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Challenged Books and the "Banned Books Week"

Remember George Orwell's, "1984"? "Animal Farm"? Huxley's "Brave New World"? William Golding's "Lord of the Flies"? All of them were required readings in many an English class all over Germany. Have you always considered Mark Twain, Truman Capote, Sylvia Plath and John Steinbeck some of the greatest American writers? Did you always feel you should finally read those classics of American Literature: "Huckleberry Finn", "Gone With the Wind", "Little Farm on the Prairie"? Well, maybe you better hadn't. Because in some people's opinion, these are bad books, dangerous books, books that should disappear from school library shelves and required reading lists.
Read why some American citizens are trying to censor books -- and how American authors, libraries and Booksellers counter the attack celebrating an annual "banned books week" every September. Atlantic Review editor Sonja Bonin wrote about it in Der Spiegel (in German).

UPDATE: The American Library Association explains:
A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials. Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others. The positive message of Banned Books Week: Free People Read Freely is that due to the commitment of librarians, teachers, parents, students and other concerned citizens, most challenges are unsuccessful and most materials are retained in the school curriculum or library collection.

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ROA on :

Should American censorship be compared to the European variety? Such as the Berlin opera house Deutsche Oper's recent decision to cancel Mozart's Idomeneo; Italy's indictment of Oriana Fallaci for “vilifying Islam”; and much of Europe's refusal to publish the “Muslim cartoons?” To be fair, I think more European than American papers published the cartoons.

JW-Atlantic Review on :

The opera wasn't censored, but cancelled by the opera director. It now seems that the cancellation will be revoked and this opera will be shown after all because all politicans and representatives of Muslim organisations condemned the cancelling and said that they wanted to see the opera togehter: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/28/world/europe/28germany.html I don't have any proof, but I think it could very well be possible that it was a clever publicity stunt to announce the cancellation of the opera due to unspecified security fears. Usually hardly anybody would be interested in that opera, but now it is the talk of the town. That's the way to go to get folks into the opera and make money. Let's not forget that theater plays critical of Christians and Israel also get canceled. Earlier this year: "A New York theatre company has put off plans to stage a play about an American activist killed by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza because of the current "political climate" - a decision the play's British director, Alan Rickman, denounced as "censorship"." http://www.smh.com.au/news/world/theatre-gets-stagefright-over-play-on-israeli-death-of-activist/2006/02/28/1141095740986.html No, I am not a fan of Rachel Corrie. Not at all. And then there is this from Oct 23, 1998: "Last May, William Donohue, the ever-vigilant president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, raised quite a ruckus about the fact that Corpus Christi, Terrence McNally's play-in-progress, featured a gay, Christ-like protagonist who has sex, off-stage, with his male disciples. Donohue, who has a gift for strained analogies that rivals McNally's own, has called the play "hate speech," "bigotry," and of course "blasphemy." He has argued that a similar depiction of a black or Jewish religious figure would be roundly condemned. Only Catholics and their beliefs, Donohue insists, are held up to such ridicule." http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1252/is_n18_v125/ai_21273530 Yeah, yeah, this only happens to Catholics.... Right! And some Jews say these kind of attacks only happen to Jews. And some Muslims say those things only happen to Muslims. Give me a break. "On May 23, 1998, the New York Times announced that the Manhattan Theatre Club would be canceling its scheduled production of playwright Terrence McNally's newest play, Corpus Christi, due to bomb and death threats made against the theatre, its personnel, and the playwright. The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights disavowed responsibility for the threats but did publicly applaud the decision, calling the play "blasphemous."" http://muse.jhu.edu/cgi-bin/access.cgi?uri=/journals/theatre_journal/v051/51.2pr_mcnally.html When Corpus Christi was shown in Germany in 2000, there have been death threats and bomb threats as well: http://www.cityinfonetz.de/tagblatt/thema/thema39/ Thus it could very well be that threats against the "Idomeneo" opera are not only coming from Muslims, but from Christians, who don't like to see the severed head of Jesus... Having said that: The concern about attacks from Muslims is bigger. However, it should be stressed that there were no threats against that opera! There was just a report from the local FBI (LKA) talking about general and unspecified risks.

JW-Atlantic Review on :

[b]In case you missed the controversy about the Mozart opera in Berlin, check this post at Mad Minerva:http://madminerva.blog-city.com/germany_security_fears_cancels_mozart_opera.htm[/b]. Besides, making fun of suicide bombers is GREAT. Check it out: "The respected English Theatre in [b]Frankfurt[/b] is staging the European English-language premiere of "The Last Virgin", by Tuvia Tenenbom, the [b]provocative Israeli-American playwright, which makes fun of suicide bombers. [/b]Talks have been held with the police and sniffer dogs patrol the aisles before every performance. No bags are allowed into the auditorium. There has been no trouble, though the play — which mocks Arabs and Jews in equal measure — has drawn fierce criticism from German Jews." http://clivedavis.blogs.com/clive/2006 /09/the_mozart_fias.html

ROA on :

I agree that things aren't any better in the US than they are in Europe, in fact given our supposed obsession with free speech they are probably worse. What is interesting about the ALA's concern about censorship in the US is their lack of concern about censorship in Cuba. From Nat Hentoff in 2003: “ Meanwhile, however, the American Library Association (ALA), with its more than 64,000 members, is ignoring a much more pressing human rights issue. The organization refuses to condemn Fidel Castro for sending to his gulag, for prison terms of up to 28 years, 10 independent Cuban librarians — who were included among the 75 independent journalists, union organizers, economists, human rights workers and other dissidents who were rounded up. The librarians resist the dictator's censorship of ideas, as do all those captured in the raids. This crackdown on freedom of speech — and freedom to read — took place last April at summary trials in remote locations that were closed to foreign journalists. Amnesty International considers these 75 dissidents, including the independent librarians, to be 'prisoners of conscience.' Yet, at the ALA's annual conference last June in Toronto, Cuban independent librarians were refused a speaking place on the program. Only Castro's official librarians were accorded the freedom to speak — for nearly three hours. And there was no ALA resolution to demand that Cuba's leader release the independent librarians. Some of them — like a number of other prisoners of conscience in Castro's gulag — badly need, and are being denied, medical attention.” http://www.jewishworldreview.com/cols/hentoff121003.asp And in 2006 Andrei Codrescu at the 2006 ALA Midwinter Meeting: “Codrescu said he felt 'great dismay' that the organization 'has taken no action to condemn the imprisonment of librarians,' the banning of books, and repression in Cuba. He mentioned that other international figures, including U.S. leftists like Noam Chomsky, have joined in such condemnation. 'Cuba today is the Romania of my growing up,' he said. Codrescu's speech earned strong, if not unanimous applause, which suggests that the audience, at least, may have a less measured approach toward the Cuba issue than the ALA Council.” http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6301300.html

Mr. Pink on :

Reading the SPIEGEL article, I think that it (once again) suffers from the Bush derangement syndrome. When Americans _discuss_ whether certain books should or should not be read, it's about "censorship". Doesn't matter that the fact that there is a debate on these things and that the ALA's right to complain shows that this an inherently democratic process. At the same time, SPIEGEL conveniently forgets that actual censorship takes places in Iran, North Korea, Syria and other such countries. (At least I found nothing about that in their archives.)

David on :

It is not only great literature that offends some Americans; evidently they don't want their children to experience great art as well. From today's NY Times: "Ms. McGee, 51, a popular art teacher with 28 years in the classroom, is out of a job after leading her fifth-grade classes last April through the Dallas Museum of Art. One of her students saw nude art in the museum, and after the child’s parent complained, the teacher was suspended." http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/30/education/30teacher.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

Anonymous on :

AP Wire | 09/27/2006 | Judge received death threats after ruling on intelligent design "Judge received death threats after ruling on intelligent design Associated Press LAWRENCE, Kan. - A judge who struck down a Dover, Penn., school board's decision to teach intelligent design in public schools said he was stunned by the reaction, which included death threats and a week of protection from federal marshals. Pennsylvania U.S. District Judge John E. Jones III told an audience in Lawrence Tuesday that the case illustrated why judges must issue rulings free of political whims or hopes of receiving a favor." http://www.kansas.com/mld/kansas/news/breaking_news/15621028.htm

ROA on :

Another example of American censorship: "Rioting and threats of violence from Muslim extremists have apparently triumphed once again over the First Amendment. According to psychoanalyst Dr. Nancy Kobrin and noted feminist Phyllis Chesler, who wrote the introduction, Kobrin's new book, 'The Sheikh's New Cloth: The Naked Truth about Islamic Suicide Terrorism', was to be published in November by Looseleaf Law Publications, Inc., but Dr. Kobrin's contract was suddenly cancelled over concerns for their staff's safety." http://mypetjawa.mu.nu/archives/184811.php

Assistant Village Idiot on :

Let's keep the topic to censorship, and not everything which people happen to want to throw in. My wife is a librarian, and the ALA has been doing this for years. If a book, play, or work of art is even challenged anywhere in the US, it goes on the "banned" books list. JW's list starts with a cancellation in which there was no attempt to challenge or even question the work - the producers, on the basis of no evidence, concluded that the unpopularity might make it dangerous. In the second example, a theater critic was viciously attacked - I mean, was followed by nuns. Oh the horror. Even in the later examples, in which the existence of threats might give people real reason to be worried, there was no violence or further threat. That at least comes closer to the actual meaning of censorship, however. If you will speculate that the German hubbub about the opera was intended for advertising effect, then I could as easily make the same claim about the bomb threats. As I don't think you want to grant me that liberty of argument, I will not grant it to you.

JW-Atlantic Review on :

@ AVI [i]My wife is a librarian, and the ALA has been doing this for years. If a book, play, or work of art is even challenged anywhere in the US, it goes on the "banned" books list.[/i] As both links in the post explain: The ALA differentiates between "challenged books" and "banned books". Their emphasis is on challenged books. I have made the mistake of using the term "Banned Books" for the headline. "Challenged Books" would have been more appropriate, but hardly anybody knows that term. Therefore I will change the headline to [i]Challenged Books and the "Banned Books Week"[/i] and write an update. "Banned Books Week" is how the ALA calls their event to draw attention to the [i]threat[/i] of banning books. [i]JW's list starts with a cancellation in which there was no attempt to challenge or even question the work[/i] I don't know what that means. Besides, I did not even write this post. My fellow blogger Sonja did. I just wrote the headline.

tcobb on :

There are people in the US who want certain books banned from the public schools. You may call this censorship if you wish, but the fact remains that it is impossible for anyone to prohibit the sale of these "banned" books anywhere in the US. The fact that you won't be exposed to them at school doesn't mean you can't get them and read them. It is far worse when anyone, such as Oriana Fallaci, can be subject to criminal or civil penalties for voicing her opinions in print. Yes, no one will censor your books, but we reserve the right to put you in jail due to their content. That will indeed be a lesson to anyone who wishes to voice similar views. If we just make the punishment severe enough, no one else will dare. There's no censorship there. Why burn the books when you can burn the authors instead? You can believe what you will, but one has far more latitude in expressing themselves in the US than in most places in Europe. I find it especially disturbing that it is a goal of the EU to criminalize "xenophobia" and "racism." Who knows what such blunt and vague tools will be used for?

Assistant Village Idiot on :

I forgot to mention. You might ask your Eastern European friends what they think about the matter. Codrescu is no conservative in America, but he's no fool, either.

clarence on :

>Because in some people's >opinion, these are bad >books, dangerous books... Now, that is really nonsense. In any country, there are books that are considered inappropriate for children to read, and should not be in public (not university) libraries where children have access. That is not the same as claiming such books are "bad" or "dangerous" (at least, not in English.) So, what is the point of the post...and of the Der Speigel article? Is the point that every country chooses what books children should read? (Somehow, I doubt that would warrant a Der Spiegal article.) Is the point perhaps to hint that there is more "censorship" in the US than in DE? I infer that is the point, since Der Spiegel seldom prints anything complementary about the USA (or even anything accurate, but that is another topic). If so, that point is delusional. In Germany, a bookstore cannot offer a copy of "Mein Kampf"; in the US, you can purchase it, and even something really corrosive: the rantings of Michael Moore. In France, it is not legal for a comedian to mock the Presdent of France; in the US, people hold up signs comparing Bush to Hitler. In Italy, as tcobb metioned, Fallaci faced indictment for expressing her opinion; in the US, a commentator can (and has) call Islam a "car-burning cult" without indictment (or much criticism, for that matter). Censorship? There is no comparison.

David on :

Wal-Mart is one of the largest booksellers in the US, and bans books by Michael Moore and Jon Stewart (as well as documentary films on DVD that criticize the Iraq War). The point of Sonja's article (which you didn't read) was that American classics such as Huckleberry Finn are banished from some US high schools due to the pernicious influence of the American Taliban (evangelical "Christians"). That is an injustice and shouldn't happen in an open society.

Joe Noory on :

Really? Oh the Horror! [url=http://www.walmart.com/search/search-ng.do?search_constraint=0&search_query=michael+moore&Find.x=0&Find.y=0&Find=Find&ic=48_0]Michel Moore[/url] and [url=http://www.walmart.com/search/search-ng.do?search_query=jon+stewart]Jon Stewart[/url] banned by WalMart? Who knew?!?

Pat Patterson on :

That's an odd claim to make that the American Taliban, I would assume that would include anyone white and not a member of NCC, caused Huckleberry Finn to be banned considering that one of the high schools I worked at in Los Angeles was overwhelmingly black and had bowdlerized and then banned Huck because of the use of the "n" word. And the person at the forefront of these bannings was Ron Karenga, creator of Kwaanza and third-rate academic, and Tony Muhammed of the NOI. Which I think stands for Now Often Insane.

clarence on :

David, You are, as usual, a liar and a vulgar propdagandist. You state that I did not read Sohja's article; yet, obviously you can not possibly know what I have read. You call Huckleberry Finn a "classic", but you do not mention that it portrays blacks as inferiors (which is why many liberal Americans do not want children to be influenced by it). The objection to Mark Twain's novels is not from the evangelical Christians, you moron, it is from the liberal Democrats.

Anonymous on :

>>>Wal-Mart is one of the largest booksellers in the US, and bans books by Michael Moore and Jon Stewart (as well as documentary films on DVD that criticize the Iraq War).

Anonymous on :

I apologize: A part of my reply seems to have been lost. My point was: Wal-Mart has every right not to sell books by Moore and Stewart, because the store exists in a democracy. Once you - or the state - decide that a store has to sell certain books (or: has no right to sell certain books), you start to undermine the very democracy you claim to protect.

ADMIN on :

Part of your comment got lost, because apparently you used a few of those > symbols. The software thinks it is code and gets confused. I am sorry the rest of your comment, it got lost. Thanks for writing it again.

JW-Atlantic Review on :

A reader asked via email: "Is it legal in Germany for a bookstore to sell a copy of "Mein Kampf"?" [b][url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mein_Kampf#Current_availability]Wikipedia provides some interesting information on the availability in general and the controversies.[/url][/b]

Assistant Village Idiot on :

Take a deep breath here. Books are challenged at schools for many reasons: as progressive as it was at the time in its portrayal of blacks, some people are bothered by Huckleberry Finn because it uses the word "nigger." It might be considered a reasonable book to recommend, or even assign in highschool, but not for 10 year-olds, who might not be able to understand context and draw accurate conclusions. Some books are challenged because they are too religious; others are challenged because their use of magic is offensive to some religious groups. Ironically, the Christian writers Tolkien and Lewis sometimes fall into this category. Some books are challenged because they use bad words or sexually explicit language. Even if these are brief and in some reasonable context, people might fairly disagree at what age such a book should be allowed, and at which ages it might be required. Books are challenged because they offend Moslems or Africans. Books are requested to be moved to separate areas where children have to ask parental permission before taking them out. Challenges are varied. Some are ludicrous, some are reasonable. I don't fault Germans for not knowing the intricacies of this. There are many Americans who make the same claims, falling prey to the propaganda of the ALA. Their goal is not to open up new vistas for children and adolescents, but to make sure that all children have access to their political and social POV. Books by conservative authors have been taken out of the hands of schoolchildren because the teacher believed they "promoted hate." As most librarians have to make choices on a limited budget, their personal biases often show in selection. My children have gone to both public schools and private Christian schools. In both cases there were ideas and books that I would expose them to at home that they would not find available at their school libraries. If the point is, as clarence suggests, to hint that there is dangerous censorship of books and ideas in the US, the idea is in genral ludicrous, though there are certainly examples of idiocy in many directions. There are Americans who would also warn of dire theocratic censorship in the US - that doesn't make it true. It is still ludicrous. There is a frequent theme here that Americans do not see their own country very clearly, and cannot see what is obvious to outsiders. If you accept that such things are possible, then it might fairly apply to any country or culture. Outsiders and insiders see different things, and are prone to different errors, but all of us are prone to misperception. I don't know what censorship is like in Germany, so I can't make a more/less, better/worse comparison. But I do know that the ALA has a specific political agenda, because I see their magazine all the time. They promote certain values because they think they are "good" values, and that those who disagree must somehow be "bad" thereby. When challenged on this, they are not so much angry as completely uncomprehending. Rank and file librarians, especially school librarians, would have a different view.

JW-Atlantic Review on :

What you said about ten year olds reading Huck Finn, I can understand that, but I would not ban it. > are challenged because their use of magic is offensive to I find that ridiculous. > Books are challenged because they offend Moslems For example? > I don't fault Germans for not knowing the intricacies of > this. There are many Americans who make the same claims, > falling prey to the propaganda of the ALA. Hey! My fellow blogger Sonja does know and understand all this and she explained in the Spiegel article. I don't think the ALA makes propaganda either. Why don't you point out what on their website is a lie? > Books by conservative authors have been > taken out of the hands of schoolchildren because the teacher > believed they "promoted hate." Which books are these? > There is a frequent theme here that Americans do not see > their own country very clearly, and cannot see what is > obvious to outsiders. I don't know what you are talking about. You are not saying that the Atlantic Review is lecturing Americans, are you? Most commentators here are American (or other English native speakers), but nearly half of our readers are in Germany. Writing in a foreign langugage takes more time. I think that is the reason, why so few Germans participate. I am not sure, if we should invite readers to comment in their native language, because many others would then miss a lot of the debate here. One of the tasks of the Atlantic Review is to give Germans a glimpse of some of the issues discussed in the US. Most of our sources are American newspapers etc. Thus it is not outsiders telling Americans what they don't see. > If you accept that such things are > possible, then it might fairly apply to any country or > culture. Sure. This is not an attack on the US culture. I think in this globalized world, we all need to be more relaxed about criticism from abroad. I know it is difficult sometimes. I strongly recommend to read this, if you have not already: [b][url=http://atlanticreview.org/archives/416-Foreign-Policy-by-Report-Card-Blamed-for-Nurturing-Seething-Resentment-Abroad.html]"Foreign Policy by Report Card" Blamed for "Nurturing Seething Resentment Abroad"[/url][/b] (Ah, okay, I just saw you already did that.) The retired ambassador said for instance: "Each year we issue detailed human rights reports on every country in the world, including those whose performance appears superior to our own." Likewise: I think free speech restrictions are stronger in Germany than in the US, i.e. the US could be described as superior. Still, it is fair to criticize countries with a superior track record, as the US State Department is doing as well. Having said that: I have not seen a proper comparison of free speech and censorship laws in the US and Germany, thus I don't know for sure. Besides, I am sure it is a complicated and complex issue and one can't easily conclude country x is "better" or "superior" than country y.

influx on :

@clarence It's perfectly legal to buy "Mein Kampf" in Germany, but for some reason the lie that it is not is always brought up in discussions like these. It's illegal to print or copy the book, but you can own, buy, and sell it. This is mostly a copyright issue (copyright is held by the state of Bavaria). The joke about Michael Moore's books being as or even more corrosive as Mein Kampf is in poor taste. But then, maybe you weren't joking, after all it was you, wasn't it, who proclaimed that Poland (!) could be just as useful a partner to the US as the UK.

clarence on :

Influx, You not paying attention to what I wrote, which was precisely this: a bookstore in Germany can not sell a copy of "Mein Kampf". I did not comment on issues of used copies, private sales, etc. My source is the BBC & CNN (links below). It is possible that they are mistaken, but it is bizarre for you to describe their reports as a "lie". If you can provide a URL of any bookstore in Germany that sells a copy, please do so....and please advise the BBC. ;-) Your own statement contradicts your conclusion: if it is not legal to print the book, how can a bookstore sell it? Source: BBC ("The book [is] banned in Germany and Austria..."), and CNN here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/688699.stm http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/426259.stm http://archives.cnn.com/2000/WORLD/europe/germany/11/27/berlin.yahoo/index.html

influx on :

So used book stores are not bookstores? "if it is not legal to print the book, how can a bookstore sell it?" Again, used book stores. Joerg provided a wikipedia link that explains the situation in Germany quite well. It comes down to copyright issues. I know it's hard to grasp, but come on, give it another try. It's not my problem if BBC or CNN can't get their facts straight. And ok, if they're not lying (in order to lie, they would have to know better), they're poorly informed. If you want to buy the book, try www.zvab.com, they sometimes list copies there. I'd suggest spending your money on something else, though. ;)

Assistant Village Idiot on :

Propaganda does not imply lying, but only that one side of the argument is being highlighted. The most effective propaganda is of course based on selectively-applied truth. Rush Limbaugh's, Ann Coulter's, and Michelle Malkin's books all have documented - OK, as well documented as you can get from the retrospective statement of a middle-school student - incidents of being taken from children in class by teachers.

Assistant Village Idiot on :

Also, just found a few moments ago: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/10/02/AR2006100201238.html

JW-Atlantic Review on :

Thanks, AVI. Here's an abstract, in case the link does not work in a few weeks anymore: [i]October 3, 2006; Page B04 Amber Mangum was a frequent reader during lunch breaks at her Prince George's County middle school, silently soaking up the adventures of Harry Potter and other tales in the spare minutes before afternoon classes. The habit was never viewed as a problem -- not, a lawsuit alleges, until the book she was reading was the Bible. A vice principal at Dwight D. Eisenhower Middle School in Laurel last month ordered Amber, then 12, to stop reading the Bible or face punishment, according to a lawsuit filed Friday by Amber's mother. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, alleges that the vice principal's actions violated the girl's civil rights.[/i] Another story: TODAY [u][url=http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15127464/][b]MSNBC: Georgia mom seeks Harry Potter ban - [/b][/url][/u][i] "Oct. 4, 2006 ATLANTA - A suburban county that sparked a public outcry when its libraries temporarily eliminated funding for Spanish-language fiction is now being asked to ban Harry Potter books from its schools. Laura Mallory, a mother of four, told a hearing officer for the Gwinnett County Board of Education on Tuesday that the popular fiction series is an "evil" attempt to indoctrinate children in the Wicca religion."[/i] Fortunately, Free Speech always (?) wins. (I guess, it is also part of free speechto argue for banning those books.)

David on :

Here is a NEW case about the American Taliban wanting to ban Fahrenheit 451, a book about banning books! "Alton Verm, of Conroe, objects to the language and content in the book. His 15-year-old daughter Diana, a CCHS sophomore, came to him Sept. 21 with her reservations about reading the book because of its language. "The book had a bunch of very bad language in it," Diana Verm said. "It shouldn't be in there because it's offending people. ... If they can't find a book that uses clean words, they shouldn't have a book at all." Alton Verm filed a "Request for Reconsideration of Instructional Materials" Thursday with the district regarding "Fahrenheit 451," written by Ray Bradbury and published in 1953. He wants the district to remove the book from the curriculum." Turns out this Christian dad hadn't even read the book, but he knew it was "filth"! Link: http://www.hcnonline.com/site/news.cfm?newsid=17270600&BRD=1574&PAG=461&dept_id=532215&rfi=6

Assistant Village Idiot on :

Wow! A parent says something silly about a book! That is just sooo like the Taliban, eh? The republic is about to collapse, David.

the girl on :

I HATE THIS GAY PROJECT. banned books are gay.

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