The Clare Spark Blog

May 30, 2015

Constructing the moderate men with the classics

authors_rectThis blog is about tranquilizing our students through indoctrination: a kind of lobotomy of the imagination.

The Wall Street Journal, stomping grounds of the moderate men, features a “counter-cultural” summer reading list for high school kids in its May 30, 2015 edition (page A-13), clearly intended to cool out extremists of every stripe. Meet the author here: (preceded last week by Peggy Noonan’s

Sewall advertises himself as a (sort of) conservative who opposes the radicalism of “multiculturalism” and “diversity”, going back to the “classics” with a small dollop of works likely to instill pride in (tempered) American individualism.

I suspect that Sewall’s agenda fits in all too snugly with earlier “moderates” whose project was to tame autodidacts, i.e., the barbarian hordes likely, through empiricism, science, and technology, to overthrow traditional elites. I have written about their efforts before on this website:,, and

Who are the enemy to the moderate men? Nietzsche, in his inimitable fashion, points the way in his first book (The Birth of Tragedy):

[Nietzsche:] Nothing can be more terrible than a barbaric slave class that has learned to view its existence as an injustice and preparing to avenge not only its own wrongs but those of all previous generations. Under such conditions, who would dare appeal confidently to our weary and etiolated religions, which have long since become “Brahmin” religions?” Myth, the prerequisite of all religion, has been paralyzed everywhere, and theology has been invaded by that optimistic spirit which I have just stigmatized as the baneful virus of society. [Compare to my next blog that quotes FN on “the Jews”:

Spiritualized Nietzsche imagined by Juan Pablo Hern

Spiritualized Nietzsche imagined by Juan Pablo Hern

[Clare, cont.] So it is not surprising to see Voltaire’s Candide (with its counter Enlightenment-optimism message) on Sewall’s reading list.

What is missing from all these paeans to the classics? To be sure, they may be wonderful to read, but the biographies and sociopolitical commitments of the authors are all missing. Hence we can revel in the images and eloquence of the authors, but we have no idea of the deeper meanings of the texts, nor how incompatible social movements have appropriated them to twist their meanings.

That is the problem with the all of the humanities as taught today by either multicultural leftists or by the organic conservatives who called themselves “moderates” and have explicitly sought to enhance “social cohesion,” political stability, as achieved through the golden mean. (On the intentions of the New Critics see

Without rigorous training in history, political theory, and economics, youngsters of college age are left without a beacon to light their way through these classic texts, however meritorious and appealing they may be as high cultural artifacts.

And even more likely, the poor preparation for reading anything at all with even a shallow understanding in our dumbed down, pseudo-civilization, suggests that a humanities education at any age is a waste of time and money.


December 12, 2013

The Wall Street Journal discovers lobotomy craze for vets

VA quackeryAs late as today, December 12, 2013, The Wall Street Journal, has discovered that traumatized veterans of WW2 and even later conflicts were routinely lobotomized, a procedure that is said to have its greatest application in the 1940s and 1950s. Written by Michael M. Phillips (pages A1, A8-A9), the author relies on “dusty” boxes found in the National Archives.  The surgery was primarily applied to “depressives, psychotics and schizophrenics, and occasionally on people identified as homosexuals.”

Where have journalists been all these years? Even anti-science, anti-psychiatry students of the history of medicine consider this lurid chapter to be closed, though my blog index to lobotomies remains popular. See

But even more relevant to the WSJ alarming discovery is the series on military psychiatry, which remains in a primitive state, perhaps owing to the assumption that wars are inevitable, and that fighting men are expendable, whereas blundering diplomats and governments are not. Above all, we must maintain hierarchies and obedience to our betters, a message amplified by such favorite television series as NCIS, where the good father (Gibbs, played by Mark Harmon) protects his cohesive fighting family, ever the uncomplaining “team.” On blundering diplomats see (with an addendum by Niall Ferguson).

As I have argued before, WSJ, like Fox News Channel or Commentary is an outpost of the moderate men. (See I had hoped that the WSJ article would exhibit some homework in other archives, hence pointing to our continued confusion over the causes of anxiety, depression, “shell shock,” “PTSD,” and other mental illnesses that might be preventable without the taboo associated with any of the “personality disorders” said to be curable now with cognitive behavioral therapy, guided by DSM-5.  (See, one of my items in the lobotomy blogs.)


The point of this blog is that ordinary people take the rap when our “betters” give the orders and fail in their jobs to keep individual, social, and international peace. Is it possible that our world is run by quacks? Are we quacks for trusting them? If so, what can we do about it? Leave your comments on the blog.

December 13, 2012

The “Brain Trust” at UCLA

Blue EagleThe discourse on mental health is troubling, for psychosurgery in the form of lobotomies were deployed for many decades before they were stigmatized.  (See Moreover, the notion of psychiatrists or other mental health workers proposing medical interventions in the body, particularly the brain, arouses fears that government surveillance (mind-control and/or mind-management, even psychosurgery on imprisoned black people) are the intended outcomes. Meanwhile, amateurs write self-help books that instruct the unschooled masses with remedies that are wild surmises and/or quackery.

As I have shown, there is a basis for such “paranoid” ideation in ordinary people, for the structural-functionalists (misnamed) in sociology and the burgeoning field of social relations at Harvard and other elite universities did draw upon authoritarian social theory and testing to weed out potential radicals and to direct popular opinion along “progressive” lines, i.e. lines that would support FDR’s New Deal and the welfare state generally. (See, especially the introductory lines identifying the academic pedigree of Dr. Bertram P. Karon.)

Dr. Karon holds that schizophrenia is not a genetic disease requiring sedating medication, but rather (controversially) proposes that psychoanalytically oriented therapy can provide cure. He stresses the widespread need of people generally to have a willing ear to listen to her or his troubles. Given that health insurers (including Medicare) are reluctant to pay for anything but short term counseling and medication, one wonders if willing friends and relatives are not called upon to listen to those of us with emotional difficulties that are manifested in biological symptoms and general misery. For the willing ear, the key would be in not judging the speaker, and in controlling one’s own emotional responses to loaded material, a feat that few of us are up for, especially in our youth (or in the endless youth that the rhetoric of “family” or the fashion industry promotes: see


Yesterday I received a magazine from the UCLA Health System David Geffen School of Medicine, featuring an article by Dan Gordon, “Brain Trust,” a six-page article soliciting support for the Neuropsychiatric Institute as directed by Dr. Peter Whybrow, a celebrity neuroscientist and psychiatrist. The article caught my attention because it represented, as “interdisciplinary” social theory, exactly the same social theory that I had encountered in the UCLA Department of History as I pursued my doctorate. This social theory was “progressive” in that it stressed the “interactions” between genetic inheritance and vaguely defined “environmental” influences.  (See

But the focus in the essay was obviously to locate “brain disorders” as subject to medical interventions, combining [cognitive behavioral] “therapy,”  molecular biology, MRI scans, genomics, and  pharmaceuticals, while holding out hope for surgery that would cure such ailments as bipolar disease, perhaps even depression, insomnia, obesity, Alzheimer’s and so on.

Here are some representative fuzzy quotes:

“Thomas Strouse, M.D., medical director of the Resnick Hospital, notes that when the NPI first opened its doors, the prevailing theories were that manic depression, severe depression and even schizophrenia were attributable to parental missteps. ‘Now,’ says Dr. Strouse, ‘we tend to understand most major mental illnesses as brain diseases that are the manifestation of a complex interaction between genetic and environmental factors.’

“This recognition of a genetic-environmental interplay comes after a period some 20 to 30 years ago, during which most of the focus was on the biological. ‘Biology is not destiny. That also is something we have learned in this explosion of knowledge that is behavioral neuroscience,’ says Dr. Whybrow. ‘The brain learns from what it encounters. Thus, while the genes inherited from our parents help to shape our path and the vulnerabilities we carry, it is experience and those who nurture us that eventually determine who we are.’

“The implications of this understanding are profound. Where once it was thought that people were entirely responsible for their own mood and behavior, and then it was believed that any aberrant behavior was simply a product of wayward brain chemistry, it’s now clear that both a person’s developmental path and his or her biology play a role, along with a third significant factor: the social environment. Even with medication interventions, the best results are achieved with medication and supportive therapy that calls for an understanding of the person, the family and the environment.” (U Magazine, Winter, 2013, pp.16-17)

The late Louis Jolyon West

The late Louis Jolyon West

What was glaringly absent in the article was the role of flawed institutions in promoting “brain disorders.” The word “institution” was never mentioned. “Lifestyle choices” and hopeful subjection to the regimen of  the federally funded “Nexus Project” (with its “interdisciplinary” and “community” focus), now in progress, were mentioned. In other words, we are sort of on our own, but can look forward to the “magic” of the Neuropsychiatric Institute, according to “Fawzy I. Fawzy M.D., the  Louis Jolyon West Professor of Psychiatry and and Biobehavioral Sciences and executive associate director of the Semel Institute.”

Beggars can’t be choosers.

May 30, 2011

Index to Melville blogs

Sam Francis: The Whiteness of the Whale

This is a partial index to my Herman Melville blogs, and is necessarily incomplete, as an homage to an author who remains “unpainted to the last.” I am posting it on Memorial Day, 2011, even though HM has been revived as a pacifist, though he buried Malcolm, his teen-age son, an apparent suicide, in a military uniform. And then there is his tribute to Robert E. Lee.

November 16, 2009

When lobotomies cured the Romantic agony….

This blog begins with an eighteenth-century prescription for neoclassical “balance,”  the collage continues, my commentary ends with the victory of Jung over Freud. Has our society been lobotomized since the late 1930s?

Image (93)

Walter Freeman’s “cases” and a lonely American princess

[Lessing, quoting Winckelmann, Laocoön, p.7]  “As the depths of the sea always remain calm, however much the surface may be agitated, so does the expression in the figures of the Greeks reveal a great and composed soul in the midst of passions.  Such a soul is depicted in Laocoön’s face–and  not only in his face–under the most violent suffering….However, this pain expresses itself without any sign of rage either in his face or in his posture.  He does not raise his voice in a terrible scream, which Virgil was doing; the way in which his mouth is open does not permit it.  Rather he emits the anxious and subdued sigh described by Sadolet.  The pain of body and nobility of soul are distributed and weighed out, as it were, over the entire body with equal intensity.  Laocoön suffers, but he suffers like the Philoctetes of Sophocles; his anguish pierces our very soul, but at the same time we wish that we were able to endure our suffering as well as this great man does.

Expressing so noble a soul goes far beyond the formation of a beautiful body.  This artist must have felt within himself that strength of spirit which he imparted to his marble.  In Greece artists and philosophers were united in one person…Philosophy extended its hand to art and breathed into its figures more than common souls….”

[Eleanor Melville Metcalf, writing to boys and girls and published by the Women’s Educational and Industrial Union: The Horn Book, 1927:]  “My grandfather was a pilgrim by land and sea–not an adventurer gone out to see the world, but a pilgrim in search of the Regal Soul.”

[TIME mag, 1936:] SOUTHERN DOCTORS The night after the Southern Medical Association began its annual meeting in Baltimore last week there was not a respectable hotel room for rent in the city. Doctors with pocketbooks filled and minds agog commuted from Washington 40 miles away. No medical meeting had been so well attended since the 1920s.

Well rewarded were the troubled Southern doctors by two medical diversions at the convention: 1) an operation by which Drs. Walter Freeman & James Winston Watts of Washington actually cut the ability to worry out of the brain; 2) operations by which Dr. Hugh Hampton Young of Baltimore remodels anal, urinary and genital defects. Psychiatrists and brain surgeons stormed at each other concerning the good sense of Drs. Freeman and Watts’s work.

  Lobotomy. Dr. Freeman, a poetaster in his spare time, was nervous when he rose to tell a fascinated audience how he and Dr. Watts ameliorated chronic anxiety, insomnia, and nervous tension in six patients during the past two months. In addition the patients were relieved of various “disorientations, confusions, phobias, hallucinations, and delusions.” …All six Freeman-Watts “patients have become more placid, more content, more easily cared for by their relatives.”…Dr. Freeman withstood all heckling, asserted: “Our patients were treated by seasoned psychiatrists.  Then they came to us. The results are permanent, apparently, and not temporary…We have not removed the idea by this operation.  The idea is still there, but it has no emotional drive…I think we have drawn the string, as it were, of the psychosis or neurosis.” [1]

MOBY DICK A Reflection EARL HENDLER The pure and sacred evil that was Ahab/ split up the snapping seas. So absolute/ his pride, from pole to pole no whale could hide./ Another’s commerce, full of oil and drab,/ would never play his line strung like a lute/ with notes of harpoons struck in the whale’s white side.

A spout from Moby’s brow spilled some salt tunes/ that jarred his metaphysics to the point/ where God Himself could speak but in typhoons./ His world, lopsided, hobbled on one joint./ A lunatic’s integrity that fails/ on fish must justify itself to whales/ of meaning larger than the simple quest,/ and so his Pequod sailed abstractly West. [2]

 [NYT editorial, 1949:] EXPLORERS OF THE BRAIN  Quackish as their system of feeling bumps on the head and thus judging human capabilities, F.J. Gall and J.C. Spurheim, founders of phrenology, had the sound conception of a brain in which traits of ability and what we call character were realized. Since their time, every nook and cranny of the brain have been poked into, dissected, examined. The brains of animals have been electrically stimulated in spots and the areas and centers thus discovered that control movement, seeing, hearing, swallowing, winking, breathing, sweating and other functions. One of the bold explorers who discovered some of the brain’s correlations with bodily functions and explained why some of the functions are supposedly instinctive is Prof. Walter Rudolf Hess, director of the Physiological Institute at the University of Zurich.

The information that such explorers as Hess, Harvey Cushing, Walter Cannon and others clicked together about 1935, when the International Neurological Congress was held in London. Among those who attended was the Portuguese neurologist, Dr. Egas Moniz.  After listening to the papers that were read he decided on his return to Lisbon that the time had come to cut worry, phobias, and delusions out of the brain. He induced his surgical colleague, Dr. Almeida Lima, to bore through the skull and cut the connections of the prefrontal lobe with the thalamus, which is the seat of emotions and which lies deep in the head.  This sensational operation justified itself.  Hypochondriacs no longer thought they were going to die, would-be suicides found life acceptable, sufferers from persecution complexes forgot the machinations of imaginary conspirators. Prefrontal lobotomy, as the operation is called, was made possible by the localization of fears, hates and instincts.

It is fitting, then, that the Nobel Prize in Medicine should be shared by Hess and Moniz. Surgeons now think no more of operating on the brain than they do of removing an appendix. Hess, Moniz and Cushing before them taught us to look with less awe on the brain. It is just a big organ with very difficult and complicated functions to perform and no more sacred than the liver.[3]

[Political scientist/New Critic and 1960s hero, John Schaar; 1979:]  What does that balanced character and outlook look like: earlier…I suggested the formulation, “pessimism of intelligence, optimism of the will.”  It is something like the temperament of the person touched by grace, as the Puritans understood that: the one who has the almost divine or supernatural ability to hold incompatible qualities in harmony; the one who lives in the world fully and caringly, and yet with “weaned affections,” neither wildly raised up nor woefully cast down by victory or defeat but hewing to the middle line.  To try another formula, perhaps the right temperament for action is a stoicism blended of equal parts of self-assertiveness and self-denial: an assertiveness which gives one the resoluteness to act and accept responsibility; a self-denial which enables one to subdue one’s personal pain in a compassionate awareness of the general human lot, which is mainly a condition of shortage and failure.  If I read Melville correctly here, his real hero Jack Chase and his fictional hero Captain Vere most closely resemble this standard of the whole man and actor. Delano and Cereno represent crippled halves of the whole. (p.81.).

[Psychosurgeon Walter Freeman worries about excessive lobotomies:]  We are whittling down the ego-ideal.[4]  [end collage]

[Clare’s comments:]   ” No one pays to hear a bitter kvetch.” Man up!  Given the political context met by the academic Melvilleans, writing, like Melville, in an age of revolution and counter-revolution that was devastating man and nature alike, it would be surprising had Melville scholars not choked off the passionate curiosity of Ahab/Pierre and Isabel, elevating Captain Vere in their stead, for they were dependent upon institutions that had either caused wars or were impotent to stop the killing.  A Lessing-style Laocoön was needed in a postwar world shrieking with “shell shock” and other forms of human misery, with mutilated veterans demanding to be seen and heard, their sacrifices vindicated by the able-bodied.[5]  If Melville’s façade of classy stoicism (as Vere) were to prove only a false front, his usefulness to conservative nationalists wanting a solid monument linking democratic Greece and democratic post-war America would be negated.  As Lessing wrote of the need to suppress the scream in art,

” When a man of firmness and endurance cries out he does not do so unceasingly, and it is only the seeming perpetuity of such cries when represented in art that turns them into effeminate helplessness or childish petulance.  This at least, the artist of the Laocoön had to avoid, even if screaming had not been detrimental to beauty, and if his art had been allowed to express suffering without beauty.” [6]

[Clare, cont.]”I retch in private….”  With the exception of  Raymond Weaver, Melville’s revivers have generally minimized the permanence of his rage and suffering (the “insanity” read perhaps as a female complaint), generally limiting his spells to the mid-1850s, while contradictory textual facts and other inescapable biographical materials encroached upon their favored formulations.  It is an inside narrative.

Melville’s wished for mastery over his feelings, the artist fully in control of his materials, attests to the legitimacy of ruling elites, in this case their superior endurance in the face of adversity or upsurges from below.  But his outbursts (veiled or not) on behalf of the unjustly imprisoned and oppressed call forth answering murmurs: As their own words have testified, Ivy League professors are not leisured aristocrats in an exclusive club but servants of powerful interests, operatives in “a badly run factory,” complained John Dewey in 1917; they were no less in thrall to the big money than their parents, the workers or small businessmen they had left behind.  They do not command their own labor; their virtue has been pasted on, not somaticized through battle with ignorance.  They tingle with Melville as he turns his back on commercial success and easy fame; he has lapsed into “silence” while the blazing eyes remain fixed on illegitimate authority; he is able to write without plaudits.  A crescendo of indignation has shattered the illusion of academic rectitude and self-mastery; parts of themselves love this artist, but they do not follow his example.  Shadowed by Pierre’s surveillance, a grand national monument morphs into Isabel; cornered sculptors perform a witch hunt energized by vulnerable positions in middle management: beneath brave and placid surfaces, their deepest feelings toward their subject and each other marry fear and resentment: they cannot merge with their subject, will not know something definite of that face.  For a period, Melville’s famous manliness shores up the ruins of class identity, recomposes the disintegrating helplessness and petulance of Melville’s academic readers as the facts of their limited autonomy inevitably return.

Locating the systematic censorship of crucial facts in Melville’s life and art, I have proposed that the deepest layer of repression responds to the ideological imperatives of postwar corporatist liberalism, the vital center yet to be understood fully and repudiated by New Left intellectuals.  Social psychologists disassociated childish “romantic yearning” and “sentimental culture” from the critical realism of eighteenth and nineteenth-century bourgeois art.  Though fascists and New Deal liberals similarly viewed themselves as progressives and centrists, “fascism” became synonymous with extremism as American “moderates” increasingly distanced themselves from “the Far Right” and from Hitler and Mussolini, figures who were acceptable to upper-class policy-makers in the West until the late 1930s.  We have seen that the Bad Mother directed the sentimental family ever leftward; her red consummations and her consumerism were diagnosed as the source of totalitarianism; pre-war and postwar Melville scholarship connected with the grandeur of the corporatist liberal project, as lobotomists, by disconnecting Melville along with the rest of the critical thinkers, cutting the ties that bound analytic thought to feeling, then to (appropriate) corrective action.  Melville’s conservative characters and the corporatist liberals I have studied speak with one voice as they evacuate materialist “exotics” in the name of wholeness and integration.  Of course the Melville who mocked such antics as Plotinus Plinlimmon-ish “virtuous expediency” remains at large.  I have summoned him, the deconstructive psychologist, to help me understand his own mental processes and those of his champions who, ironically, identify most strongly with the bound, unfeeling parts of himself that his better angel passionately rejected.

[Dr. Kik meets Jeannie, The Snake Pit (novel):]  There was a high table, like an operating table, and she knew she was supposed to get up on it.  She got on it and the woman with the silly voice fussed around her.  This woman was in an R.N. uniform and the room had somewhat the appearance of an operating room.  I’d forgotten I was to have an operation. You don’t eat before an operation, of course.  I should have remembered.  I wonder what I am being operated on for.  What haven’t I had removed?  I believe I still have my gall bladder.

“Well, Jeannie.  And how is Jeannie this morning?

It was he, the Indefatigable Examiner, come out of the bushes.  He was wearing a white coat.  He had blue eyes and a hawkish nose, and very slender face and his hair was fair and curly, like Grace’s, only shorter.

“And did you enjoy being outside in the park yesterday? He said this with a heavy accent that you have never been able to place.  It wasn’t German, French, Italian or Scandinavian. Polish perhaps…Now the woman was putting clamps on your head, on the paste-smeared temples and here came another one, another nurse-garbed woman and she leaned on your feet as if in a minute you might rise up from the table and strike the ceiling.  Your hands tied down, your legs held down.  Three against one and the one entangled in machinery.

She opened her mouth to call for a lawyer and the silly woman thrust a gag into it and said, “Thank you, dear,” and the foreign devil with the angelic smile and the beautiful voice gave a conspiratorial nod.  Soon it would be over.  In a way she was glad. [7]

[Clare returns:]     After the second world war, Ahab returned as Freud, that foreign devil who looks like mother, the Indefatigable Examiner Dr. Kik; no longer the antipuritan libertine who, at times, had fascinated 1920s bohemians.  Freud’s ideal of autonomy and the critical awareness that never stops, made explicit in The Future of an Illusion (1928), and Moses and Monotheism (1939), was turned on its head by outraged aristocratic radicals; it is Jung’s concept of individuation that now informs moral relativists and multiculturalists. Why can’t Freudians and Jungians get along?    For Freudians, the neurotic in treatment retrieves and historicizes immemorial faces, becomes aware of the inflated primitive imagos that have unconsciously ruled his actions and made him anxious and overly defended; now consciously aware of his self-destructive impulses and, restoring proportion to parents and their mightily looming surrogates, he may be more self-possessed, his perceptions of other human beings are less distorted; he may evaluate ‘universalist’ ethics with less of an irrationalist undertow; he may imagine institutions and cultural practices that could uplift, instruct, and heal suffering humanity, that do not not merely serve the selfish interests of the golden few; as a tactician for change, he will think twice before he subordinates means to ends as an excuse to act out volcanic rage (rage which, at first glance, may look like sex); and most certainly will he not follow idealized leaders.  He is not perfectly free from suffering, perhaps he remains anxious, but he knows the multiple sources of his feelings, for he is an indefatigable self- and social examiner, separating objective from neurotic anxiety. Such nice distinctions confer balance.

But Jungians, for purely political reasons, adapting to amoral, pragmatic institutions, associate Freudian scrupulosity with the repressive Mosaic code, with “pathological puritanism” and “narcism” (Murray) and it is Jung, not Freud, whose archetypes inform the cultural histories of “the New Left.”  For Jungians, the restored son escapes Amerika (the switching mother’s Hebraic influence, embodied in Freud or the Mother State, healthy only in war) to merge with the racial group and its particularistic interests: he finds golden nuggets of creativity and liberation in the racially-specific unconscious: he finds out “who he really is.”  That individuated face is definitely not Hitler’s. [8]

[1] Time, Nov. 30, 1936, 66, 68.

[2] Commentary, Jan. 1949, p.44.

[3] Editorial, New York Times, Oct.30, 1949, IV, p.8.

[4] Quoted by Jack Pressman, UCLA, Nov.4, 1989.

[5] Bromberg, Psychiatry Between The Wars, 1918-1945, pp.5-7, makes the overly simplistic but not uninteresting claim that the millions of “insanities” created on the battlefields of the Great War were the impetus for the mental hygiene movement which followed and which shaped the course of twentieth century psychiatry.

[6] Lessing, p.20.

[7] Mary Jane Ward, The Snake Pit, 1946, 42-44. Is Dr. Kik[e], the Indefatigable Examiner, Moses/Freud, and is Jeannie the genius of Christianity?

[8] Academics should reassess their professional responsibilities, putting emancipation from unnecessary mental illness and other forms of preventable suffering on the academic agenda as professional objectives and standards of performance.  See Peter Loewenberg, De-Coding the Past (New York: Knopf, 1982) on graduate education, specifically the pretense that students and professors are “equals.” Cf. Pierre’s mother has mystified authority by encouraging the conceit that she and Pierre are brother and sister; this seems more illuminating than talk of an “Oedipus Complex.”

November 7, 2009

Disparities between image and text: some cases of lobotomy

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Queequeg and Ishmael, not, and a confident man

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