oppressing or of otherwise fulfilling some egoistic desire, then my killing is immoral and wrong.  "No violence" is a useless rule, and anyone who tries to practice it will quickly realize that there are many scenarios in which the best way to avoid a lot of violence in the future is to use a little in the present.  But "protect human freedom" is very useful.  It's a black and white and absolute, and it's practical.  (It also requires you to think about what you're doing.  As a rule of thumb, I'd say that any rule you can follow without thinking probably isn't worth following.  This means that part of being moral is being wise.  Folly can be a sin: You're not off the hook if you could have known what was right but didn't bother to find out.)

The terrorist attacks we see around the world are not wrong because they are terrorism.  They are wrong because they support bad values.  They take away people's freedom with the intention of imposing a lifestyle that the people have no chosen.  The attacks are intended to oppress.  It is for that reason that they are wrong and must be stopped.  Freedom is the issue.  Freedom is the black and white.  Freedom is the absolute.

When we consider whether or not something is wrong, I don't think the important question is "is this terrorism" or "is this (insert label here)."  The question is "is this making people free or making people slaves?"

The question of what constitutes terrorism can get very gray and murky (as we've seen on this thread).  But I don't think that's a moral question: Not all immoral violence is terrorism and I'm not sure terrorism is categorically immoral.  The question of what protects or destroys freedom is much easier to answer.

Terrorism is almost always perpetrated with intention of taking away freedom and imposing control.  It's anti-freedom, and so it's wrong.

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Chodon

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Reply #90 on: September 04, 2007, 10:17:55 AM
For instance, I believe in this moral principle: "People should be free."  So if I kill for the purpose of bringing freedom to oppressed people, then my killing is moral and right.  If I kill for the purpose of oppressing or of otherwise fulfilling some egoistic desire, then my killing is immoral and wrong. 
I wholeheartedly agree with you on this in principle, Mr. Tweedy.  The unfortunate thing is that using violence to stop people from enslaving others isn't always easy.   Sure, when it's some militant in the street pointing an RPG at someone, or an adult suicide bomber it's pretty cut and dry.  Things get hazy really quick though.  What if it's a child with the bomb?  They don't understand the consequences of their actions.  They sure aren't trying to enslave anyone, but they are furthering terrorist plots anyway.  Would it be okay to use violence against them?  What if the terrorist is merely a puppet and doesn't know the whole picture (like Antonio).  Freedom should be protected, but using violence to protect it is never as clear as it seems.

Those who would sacrifice liberty for safety deserve neither.


timprov

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Reply #91 on: September 07, 2007, 09:05:47 PM
This is one of those stories that stays with you for hours after listening to it and that's always a good thing. 

Even in failure there can be Nobility! But failing to try brings only shame!
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Reply #92 on: September 07, 2007, 09:39:33 PM
I wholeheartedly agree with you on this in principle, Mr. Tweedy.  The unfortunate thing is that using violence to stop people from enslaving others isn't always easy.   Sure, when it's some militant in the street pointing an RPG at someone, or an adult suicide bomber it's pretty cut and dry.  Things get hazy really quick though.  What if it's a child with the bomb?  They don't understand the consequences of their actions.  They sure aren't trying to enslave anyone, but they are furthering terrorist plots anyway.  Would it be okay to use violence against them?  What if the terrorist is merely a puppet and doesn't know the whole picture (like Antonio).  Freedom should be protected, but using violence to protect it is never as clear as it seems.

Chodon,
I'm not sure
 what you are saying here
 about the child and the bomb.
If your comrades or family
 is threatened by a child with a bomb
 and you have the option to stop it with violence
 are you saying you wouldn't use it?
I can understand a moment of hesitation.
This situation is similar
 to when a police officer
 is threatened by a young person with a gun.
They might have a moment of hesitation
but the law and ethics
 would support
 the officer using violence to protect his life.

And I'm not sure how the
 "What if the terrorist is merely a puppet and doesn't know the whole picture (like Antonio)."
I don't understand how this affect how you would protect the innocent.


Always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question.

I imagine that yes is the only living thing.

e. e. cummings


ajames

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Reply #93 on: September 07, 2007, 11:05:53 PM
I think of absolutes in terms of goals and values, not of rules.  I think that's what gets a lot of people confused...

The thing about rules is that they can be absolute, and therefore they can be black and white.  "Never kill another person" is such a rule, even if the likely consequences may be untenable. 

Goals and values can never achieve this level of absoluteness, of clarity.  Let's take a look at your case in point.

For instance, I believe in this moral principle: "People should be free."  So if I kill for the purpose of bringing freedom to oppressed people, then my killing is moral and right.  If I kill for the purpose of oppressing or of otherwise fulfilling some egoistic desire, then my killing is immoral and wrong.  "No violence" is a useless rule, and anyone who tries to practice it will quickly realize that there are many scenarios in which the best way to avoid a lot of violence in the future is to use a little in the present.  But "protect human freedom" is very useful.  It's a black and white and absolute, and it's practical...

Freedom is the issue.  Freedom is the black and white.  Freedom is the absolute.

Freedom is the absolute, so it is moral to kill for freedom, if need be.  Even though I will be taking away the freedom of the people I kill, absolutely.  But that is still moral because it serves the greater good, the freedom of the many.

I get it.  It is a practical moral philosophy, but it is not absolute, and it is not black and white.  Kant could have easily have said that "preserving human life is the issue, the black and white, the absolute".  He didn't because he knew that wasn't the case.  Shall I kill a few to save many?  Shall I kill a few more of my enemies, to save a few less of my friends?  Shall I kill a lot more of my enemies, to save a few of my family?  What if the few I kill are good, peaceful people, and the many I save are evil tyrants, inflicting misery upon the populace but not death?  Gray, murky, difficult to reach complete agreement in every case, therefore not a perfect moral system in Kant's view.

There are similar problems with "people should be free".  Who should be free?  Everyone? My friends, my enemies, people who rob, hurt other people, kill other people?  Killing for freedom is justified - does that mean killing the slave owner?  How about the slave owner's family?  Their neighbors?  Anyone who isn't a slave?  How many terrorists call themselves freedom fighters?  Or is it moral to kill random Americans and Israeli's as long as it might in some way lift the oppression of the Palestines?  Or are such killers immoral because they haven't done their homework and figured out that the Palestine people aren't really being oppressed?  Really?  Is it realistic and practical to look at such a conflict and think that both sides and all observers will agree upon what is moral and what is immoral?

And that doesn't even get into what mean by "freedom".

My point is not that "freedom" is a bad goal or value.  I believe it is a fine value, though not the only value.  But even if it were the only value in a moral system, it is not absolute or black and white.  Unless we have very different definitions of absolute and black and white, which may very well be the case.



Chodon

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Reply #94 on: September 08, 2007, 12:33:39 PM
I wholeheartedly agree with you on this in principle, Mr. Tweedy.  The unfortunate thing is that using violence to stop people from enslaving others isn't always easy.   Sure, when it's some militant in the street pointing an RPG at someone, or an adult suicide bomber it's pretty cut and dry.  Things get hazy really quick though.  What if it's a child with the bomb?  They don't understand the consequences of their actions.  They sure aren't trying to enslave anyone, but they are furthering terrorist plots anyway.  Would it be okay to use violence against them?  What if the terrorist is merely a puppet and doesn't know the whole picture (like Antonio).  Freedom should be protected, but using violence to protect it is never as clear as it seems.

Chodon,
I'm not sure
 what you are saying here
 about the child and the bomb.
If your comrades or family
 is threatened by a child with a bomb
 and you have the option to stop it with violence
 are you saying you wouldn't use it?
I can understand a moment of hesitation.
This situation is similar
 to when a police officer
 is threatened by a young person with a gun.
They might have a moment of hesitation
but the law and ethics
 would support
 the officer using violence to protect his life.

And I'm not sure how the
 "What if the terrorist is merely a puppet and doesn't know the whole picture (like Antonio)."
I don't understand how this affect how you would protect the innocent.
It may be right and moral and legal to make the decision to kill someone to protect others, no matter if the other person is aware of the consequences of their actions or not.  That doesn't mean it's an easy and clear decision. 
Thousands of people suffer from PTSD, some from cases exactly like this.  In their minds it was not a simple decision and they can't justify their actions, so they struggle with this disorder.  What they did may have been right and saved lives, but it is a decision that carries serious weight.  They don't know if the kid or unknowing terrorist was going to turn around and give it up a second after they pulled the trigger. 
There is no way decisions like this are black and white.  From God's position they may be, but we don't see the whole plan and we don't know what would/could have happened, so every decision with consequences like killing always have a tint of gray.

Those who would sacrifice liberty for safety deserve neither.


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Reply #95 on: September 08, 2007, 05:38:33 PM
I was just thinking
 that you need to be alive
 to have these thoughts about the terrorist.
And
 that the rights of
 the innocent
 to live come first.

Always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question.

I imagine that yes is the only living thing.

e. e. cummings


Rachel Swirsky

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Reply #96 on: September 08, 2007, 09:03:52 PM
" that the rights of
 the innocent
 to live come first."

But there are innocents on both sides.



ajames

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Reply #97 on: September 09, 2007, 01:14:18 AM
Innocents on both sides, and those who are not innocent, but could be redeemed.  I am reminded of what Gandalf said about Golem in the Lord of the Rings.

"Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment. For even the very wise cannot see all ends."



Opabinia

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Reply #98 on: September 09, 2007, 05:43:03 AM
"Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgment."

Excellent argument against capital punishment.

However, the real salient question here is:

If you sincerely believe that by acting, you will kill 5 innocents, BUT

potentially save the lives of 500 innocents,

then is the action of killing wrong?

And if it IS wrong, then how is it any more wrong than the action of a government killing 600,000 civilians as "collateral" damage?



swdragoon

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Reply #99 on: September 09, 2007, 06:06:37 AM
First you are assuming civilians are innocents. Second you wouldn't be intentionally killing Collateral damage.

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