Monday, May 31, 2010

The Parable of the Old Man and the Young

So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and strops,
And builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretched forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.

But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

~ Wilfred Owen

Sunday, May 30, 2010

My Thoughts on Anarchism

Recently, the Royal Bank in Ottawa's Glebe was firebombed by a group of radical anarchists. I'm not certain that radical is a necessary qualifier here because an anarchist is, by definition, a radical. After all, they believe in the elimination of the state.

If, as one of my mentors effectively argues, all political ideologies are akin to religions, then Anarchism finds its salvation in the elimination in what it views as the chief purveyor of evil: authority. But how would a society bereft of authority function? A recent letter to the editor by a local anarchist in the Ottawa Citizen claimed that it would be a highly organized society of equals.

When I read this, overactive imagination that I have, I had a vision of a Parliament of 33 million MPs all gibbering at once. This is probably not what the letter-writer intended, but how can a highly organized society be defined except as a form of government? How can a leaderless society make functional decisions?

I've heard some anarchists argue that there would be highly localized clusters of voluntary associations based on mutual needs. Of course, this ideal would depend on the needs of one of these clusters not clashing with the needs of another cluster. In effect, you'd have a sort of tense tribalism and it would not be long before two tribes clashed. It would be doubtful that any such group would retain their collective kumba-ya Anarchism without a leader emerging in the face of violence. In effect, you would have people united in fear under one leader in a mini-government. An area governed this way would quickly come to resemble feudal Europe at its worst, or modern-day Somalia.

Back to square one for the anarchists.

The biggest problem with Anarchism, in my mind, is that it, like Communism, idealizes humans. It seems to believe that once society is restructured then evil will be eliminated and humans will stop acting like, well, humans. The source of evil, for these thinkers, is not within humanity but within the structures around humanity.

Anarchists, if they were ever to gain wide popularity and revolt, would face the same dilemma as the various communists have: what do we do with those who won't accept our platform? As in Communism, the anarchists calling for tolerance would be quickly drowned out by the more ruthless among them. It would not be long before all of the obstacles and setbacks would be heaped at the feet of those enemies that opposed the anarchist ideal. The anarchists, when things did not work out, would be forced to form a transitional government until all of their ideals fell into place.

Now, the anarchist writing to the Ottawa Citizen's editor made it clear he was non-violent. The most radical thing he has ever done was probably collectivizing a coffee shop or bakery. However, in any revolution it seems that it is the most radical and the most ruthless who gain control. Those anarchists with Utopian dreams of a peaceful stateless society of hemp-wearing hippies would be shuffled to the side. Meanwhile, charismatic authoritarians would seize the opportunity to snatch the very power that anarchists loathe so much. "Just in the interim," they would assure their concerned friends.

The evil, my anarchist friends, is not just outside of us, it's within. Trying to destroy the corporations and governments will do nothing but create further evil. The corporations and governments are not wholly evil or wholly good: they're both - just like us. We should strive for justice, for the triumph of the good, but this involves restoration and surgery, not destruction and murder.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

25 Random Facts About Me

1) I was tagged on Facebook by my sister and asked to give twenty five random facts about myself. Yes, this counts as a fact.

2) I don’t believe that anything is truly random, especially lists created by people. Maybe if I had some kind of randomizing super-computer I could create a truly random list.

3) Of course, then it would spit out such interesting tidbits as: “On October 22nd, 1997 at 12:45pm, John ate a sandwich.”

4) The example in number 2 is not verified. It’s probably true though.

5) A friend of mine told me that I was pretentious. I told them that they were as misguided as John Wayne searching for a good Cabernet Sauvignon in Detroit, and then I laughed snootily to myself whilst flaunting my fur coat.

6) If there were a detective show based on me, it would be called “John the Detective.”

7) In my younger days, I thought Sesame Street’s count and my father’s job as an accountant were related.

8) I put this childish misconception behind me after I learned that Count was a title and that accountancy was an occupation last year. We learn, we grow right?

9) Belgian Congo, 1932: I fought a full-grown silverback gorilla in hand to hand combat and won. The movie King Kong was later made in 1933, loosely based on my exploits.

10) I despise the absurd.

11) I don’t speak English, and I’m completely illiterate.

12) John Grisham considers me his hero.

13) I never contradict myself, but I always say and write things that are contrary to other things I’ve said and written.

14) If a cello were a computer keyboard, I would be a gifted cellist.

15) You wouldn’t guess it from this list, but there was a time when I created elaborate lies for my youngest sister’s benefit.

16) My new boss’s extension is 666. He’s too nice for me to call him the beast.

17) Monaco is the second-smallest country in the world at only 0.7 square miles.

18) What? That’s not a fact about me? Okay, here’s a fact about me: I make the rules about this list.

19) I once witnessed a confrontation against a supporter of the seal hunt and a young woman protesting the seal hunt. It went something like this:

Supporter: I know more about the seal hunt than you. I’ve read a lot about it.

Protester: Oh . . . . . . . did you know (insert random fact here)?

Supporter: You don’t want to get into this with me.

Protester: The seal hunt needs to stop.

Supporter: Seals aren’t endangered.

Protester: The seal hunt is cruel.

Supporter: (Something about cows). Bye.

Protester: (Something about seals) Bye.

20) I have a seashell on my desk. No one would have sea shells on their desks if the ugly gelatinous creatures that resided in them were still inside them.

21) I sometimes see a guy waiting for the bus with a huge bouffant. It’s huge. And it’s a bouffant.

22) I spent about two months thinking that the Arabic for “praise God” meant “God bless you.” When I dropped this knowledge on an Arabic sneezer much hilarity ensued.

24) I sometimes miscount things.

25) You know that game two lies and a truth? This list is more like seven lies, eleven truths, four suppositions, and two random facts. An accountant should probably double check this, though.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Um guys? You may want to reconsider trying to appeal to
British nationalism while using the symbol of German Fascism.
Just a thought.
I mean, unless you're going for irony.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Historical Macbeth

Shakespeare’s remarkable insight into the human condition and his sharp intellect should have made him a brilliant historian, but his portrayal of Macbeth’s life is inaccurate. To be fair, Shakespeare did not have a great deal of accurate sources to work with and, as a dramatist, Shakespeare’s first task was to entertain his audience rather than to present them with a historically accurate representation of events. Shakespeare would probably remain apathetic to any accusations of historical revisionism, but an examination of the historical Macbeth is interesting nonetheless. Also, a look at the historical sources and events which shaped Shakespeare’s writing would, undoubtedly, be revealing. Perhaps two figures can be redeemed in one essay.

Both James I and his wife, Anne of Denmark, were enthusiastic lovers of theatre. James was less enthusiastic than his wife and had difficulty staying awake through long plays. Thus, Shakespeare directed the actors to compress their speeches. This takes skill on the part of the actors and mental acuity on the part of the audience. In this way, the play was performed to perfectly suit the educated audience and the short attention span of James I. Macbeth was written and performed on the occasion of the king’s brother-in-law King Christian of Denmark’s visit in the summer of 1606.

1603 had seen the Union of the Crowns as the thrones of Scotland and England were united under James I (James VI of Scotland.) The play might be seen as a nod at this Union of the two thrones. Shakespeare picked the perfect historical event to demonstrate English and Scottish cooperation. The history of Anglo-Scots relations wasn’t exactly abounding with tales of co-operation. The Scots, in fact, were notorious for hiring themselves out as mercenaries for the French against the English. The English assistance to Malcom III, James I’s ancestor, was probably the best example of English and Scottish interests coalescing. Macbeth was perfectly tailored for consumption by James I.

Macbeathadh, as Macbeth is known in Gaelic, means “Son of Life,” an ironic name for the blood-stained murderer of Shakespeare’s play. Macbeth was the son of Findlaech mac Ruairdri, Earl of Moray, a royal-blooded member of clan Argyll. Macbeth’s father was slain by his own nephews in AD 1020, and the simmering Macbeth planned his revenge against the killers. Twelve years later Macbeth avenged his father’s death by catching one of the killers in a building and burning him to death along with fifty of his men. Macbeth assumed the title of Earl and married the executed killer’s widow, Gruoch. This marriage strengthened Macbeth’s claim to the Scottish throne, but Macbeth remained content as Earl of Moray.

So far, Macbeth seems to be the same ambitious, ruthless, and calculating character that Shakespeare portrayed; yet the events of Macbeth’s life differ significantly from the events of the play. Far from the wise and goodly king of Shakespeare’s play, Duncan was a young incompetent installed by the decree of his despotic father, Malcolm II. The ancient custom of Scotland was succession by election rather than by decree, and thus the installation of a rash and ambitious youngster inspired anger throughout Scotland. The young Duncan led a disastrous invasion of northern England in AD 1039. With one failure under his belt, Duncan turned his sights northwards and struck out against the Earl of Moray, Macbeth.

Macbeth defeated Duncan and was immediately accepted as King of Scots by Duncan’s estranged subjects. Duncan’s eldest son, Malcolm, fled to England while the younger son, Donalbain, fled to the Western Isles. Shakespeare was right that Macbeth killed Duncan, but the circumstances of the killing are far different than the play depicts. Rather than murdering a well-loved old monarch out of ambition, Macbeth killed a despised ruler in self defence.

At the beginning of Shakespeare’s play, the great general, Macbeth, has just quashed a Viking invasion in Fife. The visit of Christian, King of Denmark, did affect the content of Shakespeare’s play. Henry Paul believes that scene iii of Act I was written before Shakespeare knew that Christian would be attending the play. He argues that the metre of the speech becomes irregular in the places where Shakespeare had to quickly insert new names. The account which Shakespeare relied upon for his play records that the invasion which Macbeth thwarted was a second wave of Danish invaders. For the sturdy Scots to drive away Danish invaders in the presence of a Danish king would be inappropriate. Shakespeare diplomatically chose to change the nationality of these Danes to Norwegian. Macbeth may have turned away Viking invasions as Earl of Moray, but as King of the Scots he was unable to drive the Norse king Thorfinn Sigurdson, his half-cousin, from Scotland. Thorffin was an ugly giant of a man, a brilliant tactician who remained undefeated in battle by the King of the Scots.

Macbeth was a capable ruler who gave generously to the Church. Perhaps Macbeth was anticipating a muddying of his name as he gave many gifts to the Church, guaranteeing a certain amount of good press. His commitment to the Church seems to have been genuine, however, as a pilgrimage to Rome in AD 1050 suggests. Macbeth should have secured his kingdom and prepared for war instead of journeying to Rome to kiss the pope’s hand. Duncan’s eldest son, Malcolm, was in England whispering into the ear of certain powerful individuals. Influenced by Malcolm, Edward the Confessor, king of England, sanctioned the invasion of Scotland in 1054 under the Earl of Northrumbria, Siward. Once again, Shakespeare’s play contains elements of truth. Siward appears in both versions as the Northrumbian Earl who is willing to help Malcolm’s claim to the throne. Duncan’s son, Malcolm, is able to drum up forces from England and, although Macbeth follows spiritual inclinations in both versions of the story, these inclinations are not compatible. The spiritual inclinations of the devout Macbeth are far more positive than the spiritual inclinations the occult-consulting fictional king. The two Macbeths really wouldn’t have gotten along.

At first, Macbeth waged a fierce guerilla war until he was forced to pitched battle on the 27th of July. The battle, which may or may not have occurred below Dunsinane Hill, was a fierce and bloody clash which was noted in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle. The nameless monk records that Earl Siward: “fought against the Scots. He put to flight their king, Macbeth, and slew the noblest in the land, carrying off much plunder.” There were heavy casualties on both sides and, unlike the play, Macbeth left the field with his head firmly connected to his shoulders. Macbeth retreated northwards to his home territory of Moray while Malcolm bided his time as he waited to seize power for himself.

In AD 1057, Malcolm felt strong enough to hunt down his father’s killer. Macbeth’s support was melting away and Malcolm surged northwards. The fugitive Macbeth was stalked to a small village and killed in a hopeless final stand. After his death, Macbeth’s severed head was presented to Malcolm on either a pole or platter. Really it doesn’t matter, the severed head appears in both accounts. Whether the historical figure of Macduff killed the historical Macbeth is unknown. Local legend supports the Shakespeare’s claim that Macduff slew Macbeth in hand to hand combat. Malcolm did not immediately possess the kingdom, however, as the remaining supporters of Macbeth declared his stepson, Lulach, to be King of the Scots. Lulach gained the rather unfortunate moniker of “Lulach the Simpleton.” Whether this mental deficiency contributed to his capture is unknown, but Lulach was killed in March 1058 in an ambush set by Malcolm. With the last of the throne’s claimants dead, Malcolm became Malcolm III, the King of Scots.

How is it possible that the tragic story of murderous ambition was hatched from the story of a capable king who reigned for seventeen years? Shakespeare was responsible enough to research Macbeth before his life on the stage. The sources that Shakespeare had at hand, it seems, tell a much different story than history. The muddying — or perhaps more accurately, the bloodying — of Macbeth’s name began early. The pro-Macbeth stories tended to generate from Moray while the anti-Macbeth stories were propagated by Malcolm’s victorious Canmore dynasty. The anti-Macbeth stories had much more power.

In 1380, John of Fordun continued the Macbeth slamming in his Chronica Gentis Scotorum. In this version of events Macbeth is portrayed as a murderous usurper of the Scottish throne. Macduff is a distinguished Earl of Fife who flees to England after his loyalty is suspected by Macbeth. Once there, he convinces Malcolm, with the help of Siward, to seize the throne from Macbeth. By 1420, a prior by the name of Andrew Wyntoun had added witches and the advancement of Birnam Wood to the story in his Origynale Cronikil of Scotland.

The text which Shakespeare depended heavily upon was the 1587 edition of Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland which relied heavily on Wyntoun’s version of events. Shakespeare was given everything he needed for a dramatic play in Holinshed’s version of Macbeth’s lifes. In Holinshed, Shakespeare read of a brave and ambitious nobleman who yields to the misleading prophecy of three witches, commits regicide, seizes the throne for himself, becomes a tyrannical leader, and is ultimately slain by his own people. Holinshed writes of how a English king, Edward the Confessor, helped a fled Scottish King, Malcolm, regain his kingdom from a tyrant. It would not be difficult, with a little detail added, for Shakespeare to show the baseness of regicide and the terrible punishment allotted for those who committed it.

James I had two attempts on his life. The first was the Gowrie Conspiracy of 1600 where, James insists, the younger brother of the Earl of Gowrie attempted to stab him as they were discussing the retrieval of buried treasure. The second was the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 in which several disaffected Roman Catholics began to gather gunpowder kegs in the cellar under the House of Lords. The conspirators hoped to light the gunpowder, destroy parliament and the king, and kidnap his daughter to raise her as a Roman Catholic.

Shakespeare was well aware of both of these plots and, thus, his emphasis on the terror of regicide resounds that much louder. The parallel between the Gowrie Conspiracy and Macbeth’s plot to kill Duncan in striking. In both cases the king’s life was threatened by his host in the host’s own home. The Gunpowder Plot, however, was closer to the writing of Macbeth in both time and place. The horror that this attempted regicide caused throughout England was deep and passionate. The judge, Sir Edward Philips echoed the sentiment of the time in his arraignment. Philips claimed the treason was “of such horror and monstrous nature, that before now the tongue of man never delivered, the ear of man never heard, the heart of man never conceited, nor the malice of hellish or earthly devil ever practiced.” In Shakespearean England, Regicide was the worst possible crime against nature. To kill the Lord’s Anointed was seen as a direct sin against God’s order and a crime with dire and far-reaching consequences. As Malcolm proclaims, the effects of such a crime will be felt even after the wrong is righted: “When I shall tread upon the tyrant’ head, Or wear it on my sword, yet my poor country Shall have more vice than it had before, More suffer, and more sundry ways than ever, By him that shall succeed” (4.3,46-50). In light of the plot and the fearful atmosphere it generated, Macbeth must have seemed the perfect play for Shakespeare to write.

Echoes of the plot are heard throughout Macbeth. The Thane of Cawdor is condemned a number of times for his treasonous behaviour, most notably and ironically by Duncan’s pronouncement that “No more that Thane of Cawdor shall deceive Our bosom interest. Go pronounce his present death, And with his former title greet Macbeth” (1.2, 65-68). In the wake of the trial, an atmosphere of fear permeated the English populace. A rumour that the king had been stabbed with a poisoned knife caused widespread panic in March of 1606. Shakespeare may have been reflecting on this panic when he had Ross utter these lines: “But cruel are the time when we are traitors and do not know ourselves, when we hold rumour from what we fear, yet know not what we fear” (4.2,18-20).

Shakespeare, of course, added his own dramatic touch to Holinshed’s version of events. Holinshed agreed with history in arguing that Macbeth had a legitimate claim on the throne of Scotland. By following this parallel and transforming Duncan into a wise benevolent king, Shakespeare emphasized Macbeth’s guilt and ambition. Despite proclaiming Macbeth to be a usurper, Holinshed faithfully recorded the reign of Macbeth as lasting seventeen years. Shakespeare could hardly hammer home the enormity of the crime of regicide if the monarch reigned seventeen years before justice finally caught up with him. Therefore, in the interest of keeping the elapsed time the play covered to minimum and out of concern for swift justice, Shakespeare kept Macbeth’s reign as king long enough to be tyrannical but short enough to be just.

Holinshed insisted that Macbeth’s wife was an ambitious and evil woman, but then she disappears from the pages of his book. Shakespeare’s version of events concurred with Holinshed’s description of an ambitious and wicked woman, but the conscious-pricked woman haunted by the additional murders of her husband is purely his invention. The hallucinations of Lady Macbeth may have been an attempt by Shakespeare to appeal to the interests of a prominent member of his audience, James I. In 1597, the young king had written a remarkable book on witchcraft and Satanism entitled Daemonologie. Shakespeare was aware of this book and likely included the hallucinations and the witches in his play to help capture the interest of James I.
The importance of the witches should not be underestimated. James I and his Scottish retinue were deeply concerned with witches and the subject of witchcraft. The entire play loses its power if the audience doesn’t understand the sheer terror that the Scotch witches would have inspired in their audience. The horror would have been palpable in the audience when Macbeth pursued the witches for further information and proclaimed “Would they have stayed!” (Macbeth, 1,3,82). The aghast curiosity that the audience felt towards the witches would be comparable to the morbid obsession of rubberneckers slowing down by a smouldering car wreck. In understanding the horrified interest the witches commanded from the audience, the play gains in both dramatic and moral potency.

Shakespeare was careful about the names of his characters. Some characters were James I’s ancestors while other characters who appeared were taken from a list of newly created earls made by Malcolm after Macbeth’s death. The first of these was Macduff who, as the Earl of Fife, a prominent role in both Holinshed’s book and Shakespeare’s play. The others were Levenox (Lennox), Ross, Menteth (Menteith), and Cathnes (Caithness.) Once Macbeth’s Thanes had abandoned him, he needed someone to talk to besides himself. Thus, Shakespeare took the name Seyton from Holinshed’s list of gentleman who received their surname from Malcolm III and installed this Seyton as Macbeth’s officer.

Five of the principal characters which appear in Shakespeare’s play are the ancestors of James VI. Duncan, Malcolm, Banquo, Fleance, and old Siward were all considered to be his progenitors. Shakespeare tread very carefully here, portraying all of these characters as free from any vice or unseemly behaviour. After all, the least bit of grime could not be cast on James VI’s illustrious ancestry. Shakespeare relied on the genealogical table laid down by Holinshed, and some question of the historicity of Banquo and Fleance has arisen since then.

The important knowledge here is not whether or not these two characters existed, but the fact that James VI, a genealogist in his own right, believed that they did. Holinshed recorded the murder of Banquo and Fleance by the cruel Macbeth in detail, and one can easily see the inspiration it gave Shakespeare:
. . . the prick of conscience . . . caused him ever to fear . . .The words of the three sisters, would not out of his mind, which as they promised him the kingdom, so likewise did they promise it at the same time unto the posterity of Banquo. He willed therefore the same Banquo with his son named Fleance, to come to a supper that he had prepared for them, which was indeed, as he had devised, present death at the hands of certain murderers, whom he had hired to execute that deed.

One can almost see certain words and phrases jumping off of the page and into Shakespeare’s fertile imagination. The struggle between Macbeth’s fearful conscience and his ambitious drive figures prominently in this quotation and inspired the dramatization of the tragic decline of an essentially good man into a rampaging tyrant.

Shakespeare’s tragic play was remarkably faithful to Holinshed’s account of Macbeth’s life. Shakespeare is known to play fast and loose with history in order to increase dramatic effect or to omit offense. Yet, from the sources that Shakespeare had available, he was careful to reflect history with a certain amount of faithfulness. James and his Scottish retinue were, no doubt, familiar with Holinshed’s account of Macbeth and would have been delighted to see the bloody tale told accurately on the stage. The Union of Crowns, the Gunpowder Plot and James I’s interests in witchcraft, history, and genealogy made Macbeth’s life as recorded in Holinshed an apt play. History itself, as Holinshed wrote it, seemed to play into Shakespeare’s hands and he was able to create a brilliant and unforgettable tragedy through imagination and his sharp insight into human nature. The historic Macbeth may have had little in common with the fictional Macbeth, but the play lives on as a cautionary tale of the fall of a good man.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Bob Marley is Overrated?

There are times when you come across a review of music that is so wrong that you have absolutely no choice but to disagree in the strongest terms.

Link

“When the calendar hits April 20, thoughts turn to man's other best friend: the marijuana plant. Yes, along with copious amounts of Reese's Pieces and trips to the nearest Jack in the Box drive-thru, almost everyone agrees nothing goes better with the reefer than reggae. (Personally, give us Sleep's Dopesmoker, Adult Swim on the TiVo and some chicken strips.)”

4-20, for those not in the know, has become a pothead holiday. Reportedly, this came about after some high school marijuana enthusiasts agreed to meet to smoke pot at 4:20 every day after school. Reggae is often associated with marijuana because of reggae’s association with Rastafarianism and the Rastas who smoke marijuana as a sacrament. Despite this association, there are plenty of reggae artists who do not use marijuana, and those reggae artists who do use it would argue that there is a lot more to their music than ganja.

“Invariably, when most people think about reggae, Bob Marley comes to mind.”

Invariably.

“No doubt he was one of the best ambassadors of the genre to a world that was unfamiliar with the island rhythms and relaxed lifestyle. Possessing Marley's greatest-hits compilation Legend is actually required for admission to the University of Texas.”

I think it’s important to take note that, in this particular section, you (the author) imply that you are familiar with the island rhythms and relaxed lifestyle.

“But there is an entire universe of reggae out there, and as with the sticky icky icky, there are vast and varied strains of it floating around, including many that make fuller and stronger alternatives to Marley's work.”

There is a whole universe of reggae out there, but considering the strength and fullness of Marley’s catalogue it is incredible to claim that there are many artists whose work is stronger and fuller.

“We love Marley on sunny afternoons in the backyard or chillaxing by a pool, but quite frankly, he's vastly overrated.”

Woah. Extraordinary claims must be backed up by extraordinary evidence. I’m ready.

“To people with tapestries of Bob in their dorm windows, those are fighting words.”

I don’t have a dorm or a Bob Marley tapestry but, you’re right, them’s fighting words.

“ But to fully grasp the scope of such a thing as reggae, one must branch out from Marley's warm and fuzzy cocoon. Legend has sold nearly 20 million copies worldwide, yet it's often criticized for only leaning on Brother Bob's later popular work and not his early stuff with Peter Tosh and Bunny Livingston (aka Bunny Wailer).”

The warm and fuzzy cocoon, if I’m following correctly, is Marley’s Legend album. The Legend album does indeed use a lot of Marley’s later work. I have never heard the accusation that Legend relied too much on Marley’s later work. After all, 3 out of 14 of the tracks are from when Tosh and Livingston were still part of the band (Get Up, Stand Up, I Shot the Sheriff, and Stir It Up). As for the work that the Wailers did with Lee “Scratch” Perry on production, those tracks are not owned by the Marley estate and they were not hugely popular.

Of course, Legend is a compilation album of Marley’s greatest hits so it should not be unexpected for it to contain Marley’s greatest hits, right? I mean, it's a greatest hits album.

“Tosh was an early Marley associate; in our minds he was vastly more groundbreaking than his more popular onetime Wailers bandmate. Pick up his menacing LPs Legalize It and Equal Rights for an introduction; the snarl in Tosh's voice and guitar that is infinitely more interesting than Marley's good-time croon. Tosh wasn't as commercial as Marley proved to be, but he surpassed him when it came to attitude and pain.”

I’m a big Peter Tosh fan, but he was not, by any stretch of the imagination, vastly more groundbreaking than Marley. Tosh was good, and his abrasive personality, soaring voice, and revolutionary lyrics are interesting. And, yes, Tosh had quite an attitude and underwent a lot of pain. Nevertheless, he did not possess Marley’s hoarse croon, lyrical acumen, or musical perfectionism.

“Many people fail to realize that as sunny as Marley's songs were, his homeland of Jamaica was the exact opposite. While it's a beautiful and exotic locale, the country was rife with cutthroat politics and virulent criminals, so much so that when white artists like the Rolling Stones would head to Jamaica to record in the mid-'70s, they would have to hire street toughs as security muscle and pay out protection bribes just to be able to safely walk the streets.”

Jamaica has often been quite violent, but this does not somehow mean that the positive does or did not exist in this country. Marley was painfully aware of this dichotomy. He had grown up in poverty, had witnessed the crime, and had been shot in his shoulder during an assassination attempt. Really, the Rolling Stones’ experience in Jamaica pales in comparison to this.

I believe that if you had indeed gone beyond the cocoon, which we agree is the Legend compilation, you would have known that not all Marley's songs are sunny. Still, even on the Legend album, we are treated to one of music’s greatest tributes to the dignified, yet painful, reality of poverty: No Woman No Cry. There is also a song relating the modern black experience with that of black American cavalry soldiers (Buffalo Soldier), a song advocating repatriation to Africa (Exodus), and a monumental song dedicated to the pain and uplifting of the oppressed (Redemption Song). I mean, were you even listening to the lyrics “on sunny afternoons or while chillaxing by the pool”? There are numerous other examples of less-than-sunny song throughout Marley’s catalogue: Concrete Jungle, Midnight Ravers, Slave Driver, No More Trouble, Burnin’ and Lootin’, Dem Belly Full, Rebel Music, Talkin Blues, Revolution, Johnny Was, Cry to Me, Crazy Baldhead, War, Rat Race, Guiltiness, the Heathen, Time Will Tell, So Much Trouble in the World, Zimbabwe, Top Rankin’, Babylon System, Survival, and Ambush in the Night among others.

“Also, for anyone looking to see exactly what sort of world bore reggae, look no further than Perry Henzell's 1972 epic The Harder They Come. Starring another underrated reggae giant, Jimmy Cliff, it's an unflinching account of criminal life in the Jamaican capital of Kingston.
The soundtrack is a period gem and both the film and the music hold up incredibly well.”

Yes, this is a good movie for reggae fans to watch, although it’s a bit choppy at times. The soundtrack is amazing and Jimmy Cliff is definitely underrated.

In conclusion, while it is unfortunate that his popularity outshines that of his talented counterparts, Marley is not overrated. In fact, I'm still waiting for one piece of evidence, really, any evidence at all, for this extraordinary claim.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

How Do You Cook a Parrot?

If you were going to name a female parrot, Zack would probably not be your first choice. Nevertheless, probably because it is so difficult for a layman to determine the sex of an exotic bird, Zack was the name of the of the female parrot that my family cared for when I was young.

I recently had a disturbing dream involving this parrot and my father.

I should explain that, throughout Zack's time with us, Zack and my father had a troubled relationship. Each time after Zack was liberated from her cage, it was my father’s duty to gather the poor bird and rustle her back to her cage. Armed with sharp wits that had been honed through countless hours of accounting, and, of course, oven mitts, my father would stalk the parrot and drive her toward her cage. If the mitts didn’t intimidate the bird into crawling into her cage, my father would grab Zack and thrust her bodily into her cage with a flurry of fluttering green feathers. Zack feared the gloves, but would often peck at them with the ferocious rage borne of an independent and rebellious spirit.

There was at least one incident where my father was dive-bombed by Zack. And, of course, the bird was smart enough to realize whenever my father was speaking on the phone. As soon as he picked up the receiver and began talking, Zack would begin to screech loudly at her greatest antagonist.

I had not thought of Zack for a long while until I had this dream. In this dream my father was holding Zack with his oven mitts. He smiled at me and said something like, “we’re going to eat well tonight.”

With that, my father placed Zack, feathers and all, in a big pot of boiling water on the stove.

I had three thoughts at this point. First, I immediately realized that parrot would taste like chicken. Second, I wondered if Zack’s beautiful green feathers would just fall out as she boiled or if my father should have plucked them first. Finally, I wondered if my father had bothered to wring Zack’s neck first or if she was boiling alive.

The answer to my final question came rather quickly in the next sequence of my dream. From beneath the boiling foam, I saw Zack push her beak pathetically at the lid in an attempt to move it aside. Then, when the lid was finally pushed aside, she feebly lifted her head and appeared to be succumbing to her imminent death. It was not until Zack’s hooked black beak had beak had been boiled thoroughly into a chalky white colour, that I knew that the bird was dead.

Then I woke up feeling both slightly disturbed and hungry for chicken.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Buttons
~ Carl Sandburg

I have been watching the war map slammed up for
advertising in front of the newspaper office.
Buttons--red and yellow buttons--blue and black buttons--
are shoved back and forth across the map.

A laughing young man, sunny with freckles,
Climbs a ladder, yells a joke to somebody in the crowd,
And then fixes a yellow button one inch west
And follows the yellow button with a black button one
inch west.

(Ten thousand men and boys twist on their bodies in
a red soak along a river edge,
Gasping of wounds, calling for water, some rattling
death in their throats.)
Who would guess what it cost to move two buttons one
inch on the war map here in front of the newspaper
office where the freckle-faced young man is laughing
to us?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

A Big Ol' Twig

Imagine, if you will, a metal twig sticking out of the ground. Now, still using your imagination, either shrink yourself down to the size of an ant or enlarge the twig to the size of a ten-storey telephone pole.

What was your first thought upon gazing at this large imaginary twig? If you thought "Oh MAN! This large metal twig is super amazingly incredibly groovy and I would like nothing better than to use Canadian tax monies to make this gigantic twig into a reality" then you would fit in at the National Art Gallery of Canada. The National Art Gallery of Canada not only imagined this big ol' twig would be a good value for Canadian tax dollars, but also felt that it would bear an uncanny resemblance to the spirit of the Canadian nation.

The spirit of our nation is a branchless twig that, come to think of it, looks more like a giant hair? The spirit of our nation is built and conceptualized by an American?

"It's a limbless tree and they do exist in nature," assures Marc Mayer, the director of the National Art Gallery of Canada.

Oh phew, I was worried that this tree was based on a large wiry hair sticking out of a mole. Oh wait, those exist in nature too, don't they?

"It's a skinny tree that's going to survive. It's surrounded by other trees and it's got that little spot of sunlight, but not enough to actually have branches," Mayer argues.

Trees need leaves in order to produce the energy that allows them to grow. That little spot of sunlight is not going to do a limbless tree any good if it doesn't even have one leaf to absorb the sun's energy with. Basically, Mayer is saying that this tree is absorbing the sun through its bark and shooting thirty metres upwards. Yet, despite this remarkable vertical growth, this tree does not have enough energy to grow branches or leaves.

Art students should be forced to take basic science classes. Really, they should.

Oh, and another thing, if the tree is built on Nepean Point as proposed, it will not be surrounded by any trees whatsoever. So much for struggling for survival amidst the other trees.

It will make an excellent lightning rod, and a great distraction from the unsightly statue of Samuel de Champlain. Champlain actually looks like a seventeenth century French explorer, so no one is ever confused over what he's supposed to be. This twig will solve this problem, leaving tourists befuddled and forcing them to ask the question which is integral to all modern art: "hey, what is this supposed to be?"

". . . all the architecture around it will have the same aspirational thrust. There are lots of buildings with pointy roofs: the cathedral, our own museum, Parliament. The American Embassy even has a hint of that," says Mr. Mayer.

Wait, wait, wait. So, because there are so many pointy architectural things in one area - corners, angles, and such - this enormous twig is a good idea? I have a feeling that if these buildings all had domes and rounded edges, Mr. Mayer would be saying something like: "all of the architecture around it juxtaposes against it nicely. There are a lot of buildings with rounded roofs, so this pointy tree will really stand out amazingly."

Why don't they just stick a big metal telephone pole on Nepean Point and be done with it?

"These trees are handmade," offers Mayer.

Here I thought that Mr. Roxy Paine, the artist, was rolling them out of his metal tree factory where he employs thirty-seven Japanese robots. If this tree is handmade, it's more like an artistic version of a big metal telephone pole. Awesome.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Senators Fans

I’m not a big hockey fan. I only watch hockey a little during the playoffs or if the Canadian national team is playing. If I had to choose a team I would choose the Toronto Maple Leafs just because they’ve been my father’s team for the past few hundred years.

That being said, I am a better hockey fan than the average Ottawa Senator’s fan. Don’t get me wrong, there are some great Sens fans out there, at least one of whom reads this blog. Nevertheless, there seems to be a large amount of Ottawa fans who just don’t know how to watch their team lose graciously.

Of course, Habs fans don’t know how to watch their team win or lose without rioting, but that’s a different story.

Senators fans boo their own players when they’re not performing to their exacting standards. They boo their own team while they're playing. I don’t care if your player has just accidentally scored on his own net, you either cheer for your team or boo the other team. If you can't do either of these two things then maybe it's best if you keep quiet. After all, Senators fans don’t usually have a problem with keeping quiet.

When the Senators were eliminated by the Penguins this year, I read a letter to the editor in the Ottawa Citizen that, without a hint of irony, suggested that Senators players be paid according to their performances. The next day I looked for a letter that would berate this fan for such a classless idea. Instead, I found a letter fully endorsing it. Seriously, do you want players to stay or not?

I suppose I’m just accustomed to watching my father bow graciously to Toronto’s inevitable eliminations from the playoffs. Sens fans might just have higher standards.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

-JoooOooohn.

"What?"

-Blog me.

"Not now, I have a headache."

-Pleeeeaaase.

"I give you a little attention, and this is what I get."

-You’re on a rooooll.

"I’m not in the mood."

-Blog me, you fool.

"That's not actually how the line . . . nevermind"

-I know. C'mon bloooog.

"I'm busy."

-Oh, come off it, next you’re going to be telling me that you’re washing your hair.

"What?"

-Your excuses are too feminine.

"So my blog is not only a whiny attention seeker, but it’s also sexist?"

-I’m not sexist, I love women.

"Right."

-Soooo?

"I’m not going to blog."

-Why nooot?

"I’m – I’m washing my hair."

-You’re prematurely balding.

"So? The hair I do have needs washing too."

-Lame.

"So you’re also bigoted toward the physically disabled?"

-Dumb.

"And the mute."

-Retarded.

"And the mentally handicapped."

-Whatever, don’t blog then.

"I won’t."

-Fine.

. . . .

. . . .


-Aw, c’mon pleeaaaaase?

"Fine, but you might end up feeling gypped."

-Racist.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Have you learned the lessons only of those who admired you, and were tender with you, and stood aside for you? Have you not learned great lessons from those who braced themselves against you, and disputed passage with you?

~ Walt Whitman.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Mr. Bronstein Goes to Canada

Amherst, Nova Scotia. Perhaps you've heard of it?

Lev Bronstein had.

In 1917, it seems that good Mr. Bronstein, better known as Leon Trotsky, had been heading from New York to Russia by way of Halifax. In Halifax he had the misfortune of arousing the suspicion of the local constabulary. He refused, by virtue of his virtuousness, to answer any questions concerning himself beyond his name. He was much taken aback by the questions regarding his political motivations, as he knew the entire thing was "so clearly a discrimination against the Russian revolutionaries." While the other Russians complained bitterly to the British authorities, Mr. Trotsky saw no need to complain "to Beelzebub about Satan."

Mr. Trotsky, with five other Russians, was later arrested and taken to shore. During the arrest, Mr. Trotsky proudly noted that his son had struck one of the British officers in what he called "his first lesson in British democracy." While his family was left in Halifax, Mr. Trotsky was taken to a camp for German prisoners in Amherst, Nova Scotia. It was there that he underwent what he described as far worse treatment than he had undergone even at the hands of the agents of the Czar. In Russia, he declared, he had been strip searched in privacy while in Canada he was stripped in front of a dozen men. The whole thing was a sham, he declared, for the capitalists who had arranged the whole thing "knew well enough that we were irreproachable Russian revolutionaries returning to our country, liberated by the revolution."

While Leon Trotsky assigned devious and unjust intentions to the British, they were, in fact, motivated out of their alliance with Russia. They feared that introducing more Russian revolutionaries to a Russia that had already fallen from the hands of the Nicholas II and was in the hands of the Provisional Government would destabilize Russia even further. Not only that, but if the self-declared revolutionaries were to gain power they would, according to everything they had said and written, withdraw Russia from the Great War.

Was Trotsky "irreproachable"? Beyond his violent oratory and the 1905 revolution, at this point in his career he likely was. However, in 1918, when the Bolsheviks were in power, Trotsky strongly advocated the use of the measure he was so keen to condemn when it was used against him. Only, the Bolsheviks were not using internment camps, they were using extra-judicial concentration camps. All of the leaders of opposition parties were placed in these camps along with priests, White Guards, and anyone else who might oppose the Bolshevik government. While the gravest injustice against Trotsky was his strip-search in front of a dozen men, these camps resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands.

While Trotsky wrote that the police who held him imprisoned in Amherst were "criminal police types" he was among the strongest proponents of the Cheka, the Bolshevik's security arm. The Cheka were an undiscliplined military force who were above the law and who executed hundreds of thousands of prisoners without trials.

Trotsky, along with the other revolutionaries, felt that the peasant forces that opposed them were motivated by their ignorance of the revolution. Trotsky insisted that the "iron broom" was necessary "to clean" Ukraine and "sweep away the bandit hordes." Rather than being ignorant, these localized opposition forces were motivated by their enforced conscription and the constant and unfair requisitioning of goods. Lenin and Trotsky had supported the requisition of grain from peasants they dubbed "kulaks", or rich peasants, and were incensed at any resistance. They had the Cheka take even more food and seed from the peasants, and millions of peasants starved when their crops failed later on.

The Red Army had a high rate of desertion, which was eventually combated in a measure that Trotsky supported, by summary executions and the imprisonment of the families of deserters. Leon Trotsky was later forced out of government by Joseph Stalin, and was assassinated on Stalin's orders in Mexico in 1940.

Trotsky was imprisoned in Amherst for less than a month. It would have been better for the world, perhaps, if he had remained there for the rest of his life.

Friday, May 07, 2010

The Check-up

From his seat on the metal folding chair, the man peered at the various posters on the walls with a dull interest borne out of boredom. He drummed his long fingernails on the counter beside him, removing a pocketwatch from his greatcoat and glancing impatiently at the time. He was tall, with pale skin, red lips, slick greying hair, and a certain imperious demeanor that made his rigid posture all the more incongruous to the brightly coloured posters that lined the walls of the sterile waiting room.

“Hello sir,” a plump balding doctor burst into the room.

Nonplussed by the abrupt entrance, the man smiled coldly, “greetings.” His voice was deep, with a strange tone.

The doctor peered at his clipboard, “Mr . . . Smith is it? I’m Dr. Feldman. Why don’t you take off your jacket?”

“I’m fine, thank you,” Mr. Smith steeped his long white fingers in front of his chest.

“That’s quite a retro-jacket, must be very heavy – you don’t find it a little warm?” Dr. Feldman perched casually against a tall stool, one foot resting on its rung.

“On the contrary, Dr. Feldman, I find it quite cold,” Mr. Smith tapped his steeped fingers against each other slowly.

“I see,” Dr. Feldman wrote something on the clipboard in front of him, “and is this why you’re here?”

“Perhaps, Dr. Feldman, it would help if I gave you the name you will recognize me by,” Mr. Smith intoned.

“Oh, do I know you from somewhere?” Dr. Feldman beamed warmly.

“I am Voivode Dracula,” Mr. Smith said, his blue eyes flashing.

“That’s a very unique name,” Dr. Feldman’s smile remained unchanged as he scratched his forehead, “but it doesn’t ring any bells with me.”

“I’m a Székely count from the Carpathian Mountains,” Voivode said haughtily, “Count Dracula.”

“Count Dracula, hmm,” Dr. Feldman shook his head, “shucks, I’m sure I’d remember a Count. Whereabouts are these Carpasian Mountains?”

“The Carpathian Mountains,” the count pronounced imperiously, “are in Transylvania.”

“Transylvania?” Dr. Feldman let out a low whistle, “that’s near Bolivia, isn’t it?

“Not even a little bit,” growled the count darkly, “it’s in Romania.”

“And that’s . . .” Dr. Feldman furrowed his brows in thought.

“In Eastern Europe!” the count snapped.

“Ah yes, Eastern Europe,” Dr. Feldman nodded happily, “So why have you come, Mr. Smith?”

“It’s Count Dracula.”

“Ah, yes, why have you come, Count Dracula?” Dr. Feldman leaned forward from his perch.

“You should know,” the count rose arrogantly from his seat, “your great great grandfather is responsible for nearly destroying me.”

“Hmm, I’m not sure how this is possible,” Dr. Feldman grinned, “now are you here for a check-up, Mr. Dracula?”

“I am a count!” Dracula’s eyes flashed a distinct shade of red.

“Say, do you have a history of anaemia?” Dr. Feldman was consulting the clipboard in front of him, “it doesn’t say anything about that here.”

“Wh-what?” Dracula frowned in confusion.

“Well, it’s just that your skin is unusually pale and, despite being a little upset, it remains very pale. You also mentioned feeling cold earlier. Do you feel weak at all, any trouble with concentration, shortness of breath?”

“No, I’m very strong,” Dracula insisted.

“Mr. Dracula,” Dr. Feldman stood, resting his hand on the count’s shoulder, “there is no shame in admitting that you might have a problem.”

“I’m a count!” Dracula roared.

“I do apologize, Count Dracula, but you should really calm down. It’s no good to excite a potentially weak heart,” Dr. Feldman tucked his clipboard under his arm, grasping the count’s arm as he felt for his pulse.

The count glowered, tearing his arm from the doctor’s grasp, “I have no health problem. My heart is very strong.”

“Sir, there must be a reason that you came then,” Dr. Feldman folded his arms over his clipboard.

“I told you, your great great grandfather nearly destroyed me.”

“Sir, I find it hard to believe that you could have known my great great grandfather.”

“As I recovered from my wounds over these long years, long have I meditated on the name of your great grandfather, Abraham Van Helsing. And here you are, his last male descendent,” the count seemed to fill more and more of the room with each word he spoke.

“Van Helsing?” Dr. Feldman remained unaware of the optical illusion unfolding in front of him, “Van Helsing, hmmm, I’m quite sure I don’t have any ancestors by that name.”

“But you’re Dr. Feldman, your mother’s maiden name is Van Helsing,” the count arched an eyebrow with aristocratic certainty.

“No no no,” Dr. Feldman laughed merrily, “you’ve made quite a common mistake actually.”

The count’s eyebrow began to lower.

“I’m Dr. Feldman, with an F,” Dr. Feldman gestured good-naturedly toward the door, “Dr. Veldman has his own practice across the hall.”

The count nodded dumbly, then turned, bowing slightly, “I see, I apologize for my mistake, Dr. Feldman. Good day.” He exited, closing the door firmly behind himself.

Dr. Feldman shook his head, removing a long wooden stake from the inside of his white coat as he strode toward the door.

“Vampires. So gullible.”

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

We're All Heart

Recently, the following comment was left on Boerishbwoy:

“here’s a comment: why don’t you write with your heart, not your brain!”

We were genuinely puzzled by the comment. First of all, we are all heart. Our postings are brimming with emotions and passions and motivated entirely out of a fiery romanticism. We are proud to say that our words are entirely irrational, rash, reactionary, and drawn straight from our guts.

Secondly, we abhor all brain functions. We detest the weak conventions that these other writers use as crutches – things like logic, reason, order, comprehensibility, and mathematics.

No really, we don’t like mathematics at all.

We never ever use our brain for our postings – except to help us with our grammar. If we didn’t make this one concession, we might end up making a horrible grammatical mistake. For example, we might put an exclamation mark at the end of question, we might insert a needless comma, or we may even neglect to properly capitalize the first letter of a sentence. Imagine, we might even make all three of these mistakes in the same sentence!

We wondered, with our hearts, what could have motivated such a comment. The post it was responding to may have offended a number of people: a young guy who wears skinny jeans past his butt, Bryce Courtenay, anyone involved in the creative process for the film version of The Power of One, a Pepsi enthusiast, Sean Penn, or Hugo Chavez. (Maybe it was a Venezuelan Communist screenwriter who was related to Bryce Courtenay, drank Pepsi enthusiastically, wore his skinny jeans low, and was a member of Sean Penn’s fan club).

We’re going to go with Sean Penn himself, because that means a famous actor visited this blog and commented. Most of all, it's what our hearts tell us. This blog has now been validated. We would like to thank Mr. Penn for visiting and leaving a comment.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Miniver Cheevy

Miniver Cheevy, child of scorn,
Grew lean while he assailed the seasons
He wept that he was ever born,
And he had reasons.

Miniver loved the days of old
When swords were bright and steeds were prancing;
The vision of a warrior bold
Would send him dancing.

Miniver sighed for what was not,
And dreamed, and rested from his labors;
He dreamed of Thebes and Camelot,
And Priam's neighbors.

Miniver mourned the ripe renown
That made so many a name so fragrant;
He mourned Romance, now on the town,
And Art, a vagrant.

Miniver loved the Medici,
Albeit he had never seen one;
He would have sinned incessantly
Could he have been one.

Miniver cursed the commonplace
And eyed a khaki suit with loathing:
He missed the medieval grace
Of iron clothing.

Miniver scorned the gold he sought,
But sore annoyed was he without it;
Miniver thought, and thought, and thought,
And thought about it.

Miniver Cheevy, born too late,
Scratched his head and kept on thinking;
Miniver coughed, and called it fate,
And kept on drinking.

~ Edwin Arlington Robinson

Sunday, May 02, 2010


Renaming Wellington Street

Ottawa's Wellington Street runs west from the Rideau Canal past the National War Memorial, Parliament, the Supreme Court, the Bank of Canada, and the National Archives before finally ending rather anticlimactically at the Ottawa River Parkway. Well, it doesn't really end there, because it is reborn, much to the great befuddlement of tourists, as Wellington Street West. I'll leave that for now, though.

Recently, Randall Denley of the Ottawa Citizen suggested that it would be a great idea to change Wellington Street's name to Sir John A. Macdonald Street. So far, one more Citizen writer has given his support for this idea while two others have, I think, given some fine reasons why this is a poor idea.

Those in support of the name change cite Wellington's supreme lack of any Canadian experience, his utter British-ness, as reasons behind the necessity of this name change. After all, they argue, shouldn't such an important Canadian street be named after a figure from Canadian history? Who better for this than Canada's first Prime Minister, the heavy-drinking Scot who served Parliament for eighteen years? We're grown up now, we don't need to name our streets after daddy's heroes.

Terrible idea, the detractors counter. Sir John A. Macdonald himself was staunchly British and so were the men who named this street. Why should we re-shape our history to suit our immediate needs? Why cut Canada from its British roots, from the men and women who shaped Canada and firmly believed in the British Empire? We have grown up, but we did not have a revolution. There is no need to cut ourselves off from our roots, from our history.

I can see the perspective of those who support the name change. After all, Wellington has had more than enough things named after him, from the capital of New Zealand to beef wrapped in pastry. There are at least three towns in Canada named after the Duke, and he even has his own boot. How many Canadians even know who Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington, is?

Nevertheless, I believe it is irresponsible to try to cut Canada from its roots. Canada still has the British form of government, the queen is our head of state, and it was not all that long ago that an influential segment of the Canadian population proudly declared themselves United Empire Loyalists. Like it or not, the 1st Duke of Wellington was a hero to many of the men and women who built this country. If they saw fit to name one of Ottawa's most important streets after the Duke, why should we change it?

If we rename Wellington Street, we would not be remembering Sir John A. Macdonald so much as forgetting the time he lived in.

Who deh?

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