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October 2010

Saturday Night and the Video Blogging Is Easy

Never heard this version of the Fight Song before:

We learn that Andy Bernard is a legacy:

And an inside look at Lynah Rink, including the infamous skating treadmill:

Matthew Nagowski | October 30, 2010 (#)

The Transition Period: I was a researcher

Happy Friday to everyone! Oh wait...it's Saturday. I missed the Friday deadline for this post. I feel like I'm back at Cornell and I just turned in my paper late, despite having worked on till 5 AM, sleeping through my alarm clock and running up the Slope with my shoes untied. Well, I have a good excuse. The dog ate my...never mind. I'll stop there and introduce this week's "transitioner". You're not going to dock me 10 points, right?

This week's transitioner,Alex Kresovich '08, shows us that sometimes, one goes through a couple of transition "periods" before taking the next step.

1. Give us a little background. How did your experiences as a college student impact what you wanted to do after graduation?

First and foremost, my goal even going into college was to become a full-time music producer.  Given that I wanted to keep my educational achievements and my music dream separate, I chose to study communication at Cornell rather than music.  I majored in Communication and minored in AEM because they were the most interesting to me but also the most flexible; since I was unsure of what I wanted to do outside of music after graduating I felt the most comfortable with how flexible my options would be after graduating from this program.

So in a way, college didn't shape at all what I wanted to do after college.  It had a lot more to do with shaping me as a person and learning about myself than it did about learning what I'd be doing 5 years, 10 years, etc. and beyond. College showed me how important it is, especially coming from a fantastic school like Cornell, to use your talents and gifts to help others, especially those less fortunate than us.

Makafui Fiavi | October 30, 2010 (#) (0)

Where Else But Cornell?

It's fitting that the day after a non-scandal about Cornell's senior class campaign broke, the University announced its largest gift ever: $80MM to permanently endow Cornell's Center for a Sustainable Future:

"My wife and I have made a commitment to make the center a permanent, integral part of Cornell," Atkinson, who earlier provided $3 million to the pilot program, said in a telephone interview. :Sustainability issues will be of increased concern with the passage of time, and Cornell is the best university to tackle these issues.:

Atkinson's remarks actually echo something that I said a year and a half ago, when Anne Coulter was deriding Keith Olbermann for his Ag School roots:

The failure to recognize the importance of Cornell’s public mission – and its myriad contributions to global nutrition, third-world development, labor standards, human development, and the like – speaks to just how backwards we have become as a society.

So the gift ends up putting Cornell in the same sustainability conversation as Columbia's Earth Institute, except for the fact that, you know, we happen to have a strong history in agricultural science and education, which is kind of important if you want to deal with the issue of sustainability.

It's also interesting to point out how the Center is arranged, structurally, within the larger university community. It reports not to any one college or dean, but sits atop all of the University's units, drawing faculty from the natural and physical sciences, engineering, and the social sciences. And while there's currently no minor or major in strict 'sustainability' don't be surprised to see an undergraduate concentration in the field created in the future.

Additionally, the $80MM investment means that even more money, in the form of grants and other outside support, will be leveraged by the institute. In 2009 it had a budget of $1.6MM that reaped over $40 MM in additional research grants.

And of course, the potential to leave a clean, well-functioning planet to our children and our children's children is priceless.

Matthew Nagowski | October 28, 2010 (#)

Coerced Encouraged Student Giving

The NYTimes has picked up on an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education about senior class giving campaigns:

At Cornell, pressure to contribute to the senior gift was applied through the sorority system, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education, which reported on the issue in its latest edition.

Erica Weitzner, a Cornell graduate who is now in medical school, said she received two or three phone calls and a few e-mails from sorority sisters saying they knew she had not donated. "I understand the theory behind the Cornell campaign is they want their seniors to donate, but pushing this hard makes it seem like it's no longer really a donation but more like part of tuition," she said.

Encouraging graduating seniors to support the alma mater is nothing new of course, but the article makes it out to be some sort of new, new thing. When I graduated all seniors who had given a gift were prominently featured in periodic Daily Sun ads. And well, it doesn't take a Cornell degree to engage in some elementary deduction.

What seems to be new is the level of peer pressure that some student organizations (sororities, sports teams, etc.) employed to increase contributions. Such actions are of course a bit over the top, but are probably nothing more than an isolated case or two. (Dartmouth's experience, with one student's highly public refusal to give, seems a bit more peculiar.)

The real question is this: at what point is a university responsible for some over-zealous student efforts to support their alma mater? Was the incessant pestering of certain students by their peers without tact? Sure. But it's not like we're talking about binge drinking here.

That said, Erica Weitzner's argument is completely wrong. A senior class gift is in no way like tuition, because, 1) it's a voluntary act, and 2) students can designate worthwhile causes on campus to which they would like to donate their money. It's completely at their discretion.

I earmarked my senior class gift to the Cornell Tradition; not exactly handing Skorton and Fuchs a blank check. After four years on campus, I find it hard to believe a student wouldn't have a pet department on campus that they find worthy of their Thursday night beer money, be it the Public Service Center, the Plantations, an athletic team, or their Greek House's scholarship fund (or bar tab, as the case may be).

The bigger issue, of course, is that many students don't realize that their tuition only covers a fraction of the cost of their education. Fancy research labs, exhaustive libraries, and extensive educational outreach initiatives don't come cheap and they're funded in part by the generosity of alumni like me and those who came before me.

So you're very welcome, Erica Weitzner. I'll see you at the next Ivy Society reception, right?

N.B. Coincidentally, the original CHE article was written by a Cornell alumna -- Rachel Louise Ensign '10. One can't help but wonder if she supported Ezra's vision last year.

Matthew Nagowski | October 27, 2010 (#)

Jeff Stein is the Best Cornell Sun Reporter in Quite Some Time

If anybody is looking for the best independent voice covering the issues that are affecting Cornell, they should look no further than the Daily Sun's Jeff Stein. Just this week he has run two excellent articles that explore how Cornell's academic philosophies are being re-calibrated, not only at a very high-level, but through administrative minutia as well.

Today, Stein pressed the Provost to comment why being a 'top ten research university' is so critical to Cornell's mission that it takes a central role in the University strategic plan for the sesquicentennial:

When asked whether restructuring the University to meet these rankings’ metrics could be detrimental to Cornell, Fuchs said that ascending in the rankings “will actually enhance what is most of value.”

Fuchs added that he did not believe that the University would need to tailor any plans to accomodate the metrics, saying that most of the prerogatives of the University and the rankings groups are “actually aligned.”

...Many of the plan’s actions may also seem evident or abstract, such as those that call for the University to “carefully consider the impact of staff and faculty in their core academic activities” or “recognize and celebrate in new ways pedagogical innovation and strong teachers who are responsive to students and rigorous in their approach to teaching.”

Fuchs defended the merit of setting broad goals. He said the individual general objectives in the plan “force the leaders and [Vice Pro­vost] Ron [Seeber] and me to say, ‘how are we going to achieve that?’” ”

And a couple of days ago Stein explored the large impact of a deceptively innocuous restructuring of the Cornell Council for the Arts that would gut the innovative and entrepreneurial small-grants program in preference for a single 'large public event'.:

Many creative arts professors lamented the loss of the small grants program, doubted the educational merits of holding a single arts event, and criticized a perceived lack of experiential diversity on Kleinman’s committee.

“[The remodeling is] taking the power and creativity away from the students who want to create art projects,” said Prof. Ernesto Quiñonez, creative writing.

Quiñonez added that the new CCA format “shackles the artist,” who under the new model “has to curb his creativity in order to adapt to the theme that the centralized committee has chosen.”

“Artists are free, and should be free thinkers. [The proposal] compromises their free thinking,” Quiñonez said.

What's so refreshing about Jeff's work is that he takes the time to look at the issues from all sides and engages with the key stakeholders, refusing to simply engage in blind parroting of the University's talking points. It's actual reporting. And the news pages of the Sun haven't shined so brightly in quite some time.

Matthew Nagowski | October 22, 2010 (#)

The Transition Period: I taught for America

In the second installment of the Transition Period Series, John Stechschulte, 06 tells us about his experience as a Teach for America Corps member and his cross-country biking trip.

Caption: John at the highest point of his trip, Emory Pass, at 8,228' in New Mexico.

1. Give us a little background. How did your experiences as a college student impact what you wanted to do after graduation?

During my sophomore year there was a Lacrosse player, George Boiardi, who suddenly and tragically died after getting hit in the chest with a Lacrosse ball. Although I never knew him, I attended his funeral as a member of the Glee Club, where we sang the Evening Song and Alma Mater. George was a senior who had been accepted to Teach For America in South Dakota. I left with a strong impression of his respect for American Indian culture, and his commitment to educational equity for the disadvantaged children growing up on the reservations.

As my senior year approached, I had had enough experience doing research to know that it would be unwise for me to follow the crowd to grad school (most of my classmates were looking at Ph.D. programs), and Teach For America was still in the back of my head. I had long felt that teaching was an underappreciated profession and that educational equity, despite being such an enormously challenging problem facing our society, was also the piece of the system that, if fixed, would mitigate so many other issues we face. So, feeling that I needed to back up my beliefs with action, Teach For America became my top choice.

Makafui Fiavi | October 22, 2010 (#) (0)

How Messaging Can Save the Greek System

I'm a little late to the party on this one, but some hockey-related nostalgia has pushed my thoughts back towards those good old days on the Hill, and to Greek-related issues in particular.

If you've missed the hoopla over the proposed changes to the Greek system's social policies, take a look over here. The Sun hit on a few good points in its editorial from nearly two months ago. I'll discuss a few more.

One theme that no one seems to be talking about too much is the role of messaging. Over two years ago, the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs (OFSA) gravely informed the chapter presidents that the trustees were becoming increasingly displeased with the state of the Greek system and were wondering openly whether it was essential for Cornell to retain Greek houses. Even at the time, this scenario seemed a little implausible; many trustees are not only Greek alumni, but belonged to the houses which today engage in some of the worst hazing rituals and violations of alcohol policy.

Still, the OFSA managed to unite with the Interfraternity Council (IFC) executive board to pressure chapter leaders to make changes. We acquiesced, and the next couple of months produced many hours of thoughtful discussion and the beginnings of positive changes to our new member education policy. (Chapters are now punished if their new members' grades drop during the pledging semester.)

This push for reform culminated in the events of that bizarre night in November 2008, when the IFC passed - and then immediately revoked - a resolution that would have mandated one night of dry rush. A strong lobbying effort by then-IFC president Greg Schvey '09 was ruined when several chapters' delegates refused to accept the resolution's passage and bullied the IFC into allowing a re-vote on the same issue, but not before they called their friends in absent chapters and begged them to come quickly to the Memorial Room to vote "no."

Regardless, for a system that is slow to change, the Greek System seemed in Fall 2008 to be moving in the right direction. The alliance of OFSA and IFC executive board, under the pretenses that something must be done to save the Greek system, succeeded first by opening a productive debate about difficult issues, and then by spurring actual changes in policy.

One wonders how much was forgotten in two short years.

Elie Bilmes | October 20, 2010 (#)

Mark Zuckerberg in 2004: "We’re definitely not in it for the money."

An Early Interview With Mark Zuckerberg

Back in the autumn of 2004, I had an opportunity to interview Facebook-founder and youngest-billionaire ever, Mark Zuckerberg for Newsweek (while also being featured prominently about its use).

So with the release of Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher's The Social Network, and their portrayal of Marky Z. as an obtuse and socially-maligned adolescent, I can't help but chime in and agree that Zuckerberg kind of got a raw deal. Unfortunately what works in real life doesn't necessarily work for Hollywood, and while the movie is brimming with fantastic dialogue and cinematography, (especially the cringe-worthy opening scene and the crew-race montage), don't expect it to be an authoritative bio-pic on Facebook's founder.

I previously blogged about my interactions with the proto-billionaire four years ago, my reflective observations (in 2006) being that:

I basically came away from the conversation with the impression that even though he was obviously shrewd and very on top of his business, he was also a pretty down-to-earth and likeable guy. The only odd take-away I had from the interview was how often Mark seemed to casually mention beer drinking -- either while programming, hanging out with friends, or partying he would always refer to himself as 'drinking a couple of beers'. But then again, he was a college student and perhaps he just wanted to relate to Current's readership.

I was left with understanding that Zuckerberg was your ordinary high-achieving student. Smart, precocious, a bit nerdy, but self-aware. And certainly nothing like how Jesse Eisenberg portrays him.

Still, it's worthwhile to go back to my original interview with Mark, and I've republished it below in all its glory, including some additional quotes for background. I'd like to especially highlight, at the time, that Mark was especially keen on making the site fun, claiming "we’re definitely not in it for the money", and was working exhaustively on a file-sharing site called Wirehog that never got off the ground. Facebook had been a public website (beyond Harvard) for a little over seven months at this point:

MPN recently had the privilege to talk with thefacebook.com creator Mark Zuckerberg. When we spoke, Mark was enjoying a leave of absence from his studies at Harvard University; he has rented out a house with some friends in Palo Alto, California, and spends his days working with collaborators on his next project – a peer-based file-sharing program named Wirehog (wirehog.com) that will allow for the seamless sharing of files among friends.

Could you briefly discuss thefacebook’s inception?

The idea for the website was motivated by a social need at Harvard to be able to identify people in other residential houses – Harvard is a fairly unfriendly place. While each residential house listed directories of their residents, I wanted one online directory where all students could be listed - someplace where I would be able to find all of the people who are the most relevant to my life. The result was thefacebook.

And from there you spread the website to other top schools… MIT, Yale, Stanford.

Yeah, but the goal was never to be elitist… we had a launch plan to enter into other colleges based on where friends would be most likely to overlap, and so the site spread organically based upon that model, and now we operate at a broad spectrum of campuses. It doesn’t make sense to exclude anybody or any college from the resources that the facebook offers – this is after all a product that is fun and useful for all college students.

Your website was one of the first social networking sites to explicitly ground its online community to a physical one, and perhaps more importantly, to demonstrate the linkages that exist between different physical communities.

That’s why I think the website has been such a success. We don’t view site as an online community – we bill it as a directory that is reinforcing a physical community. What exists on the site is a mirror image of what exists in real life.

But at the same time, can’t thefacebook distort people’s perceptions of the real world?

To a certain extent, the website is unfortunate because it oversimplifies things. Everybody’s concept of having a friend is different… it can definitely blur the relationships that exist between people. But in the end, I think that thefacebook.com can only strengthen preexisting communities. We think we have been particularly successful in strengthening those relationships that exist between people who are only “fringe friends.”

Matthew Nagowski | October 19, 2010 (#)

The Transition Period: I Took A Road Trip With My Friends

In the first installment of the Transition Period series, Carlos Maycotte '07, a recent law school graduate shares his story with us. You can read more about his adventures here.


Caption: Carlos and his friends at a Llama Farm in Virginia on Day One of the road trip.

1.Give us a little background. How did your experiences as a college student impact what you wanted to do after graduation?

Well, my “thing” at Cornell was the newspaper. I was a columnist at The Cornell Daily Sun for three years, and for one of those years I was also the Associate Editor, which meant they let me edit the opinion section. My job as an editor included a lot of discussion and debate with a group of columnists and contributors as opinionated as they were diverse, as well as a lot of moderating arguments and conflicts. Also putting out fires, both literal and figurative. When you couple that with the several excellent courses in my government major which were Supreme Court-centric and legally related, law school seemed to be the natural thing to do following college.

Makafui Fiavi | October 15, 2010 (#)

Why was AEM sold on the cheap?

One of the ongoing topics of Cornell conversation over the last couple of months has been the relatively cheap naming of AEM as the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management in the New York State College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University. (Yep, it's a mouthful, not unlike JOHNSON...)

Quite simply, a lot of Cornellians were left scratching their head as to why a business school cost only $25MM to name. There have apparently been recent, high level talks for the 'naming' of both the Hotel School and the ILR School -- each would require gifts over $100MM dollars. For reference, Notre Dame's business school, Mendoza, was named with a $35MM gift ten years ago, and Cornell's Johnson School was named with a $20 MM gift in 1984, or close to $50 MM in 2010 dollars.

So on one hand, the price of the Dyson naming might reflect a relative cheapening of the Cornell brand. On the other hand, it might have reflected a friendly discount given the Dyson family's already significant investments in the University.

But I prefer a third explanation: it was sold on the cheap because there was ongoing concern that AEM would be re-imagined out of the Ag School. I've already documented hints that both Skorton and Fuchs wanted to move AEM out of CALS. And securing the Dyson money as soon as possible provided a guarantee to Susan Henry and the rest of the Ag School's administration that AEM would stay in their precious Ag School. At least for now...

The other trend that the Dyson School naming reflects is that alumni, and not the administration, are able to exert considerable control over their giving. In the past I know the administration has been eager to steer big gifts to their self-selected 'priorities'. But apparently the marching orders coming out of Day Hall this year are to encourage alumni to give in the areas where they want to give. This tactic is perhaps an attempt to boost the aggregate numbers for the capital campaign.

Oh, and one other semi-related note: Dyson will remain a 'school' in name only for the time being -- from what I've heard there's no plan to implement a separate Dyson admissions committee from the Ag School proper. Of course, hockey and lacrosse players need not be concerned.

Matthew Nagowski | October 14, 2010 (#)

Should MetaEzra Cover More Sex and Booze stories?

MetaEzra reader RB '98 writes in with some editorial suggestions:

Dear "Meta,"

Maybe you would get more readers if you had more interesting stuff. There was this article about a girl at Duke who slept with like 20 guys and made a powerpoint. That made it onto the major networks. Maybe you could do something like that for Cornell?

Also, Andy from "the Office" went to Cornell; you should do an interview with him. Be sure that it is the American version of "the Office." On the British one, Andrew went to the London School of Economics, I think.

More hits mean more ad revenue which you can use to buy more Cornell parafanialia (sic).

Not to turn this into too much of a meta-MetaEzra post, but I've historically been shy to cover the sex and booze stories, because, well, they're really just not my cup of tea. I made fun of the Sun's sex columnist in the pages of the Village Voice my senior year, and, well, that's enough if you ask me.

But aside from some fun with the word 'johnson', I'm more interested in the boring world of admissions, financial aid, Cornell history, student life, and Cornell politics; other blogs like IvyGate seem to fill the suggested role much better. And so be it if I'm losing traffic as a result -- that's not really the point. Even so, we still had over 10,000 unique visits last month, which isn't too shabby for a blog that had no posts for three weeks.

And for what it's worth, a cursory search will yield that we've covered Andy Bernard on multiple occasions, including our most popular post ever.

Matthew Nagowski | October 13, 2010 (#)

Signed, Sealed, but Undelivered?

The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports on the increasing number of college donors who renege on their pledges:

Even in good times, pledges occasionally fall through. But in a bad economy, donors who took a hit on their assets were more likely to postpone, cancel, or reduce their gifts, according to interviews with more than two dozen financial experts, consultants, and fund raisers in five hard-hit states. Depending on the project, colleges may have to absorb the costs when pledges don't come through as expected. They can often do that without much pain. But when coupled with bigger financial problems, such as endowment losses, state cutbacks, and declines in enrollment, uncollected or delayed pledges can put stress on college finances.

In the past two years, a number of institutions, including Arizona State, Brandeis, and Cornell Universities and the University of California at Los Angeles have raised their estimates of uncollectable pledges. Brandeis, Cornell, and UCLA officials say they raised the estimates as a conservative budget tactic but didn't see much, if any, change among their biggest donors. (Arizona State did not return calls requesting comment.)

So Cornell hasn't seen a rise in the amount of pledges that have fallen through, which is a good sign. But even so, with the capital campaign reporting $2.955 billion raised, you can't help but wonder how much of that will actually be received by Cornell.

Matthew Nagowski | October 08, 2010 (#)

Cornell's BIG Johnson Problem

The University may not have to set up an appointment with a urologist at Weill Cornell just yet, but there does appear to a problem trickling out of the Johnson School's attempt to re-brand itself as simply JOHNSON:

"We really wanted to emphasize 'Johnson' and begin to strengthen the name as its own individual brand," said Randy Allen, associate dean of Marketing and Corporate Relations at Johnson. "This move is not in any way to sever ties with Cornell, of which we are a proud part, but to begin to give the school a stronger individual identity and pop."

Johnson, Cornell University's MBA school, officially remains the Samuel Curtis (or S.C.) Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University or it can be called by the abbreviated "Johnson at Cornell" or "Johnson."

Aside from the unfortunate use of the phrase 'stronger pop' with the word 'Johnson' and the fact that the new, capitalized logo is simply ugly, there's the larger problem that the the new branding initiative, by subjugating the University under the business school, goes against Skorton's vision of 'One Cornell'. Oh, and then there's those pesky style guidelines for Cornell's visual identity, which explicitly state 'do not use all caps' and always require 'Cornell University' to be above the smaller unit name.

What might have aroused interest in such a change? The School might have wanted to impose itself more strongly within the University community in response to the naming of the similarly business-minded Dyson School earlier this year. And then there's the fact that the Johnson School's applications shrunk by 12 percent last year. So if WHARTON, KELLOGG, and STERN are all doing it, JOHNSON presumably needed to do it too in order to grow.

Word on the street is that many of the Johnson School's students have reacted to the the re-branding initiative with a pretty flaccid response. And for good reason: I don't think the Johnson School's brand is likely to become firmer in people's minds than the University's anytime soon.

Matthew Nagowski | October 03, 2010 (#)

'Crisis on Campus' Plots Academe's Future

I recently had the chance to read Mark C. Taylor's excellent 'Crisis on Campus: A Bold Plan for Reforming Our Colleges and Universities'. It's a provocative read about the myriad issues facing higher education in the 21st century.

Taylor is a professor (and departmental chair) of religion at Columbia who's deeply concerned about both the current cost structure of our colleges and the way in which knowledge needs to be formed, taught, and learned to address the challenges facing our society. It's compelling to read such a vociferous critique coming from atop of the ivory tower, so to speak. He previously wrote a widely publicized editorial for the New York Times, advocating to end the university as we know it.

The book combines a short history of higher education's role in knowledge creation and dissemination, an assessment of the current structural issues that college and universities face (including questions of both financing and labor), and a discussion of new learning styles and job training in a 'networked' world. He's the type of writer who can make you feel smarter just for reading him.

One chapter in particular, 'Education Bubble', stood out because it seemed to channel my previous writings on what I called the college tuition and student loan bubble. Writes Taylor:

Honesty compels us to admit that the financial resources necessary to meet the needs of higher education are likely not forthcoming in the future... It is possible that this moment of crisis will provide us an opportunity rethink not only how to finance higher education, but also what goes on in college and university libraries, laboratories, and classrooms. (111)

Taylor recommends more flexible departments and interdisciplinary work, the end of tenure, and the increased use of technology-based learning as a panacea to higher education's ills. I'm more convinced of the former two suggestions than the later. Interpersonal connections are exactly the reason why students (and their families) are willing to pay such a premium to attend the top schools in the first place. Perhaps technology can help to bend the cost curve at community colleges, but it will be incredibly difficult to do so among the elite colleges that attempt to compete by offering the 'best' in everything.

Matthew Nagowski | October 01, 2010 (#)

Other Recent Posts

-- WSJ: Cornell Wins NYC Tech Campus Bid (EBilmes)

-- Barrier Update: City Approves Nets (DJost)

-- Big Red Cymbal Guy (Nagowski)

-- New York Times Survey on Campus Recruiting is Flawed (KScott)

-- Barrier Update: Legal precedent suggests City of Ithaca will not be held liable for gorge suicide (DJost)

-- Despite MSG Loss, Big Potential for Big Red Hockey (EBilmes)

-- City Council Will Vote on Suicide Nets (DJost)

-- An Encounter on the Upper East Side (Nagowski)

-- Showing Off Your School Spirit (Nagowski)

-- Chipotle Ithaca? (KScott)

-- Cornell at the ING NYC Marathon (KScott)

-- Crossing Over a Fine Line: Commercial Activity on Campus (KScott)

-- Milstein's Downfall (Nagowski)

-- Can any Cornell-associated organization really be independent of the University? (Nagowski)

-- Slope Media Revisited (EBilmes)

-- Slope Media Group Approved for Byline Funding (KScott)

-- Occupy AEM? (KScott)

-- New campus pub to be good for both Greeks and non-Greeks (Nagowski)

-- Gagging the Election (Nagowski)

-- The Changing Structure of Rush Week (Nagowski)

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-- Homecoming Recap (Nagowski)

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