• February 6, 2017

    The New Yorker and Vanity Fair have both decided to cancel their White House Correspondents’ Dinner events. In an email, Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter reminded staff that the magazine has not attended the dinner in the past, and that “he planned to spend the weekend fishing in Connecticut instead.”

    A tech firm with ties to Russia has filed a defamation lawsuit against BuzzFeed for publishing a dossier of unconfirmed intelligence findings related to Donald Trump and his connections to Putin. The document alleged that XBT Holdings, a company owned by Aleksej Gubarev, had assisted the Kremlin in hacking into the Democratic National Committee’s computers.

    A stage adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984 will come to Broadway this summer. Described as “willfully assaultive” by a New York Times theater critic during its run in London, the play will open on June 22 at the Hudson Theater.

    In the Times, sports writer Marc Tracy reflects on an encounter with Steve Bannon in an Atlanta airport after the election. Bannon was reading David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest, a “history of the strategic errors and human foibles” that led to US involvement in Vietnam. Though the book makes the case that highly educated generalists were to blame for many of the debacles of the war, Tracy wonders if Bannon understands that the message isn’t anti-intellectual. “If ‘The Best and the Brightest’ is a brief against the East Coast meritocracy, though, its proposed alternative is not pure ideology,” Tracy writes. “It is expertise.”

    Bharati Mukherjee

    Writer and professor Bharati Mukherjee died last week at the age of 76. The author of eight novels, four short-story collections, and numerous works of nonfiction, Mukherjee won the National Book Critics Award for Fiction for her 1988 book, The Middleman and Other Stories. Mukherjee was born in India in 1940 and came to United States to attend the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in the early ’60s. In 2005, she described the writing approach she honed during this period: “I evolved a credo: Make the familiar exotic (Americans won’t recognize their country when I get finished with it) and make the exotic—the India of elephants and arranged marriages—familiar.” She used this strategy to great effect over the course of her career, including in Jasmine—perhaps her best-known novel—published in 1989. That year, she told BOMB magazine that she saw herself as an American writer, whose stories detail a side of the country that is often overlooked in literature: “I’m not writing like a Richard Ford or a John Updike, that’s not the only America. It has many pluralities. I’m writing about an American immigrant group who are undergoing many transformations within themselves. And who, by their very presence, are changing the country. America is not the America that, until recently, has come through in contemporary popular fiction.”

    Tonight at the 92nd Street Y, Rachel Cusk and Chris Bachelder read from their new novels.

  • February 3, 2017

    The Weekly Standard reports that the conservative, pseudonymous writer Publius Decius Mus, who advanced one of the few intellectual arguments in support of Trump during the 2016 election, is now a senior national-security official in the Trump administration. As Decius, Michael Anton wrote numerous articles for the Claremont Review of Books website insisting “that electing Trump and implementing Trumpism was the best and only way to stave off American decline—making a cerebral case to make America great again.” Anton had previously worked for the Bush administration in a similar security role and “unlike most of his colleagues, can readily quote Roman histories and Renaissance thinkers.”

    Colm Tóibín

    Novelist Colm Tóibín has been named chancellor of the University of Liverpool. The Brooklyn author is currently a humanities professor at Columbia University. In a statement, Tóibín emphasized the need to protect the livelihood of academics in the current political climate. “I think in the next few years the connections that universities make will be important,” Tóibín said, “and I hope to be involved in that and to use all my energy to help in any way.”

    Abrams has announced a photo book of images from the Women’s Marches that took place the day after the inauguration. Why I March: Images from the Women’s March Around the World will be released on February 21. Abrams president and CEO Michael Jacobs said the sped-up publication was in order “to commemorate and confirm the energy, hope, solidarity, and strength that millions of people displayed that day.”

    Viet Thanh Nguyen talks to Time about his most recent book, The Refugees. Nguyen highlighted the similarities between the wave of refugees that came to the US after the Vietnam War and the Syrian refugees who are now barred from the US under the Trump administration’s executive order. Nguyen said that he chose the title of the book to point out that the fear of refugees, now focused on Middle Eastern immigrants, is not a new phenomenon. “The majority of Americans did not want Vietnamese refugees in 1975, and yet at this point in time I think that’s been forgotten,” Nguyen said. “Instead Vietnamese Americans are often held up as examples of the positive aspects of immigration.”

    LitHub talks to director Raoul Peck about I Am Not Your Negro, his Oscar-nominated film about James Baldwin that opens in theaters today. Peck says that he is “a total product of Baldwin,” and that the author’s criticism helped shape his worldview. “For a young black man in the 1960s . . . there were not many things around to help you understand your world,” Peck said. “It could be frustrating to read, let’s say Faulkner, and you’re totally in the story, and then at one moment you realize the character that is the closest to you is maybe the fifth, the sixth, or the eighth character.”

  • February 2, 2017

    Hillary Clinton will write a book of personal essays, to be published by Simon & Schuster next fall. The currently-untitled book will include her thoughts on the 2016 election. In a statement, publisher Jonathan Karp said, “For the past 21 years, the Gallup survey has ranked Hillary Rodham Clinton as the most admired woman in the world, and there are at least 65 million people in the United States who agree. We think a lot of them are going to want to hear her stories.”

    Mohammed Tawfeeq

    CNN Money talks to Jeff Jobe, one of the first journalists to attend a White House press briefing via Skype. Jobe is the publisher of several weekly newspapers in South Central Kentucky, and a Trump supporter who has twice run for office himself  Jobe says that his work won’t be affected by his politics, and that his responsibility is to his readers, who he sees as being mislead by the mainstream media. Jobe said that Trump supporters are not the “hate mongers” that they are portrayed as. “We’re good people, we don’t want to hurt anyone,” he said. “This election has been described in a manner that is just unjust.”

    After being detained by Customs and Border Protection at the Atlanta airport on his way back to the US, journalist Mohammed Tawfeeq, a legal permanent resident of the US and the manager of CNN’s international desk, has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s immigration order. Tawfeeq is originally from Iraq and travels to the Middle East often as part of his work. CNN spokeswoman Bridget Leininger said that the lawsuit “is a basic request to clarify and assert his rights under the law.”

    NBC journalist Katy Tur talks to the Washington Post about her experience of being taunted by Trump on the campaign trail and the silver lining of such treatment. Despite harrassment by Trump supporters, Trump’s choice to single out Tur from the rest of the media made her “one of NBC’s most visible reporters, an almost daily presence on MSNBC and a semiregular on the ‘Today’ show, ‘NBC Nightly News’ and ‘Meet the Press,” and got her a book deal before the election was over. Tur said that she thinks Trump’s treatment might be his strange way of showing respect. “I think he can smell weakness and if you show him weakness, he exploits it and he doesn’t respect you,” she said. “If I had rolled over, I think he would have never mentioned my name again.”

    Tonight in Brooklyn, Christine Smallwood moderates a conversation for the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research between Rebecca Ariel Porte and Maureen McLane on how poetry can “speak to our current cultural moment—a moment riven with anxieties about politics, power, and identity.”

  • February 1, 2017

    Political reporter Olivia Nuzzi will become New York magazine’s first Washington correspondent. Nuzzi, who most recently covered Trump’s presidential campaign for the Daily Beast, talked to the Columbia Journalism Review about her new job covering “the psychodrama of the Beltway,” which she says makes her “equal parts excited and terrified.”

    Arundhati Roy

    Arundhati Roy talks about her upcoming  book, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, her first novel in twenty years. Roy says that she has spent the last ten years working on the book, and that the characters she has spent a decade with “have conspired to confound accepted categories and notions—including my own—of identity and gender, nationhood and patriotism, faith, family, motherhood, death—and love itself.” Roy’s book will be published by Knopf in June.

    Robert O’Neill, the Navy SEAL “who fired the shots that killed Osama bin Laden,” has announced plans for a memoir. The Operator will be published by Scribner in April.

    Wall Street Journal editor-in-chief Gerry Baker has asked staff to avoid referring to the countries singled out by the Trump administration’s immigration ban as “majority Muslim countries,” a phrase he calls “very loaded.” Writers and editors have pushed back against Baker’s request, with one anonymous employee telling Politico that Baker’s decision “to go out of his way to whitewash this is unconscionable.”

    Poynter calls on newsroom leaders to clearly define rules for their reporters on what level of political participation is acceptable in the Trump era, when neutral observation can seem like compliance with the more questionable policies and positions of the administration. “Consider a Muslim journalist whose family may be impacted by the ban—can she join the airport demonstrations?” asks Katie Hawkins-Gaar. “Is it political to say that climate change exists? And what about the Trump voter who wants to correct the misconception that all journalists are liberal?” Former Marketplace reporter Lewis Wallace writes about being fired from his job after he wrote a personal blog post questioning the value of neutrality as a transgender journalist. “I believe journalism itself is under attack,” Wallace writes, “and in order to defend it, we need to know what we stand for and perhaps even consider activism as journalists on behalf of fairness, inclusivity, and free speech.”

    On Inauguration Day, Jacobin magazine, Verso Books, and Haymarket Books jointly hosted “The Anti-Inauguration,” an event in Washington DC featuring Naomi Klein, Jeremy Scahill, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Anand Gopal, and Owen Jones. A video of the gathering is available to watch on YouTube, and the speeches have been collected in a free e-book, The Anti-Inauguration: Building Resistance in the Trump Era.

  • January 31, 2017

    In response to the Trump administration’s hostility towards the press, Samantha Bee will be hosting an event on the same night as the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Proceeds from Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner will benefit the Committee to Protect Journalists. Although White House Correspondents’ Association president Jeff Mason told the Hollywood Reporter that the event will happen as planned, Bee told the publication that she suspects “it will either get called off or it will be the most sinister awkward thing you’ve ever seen.”

    Caitlyn Jenner will be co-writing her memoir with Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Buzz Bissinger, who also wrote the Vanity Fair cover story on Jenner’s transition. The Secrets of My Life will be published by Trapeze in April.

    After management voluntarily recognized an employee union last year, the Huffington Post ratified its first union contract yesterday. Changes include across-the-board raises, new minimum salaries, and severance pay. In a statement, the bargaining committee called the new contract an example of “what a newsroom can accomplish when it decides to come together and bargain collectively.”

    Three more journalists who were charged with felony rioting while covering Inauguration Day protests have had their charges dropped. RT America reporter Alexander Rubinstein, Story of America producer Jack Keller, and freelance journalist Matthew Hopard were facing prison sentences of up to ten years, along with fines of $25,000. Freelance journalists Shay Horse and Aaron Cantú still have charges pending.

    At the New York Times, Farhad Manjoo writes that social media is becoming a weapon of the resistance against Trump. Manjoo looks at the “instantaneous” protests that were organized after Trump’s executive order on immigration, and how the media—once Trump’s favorite propaganda machine—is now being used against him. “Throughout the campaign, the bigger a spectacle he created, the larger he loomed in the public consciousness,” Manjoo writes. “What has been remarkable during the last two weekends is how thoroughly Mr. Trump’s own media personage was blotted out by scenes of protesters.”

    Porochista Khakpour

    In the wake of Trump’s executive order, Porochista Khakpour reflects on coming to the US with her family from Iran as a child, her life as an academic, and the possibility of once more becoming a refugee. Khakpour writes of rumors that Trump’s next move will target naturalized citizens like her, and likens the fear to what she experienced after 9/11. Khakpour writes that she spent Friday evening “reading news articles, crying, and wondering: What is going to happen to this country, what will they do to my other country? You can be a refugee once, I’ve always thought, but how to be one twice?”

  • January 30, 2017

    The felony rioting case brought against Vocativ’s Evan Engel has been dropped. Engel was arrested while covering anti-Trump protests in Washington, DC, on Inauguration Day. In a statement, Engel said his “thoughts are with any other journalists who are facing charges for doing their jobs, as well as with journalists imprisoned around the world.”

    Julia Ioffe

    At The Atlantic, journalist Julia Ioffe writes about her family’s experience as Soviet refugees, describing what it is like to be the subject of debates and policy decisions made by strangers many miles away: “They don’t know you. They don’t know the days of your life that you have already lived, and the stuff of your mind and the strength in your hands. To them, you are an abstraction, colored by their fear and their hate, or by their heartrending idealism.”

    The Women’s Prize for Fiction, which has honored an outstanding English-language novel each year for twenty-two years, is looking for a new sponsor. The Irish drink company Baileys has funded the award for the past four years, but, according to the Prize’s website, the company is making way for a new backer because it now has a “need for marketing activities that work across different languages.” In an essay for The Pool, the Prize’s founder, Kate Mosse, frames the sponsorship search within the context of Donald Trump’s election and the recent worldwide women’s marches, writing, “A new sponsor for the WPF will help us take the Prize into a new era. Will help champion women’s stories in the days, weeks and years ahead when, frankly, who knows what might happen.”

    At the New York Times, Caitlin Dickerson looks at anti-refugee articles online, examining the ways in which they spread by preying on readers’ anxieties. Once found mainly on far-right websites, these articles are now beginning to change mainstream perception of refugees and immigrants, as untrue stories (as well as wildly exaggerated ones with a grain of truth) are shared widely. Brookings Institute fellow William Galston tells Dickerson that even if people don’t believe alarmist fake news, its presence on social media still changes the tone of the discussion about immigration: “I think . . . opinions are being intensified because the intensification of contrary sentiments is increasing polarization.”        

    In a profile of Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer, the Times recaps his first week, noting that he was “pilloried as a liar, hammered by journalists, mocked by Stephen Colbert, taunted by the freeze-dried ice cream brand Dippin’ Dots and held up as the poster child for an administration that can play fast and loose with the facts.” Even his boss was unhappy with him: Trump reportedly criticized Spicer’s first press conference, imploring him to wear better clothes and carry himself more confidently, because, as Spicer explains, “He was disappointed with how the overall news cycle was going.” Still, the press secretary appears undaunted, saying of his job:  “You’re not here to be someone’s buddy. You’re here to enact the president’s agenda. . . . And if you think it’s going to be anything bad, then this isn’t the job for you.”

  • January 27, 2017

    Despite statements made earlier this week by Alex Jones, the Infowars’s site-runner has not been offered White House press credentials. BuzzFeed reports that in a YouTube video, Jones claimed that the Trump administration would be offering press credentials to him and his news site: “We’re going to get them, but I’ve just got to spend the money to send somebody there. I want to make sure it’s even worth it.” Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said that Jones “is not credentialed for the White House,” and that they had not offered any credentials.

    BuzzFeed has hired Steven Perlberg to cover Trump’s relationship with the media. Perlberg was most recently at the Wall Street Journal.

    In an interview with the New York Times, chief strategist of the Trump administration Steve Bannon referred to the media as the “opposition party” and said that news outlets “should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for awhile.” When asked about whether Press Secretary Sean Spicer had lost standing with the media for his insistence on the lie that Trump’s inauguration was the most well-attended in history, Bannon laughed. “We think that’s a badge of honor. ‘Questioning his integrity’—are you kidding me?” he said.

    Frank Langfitt, NPR’s London correspondent and former Shanghai correspondent compares the Trump administration’s PR tactics to those of China’s authoritarian government. “Like the new White House,” Langfitt writes, “the Chinese government has tried over the years to convince citizens not to believe their own eyes.” Langfitt draws on his experience of suspicious interviewees, blatant government lies, and calls for journalists to be more “objective,” and recommends that American journalists “get out of the office as much as possible, report and spend a lot of time listening to ordinary people about their concerns.”

    John Edgar Wideman

    In the New York Times Magazine, Thomas Chatterton Williams talks to John Edgar Wideman, whose most recent book, Writing to Save a Life: The Louis Till File, was published late last year. In addition to his new book, the pair discuss the violence that permeates both Emmett Till and Wideman’s own family history. Emmett’s father, Louis, was hanged after a court martial in Italy convicted him of the rape and murder of an Italian woman based on faulty evidence. Wideman’s brother was sentenced to life in prison after a robbery-gone-wrong resulted in the death of another man and his son Jacob, was sixteen when he was convicted of murdering his summer camp roommate. Around the time Writing to Save a Life was published, Jacob was released from prison after serving thirty years of his sentence. The decision came on Election Day. “It kind of put all the other news in perspective,” Wideman said.

  • January 26, 2017

    Author Harry Mathews died yesterday in Key West, Florida, at the age of 86. A long-time contributor to the Paris Review, Mathews was also the only American member of Oulipo, the French literary society “whose stated purpose is to devise mathematical structures that can be used to create literature.” During his nearly sixty-year career, Mathews published numerous works of fiction, poetry, and essays. With James Schuyler and John Ashbery, he started the journal Locus Solus. Of his novel Cigarettes (1987), Edmund White wrote: “This book is remarkable, as involving as a 19th-century saga and as original as any modernist invention—a rare combination of readability and ingenuity.” In their spring issue, the Paris Review will include an excerpt from the novel he finished shortly before his death.

    Roxanne Gay. Photo: Kevin Nance

    Roxane Gay has decided to pull her upcoming book, How to Be Heard, from Simon & Schuster after they decided to go ahead with the publication of Milo Yiannopoulous’s book on free speech. In a statement to BuzzFeed, Gay explained that although she believes in Yiannopolous’s right to free speech, “he doesn’t have a right to have a book published by a major publisher but he has, in some bizarre twist of fate, been afforded that privilege,” she wrote. “I’m not interested in doing business with a publisher willing to grant him that privilege.” Gay has yet to find another publisher for the book.

    Dustin Lance Black, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Milk, has announced plans for a memoir about his red-state upbringing. Mama’s Boy: The Story of Two Americas will be published by Knopf, and details his relationship with his religious mother and how his Southern upbringing “gave him the tools and courage to stand up for gay rights and become the storyteller he is today.”

    Facebook announced yesterday that it will no longer tailor Trending Topics to each reader, in an attempt to minimize the impact of fake news. Instead, readers across the country will see the same news items regardless of what their algorithms think they’ll be interested in. Additionally, the topics will be chosen based on the amount of news outlets covering the story, rather than the number of pageviews for a single article.

    At The Atlantic, Rosie Gray looks at Breitbart News’s attempt to enter the mainstream, and what that might mean for their outsider credibility. In recent weeks, the extreme right-wing website has poached numerous reporters away from established publications like the Wall Street Journal, and are looking to hire more in the coming months and several former staff have taken on roles in the Trump administration. “It would be hard for any news organization to maintain an identity as an iconoclastic truth-teller if its main mission is to amplify the president’s message, as Breitbart’s critics allege is now the case,” Gray writes.

    After many federal agencies were ordered to cease all social media activity and outside communication, The Verge reports that “the resistance will be tweeted,” now that unofficial Twitter accounts like @AltNatParkSer, @BadHombreNPS, and @ungaggedEPA have begun tweeting climate facts and sarcastic jibes to the president in response. Kaitlyn Tiffany writes that, “given Trump’s notoriously thin skin” and his reliance on Twitter to act as his press office, tweeting “might actually be the best way to get his attention.”

  • January 25, 2017

    Six journalists are now facing felony charges after being arrested while covering protests at the inauguration. Vocativ’s Evan Engel, RT America’s Alex Rubinstein, Story of America producer Jack Keller, and freelancers Matt Hopard, Shay Horse, and Aaron Cantú have all denied the charges. According to The Guardian, “none of the arrest reports for the six journalists makes any specific allegations about what any of them are supposed to have done wrong,” and five of the six arrest reports contain identical language. Carlos Lauria, the senior Americas coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, called for the charges to be dropped. “These charges are clearly inappropriate, and we are concerned that they could send a chilling message to journalists covering future protests,” Lauria said.

    After Svetlana Alexievich resigned from Russia PEN in protest over the group’s treatment of a jailed filmmaker, the organization released a statement that said that the author “has never been a member of the Russian PEN, so her declaration of leaving it sounds bizarre.” Alexievich responded with both a photo of her original membership papers from 1995, as well as screenshots of the website’s list of members from earlier this year. “Russian PEN is made out of really old people who don’t have an easy relationship with technology,” Alexievich said. “They forgot that the internet stores everything.”

    Howard Jacobson

    Man Booker prize-winning author Howard Jacobson has written a book in response to Donald Trump’s election. Pussy will be published by Jonathan Cape in April and tells the story of Prince Fracassus, an heir that presides over a land of “golden-gated skyscrapers and casinos.” Jacobson told The Guardian that he had been thinking about the book since the early days of Trump’s campaign in 2016, but that Trump’s win drove him to work on the book every day for two months straight. “Satire is an important weapon in the fight against what is happening and Trump looks like a person who is particularly vulnerable to derision,” Jacobson said.

    The Trump administration has placed a gag order on multiple federal agencies. The Department of Health and Human Services, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the US Department of Agriculture are just a few of the departments that have been ordered to cease all outside communication with the press and members of congress, as well as halt all social media, blog posts, and press releases.

    After Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway claimed that the administration was offering “alternative facts” about the size of the inauguration crowd, George Orwell’s 1984 has become the number-one best-selling book on Amazon. Penguin will be printing 75,000 new copies to keep up with demand.

    Netflix has bought the worldwide rights to Nobody Speak: Hulk Hogan, Gawker and Trials of a Free Press, a documentary which is being screened at Sundance.

    Frederik Obermaier and Bastian Obermayer, the journalists who first broke the story of the Panama Papers, implore journalists to work together in order to effectively cover Trump. Like the story of the Panama Papers, they write, much of the stories about Trump’s conflicts of interest will be “too big and too important to do alone.” The journalists also encourage White House correspondents to stand up for each other when Press Secretary Sean Spicer ignores or refuses to answer their colleagues’ questions. “If the media doesn’t want to see more press conferences like the disastrous one we saw recently,” the pair write, “they will need to be bold.”

  • January 24, 2017

    Philip Roth

    At the New Yorker, Judith Thurman emails with Philip Roth about the similarities between the Trump presidency and the presidency of Charles Lindbergh, which Roth invented for his novel The Plot Against America. Roth writes that a Lindbergh presidency makes more sense than a Trump presidency: “Lindbergh, despite his Nazi sympathies and racist proclivities, was a great aviation hero who had displayed tremendous physical courage and aeronautical genius in crossing the Atlantic in 1927. He had character and he had substance. . . . Trump is just a con artist.” According to Roth, the book that is a better explanation of Trump is Herman Melville’s The Confidence-Man, “the darkly pessimistic, daringly inventive novel—Melville’s last—that could just as well have been called ‘The Art of the Scam.’”

    National Book Foundation director Lisa Lucas talks to Time magazine about the National Book Awards, reaching the 27 percent of Americans who didn’t read a single book in the past year, and her recommended reading for President Trump. “We were so lucky to have such a wonderful reader in President Obama, who said that reading novels helped to make him a better citizen,” said Lucas, and recommended that Trump take a look at Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, Arlie Russell Hoschschild’s Strangers in Their Own Land, and Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped From the Beginning. She also recommended books by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, as well as Nate Powell’s March trilogy, the third book of which recently won four American Library Association awards.

    The Independent profiles Dan Scavino, Trump’s director of social media and the man behind all @POTUS tweets not marked “DJT.” Scavino, whom Trump met as a golf caddy on one of his courses, often promotes fake news on his personal social media, is a follower of the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, and has been tweeting for Trump since the presidential campaign. The Trump team says Scavino has been responsible for some of the Trump account’s most notorious tweets: He posted an image, which had originated on a neo-Nazi website, of Hillary Clinton with what appeared to be a Star of David (he said it was a “sheriff’s badge”) and the words, “Most corrupt candidate ever,” and he is the source of the famous misspellings, such as “honered,” “leightweight,” and, most memorably, “unpresidented.”

    The New York Times has apologized for an ill-advised article about fathers who took care of their kids while their partners were rallying at the women’s march. “How Vital Are Women? This Town Found Out as They Left to March” caused an immediate outcry from readers. The article’s author, Filip Bondy, says “I deserved it,” explaining that the article was meant to be lighthearted, “but these are not light times.”  

    Tonight at McNally Jackson books, Ottessa Moshfegh reads from her short-story collection, Homesick for Another World. In a recent review of the book, Moira Donegan notes that Moshfegh “makes her readers voyeuristically complicit in her depictions of poverty, compulsion, and physical decay. At the same time, she dares us to identify with these characters in their petty vanities and indulgences.”

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