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Author Archives: Adamus

Public schools aren’t for just children or parents, but for society as a whole | Opinion

This was published today in Florida Today. I’ll leave it to speak for itself.

Tenth grade honors English class. Students were working on a short writing exercise. The stimulus? A quote by Alfred Adler, the famed psychologist and personality theorist who postulated humans are driven by the will to power. The desire to affect their world. “Meanings are not determined by situations, but we determine ourselves by the meanings we give to situations.” We have already read similarly in Shakespeare and in “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Holocaust survivor, psychiatrist and developer of Logotherapy, Viktor Frankl.

Then, one student raised his hand and asked the purpose of public schools. We all make different connections with material, so questions that seem unconnected really aren’t. I asked them for their ideas.

“So we can get jobs.”

No.

“So we can have better lives.”

Nope.

“So our parents can go to work.”

I can’t disagree, but let’s look at original purposes. Exigence.

“So we can be happy.”

Nah.

“To make the world better.”

Nope.

I asked, why is it that folks without kids still pay for schools for you guys? Why did Jefferson want free education?

Silence.

Adam Byrn Tritt: “The sole purpose of our public schools, as described by Jefferson himself, a proponent of free education, is to create an educated electorate able to discern the factual from the fallacious, to think critically regarding the world and information at hand, to synthesize that information and be able to communicate that clearly in their writings, decisions, and, most importantly, at the ballot box.”

Why is it that curriculum isn’t up to parents? Why are school boards not elected by just parents? Because schools aren’t for their benefit. They aren’t for your benefit, either. They are for the collective benefit. Collective. The benefit of our society as a whole, not the individual. The purpose of public education is to ensure the citizens, the voters, have the ability to look critically at facts, and tell fact from fiction, fact from opinion. So voters can make smart decisions based on facts and then become smart officials, and officeholders who make decisions based on what’s best for the country and its people. So we can continue to have a real representative democracy. And pulled out this, from Thomas Jefferson:

“That democracy cannot long exist without enlightenment; That it cannot function without wise and honest officials; That talent and virtue, needed in a free society, should be educated regardless of wealth, birth or other accidental condition; That other children of the poor must thus be educated at common expense.”

The sole purpose of our public schools, as described by Jefferson himself, a proponent of free education, is to create an educated electorate able to discern the factual from the fallacious, to think critically regarding the world and information at hand, to synthesize that information and be able to communicate that clearly in their writings, decisions, and, most importantly, at the ballot box.

Eva Brann, writing for the journal “The Imaginative Conservative,” went so far as to point out that Jefferson was Hegelian in his thought, looking for citizens to be able to take a thesis and a diathesis and be able to synthesize them into useful information and, then, into practical decisions. To make choices and take actions not simply for the individual good, what is best for the one, but what is best for our country and our democracy.

This philosophic, logical attitude should not be surprising. Jefferson was a natural philosopher and inventor. The Founding Fathers were highly educated and concentrated in the seven liberal arts: grammar, logic, and rhetoric (called the trivium), as well as arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music (the quadrivium). They were well-versed in philosophy and logic, and we know, certainly, this is true of Jefferson. It is this logic, and the purpose of that logic, at the foundation of public education.

Recall Benjamin Franklin and his feelings on our democracy. After the Constitutional Convention in 1787, he was asked, by Ms. Elizabeth Powell, “Doctor, what have we got? A republic or a monarchy?” Franklin answered, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

This is the often-used portion of the interaction, but Franklin is often not often quoted in full, as his outlook tended towards the ominous. Powell asked, immediately, “And why not keep it?” Franklin responded: “Because the people, on tasting the dish, are always disposed to eat more of it than does them good.” Power. Franklin knew once tasting power, those in charge, appointed, elected, in government of business, would want more.

The only bulwark we have against such growing power, such rampant avarice, against the good of our cherished democracy, to keep it in the hands of the people, is the ballot box.

A thriving, healthy democracy requires an electorate which can look critically at information, see the world and problems we face logically, and decide which actions are best for the good of our nation, not for individual comfort or personal pocketbooks. Jefferson believed in the power of that education and, that a citizenry educated so, would make decisions in the best interest of our nation and the common good. This is the spirit in which curriculum should be created and lessons planned. The desired outcome is nothing less than a healthy democracy.

Thus, our public schools are not for the children. They are not for the parents. They are for the country and our democracy. A curriculum, based on literacy, numeracy, critical thinking, and rhetorical skill is necessary for the protection of our republic. If such a curriculum is not to the liking of a parent, there are private schools. If a parent does not like the secular nature of public education, there are religious schools. If there is a book a parent wishes a child not read, they may forbid their child to read it. But they must understand the public school is not made for the good of the individual student, and the parent is not the “customer.”

The customer is our nation. Our democratic republic. If we can keep it.

Adam Byrn Tritt teaches Honors and AP English for Brevard Public Schools and is Brevard Soil and Water Conservation District supervisor, Group 1.

 
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Posted by on February 8, 2022 in Culture, Education

 

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There Is Too Much

There is too much-
The coming and going of pixels, products, and personalities,
Demands, desires, deadlines, debts,
Bandwidth saturation and buffering,
Buffering, always,
While the world continues to clickclick.

Who hears anything?
Who sees anything?

Pay attention—a friend of mine just died. I didn't write acquaintance. I wrote friend.
He needed things. Not much.
I couldn't pay attention.
It isn't all my fault, but
Really it is.
Not his death, but
He could have left with more love and
Care. Instead of waiting…
Waiting for the buffering to clear.
 
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Posted by on December 22, 2021 in Poetry, Social

 

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Today is my Anniversary

Today is my anniversary. The clock moves on, pages pulled from calendars,  life moves on, people move on. But dates remain, along with the people for whom they mean something. This date means something to me. But not to anyone else. Not anymore.

And so the day goes on. Lisa is at a funeral. I am at work. I’d be at the funeral too, but today is the last day of mid-term exams, and the last day before the winter break. Taking off today was simply not going to happen. People move on.

Bob was a friend. A radical in the style, location and times of the Chicago Seven, a musician, a photographer, and political activist, Passover and Hanukkah at our house, jam sessions – his funeral is today. Cancer. Everyone seems to die of cancer. Ryan wondered what to do with his anniversary with Joyce, after she died. He didn’t have to wonder long. He died a week ago just about two years after she did. Cancer. He is no longer worried about his anniversary, how it will feel when it comes around, how it feels when it’s here, whether to mention it, not mention it, toast it, ignore it. Bob was older. Early 70s. Ryan was in his 40s.

And I’m in my 50s now. Late 50s. I was in my mid 40s then, when I first wondered what to do with this date. Lots of people have died since then. But not me. So I’m still wondering. Like my father wondered. His father, too. Now, no more wondering.

And wondering how much longer I will feel this way. How much longer will this date still have this charge? If the answer is for the rest of my life, how much longer will I still wonder what to do with it?

I’m not looking to leave anytime soon, but I do want to know what to do. How to notice it, and give its proper due without tripping over it, without ignoring it, which I could not do. Would not do. Would not want to do. Could not forgive myself if I did. 

 
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Posted by on December 21, 2021 in Family, psychology, Social

 

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What’s In A Name?

What’s in a name? For a rose, very little. Roses don’t care. But people. People care, and why would they not? Identity, history, connection, and potential futures can come and go with a mis-identification, mis-recognition,or mis-spoken name. Names have power. Names have weight.

But old patterns die hard. They weigh more. Life changes, but old patterns don’t. The brain changes but the patterns are still recognised. Still followed. They are the watercourse.

Know a girl since you are fifteen, marry, have children, grow older, support each other, change with each other, be happy, develop patterns of speech, strings of words, ways of communicating, watch her die. Old patterns – they don’t die. 

Life is relentless. Keep promises. Be happy. Grow. Change. Love again. Love well. Love fully and completely. Be happy together. And, always, yet, the danger of the old pattern. The name. The slight halt before the saying. The self-check. The nearly unconscious pattern of words as it nearly slips out. Nearly, corrected. Not always. Not even often. But sometimes. And sometimes, even seldom, is enough to give wary pause always.

Don’t make the mistake, though, sometimes the name is half-out before you catch it. Don’t make the mistake, though sometimes you know you must have.  Hope you have not, but know you have. No one deserves that. 

 
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Posted by on December 21, 2021 in Culture, Family, psychology

 

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The Vigil

This is the vigil-
To protect you from the wolves
After the nights
Sitting up,
Singing to you
Heart Sutra.
“Don’t leave me.”
I won’t.

Holding your hand,
Touching your heart,
Fingers in your hair.
“You don’t get tired.”
It isn’t time for me
To rest.
For you though –

Watching you breath
Watching you stop.

Open the doors.
Sunrise.
Keep the wolves away.
Wait.

Feel the sudden change.
“Where is she?”
Gone. Gone. Beyond gone.
Beyond beyond.
To the other shore.

Let the people roll in,
Roll out.

Gather the sheet,
Tie it around your body,
Carry it away.

Carry it away.

 
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Posted by on December 2, 2021 in Family, Poetry, Religion

 

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Dwarf or Troll

I have been mean to myself over the last two weeks. Even more than usual, and that is saying something. Extraordinarily mean. Exceedingly, aggressively mean. So hostile I have stopped myself in surprise. So rude I have wondered how I could treat anyone that way, let alone myself. And, yet, I have. I do. I am.

This is not mere description, not evaluation, but judgement. All judgement. I have vacillated in my belief of free-will, and yet somehow feel that my willpower is fully under my control. And many of you will agree it is, as does part of me. A small part. The part that looks on, aghast. Not the part that derides, castigats and punishes. 

I was listening to music today, as many days. I put on a song by The Carpenters, “Bless the Beasts and the Children,” and listened, and, as often I have when listening to Karen Carpenter sing, cried a bit. How she could hate herself, her own body, so much that she would starve herself to death? Starve and die. How could she? Yet, I’d do the same, if only I had the willpower.   

Willpower. It is stronger than I think, and I am usually right on. I get to the gym regularly, eat “right” for me, and do what I need to do. Yet, any small meandering off that straight path feels a failure, a disaster, and a breach of that which is sacred – a mistake for which I will surely be punished. And if the Gods do not, I will find a way to do so myself. 

For letting myself down, and, worse, letting my family, my loved ones, all, down, for the constant disappointment I must be, there is only punishment and suffering. For being of no value. And no way to redeem myself but to make things easier for everyone and leave. At best, to fall asleep and not wake again. At best. 

Value. Value depends on how well I adhere to the protocol. And lack of orthodoxy, which is common, means a diminution of personal worth. A decrease of value as a human being. And a reduction of usefulness. Being useful means being of no value. Mind you, this refers to me only. This is never a standard I would think of applying to anyone else. For others, simply being is all that is required for worth. The idea of worth is silly. They are. They are loved. They love. What more could one want?

This entire last week I have been preoccupied with a question. Do I look more like a troll or a dwarf? Dwarf only occurred to me as a sort of partial redemption, since they are at least industrious. I have even been looking to see if dwarves write, since I am not a smith or builder. I was working to justify my place as a dwarf. 

I have thought often I had come to accept myself as an endomorph. That acceptance is always short-lived. I see others who are short, thick, stout, able, and I think that is fine. Really, I don’t think much at all of it unless it comes up. But, examining my thoughts – low center of gravity, tough and dense, strong. This is a fine fine way to be. But that’s not what I see when I look at myself. Troll. Others, strength and power, softness and ability. Myself, troll. 

And that is something I feel I should apologise for. I’m always feeling like I have done something, many things, wrong, always something wrong, and always feeling I should apologise and mostly never sure what for, except for just being me. For inflicting, on them, myself. I want to take each family member aside and thank them and apologise. Each friend. Anyone who has to deal with me. Any coworker I can’t look in the eye. I can’t believe anyone would want me around. My lack of understanding I feel I consistently exhibit, miscommunications, look, twitching, habits… everything. It must be very difficult being my friend. I’m not sure why anyone would be. They deserve better. I’m sorry. 

And all these things, and the emotions, I feel I should be able to control. And, regardless of effort, at that I have failed as well.

One friend, now dead, once told me I must have a very low opinion of her to think she’d be friends with me if I was what I think I am. So, as I had a high opinion of her, quite high, I must be pretty special. And that must prove I am not as I see myself. Logic. I have a very high opinion of my friends and can’t believe my fortune. Sometimes I wonder what I must have done right, but mostly, I just wonder. And so I keep trying.

I do the best I can. That I can say with neither reserve nor doubt. I always have, no matter how much I have screwed up, and I have done so monumentally. Always. The effort there, always. The best I could with what I knew and the tools I had. When I was in school, I went to guidance and asked for help. In my twenties, thirties, forties, I went to psychologists for help. Never any real assistance. No tools. No skills. Not for the frustration. Not for the confusion. Not for the communication. Forget the lack of social skills. Just help me get through a day without wanting to punch myself in the head. Without actuallybanging my dead against a wall. That would be nice. Finally, with a chance remark by a clerk in a psychology practice, a clerk who thought I was in the wrong place and that I was supposed to be downstairs in the Center for Autism Treatment, with some pushing with her to explain what she meant, and discussion with the psychologist where I nearly demanded the battery of tests, and diagnosis of ASD in the severe range. Finally. And finally skills. Finally tools. Finally the ability to modulate my reactions, to choose responses. But the feelings are still there. And no amount of Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy is going to change those. And so here I am. Still working on being better, doing better, and still looking up any information I can to prove that I’m a dwarf, at least, and not a troll.

 
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Posted by on November 29, 2021 in psychology, Social, Suicide

 

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George Floyd Square

Cup Foods is vibrant with activity. Deli counter, racks stacked with locally-made foods, locally grown produce on open shelves. Parents walk in with their children, picking summer treats.  At tables, men sit and talk about George in a way that says “We knew him. We knew him well.”  That says he is still here. It is a multi-hued humanity in a neighbourhood hub.

This is 38th Street and Chicago, George Floyd Square, Brooklyn Center, Minneapolis. To get into Cup Foods, one could avoid the spot where George Floyd was murdered. I do not. I stand there. I wonder. What would it be like to have my own neck knelt on for nearly nine minutes, to slowly lose consciousness, to suffocate. I stand there, and I do not stand there alone.

Taken over by the neighbourhood, then cleared by the city, then met with compromise by both, traffic is reduced to one lane each way, and slow, with bright, meaningfully decorated concrete barricades, here on one side of the street, then on the other, with wide crosswalks and gaps for pedestrians, George Floyd Square is alive. A community garden feeds this diverse neighbourhood of Edwardian and Victorian homes and busy sidewalks. Murals adorn the walls of the businesses on the corners. There is Martin Luther King. There is Malcolm X. There is John Lewis. There is George Floyd.


The traffic circle, amid flowering plants, holds signs with the names and faces of the slain. I walk around it, clockwise, slowly, pronounce each name. There is Breonna Taylor. There is Trayvon Martin. There is Emmett Till. Name after name, recognised and not. The famous by deed and those brought to fame by moments of senseless violence and inhumanity. Of one person feeling they had the right to wield power over another. Of those sworn to protect and serve becoming agents of death.

Here is a place to pray. Here is a place to sit. Here is a makeshift memorial library large enough for two or three people to step into. Bring books, take books. It is fully stocked, shelves floor to ceiling. Awash in colour. We select one for our grandaughter, Sadie. Granny Torrelli Makes Soup by Sharon Creech and note, inside the cover, where it came from with an enclosed photograph. The convenience store across from Cup Foods is covered in writings of social justice, ground to roof, and, again, colour. Color everywhere. Candles, flowers, pictures, notes, everywhere, on everything. And, everywhere, people. People talking, walking, writing, in contemplation, meditation, prayer.

We stand together. Look around. A living memorial in a living neighbourhood. A statement of grief and tenacity, sadness and resilience. Lisa cries. A tall woman walks over, dark brown skin, bright yellow shirt. Hugs her. Is it right that those who live this console those who only witness? Yes. Yes, she says. We are all in this together. We are all one, together..

Across the street she points. A young white woman. ”She has been here every day for a year. I’m here most days, making sure people are safe and understand it is still a working street. We want to keep everybody safe.”

Walk down the street, two blocks, she tells us. To the cemetery. Past the community garden that begins with a picture of John Lewis admonishing us to make “Good Trouble” and ends with squash, tomatoes, cucumbers and herbs. The whole way, homes with pride flags, Black Lives matter signs, and reminders that science is real, and love is love.

Turn left. One block down the hill to the field. To our right, an apartment building. To the left, old three story homes. At the end of the street, a large pond and central fountain to the right, houses to the left, a green concave field with rows of small tombstones. Over one hundred of them, each with a name, dates, location, and “rest in power.”  Behind the field, a grassy slope up to a busy street, and, amid the green, the words, in white, “SAY THEIR NAMES. 

A small table is front and center. A person hands out information. A Lokotah man greets us. We talk.

When did all this start, I ask him.

“With Columbus, man. With Columbus.” 

We walk the seven long rows, saying each name. Shot by police in her bed. Shot by police in front of a store. Shot by police in his home. Shot by police in front of his mother. Shot by police in front of his children. A massage therapist. A violin student. An autistic student. A prisoner. Nearly every one a person of colour. And those who weren’t, autistic.

No one is a saint. But everyone is a sinner. No one deserved this.

We walk. Name. Name. Name. Name. But each one is said.

A donation is left, and we walk up the hill, down the street, through the square. There is a place to be, and we must go. In the car, we sit quietly for a few moments. There are butter cookies. We squeeze each other’s hand. 

 
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Posted by on July 28, 2021 in Culture, Social

 

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Don’t Lock the Door

The difference is I didn’t lock the door.

The difference is I knew I wasn’t in a mind where I could make my best decisions. That, for a time, It was best to let others decide some things for me. 

But Jym is dead now. He died alone. He didn’t have to.

It wasn’t much more than a year since Denise died. At home, from seizures associated with her MS. She had trouble affording her medication and rationed it. Then, when she needed the hospital, they were too busy with Covid patients, and told her not to come unless it was an emergency. Then it was, and the paramedics arrived too late. Jym was there. She died, but she didn’t die alone.

Jym drank a bit. But then he began drinking more. He stopped eating.

Jym was well over six feet tall. Look at his pictures from his younger days. Thor. When I met him, he was wearing a kilt, had long white hair, long white beard, and a long plaid kilt with high leather boots and a long-sleeve khaki twill button-down shirt.  It turned out he knew many of the same people we did. He was the wacky neighbor any of us would be lucky to have but rarely appears outside of a sit-com. He was also kind, helpful, and had so many of the best stories. He was 59. Today, he is 62. He will always be 62.

Denise was so much shorter that it was hard to guess her height when next to Jym. Next to me, it was easier. Five foot tall, maybe. A Mohawk, she was proud to tell us. She matched Jym for kindness, and story for story. Jym gave us a painting of hers he thought we’d like. He was right.

A few months ago Jym wasn’t answering texts. He seemed in rough shape a few nights earlier. No answer at the door. His ex-wife came to the house. He didn’t answer. I called the police for a well-check. He told them to go away. They did. Even though he was on the floor. I called the paramedics. They broke the door in. He went to the hospital for nearly a month. Supposedly, he’d not be able to take care of himself and would need to go to a nursing home, starvation and alcohol had done such damage. But he recovered, came home, and even came over a few times to watch something on TV, to talk, bring us a Hanukkah present. But he always refused to join us for dinner. He never wanted food. He did ask us to pick up Gatorade and cat-food for him. We did.

He made his will. He told me about it. He didn’t want to stay. He told me all about that too. He also told me how he walked away from a bomber crash in 1943, England. He told me about being an American spy during WWII. He told me… so many things. I listened.

Then, last week, he didn’t tell me anything. He stopped texting me. He didn’t answer mine. Perhaps I should have banged on the door. Perhaps I should have called the paramedics again. But I think not. He wanted Denise or he wanted oblivion. If he couldn’t have the one, he’d take the other. I understood. I had been there. I couldn’t blame him.

And then he was gone.

I don’t know which he got.

But he didn’t have to die alone. Alone. The loneliness, I understand. Even in the midst of friends, loneliness.

And the difference between he and I is I didn’t lock my door.

The difference is I knew I didn’t know better. 

The difference was fifteen minutes and a thought of my daughter.

The difference was a dance with my oldest friend’s daughter at her bat mitzvah the day I had planned to be my last. 

The difference was a well-timed phone call from someone who somehow knew. 

That he starved himself to death… I knew that wouldn’t work for me. The longest I had ever gone was eight days. People would notice. Sometimes it is better to care what others think. Sometimes.

Some years ago, a student wrote me a letter. I don’t know who it was. But, if they ever read this, please know how much you are appreciated. Please know you are appreciated more than any words can express. Please know I kept that letter. Please know that I heard you. I heard you. I heard everyone, even when it didn’t seem like I did. Even when I couldn’t respond. And I’m here. I’m here.

I appreciate everyone who stayed with me, even when our relationships changed over time. That you are still here. Thank you. That I am so surrounded by love, I will never be able to explain. Thank you. That I am still here – thank you. I am under no illusion I saved myself. I know better than that. The only thing I did was to know when my own inner-voice was not the one to listen to. And to not lock the door.



 
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Posted by on June 15, 2021 in Food, Suicide

 

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Shudder Reflex

I’m trying to write 
a poem about a man who
died with a hood on his head,
naked, on the street,
pleading for his life,
murdered while the cameras rolled,
at the hands of those
who are supposed to protect him— 
a public snuff film.

I’m sorry, I don’t remember his name.
There have been so many.

My shudder reflex is still active.
I can’t watch this, but
I watch regardless—
in some small way so he 
would not die without witness,
after witness, after witness, after….

How do I write about this? 
What can I say as poignant
as his own begging? 
What can I say as meaningful
as the tears of his own family?

Seriously, 
what am I supposed to do?

If he were my son,
I’d want the world to burn too.

 
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Posted by on September 6, 2020 in Culture, Poetry, Social

 

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The Parable of the Horse or Just Don’t Know

An old Chinese farmer had lost his mare, his only horse, having escaped through a broken fence. His neighbor, seeing this, shook his head and said what bad fortune this was. The old farmer only replied, “Could be. Could be.”

The horse returned and brought with her a stallion. His neighbor, seeing the fine horse, remarked what good fortune he had. The farmer replied. “Could be. Could be.”

His son tried to tame the horse, to ride him, but the horse threw him off. His son broke his leg. He would be of no help on the farm. The neighbor said how sorry he was for the old man, that things were bad for him. What bad fortune. “Could be. Could be,” he said.

The general came through the province, looking for men to fight the barbarians to the west, promising the soldiers would return with the spoils of war. But he did not take the old man’s son, as he now walked with a limp. Such terrible fortune, his neighbor said. “Could be. Could be.”

The army was routed, and most of the soldiers killed. The neighbor heard, and, upon seeing the old man said, “What good fortune!” “Could be. Could be,” was all he said.

~Adam Byrn Tritt

 
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Posted by on March 27, 2020 in Uncategorized

 
 
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