The Great Divide:  An America Torn Asunder by Divisions

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The number one subject for bestselling non-fiction books in the USA today concerns the chasm that separates Republicans from Democrats.  Rural voters from urban voters.  College Educated people from non-college educated.  Conservatives from liberals.  Fox viewers from CNN viewers.  Your facts from my facts.  Your truths from my truths.  Your lies from my lies.  Your views of reality from my views of reality. 

This divide is decried by all the pundits and experts.  Not one of the writers on this subject has anything good to say about the divide.  Perhaps they harken back to the old saying, “United we stand and divided we fall.”  Or the adage that, “A house divided cannot stand.”  Whatever the reasoning, no one thinks that a USA as divided as it is with nearly 75 million people voting for Donald Trump and 80 million people voting for Joseph Biden is helpful for our nation.  Keep in mind, it is not just the sheer numbers that alarm people, it is the magnitude of the crevasse that scares people.

hate-spesechThe abyss It is so big that there is no bridging it.  None of the sides can see the other side.  None of the sides has any common ground with the other side.  None of the sides understands the language that the other side speaks.  We might as well be earthlings talking to Martians.  There is no lingua franca.  Many of the “well-meaning” experts exhort both sides to try harder to bridge the gap or to work more diligently to listen to the other side.  It seems to be assumed that all it will take to jump the gulf is good intentions.  I cry bullshit on this.  As the old aphorism goes, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”  It will take more than good intentions to heal the wound that infests our country.

Before we can fix what ails America, we must clearly understand what brought this divide about.  What are the causes for this divide, and can they be healed?  I see three main causes for this chasm.  They are: 1. Greed, 2. Demonization, and 3. Media.  Let’s look at each of these three elements and see how they contribute to the divide and what if anything can be done about them. 

Greed:

Corporate greed and materialism have driven a wedge between the haves and the have nots in America.  A larger gap than ever before exists between the rich and the poor.  The number of people seeking free food and standing in line at food banks has only been higher during the Great Depression.  The requirements for a digital elite versus a computer illiterate fuels the growing income gap.  The Opioid Epidemic is only one symptom of this inequality in the USA.  Many people cannot afford medical care or adequate housing as well as food. 

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For years now, materialism has been touted as the backbone of American commerce by corporations and the media.  Inflammatory news events sell advertisements which drive people to the shopping malls, ball parks, restaurants, and performances.  Special events like “Black Friday” abound where people, “shop till they drop.”  There is a vicious spiral to these events since the final outcome is to keep people needy and wanting more.  The theologian Matthew Kelly says you can never satisfy wants only needs.  Pursuing wants will always leave you wanting more.  Eating, sleeping, exercise and love are needs that can be satisfied and will bring you happiness.  You can never be happy pursuing wants.

materialism and spendingThe wants advertised on the TV and in the media are never fulfilling.  We have a nation of brainwashed consumers who mistakenly think that more toys, bigger houses, more guns, and luxury cars will make them happy.  We are a nation on a never-ending treadmill of consumer materialism where like rats we keep spinning the wheel and hoping to find happiness, but happiness never comes, and drugs take its place. 

There is no sanity in our economic system.  It is a zero-sum game.  It is a great deal like the lottery.  Next week there will be 100 million losers, but one winner will get a billion dollars or more.  The value for the lottery keeps going up which entices more and more people to buy lottery tickets, but the number of losers also keeps going up.  Where do the profits for the lotteries go?  Not back to the people, regardless of what they tell you.  Our society is being sold hope where hope is the most elusive product in the marketplace. 

imagesAs the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, the tensions in society grow ever more divisive.  We see more road rage, more senseless shootings, more violence between men and women, less loyalty between employers and employees.  The underpinning of society that should be based on human integrity and morality is replaced with an opportunism based on an amoral value system.  Whatever we can get as long as we break no laws is considered to be moral.  We see most politicians that have no commitment to anything except to collect more money so that they can stay in office.   Their highest goal is to help the rich get richer, which of course includes themselves. 

Jesus said that money is not evil, it is the pursuit of money that is evil.  The evil in America comes from a frenzy for more that separates Americans from each other.  Like a horse race where there can only be one winner, there are only going to be a few rich Americans and many more poor people scrambling to be the “King of the Hill.” 

I do not believe that the divide in this country can be erased until we eliminate the gap between the rich and the poor.  It is not simply a matter of conversation or discussion.  It is a matter of inequality.  A poor person cannot talk to a rich person unless they can shout over gated walls and armed security guards.  The biggest divide in America is between the haves and the have nots.  It is between the will haves and the may never haves.  The haves in America expect to have more and probably will get more.  The have nots do not know where their next paycheck will come from or whether they will be able to buy food for tomorrow.  No amount of discussion or listening skills is going to solve this problem.  

Demonization:

Speech-Bubble-Montage_2-1 (1)I am not talking about the devil here or about spirituality.  I am talking about a kind of insidious propaganda that has been spread by many groups and individuals.  In this propaganda, one side of America is labeled as moral, ethical, righteous, and just.  The other side is the opposite.  The other side is everything negative.  The other side is a composite of all the demons and evils that Americans believe in.  The other side are communists, fascists, atheists, anti-democratic, anti-patriotic and un-American.  One side is good.  The other side is evil incarnate.  You cannot talk to evil.  You cannot discuss with the devil why he wants your soul.  You cannot debate with Satan over the values that he has.  Heaven and hell do not have weekly discussion groups.  The language heard today, and what the media publishes drips with hate, innuendo, and disdain.  The language fosters violence.  I doubt the Founding Fathers ever conceived that the First Amendment would protect such speech.  There are three elements that contribute to a hate speech culture that demonizes the other side: 

  1. Malicious Labeling:

freehatespeechMalicious labeling is the name calling that goes on between both sides today wherein each side is labeled.  You can hear it on almost every talk show program in America today.  Name calling and name labeling.  Commie pinko leftists!  Intellectual elites!  Radical socialists!  Racist rednecks!  Fascist dictators!  Politicians, commentators, newscasters, and radio talk show hosts all use malicious labels to insult and demean those they disagree with.  What have we let this country become when we allow such name calling?  This kind of hyperbole demonizes the other side and creates a divide that cannot be overcome by rational conversation.

“I think the political process has degenerated into name-calling and extremism, and I think that that’s unfortunate.” — Bill Bradley

  1. Anti-Government Diatribes:

extremismword_hp111319.1200x0I do not think that the Founding Fathers of our nation believed that Government was evil.  Certainly, they felt that there could be too much government intrusion on the rights of the populace.  They invoked certain safeguards to protect both human rights and states rights.  Nevertheless, they did not demonize government and not a single one of the Fathers ever referred to government as evil.  Edmund Burke, the famous English conservative said, “The government that governs best is the government that governs least.”  He never said, “government was evil.”  It has become common place to hear refrains denigrating the role and necessity of government.  This steady drumbeat of antigovernmental rhetoric has created a group of people that have no value for government and who support the idea that government should be abolished.

“A primary object should be the education of our youth in the science of government. In a republic, what species of knowledge can be equally important? And what duty more pressing than communicating it to those who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of the country?”  — George Washington

  1. Legal Advocates of Violence

loyal white knights and aryan nations in texas july 2016 from vkdotcom_0A few years ago I began to wonder why groups like the KKK, Aryan Brotherhood, Antifa, The Proud Boys and many other such groups advocating violence against the government were not labeled as Terrorist Organizations.  I asked a lawyer this question and he replied, “it is all politics.”  I found that almost all the groups listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “hate groups” were designated as “extremist groups.”  This means that they are not illegal, and they have the right to organize, march, rally and basically spread their hate across America.  In 2019, The SPLC listed 940 hate groups across the USA.  If any of these groups was labeled as a “Terrorist Group,” they would be on the same list as the Taliban, Boko Haram, The Mafia, Mexican Cartels and Al Qaeda.  What is the difference between an extremist group and a terrorist group?  It might surprise you to learn that a terrorist organization is defined as follows:

In the United States of America, terrorism is defined in Title 22 Chapter 38 U.S. Code § 2656f as “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents”.

In general, terrorism is classified as:

  • The use of violence or of the threat of violence in the pursuit of political, religious, ideological, or social objectives
  • Acts committed by non-state actors (or by undercover personnel serving on the behalf of their respective governments)
  • Acts reaching more than the immediate target victims and also directed at targets consisting of a larger spectrum of society.

15963If this definition does not apply to the groups that tried to storm the US Capital on January 6th, 2021, I do not know what does.  Just yesterday the Canadian government labeled the Proud Boys as a Terrorist Organization.  This delegitimizes the group and takes their rights away.  For Canada, it is a start.  I am wondering when we are going to get started in the USA on such an effort.  The First Amendment was never construed to allow hate speech and the advocating of violent actions to overthrow the government.  Why do we not have the political will to outlaw these groups?  We seem to have little compunction in penalizing Black groups like the Black Lives Matter Movement or the Black Panthers.  We have a different standard when it comes to White Supremacy groups. 

The Media:

000f25f2-6bf0-11e9-994e-1d1e521ccbf6_image_hires_015902The newspapers, TV and the Internet are today the major carriers for the hate and vituperation that has spread across America.  On one side of the divide, we find the NY Times, the Washington Post and CNN News.  On the other side, we find the NY Post, the Washington Examiner and Fox News.  There are countless other purveyors of extreme and fanatical views.  Each side reeks of headlines supporting nonobjective views and biased reporting.  If objective reporting ever existed in the USA, it has been murdered and buried by the most pervasive media to ever exist.  The media carries the hate and violence that is created by politicians, pundits, radio commentators and hate groups and ensures that it gets widely disseminated.  Without the media, much of the divide would never have occurred.  Hate needs a platform to be spread and the media is more than happy to host anything that it believes will sell itself and its advertising. 

Conclusions:

We are not going to overcome the divide that separates Americans today by platitudes and wishful thinking.  No amount of holding hands or singing kumbaya together is going to unite Americans.  We have a systemic rot in our system that is caused by the extremism in politics and media that has created this divide.  We need to enact reasonable laws to stamp out this rot while also protecting free speech but not hate speech.  There is a difference between hate speech and free speech.  If we cannot figure this difference out, we will never close the divide that exists in America today.  You can defend the First Amendment all you want, but there are limits to everything and that includes so-called Free Speech. 

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Jesus Starts a Facebook Page

Hi, I need to apologize.  I should be doing Gandhi’s third Social Sin but I got sidetracked by two recent news reports which have taken me down a different path for this blog.  I decided to do this blog on the subject of Jesus and Facebook.  I wonder what Jesus would do with Facebook if he were alive today?  I want to speculate a bit on what the current emphasis on social media would or could possibly do to enhance Jesus’s message and mission.  I will return to Gandhi next week. 

A few years ago, I remember seeing a science fiction movie wherein the value of a person in the future was directly related to how popular they were.  I cannot remember the name of the movie, so if you are familiar with it, I would appreciate your sending me a comment or email. I vaguely remember it being a Stallone movie but the only sci-fi movies I remember him in were Demolition Man and Judge Dredd and I do not think that either of these were the right movies.   In this future time, each citizen was given some sort of a number or code that showed how popular they were. The more popular they were the more successful and wealthy they were. Your value as a human being rested in your popularity regardless of how you may have achieved this popularity.  I have thought about this issue many times since then.  What once seemed like science-fiction now seems like daily reality.

Today we actually do value the worth of a person or their endeavors by how popular they are. Their popularity rating is based on a variety of measures.  How many followers do they have on Facebook?  How many hits do they get on their Blog?  How many calls do they get to be on game shows or other Hollywood Media?  How many books have they sold?  How many downloads did they get?  How many people did they kill?  Popularity sells newspapers, movie rights, stories, advertisements and TV space.  We have an entire set of people who are called celebrities who owe their lifestyles to some bizarre excuse for fame that the public has latched on.  Donald Trump, Lady Gaga, Psi, Kate Middleton, and dozens others routinely grace our newsstands and command maximum space in the media.  Wikipedia defines celebrity as:

A celebrity is a person who has a prominent profile and commands some degree of public fascination and influence in day-to-day media. The term is often synonymous with wealth (commonly denoted as a person with fame and fortune), implied with great popular appeal, prominence in a particular field, and is easily recognized by the general public.

Celebrities are the superstars of today’s world. Celebrities ban together at parties, galas, shindigs and anywhere the rich, successful or famous go to hang out. I noticed that during President Obama’s most recent White House Correspondents Dinner on April 27th that the audience was filled with not only news reporters but many of the rich and famous referred to as Hollywood’s A-List.  This A-List also included many of the politicians in this country since they were well represented at this dinner. It did not matter whether or not they supported Obama.  Right Wing, Left Wing, Conservative, Republican, Democrat, Liberal were all conspicuous at this dinner.  One can see Conan O’Brien, at the podium sharing some jokes at Bill O’Reilly’s expense on some of the videos posted on You-Tube.  For one brief night, Obama and O’Reilly had more in common than any of the common people (Are we B or C list?) on the face of the earth.  Regardless if the event is a Superbowl, Wimbledon Championship. PGA Major Event, or a funeral of some important dignitary, the “Celebrities” will all be invited.  Popularity is the coin of the realm today and the holy graile that we all seek. Today, it is more important to be famous and well known that it is to be kind, decent or good at least if you want to be a celebrity.

I noticed a Facebook posting on my web site from George Takei (AKA Sulu) of Star Trek fame.  He is now being hailed as a social media expert since his Facebook site has over four million followers and is one of the most popular sites on the Internet.  I had to admit to some curiosity so I went to check out his site to see what is behind his popularity. It seems his new found recognition is now translating into a renewed interest in his career and endeavors.  I will say that I was a big Star Trek fan and read most if not all of the bios of the lead actors from the series. I even went to the very first Star Trek convention in New York City.  I declined an invitation though to attend the second one.  I can only take nostalgia so far. I was most struck by the reported animosity between Takei and Captain Kirk.  It seems they did not get along too well off set although several other characters also found Shatner overbearing and egotistical. But then this seems to go with stardom.  Takei stuck to his guns though and was well liked by all members of the cast. 

Looking at Takei’s website, I was struck by the randomness of his site. Humor, short human interest stories, lots of pictures alluding to Star Trek and many liberal causes which Takei supports. I found it a fun and interesting site, but still left amazed that 4,000,000 people a week go to this site. To give you some perspective, when I started my www.timeparables.blogspot.com website it took me almost three years to go from 50 hits per month to nearly 3000 hits per month.  I confess, I routinely scrutinized the figures and sometimes felt obsessed with my “numbers.”  I did not want to fall into the trap of equating the value of what I had to say with the numbers of people who hit my site, but I found it hard not to feel bad on those days when I would publish what I thought was a very thought provoking blog and hardly anyone would logon.  Many times I felt disillusioned at the interest in my writings and was on the verge of stopping. Almost every time I got to this point, I would receive a comment or email indicating how much my blog meant to someone and how it had really made a difference in their life. I determined to keep writing as long as I had even one reader out there. I did not and still do not want to measure my value by my popularity but it’s not an easy task. 

One day a good friend of mine and I were in a coffee shop in Stillwater, Minnesota. We had both set down with our coffees and suddenly a man about our age appeared at the counter.  I could not help but think I knew him but I could not place where I knew him from.  I decided to go up to ask him.  I inquired whether we had met in the motorcycle club I belonged to and he said “No.”  I started to return to my seat but out of curiosity I persisted.  I said “Dam, you look very familiar, have we met someplace before?”  He again replied “No.”  I tried again.  “Are you in the movies or papers?”  “Yes”, he replied.  May I ask your name?  He answered “Sam Shepard.”   Suddenly, I was rather embarrassed and tongue tied. I admired many of his movies, writings and plays but did not know what to say.  I did not want him to think I was a celebrity seeker or one of the people who hound celebrities just to get their autograph or a piece of them.  I quickly ended the one-sided conversation with “Well, I like your movies, have a great day.”  That was the end of it. No further reply and Sam just walked off.

I realize there are many celebrity hunters out there. In fact, what would a celebrity be without a celebrity hunter? I also realize that many people who have achieved fame and recognition would rather not be celebrities. I suspect Sam was one of them.  An extremely accomplished actor, playwright and film director, he could stand on his own without “fame” or fortune.  However, fortune and fame does follow people who are very successful.  This is one of the payments for being able to do things that other people envy, admire or want to associate with.  Probably that is part of the reason we associate celebrity status with something desirable.  To become a celebrity means to become rich, famous and liked by millions.  We average people seldom see the downsides of celebrity status.  Thus, I am left to reflect on the curious juxtaposition of Jesus and Facebook.

If we can fast forward to Jesus of Nazareth to the 21st Century and imagine him having a Facebook site, how many followers would Jesus have today?  Let us assume for the sake of this hypothesis that Jesus was just starting out his ministry and was relatively unknown except for 12 rather flighty and fickle followers (AKA Disciples).  So Jesus puts up his Facebook site and starts posting parables and stories.  One story Jesus tells is as follows:  Matthew 18:23-34 — Unmerciful Servant

Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. “The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me, he begged, and I will pay back everything.’  The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.”

“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.  His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’  But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.  Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.” 

What is the moral of this story?  There are many that could be derived from this parable.  Love others as you are loved?  Do unto others as you would have done unto you?  What goes around comes around?  Share kindness not unkindness.  Jesus taught with the use of such parables and today he is the most famous person in history with more followers than even Donald Trump.  However, if Jesus were alive today would he get hits on his website by posting such parables?  Or would Jesus have to “get” with the times and become more contemporary?   Would he get himself executed again by the civil authorities for preaching discontent and unrest?  Would Jesus be a Republican or a Democrat?  Would he be a Liberal or a Conservative?  My mind reels with all the questions that this fantasy of a 21st Century Jesus holds for me.

I suppose I am losing you at this point.  My good friend Carrie Classon keeps her postings to 600 words and I am almost at 2000.  I am not sure I have made my point yet.  The moral I have been trying to explore here is “When does celebrity become hollow and mindless?”  There is fame that comes from accomplishing something of worth and value to the human race. There is also fame that comes from trivial meaningless endeavors or worse destroying lives and ideas that hold value for others.  One type of fame should be admired but the other type should be denigrated. Unfortunately, it looks like the media and too many people today do not distinguish between the two types of fame.  I see many news pundits who make their living preaching hate and intolerance and not love and kindness.  I see talk shows, radio and TV with mindless sycophants talking much but saying little.  I see a vast wasteland of entertainment with putdowns and innuendos making fun of other people.  I see millions of watchers who feel they must live their lives vicariously through others because they don’t have the ability or opportunity to do otherwise. Is this the value of Fame?

I conclude with a poem by Emily Dickenson: 

Fame is a Fickle Food

Fame is a fickle food

Upon a shifting plate

Whose table once a

Guest but not

The second time is set.

Whose crumbs the crows inspect

And with ironic caw

Flap past it to the Farmer’s Corn –

Men eat of it and die.

Ok, time for questions:

Are we too concerned with being popular?  Do you think more people should look inward or worry more about what others think?  Do you worry too much about what others think?  What if you cared less?  What would your life be like?  Can someone be too popular?  Should popularity be a goal for anyone?  Why or Why not?

 Life is just beginning.

 

 

Blundering Through Life

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to “fall” off the wagon but how hard to get back on again? Using myself as an example, I have fallen way off.  My goal is to write two blogs a week.  After getting the flu and then my recent tooth problems, I have not written a single blog in three or more weeks.  I kept trying to get back on but did not quite have the energy.  So today, I am going to get back on the wagon.  I feel mentally alert, healthier than I have in a month and anxious to put some of my thoughts into words.  I want to sally forth again spewing concepts and ideas that will have a profound impact on the world.  I can make the world a better place to live and I will start again today trying to accomplish that objective. 

However, where to start is a difficult question.  Heaven knows the last four weeks has seen plenty of issues to write about.  I am thinking of the politicians I would like to lambast, the crimes I would like to lament, the stupidity and greed that manifests itself daily and perhaps worst of all, the inane drivel that passes for news these days.  The media has become a ten ring circus with clowns, lawyers, politicians, private citizens, police, murderers, terrorists, reporters, Fox News people and everyone – citizen and non-citizen –  armed with a video camera anxious to have their 15 seconds of fame.  One ten ring story gets replaced by another and the media tears off on another rampage.  The airwaves will be filled with interviews ad-nauseam with past friends, current friends, future friends, relatives, lovers, teachers, and the ubiquitous “experts” from academia telling us why, when and how it happened. You will get this circus in 15 minute doses updated hourly and repeated no less than 45 times per day.  Each repetition of the media cycle will include: new hypotheses, new suppositions, new interpretations, new guesses, new conjectures and some really wild correlations that seem to come out of a twisted warped devious mind from hell.   I won’t bore you with any concrete examples since if you are reading this blog today; you have only to look at your local paper to see what I am talking about.  You want conspiracy theories?  There should be a section in the news for Conspiracy Theories based on little or no facts. 

Well, carping on the negative will only make you feel as bad as I do when I dwell on what poor Thomas Jefferson and Edward R. Morrow must be thinking about the Fourth Estate today.   The papers daily grind us with patriotism defined narrowly and of course only a characteristic of real Americans.  Almost anyone today challenging the status quo is liable to be labeled as a “Terrorist.”  It seems that most news media but particularly Fox News has forgotten that:

“We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men – not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate, and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular”
Edward R. Murrow

Anyone reading Fox News would wonder if they had ever heard of Edward R. Morrow or of due process or that the suspect is “innocent until proven guilty.” 

Well, now that I have got the media off my chest, let’s look at what the real problems in the world are and what we can do about them.  In 1925, Mohandas Gandhi published a list of seven problems that he called “social sins.”  They have also been referred to as the “Seven Blunders of the World.”  Gandhi called these blunders passive violence which he said fueled the active violence of crime, rebellion, and war.  He said, “We could work ’til doomsday to achieve peace and would get nowhere as long as we ignore passive violence in our world.”   Thus, these “blunders” or “social sins” are the underlying cause of all violence in the world.  His son Arun was given this list on their final day together.  Arun later added an eight “sin” to the list.

Here is the list of Gandhi’s seven plus one added by his son Arun:

I would like to spend my next eight blogs describing each of these sins and what we can do about them.   I realize that one could look at many other lists and perhaps make equal claim to their being the “root” of all evil. Primary among these other lists would be what some call “The Seven Cardinal Sins.”   

I certainly would not dispute the value of any of these other lists since the world can seldom be reduced to any one list whether it includes seven or seventy items.  In fact, I would love to hear any comments concerning the value of other lists or the potential contributions that other lists might make to the problems of the world.  Keep in mind we also have many lists of “positive” traits that are considered by some as essential for a peaceful world. Perhaps simply eliminating the negative will never be enough.  It is very likely that unless we work on developing positive attributes among people we will still come up short in the values that we want for a just and loving society.  However, as with all good journeys, you must start someplace and today I (Or at least in my next blog) I will start on Gandhi’s list of Seven Social Sins. 

Ok, time for questions:

What rules or principles do you have for living? What are the key mistakes that you think we make as human beings? How do you go about trying to live right ideas? What do you do when you fail? How many people do you know who practice a set of rules to live by?  How well do you follow your own rules?

Life is just beginning.

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