Tequila

Dorit and I would go to adult education/open university lectures in the early evening. She always carried a thick notebook, and after the lecture ended, she wrote copious notes about the main points  as well as  things she “needed to think about.” Everyone had left the lecture room-as I waited patiently until Dorit finished her detailed notes. If you ask me why  she took notes in an adult education class, then you don’t know Dorit. She was as studious and diligent as they come.

Dorit was a very smart lady, actually probably the smartest person I ever knew. She had a larger than average forehead, and I used to ask her if she stored all her brilliance in her forehead. She had no sense of humour,  but she loved mine.

True, she was only truly interested in clinical psychology-but whatever issue she addressed, she did so with depth and brilliance. I used to love just listening to her analyse people and situations. I could listen to her talk for hours…and I am not a patient person.

Yet she was so serious all the time. At least that is what I thought.

One night, she suggested that we go to Florentine and (one of us) can get drunk. She was the “one”. Three tequilas, and that was both the source of her new nickname as well as the beginning of our romance.

Every Thursday night, we would take either my car or hers, depending on who was driving, and go to an Indian restaurant cum bar in Florentine. Once in a while, Tequila  would ask her friend, an artist, to join us. On the way to Florentine, she was Dorit, and after the first drink-she was Tequila.

We were in Paphos, Cyprus, Tequila and I, on an evening cruise and we saw a couple who must have been in their eighties. They were holding hands and drinking wine. Tequila asked me where I think they were from and I told her that I had heard them speaking Hebrew. Her observation was that they were so “serene and at peace with themselves.” One week after we returned from Paphos, we read in the paper that the couple we had seen on board had committed suicide, as they were both terminally ill. Their trip to Paphos was a farewell cruise.

Dorit had lost her only brother in one of Israel’s wars.

One day, Dorit  asked me to help her mother move out of her home and into an old age home. When everything was in the truck and ready to go, Dorit and her mother asked me to take her brother’s military cap to the moving van. The cap he had worn during service was neatly folded in a sealed plastic bag. My knees shook and my hands trembled as I took Dany’s cap and brought it down into the moving van. Dorit almost never talked about her brother. But she let me carry his cap.

Things eventually turned sour between Tequila and I and we parted.

I had been invited to the university to critique a certain cirruculum in order to provide an “external’s view” of what should be taught. In the hallway, after the meeting, a professor who apparently knew who I was approached me and asked “aren’t you the late Dorit L’s ex boyfriend.”

That is how I learnt that Tequila was dead. I was devastated. It had been 9 years after her death.

I can hear what she is saying to me now, “we had a great time in Florentine, didn’t we my Shevaty”. (שבטי שלי)

The artist and I are still friends, and we often remember the boundless wisdom of Tequila.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Understanding the Israeli term “shchuna”-as in “he/she’s a bit shchuna”

Nadia, a corporate lawyer, comes to work overdressed, as do many of her Russian-born colleages. Even the blazing heat of the summer, Nadia is “putting on the ritz”. She is not “shchuna”, because she is not from the shchuna, even if she is.

Shchuna can mean neighbourhood, but more often refers to the long blocks of two to four storey long blocks of housing with several entrances, often with no elevator, small apartments and functional mailboxes yet in a poor state of repair.

When Nadia’s parents came to Israel, she  lived in a shchuna (‘D’ in Beer Sheva) , but she is not shchuna. Not one bit. She has a very strong Russian accent, & perfect Hebrew grammar. She speaks to her kids in Russian, and they answer in Hebrew.

Rafi calls me “bro”. He is 27; I am 72. Rafi mixes up (almost purposely) masculine and feminine pronouns and numbers, although he is very, very well educated; his Hebrew is sloppy, masking his intelligence. He is almost uncomfortable in his milieu as a senior programmer in the cyber start-up where he works. Most of the  people  he worked with served in a elite group but Rafi served in the infantry. He has two visible tatoes. He wears two rings. All his peers admire him, “although he is a bit shchuna”. His mother was born in Romania, survived the camps; his father fled Algeria.

Sima works in Finance as an economist is the revenue-projection team. She uses the term “metuka sheli” (loosely translated as “sugar”) when speaking to her females colleages. Or “hamudi” (loosely translated as Cutey) when speaking to males. Her dressing is not provocative, but is certainly not conservative. The best way to describe her atire is loud. She befriends almost everyone, except her bosses towards whom she shows respect and hidden contempt. She could be promoted if she tried but ‘being in management is not in my league’. Sima comes from Dimona, a desert down. Her parents’  are both Dimona born and all 4 grandparents came different places: Morocco, Tunis, Bulgaria, and Turkey. Sima describes herself as shchuna, and is proud of it. But she isn’t. 

Hava was born in Israel and returned here at the age 15 after her parents returned from teaching at Columbia. She retains a slight American accent, especially with the letters R and L. She is a political activist in her spare time, deeply involved in trying to improve civil rights of illegal immigrants to Tel Aviv. She has a PhD in Philosophy. She does not have a pot to piss in, although she has a well paying job in City Hall. She wears jeans and a T shirt to work every day. She sprinkles her Hebrew with English and often gets confused between masculine and feminine grammar use. There is nothing shchuna about Hava. But Hava would be so glad to be seen as a bit ‘shchuna’. It would make her feel at home.

Got it? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Catching your client’s diseases

Arlene and Alan are both consulting the CEO. Arlene focuses on interfaces between silos and Alan on developing flexibility during crisis. The CEO is highly manipulative and gives ambiguous messages to his team; within 4 months, the CEO has Alan and Arlene working at cross-purposes. They have been infected.

Paco is an all-powerful CFO in a company struggling both to improve its product and to cut costs in order to be more attractive to 3 potential buyers. Paco’s boss, the CEO, hires a consultant to improve rapid development processes and innovation. Paco owns Supply Chain/Purchasing; instead of hiring one consultant to do the job, two cheaper consultants are hired: one “innovation coach” and a “rapid development process guru”. Infected.

A fast-growing company sets highly aggressive unachievable goals. Each employee has the work load of three people. Most of the staff are new immigrants struggling to get a green card. Staff works around the clock to put out fires on customer sites. Larry has been hired to help staff “better align their priorities”. After two months, Larry has 7 projects; he has lost focus and the CEO has no time to meet with him. When the company’s revenue slip due to the exchange rate of the Euro, Larry is axed. He had been infected-on-arrival.

A government agency hires a consultant to “update the C level with state of the art knowledge” on management theory and practice. Caught up in a disastrous power struggle between the HR SVP of 25 years tenure and the new Scientific Management SVP, the consultant has written 12 proposals in the last two months and has yet to start work. Infected.

Yes, OD consultants can facilitate change. But they can also become infected by the client during their professional “struggle” and easily become part of the problem.

Some organizations carry some very nasty diseases, which are infectious upon contact.

Prophylactic measures include supervision, periodic project reviews at the CEO level, and peer critique of work.

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Billing for work that was cancelled or delayed

Were this a commercial issue, I would not be address it here in my blog. Billing for work cancelled or delayed has very little to do with business. It has little impact on a consultant’s revenue. It is however a major component of trust, fairness and mutual respect.

I have put together my view on billing for work that was cancelled or delayed into a few statements of principle that have served me well in the 47 years that I have been an OD consultant.

  • If the client himself does not sign a contract with me, but rather I need to negotiate my professional service with Purchasing or Supply Chain, I will always insist that all hours cancelled or delayed be paid in full for all work cancelled/delayed 4 days in advance. This is a matter of principle. The purchasing agent will maximize the clients’ commercial interests; I will maximalize mine.
  • But let’s assume that I negotiate directly with the client. In the initial stages my work, I will not charge for work cancelled or delayed. My initial contract will only cover 2-3 months, usually “stage one” or whatever. During this time, I will document the revenue lost due to cancellations and delays. After the initial 2-3 months, I will talk with the client about what has happened. I will ask the client what he plans to do, either to reimburse me, take corrective action, both or tell me that “you should have factored that into your initial costs”. Then I will adjust my terms  of the seond stage.
  • When I travel abroad to work, the client will be billed for all work that is/was planned after I have taken off. There are no exceptions to this.
  • Let’s say a meeting was supposed to start at 14.00 and starts at 14.20. If the meeting goes on for one hour, ie until 15.20, I bill for one hour and twenty minutes. If the meeting lasts till 15.00, the client is billed for one hour.
  • All work cancelled the same day depends on the amount of time that I have been working with the client. Veteran clients are somewhat accommodated; new clients pay full fare. I do not close my eyes when clients cancel willy nilly on the day of my work. It may say something is very wrong with the relationship.
  • As far as my being delayed or cancelling work, I am always at the client site 30 minutes early. I never cancel unless ill.
  • Delays due to illness or security threats are never billed.

As relationships develop the quality of the relationship with the client replaces the contract, and financial damage due to delays and cancellations are solved more naturally in the framework of an ongoing mutually beneficial relationship.

 

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Why try to mitigate pain instead of rolling with the punches?

Recently I have been reading yet again about an esoteric subject-this time about how boxers deal with pain.

I was driven to this subject by my grandson who is very, very good at judo. Recently, he had to get his mouth stitched. Faced with my questioning and worry, he told me that his training includes coping with pain, and to an extent, even enjoying it because “judo is also about enduring pain, and even reaching a stage where it does not bother you all that much”.

I went on to read quite a bit about the brutal Thrilla in Manilla, as well as as what it feels like taking punches from the hardest of hitters (Tyson, Foreman, Marciano). I also read what it feels like during the month after you have been knocked out.

These were great reads, because of both the pride and “working through” that boxers experience as they absorb the punishment that they take with such grace and acceptance.

Of course, enduring pain should not become an ideology. I suffer from chronic back pain (my height and genetics) and I do not like it when told that I need to embrace pain instead of taking a Aleve.

While enduring pain is not an ideology, it sure is a necessity especially in organizations; unfortunately, OD does not give pain appropriate focus.

There are imho several reasons for our professions’ misguided attempts to mitigate pain:

  • There are built in conflicts between individual and the organizational needs that cannot be resolved. We are often hired to make that inevitable pain disappear.
  • Mutual dependencies in organizations are often unfulfilled, and are unfulfilled by design. (build fast and build cheap). We are often hired to pretend that teamwork is a cure for unfullfilled dependencies.
  • Technology enables people to communicate far faster than they can act, causing massive overload and burn out. OD has a whole tool kit to “apparently” improve communication, which often does not address the source of the pain-we cannot deal with so much information coming our way so fast.

And that is just the beginning of the list.

Attempts to mitigate the pain, also called wellness, engagement or some other fancy fad, try to plaster over the pain, deny it, and can worsen it. As a result, some OD interventions (stress management) are seen as bullshit, or a derivative thereof.

Pain has a function. Feel it, roll with the punches, and don’t make it go away.

It’s there for a reason. Look the reason with honesty and see what can be done. Don’t try to fool people with snake oil.

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Hybrid Teams-some ugly truths

Before I get beaten up, I’d better clarify that I have worked with hybrid teams since they existed. Multi-time zone teams, in situ and at home, Japanese and Israeli; Australians and Singaporeans; Chinese and a CBC (Canadian born Chinese)  founded companies in Vancouver-I’ve been everywhere.

Different people have different genetic weaknesses; so do different breeds of dogs. My senior dog George, for example, suffers from epilepsy. Most poodles do. His hind legs ain’t so good. That is common for a 14 year old dog. It is built into his genetic code. Various types of teams also have certain special types of weaknesses.

In this brief post, I want to share the unique types of troubles facing hybrid teams, with a special emphasis on teams where some people are in an office and others are working from home.

  1. The people in the actual meeting room will generally  be more involved than those at home.
  2. Those at home will be more distracted and tend to play around with their mobile and and lose track of what is going on.
  3. There may be less active discussion about contentious  issues in hybrid teams, but there may be less committment to decisons made. Often feigned commitment initially goes unnoticed in hybrid teams.
  4. Trust building capabilties is THE critical skill set for members of a hybrid teams. Some people just do not have that skill, and they should be shut off from participating unless they can adapt or be trained. Some people cannot adapt well; examples includes people who cut other people off, never shut up and who have very poor listening skills.
  5. Hidden agendas in multi-national teams abound. They are the cancer of this form of organizing. The most common hidden agenda is a desire to control your own destiny. The ‘other’ team causes anxiety because of the built in dependence.
  6. The rarest commodity in a multinational team is trust. It is rarer than a face mask in a Texas mall. As the link illustrates, trust even means different things to different cultures.
  7. People who have never met can work very well together. Yet when they meet, their interaction will change, probably for the better. So whatever the cost or circumstance, organizations should always, always, encourage f2f meetings. It is not old-fashioned. It is effective.

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How to go about thinking differently about things you feel sure about

Could it be my age that makes me less convinced about things that I took once for granted? Perhaps.

Could it be that having watched certain events unravel unexpectedly push me along the road of seeing things differently?

That’s for sure. The downfall of the USSR, the reforms of Deng Xiaoping, my success as a parent, the peacemaking visit to Israel of Sadat, the election of Trump, the collapse of reliable information on most topics-certainly all of these have shaken previous beliefs that I have held.

However, and it is a big however, I have always made an effort to try to think differently about people, events, and ideas. I do so very systematically as well. I read differing opinions and seek out people who disagree. I acutually get bored speaking with people who agree with me. I love probing the motives and cognitive structure of opposing views.

Here are a few challenges I have posed to myself and sought out, systematically, to understand all points of view. 1) Why do so many Americans oppose abortion? 2) Why was/is Trump appealing? 3) Why does the Israeli right oppose all compromise on the Palestinian issue? 4) Why are so many very smart people so faithful whilst I have no religious faith whatsoever? 5) Why does OD (my profession) not acknowledge that so many of its values are now irrelevant? 6) Why doesn’t political correctness not collapse in face of the facts? 7) Was all colonialism bad? 8) Are some cultures inferior on all counts? 9) Why did so many British spies really identify with ideology the USSR? 

And I can go on and on.

In my profession as well, I try to see why certain axioms may not be so axiomatic. If, for example, everyone is so sure that the Sales force is demotivated, I will generally start by ignoring this and looking at product quality. I never buy the company line until I have crawled into every nook and cranny to disprove it.

I actually love learning all sides of issues. I read a lot of things I do not agree with; I meet with people (and actually like them) who disagree with what I believe in. When someone disagrees with me, I engage more and more.

Have my academic endeavours and personal interactions changed my opinions? Absolutely. The more I studied Middle East history, the more pessimistic I became about any long term settlement. The damages and disadvantages of the global economy are clearer to me than ever. Democracy is so deeply flawed that it may not be sustainable with widespread ignorance-and perhaps better that it should not be under certain circumstances.

And more. Most of my opinions are “for the time being”.

Maybe even once I utter something, it is already outdated.

I consider this mindset, or skill, as one of my better assets, which I hope compensates for my chronic lack of patience, my outspoken manner and infrequent lack of decorum.

And finally, books that have impacted my opinions recently.

Adults in the Room        Yanis Vardufakis (Greek debt crisis and role of Germany)

Stalin’s Englishman       Andrew Lownie   (motivations to support USSR in Cambridge 5)

The Righteous Mind      Jonathan Haidt    (Conservative thinking explained)

The Matrix of Race        Rodney Coates et al  (systemic view of racism)

Motherland                    Paul Therroux (American south as a 3rd world state)

Little Man, what next     Hans Fallada (the impact of WW1 on Germany)

Islam                               Bernard Lewis (basic religious beliefs)

How to be a Conservative     Roger Scruton (core beliefs of conservatives)

Crazy like Us                             Eithan Watters (on exporting mental illness)

Strangers in ther own land        Arlie Hoschchild (on Trumpism)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Why are we returning to the work place

Working from home is waning quickly  & the “future of work” prognosis about the office-less organization are dissipating.

Attesting to this, grotesque traffic jams have returned. One of my commutes takes me 2-3 hours each direction for a 70 km commute twice a week! And that is the easier commute.

Why have people returned to work? I will attempt to provide my understanding of this nasty development in this short post.

Every organization has what I call a “purely political dimension”, that is a limited domain in which power is unequally distributed. Some people have positions of power and tell others what do. Other people do what they are told. Power has visible manifestations and symbols. These symbols of power and position create a clear pecking order, even if subtle. For example office size, parking slots, who has a conference room, brand of laptop. These symbols of power are emphasized by various titles, charts, work flow and ceremonies.

The Canadian sociologist Erving Goffman discusses the term “status degradation ceremony” in his book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. The status degradation ceremony  transforms  the identity or status of an individual into an identity/status lower down an organization’s hierarchy. In other words, it is a political (power related) tool that stratifies an organization. The status degredation ceremony is best played out “in situ”, on site, and not on Zoom or Teams because the degredation ceremony has many visual components.

Let me digress a moment and discuss the almost religious hype created around remote work-which made it into an ideology instead of a tragedy.

Media and especially social media create illusions that sometimes exist in parallel to reality (every country needs to do its part in climate control*; soon we will all be driving electric cars) and sometimes create a false reality (Zalensky is a hero, and not an idiot**).

Working for home became a serious topic of academic research on one hand. Unfortunately, it also became a hot topic on social media, which created the illusion that working from home is the future of work-peace in our time. Social media tends to ignore unpleasant truths. We all have bad breath in the morning;we all fart from time to time and politics is far more dominant in determining the future of work than Rob or Rachel from Twitter think.

So yes, social media created a positive hype about working from home, making it into the “new tomorrow”. Nonsense.  A false prophet. A Zalensky, if you were, hailed by social media as his country goes to shit.

Management may not have  lost control during the pandemic, but they certainly did lose the feeling of control, and lost some of the little “status degredation ceremonies” at their disposal. This loss of power was unbearable, as most people do not give away power easily.

And thus, as the pandemic crawls to an end for the time being, people are forced back to work where they will sit opposite their computers, attend a few meetings, and be at the beck and call of management who will assert their superiority from time to time via various degredation ceremonies. 

 

*Some countries need to do a lot about climate control; others’ contributions are meaningless.

**If you live next to a bear, don’t poke him in the ribs.

 

 

 

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The 60s and early 70s: some of my Jerusalem Flats

That  home of mine on Rehov (street) Shemaryahu near the Mandelbaum Gate which used to separate old from new Jerusalem was probably the closest I have ever come to, say, living in Baghdad or Teheran.  Shemaryau was actually an alley, not a street. And that home was actually sort of a room and a half, or even less. It was freezing cold all winter;  a kerosene cart, pulled by a horse, would pass by once every two days. Yael or I would run up and fill up a jerrycan of “solar” for our “fireside”. No, of course we did not have an actual fireside-the old kerosene heaters which often billowed smoke were called “firesides.” It took about 5 matches to lite the wick. And about ten minutes before the heater started to heat.

MANDELBAUM GATE-from wikicommons

Another feature of the Shmaryahu area was the old man who came by everyday yelling “alteh zachen”-which means “old things” or used items in Yiddish. The old man was an Arab-and he did speak some Yiddish, which I certainly don’t. Nor did Yael. She was, and still is, Yemenite.

Hisachon 2/2/2 was a different story all together. Located near the ultra-religious area of Beit vaGan in Jerusalem, Hisachon 2/2/2 was an old fashioned Soviet-like public housing, with each apartment having 3 very small rooms, broken mailboxes at the entrance and an unkempt public domain at the entrance. Unkempt, but clean. Each of the three“blocks” of Hisachon had 4 entrances. I was entrance 2. 2nd floor. Apartment 2. Hence  Hisachon 2/2/2. Hisachon by the way means “savings”. Appropriate, as you can see from the building in the forefront.

Soviet style public housing-Shikun hahisachon 2-from wikicommons

 

I shared that apartment in Hisachon with another soldier, Dany, who was born in Chile. We agreed on everything; the apartment needs to be clean; close the door when there are “guests”. Dany was to become an OD consultant as well. The best part of sharing an apartment with him was the number of books he read. Everything and anything I read, Dany had read before me. I lost all contact with him; he disappeared off the face of the earth. When Dany woke up, I could hear him whistling in the shower. He whistled well but one of his girlfriends smoked.

Stern 12 in Kiryat Yovel, Jerusalem was a royal pain in the ass. The 18 bus left me a 20 minute walk from the apartment, and in the extreme heat, that was no fun. But the 4 room apartment I shared had some interesting characters. Hans was a German student studying Yiddish literature at the Hebrew University. He spoke Hebrew with strongest German accent I ever encountered. Ilan came from an Israeli collective settlement and was almost never there, since he needed to work to finance his studies. And there was a newly married couple; she was American and he was Israeli. They hogged the kitchen and if you ask me, their marriage did not last. When I lived in Stern, I tried to learn Arabic. I spent hours up on the roof of Stern 12 with a small tape listening to Arabic. “Bas isma-wa-id vistarachah” “Just listen and answer in the break”. Yes-it was possible to sit on roof-and I loved to do so.

I had more apartments/rented rooms in Jerusalem. On Rehov Naftali in Baqa with Hadassah which is too painful to write about; in the Bucharim Quarter with a lady flatmate whose name I do not remember, and in Bayit va Gan.

Bucharin Quarter from Wiki

Now Jerusalem is an hour and a half drive from where I live, and thousands of years in the past.

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Backing your staff: a cultural perspective

Joe was supposed to report that the wiring in Station B had been fixed. However, Joe got a call from his wife and forgot to do so. As a result, Station B remained closed for one extra hour, causing a 5000 Euro loss.

Joe’s boss, Garth, told Joe that he had nothing to worry about. Garth sent out a mail saying that “I ordered that Joe wait an hour after the repair to be absolutely sure that there would be no need to close Station B again”.  Garth had backed Joe. 

Ed had far less luck. He showed up to work 20 minutes late, delaying the deployment of new equipment. Ed’s boss, Carmen, castigated Ed in a group Whatsapp for “chronic tardiness”. Carmen had not backed Ed.

Backing is a two edged sword. On one hand, there is an expecation is some cultures for automatic “artiliary cover” for errors and if and when there is an issue to be discussed, dirty linen needs to be washed so that no one else can see. On the other hand, backing can lead to cover up, lying, and constant blaming between groups.

I want here to relate to the cultural expectations around backing. In middle eastern, Asian and African societies, there is an expectation of benevolence from the superior which includes “backing as default”, and in return for that benevolence, there is obediance. In other societies, an expectation for transparency overrides the expecatiotion of “cover fire”, and thus, backing is often less automatic and not as being the default behaviour expected from managers.

In global organizations, backing is more complex. “Let’s take it offline” is a sign of backing, albeit obtuse. “Let me take care of it with HQ” is also a sign of backing. However, “Ned and Wu, I do not plan to babysit this issue, figure out how to deal with it on your own” is backing for Ned, who feels like he is being treated like an adult, and a slap in the face for Wu, who wanted the boss to step in and put Ned in his place, which Wu feels is not Wu’s job.

Here are a few guidelines I have developed for managers pondering what type of backing to provide?

1) Do I want to be consistent, or deal case by case?

2) Do I want to mold my employee’s expectations, or adapt myself to how s/he has been brought up and educated?

3) What behaviour will ensure that I myself am never surprised or lied to?

4) How can I give backing without concealing, and how can I be matter-of-fact without letting down my people?

And a short story to end. I was in Asia in a country that I certainly could not use my Israeli passport to get in. Mr T, the country manager, always backed his local people from the wrath of the Dutch based HQ when there was a policy infringement. I was working with Mr T about how he is (negatively) perceived in HQ. T was certain that if he lessened the backing he gave his people, “I will lose both HQ and my employees. Allon Sir, don’t force me into a lose-lose sitatuation”.

One more interesting insight for those interested in “backing” in China. The CCP (Mao in particular) was known for sending the people closest to him for re-education. Over time, it became clear that he backed almost one. However, when reads Vogel’s  biography of Deng, it is clear that Deng got very special conditions when he was send for re-education in the countryside (as a mechanic.) Btw, I am aware that this paragraph interests almost no one :).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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