Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: Obama

The Gay Marriage Conversation

Jason called me this morning from New York wanting to talk about Obama’s public embrace of gay marriage.

“Isn’t it great?” I asked.

“Well, sure. It it terrific. But…”

“Yeah, he should have spoke up earlier. But you know, politics as usual.”

“It’s not that. It’s just that after Hiroshi heard the speech, he turned to me and asked me to get married.  He said it was our defining moment.”

“Cool. Mazel tov.”

“Shut up. I don’t know if I’m ready to get married.”

“C’mon, Jason, you’ve been dating him for seven years now.”

“He’s really pressing me.   He’s says we have to do it for Obama. That Obama is the first gay President.  That we need to be a symbol for the gay movement.”

“So, do it!  You can hire me as your instagram wedding photographer!”

“But I’m afraid.   It’s like once you get married, everything falls apart.”

“That’s not true.”

“Look at you.”

“Don’t use my marriage as an excuse not to get married.”

“Damn it.   It’s just I always hear that when straight people get married, they stop having sex.”

“That’s a myth.   You just do it faster.  So you don’t miss the beginning of Celebrity Apprentice.”

“I love Hiroshi, but just ever since the gay marriage thing became a bit thing, all my straight friends are pissed at me.  At work, they go “So when are you getting married?” And I say, “I don’t know if we’re getting married.”  And they go, “Of course you’re getting married!” It’s like I owe them something.”

“Jason, a lot of people have been working hard so you can get legally married.”

“I understand that.”

“I don’t think you do.   Do you know how many Facebook updates I have written in support of gay marriage? How many times I clicked on “Like” when a meme was going around the Internet calling for equality?  I think you could at least show some gratitude and get married for us.”

“Get married for YOU?”

“Sometimes you need to think of others beyond yourself.”

“But marriage.  It’s so… uh, uh, straight.”

“What do you mean by that?!”

“Straight.  As in boring.  Vanilla.  Missionary position.”

“Don’t use the term “straight” like that. It’s derogatory. Just because you’re straight doesn’t mean you’re boring and vanilla.”

“C’mon, Neil.  You’re straight.   Have you ever ****** or *******?”

“Ugh!”

“Exactly.  If I get married, it’s going to take all the fun out of being gay. I’ll be shopping in Walmart like you did today, buying a twelve pack of toilet paper.”

“Marriage is a wonderful thing.  It is so special to commit to one person, and share that love for eternity.”

“Maybe I should tell Hiroshi that I want to move to North Carolina.  It is beautiful there.”

“I’m sorry to tell you, but within ten years, I’m sure gay marriage will be legal everywhere.  You will run out of states to escape to in fear.  Except maybe Texas.”

“Yeah?  What is Texas like in the summer?”

Tales of Health Insurance

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For the last day, I have been reading a lot of the blog posts and tweets about Obama’s health plan, and I came away with a few thoughts:

1)  I am not learning much information from these blog posts and tweets.

2)  People who write exclusively about politics seem to get angry very easily.

3)  Political writers treat public policy as a team sport (my side shoots, scores!)

4)  Too many bloggers have one eye on the prize, and the other eye on “their prize,” whether it be a mention in The Huffington Post or Fox News, which is cool, but doesn’t really have much to do with health care.

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But this is not a post about politics or health care.  It is a post about stories.

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After the speech, I had one question on my mind, the same as many Americans — How is all this going to affect ME?!

Sophia and I are both freelancers, and we shell out $1000 a month for a mediocre HMO.  We have discussed changing our plan, but Sophia has a pre-existing condition.  We’re going to have to do something soon, because my plan is useless to me in New York City unless there is an emergency since all my doctors are in a “network” in Los Angeles.  We are lucky to have health insurance, but we pay for it in a huge way, and I would like to have more options.

With this question on my mind, I went on Twitter and asked, “Sophia and I pay $1000 dollars a month for health insurance — what do you pay?”

Some answered my tweet, all with different stories.  Some had great insurance plans from a spouse’s company, and were concerned about how changes would affect the quality.   One woman said she and her husband, being young and healthy, chose to use their money as a down payment for a house, rather than pay for health insurance.   Another woman said her sister went into debt because of a long illness.  One man was rejected by all but one insurance companies because his son was autistic, and is force to spend $2,000 a month for his family.  Most of those who answered are not in a dire financial situation (after all, we were all on Twitter with our expensive iPhones!), but we are as concerned about the state of our health care, both the quality and the cost, as anyone else, rich or poor.

Politicians love to use these types of personal stories to bolster their intimacy of their speeches.  Great orators since ancient Greece have trotted out a “true” tale of poor Hermes (or Jacques or Joe) who has no drachmas (or francs or dollars), but under their plan, if elected, will be provided with plentiful gyros (or croissants or Egg McMuffins) in every urn (or vase or pot).

Stories sell the political point.

The 140 character “stories” on Twitter were special to me because they were told for no political gain.  I had no idea of the political persuasion of anyone.  They were just life stories, and it is difficult to fight with a story.  You can disagree with a person’s choice, but it is their story to tell, and you can’t dismiss that.

I was most moralistic with the blogger who put a down payment on a house rather than buy health insurance.  As the son of an anxious father who took out extended warranties on RADIOS at electronics stores “just in case” it breaks, I do not have gambling in my blood.  How could they take such a risk, especially with their health?!  Then again, how “smart” have I been for paying $12,000 a year for the ability to go once a year to my doctor for a cholesterol test?  Who can judge another without being in their shoes, or first hearing their story?

The point is I learned more about our health care crisis by listening to your stories, than reading the angry rantings of political pundits.  All of us have stories about bad doctors, life-saving hospitals, uncaring nurses, brilliant physicians, Blue Cross customer service, the good and bad magazines in the waiting rooms, malpractice suits, and even the time your own family cheated Medicare!

Politics is important, but in this case, storytelling shoots, Wins!

My Fellow Students

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During the last few days, there has been a lot of controversy over Obama’s speech to our children, the purpose which is  to encourage them to stay in school and learn.   Was it right for a President to speak to schoolkids?   Was it indocrination?   Was he abusing his power as Commander in Chief.   As silly as these questions may sound to many of you, these are legitmate concerns.   I was surprised that so many of my “liberal” friends went into a meltdown over their fellow Americans speaking their minds.   The eggheads and granola-brains came out in force, insulting these for questioning an elected official in public, as if Stalin was still alive.  Some of these “nitpickers” were even labelled as “racists.”

I believe these nitpickers are right, and there is a problem with President Obama addressing our children, but my reason is different than the others.    I believe that Mr. Obama is an honest man, one who cares about our American youth getting a quality education, one who I VOTED for, but he is NOT the right person to be speaking to our children.

Why?  Because he went to elementary school school in Indonesia, avoiding the same traumatic experience that the rest of us had attending American elementary school as children.  He has as much right speaking the truth about our nation’s schools as I do speaking at BlogHer.   What does he know?   Has he ever had to compete with his fellow students to sell the most Scholastic books for some cheapo Radio Shack radio or go to a lame school trip to the Queens Botanical Gardens?  NO!

Who would do a better job speaking to our children?  I would!  I have the experience.  I earned it attending New York public school from kindergarten through 12th grade.  I loved school, with many fond memories.  If I could, I would go back RIGHT NOW, ambling along, carrying my looseleaf notebook with the Aerosmith sticker plastered on front.

I also have a quality that Obama does not.  I am not a politician, so I would not bullsh*t.  Kids can smell bullsh*t.  I would tell our children that yes, they must go to school and learn.  Yes, they will get nowhere in life without an education (They might get nowhere in life WITH an education, even a very expensive one, but I might skip that fact in the initial speech, since I am trying to be somewhat inspirational).

Our educational system can fill your mind with wondrous knowledge and ideas, but is that the full story?  No.  I would look our youth directly in the eyes and tell them what we already know — the years ahead will also be filled with endless boredom.  School in America is 45% learning, 35% sitting around homeroom taking roll call and throwing paper airplanes, and 20% fire drills, led by your “fire captain,” usually the geekiest kid in your class, the least helpful person if there ever was a REAL FIRE.

I would tell our youth that they must pay attention in English class, even though on Twitter, no one cares about grammar anymore!  LOL.

I would tell our youth that it is important to focus on math and science, not because I did, but because our country is a trillion dollars in debt and if we don’t start doing something innovative, the Chinese are going to take over our country by 2025.

I would tell our youth to learn Chinese, for obvious reasons.  Enough with the Spanish and French.  Let’s get serious, folks.  We’re not afraid of Spain or France anymore!  Let’s learn freakin’ Chinese!  I can order my burrito by pointing at the menu.  As for the French — who really gives a sh*t?

I would tell our youth that class attendance is extremely important.  It is a right AND a responsibility.  BUT… and this is a big theoretical BUT, if by chance there is a James Bond marathon on TBS that afternoon, and you sneak out of school early to watch it while your mother is at work, try to do it during the courses that the Board of Education makes you take solely because the teacher’s union can’t fire those teachers because of tenure.  We all know what classes I am talking about.  Wood shop.  Home Economics.  Typing.  Or those time-wasting assemblies where a children’s puppet theater performs a show on “Ethnic Diversity.”

I would tell our youth that there are classes which seem useless when you are young, but which prove important later in life — geometry and algebra, for instance.  When you are in eight grade learning you might ask, “Why do we need to know about parallelograms?”   Years later, when you are taking the audition test to get on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and they ask, “What is a parallelogram?” you will understand the wisdom of your elders.

One personal note.  As a student, I hated gym.  I was not an athletic student.   Today, I believe that physical activity is essential to America.  We have become a bunch of fat slobs, when we should be epitomizing the Greek ideal of being strong in mind and body.  If I were the President of the United States, I would require all children to take gym class.  However, as a compromise to our youth, I would make the pummel horse illegal.  What insane, sadistic individual decided that it would be wise to have scrawny teenagers attempt to jump over one of these monstrosities?

I will never forget the look of fear on my friend, Barry’s face, as Mr. Kaufman, out dim-witted gym/auto shop teacher,  brought us over to the pommel hourse.  He explained how we would run up to the horse, grab the handles and jump over to the other side.  To demonstrate this, he asked Jake, already built like a boxer at age 12, to “show us how it is done.”  I am certain that Mr. Kaufman had never jumped the pummel horse himself.  So, there was NO WAY that Barry and I were EVER going lift our own weight over this thing and make it to the other side without falling SPLAT on our faces.  Luckily, Mr. Kaufman was so dumb that you could ask for a pass to the bathroom and disappear, and he would never remember.  I never did the pummel horse.

That goes to show, students, that despite it all, and everything your teachers say, when it comes down to it, sometimes you need to trust your own instincts, and fight authority.

That is the American way.

Now, let’s go out there and kick the sh*t out of the Chinese!

On Health Care and Supermarkets

I received a compliment from a nice reader, saying that I encouraged debate on “political” issues.  She felt that her opinions were too hardcore and only attracted readers who agreed with her.  I told her that she nees to be who she is, because her style is just as important, maybe MORE important in getting things done in the REAL world.  In many way, my “encouraging debate” is a positive spin on “being wishy-washy.”  I tend to always look at the others side, which would make me a bad President, football coach, or union leader.

Leaders need “vision,” something as hard and rugged as the concrete of a New York City sidewalk, in order to inspire his follwers.  Leaders cannot be like Charlie Brown, debating whether or not to trust Lucy and kick the football.

This month’s big debate is over health care.  It is shameful that so many Americans live without health insurance.  Something needs to be done NOW.

The main argument against change is a fear of “socialized medicine.”  You hear the same questions being asked over and over again.  “How can we trust the government with managing our health care?  They screw everything up!  Have you ever gone to the DMV?”

Rebuttal:  There are examples of socialized medicine working successfully around the world.

Wishy-washy:  But every truth has two sides.

There is some truth that the government tends to make a mess of things.  Obama health-care supporters shouldn’t become so ideological that we brush this under the rug.  There has been a lot of discussion about “socialism” from both sides, and I sometimes wonder if people really know what they are talking about online.  No one wants to turn the United States into the Soviet Union.  On the other hand, I read someone on Twitter trying to persuade others to push for socialized medicine by asking, “What’s so wrong with socialism or Marxism anyway?!”

I can only assume that this passionate leftist is a sophomore at Columbia University, because it is something after a year of Contemporary Civilization classes.  I’m now an old fart who has sadly accepted the uncomfortable fact that most of us do when we leave the university and try to make a living — most people are lazy, selfish jerks who won’t do anything if there is no competition. Free enterprise is necessary.  And yes, so is some “socialism” to help those who need it.  We’ve all seen the good and the evil of both systems.  And yes, I include going to the DMV as one of the evils.

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If you look outside from my mother’s dining room window, you see a supermarket right downstairs.  We are over the parking lot.  When I was growing up, this store was Waldbaum’s.  It was a decent store.  I remember every can of the store’s own brand of vegetables had a photo of “Julia Waldbaum” plastered on the label, smiling at you.

Sometime in the 1980’s our neighborhood declined.  I have written in the past about how an entire city block went out of business.  The local bakery, an aromatic piece of heaven, where my grandfather would buy onion rolls and jelly donuts, has been shuttered and graffitied for over fifteen years!

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Despite the closing of these stores, there are three supermarkets within seven blocks of each other.  It is a crowded neighborhood, and people still need to eat.  As more immigrant families moved into the neighborhood, the three supermarkets seemed to care less about the quality and upkeep.  The first time Sophia came to visit, she thought that I lived in the “slums.”  Waldbaum’s changed into a Pathmark, and this supermarket was super sucky.  The vegetables were always rotting, and the cashiers were high school kids who really didn’t give a shit.  The management was so cheap that during day hours, there would be three counters open, and the lines would reach up to twenty people each, snaking into the cereal aisle, and blocking those who wanted to pass.  My mother still shopped at this supermarket, mostly because it was the closest, and the other two markets in the neighborhood were even worse.

Two months ago, this Pathmark closed and an Associated Supermaket took over the spot.  The owners spruced the place up, and even put in a wood floor.  The store was Korean-owned, and everyone, including the checkers are Korean, and the store runs as efficiently as a new Hyundai.  The vegetables are beautiful, and because fish is an essential part of the Asian diet, the fish department has doubled.  They have sushi, gyozas, and soba noodles!  You do not understand how revolutionary that is for this neighborhood!

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This new supermarket has had a domino effect throughout the neighborhood.  Everyone went there, despite the higher prices.  They had ten checkout lanes!  Organic foods!  A real deli!  And the help actually HELPED YOU!

Two weeks later, one of the other supermarkets in the area went out of business.  A new owner bought it and promised to make it better than ever.  Today, I walked by the third supermarket in the neighborhood.  They are closing until November for a complete renovations.

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My socialist aunt would hate to hear me say this, but “F**k Yeah, this is Pure Capitalism at Its Best!”  Without the competition, the neighborhood had three shitty, uncaring supermarkets.  Once, ONE stepped up the game, the others had to change for the better or die.  And that is good.

I’m still for health care reform, by the way.  You don’t treat people’s health like a supermarket.

What Should President Obama Mean to Me?

When I returned to NY last, I watched the inauguration on CNN. It was so historical! However as I went to sleep, I had conflicting thoughts about the day. I felt pride for the country, but I felt myself rebelling against one of the primary messages that makes Obama such a special president — his Kennedyesque vision of civic and community responsibility. If anything, it took eight years of the Bush administration to finally work its way into my consciousness. By 2009, I am completely ready to throw myself into the world of selfishness and me-first-ism. I want to be more successful, wealthier, and happier, with more sex. Why shouldn’t I be more selfish and self-absorbed? It’s my time. How do I integrate this new administration with my new commitment to selfishness?

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve already started on my road to me-first. I just registered for BlogHer. Good move. I can win more attention for myself and my blog. I bought an iPhone so I can keep up with the cool kids. If I want to date again, I need to make more money. Who wants to date someone poor? The bad economy has made me worry about money and career more than any time in my life. Who has the time or energy to care about the downtrodden?!

I have been inspired by many of your wonderful posts about Obama’s election, so much so that I am authentically worried about writing this kvetchy, neurotic post.

“What is wrong with this guy?” I can hear you saying. “Can’t he just be happy with Obama’s inauguration? Why does our celebration have to be so quickly turned into self-doubt, ruining the mood?”

It’s not that I am not thrilled about this change, but I tend to be introspective and worried about historical events, and my words do not come flowing out. I’m also less of an inspirational speaker than a kvetcher, trying to figure out the “meaning” of the event.

I am in a transition point in my own life, and it is ironic that at the exact time we move from the Bush years to the Obama years, I am thinking about embracing selfishness. Am I taking a wrong turn at the wrong historical moment? I am seriously approaching this new administration in a very personal way. What should I do differently during this new era of American politics?

Having a young, African-American president is terrific for the country, but it doesn’t transform me into a new person. I had no issues with voting for a black man. Maybe “America” did, and the country now shows maturity. But I am a personal blogger, and I am much more interested in talking about “I” and “you” rather than “We” or “America.” The questions that are on my mind are of a personal nature:

How did the eight years of the Bush Administration affect me? How did I benefit from it? How did the culture that grew out of those years make me who I am today? It is bullshit to say that I wasn’t part of this Bush-era culture. We all were. We had no choice. The blogosphere grew up under this culture. All the obsessions of A-listers and B-listers, and monetizing your blog are modeled after the high-rolling laissez faire attitudes of the economic and international policies during the Bush years.

Obama is “inspiring,” but what exactly is he inspiring ME to do? Should I volunteer more? Should I think less about myself and more of others? Does this mean I shouldn’t put up advertising on my blog? Should I donate it to charity? Should I try to date more African-American women? What does an Obama presidency mean to me?

Have you been inspired to make any changes in your life?

Wednesday Morning, McCain Wins / Wednesday Morning, Obama Wins

It is Wednesday, November 5. The 2008 Presidential Election is over. America had decided. And with this choice, there is a new America.

What will our country look like?

Let’s take a look at how that this fateful — and historic — Wednesday morning will look to the average taxpaying citizen, ME, depending on the outcome of the election.

Wednesday Morning (if McCain wins)

8:30 AM — I buy a newspaper. “McCain Wins” screams the headline! I enter McDonald’s and order a cup of coffee and an Egg McMuffin, but without the greasy sausage. The salesgirl charges me the full price.

9:40 AM — I shop in CVS Pharmacy for deodorant and new batteries for my camera. The stern Indian salesgirl, dressed frumpishly, asks for my CVS card. I say that I forgot it at home. She says the batteries were on sale, but I’m out of luck without the card.

10:24 AM — I check my email at home. I receive a angry diatribe from a female blogger insisting that I stop sending her photos of my naked body. “You are a sick man and should be imprisoned. One more photo and I am taking you off my blogroll!”

11:01 AM — Producer from LA calls up and says that my script is as “unfunny as a Geico commercial.” Besides, Hollywood is broke, so “don’t waste your time. Stick to blogging.”

11:12 AM — Sophia calls and says her Wii is not working. What should she do?

11:23 — I am depressed and see no future.

Wednesday Morning (if Obama wins)

8:30 AM — I buy a newspaper. “Obama Wins” screams the headline! I enter McDonald’s and order a cup of coffee and an Egg McMuffin, but without the greasy sausage. The salesgirl charges me fifty cents less, saying this it is only fair, since I am not ordering the full sandwich. The new motto of McDonald’s is “Caring for Our Customers.”

9:40 AM — I shop in CVS Pharmacy for deodorant and new batteries for my camera. The sexy Indian salesgirl, showing a lot of cleavage, asks for my CVS card. I say that I forgot it at home. “No problem.” she answers. “I’ll let you use my personal card. We’re all citizens of this great neighborhood!” She also throws a a free box of condoms into my bag, winking at me about the importance of ethnic groups “getting to know each other through interpersonal dialogue.”

10:24 AM — I check my email at home. I receive a lovely poem from a female blogger thanking me for “that great photo.” She has been feeling depressed lately, and my kindness has given her hope.

11:01 AM — Producer from LA calls up and says that my script is as “funny as one of those hilarious Geico commercials.” There is so much money flying around Hollywood, now that the economy has picked up, that there is a bidding war to make this movie.

11:12 AM — Sophia calls and says it isn’t fair that she gets to be the only one using the Wii. It is important to “share the wealth.” She is sending the system to me in New York for a month, so I can get a chance to play Wii Bowling too.

11:23 AM — There is a ring at the doorbell. It is the Indian girl from CVS Pharmacy. She is smiling seductively. “It is a time for unity between diverse people!” she says, as she takes off her top, revealing her ample bosom and her dark coffee skin.

As you know, I don’t like to discuss politics on this blog. I think voting is a personal decision, and I will not even give you a HINT about my choice of candidate. I just want to give you the FACTS. I hope that you analyze them carefully. Do everything you can before you vote to educate yourself — think, discuss, read intelligent blogs like this one — and then weigh the good and bad aspects of the two alternative Wednesdays that I described. And then ask yourself — which America sounds better?

Obama Girl, McCain Girl


The University of Mississippi, site of first 2008 Presidential Debate

I had a date; she’s for Obama,
She kissed me hard, that sexy Mama,

I had a date; she’s for McCain,
She postponed it because of rain.

How Bloggers Can Help Obama Win

A few nights ago in Denver, Hilary Clinton put aside her own ambitions for the sake of the party, and the country — and made a great speech supporting Obama’s nomination (I mean, what else is she going to do? But she did a good job.)

I’m a supporter of Obama. I was impressed with his speech. With the polls showing a close race, and a large percentage of independents undecided, I think politically-minded Democrats should take after Hilary, and think of the future election rather then themselves.

Here are some blogging tips to help Obama win —

1) While the Republicans are stereotyped as selfish businessmen only caring about links and ad revenues (oops, sorry, that’s bloggers themselves — I meant money and power), Democrats like to promote themselves as caring for the regular folk. Unfortunately, very few people believe this. Half of what I read from those in Denver, writing on Twitter, was about sightings of Ben Afleck, Sheryl Crow, network anchorpeople and wealthy tech executives at invitation only parties. Is this Blogher all over again with everyone Twittering about seeing Dooce in the elevator? Rule #1 — Avoid making being a Democrat like being a blogger listed on Alltop. This makes the regular Joe think Democrats are elitists who like to talk about the regular folk (Joe Biden takes Amtrak!), but in reality, only know regular folk as the cashiers at Whole Foods.

2) Much of the discussion online about Obama is the converted preaching to the converted. We know that you love Obama. We are not going to put you on “Don’t read this blog anymore because she is a Republican” list. WHY do you love him so much — besides the fact that you are a Democrat? How can you persuade you Independent friends to vote your way? Maybe you can help me persuade Sophia to vote for Obama. She is a registered Republican, but not crazy about McCain.

3) Avoid McCain jokes. “McCain is old” jokes (we all get old). “McCain is wealthy” jokes (and Democrats aren’t?). McCain is like “Hitler” jokes (I saw that on Twitter!) What’s the point? These joke are about amusing your fellow Democratic friends rather than changing history. These insider gags turn off independents, many who respect McCain.

4) “Vote for the Democrats because Bush sucked” is not enough to convince anyone to vote for Obama.

5) Towing the party line as a blogger is only important if you care more about your blogging career with the Huffington Post or some future job with some liberal magazine than ACTUALLY winning the election. Independents are smart. They know that Obama is somewhat inexperienced. You know he is somewhat inexperienced. So why bullshit? No one respects that, and it doesn’t win any Independents. Obama is a great speaker. He mentioned Martin Luther King. Big deal! You know what — I’m a pretty good speaker. When I was the valedictorian in my elementary school, I also mentioned Martin Luther King in my impassioned graduation address in front of the school assembly. Does that make me worthy of being President of the United States? Obama’s color is historic, but it is not enough. Independents will actually vote AGAINST him if the race issue is touted too much, not out of racism, but because most Independents are Independents because they are strong individualists who dislike labels such as Democrat, Republican, Black, and White. They want to know that Obama is a leader, not a symbol.

By the way, I liked Obama’s tie.

Update: Clearly the Republicans are trying to use some symbolism of their own — the choice of Sarah Palin as the VP.

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