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DF McCleland (Johannesburg, South Africa)

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Elizabeth [Blu-ray] [Region Free]
Elizabeth [Blu-ray] [Region Free]
Dvd ~ Cate Blanchett
Price: 7.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Lush production highlighting the intrigue, politics and religious conflict during this era, 29 April 2014
This was certainly not a carefree period for a monarch to reign in England let alone a woman. By breaking with the Catholic Church when the Pope would not grant him a divorce, King Henry VIII had formed the Church of England. This had caused a rift with the Catholic Church. Queen Mary 1, Elizabeth’s half-sister was fiercely Catholic whereas Elizabeth was just as committed religiously but as a Protestant. As such Mary despised Elizabeth and attempted to convert her to Catholicism. Mary’s advisors, chiefly the Duke of Norfolk, attempted to have Elizabeth executed for treason. Mary agreed to her being send to the Tower but relented and instead put her under house arrest. Before she can again be convinced to execute her, Queen Mary 1 dies of ovarian cancer.

Elizabeth is reprieved and is appointed queen. A hesitant, unsure and nave person, she relies heavy on the sage advice of Sir William Cecil to assist her in this cesspit of court politics. Lord Robert Dudley takes an amorous interest in Elizabeth but he is rebuffed continually.

When Elizabeth succeeded to the thorn, England was bankrupt. Thus she was at the mercy of invaders. Both the King of Spain and a French Prince, the Duke of Anjou, propose marriage. Such marriages were common as they were more binding than a mere non-aggression treaty. But Elizabeth prevaricated. Her heart was set on Lord Robert but this was not to be for he was married. She then also caught the French Prince in a compromising situation.

The die was cast. She bluntly berated Lord Robert and steeled herself against her inner feelings.

With the Pope calling her a heretic, he demanded that she be assassinated. To execute this plot, he sent emissaries to England with money.

Walsingham, a Protestant Advisor, got wind of this betrayal and informed Elizabeth. Implicated in the plot were Lord Robert and the Duke of Norfolk. Elizabeth was devastated. All but Robert were tortured and executed.

Elizabeth is now resolute. She will get married to England and become The Virgin Queen.

There are a number of historical inaccuracies in this movie but unless one is steeped in the history of Elizabeth, none will affect either one’s enjoyment or understanding of Elizabeth.

Cate Blanchett as Elizabeth superbly captures the transition of Elizabeth from nave, carefree youth into the austere, steely Elizabeth that she was transformed into by force of circumstance.

The mood of the period is captured exquisitely. Religious and political intrigue intertwined. The consequence of being in the wrong camp at the wrong time was torture and decapitation in the Tower.

Having pretences of being a costume drama with its stunning period costumes, this movie has more the feel of a Mafia movie where allegiances are primary.

As it should be, the music was unobtrusive but two pieces were inappropriate; firstly Elgar's 'Nimrod' was an anachronism but then it was followed by another blunder: Mozart's Requiem.

After experiencing the vividness of the colours and the intimacy of the scenes, I would highly recommend the Blu-ray version of this movie.

In all aspects, this is a superior production and richly deserves the plaudits that it has received.

Charles Dickens's England - extended version [DVD] [2009]
Charles Dickens's England - extended version [DVD] [2009]
Dvd ~ Sir Derek Jacobi
Offered by A2Z Entertains
Price: 12.22

3.0 out of 5 stars A literary travelogue of Victorian England, 18 April 2014
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The influence of Charles Dickens was undoubtedly great for two vastly different reasons; of course one was for his writing but the second was possibly more importantly for his expose of the injustices & iniquities of Victorian England. Roy Hattersley, ex Labour Party Member of Parliament, goes so far as to claim that his contribution was seminal in the awakening of the British conscience to the appalling conditions that were inflicted upon their less fortunate fellow citizens.

His legacy was so profound in fact, that the period unlike prior periods which were anointed after the monarch – the Elizabethan, the Regency, the Edwardian – this one took the appellation of a commoner – the Dickensian.

This DVD comprises visits to 100 sites where Dickens either lived or which he used in his stories many of which were issued as part works [serial publications] rather than being published as a book at the time.

Like many youngsters of the day, Dickens was forced to support his family at a fairly young age of 12 & worked ten-hour days at Warren's Blacking Warehouse near the present day Charing Cross railway station, where he earned six shillings a week pasting labels on pots of boot blacking. The strenuous and often harsh working conditions made a lasting impression on Dickens and later influenced his fiction and essays, becoming the foundation of his interest in the reform of socio-economic and labour conditions, the rigours of which he believed were unfairly borne by the poor.

Apart from being driven to improve his lot in life, Dickens later immortalised many of the people that he met with a few alterations and embellishments. Possessing a photographic memory for detail, it was only much later in life that these characters would form part of a book or short story.

While Jacobi’s decision to include visits to over 100 sites makes for completeness in one’s understanding of his characters & his life, not being an aficionado of Dickens’ works or life, makes it rather tedious at times.

Whether Derek Jacobi is an expert on Dickens, I would not know but certainly some of Jacobi’s responses to questions presented to experts on Dickens seem to indicate that he is not. However it might just be the inappropriate response which leads me to that conclusion.

Lastly, if Derek Jacobi was not an expert on Dickens why was he selected to present this documentary? With a slightly detached demeanour as if this was a soliloquy to himself, he did not engage me. In fact, not to be churlish, his non-photogenic hang dog look was unappealing & a distraction. Instead I found that I was focusing of Jacobi’s inappropriate facial expression rather than the story that he was telling.

Overall this is a landmark in the annuals of Dickens life & times but has the fatal flaw of a very uninspiring presentation. More’s the pity as the ingredients were perfect only to be spoilt in the baking & the ultimate presentation.

J. Edgar - Triple Play (Blu-ray + DVD + UV Copy) [2012] [Region Free]
J. Edgar - Triple Play (Blu-ray + DVD + UV Copy) [2012] [Region Free]
Dvd ~ Leonardo DiCaprio
Offered by HarriBella.UK.Ltd
Price: 11.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent portrayal of an enigma, 23 Mar 2014
John Edgar Hoover rose to become the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the FBI, & was its head for 48 years. As such he would stop at nothing to protect his country & himself.

To do so, he illegally gathered personal information on the all the senior officials in the administration including the President. Naturally he uncovered the dalliances of both Roosevelt & his wife, Eleanor.

Remarkably he served under eight presidents waging wars against threats both real & imaginary. His solution was to bend the rules to obtain the desired results.

For this whole period that Hoover was in charge, his closest colleague was Clyde Tolson, who was also his constant companion. The rumours of a homosexual affair is not impossible as neither man ever got married or dated females & when they travelled they always shared a hotel room.

Edgar adored his mother & it was her influence which was an abiding inspiration & his conscience. On her passing, he was crushed. From the prominent displays relating to his mother, his lounge can be considered as a shrine to her.

I gained the impression that apart from an affinity for males, a latent Oedipus complex lurked within him as the relationship with his mother was too close & unnatural.
His secretary, Helen Gandy, was an old-maid & apart from Clyde Tolson, was perhaps the person most privy to Hoover's machinations & indiscretions. She remained loyal to the end & on his death destroyed all incriminating personal files that Edgar had compiled over the years.
Edgar was a dominating & overbearing person who never took no for an answer. Despite the closeness of his relationship with Clyde & constant plea requesting his advice, he never once accepted that advice.
The strength of movie is being able to correctly portray Edgar & Clyde as they age over 50 years. It is not only the physical appearance which correctly mimics that of an old person but all the minor aspects such as the slightly stooped walk. Their talent is tested in their deportment, behaviour & even their speech.
The movie ends on a sombre note as both Edgar & Tolson approach the end of their lives. The bond between the two remains just as strong but Edgar refuses to accept that Tolson cannot be at work to be his confidant & crutch.
Edgar’s life story is told mainly through an older Hoover reciting back his life story to a biographer. During this process Edgar plays loose with the facts & overstates his role in these events.
In summary, this movie presents a visceral look at a complex individual played magnificently by Leonardo DiCaprio whether as a 24 year old or as a 70 year old.

Earthflight [Blu-ray][Region Free]
Earthflight [Blu-ray][Region Free]
Dvd ~ John Downer
Price: 19.02

5.0 out of 5 stars A Bird's eye view of birds on the wing, 15 Mar 2014
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What a stunning video. Instead of the usual shots of birds taken from the ground, these photos are taken alongside the birds as if one were flying adjacent to them in the flock. Many of them are taken of migrations with shots of birds flying over well-known features such as the Grand Canyon or the Statue of Liberty.

Each of the three episodes deals with birds from a different continent. So in the case of South Africa, my home country, the one portion is of Cape Gannet's diving through a school of dolphins to catch pilchards, an epipelagic fish. This section shows gannets at wing height, from above & beneath the water. All are stunning.

Experience birds as one has never experienced them before. This documentary has certainly set a new benchmark in wildlife photography. I would also recommend purchasing it in Blu-ray to appreciate the excellent quality of the cinematography.

Shutter Island [DVD] (2010)
Shutter Island [DVD] (2010)
Dvd ~ Leonardo DiCaprio
Price: 3.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Psychological drama of the highest order, 10 Mar 2014
This review is from: Shutter Island [DVD] (2010) (DVD)
This movie has all the hallmarks of an excellent psychological drama. Firstly the weather is appalling. After arriving at Shutter Island with a colleague who he has never worked with beforehand to investigate the disappearance of an inmate of the psychiatric hospital, the weather closes in. The role of the police official, a US Marshall Teddy Daniels is played by Leonardo DiCaprio.

As he begins interviewing various persons he gets the impression that he is being treated as a fool with misrepresentations of the facts being the order of the day. When DiCaprio’s colleague – Chick Aule - goes to the loo, an inmate passes a piece of paper with the number 47 on it to DiCaprio. He quickly connects that number to the supposed number of inmates in the prison being 46.

Without a warning, the missing inmate re-appears but Rachel is evasive about her whereabouts for the past few days. Rachel has been incarcerated in this hospital as it caters for the criminally insane having killed her three children.

A Dr. Crawley played by Ben Kingsley is the diligent doctor who assiduously treats these criminally insane inmates as if their condition is treatable.

Teddy Daniels is fighting his own demons having been in Dachau on its liberation.

When DiCaprio decides to investigate a lighthouse, he is confronted by the chief medical officer, Dr Crawley, who alleges that he in fact another person who is guilty of murder of Rachel’s children. DiCaprio is confused but refutes all the allegations.

Ensnared within the net on an isolated island with his colleague, Chick Aule, being revealed as a co-conspirator, DiCaprio is trapped. Instead of assisting DiCaprio, he is in reality in cahoots with Dr Crawley.

Martin Scorsese has produced a movie of the highest order with splendid photography. It has all the hallmarks of a first rate suspense thriller & psychological drama conflated in one movie. This movie deserves to be watched especially on Blu-ray where the excellent photography can be fully appreciated.

The Diet Delusion
The Diet Delusion
by Gary Taubes
Edition: Paperback
Price: 10.49

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An in-depth scientific investigation into dieting, 7 Mar 2014
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This review is from: The Diet Delusion (Paperback)
This book is not for the faint-hearted. Like a defence advocate in a trial, Gary Taubes builds his case against the accepted wisdom on dieting from the very first scientific test on the efficacy of various diets way back in the 1860s.

Prior to this time, diets & dieting was not considered at all as all contemporary photos will attest. All people of the period were slim with nary an ounce of fat bodies to be seen in any photos. It is only with the advent of the 1950s that the phenomena of obesity started to rear its head to become the epidemic that it is now.

It is not merely weight which is a cancer but its attendant maladies such as heart attacks, diabetes & high blood pressure. In spite of all the best medicine advice, levels of morbid obesity are increasing steadily.

Why did this situation arise? Lack of exercise, incorrect eating, over eating, indolence or an alien virus?

Or possibly none of the above?

Gary Taubes contends that it is the generally accepted medical diet that is gradually killing the world. He sets out with meticulous gusto to examine all the crucial decisions taken to arrive at the current state of affairs. The smoking gun points at certain scientists in the USA who conflated similarity with causation with the culprit being fat. The US government in its haste to apportion blame for a rising tide of heart problems appointed a Commission which without sufficient scientific advice pinned the blame on the consumption of fat. Branded as the villain, carbohydrate was identified as the knight in shining armour which would trounce the villain.

But it was not to be! Rates of obesity rose & with it all its attendant maladies.

The initial scientific test in the 1860s arose because an undertaker in London by the name of William Banting was, despite his best endeavors, increasing in girth. Eventually in desperation he approached his doctor, a Dr. William Harvey who, having a scientific bent, used Banting as a guinea pig. The upshot was that a fatty diet was proved to result in weight loss.

As a South African, I found the findings of a doctor in Natal in the 1920s who was initially in practice in the rural Zululand where obesity, diabetes or high blood pressure was unknown. On relocating to the Addington Hospital in Durban the opposite applied. These ailments were rampant. Ultimately all that he could do was to attribute the difference to their diet.

A final aspect that struck a chord with me was the nature of cholesterol where HDL & LDL are the main protagonists. Even though LDL has been cast as the villains in the cholesterol saga, this is not true. It is rather type of HDL which is more fatal. In a large measure, the existing tests are meaningless. What a revelation!

This is not a book for a casual read but rather for those who have a penchant for the in-depth details of all the main players in the dieting game. Rather dip in & out of relevant sections as information is required rather than reading it like a novel from cover to cover.

This book is long overdue as it studiously treads its scientific path to neutralise all the landmines strewn in its way.

The Village - Series 1 [DVD]
The Village - Series 1 [DVD]
Dvd ~ John Simm
Price: 9.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Authentic portrayal of Life in an English Village circa 1913-1920, 27 Feb 2014
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This review is from: The Village - Series 1 [DVD] (DVD)
Undoubtedly a grim tale told through the eyes of a young Bert Middleton. Life was grim & tough for all in a down-at-heel village where nobody seems to smile. Powerful performances of John Middleton, a tormented alcoholic father struggling to make a living on a stony patch of land are buttressed by his wife, Grace, the ballast in the turbulent mix.

As John battles his demons & the elements, Grace somehow manages to put food on the table & keep the family intact.

From my perspective, there were a number of pertinent issues that this series highlights. For instance, the consequences of the war forced the villagers to confront the reality of their religious beliefs. For this, the local vicar himself admits that he does not have an answer. This war has now been recognised as the prelude to the secularization of Western society.

The effects of psychological damage parochially called shell shock were little understood by the medical profession at this time let alone the military authorities who considered this malady as an attempt at desertion. Instead of showing compassion & treating it as a bona fide ailment, the sufferers were usually forced back into action as soon as possibly with disastrous consequences. They failed to understand that this was the consequence of prolonged trauma in the front line. One such sufferer was Joe Middleton, Bert’s older brother. Whilst on leave, he suffers from a nervous breakdown for which he is ultimately executed for the crime of desertion.

Martha Lane, the daughter returns to the village as a suffragette. An intelligent head-strong young woman, she tackles various of the woes & tribulations with a feisty determination putting her squarely at odds with the men folk of the village.

Despite being the victim of physical spousal abuse by her husband, Grace still shows affection for him. It is genuine emotion but one wonders whether, under such circumstances, the womenfolk merely made the best of a bad situation rather than aggravate an untenable situation.

Despite being a grim tale, I found it thoroughly absorbing and compelling viewing. One hopes that the second series, apparently set in the 1920s, will be just as entertaining but hopefully leavened with more good cheer.

Challenging Beliefs: Memoirs of a Career
Challenging Beliefs: Memoirs of a Career
Price: 4.94

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful rebuttal of Medical Orthodoxy & Prevailing Wisdom, 27 Feb 2014
All serious runners have made an acquaintance with Tim Noake’s opus magnum, The Lore of Running albeit fleetingly. But what one is not aware of is that Time Noake’s is more than merely a writer on running propounding the sage & epiphanous thoughts of the greats whether as runners or as scientists. Instead Tim Noake’s must surely rank as one of the giants of Medical Exercise Research in his own right. As well as being co-founder of the Sports Science Institute of South Africa, he is also a world renowned researcher in his own right.

By adopting the path less travelled in his endeavour to establish the truth, he clashed with the titans of the medical fraternity, being ridiculed at every turn. The longest of these ongoing wars lasted an incredible 30 years before he was finally vindicated.

This conflict is dealt with in the section entitled Waterlogged. Over 100 pages Tim details how he serendipitously discovered that the accepted orthodoxy – partly as the result of research by two eminent South Africans - that heatstroke was caused by dehydration. By confusing correlation with causation, they then made the leap that dehydration during exercise was fatal unless one drank to excess prior to becoming thirsty. They took it even further & postulated that in endurance events one had to “water load” days in advance. They advocated drinking one litre of water per hour for days before the event.

Despite having had no cases of athletes dying during marathon since its re-introduction in 1896, this maxim was readily adopted by the nascent sport. This immediately resulted in the first death on the Comrades. By chance the attending doctor in Durban decided to first test the remaining two athletes’ salt levels. Both were far below accepted norms. Contrary to received wisdom, they were overhydrated & suffering from EAH – exercise associated hyponatraemia, a previously unknown ailment - & not dehydration. Through sheer luck, their lives were spared. Moreover he then by sheer happenstance took another fortuitous decision; to the one he gave a .9% saline solution & the other a 3% saline solution. The latter recovered within hours whereas the former took days whilst being in a coma.

Being a true believer in the accepted medical orthodoxy, Noake’s was mystified. The realisation soon dawned on him that the science was fallacious & that in fact one should rather let one’s body dictate the rate of fluid consumption rather than the generally accepted theory.

It is at this point that the 30 year war commenced. Instead of merely testing Noake’s assertions, he was vilified. His opponent was Gatorade, the largest supplier of energy drinks in the world who had funded all the research & packed the various scientific institutions with their acolytes.

The current controversy roiling around him & which has created renewal vilification, denigration & ridicule is his assertion that current diets create obesity, hypertension, high cholesterol & diabetes. Moreover he alleges that the consumption of fat per se without consuming carbohydrates never causes cholesterol or the clogging of one’s arteries.

In trying to prevent yet another yo-yo diet, Tim scoured the literature in order to understand why conventional diets do not work. This odyssey took Tim to the two Williams – William Banting & an ENT Specialist William Harvey - who met in the 1860s. William Banting suffered from obesity which no diet would result in a weight reduction. Serendipitously William Harvey had become aware of glucose & carbohydrates. He strongly advised William Banting never to eat any carbohydrate anymore. Instead he recommended that as much protein, animal fat & vegetables could be eaten. The result was miraculous. Not only did he lose weight but he never felt hungry so he never had cravings whilst on diet.

This would remain the accepted medical orthodoxy for another 50 years when due to a number of quirks, conventional wisdom was firmly & irrevocably overturned to become accepted that fat was the dastardy element causing blocked arteries & creating cholesterol.

By Noake’s using himself as a guinea pig, he has convincingly shown this to be a fallacy. Not only has he lost weight & kept it off, but his cholesterol levels are within acceptable levels.

Whether Tim’s hypothesis will prove to be enduring only time will tell, but in this process Tim is doing battle with combined might of the Medical Fraternity, agriculture, pharmaceuticals, food industry & a whole lot more. The ramifications are immense. Should his theories ultimately prove to be correct, whole industries will be decimated? Not only that but a whole way of life will vanish. Maybe this discovery is too late for those suffering from the depredations of these diseases, but this will unveil a new mankind much like its predecessors, sleek & thin without an ounce of fat on them

The style of writing is fluid without an emphasis on the graphs & tables beloved of academics & Tim’s technical writings. Perhaps that is why Tim Noakes has elected to have it co-written by a non-academic.

This book is an eye-opener in which the supposedly scientific medical research industry is held in thrall by superstar academics, pharmaceuticals & their acolytes. There is much to ponder on.

China: Triumph and Turmoil [DVD]
China: Triumph and Turmoil [DVD]
Price: 6.20

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brief Overview of three aspects of China, 26 Feb 2014
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With its stellar economic rise since the death of Mao Zedong, more focus needs to be placed on the Chinese in order to understand the ascendant pre-eminent 21st Century World Power. Anyway, that is what the Chinese themselves believe.

The questions that require answers or at least some insights whether China will survive in its current form as an authoritarian state or whether the Chinese people will rebel in their quest for something more akin to Western values.

The first episode deals with the Communist Party's belief that to prevent the inevitable turmoil that is a consequence of change or reform, all such activities need to be severely repressed. Their treatment of the innocuous Falun Gong is a case in point. All forms of protest are treated as dissent & savagely repressed. In spite of a Capitalist economy, the political reins are tightly held by the Communist government. Niall Ferguson makes the analogue with ancient Chinese dynasties & emperors in that all held the same belief in rigid central control.

I found the second episode entitled Maostaliga eye opening. Despite Mao being the architect of two of the greatest disasters in world history let alone Chinese history, in the eyes of the Chinese public, no culpability resides with Mao himself. Collective amnesia about the turbulent past pervades the Chinese. Even though unspoken in the DVD, I wondered whether pervasive censorship & omnipresent propaganda has prevented the Chinese from obtaining a true sense of the tragedy that befell them.

The final episode deals with the economic issues & how it will affect all of us in the future. In order to get a sense of that future, Niall Ferguson interviews both Chinese factory owners in Zambia & their black Zambian workers. The contrast could not be starker! The Chinese work 9 hour days 7 days a week, 360 days a year whereas their Black employees amble along at a sedate pace with ne'er a care in the world. In spite of wages being on a par with the Chinese, the locals feel victimised & exploited. This situation does not bode well for all the incipient Chinese businesses outside their homeland. A cultural clash is sure to arise in the medium term.

This DVD cannot & does not do justice to such as vast topic. Instead three eclectic topics have been selected & some sense of the issues involved & their nuances dealt with. One can argue that there are more intractable or pressing issues, but Niall Ferguson has pitched a stake in the ground to get the debate & understanding going for this is an issue that affects us all in the rest of the world.

Niall's eloquence & ability to turn a phrase is yet again evident. What was disappointing & detracting was the repetition of a number of clips which would never occur in a BBC production.

Schindler's List - 20th Anniversary Edition [DVD] [1993]
Schindler's List - 20th Anniversary Edition [DVD] [1993]
Dvd ~ Liam Neeson
Offered by Quality Media Supplies Ltd.
Price: 19.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spielberg highlights the Nazi’s depravity brilliantly, 2 Feb 2014
The story of the holocaust is well-known & is better known than the atrocities committed by Stalin & Mao even though the magnitude of these were larger than that committed by the Nazis.

Nevertheless, the sheer horror of the Nazi’s killing machine is brought to life in this intense but moving portrayal of the first the ghettoization & then the elimination of this 600 year-old community.

Ralph Fiennes portrayal of the vicious inhuman behaviour of the German Commandant is outstanding in every respect. His behaviour highlights the Nazis belief that these were the untermenschen, deserving of contempt & gratuitous violence.

By filming in black & white, the starkness & melancholy nature of the subject is enhanced.

The “star” of the show is a Nazi member, Oskar Schindler. The flaws in his character are not glossed over & at no point is he canonized as a saint which he undoubtedly was not. Apart from being a womaniser, his ethics were highly questionable in that he bribed his way into the Nazi elite. An excellent portrayal by Liam Neeson brings the lying, scheming, conniving Oskar vividly to life, believable in every way.

The dark, brooding & menacing behaviour of the Nazis guards makes most Jews withdraw into themselves. The sombre accountant at the Deutchse Enamelenfabriken, Itzak Stern is flawlessly played by Ben Kingsley. His opaque expression underlies the turmoil within & his sadness the wretched soul of a cultured man.

Schindler’s List is a vivid evocation of the horrors of the Nazis racial cleansing policies writ large. It deserves to be watched but being three hours in length, set aside a free afternoon to do so.

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