"I rarely read any Latin, Greek, German, Italian, sometimes not a French book, in the original, which I can procure in a good version. I like to be beholden to the great metropolitan English speech, the sea which receives tributaries from every region under heaven. I should as soon think of swimming across Charles River when I wish to go to Boston, as of reading all my books in originals when I have them rendered for me in my mother tongue."

- Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Books"
Important publishing news that will change your life!



The good folks at Nordskog Publishing have made my novel West Oversea available in e-book format now.

Your Kindle version is here.

Your Nook version is here.

Happy Easter.

Just Stop It, Writers

Barnabas Piper tells us to stop writing about writing, because we don't really have anything to say.

"When Stephen King writes a book about writing I read it cover to cover and then start over. And it is marvelous. When a thirty-something, barely published, Internet composer of public journal entries does so, it’s uppity."

Yeah. Sorry about that.

'Biblically Based' Author Argues Against Biblical Morality

Matthew Vines is not a new author. He has been around for a few years, arguing that Christianity and homosexuality are not incompatible. He has a new book coming out next week making the same arguments, but the bigger news may be who is publishing it. It's Stephen W. Cobb, the chief executive of both WaterBrook Multnomah and the new imprint Convergent.

Cobb says the two imprints do not have the same audiences and editorial guidelines, so they aren't the identical, but he does call the final shots for both. With Convergent, those shots are "nonfiction for less traditional Christians and spiritual seekers who are drawn to an open, inclusive, and culturally engaged exploration of faith," such as Matthew Vines’ new book, God and the Gay Christian.

World Magazine makes a big deal about these imprints being unified under one corporate umbrella, but what strikes me as odd is Cobb's insistence that he isn't publishing heresy under the Convergent label. He claims Vines' "believes in the inerrancy and the divinity and the correctness of Scripture," so his book is "biblically based." He says he intends to publish only biblically based books through Convergent.

How orthodox does a "biblically based" book need to be in order to remain based on the Bible? The Book of Mormon and the Koran are literally based on the Bible, but would we call them "biblically based"? If this is the main criteria, then I would understand a wide variety of views being published, but we expect more, don't we?

How much orthodox stock do you put into this publisher or any publisher? Do you notice the publisher of a book and believe the topic, whatever it is, has been thoroughly vetted? Do you believe WaterBrook is still committed to "creating products that both intensify and satisfy the elemental thirst for a deeper relationship with God," as their marketing people say?

'Murder by Moonlight,' by Vincent Zandri



Vincent Zandri is producing a series of novels about Albany, NY private eye Dick Moonlight (I'm not kidding. That's his name). Murder by Moonlight was the first I've read, and although I read it through and enjoyed it a fair amount, I find I didn't really like it much.

Dick Moonlight is a private eye with a difference (aren't they all nowadays?). He attempted suicide a couple years back, leaving himself with a .22 bullet in his brain which the doctors can't remove. At any moment it might shift and kill him, so he lives with that.

In Murder by Moonlight, he is hired by Joan Parker, who was horribly injured in an ax attack in her home, one which killed her husband. At the time she told the police that her son Christopher was to blame, but now she's changed her mind and wants Moonlight to prove the young man innocent.

A number of things irritated me in this book. One is the present-tense narration, which doesn't actually spoil the story, but which I find an irritating affectation that adds nothing.

Secondly, the story wanders into the realm of ancient conspiracies, which I don't believe in. People aren't that good at keeping secrets, especially in large groups.

But most importantly, the hero/narrator, Dick Moonlight, got on my nerves. Many people in the story tell him he's a jerk (they generally use more colorful language), and they're right. He claims he has a built-in lie detector (again, he uses an earthier term), and feels that gives him the right to be insulting to anyone he doesn't like on first sight -- even when he needs a favor from them. That's just bad detective procedure. What he is, is judgmental and tactless.

So though the story kept my interest (in spite of some weak writing moments and needless complications at the end), I don't recommend it highly. On the other hand, it'll keep your interest on a plane, if that's what your needs are.

Cautions for language and adult themes.

Yes, Even When He Is Silent



Here we have the St. Olaf Choir with Conductor Anton Armstrong performing "Even When He Is Silent" by Kim André Arnesen. It was recorded at Nidaros Cathedral, Trondheim, Norway on June 16, 2013

The piece was commissioned by the St. Olaf Festival in Trondheim, Norway (Olavsfestdagene), using a text was found in a concentration camp after World War II:

"I believe in the sun, even when it's not shining.
I believe in love, even when I feel it not.
I believe in God, even when He is silent."

But, Lord, do not be silent or allow us to be deaf.

Swedish Book Review

"Hype is an overrated and overused tool, but the power of compelling narrative endures, hence the sprouting of new Swedish literary agencies with names like Partners in Stories and Storytellers. They have an eye to lucrative film rights, of course, but few would deny the seductiveness of a good plot."

The Swedish Book Review is out with several takes on books you may want to watch for. (via The Literary Saloon, the place to go for translated fiction.)

Pilgrim's Hymn by Stephen Paulus



Pilgrim's Hymn by Stephen Paulus

Even before we call on Your name
To ask You, O God,
When we seek for the words to glorify You,
You hear our prayer;
Unceasing love, O unceasing love,
Surpassing all we know.

Glory to the father,
and to the Son,
And to the Holy Spirit.

Even with darkness sealing us in,
We breathe Your name,
And through all the days that follow so fast,
We trust in You;
Endless Your grace, O endless Your grace,
Beyond all mortal dream.

Both now and forever,
And unto ages and ages,
Amen

Poetry Reading with Aaron Belz

April is poetry month, as I said before, and I learned late that the poet Aaron Belz was in my home town April 4. Here's a video of his poetry reading in St. Elmo. Many of these poems are quite funny and contemporary. He even reads a poem he wrote the day before, which he slightly apologizes for. Belz got his undergrad at Covenant College, which is the Presbyterian (PCA) liberal arts college next to Chattanooga. He went on to get his Ph.D. at Saint Louis University and published several poems in several places. He pulls from common literary knowledge and daily life. His most recent book is Glitter Bomb: Poems.

Like I said, he's funny. One of the poems read in the video goes:

"There is no I in team,
but there's one in bitterness,
one in failure."

He also offers a few remarkable palindromes at 13:40. Enjoy.

Friday Fight: She's Mine!

Do you remember the good ol' days when we posted a video of live steel combat every Friday? I'm pretty sure we shared this first one back then. It's two years old from the Høstfest. Lars quickly dispatches Philip Patton, who looks as if he can't fight in this video:



Philip shows he can fight here:



The woman over whom they are fighting (not really) is Kelsey, who has a Høstfest video of her own from this year's festival. Have you browsed her store? She has some great clothing there among other good things.

That Self-Published Book is a Bestseller

Author Robin O'Bryant writes, "I self-published my first book in shame. I was disappointed that after two years of work with my top tier literary agent in New York, editors still didn’t think I had a platform large enough to sell a book."

That book lived for about two years before hitting multiple bestseller lists, due in part to her tireless promotion. Now, Ketchup is a Vegetable and Other Lies Moms Tell Themselves, is re-released, and Mrs. O'Bryant has a two-book deal with St. Martin's Press.

Pixar's Ed Catmull on Creativity

In his new book, Creativity, Inc., Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar, talks about how to keep a creative team running. He says he noticed many creative companies, even Disney, dying off a bit at some point. They couldn't keep their creativity going. Catmull wanted to know the reason and whether it could be avoided. Now, with co-writer Amy Wallace, he has given us his conclusions.

"If you're doing something new, you will make mistakes," he says. "In fact, if you're not making mistakes, you're probably just copying other things. The way you avoid mistakes is to be super safe. Well, we can't be safe. That means somebody will make mistakes, and we have to say let's learn from it."

He says he learned from Disney the technique of putting your storyboard on video to see it works the way you think it will. And it never does at first. In fact, the original storyboarded video isn't good at all, but artists and writers lose their objectivity at that point and fail to see the problems. Catmull tries to work through the problems with an atmosphere that builds everyone up and allows them to take risks in pursuit of a stronger story.

You can read an excerpt from Catmull and Wallace's book through NoiseTrade and your eReader before you buy.

A is for April is Poetry Month

This is remarkable--the start of the poem "On her having arrived":

"He thickets in. He thickens. The AA
meeting ran late: he brandished a BB
gun and the cops were called. Shot ten CC’s
of something slowing in him...."

Poet Hannah Sanghee Park goes on like this for a few stanzas, throwing letters about like alphabet soup. Read the whole and get more of her work here. See this also: "The Same-Different" (via Aaron Belz)

31 Popular Coffees of the World

For your education and amusement, I present this infographic of 31 popular coffee drinks from around the world. It's like a Disneyland exhibit for coffee without the tasting, which effectively ruins it.


Did you know that Americans rank 12th in coffee consumption around the world? The Netherlands is first, drinking daily 2.4 cups per capita. The U.S. ekes by at just under 1 cup a day. What's with that?

Stop the presses! These so-called "cups of coffee" may not be of uniform size. This article reports Sweden and Norway as consuming more milligrams of coffee than The Netherlands. Where is the government to approve these reports before they go out? This is where freedom of the press gets us, friends. It's got to stop.

Back to coffee, Seattle has the most coffee shops per capita of any U.S. city. They have 1,640. The San Francisco area has 1,379, placing it twelfth. Who is in second place? Anchorage with 172 shops and few people than most. Portland, Oregon is third with 876. (These are 2011 figures.)

Patrick Bannister novels by Andrew E. Kaufman



Former journalist Andrew E. Kaufman has managed to jump from self-publishing to a major house contract on the strength of three novels, two of which involve the character Patrick Bannister. It’s those two, The Lion, the Lamb, the Hunted, and Darkness and Shadows, that I’ll tell you about briefly today.

I was drawn to the Patrick Bannister novels because the main character is a fellow I can identify with. Though a successful journalist for a national magazine (OK, I don’t identify with that), he suffers from deep insecurities and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, brought on by a childhood dominated by a loveless and narcissistic mother. Patrick is, indeed, unusually unfortunate in his relationships with females, because the second book involves his disastrous first love relationship, with a girl who had a terrible secret.

In The Lion, the Lamb, the Hunted, Patrick goes home for his mother’s funeral, and retrieves a single box of his childhood possessions from the house where he grew up. In it he finds a couple odd things – a piece of paper bearing a name, which a little research tells him belongs to the victim of a child murder in Texas years back, and a St. Christopher medal. When he finds a picture of that dead boy and sees that the boy is wearing the same medal in it, he starts on a desperate search to discover his mother’s and uncle’s relationship to the crime.

In Darkness and Shadows, Patrick finds himself out of a job, having allowed his emotions to overcome his journalistic good judgment. Then he sees a news report about the murder of a wealthy woman, and realizes that she is the same person as a girl he dated in college, who had (he thought) died in a fire before his eyes. Forging an unexpected alliance with a disturbed female criminal, he uncovers a sinister conspiracy and learns truths that could tear up his personal world.

Author Kaufman has had considerable success with readers, so I’m not alone in finding these books fascinating. Speaking for myself, I found the description of the inner life of an abuse victim extremely well-rendered. I was less impressed with the stories themselves. The writing was good – perhaps it could use a little pruning – but the plotting seemed to me weak. The first book, especially, ended with a big action scene that got resolved by pure luck. And the big surprise at the end was one I had guessed in about the second chapter. The second book was a little better.

Still, the characters were fascinating, and if the psychology of abuse interests you, these are a pretty good read.

Perspectives on Chattanooga Communities

Since all of our regular readers live outside Chattanooga, I haven't pointed out some articles I've written over the past few months for a Chattanooga news site. Now, you have the opportunity to ignore them directly.

I have approached several Chattanooga pastors to ask them for a perspective on our community and their congregations. We have many churches in this area. Each of them reach different and overlapping circles within the whole community, so I wanted to give them an opportunity to say what they think. Thanks to John Wilson of Chattanoogan.com for accepting my interviews.


I haven't talked to any Lutherans yet. No doubt the Lord has withheld his blessing from me because of that. I did talk to a couple musicians I know. Both are excellent craftsmen from very different musical fields.I hope at least one of these will be interesting to you.

"Give me an E!"



I wasn't aware of this until recently,
but my novel West Oversea has been made available in e-book form, for Kindle or Nook, by the publisher, Nordskog Publishing. It's not on Amazon at this time, but you can get it from Nordskog here.

Noah and God's Great Compaint

"Noah walked with God" (Genesis 6:9).

Dr. Hunter Baker reviews Aronofsky's Noah, making many good points:

God’s great complaint with men is that “the earth is filled with violence because of them.” Aronofsky presents the men outside the line of Seth as being brutal takers of what they want. Many have argued that the director twisted the Noah narrative to make some kind of ecological point related to climate change or something along those lines. I don’t think that is the case. When Noah goes out among men and witnesses their darkness, he sees things such as men selling girls and crowds tearing animals to pieces. What I see there is not so much a statement about ecology designed to awaken modern sensibilities, but a larger judgment about men failing to govern their own appetites and treating everything in creation, including each other, as means to their own poorly chosen ends.
This doesn't mean you should go see it, of course. See what you want to see.

College Theses Boiled Down to a Laugh Line

I believe these are actual submissions from grad and undergrad students, but the result is funny. Last December, a Harvard student put up "LOL My Thesis" as a way to procrastinate her own thesis writing. Here are some submissions:

Reed College: NERO WAS ACTUALLY AWESOME AND I CAN PROVE IT, and building programs act as excellent predictors to how your rule is going to end.

Steton Hill University: It is possible to write an urban fantasy novel featuring vampires who aren’t having sex. But then multiple agents and editors will tell you it’s nonpublishable. Thanks, Twlight.

Princeton: Sauron is pretty evil. Voldemort is also pretty evil. Sauron and Voldemort are also pretty similar, but they are not EXACTLY the same. I will now talk about them for 90 pages.

Boston University: Sir Arthur Cannon Doyle is the Nostradamus of forensic science.

Texas Christian University: Museums are culturally appropriative pack rats, and people are noticing.

Colbert's slow clap

U.C. Berkeley: If You Took Out the Best Part of This Book, It Wouldn’t Be as Good.

A student from John Hopkins University offers the actual thesis for comparison: Homegrown Solutions: Global Environmental Change and Sustainability

Translation: Cities aren’t really doing anything but the fact that they’re doing things is a thing and eventually the government may notice that it’s a thing.

I found this site via a Facebook friend, who had another friend add this comment:

My actual thesis was something like "Interactive storytelling through the medium of narrative games facilitates a stronger Aristotelian catharsis, producing more proper pleasure, making them a more powerful tool for sharing hope in a sin-scarred world."

Translation: "Somebody make a video game based on Christian principles that doesn't make me want to tear my thumbs off, please."

Clive Staples Award Finalists

The Clive Staples Award for Christian Speculative Fiction has three titles for this year's award: A Cast of Stones by Patrick W. Carr, Truth Runner by Jerel Law, and Dragonwitch by Anne Elisabeth Stengl.

Are you familiar with any of these? Learn more through the link. (via Speculative Faith)

Did Adam Exist?

Can we still believe in a historical Adam? That’s the question Dr. Vern S. Poythress, professor of New Testament Interpretation at Westminster Theological Seminary, answers in this booklet. He talks through scientists’ claims that Adam and Eve could not have existed, starting with the claim that 99% of the DNA of humans and chimpanzees is identical. Is this accurate? What about an authoritative report that refers to both 99% and 96%? Is that a mistake? No, he observes, both figures come from an interpretation of data using a few restrictions. Without getting too deep for thoughtful readers, Dr. Poythress explains how the data is being interpreted to come up with these figures and what is being left unsaid.

Step by step, asking questions on every other page about what this bit of information could mean to the reader, Dr. Poythress gets to his main point: Darwinist evolution is a framework for interpreting scientific data, and there are other frameworks.

Scientific findings are often reported as unarguable facts, as conclusions naturally drawn from the unbiased data at hand. That simply isn’t true. If a scientist or science reporter assumes gradualism is true, interprets his data set accordingly, and then announces he has proven gradualism with his data, then he has begged the question. This kind of circular reasoning is common, and this booklet aims at tripping it up.

“[W]ithin the mainstream of modern culture, Darwinism is not seen as religious, but merely ‘neutral’ and ‘scientific’,” he writes, yet Darwinists claim to have disproven God’s existence, which is a religious and unscientific claim. Such unscientific claims are being made in the name of science all the time these days, and it falls to those who aren’t scared of religion to point this out.

Dr. Poythress doesn’t shy away from the fact that the Bible states Adam and Eve existed, but he doesn’t argue from the text or any research to prove the point. He is content to poke holes in the claims that they could not have existed as well as criticize the idea that Science sees all, knows all, and cannot be questioned.

This thoughtful, accessible booklet is part of a series from Westminster Seminary Press called “Christian Answers to Hard Questions.” I recommend it to anyone who is wrestling with how to reconcile scientific claims with biblical truths. (I received this title for free as an ebook through Netgalley.com.)

Most Overrated Battle in the American Revolution?


The American Revolution by lordaquaticus on deviantART

When you think of battles or perhaps major events from our War for Independence, what would you say is the most overrated, most hyped-without-substance one that occurred? The Journal of the American Revolution asks this question and gives several answers. By nature of the votes cast, the most overrated battle from the American Revolution is Saratoga. "The war continued on for five more years, making it hardly the major turning point it is often portrayed," says Jeff Dacus. "And the general who theoretically won it, Horatio Gates, was a coward and a fake," notes Thomas Fleming.

Yorktown is the runner-up, because it alone did not break the British. Many concurring events went with it to provoke a British retreat.

I find another point interesting because of an old folk tune I vaguely remember. John L. Smith Jr. states: "The most overrated battle would have to be the 1779 Battle of the British Isles – specifically between Captain John Paul Jones’ warship Bonhomme Richard and the British frigate Serapis in the North Sea between England and the Netherlands. Celebrated as a huge American victory, it gave us the dubious quote for our annals of American history by John Paul Jones: “Surrender? I have not yet begun to fight!” But this much-publicized naval battle had no effect whatsoever on the outcome of the Revolutionary War. The most it did was to interfere with British shipping and, while also proving to be an embarrassment for the Lord North ministry, it just tied up some British naval resources from getting to the American seaboard. I liken it to Col. Jimmy Doolittle’s early World War II bombing mission. Both attacks provided an American morale boost, but little else in affecting the war."

Why Do Americans Drink Coffee?

Because Americans believe in beverage liberty.

Gracy Olmstead writes about American coffee-drinking habits, noting that some drink what they drink as a status symbol. My $5 cafe is better than your pitiful homebrew, or words to that effect. One cultural observer says we have taken to coffee like fans of sports, picking a favorite team and arguing with others over brand names and techniques.

She also links to an article on putting butter in your coffee: "You might find it in Singapore, too, where coffee beans (usually of a lower quality) are stir-fried with butter in a wok before being strained through a filter into your cup. These morning drinks are said to provide energy throughout your day, and the same was touted about the butter coffee I was about to order — something that will not only rev up my body and mind, but keep me full all morning."

People, I tell you. If I see someone put low-fat butter in their coffee as a way to hold to some kind of diet, I may not be able to restrain myself.

NoiseTrade Music and Books

Are you familiar with NoiseTrade? It's a site where you can download a large variety of new music for free and leave a tip for the artists at your discretion. I recently downloaded an album from Christian rapper Propaganda. It's strong stuff, not my thing really but I'm stretching myself. I also listened to a little Indie trio named Joseph. If you're up for a great sound in worship music, listen to the sampler by As Isaac, a Chattanooga-based band.

Musicians say NoiseTrade is a great promotional platform. When you download music, you are invited to share your activity on your social networks. You also fork over an email address to get your download code, which allows the band to thank you or tell you about new music later on.

This year, NoiseTrade has launched a book service on the same model. Some of the title look like free ebooks you would get anywhere, but many of them look great. Random House is offering these titles at the moment. In Mysteries and Thrillers, you can see Ted Dekker has a promotional chapter available. Author Cliff Graham is racking up in the top download today. Are you a voracious enough reader to dip into this service? Let us know.

Thornbury: Radical Depravity Make Sense of Mercy

In my last post, I shared a featurette on the movie Noah, coming out this Friday. I was impressed that leaders like Greg Thornbury praised it for deep thinking. Dr. Thornbury is the president of The King’s College in New York City and the author of Recovering Classic Evangelicalism: Applying the Wisdom and Vision of Carl F. H. Henry. He has shared many more thoughts with us in this post on The Gospel Coalition:

Only with the juxtaposition against radical depravity can mercy actually make sense. Failing this understanding, you cannot sustain Christian theism. Otherwise, mercy becomes weak, expected, and even demanded. Seeing Russell Crowe-as-Noah grit his teeth and war against real flesh-and-blood evil makes sin, a notion seemingly incredible to Hollywood, to be real. As a viewer, locked into the gaze of the film, you're thinking, I'm with God, and this Noah guy. It makes the redemption and mercy theme of the film compelling, even if Aronofsky takes a slightly perverse (and admittedly extra-biblical) route to make the point. We grew up in a world that makes Noah nice. Noah is not nice.
The writers, he says, approach their film as expansive commentary, not biblical illustration. (via Hunter Baker)

Aronofsky’s Noah Could Be Awesome

Phil Cooke has rounded up some serious Christian leaders and teachers to praise the movie based on the story of Noah in Genesis. Watch this video and tell me what you think.

Harry Hole novels by Jo Nesbo



I've been meaning to post a very short review of three of Jo Nesbø's Harry Hole mysteries. There's a whole list of books in the series, but the trilogy of The Redbreast, Nemesis, and The Devil's Star form a self-contained unit within it, and make an interesting read in themselves. I reviewed Redbreast sometime back, and read The Devil's Star without reviewing it. Recently I read Nemesis (out of order), and gained a new appreciation.

Nesbø's Oslo police detective character, Harry Hole (pronounced "hoo-leh") is difficult to evaluate. He pushes credibility, because it's hard to believe that anyone this alcoholic and reflexively self-destructive has managed to maintain a career in a modern police department. But in these books Hole has begun a difficult -- but promising -- relationship with a single mother, which inspires him (intermittently) to attempt to reform himself. This would give him one added thing he actually cares about in his life, beyond police work.

The running narrative in this trilogy involves another detective, a popular and charismatic one, whom Hole suspects of illegal activities and the murder of a colleague. Hole hates him, but is almost seduced into corruption by him.

What's fascinating about the Harry Hole books is the multiple layers of mystery involved. Once the mystery is solved, there's plenty of book left, and the reader discovers there's a mystery within the mystery. Then there's a further mystery within that. It unpeels like an onion.

This may relate to one of Harry's mottos -- "There is no such thing as a paradox." Someone informs him in the third book that paradoxes do in fact exist. It seems to me possible (I'm not sure) that that discovery is the whole point of the books.

Shared Storytelling: Author Battle



A few weeks ago, a couple guys invited me to participate in a Google+ group they called Legendary Author Battles (LAB). It's a shared storytelling like we have discussed here in the past. One writer begins, the other continues, and back and forth until a conclusion. Then Simon Cantan makes a video of the authors reading their parts.

This is my first one, and even though I wish I could have taken my reading dramatics up several notches, I think the story itself is pretty good. Feel free to tell me I'm wrong.

The story is an urban fantasy which pits a telepathic librarian against an urban developer. The businessman wants to buy up the neighborhood, but the librarian and his neighbors won't go along with him. That standard beginning doesn't come anywhere near describing the whole story, so give it a listen and tell me what you think.

I shared this story with Dave Higgins, who has a new book out.

Recommended Reading

Hugh Howey recommends two books for overcoming the odds against you: Outliers: The Story of Success and Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. In part, he says, "What can you do with the knowledge found in Outliers? You can learn the potential reward of putting in 10,000 hours of hard work. Even the story of Mozart is debunked, who didn’t hit his stride until he had his 10,000 hours invested. He just got them in earlier than most."

Are Movie Titles Getting More Bland?

An upcoming animated film, based on the book The True Meaning Of Smekday, will be released as Home. Which of these titles is more interesting to you? Studios may have a habit of preferring bland titles over interesting ones.

Mark Driscoll Drops Bestseller Status

Within the last couple weeks, we've talked about what it means for a book to be labeled a New York Times bestseller and how marketing services can game the system to buy that status for your book. Now, Pastor Mark Driscoll admits "manipulating a book sales reporting system," which he did for his book Real Marriage, is "wrong." More than this, he says:

In the last year or two, I have been deeply convicted by God that my angry-young-prophet days are over, to be replaced by a helpful, Bible-teaching spiritual father. Those closest to me have said they recognize a deep change, which has been encouraging because I hope to continually be sanctified by God's grace.
Update: Kevin DeYoung gives us "9 Thoughts on Celebrity Pastors, Controversy, the New Calvinism, Etc."

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