How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Guns

Dr Strangelove
From: DrStrangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. I have to include that reference since the movie was made before most of you were born.

There is quite a bit of (well deserved) public outrage after the killing of seventeen people at the high school in Parkland. Everyone wants to see this fixed, but, as usual in America, the proposed solutions are polarized between two camps.

A few days ago, I engaged in an online debate with a couple of guys who are very pro-gun. I enjoy spirited debates, not because I am trying to convince anyone of anything, but because I learn so much about how other people think, and I also admit to it being fun for me. Anyway, it provided me with some insight as to why some people believe that having more guns than people in the United States is still a little light in the gun department.

The central arguments for keeping guns and gun laws the way they are apparently include:

  1. History teaches us that governments will always become more oppressive, so we need an armed populace to defeat them when they try and take over militarily.
  2. Anything other countries do to solve any problem is of no consequence simply because they are not the United States. Part of the argument is cultural difference, and part of it is size difference.
  3. The second amendment is irrevocable and unchangeable.
  4. They like guns.

In response to number one, I asked this simple question: “Since firearms were first invented, when in the history of the U.S., England, Canada, and Australia have guns been necessary to keep the government at bay?”

I received no reply, because of course, it’s never happened.

I use those other countries because they are most similar to us socially, we speak the same language, and we’ve all been around for hundreds of years, cumulatively for over a thousand years. And yet the fear of Pol Pot reincarnating in the United States is enough for them to insist we must have guns to resist this future tyranny, as unlikely as it actually is. As a result, Americans shooting each other more than anyone is an unfortunate byproduct of preventing a military takeover or coup or whatever, even though that’s never happened in our 242 year existence, nor in similar countries during that span. Somehow the U.S. is the only country to insist the solution is to have more guns, while the others are far more peaceful than the U.S. and lack just as many military takeovers.

On to number two: I just want to say that my experience in moving to Europe is that We is You, and You is Us. Aside from language and minor cultural differences, such as preferring no ice in their drinks, not refrigerating eggs or milk, not being particularly keen on tipping, not shooting each other very often, never being willing to trade their socialized medicine and educational systems for the U.S. versions for all the tea in China (and the Portuguese are the ones responsible for turning English into the tea-drinking maniacs they are), and they would Barrel Big Gulpgo into a sugar coma just from thinking about drinking a 64 ounce Big Gulp. For my European friends, that’s nearly 2 liters of soda pop. Intended for one person in one sitting. I’m not kidding. They even have a 128 ounce (3785ml) version. The recommended daily sugar intake for a man is 36 grams, and 20 for a woman (sorry ladies, you’re already too sweet I guess). The Super Big Gulp has 80 grams. Wow. I wish this whole debate were about whether you should drink Big Gulps, it would be a lot easier one.

Anyway, the point is that aside from these minor differences, Western European culture is virtually the same as it is in the U.S. So the idea that we can’t learn from them, much less understand that they have a lot more experience with shooting in their neighborhoods solely due to World War I and II, is just plain silly. You’d think if guns were the answer, Europeans would have armed themselves to the teeth to prevent another Hitler. Interestingly, they went completely the other direction, and are far safer for it.

I’ve been to Japan a handful of times, and while they don’t have guns either, I’d say their culture was different enough that it’s not worth trying to bring the reasons for that mindset into the American culture. But Western Europe is a whole different story.

I would also argue that the culture of the United States in 1791, when the second amendment was passed, is far, far different than almost any developed country in the world today. There was slavery and women couldn’t vote, for starters. And the U.S. was fresh off a war of independence from Britain, certainly making them pretty sensitive about fighting to free the land from tyranny.

I have also heard a million times that you can’t compare any country’s success in anything to the U.S. because they’re smaller. That’s such a specious argument because what it does is eliminate every country in the world except India and China; the U.S. has the third largest population in the world. Of course, that doesn’t stop those same arguers from insisting that China should adopt America’s democracy and morals. Irony abounds.

World Murder Rates
Yes, I know this is not just gunshot fatalities, but can we at least agree that guns aren’t helping?

More importantly, the EU is very similar to the US in that even though it is formed by separate countries instead of states, they’re all connected economically with the same currency, they are regulated from a central authority, they are free to cross borders at any time, and can live in any place they want.

The two have roughly the same GDP, and the EU has a larger population. So if the EU does something, such as socialized medicine or free college, you can’t dismiss that as irrelevant because they’re smaller, or socially much different, because they’re neither. My guess is that some might respond, “Well, they’re bigger.”Armed gopher In which case the only way you can compare and learn from any other country is if there is an alternate universe where you can look at the same exact country and hope they do things a little different.

The whole argument of “you can’t compare” or “we can’t learn from other countries” sounds to me like someone telling his neighbor, “Yes, I see you eliminated all your gophers with that scheme, but it wouldn’t apply to my yard because it’s larger and I have more weeds.” Okay, then live with the gophers. Or in this case, the murders.

As for the second amendment, it was an amendment. Its very presence proves these documents can be changed. And I would remind people that back when it was written, everyone had pretty much similar levels of armaments as everyone else, even the government (maybe except for cannons, which hardly compare as weapons of mass destruction). Today’s governments have tanks and missiles and drones and satellites and training and so on.0053_defense-comparison-full Ironically, the same people who are so hellbent on pouring more money into what is already the world’s largest military are usually the same people who want to arm themselves in case it all comes back to bite them.

Wow.

As for liking guns, I get it. I own some myself. But I still want sensible laws and restrictions on who can buy them. We have to jump through a fair amount of hoops to get a driver’s license. Why? Because cars can kill. Hmm, I think there’s a comparison there somewhere.

I know there are more pro-gun arguments, such as it’s already too late because there are more guns than people in the US, but my point is that all of our minds should be open to learning and certainly having civil discussion on the matter, with the subject at hand being allowed to be on the table. stricter_gun_control_laws_in_the_united_states-_chartbuilder_e3216bb7c3309ff41a0926b907e77dfe.nbcnews-ux-2880-1000America is a Republic that mostly functions as a democracy. If the majority of Americans desire more gun control, why is it the minority, led by the NRA, allowed to impose their will on the rest of us?

Anyway, my main contribution to the debate is to point out that the rest of the world is not as different as many Americans might think, and that we can learn from everyone, including those who live in other countries, perhaps even including shithole countries!

Feel free to post some counterarguments– we need this debate!

 

Why I Hate America So Much

First of all, I don’t hate America. I just love grabby headlines.

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No, this isn’t me.

This post is actually in response to a family member who recently berated me for criticizing the US too often on this blog. I was told I should just stick to offering up a travelogue. Why the world needs another one of those, I don’t know, but there it was in the suggestion box.

I’ll admit I’ve offered up many comparisons after moving over here, and they don’t always reflect well on the US. But the truth is the bulk of them have been noted mostly because what I’ve experienced has been something of a surprise. I figured if I’ve been surprised, even after having the good fortune to have traveled the world a little before this move, then other people might be surprised to hear about them as well.

I also have a personal conviction whereby I refuse to believe in default patriotism. The place I was born was an accident of birth, not a choice I made. To me, being proud of something I had absolutely nothing to do with seems a little silly. I also happen to believe that patriotism is neck and neck with religion for being the ideology most responsible for creating worldwide misery. World War II would not have happened without rampant patriotism, because that’s largely what fueled World War I, and the second war was simply the finale of what was actually one long war. The result of it all was that Europe decided to work on ways to avoid such catastrophes in the future, which ultimately resulted in the European Union. The EU has actually done a very good job of making its people feel more attached to humanity in general, not just those who were born in the same country as themselves (the über patriotic politicians who refuse to learn from history notwithstanding).

In addition, you can see anything we have seen anytime you want just by doing a Google search. If you want to see what Sesimbra looks like, just type “Sesimbra” into the search engine. I’m not a good enough photographer to add much of anything to what is already out there. But I do have thoughts and observations, and anyone who knows me can surely attest to the fact that I’m very open and willing to share them. Not out of smugness or look-what-I-can-do-and-you-can’t-edness, I just share, that’s all. And I do think that an American moving to Portugal is uncommon enough, much less done by someone who’s willing to publicly share his or her experiences, to warrant some interest by those who don’t know anyone else who has done the same.

But the main reason I apparently said one thing too many for at least one of my readers is that I’ve truly been surprised at what I see now that I’m looking from the outside in, and surprise begets repetition. “Did you see that? Really, did you see that? Hey, you, did you see that? Wow!” To the extent that I’ve already expressed much of my surprise, I’ve taken the criticism to heart and am endeavoring to tone that down a little. But this will never be just another travelogue, and I will never refrain from criticizing where I see fit, mostly because I believe every bad circumstance that has ever occurred in the world deserves more criticism. As soon as criticism is eliminated, things like Hitler or Nixon happen.

Like most Americans, I had a worldview that was greatly impacted by the continuous stream of propaganda and societal agreements that something is the way it is simply because we all agree that it is.

As a result, when we moved to Portugal, I expected it to be less comfortable. I expected some goods to be cheaper, but that we’d have to make do with not having comforts we were used to having in the US. The first time we went to a medical clinic, I expected to wait eight hours for an appointment with a doctor less capable than the ones in the US. I expected Europeans to be less polite than Americans because I already knew they don’t smile at strangers, they’re rather rude in queues, and they drive like bats out of hell. I also expected the standard of living to be significantly less than that of the average American, especially in a poorer country like Portugal.

I was willing to endure all this, including the agony of beating up my aging brain by learning a new language, just to explore and see the world. Besides, my blood is decidedly Western European, according to a DNA test I took. So this is actually my homeland as it were, so maybe it was also a desire to see where I’m actually from.

I also expected that the populace would be laboring under a system that was less “free” than what America enjoys. After all, America is the Land of the Free, right?

Safety netTurns out that recent studies (I’ve read several) show that actually the US is quite a ways down the list of countries in terms of just freedom.

Let that sink in for a second. America no longer leads the world in freedom.

The following will surely be counterintuitive for a lot of people, but the left-leaning governments are the ones that offer the most freedom for their people. I’ll leave it to others to figure out the whys and wherefores of that, but I’ve seriously been shocked to realize I’ve moved from the Land of the Free to the Land of the Freer. I figured all the crime and shootings and lopsided wealth were crosses we had to bear for living in a land focused on freedom. Turns out I was wrong. We’re all wrong about a lot of things we believe, and the only way to find out which ones they are is to have an open mind, listen to people who have done things you haven’t, experience as much as you can yourself, and try to run every piece of information you encounter outside the lenses of your own preconceived notions.

In my opinion, if you haven’t changed your mind about anything remotely significant in a while, you’re not thinking. Because if you think you already know it all and everything you believe is surely correct, then you might as well just kick the bucket now, because living is growing, and growing comes from learning. Besides, you’d be dead wrong. Nobody in the world has a belief set that is 100% correct. It’s simply impossible. That’s what makes us human.

I’ve been continuously surprised, shocked even, at what I’ve learned from this move. I’ve discovered that Europe is in fact significantly ahead of so many things that at times the US looks like a third-world country in comparison. That’s a little stronger than I intend, but the reality is that we’ve been told over and over that America is the greatest country in the world. So when you find out it’s really not, at least in so very many ways, it’s a little startling, and you tend to go on and on about it especially if you’re a sharer.

I was also taken aback at a recent exchange on Facebook after I shared a fellow traveler’s blog who observed many of the same things I had.

The Facebook comment was, “I am fortunate enough to have traveled, but I try not to be smug about it.” So I went back and re-read the original post. For the life of me I can’t see any smugness in it anywhere. Just another person sharing their observations after experiencing something for the first time. I actually became angry, because by throwing the smug word around you’re essentially calling for people who experience something new to shut the hell up. “Don’t give us your observations, we just want to see the pictures. Or nothing at all because we don’t want to hear that where we live might not really be quite as nice in comparison. We’re stuck here, so quit being so smug about traveling around.”

I just think it’s sad when people aren’t interested in hearing about anything someone else has done. I also think it’s tragic when people share their thoughts and feelings and experiences but are slammed for doing so. I’m not traveling for anyone else at all, but I don’t mind sharing what I’ve experienced because that’s simply who I am, not because I have any agenda.

But I also realized that if someone is reading something and expects smugness, for example, then smugness is what they’ll perceive, no matter what was written. A writer can only control a certain percentage of what someone takes in. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written an email only to find out the response to it was completely different than what I thought I wrote. I’ve even read back the exact 2 AM.jpgwords out loud, only to hear, “Well, what you meant was…” Um, no, what I meant was exactly what the words said. The undercurrent is what you brought to the table. That and maybe I’m just a shitty writer.

I read an article a long time ago that listed the world’s riskiest professions. I was surprised to see that they included “writers” on the list. After some contemplation on that, I realized why that may be the case. Because when you write something down, you’re exposing the world to your innermost thoughts. You’re opening yourself up for criticism and ridicule. Once they’re in print, you can’t deny having written them. It’s easier, and safer, just to shut up. So most people do.

But adventurers don’t tend to play it safe or easy, and I’d say selling almost everything you own and moving to another country qualifies someone as at least a little bit of a risk taker. So I take the criticisms and any ridicule in stride. Obviously I’d much rather be showered with book contracts or win Pulitzer Prizes for what I write, especially if they have a category for Travel Blogs Read By Less Than Ten People, but you can’t opine about much of anything without being subject to ridicule and criticism. Just ask most of today’s newspeople.

Anyway, I’m just gonna keep doing what I do. Some of it is to memorialize. Some of it is to share what I’ve experienced, just because I’m a sharer, and that’s pretty much the only reason. Read it, or not, I don’t care. Frankly I usually have absolutely no idea if anyone does or not. The only thing I do know is that almost no one on my side of the family does (not counting our kids, even though most of them don’t either). They’re all pretty tired of me I suppose, or simply have no interest in anything beyond the borders of the state they live in. Fine with me. But I’m just gonna keep being me, which means posts with poorly-framed pictures, lame attempts at humor (I’m happy with hearing about one person’s light chuckle once in a while), observations, opinions, comparisons, and a sharing of the ongoing surprises that living in a land like Portugal offers us.

Coliseum
A much better picture than I’ll ever be able to take.

So there you have it. Next up: Poorly-framed pictures and lame attempts at humor from our next trip, which is Rome. For a few hundred euros, we get to fly to The Eternal City and take in all that history, which is one of the main reasons we did this, apparently in addition to alienating my family lol.

Take a ride on the caterpillar train!

IMG_7025IMG_7026IMG_7027IMG_7029I returned home from grocery shopping today, and noticed what looked to be a long string or rope on our patio. I wondered how I’d missed it upon leaving, or whether the wind had blown it onto our property.

Upon closer inspection, I discovered it was moving on its own. A long skinny snake perhaps? Closer still. What the– it was a long line of caterpillars! They were moving very slowly. I’m not sure the leader knew where he was going; there’s not much to eat where they were headed. He did seem obsessed with our wall, so I named him Donald.

After shooting some pictures, I looked it up on the internet: the caterpillars appear to be Pine Processionary Caterpillars. They are poisonous with stingy hairs that cause skin irritation. They are also one of the most social caterpillars around (The Pine Processionary raves are legendary in the insect world)… or perhaps they just like the smell of each other’s butts. They live off living pine trees, eating vast amounts of pine needles and defoliating whole trees.

Which is all fine and good, but defoliate some trees in another lifetime bubs. I was originally going to set them free, but once I learned how destructive they are, they all departed this world as one big smush. Donald was the first to go. Sorry guys, this is what happens when you have a bad leader.

This site can’t do video, but there’s a video on Instagram and Facebook of the entire procession here.

So far, in the ten months we’ve been in this house, we haven’t had to mess with very many unwelcome creatures.

There’s the occasional mouse in the pool, and in the heat of summer we had our share of yellow jackets and hornets. As summer began to wane, the flies came out in force. One of my daily duties was to go outside and rack up the kills. That’s Mister Fly Killer to you.

Of course if an occasional spider is unlucky enough to wander into our home, Carolyn’s “spidar” tracks them down almost immediately, whereupon she calls upon the Big Artillery (aka, me, the B.A.), who turns them into a 2D version of their former selves via the bottom of a shoe, the side of a magazine, or if they look appetizing, a spatula.

(Some of them do get a reprieve by being thrown outside if Carolyn isn’t looking.)

So while we’re certainly not pest-free, we’re not all that bothered by too many critters. Thankfully, the ones that might be especially bothersome by arming themselves with stinging hairs also oblige us by trudging across the landscape in an easy-to-spot procession. Maybe Donald should rethink that military parade thing, huh?

Anyway, not on my watch, you multi-footed vermin! Not on my watch!

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Here they are enjoying a group hug, facilitated by a broom, just before they were sent to caterpillar heaven.

Lucy, we got some ‘Spaining to do!

My two friends, Cale and John Lee, with whom I visited Porto and spent some time tooling around Lisbon, invited me to join them in Grenada, Spain after they decided I couldn’t possibly annoy them any more than I already did.

Not knowing anything at all about Grenada, I looked up their national anthem first (as of course we all do before visiting a new culture). I edited it for brevity and with just some slight changes):

Hello Muddah, hello Faddah, here I am in, the city of Grenada!

Spain is very entertaining, and they say we’ll have some fun if it stops raining.

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I went hiking with Cale and John Lee, the many sights were fun to see.

I won’t remember most of them though, because my retinas are burned from the Flamenco show.

Flying in coach ain’t for sissies, especially if your legs are longer than most missies.

All the Spanish hate Americans, until we offer, Sangria from our jericans!

Just kidding, they love no one better. Muddah, Faddah kindly disregard this letter!

With apologies to Allan Sherman, who most of you probably have never heard of, but that from was a famous song of his from 1963, when I was only 34.

Amerigo VespucciGrenada is a town in the southern part of Spain with a population of about a quarter million. It is perhaps most famous for the Alhambra, which is a Moorish citadel and palace. It was a key (and last) fortress during the Muslim occupation of the Iberian Peninsula, when they marched up from Africa to expand their empire. They were finally thrown out in 1492, at which point the Spanish decided to celebrate by sending Christopher Columbus off the edge of the earth. Everyone hated Columbus, so they were hoping he’d just fall off and go away. When that didn’t happen, they sent Amerigo Vespucci to map the land and name it after someone other than Columbus. I’m glad he used his first name, I’m not sure I’d want to be called a Vespuccian.

One of the things we of course had to do was go see a flamenco show.

It was purple.

Actually, it was interesting to observe the gypsy influence on the dance. The presentation felt as if we were sneaking a peek into a gypsy camp. Or maybe it was just that the woman looked like a gypsy, truly.Carolyn funny face

She provided the bulk of the entertainment as far as I’m concerned (they also had a singer who shouted his words at the top of his lungs, a pretty good guitar player, and a male dancer). This flamenco-stomping grandmother’s facial expressions were priceless. I am not kidding when I say she often made the exact same face as this one from Carolyn. I mean, the exact same expression. Except she was homely, and Carolyn is anything but. We weren’t allowed to take pictures until the end, my guess is they enforce that because by then she’s too tired to continue making faces.

It seems the point of flamenco is to stomp as hard on the floor as you possibly can. My guess is that the dance originated in poorer areas where there were lots of cockroaches. The winner was whoever stomped the most cockroaches.Flamenco.jpg

Now it’s a dance. We really expected something more akin to the picture to the right, but maybe they just humor grandma every so often.

Anyway, we still had a good time, but next time I’m going to want a preview of the dancers. The man was pretty good, and it was all rather charming, but it wasn’t quite what I expected. The one we went to was called the best show in town. I’d hate to see the facial expressions of the lesser ones.

The Alhrambra was definitely the highlight of the visit (aside from the delightful company of my companions of course). It’s a vast complex with many beautiful gardens and awesome architecture. I’m always impressed with what they were able to build way back when without any technology.

Just to keep things simple, a slide show of the best of Alhambra is below this 3D image of the place. We’re the little dots on top of the tower looking at the view of a giant leather handbag.

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IMG_6855We enlisted the aid of a tour guide to take us around the town. She wasn’t particularly good, but we did learn some things along the way, little of which I remember, partly because she was a little hard to understand, plus she kept mispronounciating all sorts of words.

We tipped her well anyway because she seemed a nice person.

She did tell one story I do recall that was kinda funny. Apparently the statue below was snuck –snuck!– onto the top of this building in the middle of the night without permission or permit. Ten years later, they still aren’t sure whether they’re going to leave it up or what to do with it.

In addition, apparently no one knows that the hell that is on the end of the horse’s tail. I think it might be flying horse poop. Or some kid hanging on for dear life. It’s a mystery.

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Of course no blog post would be complete without presenting a Door of the Day. I have to carry the torch in Carolyn’s absence!

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And here are some photos of the architecture around town:

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Below is the view from our room at the apartment we stayed in. We were right in the middle of the action, which largely consists of shop after shop of Islamic-influenced clothing, art, and trinkets, all of them offering virtually the same thing at roughly the same prices. It’s like going to a grocery store where the fruit is nothing but bananas.

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Below are some panoramic shots. The first one is of a Coliseum-esque structure and is completely round, I just twirled in a circle until I fell down from dizziness. What I won’t do to get my loyal readers a great shot!

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Unfortunately, graffiti is ever present, even on historic sites:

Pink Floyd the Wall

Some of you will get it, some won’t.

After getting drunk on 18 sangrias and wandering around town, arm in arm, singing Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah! at the top of our lungs (to the bafflement of virtually everyone), we woke up the next morning, poured some sangria over our Cheerios, and then went our separate ways. I had a long layover in Madrid, and so decided to take the train into town to just wander around. Here are some of the sights:

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Of course, no visit to Madrid would be complete without visiting the famous Trump Madrid Hotel. Oh, wait, something tells me this isn’t a Trump building. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but the clue is there somewhere…

Refugees welcome

A big thing in Madrid, at least on this square, was a bunch of characters in various costumes, posing for a picture and a tip. This guy is holding himself up with one hand. He did it for hours! Some Spanish people are really strong!

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Of course, occasionally you could peek behind the scenes. I guess you could say the guy in the yellow boots took it literally when he was told to get his head out of his ass.

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This lady had the ingenious idea to paint herself up like she was made of sand. She just sat there with her eyes closed the entire time, even as these school kids came in for a closer look. She just kept napping. Not a bad gig: sit on a chair and nap all day while people put coins in your hat. Just slightly more work than my retirement, but it pays better.

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I couldn’t help but get a kick out of the sign below. And of course I had to disprove the idea by physically entering. Maybe they mean it’s physically impossible to enter if you’re only 1.8 meters tall, which is about 4 gallons in metric.

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The Madrid airport is yuuge. At 7,500 acres (52 centigrade in metric), it is the largest airport in Europe in terms of physical size. I had plenty of time when I got back there after visiting downtown Madrid, so I walked in a straight line for seven million centimeters, at which point I needed to call a cab to get back to my gate. Unfortunately, cabs don’t operate inside the terminal, so I just sat on someone’s cart who appeared to be headed my way. You can always get away with a lot when you don’t speak the native language.

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So there you have it. For less than a couple hundred euros, I could fly from Lisboa to two beautiful cities in Spain. I’ll have to take Carolyn back to Madrid; I only skimmed the surface, and it’s quite a bustling city. More cosmopolitan than Lisboa, but I’ll still take Lisboa any day, because it’s cute enough to pinch its little Portuguese cheeks!

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