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Archive for December, 2012

It is said that necessity is the mother of invention.

Nowhere is that more true than in the Philippines. A poor nation with diverse problems, the Philippines has want everywhere. That’s not to say there’s no positive results that arise from these hardships. People use what they have, and they make do. Often, what they do with what they have is nothing short of amazing.

Demonstrating this is the homemade lantern below.
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My wife and I bought this the last time we were in the Philippines. We were taking a banca to a nearby island. The only other passenger was a friendly, elderly gentleman who was taking his collection of handmade lanterns to the small island to sell to the fishermen that lived there. He said that he had been making them all his life, and it showed.

Banca Water Taxi

Banca Water Taxi

Using nothing more than simple wire, tin cans, and empty beer bottles, he crafts these remarkable lanterns, what he referred to as his “product.” My wife, who has seen many similar homemade lanterns, was entranced by this one for its workmanship and also because it has a working screw to advance the wick, which the man had cleverly fashioned out of only twisted wire.

collage

The wire handle is hinged so that it can be moved out of the way to access the wick tray for refilling. He cut the glass with skill and fit the tin to it snugly, so that it holds with a reassuring fastness. He even fashioned a make-do smoke deflector disk for the top.

For the tin girdle, he used a simple but ingenious method for riveting the loose edges together – by punching a hole in one end, then cutting a star pattern in the other so that the tabs could be pushed through the hole and folded back against the other side.

With a few simple materials and a heaping dose of experience and skill, this talented man had made a clever and entirely functional device, and all for the humble sum of 25 pesos, or roughly $0.63 USD.

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target
I’ve been considering this idea quite a lot recently, the idea of an “easy mark.” Namely, the idea that I am myself so often one. That means, for reasons not completely known to me, I am like a magnet for the mockery of others, often without doing anything other than simply being present. I’m there. They assess. They mock. Laughter often follows, especially when there is more than one, which is another attribute of mockers – cowardice.

This can happen anywhere I go, but it has never happened to me anywhere with more intensity and frequency than when I’ve visited the Philippines.

Traveling in the Philippines has been a real eye opener for me. I’ve traveled little in my life. In fact, the Philippines is the only foreign country I’ve ever visited (Canada doesn’t count because it is not foreign to the US, it is familiar. Canada is like America on mild relaxants).

The Philippines was my first experience as a minority, but when I say minority, it really means something in this context. Unlike the US, the Philippines is an astoundingly homogeneous country. People there are generally short, brown skinned, and black haired, with statistical exceptions in the expected ranges. I am tall, white skinned, and light-brown haired (at least in the part that remains).

Let’s face it – I stand out when I’m there. Like a sore thumb. And standing out is not ever a good thing when all you want to do is melt into the background and blend in.

I will never blend in there, and for the most part, I will never belong there either. Having married a filipina helps, of course. And if God ever blesses us with a child, that will contribute also. But the goal of true acceptance is unobtainable – that’s reality.

That, in itself, wouldn’t be so bad. But there’s more – there’s this idea of being an easy mark, and there’s also the disturbing frequency of encountering those that seem only too happy to spit some venom your way.

The surprise for me when I realized what was happening was how subtle it was. Filipinos are not New Yorkers. If a Manhattanite wants to pick a bone with you, you will know, and with cutting clarity.

Not with filipinos. Filipinos are subtle generally, and it takes time to learn their insult vocabulary. Here’s that vocabulary as I’ve come to understand it so far.

The Filipino Cough – Ah yes, this is the favorite, the old standbye. It’s perfect, really, because it’s a natural bodily function. It gives plausible deniability: “Did I cough at you? Of course not, I just had to cough.”

Before anyone accuses me of paranoia, let me say this – don’t judge me until you’ve lived there. I’m not paranoid, and I’m not stupid. I can notice patterns, frequency, and I can calculate odds. The first time someone coughs at you at the precise moment you walk by, you think nothing of it. When it happens for the tenth time during a short walk around town, you take notice. You question. You pay more attention the next time you go out, and it happens again. Hmmm. Something is afoot here, you think. Trouble, right here in River City.

And it’s the quality of the cough as well. The mouse-squeak *ahems* are too subtle to be included (although they are used to censure as well). I’m talking about the lung expelling hack, the kind that communicates to you clearly that they are trying spit you out of their existence. When done well, it’s a supremely effective aspersion. The cough says “There you are, a clot of phlem on the ground where I’ve spit you out.” And that’s exactly how it makes you feel.

The Wide-Eyed Slow-Blink – This one is a little less cutting to one’s pride, even though it says basically the same thing. I’ve seen this one primarily after someone looks at you without expecting to see a foreigner. They stare a moment with wide eyes, taking the offense in, then blink slowly a few times, to wash that offense away. Less insulting than the cough, and therefore preferable.

The Lip Smack – Similar to the tisk, but farther back on the tongue. It’s like they are tasting your presence, and it doesn’t taste good. It may be followed by a spit.

The Long Stare – Okay, this one is not subtle anywhere. If you stare sternly at someone, it’s insulting, and oftentimes a challenge. This is very common in the Philippines, and usual they visually rape you from head to foot, then continue to stare at your face until you are out of sight. I’ve found that the worst ones for this are older filipinas, and it happened to me most often when I was walking with my wife. They make it clear that they don’t approve of interracial marriages. I say, so what.

The question I have is why I have received these insults with such frequency, when others haven’t. I know, I’ve talked to other foreigners there about it. What do I project that draws these responses to me?

My wife says it’s because I have a friendly face. I don’t agree that I do, but I do have a sort of harmless Opie Taylor quality to me. Maybe that’s it. If I appear harmless, I draw attacks. But I’m not sure that’s all there is to it.

I know there’s a spiritual spectrum to life, and I believe that there exists a dichotomy to that spiritual spectrum: dark and light, good and evil. People can become hosts for spiritual entities – permanently, or for only a brief moment. Sometimes I wonder if that is what is at work here – an enemy, roaming around, using the unprotected to attack ones that are protected, then vanishing. Supporting this explanation is the hatefulness of these censures or attacks. Supposedly filipinos are Godly people – it is a Christian nation after all. But this kind of behavior is anything but Godly. It’s detestable – they don’t know me. I’m a complete stranger to those that do this. But on sight they hate me. Can that be explained by natural means? Or only by the supernatural?

Jonathan Kleck, a man that has done much to expose this supernatural enemies’ devices and symbols on his youtube channel, has testified about similar attacks himself. With him, it is usually a threatening word followed by a wink. Some of them he knows. They say things that are arcane or very unlikely for them to know anything about. Has something just used them to talk directly to Kleck? He believes so. I’m not so sure he’s wrong about it either.

imagesThe wink itself is a device with a history. It mimes the pagan one-eyed god, a god with diverse names throughout history, and it also refers to the future antichrist himself. Also, there is the All-Seeing-Eye that is shown on the dollar bill, the god of the Masons. Anyone who has done a speck of research on this knows who that god is. It’s Lucifer, in case you haven’t researched it. Always the focus on the single eye, and so many music stars have played right along, whether or not they are aware of what the pose means.

Look it up online. There are scores of photos depicting this pose of covering one eye. Heck, even Santa is getting in on the act. But that’s a whole other story.santa

If this is the work of a supernatural agent, then I’m not worried. Yeshua is my God, and He has my back. It’s not easy being an easy mark, whether it’s because I look harmless, or because fools can be used by the prince of fools. It’s tempting to respond with anger. But I look to these scriptures to remind me of what’s what in this world. If you’ve ever been an easy mark, may you find solace in them also.

Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity. For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb. Psalm 37:1-2

Cease from anger, and forsake wrath: fret not thyself in any wise to do evil. Psalm 37:8

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mayan

It ends tomorrow… or does it begin? Soon we will see what, if anything, there is to all the hype about December 21, 2012. Blessings and best wishes to all…

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looper

Now we enter into the second half of the movie. We’ve been introduced to the whole looper concept, seen the degradation of the assassin’s lifestyle, and watched Joe move on into the life he lived in Asia after retiring himself the first time. Here the movie returns to the past when young Joe and old Joe are simultaneously running from the Gat Men working for their boss, Abe (played by Jeff Daniels).

It turns out that young Joe fell onto a car after slipping off the fire escape, and is pulled to safety by old Joe, who watched the whole thing happen while cursing his younger self’s ignorance for returning to his apartment instead of running like he’d been told.

Man, could I have used an older, wiser version of myself at certain crossroads of my life to advise me what to do… Where is my aged doppelganger?

But young Joe is impetuous, and has little respect for old Joe’s opinions, as evidenced by the scene at the diner, which is where they meet up again after young Joe carves the message into his young arm, and old Joe sees the healed scar on his old arm mysteriously appear – one of the most interesting components of the time travel concept in this movie. This diner interlude is broken up when a gang of Gat Men appear, and old Joe manages to escape while young Joe is helping his previous associates to fire on him, until he too needs beat-feet when their attention turns to him.

But young Joe has a clue to help him find his older, crustier self again: a scrap torn from a map that old Joe had. Before beaming himself back in time, old Joe had received a lead on the Rainmaker – a string of digits, which turns out to be the Rainmaker’s birth date and the code of the hospital he was born in. After researching hospital records, he finds out there were three children born on that particular day in that particular hospital, and so has plans to kill all three to be sure the Rainmaker is dispatched. Young Joe ends up, coincidentally of course, at the home of the future arch-criminal himself, which is also the last mark to be targeted by old Joe.

To be sure, this is not one of Bruce’s best performances. First, he looks like a putz, and the blame lies squarely in the hair department. When Johnson transitions from young Joe to old, it’s a bit too abrupt and unconvincing. He simply gives young Joe longer hair to indicate the passage of time, then jumps to Willis with the same length of hair but gray and mangy, and then has it fall out by degrees until he’s left with the doo that, so far, Willis has been careful to avoid in movies but the one which would be his natural state without shaving his head – bald on top, fur around the sides; the dreaded Monk’s Tonsure, or Toilet Seat (shiny on top, shit underneath). And secondly, his acting is a bit bland at times, especially in the scene where he breaks down after killing the first boy. It just didn’t convince me – but then again, he’s a soulless assassin, so what do you expect? True sincerity?

Meanwhile, young Joe is detoxing from his addiction at the farm of the actual target, tended to by the boy’s reluctant mother. When he recovers, he soon learns that the boy, Cid, is gifted in intelligence, probably at genius level. The mother is what the movie describes as a TK, for telekinesis. Apparently, mutations have occured in human DNA leading to limited TK powers – exemplified in the movie by several people levitating quarters above their palms. The mother, Sara, goes one better – a zippo. This is to prep the viewer for what Cid will do later, although what he is capable of doing is an evolutionary leap in comparison. After a brief scene alluding to his power when he gets angry at Sara, he demonstrates it full-blown when he first levitates a Gat Man who came snooping around, and then obliterates him along with the inside of the house. Initially, young Joe is horrified by what the boy can do and sets out behind him when Cid runs from the house in order to kill him, but the boy is repentant, and Joe relents. Johnson actually does a fine job of balancing Cid’s anger and destructive powers with his innocence – he’s not a criminal yet, and Johnson makes that point clear.

Sara, understanding the true danger facing them now, grabs Cid and flees in her truck. Old Joe – on foot – sees them coming, starts firing at them, and Cid in his fear flips and crashes the truck with his powers. They crawl out and start fleeing across an open field, with old Joe firing at them. Shortly after, young Joe catches up to the scene on foot, but he is too far behind to stop old Joe with his shotgun. Old Joe is relentless, and young Joe knows that he won’t stop until he kills Cid, Sara, or both. Then old Joe fires off a shot that rips through the boy’s jaw.

Furious now, the boy raises a whirlwind of cane detritus as well as old Joe and his mother into the air. Johnson shines here, as he deftly handles the contrasts. First the gale is quieted, and then you hear Sara speaking calmly to her son: “It’s OK Baby. It’s OK. I love you. Calm down. Please. Mommy loves you.” And it works. Cid drops them, and Sara rushes in to comfort him. Old Joe promptly gets up and starts firing again.

Sara is trying to block old Joe’s line of sight and thus protect her son, and as old Joe draws a bead on her, young Joe delivers the best line of the whole movie:

Then I saw it. I saw a mom who would die for her son. A man who would kill for his wife. A boy angry and alone, laid out in front of him, the bad path. I saw it. And the path was a circle. So I changed it.

He raises the barrel of the shotgun to his own chest, and fires. Old Joe blinks out. Cid and Sara are saved.

Besides the time travel blunders, Johnson has really pulled off a movie that should, in my opinion, become a classic in the sci-fi genre. It has what so few sci-fi movies have been able to include together – great intellectual elements with a strong moral lesson as well. One relies on the other. If young Joe hadn’t witnessed firsthand the obsession and selfish greed of his older counterpart (made possible by the intellectual component of time travel), he wouldn’t have awakened to the idea that greater things than self were at work in life. Rather than only self-service for the rest of his life unceasingly, he chose self-sacrifice to change the course and make a difference. Good on you, Johnson. Well done.

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So true – this is my same experience as a neophyte blogger. Better to have fewer comments and likes that are “real,” than many that are fake.

Enjoy Life For Once!

 

This blogging world is pretty new to me. It’s so new that I don’t even know if it’s obvious that it’s new to me or not. I’m still learning everything from how to keep track of posts I like to finding a blog a second time.

When I first started making posts and actually putting effort in, I got a handful of followers. Some of them, who are probably reading this, were great people who actually read the post, actually liked it, maybe commented, and in either case, kept coming back for more.

Other new followers had blogs which I instantly checked out; I found something rather peculiar. A tiny handful of them had somewhat interesting posts, sure, but they also had loads, and I mean loads, of comments which were unanimously: “thank you for following my blog!”

Oh, that’s what this is, I thought. People aren’t following me…

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looperHow’s this for an opening scene?

A lone man is sitting in an open field. Before him lies a white tarpaulin. While listening to headphones and practicing French, he keeps checking his antique pocket watch. After a few moments, he checks his watch one last time, stands, and aims his shotgun before him at waist-level. Instantly, out of nowhere, a kneeling man appears before him on the tarp, bound and hooded. He shoots him dead.

Time travel, he narrates, has not been invented yet. But in 30 years, it will have been.

So starts this post-apocalyptic, future-based, sci-fi thriller. Whew – that’s a lot of hyphens.

I decided to review this movie because it’s one of the best I’ve seen in a long, long time. But it’s not without a few glaring imperfections.

Written and directed by Rian Johnson, this movie stars Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Emily Blunt. It is set in Kansas, year 2044. Signs of a previous economic collapse are everywhere, but it doesn’t go overboard focusing on this fact in the way the abysmally depressing movie “The Road” did. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a character named, appropriately, Joe. He works in 2044 as an assassin for crime bosses who live 30 years in the future. Because of technological body-tagging and the difficulty of disposing of bodies in the year 2074, they utilize recently discovered (and quickly outlawed) time travel technology to “zap” bodies back in time where they can be dispatched and incinerated – bodies which, at least in that prior time, don’t exist. In return the assassins receive two silver bars per job, which the crime bosses strap to the backs of their victims.

A looper’s life quickly devolves into an endless, empty cycle of blowing away marks, collecting their silver payments, hitting up with eye-drop narcotics before partying hard, then doing it all over again. Eventually though,  a looper will discover a large gold payout attached to the back of the mark they’ve just killed, indicating that they have just “closed their loop.” This means that they’ve just killed their older, future self, and can now take that golden umbrella and live comfortably for the next thirty years, until, apparently, they are sent back to be killed by themselves again, which would technically mean that they never closed their loop. Sigh. Here is where we encounter the biggest, smelliest Stanley Steamer that Johnson plops into this otherwise intelligent and thought-provoking film. More on that later.

For now, lets continue with young Joe. With unassailable deadpan style and a face reminiscent of De Niro (check out the desk scene between Joe and the Gat Men’s boss Abe), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (seriously… a man with a hyphenated name?) delivers this role with acumen. He has a hard job in this movie. It’s not easy to play a character that has little moral integrity and still maintain a viewer’s investment. But he does just that (plus he redeems himself at the end). He kills strangers for a living, a good living, in a time when most people are living as scavengers. He rats out his best friend and fellow assassin Seth to protect his stash of silver (Judas anyone?). And, he argues against his future self in a diner, saying “I can’t let you walk away from this diner alive. This is my life now. You had yours already, so why don’t you do what old men do, and die!” Nice, right?

Here’s a guy that cannot even befriend himself. Ah well, many of us suffer the same imperfection, and maybe that’s why we can forgive him.

When he meets old Joe (Willis), he pauses because old Joe’s hood is not on when he appears. They look into each other’s eyes, then old Joe turns around before taking the shotgun blast into the gold bars on his back, saving him. Before young Joe can reload, old Joe knocks him out and steals his truck, leaving a note with his younger self to get out of the city, to run. But young Joe is, well, young, not to mention naive, and so he doesn’t run. He goes straight back to his apartment, where an altercation takes place with the Gat Men looking for him because he did what is called “letting your looper run.” That’s a big no-no in looper land, apparently.

That’s what Joe’s friend Seth did. Although his looper (himself) was hooded when he appeared, he was singing the song his mother used to sing to comfort him as a child. He unmasked his older self, who told him about a new crime boss in the future, called the Rainmaker, a mysterious figure who was taking over all the regional cities and closing all the loops. That news will become important later.

Anyway, as young Joe is trying to evade the Gat Men sent to his apartment to kill him and is hanging from the fire escape, his handhold slips and he falls. Fade to black.

Cut to the field. Same field as before, only this time, when old Joe appears, he is head-sacked and young Joe promptly blows him to kingdom come. Then he finds the gold, and realizes he just killed his old-man self. He shrugs it off, grabs the gold, and then the film begins an annotated sequence documenting the next thirty years of his life. He goes to Asia, spends down all of his gold and silver, then takes up working as an assassin again before suddenly turning into Bruce Willis (with really bad hair), and meeting the Asian woman of his dreams, who cleans him up, gets him off drugs, and makes a decent human being out of him (finally!).

Okay – so I ask you Rian Johnson: what time is this? This scene that you cut to after the fire escape scene?

As far as I can discern, this scene is in the past, when young Joe supposedly closed his loop the first time (which of course he didn’t, as discussed before – actually it’s the crime syndicate’s fault – they keep sending their loopers back in time after the loop was supposedly closed – duh). So, when watching the movie from the start, we are assuming that we are watching young Joe’s first time to encounter himself, but apparently we are not – it’s the second time, because after old Joe comes back, he is coming back from the life experience we watch unfold after the scene cuts from young Joe’s fall from the fire escape back to the field, where he actually kills his old self, then goes on to live the life the movie portrays in Asia. Thoroughly confused yet? Bear with me – technical details like this matter with sci-fi.

So the first scene is  old Joe’s second “loop,” the second scene the first. Gee, thanks Johnson. As if the concept of time travel weren’t confusing enough. Plop. Big Stanley Steamer.

As far as I can tell, there is only ever one young Joe. The loop starts when an older self is sent back in time and two are in the same time simultaneously,  and that loop is either continued or closed. In the first go around, young Joe kills old Joe, then sets out to live his life in Asia. Then he gets apprehended by the henchmen of the Rainmaker, taken to the time machine, whereby he overtakes his handlers, and sends himself back in time to the field (the first field scene shown). Why does he send himself back? Because the henchmen killed his wife when they apprehended him, and he wants to go back in time and kill the Rainmaker as a child, thereby changing the future and saving his wife. And herein lies another big pooper that Johnson never addresses: since there is no time machine in 2044 with which to send himself back again to the future and live with his wife, then what is the point of it all? Oh, the humanity!!

If Johnson wanted to avoid confusion, which he clearly did not, then he just would have had an assassin experience one loop, get killed by himself in the past, then the original assassin in the past would just live out the rest of that life to die at some point IN THE FUTURE! But alas, that would be far too simple. And clear. Or, to make it even clearer, never have the assassins loop themselves in the first place. No need. But then you wouldn’t have the fantastic scene at the diner, where old Joe and young Joe sit down and have a heart to heart chat, or scolding, as was the case in this movie. And you wouldn’t have the final, amazing scene at the end, either.

Speaking of the diner scene: I know that Johnson was aware of these glaring inconsistencies as he spoke through the character of old Joe, when he says “I don’t want to talk about time travel shit, because if we start talkin’ about it then we’re gonna be here all day talkin’ about it, making diagrams with straws.” Then, when pressed on the issue of time travel by young Joe, he slams his fist down onto the table and yells “It doesn’t matter!” Oh yes it does, Mr. Johnson. It does matter. Sometimes writing requires mental effort. Go figure.

Alright – this review has become as confusing as Johnson’s take on time travel. The second half will have to wait until the next post!

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Recently the wife and I did a 32 hour fast – that means we stopped eating after dinner and didn’t eat again until a very early breakfast the second day after that. I say “very early” because it was all we could do to sleep through the night given our rumbling stomachs. We’re such wimps.

This was my wife’s first time to fast. I was astonished when she told me this. She grew up in the Philippines, a place where, unfortunately, many are lucky if they get to eat even once a day. But her whole life she has had three square every single day, without exception – a testament to the commitment of her hardworking parents. Philippines is also a Catholic country, so I was surprised that fasting is not practiced much there as part of religious observances.

I think fasting is becoming popular again in the US, for reasons of its health benefits, which are many. But our reasons for fasting, while including those, focused primarily on its spiritual aspects.

The effects of fasting on body and spirit have to be experienced to be truly understood. I was reminded of this during our last fast, reminded because I had totally forgotten the play that results between flesh and spirit. Play? No, it’s more like a war. And there’s nothing like fasting to bring that battle under clear focus.

That first morning, after already fasting for 8 hours the night before, the stand off commences. Spirit on one side, the appetites of flesh on the other. Let the battle begin!

You are already hungry by this point. It’s a more acute hunger than that which precedes a normal day’s lunch or dinner, for each night is a mini-fast of its own. Because you’re aware that you will be skipping this meal, “break-fast,” your flesh starts to complain. I know that attitude has a huge effect on experience, and I swear that the internal bickering that starts at this point amplifies the hunger many times over. The stomach wants food. The Id wants food. The “Me-Monster” wants food (to quote Brian Regan). The spirit wants to fast. The spirit wants to quiet, to subdue, the flesh.

Which side wins depends on discipline of will. I’ve done fasts where I’ve gone 5 days with no problem, and others where I intended to go that long but only lasted until the first evening’s dinner. Each time it’s a mystery, and it’s always interesting to see how the play of opposites will turn out. Discipline is one of the big benefits of fasting, and the practice of fasting is what disciplines the will. Through practice, fasting tempers bodily appetites, diminishing the intensity of the cravings, and places them more firmly under the will of spirit, which, in my opinion at least, is where it belongs.

This effect becomes clear at some indeterminate point during the fast (it will vary each time). At some point, all the constant cravings and temptations to eat will suspend, without warning, and a peaceful calm will envelope body and mind. This is the destination you have been gunning for, and once this peace ensues you have reached your stride in the fast. At this point, the fast is sustainable. Getting through the turbulence of the initial conflict is the tough part. And oh, there are so many temptations during that time! Neighbors grilling succulent meat. Food stands selling salty buttered popcorn. Movies that seem to constantly be showing people eating! It’s as if they know you are trying to fast and wish to see you stumble.

But if you can survive that initial period, you make it to the suspension of internal conflict, and firmly assert your will over your bodily desires. The purpose of this is to be the king of your own castle. To be ruled by your own appetites is a recipe that never ends well – addictions and excesses of all kinds can result, not to mention the illness and/or bankruptcy that often follows those. Humility is also the reward of fasting, because you realize with renewed appreciation the value of a simple meal, and how lucky you are if you are allowed to forget that fact through absence of want. Never do I appreciate food more, no matter how simple it may be, than after a fast of even one day. I relish that first meal. I soak it in through all senses. I thank God for providing it. I am at peace. I am humbled. Those are some of the spiritual rewards of fasting. Give it a try if you never have before. It’s challenging but so worth the effort.

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