Change Management

An excellent article on Brexit by Theodore Dalrymple contains this paragraph:

Theresa May did not emerge from a social vacuum. She is typical of the class that has gradually attained power in Britain, from the lowest levels of the administration to the highest: unoriginal, vacillating, humorless, prey to the latest bad ideas, intellectually mediocre, believing in nothing very much, mistaking obstinacy for strength, timid but nevertheless avid for power. Thousands of minor Mays populate our institutions, as thousands of minor Blairs did before them.

The good doctor might not know this, but the rot isn’t just limited to the political classes and national institutions; it extends right through the corporate world too. The description of May could apply seamlessly to any number of managers I’ve encountered throughout my career, just as this could apply to several business units I’ve found myself working in:

Avidity for power is not the same as leadership, and Brexit required leadership.

In my 15 years in the international oil industry I came across very little actual leadership – there were some exceptions – and an awful lot of managers who took the post because it represented the next rung on the ladder and that’s where the system required them to stop for a while. The only thing they cared about was looking good in the eyes of their hierarchy and keeping their nose clean until the next promotion. Their department – its people, processes, and objectives – were seen as an inconvenience in exactly the same way May and the rest of the political classes see the population as an inconvenience.

Yesterday MPs voted to extend the deadline on Article 50 by 313 votes to 312, the winning margin provided by a convicted criminal who attended parliament wearing an ankle bracelet. To the ordinary citizen this is an abomination, but the political classes think they’ve done nothing wrong. I used to see this in the corporate world. We’d do some technical work and the results – usually technical or financial – would make the CEO unhappy, and therefore the middle management look bad. So management would demand the work be redone again and again, abandoning principles, processes, precedents, and best practices, in order to deliver the results they wanted. They’d shop around for whatever methodology would give them the outcome they desired from the beginning, yet convince themselves they were doing things properly. Not once would they reflect on the damage they’d caused to the integrity of their own organisation or the problems they’d encounter in the future. Convinced of their own propriety, they simply didn’t care.

They say politics is downstream of culture, and business is almost certainly downstream of both. The behaviour I describe is so widespread one can only assume it derives from the culture, and has probably always been there. The difference now is the incentives are so aligned that these people get rewarded before everyone else, whereas in previous eras they’d have been shoved to the sidelines by people who operate in a wholly different way. This isn’t just about politics, it’s about the direction the entire society has taken. If things are to change, the incentives to behave badly must be removed and replaced with those which reward different behaviours. Normally that takes both sticks and carrots. As far as I see it, we’re all out of carrots; it’s time to get a bigger stick. Change, in this case, will have to come from the bottom. That means you.

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Utrinque Paratus

A video has emerged of soldiers of the Parachute Regiment firing pistols at a picture of Jeremy Corbyn, causing the chattering classes to wring their hands:


What reputation would that be, then? I’ve written before about the habit of certain Brits to assume foreigners share their elevated opinion of themselves, and I suspect the same applies here. No foreigner other than Irish republicans will give a damn about this video, and if Peston thinks it undermines a reputation of Britain being a peace-loving country where things are settled by debate rather than violence, he might be surprised to learn the Iraq War put paid to that. As one of my followers on Twitter said:

Sometimes people high up in our society talk as if they are the adminstrators of the wayward province of an empire.

Certainly, their idea of what foreigners think of Britain appears to be uninformed by talking to any. Our media continually tell us we’re a laughing stock because of Brexit, but fail to appreciate it is not those who voted leave who are mocked but the incompetence of the political classes. And where do you think this video sits alongside politicians flatly refusing to honour the results of a referendum in a ranking of things which damage Britain’s reputation overseas? Old Robert Mugabe must be chuckling to himself as I type.

As another of my Twitter correspondents noted, the Mother of Parliaments is now a laughing stock; the Parachute Regiment isn’t. I find foreigners’ impressions of the UK vary greatly, but quite a few wonder why we appear to be committing suicide by opening the borders to all and sundry. Their tone suggests they used to believe Britain to be a serious country run by serious people, but no more. Our chattering classes would also be surprised to find what many foreigners – particularly those from the Middle East – think of London having a mayor named Sadiq Khan. While we insist it’s a sign of our tolerance, they see it as abject surrender. My point is if our reputation abroad mattered as much as people say it does, we’d be doing things very differently.

As for the video itself, well, what can I say? Jeremy Corbyn supported the IRA when they were murdering members of the Parachute Regiment in Northern Ireland, so what do you expect? Yes, we can talk about professionalism and worrying precedents but if these are the topics of the day, the Parachute Regiment can take their place a long way down a list which includes politicians, parliament, the police, the courts, the CPS, the immigration service, and pretty much every branch of government I can think of. Let’s talk about their professionalism and the precedents they’re setting before launching inquiries into what paras get up to when on the range. If they murder someone or commit atrocities then let me know, until then I’m content that single men in barracks don’t turn into plaster saints.

Of course, elements of the right have responded to the video by doing what they do best: talking earnestly about propriety and principles, as if these mean anything on a battlefield which the left hold every square inch of in large part because to them they don’t. So the MOD at the behest of a Tory government will identify and sack these soldiers, the right will refuse to defend them, the left will celebrate, and their Culture War trophy cabinet will groan a little more under the weight. I get that people on the right don’t want to defend the soldiers, but they could at least remain silent and not do the left’s job for them. I’ve written before about how the right needs to stop defending their enemies; they also need to stop punching right at every opportunity (as they do whenever Tommy Robinson’s name is mentioned). The country is dividing, old alliances are crumbling and new ones forming. If the centre right wants to wrest back control of the country, they’d better start demonstrating to potential allies they are serious about it. Right now, that means being on the side of these soldiers of the Parachute Regiment, or at the very least saying nothing.

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Captured Nation

It’s been obvious from the beginning of negotiations that the ruling classes on both sides of the English Channel don’t want Britain to leave the EU, but they’ve been so incompetent they haven’t even managed to engineer a solution which works in their favour. Instead, Theresa May is reduced to simply putting her deal to the vote again and again, like a monster at the finale of a horror film which has sustained so much damage all it can do is repeat its stock phrase before finally expiring.

My prediction is the EU won’t budge on the backstop, May’s deal won’t pass on the fourth or even fifth attempt, and those in charge will simply say “Well, we’re just not gonna leave.” This is pretty much where we are already: if they were going to let Britain leave, we’d have been out last Friday. In my experience, arrogant technocrats will attempt to put a veneer of propriety on their decisions but ultimately they’re content to just do whatever is most convenient for them, principles be damned. The only reason to try to ram May’s deal through is to give the ruling classes a flimsy excuse for their actions, but it’s not going to make any difference. Britain might well end up leaving the EU this year – perhaps after a general election – but it won’t be as an end result of the farce that’s playing out now. The conclusion of that was decided an awful long time ago; what’s changed is now everyone can see that.

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Banana Splits

It looks as though the game is still on to thwart Brexit by any means possible; in theory the UK is supposed to leave on Friday, but whereas withdrawing Article 50 requires an act of parliament, as does any deal agreed with the EU, apparently extending the 29th March deadline required only a letter. No doubt the shenanigans played out in the commons yesterday are aimed at either forcing Brits to accept a leave-in-name-only agreement or cancelling Brexit altogether. At this point, I’d be very surprised if either of these is not the final outcome; leaving with no deal looks almost impossible from here, as MPs and Bercow simply move the goalposts every time it looks imminent.

So what we have is rock-solid confirmation that the political classes are happy to ignore voters, break promises, circumvent laws, and generally make things up as they go as if they running an island nation with little industry except bananas. Furthermore, there is a sizeable section of the country – mainly the urban professional classes – who are quite happy with this, and genuinely believe their position is morally sound. From what I can tell, most believe the referendum was rigged and the vote should never have been held; they also think if Britain doesn’t leave the EU, it will be as if the whole thing never happened except the oiks will now be aware of their own stupidity.

So what will happen? The first thing is the Conservative party will implode, because the number of ordinary people willing to tramp the streets knocking on doors will plummet. Canvassing for the Tories is hard enough as it is; what’s a volunteer supposed to reply when a householder says “Why should I vote for you? I voted for Brexit and you cancelled it.” Leave-voting Tories will simply stay at home, and combined with defections to The Independent Group they’ll be incapable of forming a government outside a coalition ever again. Traditional Labour voters will abandon their party, and seek a new home. Into this vacuum will spring all sorts of new parties ranging from half-sensible to insane, none of which can form a government but together can do enough to prevent either of the major parties doing so either. Labour may be the first to recover by ejecting Corbyn and installing a centrist leader, but the damage will be done.

Disgruntled leave voters will take every opportunity to punish the ruling classes, casting their vote in whichever way will make their lives more difficult. Single-issue parties will attract protest votes, and some candidates offering some rather unpleasant policies might gain a seat or two, throwing coalitions into chaos. The European elections will be entertaining affairs where leavers turn out in droves to send the most rabid anti-European parties to Brussels in order to embarrass the politicians back home. So just from a political standpoint, Britain will become a lot harder to govern and it’s not like the current crop of politicians were competent beforehand. They’ll no longer be able to blame the EU without their constituents hurling them into a void, which is probably what’s terrifying a lot of them right now.

I said things will get ugly, and I stand by that. I don’t think we’ll see mass protests and violence like we’ve seen with the gilets jaunes in France, most Brits don’t have the stomach for that and will get slaughtered in the streets by riot police who have no qualms about laying into the citizens on behalf of the ruling powers. But ugliness can take many forms, and one of the things which made Britain a lot prettier than most countries is the degree of social cooperation. In the main, Brits like to do the right thing, to do whatever’s necessary to help everyone and everything rub along as best as possible. This means obeying laws, not acting in an anti-social manner, and generally cooperating with the authorities. In some levels of society this never happened, and thanks to the importation of millions of foreigners from quite different cultures, social trust and cohesion has already been severely eroded. I expect we’re going to see this process accelerate, and really take hold among the middle classes. Passive aggression, indifference, and acts of spite will become far more prevalent among people who could previously have been relied upon to make small sacrifices and do the right thing.

For example, I’d be willing to bet fly-tipping increases, along with vandalism. More people will abuse the system, particularly the NHS. Citizens calling in to report crimes will fall, and policemen and other obvious representatives of the government will say levels of abuse have increased. Which won’t actually be the case, it will just seem like it because fewer people will have a kind word and they’ll be ignored more frequently while the underclasses carry on as normal. Tax fraud will increase, people will feel less guilty about cheating the VAT man by paying in cash, more people will see the government as an authority to be opposed and outwitted rather than cooperated with for the good of society. In other words, Britain will become more like Spain, Greece, and Italy. I expect we’ll also see instances of vindictive legislation being passed; the complaining from the City of London when the EU finally passes its financial transaction tax will be music to the ears of many Leavers. We can expect wealth taxes, inheritance taxes, removal of the charitable statuses of private schools, and other class-based laws proposed out of sheer spite by minority parties who know such moves can win them votes from people who feel let down by the professional classes.

If Brexit doesn’t happen, I think we’re going to see a tough few years in Britain as social cohesion erodes and politics fragments. Getting anything meaningful done will be nigh-on impossible, despite desperate calls from Westminster about “unity” and “moving on”. I suspect it will become a rather unpleasant place to live, especially London which will be the main battleground between the professional classes, the EU, and the rest of the country. Banana republics are rarely success stories, and Britain will be no different. What will probably surprise the professional classes when the effects start to bite is how nonchalantly they chose to go down this path.

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Parallel Lies

So Trump has been cleared of conspiring with Russia to seize the 2016 presidential election in a manner so emphatic that even the BBC has been forced to run it as a front-page headline; when the news broke over the weekend they were doing everything they could to keep it buried on page 2. Not that they couldn’t resist putting a negative spin on it:

But Attorney General William Barr’s summary is inconclusive as to whether Mr Trump obstructed justice.

Meaning, there is no evidence he did so.

In a sane world, this ought to bring to an end two years of what I expect historians will see as an immensely damaging episode in American history when the ruling classes and their media mouthpieces decided to fabricate charges of near-treasonous activity against a sitting president simply because they didn’t like that he won a free and fair election. Worse, many of those accusing Trump actually did conspire to throw the election using every means available short of assassination. For all the hysteria that Trump is trying to re-establish the Third Reich, if this were true he’d be embarking on a mass trial right now which would make Nuremburg look like the small claims court. Hell, the behaviour of certain politicians and FBI directors would have seen them jailed for life or executed by past governments which fell way short of being dictatorial. As I’m fond of saying, America is lucky it was Trump who stumbled into the job back in November 2016. Had it fallen to a smarter more ruthless man who didn’t show his cards, he’d have been gifted a strong excuse to start handing down lengthy prison sentences to his enemies now – including newspaper editors and even owners. The way America is going, this chap may well yet appear.

I’ve said before, there are many parallels between the 2016 election of Trump and the British vote to leave the European Union the same year, and the reactions from the ruling classes to both have been strikingly similar. In each case, they have refused to accept the result and done everything to subvert the democratic wishes of the population simply because they don’t like the outcome. It’s a titanic shift, not just because it paves the way for future skulduggery (which will now become the norm, a la tin-pot basket-case countries) but also because the old left and right designations, which were already severely worn, have finally been destroyed. In the USA, Democrats and Never Trump Republicans joined forces to unseat Trump via fabricated charges of collusion while proper conservatives and the blue collar workers traditionally courted by Democrats wanted him to get on with building walls and bulldozing the EPA with everyone inside. In the UK it’s the same thing: the Metropolitan professional classes who voted for both Blair and Cameron attempting to thwart the expressed democratic wishes of those they consider beneath them. Worse, neither Americans nor the British seem to understand the damage they’re doing to their countries. People honestly think if Trump is impeached, or Article 50 simply withdrawn, everything will go back to normal. It’s hubris and self-delusion on a scale I’d not have thought possible only ten years ago.

The ZMan is fond of pointing out to members of the dissident right that there is no voting their way from where they are now to where they want to be. As is being proven, voting does not change anything and no the odd occasion it does, those in charge simply ignore the vote or attempt to reverse it. Instead, they’re going to have to reframe the entire argument and reject most of what passes for contemporary politics. In practice, this means adopting a pretty ugly sort of tribal-based politics. If that scares you, ask yourself what we’ve got right now.

UPDATE

This long piece by Matt Taibbi is an excellent summary of Russiagate. It’s worse than you can imagine.

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Failblazing

During strategy lectures you’ll often hear the term “first mover advantage”, which refers to a company being the first one to enter a market and carving out a dominant position for itself. This does exist, although examples are more rare than you think. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that Yahoo and AltaVista were the number one search engines before Google showed up with a better algorithm and consigned them both to the rubbish bin.

While there can be advantages of going first, there are also drawbacks. The reason almost every modern underground system is better than London’s is because London went first and built tunnels that were too small and stations that were too curved. They had no idea in the 1860s that this thing they were building would become the main method of shuttling millions of people around major cities; had they done so they may have planned it better. By the time Moscow (1930s), Paris (1900s), Tokyo (1920s), and New York (1900s) came to build theirs, valuable lessons had already been learned. Alas, it was too late for London whose underground is still hobbled by design decisions made with no experience to draw on. No doubt there are other examples of pioneers helpfully making mistakes their rivals won’t have to, and readers are welcome to share them in the comments given I’m too lazy to think of them right now.

Anyway, a tweet by Lord Ashcroft reminds me of the benefits those who come later can draw from those who went first:


It’s not inconceivable that a second EU member state will look to leave in the next ten years. One would hope that, unlike ours, their political classes are at least on board with it and actually want to leave but it is likely to be as divisive as Brexit has been for the UK. The lesson future leavers will draw from the Brexit experience is to prepare for a No Deal well in advance of invoking Article 50, as there will be no guarantee the EU will agree to anything which can be sold to the public. The EU has made it plain they want to make leaving as painful as possible for Britain pour encourager les autres. What in fact they’ve done is give any would-be leavers a good look at their strategy, and allow Brexit to become a training manual on what not to do. As a minimum, I expect the next country to leave will put in place robust rules regarding former ministers and non-government politicians meeting with EU negotiators outside the formal process. They may wish to include a set of gallows to accompany that.

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No Defeat, Whole Surrender

An article in The Spectator – the magazine for Britain’s centre-right political classes – contains a telling passage:

[T]here is no one to lead Britain through a no-deal Brexit and not enough MPs to support it. This is what Brexiteers have to accept.

Apparently British citizens just have to accept the fact their rulers are hopeless incompetents without an ounce of leadership skills among the whole lot of them. There is no other option, it seems. They are in the same position as Abraham Lincoln who said after the Battle of Antietam:

“There is no one to lead the Union armies to a decisive victory over the Confederates. This is what Americans have to accept.”

Actually no, he didn’t say that. Instead he fired the hapless George McClellan and (eventually) appointed the rather more capable Ulysses S. Grant.

The British people delivered a mandate to its rulers to negotiate, organise, and execute an orderly departure from the European Union in a manner which would maximise the long-term benefits for the country. What that precisely means is open to dispute, but the results of negotiations are rarely known in advance; a large part of the skill is being able to recalculate as positions shift. What is not open for dispute is the fact the British political leadership has utterly failed to deliver their mandate. It’s difficult to think of a single part of the process they’ve managed to get right; it’s just been one bungled catastrophe after another. The best they’ve come up with is an embarrassment of an agreement more akin to those signed by nations defeated in war, with the other option of simply exiting on 29th March being forced on them by virtue of their own incompetence. Even if you think No Deal is a good thing, it’s an indicator of how useless our politicians are that this is the most likely outcome. It’s like meeting for peace talks which drag on until everyone’s dead. Nobody’s going to get a Nobel Prize for that.

A term I sometimes hear to describe the current political philosophy, particularly in Europe, is “managed decline”. Our current crop of leaders have no interest in doing anything worthwhile beyond that which will elevate their personal status, power, and privilege. They are wholly uninterested in the future of the country beyond the next month, and treat the whole thing as a game where everyone’s on the same side except the general population who doesn’t even get to play. They have no standards, no self-confidence, no vision, and no ambition beyond that of a teenager singing into her hairbrush in her mother’s high heels. When Sadiq Khan glibly stated that Islamic terror attacks were just part and parcel of living in a big city, he should have been driven from office and into obscurity. He wasn’t, because for too many people this craven, pathetic, mediocrity is what they’ve come to expect from their leaders. That The Spectator is now endorsing this mindset speaks volumes. I’m beginning to think even “managed decline” is overly generous.

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Petty Cash

This is dumb:


The convention has always been that EU countries do not charge citizens of other EU countries for any registration or regularisation process, nor do they charge for visas and residency cards for non-EU spouses of EU citizens. I expect this was done because the marginal cost of waiving the fees is vastly outweighed by not having millions of people bitching about having to pay to exercise their rights under EU law.

With Britain set to leave the EU, the Home Office needs to come up with a way of regularising the presence of approximately 3m EU citizens who currently have a right to be there. A simple registration process is the best way to go about it – sorry, mass deportations are not going to happen – and it is in everyone’s interests to make this as painless as possible. Imposing a £65 charge was stupid to begin with, and scrapping it the most sensible thing to do: it would cause far more resentment than it’s worth, and £200m is chump-change considering half the country seem happy to hand over £39bn without so much as a parliamentary debate. It comes across as petty and vindictive, and makes for very bad politics.

France has advised all British citizens to apply for a residency permit within 1 year of March 29th, and is not charging them a processing fee. From what I’ve seen, their approach has been calm, measured, and sensible. Perhaps some Frenchmen have taken to Twitter demanding Brits be charged 65 euros for the trouble, but if so I’ve not seen them. Unlike certain Brits, I don’t think the average Frenchman is interested in punishing foreigners for being caught up in political events outside their control.

Yesterday I submitted my documents on the second attempt, and at least this time it was successful. It wasn’t without complications, though. Firstly, I got a different fonctionnaire, so of course the required list of documents changed. Fortunately, I’d brought “spare” documents with me just for this eventuality, and two of them were needed. Secondly, when I handed over my income tax statements – which are not on any list, but nevertheless a requirement – I was told they were incomplete. I opened up the French tax website, logged into my account, and showed her exactly what was available for me to print. She looked blank and said “normally there are several pages” and “I need the one they sent to your home”. I said I don’t receive paper copies, I’d opted for the electronic version only and this is all I have. So she processed my application, gave me the receipt, but told me I had to come back with my proper tax statements which I could get from a building over the road. Fortunately Annecy is small, and everything beside each other.

I crossed the road, bracing myself for a battle with bureaucrats in the tax office; the prefecture closed in half an hour, and I had no appetite for coming back another day. I spoke to the lady at reception and explained everything, and she said “Oh yes, there’s a room over there where you can log in and print it out.” To my astonishment, there was: a room with two or three computers and a printer which cost nothing to use. I logged into the tax website and discovered that while everything else was identical, there were more pages to my tax statements when going through their own system. Weird, but I didn’t care: I printed everything off, crossed the road back to the prefecture, and handed them in at the counter I’d been sat at 15 minutes before. Job done, I think.

Everything in France is either insanely complicated or surprisingly easy and you have no idea which it will be until you try it. This was a mixture of both, but at least they didn’t charge me. Britain shouldn’t charge EU citizens either.

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Miller-Domi Baby

So let me get this straight. The British people voted to leave the EU in the June 2016 referendum. Gina Miller, a random person who didn’t want Britain to leave, challenged the authority of the government to invoke Article 50 without primary legislation subject to a parliamentary vote, and won. A little later, Dominic Grieve, a Tory MP who also didn’t want Britain to leave, attempted to scupper a hard Brexit by ensuring parliament has a “meaningful vote” on any final agreement negotiated with the EU. At the time, both Miller’s victory and the requirement for a meaningful vote were seen as setbacks for those wishing to leave the EU.

Only now it is the meaningful vote that has scuppered an agreement which would have seen the UK remain tied to the EU in perpetuity. Had this meaningful vote not been imposed, Theresa May’s government could have unilaterally signed the agreement and outflanked all but the most concessionary of Brexiteers. The European Court has ruled that Britain can withdraw Article 50 unilaterally but, thanks to Gina Miller’s fine efforts, that will almost certainly have to be done via primary legislation subject to another parliamentary vote, which would fail.

If Britain does indeed leave with no deal on 29th March of this year, I believe hard Brexiteers ought to crowdfund a bronze statue of Gina Miller and Dominic Grieve for services to their cause. It could never have been done without them, and they are owed a debt of gratitude.

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Sam Hooper on Brexit

This, on the subject of Brexit, is an excellent post:

Spare a thought for poor Ryan Heath of Politico EU. He simply finds Brexit – and specifically Britain’s ongoing debate about the nature and timing of our departure from the European Union – too boring to deal with anymore.

I’m very sorry that Ryan Heath finds Brexit so boring, and one country’s lonely attempt to address the preeminent challenge of the early 21st century a bothersome distraction from the true job of a Politico journalist – breathlessly reporting court gossip and revealing who was spotted dining with who at whichever Michelin-starred restaurant in Brussels or Strasbourg.

And:

If Ryan Heath spent less time airily declaring his boredom, he might dwell on the fact that Brexit – in all its halting, stop-start awkwardness – is the first significant attempt by any country to answer the question of how a modern nation state can reconcile the technocratic demands of global trade with the need to preserve meaningful democracy. On this key question, Britain is currently the laboratory of the world. No other first-tier country has dared to touch the subject with a ten-foot bargepole.

Ryan Heath thinks that Britain has made a fool of herself by taking the plunge and voting for Brexit in an attempt to address these looming challenges. That may be so. But what has any other country done to address the pressing challenge of adapting democracy to work in a globalized world? What has the United States done under Trump? Germany under “leader of the free world” Angela Merkel? Or France under the establishment’s beloved Emmanuel Macron?

It is easy to laugh and cast judgments at Brexit’s many pitfalls and the…significant intellectual and personality flaws of those who claim to be leading and speaking for it. But it is much less funny when one is forced to acknowledge that other countries still have their heads in the sand and are not even attempting to answer these increasingly existential questions, despite facing exactly the same democratic pressures and rifts as Britain.

Go and read the whole thing.

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