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 Post subject: Re: Vegan restaurants & NRMs/cults
PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 6:30 pm 
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I also think the idea of "thought reform" is too much like "brainwash", which has been debunked.


While traditional or rather Hollywood notions of mind control are bunk, coercion techniques do exist, for example Attack Therapy. Also the notion of suggestible states, and individuals more and less prone to such states, is scientifically supported. (this is not to say Holloywood hypnosis is real)

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 Post subject: Re: Vegan restaurants & NRMs/cults
PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 6:46 pm 
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SkepticalVegan wrote:

on criteria #2, I most certainly think that some of their techniques constituent Attack Therapy (which is common in LGAT as thought coersion). Having witnessed a Landmark participant attempting to break the other down and reading other first-hand account makes me very skeptical.

on criteria #3, I'm glad you had a beneficial experience but you can easily find such defenses from members of organizations that were more blatantly destructive and exploitative as well. Unfortunately many many people's experience does not mirror you own and they did feel pressured and exploited.


The "breaking down" you describe was like the Socratic Method that we used in law school - challenging a person's beliefs to have them see that there is something else possible past their current way of viewing the world. I remember that the lesson in the Landmark Forum was "life is meaningless, and we as humans create all the meaning that we put on things" was really challenging for many people who believe that God has a plan for them. They kept arguing that no there was an objective source of meaning and of right or wrong. But the leaders always say "just imagine for a moment that this is true - you can go back to your other ways of belief once you are done here - just try it on." So it never felt coercive to me and in fact, I'd say the Socratic Method in law school was more intense. But I assume you don't believe law school is a cult, right?

And for #3, you are invalidating my experience and selectively choosing those experiences that support your thesis. I can't reason with "many many people's experience does not mirror your own." I don't know why those people felt exploited, but in my experience, LEC has a strong commitment to having people choose to be in their courses or in their assisting program and if you are done, you're done and no one makes you stay.

For the record, I do think it was problematic for Cafe Gratitude to require their personnel to take courses anywhere if they didn't want to, given that those courses had only an indirect effect on their job performance. But CG isn't run by LEC, its run by people who happen to have done Landmark and liked it, and it seems to me that they were just over-eager about its benefits, and that may have become coercive but again, that isn't because of any direct involvement by LEC

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 Post subject: Re: Vegan restaurants & NRMs/cults
PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 7:06 pm 
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vegimator wrote:
I think we're basically in agreement here. What are you saying the definition of cult and the definition of religion should be and how am I getting it wrong?


No, I think the definition leaves it open for confirmation bias and lends itself easily to anti-religion sentiment in general. I'm a Buddhist and don't think Buddhism is a mind control cult, but framing it in a certain way and picking out the negatives against it might.

And again, there isn't inherently anything bad about NRMs and cults, and using that kind of definition and lingo when talking about cults with harmful and objectionable practices is a little sensationalistic, even if you try to clarify that you only mean the "bad" kind.

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 Post subject: Re: Vegan restaurants & NRMs/cults
PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 7:10 pm 
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Shy Mox wrote:
vegimator wrote:
I think we're basically in agreement here. What are you saying the definition of cult and the definition of religion should be and how am I getting it wrong?


No, I think the definition leaves it open for confirmation bias and lends itself easily to anti-religion sentiment in general. I'm a Buddhist and don't think Buddhism is a mind control cult, but framing it in a certain way and picking out the negatives against it might.

And again, there isn't inherently anything bad about NRMs and cults, and using that kind of definition and lingo when talking about cults with harmful and objectionable practices is a little sensationalistic, even if you try to clarify that you only mean the "bad" kind.


But you didn't answer my question. What is the difference between a religion and a cult in your view?

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 Post subject: Re: Vegan restaurants & NRMs/cults
PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 7:34 pm 
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That was part of what I was bringing up by expressing concern about the word. It's often used as shorthand to identify organized fringe groups, and it's so problematic that it's pretty useless. It often has lots of value judgments placed on it that frame a conversation.

My aunt belongs to a group that my family always refers to as a cult, and it wasn't until I was an adult that I really understood how the situation is more complicated than what I was lead to believe.


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 Post subject: Re: Vegan restaurants & NRMs/cults
PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 7:37 pm 
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vegimator wrote:
Shy Mox wrote:
vegimator wrote:
I think we're basically in agreement here. What are you saying the definition of cult and the definition of religion should be and how am I getting it wrong?


No, I think the definition leaves it open for confirmation bias and lends itself easily to anti-religion sentiment in general. I'm a Buddhist and don't think Buddhism is a mind control cult, but framing it in a certain way and picking out the negatives against it might.

And again, there isn't inherently anything bad about NRMs and cults, and using that kind of definition and lingo when talking about cults with harmful and objectionable practices is a little sensationalistic, even if you try to clarify that you only mean the "bad" kind.


But you didn't answer my question. What is the difference between a religion and a cult in your view?


A cult is a small religion,or an unorthodox offshoot of a bigger religion.

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 Post subject: Re: Vegan restaurants & NRMs/cults
PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 7:58 pm 
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Shy Mox wrote:
A cult is a small religion,or an unorthodox offshoot of a bigger religion.


Yep.

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 Post subject: Re: Vegan restaurants & NRMs/cults
PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 8:06 pm 
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Interesting stuff, Skeps. I don't think it's true exactly to say that cult is a descriptive term, or at least it's a poor choice for a descriptive term, because it has clearly negative connotations. If you want to say "These organizations meet criteria 1) 2) & 3), and that's a bad thing," then cult is the word you want to use. Otherwise, I'd go with NRM.

It's a tough line to walk, and I'm slightly embarrassed to admit that it probably comes down to the experience of eating at these restaurants for me, barring evidence of serious wrongdoing on the part of the organization in question. I eat at Loving Hut in New York all the time, because the SMTV is always muted and easy to ignore, and the people working there never make an issue of it. And also because it's the only vegan restaurant in the neighborhood. I've never eaten at Little Lad's, but I think I probably would. I don't think I would ever eat at Cafe Gratitude again, because I got the same sense of a failure to respect boundaries that I got at the Landmark Forum itself, and because I'm aware of the specific allegations against the owners. I should probably be more careful about this stuff.

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Last edited by mumbles on Wed Feb 15, 2012 8:12 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Vegan restaurants & NRMs/cults
PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 8:09 pm 
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Tofulish wrote:
The "breaking down" you describe was like the Socratic Method that we used in law school - challenging a person's beliefs to have them see that there is something else possible past their current way of viewing the world...


Its been a while but I dont remember anything about Socrates SCREAMING at people until they broke down in tears and accepted his interpretation of the others own internal thoughts and intentions . Not sure thats how law school does it either. Its not the Socratic Method, its simply attack therapy.

Quote:
And for #3, you are invalidating my experience and selectively choosing those experiences that support your thesis.

No, I acknowledged your experience and said I was glad it was beneficial. But your personal experience and positive experience of many others also does not invalidate or erase the harm felt by others who did not have such a good experience. Nor is it reason enough that the potential negative side should be ignored or not talked about.


Quote:
For the record, I do think it was problematic for Cafe Gratitude to require their personnel to take courses anywhere if they didn't want to

It isnt just CG, the same issue existed in numerous businesses from what I can tell (its also not limited to Landmark but also to other LGATs). But rank-and-file-members recruiting new member is generally to most common recruitment technique for most religions, spiritual organizations, cults, and similar organizations. LEC doesn't need to directly recruit new participants, the current participants do that for them and are encouraged to get their family and friends involved and bring them to free events.

Really in the end it seems to mimic Scientology in many ways. Pop-psychological theories sold for hundreds of dollars utilizing rank-and-file members for outreach, providing incentives for the curious such as a free personality test or e-meter reading. Sure many people say they have been immensely helped by Scientology, that it got them off drugs and saved their lives, but it doesn't negate the very real criticisms of the organization.

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 Post subject: Re: Vegan restaurants & NRMs/cults
PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 8:15 pm 
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It also seems that much of the conversation (outside of the Landmark tangent) is centered on the word "cult" rather than the actions of the group in question. It might be more helpful to look at some of the specific charges laid out against Sri Chinmoy and SMCH...

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 Post subject: Re: Vegan restaurants & NRMs/cults
PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 8:21 pm 
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SkepticalVegan wrote:
It also seems that much of the conversation (outside of the Landmark tangent) is centered on the word "cult" rather than the actions of the group in question. It might be more helpful to look at some of the specific charges laid out against Sri Chinmoy and SMCH...


I'm not defending those two particularly, but when you can easily move on to something like Seventh Day Adventists or Raelians or Wiccans or Buddhists or Catholics or Muslims or anything, your definition of what a "cult" is isn't clear and suspect to confirmation bias and just anti-religious in general.

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 Post subject: Re: Vegan restaurants & NRMs/cults
PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 8:24 pm 
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SkepticalVegan wrote:
It also seems that much of the conversation (outside of the Landmark tangent) is centered on the word "cult" rather than the actions of the group in question. It might be more helpful to look at some of the specific charges laid out against Sri Chinmoy and SMCH...

That's probably another good reason not to use the word cult.

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 Post subject: Re: Vegan restaurants & NRMs/cults
PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 8:30 pm 
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Shy Mox wrote:
SkepticalVegan wrote:
It also seems that much of the conversation (outside of the Landmark tangent) is centered on the word "cult" rather than the actions of the group in question. It might be more helpful to look at some of the specific charges laid out against Sri Chinmoy and SMCH...


I'm not defending those two particularly, but when you can easily move on to something like Seventh Day Adventists or Raelians or Wiccans or Buddhists or Catholics or Muslims or anything, your definition of what a "cult" is isn't clear and suspect to confirmation bias and just anti-religious in general.


Its only anti-religion when you accept socially imposed connotations. On its own it is a descriptive term defining a certain set of characteristics or actions. The actions may also be ultimately benign depending on the group.

Keep in mind that to some religious people that "sect" is also seen as a derogatory term, yet is itself also merely descriptive.

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 Post subject: Re: Vegan restaurants & NRMs/cults
PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 8:37 pm 
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SkepticalVegan wrote:
Its only anti-religion when you accept socially imposed connotations.

It's important to keep your audience in mind here. If you're talking only to people who have cast off socially imposed connotations (otherwise known as 'connotations'), then you needn't worry too much about it. If you hope to reach a broader audience, you probably should avoid language that will immediately turn people off.

I thought it was an interesting read, so I'd encourage you to go for the latter.

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 Post subject: Re: Vegan restaurants & NRMs/cults
PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 8:41 pm 
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just mumbles wrote:
That's probably another good reason not to use the word cult.


Perhaps, but when I first used it for Chinmoy I felt he deserved it(& still do), and I clearly defined the context. But I actually never call SMCH a cult leader or her org a cult in my blog, I reported on the sentence in VegNews that made that suggestion in the context of the controversy it created, I was hoping the actions would speak for themselves. But at this point I dont have any intention of editing out the word and feel that in the context used in the two posts it is accurate and appropriate terminology.

as for the thread title, i did intent to go with "Vegan restaurants & NRMs" at first but added "/cults" because I felt that that "NRM" might not be understood.

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 Post subject: Re: Vegan restaurants & NRMs/cults
PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 10:48 pm 
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I think that the word cult is problematic but can be used as long as you use a clear definition. Steve Hassan, a former member of the Unification Church and mental health counselor, uses what he calls the BITE model to evaluate groups, secular and religious.

I. Behavior Control
II. Information Control
III. Thought Control
IV. Emotional Control
If these elements are present, he labels the group as a "destructive mind control group."

Dr. Robert Jay Lifton has criteria to determine if a group is involved in thought reform:

Milieu Control. This involves the control of information and communication both within the environment and, ultimately, within the individual, resulting in a significant degree of isolation from society at large.

Mystical Manipulation. There is manipulation of experiences that appear spontaneous but in fact were planned and orchestrated by the group or its leaders in order to demonstrate divine authority or spiritual advancement or some special gift or talent that will then allow the leader to reinterpret events, scripture, and experiences as he or she wishes.

Demand for Purity. The world is viewed as black and white and the members are constantly exhorted to conform to the ideology of the group and strive for perfection. The induction of guilt and/or shame is a powerful control device used here.

Confession. Sins, as defined by the group, are to be confessed either to a personal monitor or publicly to the group. There is no confidentiality; members' "sins," "attitudes," and "faults" are discussed and exploited by the leaders.

Sacred Science. The group's doctrine or ideology is considered to be the ultimate Truth, beyond all questioning or dispute. Truth is not to be found outside the group. The leader, as the spokesperson for God or for all humanity, is likewise above criticism.

Loading the Language. The group interprets or uses words and phrases in new ways so that often the outside world does not understand. This jargon consists of thought-terminating clichés, which serve to alter members' thought processes to conform to the group's way of thinking.

Doctrine over person. Member's personal experiences are subordinated to the sacred science and any contrary experiences must be denied or reinterpreted to fit the ideology of the group.

Dispensing of existence. The group has the prerogative to decide who has the right to exist and who does not. This is usually not literal but means that those in the outside world are not saved, unenlightened, unconscious and they must be converted to the group's ideology. If they do not join the group or are critical of the group, then they must be rejected by the members. Thus, the outside world loses all credibility. In conjunction, should any member leave the group, he or she must be rejected also. (Lifton, 1989)

Both Hassan and Lifton are clear that it is not only religious groups that can become cult-like.

As far as Landmark is concerned, it arose out of EST. The founder of EST, Werner Erhart, apparently took some Scientology courses and is accused of using that material to create EST. Some former Scientologists believe it borrows heavily from the basic courses in Scientology and even called it Scientology-lite. Hassan's site has some information on it. But many of the features that makes Scientology a target of critics are not present in Landmark and there is no space opera.

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 Post subject: Re: Vegan restaurants & NRMs/cults
PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 10:51 pm 
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The only Loving Hut I've visited pushed the Supreme Master as hard and heavily as any Christian evangelist on a roll. The TV was definitely not muted.

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 Post subject: Re: Vegan restaurants & NRMs/cults
PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 10:57 pm 
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Just because it's kind of cool, here's neo-pagan, druid Issac Bonewits' way of evaluating a cult.

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 Post subject: Re: Vegan restaurants & NRMs/cults
PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 11:35 pm 
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SkepticalVegan wrote:
Perhaps, but when I first used it for Chinmoy I felt he deserved it(& still do), and I clearly defined the context.

I think he deserves it too, but by saying 'he deserves it' you are agreeing that your terminology includes a normative judgment, which means you can't argue that it's purely descriptive. Again, that's not to say that you can't or shouldn't use it, just that you can be 100% sure that someone is going to raise it as an issue if you do use it that way because it contains a normative judgment, and one that will indict any movement or organization that meets your criteria, and that discussion runs the risk of obscuring the topic you actually want to write about, especially in a format like this where you have no control over where the discussion goes. So I guess I'd just try to avoid that altogether and use a different term. I don't think "What does NRM mean?" presents similar problems, since you can answer that once and then move on.

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 Post subject: Re: Vegan restaurants & NRMs/cults
PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 11:55 pm 
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SkepticalVegan wrote:
Tofulish wrote:
The "breaking down" you describe was like the Socratic Method that we used in law school - challenging a person's beliefs to have them see that there is something else possible past their current way of viewing the world...


Its been a while but I dont remember anything about Socrates SCREAMING at people until they broke down in tears and accepted his interpretation of the others own internal thoughts and intentions . Not sure thats how law school does it either. Its not the Socratic Method, its simply attack therapy.

Really in the end it seems to mimic Scientology in many ways. Pop-psychological theories sold for hundreds of dollars utilizing rank-and-file members for outreach, providing incentives for the curious such as a free personality test or e-meter reading. Sure many people say they have been immensely helped by Scientology, that it got them off drugs and saved their lives, but it doesn't negate the very real criticisms of the organization.


I haven't done any Scientology courses, but I was an introduction leader at Landmark, and I have never ever seen anyone ever scream at someone. That methodology was used in Est, but it isn't allowed now. They are really big on having people feel heard. Also there are no personality tests or e-meter reading - the free events are either talks on a topic, or smaller events where people work with you to ask "what are you looking to create in your life."

That said, sometimes people do overstep boundaries, like mumbles describes, because people are pushed to have their friends register to take courses. I don't like that part of the model at all, but it doesn't make it a cult.

Landmark has its flaws, for example it does commodify relationships to a degree in that people are strongly encouraged to bring other people to events and get them to do the Landmark Forum, but it isn't a cult. For example, there are no "members," there is no spiritual component, there is no charismatic leader, and the courses aren't coercive etc. There are a lot of very specific policies in place so that no one gets pressured into signing up, or staying in a program etc. For example, if someone has dropped out of a course or seminar, there are clear guidelines that that person isn't to be contacted more than once, just to check that they are okay.

I know you've said this is a tangent, so I won't belabor the point, but if you call Landmark a cult, then you are watering down the definition of cult to the point that it seems to become meaningless.

ETA: funny side note, I live on the same street as a Unification church, and all the members I've met have been incredibly sweet, but there is definitely a culty vibe there. Especially when you meet people who are in marriages arranged by Rev. Moon.

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Last edited by Tofulish on Wed Feb 15, 2012 11:58 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Vegan restaurants & NRMs/cults
PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 11:58 pm 
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What's the difference between a cult and a religion? About a hundred years.

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 Post subject: Re: Vegan restaurants & NRMs/cults
PostPosted: Thu Feb 16, 2012 12:14 am 
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I thought saying Sri Chinmoy "deserved" the label just meant, you know, qualities of Chinmoy merited or justified his inclusion in a certain category. Are you hung up on the word deserve, as in "that serves him right"?

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 Post subject: Re: Vegan restaurants & NRMs
PostPosted: Thu Feb 16, 2012 12:47 am 
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Your right. But its more that I just didnt care about the negative connotations and cultural baggage when using it for Chinmoy because in addition to meeting the basic 3 descriptive criteria I choose he also met the stereotype, though connotation still does not equal definition which is more what we were quibbling about earlier in regards to the catholic church, ect being a cult.

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 Post subject: Re: Vegan restaurants & NRMs/cults
PostPosted: Thu Feb 16, 2012 1:17 am 
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FootFace wrote:
I thought saying Sri Chinmoy "deserved" the label just meant, you know, qualities of Chinmoy merited or justified his inclusion in a certain category. Are you hung up on the word deserve, as in "that serves him right"?

I guess I wouldn't read it that way, since the category he would fall into would be charismatic leader rather than cult. But it doesn't matter too much--I don't actually object to the use of the word, I just wouldn't want to invite the controversy.

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 Post subject: Re: Vegan restaurants & NRMs/cults
PostPosted: Thu Feb 16, 2012 1:19 am 
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just mumbles wrote:
FootFace wrote:
I thought saying Sri Chinmoy "deserved" the label just meant, you know, qualities of Chinmoy merited or justified his inclusion in a certain category. Are you hung up on the word deserve, as in "that serves him right"?

I guess I wouldn't read it that way, since the category he would fall into would be charismatic leader rather than cult. But it doesn't matter too much--I don't actually object to the use of the word, I just wouldn't want to invite the controversy.


at this point i kinda wish i hadnt used it, would rather have the focus on their deeds rather than their labels

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