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New Books and ARCs, 5/11/18

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 05/11/2018 - 15:57
Another Friday, another tasty stack of new books and ARCs that have come to the Scalzi Compound. I see some very fine work in this one — what here is catching your attention? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Reader Request Week 2018 #8: Public Speaking

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 05/11/2018 - 10:58
Gregory asks: I’m curious about your ‘public speaking’ role. I know you have representation and are available for events. I would like to know things like what advice do you have for other folk who don’t do much public speaking? Do you have any formal training? Why should somebody pay to hear you speak? What’s […]

Reader Request Week 2018 #7: Mortality

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 05/10/2018 - 12:59
Well, this is a sort of ironic question to address on my birthday, from Theo, who asks: Do you think about mortality frequently or do you try to put it out of your mind? Do you think it’s better to ignore it or jam pack as much as you can into every minute with one […]

Happy Birthday to Me, Here’s a Story For You: “Regarding Your Application Status”

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 05/10/2018 - 10:27
When I went out on tour for Head On last month, I wrote a new, funny short story to perform for the audiences, on the thinking that since they went out of their way to come see me, usually on a weeknight, they should get something special that no one else gets: in this case, […]


Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 05/10/2018 - 09:19
Wait, I’m almost done with my 40s already?  As most of you know every year on my birthday I take a picture of myself, a sort of “state of the Scalzi” photo. This is this year’s, brought about in part by the fact that my allergies have picked this very day to kick in and […]

The dilemma - cars and guns

Contrary Brin - Wed, 05/09/2018 - 22:44
== Again, why aren’t guns treated like cars? ==
Ponder a stark contrast. We have two examples of how America facilitates possession of potentially lethal machinery in the hands of citizens. Deadly tools that can be owned by almost any adult.

In one case, there are more than two hundred million users, who operate the machines with stunning skill, aiming them to just barely miss each other, hundreds of times per day. They license and register the machines and get insurance.
Yes, thousands of lives are lost to these potentially lethal machines! But if you divide that toll by the sheer number of hours of use, then by the economic benefits and life satisfaction that folks get from mobility, then the pain is thinly distributed. So thinly that the social consensus is: "Let's keep researching ways to refine the regulations and improve the technology to make them safer, but let's keep using them.
"This is working."
The other class of potentially lethal machinery accounts for almost exactly the same number of deaths per year! 

Dig it - that's a "wow" realization. Almost exactly the same number of deaths. Even though the second class of dangerous tool is used far, far less often, especially when it comes to "self-protection." 

The ratio of deaths per hour of use is incomparably higher for guns than cars. Like contrasting a mouse to a planet.

What are the crucial differences?
Oh, sure, one major aspect of the difference of lethality is intent. I get that. But pragmatically, the stunning difference is our attitudes toward what's reasonable regulation.

In one case there are regulations concerning training, insurance and liability (not just by user-owners but also manufacturers) that successfully reduce risk while enhancing utility. 

In the other case, none of this risk/harm/liability mitigation happens. At all. Whatsoever. Institutions are forbidden to even study the tradeoffs. Knowledge itself is dogmatically banned.
== Two types of dangerous machinery. Two opposite outcomes ==

The experiment has been run. Cars are regulated with spectacular success, at all levels and in all ways. Even the DMV runs far better, nowadays, in most states.
A huge burden of proof falls upon those who proclaim that Guns should not be treated exactly like cars. At all levels and in all ways. And yes, if you want an assault rifle, fine... take extra tests and insurance like the driver of an 18-wheeler.
There is only one justification for refusing to go along with this simple and logical approach. The Slippery Slope to Total Confiscation of Firearms by an Orwellian State. (SSTTCFOS). 

That's it. That is the sum total of the argument against changing the DMV to the DMV&G. "I don't want my guns registered, insured and licensed because then the state will know where they are and come and take 'em."

Whereupon I shock folks by saying... I agree! 

SSTTCFOS is an actual concern! There is a germ of a genuine objection, deep down, underneath the NRA-fomented hysteria, and liberals are foolish to dismiss it, out of hand.  In fact, I favor some steel-hard protections of Americans' "insurrectionary recourse."
The criminal stupidity of gun nuttery is not that they fret about SSTTCFOS. 

It is their refusal to look for a win-win. A positive-sum outcome

I describe one possible solution -- that could give all of us what we want and need -- here. Alas, no one seems interested in talk of a potential win-win-win.

== A useful metaphor ==

One of you (out there in the Brin-o-centric ether ;-) made the following, amazingly cogent observation:

"Gun advocates maintain that any law that infringes an American's right to bear arms is unconstitutional. Only note:

"While the constitution guarantees the right to vote, we do place restrictions on the right to vote: citizens are required to register ( and change their registration when they move). There are rules about where citizens may vote - and when they can vote. And gerrymandering can weaken an individual's vote."

And indeed, in Red America there are huge efforts to regulate away voting rights for millions. Talk about a slippery slope!  But this comparison's true meaning is simple. Rights do not have to go un-regulated in matters of process. You can wave picket signs on sidewalks and in parks, but not in the street or blocking businesses, yet we still have freedom of speech.

Again, I GET the slippery slope that gun activists fear!  I actually share that strong worry and reservation! 

But they are as shortsighted as lemmings. If you want to see how to prevent any slippery slope and get a win-win...

== Another - even better - "win-win" ==


Again and again.

Here's the Fact Act.

It should be item number one, if the dems ever had the sense to imitate the one and only political action taken by Republicans in 30 years that was worthy of respect. Newt Gingrich's "Contract With America."

== An idea whose time has come? ==

Years ago I proposed we copy a technique used two millennia ago, to discourage male morons from committing heinous acts in exchange for infamy. The idea was pooh-poohed and ignored for two decades... untill Parkland.

Suddenly, the notion of denying these awful twerps the spotlight has be called-out by columnists who act as if they invented the idea.  It's actually the "Erastratos Effect," and here's where you can see it worked out... how we can keep total freedom to know and speak, while still deterring these jerks, by denying them any noteworthy mention in history.

Follow-up essays:

Names of Infamy: Deny Killers the Notoriety They Seek.

The Jefferson Rifle: Seeking a Compromise Solution.

. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

Reader Request Week 2018 #6: The Fall(?!?!?) of Heinlein

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 05/09/2018 - 14:59
Here’s a question sure to be fun for everyone! Gottacook asks: Does it seem to you that consciousness of Robert Heinlein as a singularly influential SF writer has precipitously faded in the past several years? (Not that this would be a surprise, as the 30th anniversary of his death is next week.) Well, and I […]

Reader Request Week 2018 #5: Who’s Cool and Who’s Not

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 05/09/2018 - 11:54
Kaci asks: Having just read the Twitter post, I’d really like to know your theory of coolness and why some people will never be cool. She’s referring to this Twitter conversation between me and the Washington Post columnist Alyssa Rosenberg: Not everything has to be cool. Coolness is overrated. — Alyssa Rosenberg (@AlyssaRosenberg) May 7, […]

Reader Request Week 2018 #4: Far-Left(?) Scalzi

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 05/08/2018 - 13:20
Calven13 asks: This question would invite all sorts of dumbshittery, I get that, but: how do you suppose a cottage industry in attacking you for being ‘far left’ became a thing? There are actual far left authors they could go after, it’s not like Steven Brust or China Mieville aren’t outspoken. Yeah, but China (wisely) […]

Reader Request Week 2018 #3: The Reputational Reset, Or Not

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 05/08/2018 - 11:17
Here’s a question from email, from a contributor who asked to remain anonymous (which is one reason, I suppose, it came in email): If you fuck up, how long should you have to spend in the wilderness before you’re allowed to come back? I mean, I think it depends, don’t you? I suspect this question […]

Reader Request Week 2018 #2: Our Pets and How We Treat Them

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 05/07/2018 - 15:54
Sugar, daintily holding up one paw. — The Scamperbeasts (@scamperbeasts) April 28, 2018 Bill asks: Given the attachment we humans tend to have with our pets, how do we rationalize the treating them as commodities, food, or things (rather than beings)? I mean, Bill, I hate to be the one to break it to […]

Reader Request Week 2018 #1: Incels and Other Misogynists

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 05/07/2018 - 13:37
Let’s start off the 2018 Reader Request Week with a topic that several of you were interested in because of recent news, although I’m using Laura’s question to get us started: What are your thoughts on Incels? While I think the type of guy has been around for always, their organizing and magnifying seems different […]

Sunset 5/7/18

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 05/06/2018 - 20:39
It’s good to be home. Hope you had a lovely weekend.

The Fact Act - Restoring Science Integrity

Contrary Brin - Sat, 05/05/2018 - 15:26
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- I'm asked to get specific. 

"All right, Brin, you're convincing that there's an all-out war against facts and all fact-using professions, from science, journalism and teaching to the FBI and Officer Corps. But what can we do about it?"

I've spoken on this at Google and Facebook, at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and many other places where there's rising concern over what seems to be a concerted campaign not only against those professions -- (see Shawn Otto's The War on Science and Tom Nichols's book The Death of Expertise) -- but against even the notion that there's such a thing as Objective Reality! That anything is testable or provable.

Mind you, this stab at the heart of enlightenment civilization won't be blunted by corporate or government action, alone. One-by-one, we must sway our fellow citizens to forego the drug high of incantations and assertions, returning instead to the adult art of pragmatic negotiation.

But law and politics can play a role!  And so -- suppose we get a Congress that's willing to push back against idiocracy. What item should be number one on its 'contract' or to-do list? How about ending the War on Facts?

I wrote the following at the request of the Internet Caucus of the recent convention in San Diego, of the California Democratic Party. It is posted in full on my website here.

== Ending the tyranny of lies and liars... without a "Ministry of Truth" ==

The "Fact Act" will help restore access to useful and confirmable information for public officials, politicians and citizens. Rather than establishing some suspect "Ministry of Truth,"1 this legislation will encourage systems that use diversity, competition and grownup adversarial methods, helping leaders and the public to parse lies and distractions from assertions that are supported by strong evidence.2Under the Fact Act, Congress will:ONE: Restore the nonpartisan Congressional Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), shut down in the Gingrich era.3 Protect the Congressional Budget Office and Government Accountability Office. Take measures to ensure that scientific processes in government agencies will be both subject to critical accountability and liberated from partisan political pressures.TWO: Restore full funding and staffing to the executive Office of Science and Technology Policy (OTSP). This bill further requires that the President must fill, by law, the position of White House Science Adviser from a diverse and bipartisan slate of qualified candidates offered by the Academy of Science, and the Academy will choose one, if the president does not. The Science Adviser shall have uninterrupted access to the President for at least two one-hour sessions per month.4THREE: Each member of Congress shall be summoned to choose, from his or her home district, two advisers: one a scientist and one a statistician, funded to counsel the member on matters of verifiable fact, and to take press or public questions referred to them by the member. They will not opine on political issues, only upon the degree to which assertions are supported by factual evidence.
Likely effects? (a) Congress-members will no longer be able to shrug off fact/scientific questions with "I’m not a scientist." (b) Any member's refusal to appoint these advisers will be an implicit insult to the member's home district, implying she or he could find no one qualified.
FOUR: These congressional advisers — scientists and statisticians — shall gather a shadow "Fact Congress" (FC) twice a year to supervise the restored OTA and OSTP and ensure nonpartisan professionalism. Eclectic diversity and potent minority input will ensure there is no "Ministry of Truth."Without usurping Congressional authority over policy and confirmations, the FC will question top scientific appointees regarding grasp of important concepts in their field, e.g., ability to clearly describe factual disputes and forecast potential policy outcomes and tradeoffs, including levels of uncertainty.If more than one quarter of Senators or Representatives submit a question to the Fact Congress, the FC will respond with advice according to best available models. Congress-members may bring their FC advisers to House or Senate committee hearings and may charge them to form ad-hoc shadow committees, to assist with explications of fact.FIVE: The Fact Act must restore the media Rebuttal Rule, prying open "echo chamber" propaganda mills. Any channel or station using airwaves or accepting advertising will be required to offer five minutes per day during prime time and ten minutes at other times to reputable adversaries chosen by Competitive Argument Societies (CAS) that are approved by one quarter of the members of the Fact Congress.5Example: If the 25% most-conservative members of the FC approve the 'Herbert Hoover Competitive Argument Society,' then HHCAS may send a rebuttal spokesmen to MSNBC, tackling Rachel Maddow. A CAS chosen by the most liberal 1/4 of the Fact Congress will get rebuttal time on Fox.Rebuttals shall feature under-banners offering links for more details... plus links to refutation of the rebuttal, or else to fact-debates offered by pairs of competing CAS.6Any channel or station not using the airwaves or accepting advertising that nevertheless engages in avid political polemic, with the intent to influence electoral outcomes, will be required to offer — at intervals &md a small link, in one corner, that the viewer can use (or not) to access counter-arguments, or else to track the sources of both the channel’s assertions and funding.SIX: Under auspices of the Fact Congress, Competitive Argument Societies (CAS) and other entities will be offered infrastructure and encouragement to engage in public debates over policy or else disputations over fact. Fact disputations will argue matters of verifiable or falsifiable evidence, aiming to narrow — but never eliminate — uncertainties and to target specific questions meriting further study. Amateur or non-credentialed participation will be encouraged.SEVEN: Whistleblower protections will be upgraded to encourage early/discreet problem solving within institutions, and later (if necessary) protection of whistleblowers who feel they are unfairly repressed by their own institution. By offering a scaled sequence of safe and secure steps, the Fact Act will encourage first self-reform, but ultimately the adversarial discovery of cleansing truth.EIGHT: To encourage the establishment of a wide variety of competing, credible fact-checking services, Congress will appoint a commission of sages from all parties, starting with the former presidents and retirees from the Supreme Court and top federal appeals courts, along with other eminent Americans with unimpeachable reputations. Among the duties of this panel will be to issue findings when a fact-checking service is accused of "partisanship."NINE: Under the 13th and 14th Amendments, this act requires that states mandating Voter ID requirements must offer substantial and effective compliance assistance, helping affected citizens to acquire their entitled legal ID and register to vote. Any state that fails to provide such assistance, substantially reducing the fraction of eligible citizens turned away at the polls, shall be assumed in violation of equal protection and engaged in illegal voter suppression.
Corporations demand compliance assistance when government imposes new regulations. So, why can’t poor folks get help to comply with voter ID laws? If a state does this, then its demand for Voter ID might be sincere. Alas, not one red state allocates a cent to help poor citizens, elderly, the young, or divorced women comply with onerous new restrictions on franchisement. Most have moved to close DMV offices in counties where many Democrats live! (Why do no Democrats make this point? Opposing voter ID leaves Democrats open to accusations of excusing cheaters, but denouncing the GOP's corporate-citizen "compliance assistance hypocrisy" is a clear win.)
TEN: Congressional committees and procedures will be reformed so that members will be free to negotiate as individuals, with less power vested in the majority leaders to control legislation. Each member — whether in the majority or minority — will have authority to issue one subpoena per year, compelling adversarial testimony before a congressional committee of his or her choosing for as long as five hours, so that the minority will always be able to question the party in power. These member subpoenas will have priority over those issued by committee chairs.ELEVEN: The seventy-three Inspectors General of federal departments and agencies shall be brought under an independent office of the Inspector General of the United states (IGUS), whose appointment must be ratified by the council of sages (see SEVEN) as well as the Senate. IGUS officers shall be commissioned, uniformed, trained and held to quasi-military standards of discretion, honesty and meticulous devotion to law.TWELVE: This act directs the administration to negotiate treaties extending transparency, accountability and truth worldwide.


endnotes1. The "Ministry of Truth" Orwellian accusation will surely be trotted-out , it must be prepared-for.2. This principle underlies our competitive, fact-using arenas: markets, democracy, science and justice courts. We know how to do this.3. Even Republican appointees on OTA kept demurring from GOP dogma, saying "That's just not true," so it was eliminated.4. Donald Trump is the first President since Truman not to fill this post. Evidently, even far-right candidates like David Gelernter made the mistake of saying to him: "I'll tell you, when something is clearly false." That was, apparently, unacceptable.5. This "one quarter" provision ensures there can be no accusation of majority bullying or "voting on facts."6. Again, emphasizing the competitive nature of these measures will stymie accusations of a "Ministry of Truth" or "free speech repression."
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

Reader Request Week 2018: Get Your Questions In!

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 05/03/2018 - 06:52
Next week I am finally at home for an entire week, the first time, in, well, months, so that makes it an excellent time to finally get around to one of my favorite annual traditions here at Whatever: Reader Request Week! For those of you just catching up, Reader Request Week is when you suggest topics […]

New Books and ARCs, 5/2/18

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 05/02/2018 - 16:40
Oh, look, yet another stack of very fine books and ARCs at the Scalzi Compound — and now we’re all caught up with everything that showed up while I was on tour (with some other new stuff in there as well). What’s catching your eye here? Tell us all in the comments.

Science Fiction Scenarios

Contrary Brin - Wed, 05/02/2018 - 13:10
Today we'll play catch up with a raft of science fictional items, some of them plausible! And some almost as weirdly implausible as the world we're living in.

== Living with AI ==
How will humanity keep up with AI? Many Big Thinkers foresee AI outstripping organic humans and rendering us obsolete – at-best patronized-beloved old farts and at-worst disposable.  There are some potential soft-landings, though:
1 – Merge with the machines, the dream of Ray Kurzweil and other cyber transcendentalists. There are many reasons to doubt the possibility, but none are yet decisive. So I portray it working very well, in a post-singularity society, in my story “Stones of Significance.”
2 – Augment organic brains and people to keep up.  Of course my Uplift Universe is all about this, as are the “augments” in The Postman.  And the “dittos” in Kiln People. And several stories like “Transition Generation” and “Chrysalis” in my collection Insistence of Vision. Those who believe our brains are “quantum” think that we have time, before cybernetic entities cross a threshold to high consciousness. We probably don’t.
3 – Emphasize the one thing that works well in humans – our ability to get more done in groups, and even (sometimes) show collective, positive-sum wisdom. In Futurism, Louis Rosenberg suggests that our chief hope will come from a developing "hive mind."  Nor is he the first. After all, this is what Teilhard de Chardin wrote about, a century ago and it’s a recurring theme/prescription in the futures of both Isaac Aimov and Arthur C. Clarke, as well as Theodore Sturgeon and many others.  (It really was cult-like, amid the despair following the atom bomb.) 
In fact, I portray a “Macro Mind” in my novel EARTH, but it’s different than any of those. More loose and flexible and willing to accept the individuality of her human components, the way any sane person admits “I am many” and listens to the cacophony, within.  Indeed, even looser — this kind of synergistic "mind" made up of hundreds of millions of autonomous citizens is the key underlying the successes of Enlightenment Civilization… and it is the thing targeted by its enemies to be destroyed.  (If they succeed, we’re all doomed.)
4 - Raise them as our children. We already deal with creating new intelligences who are smarter than us!  We know how to do it, such that only a very small percentage of human adolescents in each generation actually try to carry our their loud threats to “destroy all humans”!  I portray this in EXISTENCE.
And yes, I’ve thought about this very problem, from a myriad angles, for a very long time.  Here’s video of my talk on the future of A.I. to a packed house at IBM's World of Watson Congress - offering big perspectives on both artificial and human augmentation.
== Science Fiction cinema ==
YouTube's sorting algorithms can offer you an endless supply of "short science fiction films," such as the site DUST. Some are very well made, and it's good to see such verve and creativity. The special effects available to small groups of amateurs are amazing... though alas, there's almost never much in the area of plot. Very few have a decent story arc, and the obsessive reliance on gloomy post-apocalypse premises is downright tedious. What? you can't fish around for cool old SF stories?
Still, if you take into account Sturgeon's Law, it's a great trend! And some of these shorts really stand out.
I've mentioned one of my favorites: Einstein-Rosen by Olga Osorio. A lovely, whimsical and endearing little flick about two brothers, who take their genius for granted with child-like grace as they mess around with a fluke of physics.
Counterpart. Looks unusual. A fresh take on an old idea. I hope it's well done.
Fascinating -- Out There was a short-lived science fiction television program broadcast on Sundays at 6 on CBS Television from October 28, 1951 through January 13, 1952. It was one of the first science fiction anthology series, and one of the first shows to mix filmed special effects with "live" action. It only lasted twelve half-hour episodes before being cancelled. The awkward time slot may have led to its failure. In its short run, the program featured episodes adapted from stories by (and in some cases written by) authors including Robert A. HeinleinRay BradburyTheodore SturgeonJohn D. McDonaldMurray LeinsterFrank Belknap Long and Milton Lesser.  
We gave the TV Time travel show TIMELESS a chance, watching 4 episodes from a disk. Alas, the premise and plot conceits are ancient. The actors are captivating and the dialogue okay. But the historical aspects -- actual, loving attention to historical detail and events? Horrible. Truly atrocious. Every episode was rife with howlers, sometimes almost every ten minutes. Just a wee bit of professionalism could have fixed that. What a pity.
== Science Fiction criticism ==
It was a privilege to have been one of Ursula Le Guin’s students, long ago. The ready acceptance of her brilliance by most in science fiction proved the genre was ahead of its time - even back in the 60s – and she was a leader keeping it on the cutting edge for many years, predicting many of the passionate causes of our rambunctious, ever-dynamic time. See this reflection on her life from the Los Angeles Times. In her final publication - No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters Le Guin offers personal reflections on life, aging and writing. 
UCR Lit Prof. and science fiction legend Nalo Hopkinson explains “afrofuturism” in this excellent interview on CBC.
A Lit Fuse: The Provocative Life of Harlan Ellison, by Nat Segaloff offers an uncensored look at a unique individual, with amusing anecdotes, ongoing controversies and extensive interviews with Ellison as well as numerous friends, colleagues and fellow authors.
For decades the Eaton Conference was the premier site for academic discussion of the boldest and most pertinent genre of literature. Now available for you science fiction scholars, a collection of the best papers - including one of my own.
Voices from beyond: In this article from The Washington Post, author Brad Meltzer asks if a person can leave a message inside his body before dying, a plot device the author used in his novel The Escape Artist. A bit of book promotion that stands alone as both fascinating and inspiring.
== and... ==

A sci-fi-ish disturbing video depicts near-future ubiquitous lethal autonomous weapons, or “slaughterbots.” Of course, as always, the makers of the film point to a dangerous tech-possible trend… and prescribe rules to limit it, never considering the question of how those rules will apply to the worst and most deviously secretive forces in the world.
Watch the video! Be disturbed, as the makers intended! Then watch it again and note that the evil deeds happen precisely because of asymmetry of light. And the only solution… the only possible solution… is to concentrate on shining light on villains, including villainous elites. It is how we got the relative freedom and safety we have now! It is the only way we can keep it. See The Transparent Society: Will Technology Make Us Choose Between Privacy and Freedom?

. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and (site feed URL:

An Actual Conversation I Had This Morning

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 05/02/2018 - 11:26
Me (answering the phone): This is John Scalzi. Person on the other end: Mr. Scalzi, I’m from your doctor’s office. We have the results of the cholesterol test you took earlier this week. The doctor wanted to tell you that your cholesterol is within the acceptable range, that you’re at slightly lower-than-average risk, and that […]

Old Office Chair, New Office Chair

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 05/01/2018 - 21:32
Spare a moment in your day to think upon my (now) old office chair, pictured above, which is about to take its journey to the great beyond (which in this case is probably a landfill or being trash picked). Krissy picked it out for me in 2010 or so, when I redid the office in […]

New Books and ARCs, 5/1/18

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 05/01/2018 - 15:51
To inaugurate a new month, here is this lovely stack of new books and ARCs that have come to the Scalzi Compound. What’s calling to you from this stack? Tell us in the comments, please!
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