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Hardcore, D.C., documentaries on

By Christina Cauterucci
Washington City Paper

You can’t be what you were.

How many ways can the D.C. punk icons of yore retell their tales of all-ages basement shows and subverting the ever-hungry maw of the capitalist music industry? After this year, add two more well-sourced volumes to the record: Salad Days: Punk in the Nation’s Capital and Positive Force: More Than a Witness, both documentary films that premiered on the same November weekend. Whether D.C. needs two more rehashings of the white-dude-heavy, MacKaye-Rollins glory days is up for debate (there’ve been plenty of films made on the subject before, including a 1991 doc about Positive Force, profiles of Fugazi and Bad Brains, and a forthcoming doc on the ’70s roots of D.C. hardcore), but the punk scene’s impulse toward nostalgia seems as healthy as it ever was.

Buy the DVD now | Back to Robin Bell's Director Page

Capital Gifts 2014: The Ultimate D.C. Punk Collection

by Tori Kerr
December 4th, 2014

Maybe you’ve got a young sibling who just discovered punk. While her Ramones t-shirt is cute, you want to point her in the right direction so she doesn’t become a Hot Topic mallrat. Or, perhaps your dad is an old-school punk enthusiast who didn’t “get” your pop-punk posters in high school. Or, you know your boss went to high school in the D.C. area in 1984. Cover your butt for each of these scenarios with an array of items, creating the ultimate D.C. punk gift bonanza.

Among D.C.’s multiple musical personalities, none has been part of a larger cultural conversation as much as punk and hardcore. Between @FortRenoRumors, the D.C. Public Library’s new punk archive, and approximately one million (actually three) documentaries, it’s safe to say that punk won D.C. this year. A great way to commemorate that is with Fugazi’s First Demo, a “new” release from the incomparable Dischord Records. The album features 11 of the rawest tracks we’ve ever heard from one of D.C.’s greatest bands. The best part is that no matter if your gift receiver is a new or old Fugazi fan, First Demo will either complete his collection or get him started at the beginning.

Follow that with documentary Positive Force: More Than A Witness, which chronicles the history of the legendary activist coalition. The film explores Positive Force's early days: hosting a “Revolution Summer,” protesting Apartheid; taking on the riot grrrl movement; and through it all, creating real change in practical, inspiring ways. The DIY ethic that runs through punk music’s veins also sustains Positive Force, its founder, Mark Andersen and the film’s director, Robin Bell. All proceeds from the film benefit the We Are Family senior outreach network. When you gift this, your gift benefits not only your loved one, but hundreds of seniors throughout The District.

Top off this punk cornucopia with the Dance of Days: Two Decades of Punk in the Nation's Capital, a written history of D.C. punk, by Andersen and journalist Mark Jenkins. The authors trace the scene from frustrated teenagers’ homes in suburban Georgetown to the (original) 9:30 Club, to the Reeves Center, to the West Coast, and beyond. The authors chronicle the good and the bad, treating both with equal intrigue: the rise and fall of Bad Brains; straightedge; bloody fights between D.C. punks and out-of-towners; and the struggle against homophobic and fascist punks who threatened to topple an otherwise progressive movement. It’s a must-read for any punk fan, especially one who lives in the area.

With this trifecta complete, your grateful gift-receivers will be happily busy for weeks, engaging in a sort of ethnographic study of one of the strongest facets of this city’s heritage.

Buy the DVD now | Back to Robin Bell's Director Page

Positive Force: More Than a Witness on Stereo Killer

Stereo Killer

Actors: Mark Andersen, Fugazi, Anti-Flag, Bikini Kill, Nation of Ulysses, Seven Seconds

Synopsis: Examines 30 years of the DC-based Positive Force with performances from Fugazi, Anti-Flag, Bikini Kill and more.

Robin Bell brings us a documentary that looks at “the relationship between D.C. punk and do-gooderism. Seamlessly situating a musical moment within the larger cultural context of Reaganomics, the rise of riot grrrl feminism, pacifist protest and other issues.” Positive Force DC came into being in 1985 and was born as part of the local scene by Bad Brains, Minor Threat, and Rites of Spring, a handful of young activists. They drew inspiration from UK anarcho-punks Crass and the original “Positive Force” band and are now thought to be one of the most long-lasting and influential exponents of punk politics.

Director Bell skillfully mixes rare archival footage (including electrifying live performances from Fugazi, Bikini Kill, Rites of Spring, Nation of Ulysses, Anti-Flag, and more) with new interviews of key Positive Force activists including co-founder Mark Andersen (co-author of Dance of Days) and Jenny Toomey (Simple Machines, Tsunami) as well as supporters such as Ian MacKaye, Jello Biafra, Dave Grohl, Ted Leo, Riot Grrrl co-founders Allison Wolfe and Kathleen Hanna, and many more. The film covers thirty years from the origins in Reagan-era origins, the creation of its communal house, FBI harassment, and the rise of a vibrant underground that burst into the mainstream amid controversy over both the means and the ends of the movement. Positive Force has persisted through all of this, remaining deeply rooted in their hometown, reaching out to those in need and building bridges between diverse communities.

At the same PF regularly brings punk protest to the front doors of those in power. It is an all-volunteer group has helped to nurture several generations of activists. In the best punk fashion, PF has applied creative DIY tactics and radical critiques to issues of homelessness, hunger, racism, corporate globalization, sexism, homophobia, war, gentrification, and animal/earth liberation, while struggling to constructively address conflicting dynamics and visions within the group itself.

It is important to note that the filmmakers’ portion of the proceeds from the sale of the DVD will benefit the We Are Family senior outreach network.

The DVD includes the following extras:

Wake Up! A Profile of Positive Force (28 min., 1991)

Green Hair, Grey Hair (28 min., 2008)

Punks, Votes, Riots (21 min., 2014)

Live at Positive Force (34 min. of bonus performances by Fugazi, Seven Seconds, Chumbawamba, Anti-Flag, Soulside, The Evens, and Beefeater).

Buy the DVD now | Back to Robin Bell's Director Page

Positive Force: More Than a Witness on PopDose

by Rob Ross
December 18th, 2014

VERY interesting and intriguing historic look at the Positive Force organization, which began in Nevada, but has thrived and stayed the course in Washington D.C. from 1985 onward.  Led by D.C. co-founder Mark Andersen, Positive Force ran parallel to the socially conscious punk movement (the majority of bands recorded for Dischord Records), which by 1985 had begun to widen its spectrum and become, itself, more politicized.  The rawness of the punk anger and ethos began to be pointing toward constructivity, rather than negativity and destruction, and found itself moving in a socially, morally and politically upward (and left-leaning) direction.  As seen in the documentary from director Robin Bell, Positive Force acts upon its words with deeds – from delivering groceries to those in need (especially the elderly) to holding benefit concerts to raise money for various causes, to orchestrating protests.

This documentary is filled with news footage and interviews from the participants themselves – D.C. founder/director Mark Andersen, Dischord’s Ian MacKaye, Dave Grohl from Scream, Jenny Toomey from Simple Machines and Positive Force and so on – and at no time does it come off as being preachy or biased.  It is an honest and direct look at a group of people that have actually done good – “talked the talk and walked the walk” so to speak – and continue to do so to this day.

It isn’t often one has the chance to see and hear something so refreshing and meaningful without feeling preached at – Positive Force: More Than A Witness; 25 Years Of Punk Politics In Action is worth the time invested in watching.


Buy the DVD now | Back to Robin Bell's Director Page

Fugazi Perform at 1991 D.C. Protest in Clip From Positive Force Documentary

December 9th, 2014

More Than A Witness also features Bikini Kill, Dave Grohl, Ted Leo, Nation of Ulysses, Rites of Spring, more

Fugazi Perform at 1991 D.C. Protest in Clip From Positive Force Documentary

Positive Force: More Than a Witness; 30 Years of Punk Politics in Action is a new documentary about the Washington, DC punk activist group Positive Force. Directed by Robin Bell, the film tells the story of the group's campaigns against homelessness, racism, corporate globalization, sexism, war, and more. It features interviews with prominent artists as well as archival performance footage. Watch a clip from the film of Fugazi playing a 1991 D.C. protest below via

The film also features live footage of Bikini Kill, Nation of Ulysses, Anti-Flag, Rites of Spring, and others. Kathleen Hanna, Ian MacKaye, Dave Grohl, Ted Leo, Allison Wolfe of Bratmobile, Jello Biafra, Jenny Toomey of Tsunami, and more are interviewed.

More Than a Witness is out now on DVD and through Vimeo. It will be premiered in New York City on December 19, where a Q&A will be conducted with Bell after a screening.

Buy the DVD now | Back to Robin Bell's Director Page

Penny Rimbaud of Crass Talks about Politics and Philosophy in a New Positive Force Documentary

By Noisey Staff
Noisey Music by Vice

Positive Force: More Than A Witness; 30 Years Of Punk Politics In Action examines the punk collective Positive Force and their influence on the scene through awareness of political, social, and economic issues. Featuring appearances from bands like Fugazi, Bikini Kill, Nation of Ulysses and more, the documentary spans the group's origins and includes performances, details on their tactics, and much much more. In the above clip, Penny Rimbaud of Crass discusses the evolution of the band and how it fit into the Positive Force ethos. Check that out above for the first time and order your copy of the documentary at MVD.

Buy the DVD now | Back to Robin Bell's Director Page

'They Wanted to be Rock Stars’: Crass Co-Founder Disses Sex Pistols and Clash in Positive Force DC

Dangerous Minds
December 16th, 2014

Positive Force is a Washington DC-based activist collective that’s been around since 1985. The documentary, Positive Force: More Than A Witness; 30 Years Of Punk Politics In Action, explores the history of this organization, which often stages benefits with like-minded bands to promote various causes. There’s a wealth of archival performances in the film—including footage of Fugazi playing in front of the White House on the eve of the Gulf War—and this updated edition of the DVD has another 30+ minutes of rare live clips. The documentary also features interviews with such notables as Ian MacKaye, Kathleen Hanna, Jello Biafra, and Dave Grohl, who talks about his first-ever live gig, drumming for the band Scream at a Positive Force benefit.

One of the highlights of Positive Force is the interview with Penny Rimbaud, drummer and co-founder of the UK group Crass. Rimbaud’s band, which existed from 1977-1984, very much influenced the principles of Positive Force. Crass not only put out their own records and were critical of the mainstream, but they were also activists, believing that it wasn’t enough to just sing about social justice, you had to practice what you preached. In the clip, Rimbaud accuses the members of the Clash and the Sex Pistols of not meaning it, man, as he feels their drive to make it as rock stars came before all else.
If you have any interest at all in the history of American punk and/or activism, Positive Force is definitely worth your time.

All right, here’s Mr. Rimbaud:

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The price of justice? Read Paul Krassner’s Patty Hearst & the Twinkie Murders
November 24th, 2014

Rating: 5 Stars

Reading Paul Krassner is like imbibing LSD: describing it ain’t nothing like experiencing it. PM Press, a relatively new publishing outfit, has a great series called Outspoken Authors, which is nothing short of mind expanding, strangely serendipitous and desperately needed today. Everyone you ever wanted to read but were afraid to admit you didn’t know is here: Michael Moorcock, Ursula Le Guin, Cory Doctorow and a host of other. Hopefully, this list will grow and increase, but in the meantime they have a bouquet of Paul Krassner material to warm the heart of any aging radical or hippy, and instruct and educate anyone young and interested in the history of the United States.
 Titled Patty Hearst & the Twinkie Murders: A Tale of Two Trials, the book explains in chilling detail how a woman can be sentenced to 35 years in prison after being kidnapped and brainwashed for robbing a bank, and how a man can be sentenced to six years for killing a mayor and city Supervisor, shooting the mayor several times in the body and head and then re-loading to take care of the supervisor. Interlaced here is the Jim Jones tragedy, so the stories explain two urban clichés, “drinking the cool aid”, which resulted in the deaths of over nine hundred people in what became known as the Jonestown Massacre, and the “Twinkie defense”, which justified the two murders in city hall.
Experiencing Krassner’s writing is extraordinary. There’s no fireworking mumbo jumbo attack on the English language that “New Journalism” and Tom Wolfe inflicted on America, nor is it any mystic stream of consciousness nonsense. It straight out brilliantly written and reasoned prose describing the unbelievable and utterly outrageous and mind boggling hypocrisy of aspects of American culture. Krassner’s writing proceeds logically, describing himself and his friends in the moment of whatever he happens to be working on. For example, during the police riots supposedly defending city hall from thousands of gay people reacted to the absurd sentence the murderer of a gay city supervisor received, Krassner relates how his experience with a policeman wielding a billy club left him crippled for life.

About Krassner the late George Carlin said: “The FBI was right–this man is dangerous–and funny and necessary.”

If you don’t know Krassner, buy this book.

If you do know Krassner, I know you will.

Buy Patty Hearst & The Twinkie Murders | Buy the e-Book of Patty Hearst & The Twinkie Murders | Back to Paul Krassner's Author Page

Against Carceral Feminism, Victoria Law on Jacobin Magazine

By Victoria Law
Jacobin Magazine

Relying on state violence to curb domestic violence only ends up harming the most marginalized women.

“Prison Blueprints.” Remeike Forbes / Jacobin

herie Williams, a thirty-five-year-old African-American woman in the Bronx, just wanted to protect herself from her abusive boyfriend. So she called the cops. But although New York requires police to make an arrest when responding to domestic violence calls, the officers did not leave their car. When Williams demanded their badge numbers, the police handcuffed her, drove her to a deserted parking lot, and beat her, breaking her nose, spleen, and jaw. They then left her on the ground.

“They told me if they saw me on the street, that they would kill me,” Williams later testified.

The year was 1999. It was a half-decade after the passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which deployed more police and introduced more punitive sentencing in an attempt to reduce domestic violence. Many of the feminists who had lobbied for the passage of VAWA remained silent about Williams and countless other women whose 911 calls resulted in more violence. Often white, well-heeled feminists, their legislative accomplishment did little to stem violence against less affluent, more marginalized women like Williams.

This carceral variant of feminism continues to be the predominant form. While its adherents would likely reject the descriptor, carceral feminism describes an approach that sees increased policing, prosecution, and imprisonment as the primary solution to violence against women.

This stance does not acknowledge that police are often purveyors of violence and that prisons are always sites of violence. Carceral feminism ignores the ways in which race, class, gender identity, and immigration status leave certain women more vulnerable to violence and that greater criminalization often places these same women at risk of state violence.

t_9Casting policing and prisons as the solution to domestic violence both justifies increases to police and prison budgets and diverts attention from the cuts to programs that enable survivors to escape, such as shelters, public housing, and welfare. And finally, positioning police and prisons as the principal antidote discourages seeking other responses, including community interventions and long-term organizing.

How did we get to this point? In previous decades, police frequently responded to domestic violence calls by telling the abuser to cool off, then leaving. In the 1970s and 1980s, feminist activists filed lawsuits against police departments for their lack of response. In New York, Oakland, and Connecticut, lawsuits resulted in substantial changes to how the police handled domestic violence calls, including reducing their ability to not arrest.

Included in the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, the largest crime bill in US history, VAWA was an extension of these previous efforts. The $30 billion legislation provided funding for one hundred thousand new police officers and $9.7 billion for prisons. When second-wave feminists proclaimed “the personal is the political,” they redefined private spheres like the household as legitimate objects of political debate. But VAWA signaled that this potentially radical proposition had taken on a carceral hue.

At the same time, politicians and many others who pushed for VAWA ignored the economic limitations that prevented scores of women from leaving violent relationships. Two years later, Clinton signed “welfare reform” legislation. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity and Reconciliation Act set a five-year limit on welfare, required recipients to work after two years, regardless of other circumstances, and instated a lifetime ban on welfare for those convicted of drug felonies or who had violated probation or parole.

By the end of the 1990s, the number of people receiving welfare (the majority of whom were women) had fallen 53 percent, or 6.5 million. Gutting welfare stripped away an economic safety net that allowed survivors to flee abusive relationships.

Mainstream feminists have also successfully pressed for laws that require police to arrest someone after they receive a domestic violence call. By 2008, nearly half of all states had a mandatory arrest law. The statutes have also led to dual arrests, in which police handcuff both parties because they perceive each as assailants, or they can’t identify the “primary aggressor.”

Women marginalized by their identities, such as queers, immigrants, women of color, trans women, or even women who are perceived as loud or aggressive, often do not fit preconceived notions of abuse victims and are thus arrested.

And the threat of state violence isn’t limited to physical assault. In 2012, Marissa Alexander, a black mother in Florida, was arrested after she fired a warning shot to prevent her husband from continuing to attack her. Her husband left the house and called the police. She was arrested and, although he had not been injured, prosecuted for aggravated assault.

Alexander argued that her actions were justified under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. Unlike George Zimmerman, the man who shot and killed seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin three months earlier, Alexander was unsuccessful in using that defense. Despite her husband’s sixty-six-page deposition, in which he admitted abusing Alexander as well as the other women with whom he had children, a jury still found her guilty.

The prosecutor then added the state’s 10-20-LIFE sentencing enhancement, which mandates a twenty-year sentence when a firearm is discharged. In 2013, an appellate court overturned her conviction. In response, the prosecutor has vowed to seek a sixty-year sentence during her trial this December.

Alexander is not the only domestic violence survivor who’s been forced to endure additional assault by the legal system. In New York state, 67 percent of women sent to prison for killing someone close to them had been abused by that person. Across the country, in California, a prison study found that 93 percent of the women who had killed their significant others had been abused by them. Sixty-seven percent of those women reported that they had been attempting to protect themselves or their children.

No agency is tasked with collecting data on the number of survivors imprisoned for defending themselves; thus, there are no national statistics on the frequency of this domestic violence-criminalization intersection. What national figures do show is that the number of women in prison has increased exponentially over the past few decades.

In 1970, 5,600 women were incarcerated across the nation. In 2013, 111,300 women were in state and federal prisons and another 102,400 in local jails. (These numbers do not include trans women incarcerated in men’s jails and prisons.) The majority have experienced physical and/or sexual abuse prior to arrest, often at the hands of loved ones.


Carceral feminists have said little about law-enforcement violence and the overwhelming number of survivors behind bars. Similarly, many groups organizing against mass incarceration often fail to address violence against women, often focusing exclusively on men in prison. But others, especially women of color activists, scholars, and organizers, have been speaking out.

In 2001, Critical Resistance, a prison-abolition organization, and INCITE! Women of Color against Violence, an anti-violence network, issued a statement assessing the effects of increased criminalization and the silence around the nexus of gender and police violence. Noting that relying on policing and prisons has discouraged organizing community responses and interventions, the statement challenged communities to make connections, create strategies to combat both forms of violence, and document their efforts as examples for others seeking alternatives.

Individuals and grassroots groups have taken up that challenge. In 2004, anti-violence advocate Mimi Kim founded Creative Interventions. Recognizing that alternative approaches to violence need to be demonstrated, the group developed a site to collect and publicly offer tools and resources on addressing violence in everyday life. It also developed the StoryTelling and Organizing Project, where people can share their experiences of intervening in domestic violence, family violence, and sexual abuse.

In 2008, social-justice organizers and abuse survivors Ching-In Chen, Jai Dulani, and Leah Lakshmi Piepnza-Samarasinha compiled “The Revolution Starts at Home,” a 111-page zine documenting various efforts in activist circles to hold abusers accountable. Piepnza-Samarasinha described how trusted friends helped devise strategies to keep her safe from a violent and abusive ex who shared many of the same political and social circles:

When he showed up at the prison justice film screening I was attending, held in a small classroom where we would have been sitting very close to each other, friends told him he was not welcome and asked him to leave. When he called in to a local South Asian radio show doing a special program on violence against women, one of the DJs told him that she knew he had been abusive and she was not going to let him on air if he was not willing to own his own violence.

My safety plan included never going to a club without a group of my girls to have my back. They would go in first and scan the club for him and stay near me. If he showed up, we checked in about what to do.

In their article “Domestic Violence: Examining the Intersections of Race, Class, and Gender,” feminist academics Natalie Sokoloff and Ida Dupont mention another approach taken by immigrant and refugee women in Halifax, Nova Scotia, one which tackled the economic underpinnings that prevent many from escaping abusive relationships.

The women, many of whom had survived not just abuse but torture, political persecution, and poverty, created an informal support group at a drop-in center. From there, they formed a cooperative catering business, which enabled them to offer housing assistance for those who needed it. In addition, women shared childcare and emotional support.

As these examples demonstrate, strategies to stop domestic violence frequently require more than a single action. They often require a long-term commitment from friends and community to keep a person safe, as in Piepnza-Samarasinha’s case. For those involved in devising alternatives, like the women in Halifax, it may require not only creating immediate safety tactics, but long-term organizing that addresses the underlying inequalities that exacerbate domestic violence.

By relying solely on a criminalized response, carceral feminism fails to address these social and economic inequities, let alone advocate for policies that ensure women are not economically dependent on abusive partners. Carceral feminism fails to address the myriad forms of violence faced by women, including police violence and mass incarceration. It fails to address factors that exacerbate abuse, such as male entitlement, economic inequality, the lack of safe and affordable housing, and the absence of other resources.

Carceral feminism abets the growth of the state’s worst functions, while obscuring the shrinking of its best. At the same time, it conveniently ignores the anti-violence efforts and organizing by those who have always known that criminalized responses pose further threats rather than promises of safety.

The work of INCITE!, Creative Interventions, the StoryTelling and Organizing Project, and “The Revolution Starts at Home” (which sparked so much interest that it was expanded into a book) are part of a longer history of women of color resisting both domestic and state violence. Their efforts shows that there is an alternative to carceral solutions, that we don’t have to deploy state violence in a disastrous attempt to curb domestic violence.

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Back to Victoria Law's Author Page

Dead Kennedys on Razorcake review #2

By Andy Higgins
November 24th, 2014

 In terms of content, the book’s primary focus is on “the early years” of the band, so be aware that it is only a partial story which is very much preoccupied with the impact and reactions surrounding the creation and release of Fresh Fruitin 1980.

The main narrative consists of a prequel and seven subsequent chapters, supplemented by a brief piece of guitarist East Bay Ray’s and vocalist Jello Biafra’s views on the legacy of Fresh Fruit, some quite revealing endnotes, a yakety-yak section of comments and quotations, and a short piece entitled “Grafic Anarchy” by Ogg’s co-conspirator and fellow academic Russ Bestley.

  Although the book runs out at 216 pages, the worded content is surprisingly small with the bulk of the pages being given to illustrations of gig posters, record sleeves, liner notes, images of record labels, visual montages, and band photographs. The visual anarchy of the Winston Smith creations remains a big part of how Dead Kennedys communicated their unique brand of wit and wisdom; consequently, chapters only contain between seven and nine pages of text.

  Aside from Marian Kester’s poorly received Dead Kennedys: The Unauthorised Version, this well-researched and relatively fresh-fruited subject matter christens it with a hallmark of originality. Indeed, with over one hundred book titles already dedicated to bands such as the Pistols, Clash, and Ramones this book is long overdue, which, in many ways, makes it a more welcomed and interesting read.

  Throughout its pages, Ogg reminds us that Dead Kennedys notoriety was achieved with almost zero radio play, without the assistance of a major label, and largely from coverage in the underground / DIY press. It is also fair to claim that the band not only existed outside the mainstream but were arguably the first band of their stature to actually turn on and attack the music industry itself, which they did in their own inimitably acerbic way.

  Being familiar with the band’s material, it was also great to learn more about the band members’ back histories and how they all came together in San Francisco as part of its burgeoning DIY scene. From Ray’s qualifications in mathematics and his politically active parents to Klaus’s work on pirate radio and seasoned musicianship, the book contains many curious factoids, creating an enjoyable read. For instance, I was intrigued to learn that the band name was not altogether their own invention—in fact far from it—and how another band from Cleveland had originally shied away from using the name Dead Kennedys, as it was an impediment to getting bookings.

  From the closing pages and endnotes, the relief that this particularly tortuous book-writing journey is finally over is obvious, with the author warning ominously about some other “poor bastard” can pick up the story from where he leaves off. Considering the internal warfare and how certain band members’ frustrations continually seep through, overall it’s a well-balanced and informative account. In the sections where there’s sufficient text to get one’s teeth into the pages just seem to turn themselves, which speaks volumes about Ogg’s ability as a writer.

Buy this book now | Download e-Book now | Back to Alex Ogg's Author Page | Back to Winston Smith's Illustrator Page | Back to Ruby Ray's Artist Page


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