Wednesday, August 31, 2011

#36 -- 'Scooby Doo, Where Are You?' Recap (Season 1, Episode 13): Which Witch is Which?


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"If Fred has a tragic death soliloquy at the end of the season, nobody will give half a shit and we would send a box of chocolate iPads to the writers for doing what we wish the U.N. had done long ago."

Okay, this episode was significantly better than last week's. Witches and zombies are way scarier than a fucking mummy, and don't get me started on the twist that the guy managed to create a concrete mold of himself that quickly. "Which Witch is Which" is a much more down to earth story featuring better narrative structure and actual character motivations for the villains. It also introduces us to Zeb: Frog Hunter and his hetero-life-mate Zeke: Bean Seller.

At last, we get more Shaggy. Even this early in the season, this show can be guilty of having too many characters to keep track, of so when the emphasis is placed squarely on Shaggy, it becomes a controlled comedic-demolition. The character is a total revelation. Whenever Shaggy talks, it's comedy gold -- his voice, it sounds like velvety, just-melting chocolate ice cream, man. When paired with Scooby, it's no wonder the man and his dog don't like to listen to Fred's bullshit. Shag is smarter than any of the others realize and at some point, he's going to pay Velma back for the bullshit she put him through when Scooby was kidnapped by that Navajo tribe back in Nevada.

The bayou that our crew comes across this week is the dankest location thus far and is a testament to the show's art direction. No detail is too small, most notable is the creature design on the zombie they almost run over entering town, who looks like an anthropomorphized root vegetable that's been feeding on the raw sewage runoff behind David Lynch's house. What's scarier than a swamp-town infested with weirdos? A town where the only two people left seem entirely same and kind. Zeke and Zeb are the only ones left in the town, passing time hunting frogs with spears, spying on witches, avoiding voodoo, and clinging to their sanity.

Natch, Fred sends off Shaggy and Scooby to check out Zeb's house, and the entire world is overjoyed because it gets Fred off-camera. If Fred has a tragic death soliloquy at the end of the season, nobody will give half a shit and we would send a box of chocolate iPads to the writers for doing what we wish the U.N. had done long ago. Zeb's disappearance still wreaks of lies. The Zeb-shaped voodoo doll Scoob and Shag find in the house was icky-creepy, saved gracefully by their hysterical coin-flip to decide who checks on the shadowy figure lurking around outside. "Heads, I win, tails, you lose," and Shaggy tricks Scooby so badly that the dog breaks into tears. It was just a chipmunk outside and Scooby's overjoyed face capped the scene flawlessly.

Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? isn't really ever scary -- it can be creepy. It can be weird. It's first and foremost a dramedy though and it's run by the stupid characters' attempts to make non-lethal decisions. They're frequently in danger, I just doubt the writers will ever dare to kill one of them off.

Speaking of which, meeting back up with Fred throws Shaggy and Scooby right back into danger. No, do not go into the swamp, you paint chip-munching ass-hat. Ignoring warning signs, the journey into the swamp to find the witch was more frightening than expected. The gang follows the witch and the zombie-slave to shore. They enter the hut.

The reason Shaggy and Scooby's chemistry is so good is that they know that they're both total cowards and and yet they have no reservations about scaring each other should the opportunity arise. The moment when Scooby fake-voodooed Shaggy with the doll they find was priceless and a testament to their friendship. Yes, they will run from assholes disguised as ghost-spacemen. Yes, they will dress in drag to fool a zombie (as seen later in this very episode). Yes, they will occasionally give a full barber-shop shave to a werewolf, but this is only because they trust each other and know that they're capable of getting out of most any jam.

The witch inevitably shows up (is the voice-actor for the witch a dude?) and this time it isn't Velma, but Daphne that runs her mouth. Disrespecting the witch gets Daphne vanished out of existence (let her be dead) and the witch lurches off. Damn, it was just a trap-door, obvi, but still. Wouldn't it be wonderful if she was just gone, and the gang was just: "Oh well, let's go watch The Wire or something."

Down under the trap door though, we have to ask the question: where the fuck did she wander off to? Didn't think of yelling, Daph?

Goddamn. Plus, the sexual tension between her and Fred suggests some stuff is going on off-camera, and judging by her joke about going to a gynecologist in the previous episode tells me that she might be pregnant (and is it Fred, or is it Shaggy's?).

The river-boat that they ended up at on the other end of the tunnel was neat and the chase with the zombie and Shag/Scoob was primo shit but the metal-tipped pole was a weak bit of evidence for the case (how do you jump to that conclusion, Velma?). Some of this stuff is like Lost when the biggest mysteries are left dangling on purpose and then they mention the solution to them years later in passing. That isn't effective storytelling. Also, why was the zombie hiding in that box in the stern of the ship? It's shit like this Scooby-Doo! Then again, Velma saved some face with her remark that pulling on something hanging on the wall to make secret doors open "always works in the movies," which is the weird-meta joke that makes us love this show to death. Following it with a "soap opera" pun after the slippery soap caused them to find the real lever to open the door was icing on the cake.

"Oh boy, am I glad to see you!" Daphne tells Fred when rescued from one of the riverboat's locked rooms. She's way too overly-emphatic and emotional, clearly indicating that she doesn't want Fred to know something.

They eventually found the crashed armored car (could've used hints about its existence much earlier so we can have a reason for being in the fucking swamp!) and instantly the gang concludes the witch and the zombie are after it. We love a truck full of sacks with dollar signs as much as the next nerd (special shout-out to the name emblazoned on the side of the armored car that simply reads "Bank Co." Priceless.) but shouldn't this have been in the very first act of the episode. Why is the money there? Why not let the myth of the witch build a bit more before jumping to conclusions?

We do want to make mention to the surprisingly-weak trap Fred sets up to catch the witch. This is a guy that designed a Rube-Goldberg machine with cannon balls, springs, a morningstar, and a suit of armor to catch a magician. Shit, he once used an ironing board, a room-fan, a washing machine, and a few gallons of dish soap to corral a pair of Confederate Shadow-Ghosts. His ability to come up with these things is really his only quality, so for this episode -- seriously, Fred? A tree branch snapping somebody in the face? He's getting unfocused, furthering our theory that something bad happened at the haunted amusement park between him, Daphne, and that robot.

The sheriff shows up to throw Zeke and Zeb (it was Zeke and Zeb all along!) in lockup. Judging by the previews for next week, which we swore we'd stop watching, the gang will be dealing with smugglers and pirates. Those aren't really monsters, they're more just criminals, so the danger continues to ratchet up. If your friends aren't watching this show, fucking tell them to!

-- by Ghost Little and Doberman
on Twitter  |  @GhostLittle_WTF

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

#35.5 -- Watch Out For That Dinosaur!

"Watch Out For That Dinosaur!"

Tragic, there will be no new post this week, as it is the end of August, and it is time for a week-long holiday. In lieu of a comprehensive short story, a treatise on minutia, or a review of a recent film, book, or digital plaything, I have been instructed to play this video message, explaining the circumstances.

I hope that I have carried out my instructions to your satisfaction. Now keep calm, and carry on, we'll weather this storm yet.

Good day.

-- Caretaker Poots
on Twitter  |  @GhostLittle_WTF

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

#35 -- "Jane Eyre (2011)" Reviewed | * * *

"That's humanity. It's a time-traveling bullshit-breaking missile, killing insecurities, past and present, with chemical weapons that violate the Geneva Conventions."

This is a creeping story about outdated ideas presented through a modern lens. It's a lady-movie that has a gender-neutral opinion on what it means to be emotionally miserable. Progressive! English countrysides, stupid rules -- mental, emotional, and meta-physical demons crawl the background. It's a chick flick staged as a gritty ghost story. There are old books that were written with the intention to trundle on for months and months, dragging a reader down with them. In many ways, those stories were ahead of their time. You are meant to read them chapter by chapter, digesting them slowly, distancing yourself when you don't have time to read or can't stand the story's boredom or the villains' cruelty anymore. Remember for the entire back half of Wuthering Heights when Heathcliff was donkey-punching every stable emotion he encountered? Urgh. You can only process so much slobbering misery in book-form. As a movie though, you're stuck with it for a limited engagement. Movies are watched in one sitting. You're there from beginning to end -- there's no escape and that's a good thing. You're there, just like characters, bound by stupid rules.

This is not a stupid movie though. It's an S-grade production of a D-grade concept. It's thesis: "Sad you can't have that," has sold more stories than "Once upon a time..." but it's through that simplicity that we can enter this story, and its simple thesis, a million and one times, sometimes with great results -- this is one of those times. Jane Eyre is to Byronic-romance as Avatar is to science-fiction. Who knew that Charlotte Brontë was working in the wrong medium?

Baby Magneto (Mad*Men*Spy*Cool out of 4) is Edward Fairfax Rochester. He's unhappy with the fact that shit catches fire around him. Master of Thornfield Manor, he carries a lot of emotional baggage around the English wilderness, being a dick to everybody that works for him because there's not much else going on. Can you imagine that? You're so rich and so indifferent, and there's quite literally no television, so you devote your entire life to being a growling-contempt-man-blob, draped in self-pity. Gentlemen would devote entire lifetimes to acting like this and it was socially acceptable, and quite normal, actually. Fantasy kicks in though -- "Maybe he's got a good reason for being an unchained face-cock?" Leave it to the ladies to want to draw some good out of a man like Rochester. Money can't buy a man happiness, as per usual. Wait, sorry, we're talking about this from a man's point of view, and this is a proto-feminist story.

Alice of Goddamn Wonderland (Worst*Movie*Of*All*Time out of 4) is Jane Eyre. Orphaned, abused, well-educated, but not self-pitying, this is a girl that hears voices. She hears voices, but doesn't let it bother her. It's not disabling, she can still speak and is rather kind. Normally we'd burn a female lead -- or any lead, c'mon, what are we talking about -- for being self-pitying, which, fortunately, Jane isn't. She isn't delusional either. She's skeptical, but not of herself. She's able and realistic. Compassionate to a fault from a young age, she succeeds in becoming an individual in an era when that is commonly bad form and worse news for a woman. She's likely to end up a missionary's wife with that attitude.

Does anybody do cruelty like the British? They're so right-proper and passionless in their emotional bitch-slaps. It's as if the country is one gigantic frat house and the adults all haze their kids to be loveless skull-fuckers, who will, in turn, raise the next generation in a becoming fashion. Even the rich kids are raised by nannies, educators, and governesses. They don't really have to grow up until its time to smother their parents in their beds to inherit the vast, vast, vast estates for their own. Then they'll brood for a few decades, have a an illegitimate child or two, and then realize all their friends are having "actual" kids, and they gots to keep up their appearances, lest they be social outcasts. Any non-diseased women want in?

That's how it was. Just give him a girl that won't annoy him too much and might be able to squirt out some spawn that don't die form typhoid at age two. What use is there for a woman that'll be any more than that? Brontë really saw an easy market for our simple thesis: "What if people didn't, as a rule, have to suck? What if emotions worked properly and made sense?" Fairy tales, lady. "What if there were ghosts, supernatural entities getting in your way too?" Whoa, stop pitching, Wilma Shakespeare, you struck oil with Ghost-Romance!

The existence of demons in Jane Eyre is a magic trick. They're very real in a Batman Begins kind of way -- and now we have to stop bringing up Chris Nolan movies. It looks real, you're told it isn't, you comply with the unreality, then you find out you were actually right with your first guess. The 2011 film version of Jane Eyre (which we're talking about right now!) is a story that should have been a 2011 film before it was ever a book from a quadrillion years ago. Framed the way it is, and knowing that Wuthering Heights is a book that exists (and was only published two months later in 1847), Jane Eyre is haunted. It must to be! Fireplaces explode whenever Jane gets angry as a child. Rochester's bed catches fire for no reason -- all of these moments are surrounded by voices in Jane's head, hiding inside the walls, causing deliberate cruelty. Life, society, and The Rules hate Jane, forcing her to assume that all people are entirely rotten inside, frogspawn boiling at the sight of her, and there's no way her good can beat all that bad.

There's no beating ghosts. Ghosts are the only thing that could make a man like Rochester so gnarled and jagged. Rochester begins as a cagey, hideous fucker and Baby Magneto plays him like a cross between Axel Rose and Anakin Skywalker. He's an shifty, arrogant rockstar that cares so much about what people think of him and hates them for it. He hates where he is. He hates that he has to live with the ghosts lurking around Thornfield Manor. He hates that he has an illegitimate daughter who is so adorably French and he must educate -- not himself, no, hire a woman to do it, fuck, what kind of man do you take him for? Enter: Jane Eyre, who is named Jane, and must act as such. Is Jane a bad name? No, it's a just a name. We don't feel like completing that thought, we'll let you chose your own adventure.

Jane's humanity snaps Rochester out of his mire though. Humanity, in a woman, to a man, is that thing where your buddy is trying to describe the dreamgirl and he says "She's indescribable," and then you hit him for having no vocabulary, and he adds, "She just talks to me, and it makes sense." That's humanity. It's a time-traveling bullshit-breaking missile, killing insecurities, past and present, with chemical weapons that violate the Geneva Conventions. Humanity kills ghosts. It doesn't take Rochester long to make the right decision, weird as it is, to marry Jane. How far into the movie are we? About an hour or so?

This does not bode well for humanity. Enter: The Twist. The ghost bites back hard. It has a lair right inside the wall behind Rochester's bed. It would have stayed there if it weren't for this one little he-bitch calling Rochester out on the bullshit in his past. Humanity gets killed by stupid rules, by rotten English tradition, by generational contempt that you can't fight. It just froths inside, giving the men sepsis, and giving women, well, we dunno, let's say, toxic shock. That sounds gross enough. Real gothic horror kicks in now, shit that would make Poe beam. Rochester kept his half-mad first wife locked in a secret room behind a tapestry. That's the ghost, she's actually real! That is so fucking cool. If that was the plot twist in a modern horror story, and it was set in New York City or something, and the rich guy kept his mentally-unhinged ex-wife to prowl a back room of his expensive mid-town loft, your very organs would walk out on you for exposing them to that kind of trauma. It would knock peoples' brains off. Sitting and watching the movie for a solid 80 minutes, with the viewers assuming that eventually a real un-live banshee would come howling across the moor to reave somebody's soul, we suddenly get this?! This comes so far out of left field that you realize Rochester was a dick for very real reasons -- his daddy married him to a crazy girl for money, basically ending his life, because he can't remarry (for some reason, were annulments still not cool back then?), especially not to Jane The Deserving.

Jane saw this coming too! She isn't a precocious shrew because she's enjoys defiance, she's humane because she has decided that is best way for her to live. She warns Rochester that he shouldn't assume that she is heartless because she balances honesty and reserve with elegance. He shouldn't want her just because she's different. But Rochester says: "Fuck it, let's wedding the shit out of this scenario!" Heroes always enjoy blissful matrimony midway through their stories, never to see sadness again. We love the "falling in love" montage they have during the wedding preparation. It's a total Sword of Damocles. Mere sentences from being happily married, Act 2 has to end, crushing all hope. The Ghoul-Wife sees an end to that and Jane has to bolt in the night.

Here is where the story frays. The movie actually begins at this moment with a flash-forward of Jane bolting in the night, being a decent place to begin the story. The time Jane spends with the kindly sisters and the mildly-odd missionary. We suppose this is supposed to represent the banal existence one could choose if love became too hard. It's the fire escape and it's lunacy. It's a chaste, sucky existence, is what it is. Fortunately, Jane is all, "Later, haterz," and leaves Billy Elliot: Missionary. She realizes she'd rather go back to Baby Magneto than go to India as a missionary's wife, which is the safest job in the goddamn world. She wins because she doesn't comply, which is totally what Ellen Ripley would have done, and that's why her name is the title, and why this story is more modern than modern -- she gets what she wants by growing, not by complying.

Does Jane sacrifice some pride and conscience here? She goes back for Rochester, finding the manor half-burned by The Ghoul-Wife. Root for the happy ending, root for forgiveness, root for love -- the fact that she chooses something risky and stupid (something that's actually counter to her character earlier in the story) over something sure and simple, is why wins Jane back her humanity, and why, for once, she isn't running back, needy, to a man. Again, this is why she wins. At the end of it all, after being hauled through the Uruk-hai muck with Jane for roughly two hours, it concludes with optimism, which is more than we'd expect from a Brontë. Praise for an old story about old people whose premise becomes too modern for its own good.

* * *
(out of 4)

-- Ghost Little
on Twitter  |  @GhostLittle_WTF

Recommended related reading:
[Behold, The 7-Step Plan Of Vengeance®] by Ghost Little
[Sly Cooper and the Thevieus Raccoonus  |  * * *] by Doberman
[V.i.] by Ghost Little

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

#34 -- Ultimate Frisbee Is Just World Of Warcraft For Extroverts

"When the sports-club that you're enamored with -- which is meant to be the healthy evolution from competition-driven traditional sports -- quickly turns into a clusterfuck of LSD and wardrobes of repressed sexual abuse, you've got a contradiction on your hands."

In the grand scheme of personal vices and obsessions, we'd rate Ultimate Frisbee just below World of Warcraft and just above Bible Club.

(Nota Bene, Ultimate Frisbee will henceforth referred to in this writing as simply 'ultimate,' as those in the industry refer to it.)

Any freshman activities fair rep will tell you about the inclusiveness of ultimate.

(Right now is when we go on record as people that weren't booed off a try-outs field and feel spurned. Ultimate players didn't break into our car or undercook and eat our dog (Floki, no!!))

People that play ultimate, and are a part of the surrounding community, really like it. Similarly, people in fraternities, yacht clubs, and Methodists, really like their communities, but they don't promise grassroots equality and inclusiveness. Clubs are clubs are clubs, and up to the most extreme extent (local church potluck supper organizers: cool. The Tea Party: really fuckin' not cool, man), they're within their rights to set rules on who they allow in.

When the sports-club that you're enamored with -- which is meant to be the healthy evolution from competition-driven traditional sports -- quickly turns into a clusterfuck of LSD and wardrobes of repressed sexual abuse, you've got a contradiction on your hands. Ultimate players are devoted to their sport and its lifestyle more passionately than Cleveland Browns season ticket-holders. It's high school football in Texas to them. It is the only thing in life. It's the clique. It's Augusta National, and all your friends are members. It's that montage in a crime movie where everybody's getting along and making money and getting laid and moving into huge mansions with bathrooms the size of Luxembourg and shower-curtains made of albino tiger pubes. It's the mob. It's a mob that preaches inclusion and non-competitive learning but boils over into a kind of hate that pumps spin-class leaders' obsidian hearts. It's self-regulated and self-refereed by supposedly-honorable players while simultaneously being populated by overly-inventive trash-talking that borders on consensual, verbal hate-yiffing (don't Google "yiffing") towards one another. They are the athletes, the owners, and the fans, all serving their self-propelled morbid hunger for. . . cherry pie? We dunno.

But there are smiles on the surface and there is slander and threats of skullfucking behind each others backs.

It's difficult, isn't it? Knowing that you care as much as you do and that only the diluted will agree that it isn't time wasted in a fantasy? The players want it so much to be real. To make it real though, they must first let it go. If you want to be a sport, be a sport. Be competitive, get some refs, dislike your opponents, and knock each other down. You'll be a sport then, but you won't be a Natural Foods Co-op Membership Club Sub-culture. If you want to continue to be a 'culture,' then stop wearing those shit-eating grins, and secretly hating people that don't take you at all seriously.

Handball is an Olympic event. Ping pong is an Olympic event. Ultimate frisbee is not.

Ping pong is a more real 'sport' than your pseudo-competition / box-wine / kegger / circle-jerk. It's there. You feel it. It's a niggling doubt in the back of your mind that you really and truly aren't legitimate and you're having less fun than you think you are and you're just killing time until your next match, or, eventually, you'll have to be excommunicated from the only thing you know anything about, otherwise you'll become a 38 year-old burnout riding a fixed-gear bike, incapable of jumping more than two inches because somebody slashed your Achilles tendons at a tournament in Savannah, GA while you were sleeping. The fact that they have to insist, that, "yeah, it's a total sport, we have an acronym for our governing body and everything!" is a sign that they are not mentally-developed enough to be a sport.

A One-Note Song is not a song, even Tenacious D knows that. The best ultimate players are one-note humans. They play their sport, they practice their sport, they organize their sport, they live with people that play their sport, they vacation to play in events they've practiced for and organized, they brood over the lack of their sport when the weather is cold and the squash team won't let them practice their sport in their courts. They're the sporting equivalent of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, wandering grassy areas, highly recognizable, even at a distance, getting ready to ruin your day with banter about this thing that they love and want to 'legitimize.'

"There's more to it than you know!"

Who are you trying to convince? Go, play your game, have fun, enjoy it, we encourage you to spend your time getting some physical exercise. It's the contradictions and self-delusion that's hurting your ability to love it to its fullest. Really good ultimate players get sponsored to play their sport, they talk about their sport at the water-cooler at the job they work to pay for their sport. Notice how generous we're being with the word "sport," and how much of its power the word loses when placed in close proximity to the word "Frisbee" (Copyright: Whammo Toys). You're welcome!

It becomes a tiresome load of bullshit. There's deeper meaning in sports, and how, on a base, pure level, they can teach us about success and failure and competition, and then we carry that over into real life. Ultimate is none of those things because it's all one in the same to the people involved with it. It's not a means to an end in the way that high school baseball is, it's Shangri-La. Except it isn't! It's the Opiate Of The Jackasses. Most of them aren't even red-blooded hippies -- they stopped smoking chronic when their shit got 'real.' A Frisbee player will steal his friends' Birkenstocks and throw them off the Chesapeake Bay bridge as a prank, but he won't abuse substances that might hurt his game.

Ultimate is a thrilling study in how a utopia collapses. Founded on principles concerning equality and non-violence, things were beautiful, sublime, in fact, amongst the young, Fae-Frisbeeians. The people in the Ultimate Utopia looked outward from their small, walled garden, shaking their heads at those outside who could not understand their Zen wisdom. They didn't concern themselves with outsiders, and for a while, it was good. They played their sport, lived, laughed, and loved, cultivating healthy respect and competition. Then, one day, one player decided to work on his cardio and outran everybody during a game, winning with ease. The others asked why he did this, the competition and been simple and pure until then. The player that had worked on his cardio explained that he had been envious, and annoyed that he hadn't ever won. In the next game, another player elbowed him in the ear for transgressing against the friendly competition. Slowly, the ultimate players started living closer and closer to their sport, devoting more time to deciphering how to win. Eventually, they believed they had developed enough of a competitive identity to earn the respect of those outside their garden, and they opened the gates. What they didn't know was that inside their micro-society, the sense of reality had become so warped that they could barely speak. Nobody could understand them, and certainly nobody could understand why they wanted to be a "real" sport. It's a society, it's a way of life, not a sport.

The best thing about ultimate is its honesty, and the players genuine love for the sport -- for the mantra built around it, which is unique. The worst part is that the highest levels of play are still populated by pretentious, arrogant, true-athletes, whose existence betrays the sports' best justification point. Their desire to bend unwritten rules and exploit a system that isn't built to defend itself against these exploits ruins the game.

"Oh, but where's the harm? Surely they're doing good." No, madam. No. What occurs is an artificial ego that is incapable of functioning outside of the ultimate snowglobe. In that world, they're warriors, and athletes, and politicians, and have lead armies across battlefields with tactics comparable to Sun Tzu and Machiavelli. They live, truly, as gods do, drinking in halls akin to Olympus or Valhalla or Azeroth. Everything is right, the world is full of color and merriment, and the sparring and competitions endure even after you have retired.

Wrong, fucker! You are a human being in the real world. You don't ride a fucking battlecat o'er snowcapped peaks never-summited. That wench you snapped up from a recent festival is as ugly as sin and the only reason she is blowing you is because you can throw a decent hammer, or whatever. Stop it. Your conquests are as real as those in World of Warcraft. People that love, love, love World of Warcraft have ground the game's purpose and identity into dust, exploiting it until it has become a freebase-drug called 'Distraction,' entirely pure and wicked. The numbers, the calculations, winning, that's all that matters. The escapism, the spirit, the world, the art, all of is invisible to them. Ultimate players experience the same thing, they're just tall extroverts instead of people with Internet connections and a WoW account.

Here's an idea, ultimate 'competitor.' Move to a dirt road in Tennessee. See how long you last. You'll be wandering and in withdrawal like a lip-less crack-whore in less than a fortnight, grumbling with dementia that nobody will throw round plastic at you, before your kneecaps are forcibly removed by a pheasant hunter with a Bowie Knife and a bladder fulla Jack because of a confusion over the phrase 'poach.'

-- Ghost Little and Doberman
on Twitter | @GhostLittle_WTF

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