Nurturing creativity with art, animals, and science fiction

Month: February 2021

The Bryant family of Garland, TX huddled in front of the fireplace with their kids and their dog.

Surviving a Not-So-Natural Disaster

By G. S. Norwood

I grew up in Missouri, so I know about snow. I’ve been caught in a blizzard, snowed in over Christmas, and endured a January with fresh snow storms every three days. I know how to deal with natural disasters like those. So did the public utility companies of my native state. But I live in Texas now, and last week I only barely managed to survive a not-so-natural disaster. I credit my Missouri smarts, but I blame the government infrastructure that totally failed Texas.

It’s Not Like We Weren’t Warned

Weather forecasters in Texas tend to panic at the mere thought of ice. They’d been telling us for weeks that we were due for a dance with the Polar Vortex. We knew it was coming. Like any sensible person, I prepped my house, draining hoses and changing furnace filters. I stocked up on things like toilet paper and pet food. The Polar Vortex could bring it.

On Friday, February 12, I picked up my grocery order for the week, full of sandwich stuff and the ingredients for a big batch of chili. There had been a 133-car pileup to the west, in Fort Worth, that morning. Six people had died on an iced-over freeway ramp. We all shook our heads in dismay, but the roads were clear in my city. A few tiny flecks of very dry snow were starting to fall, and it was getting colder, but I was okay.

Cars, SUVs, trucks, and tractor-trailer units lie tumbled and smashed across several lanes of ice-shiny highway. On either side of the pileup, a dozen emergency vehicles, as well as police and firefighters scramble to help victims.
The debacle on I-35W near Fort Worth, TX. (Lawrence Jenkins / Special Contributor / via The Dallas Morning News)

The snow started in earnest on Saturday. I like snow, and I was indoors, warm and well-fed. My dogs wanted to go out and play. The cats wanted to sleep. My biggest concern was for the birds; I didn’t want my bird feeder to run out of safflower seed.

A Not-So-Natural Disaster

By Sunday morning the snow was about four inches deep, including in my driveway and street. A rabbit had hopped across my front lawn sometime overnight. The morning paper warned of possible “rolling blackouts” to protect the electrical grid from strain over excessive demand. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) promised these blackouts would last fifteen to 45 minutes each and be no big deal.

They lied. ERCOT and local energy providers had run cost/benefit analyses on winterizing the grid the way the rest of the country has done, and decided they’d rather save money than lives. That decision created a not-so-natural disaster.

The ERCOT control room has and extensive array of screens and futuristic-looking control desks.
The ERCOT control room looks a lot more advanced than its grid turned out to be. (@ERCOT_ISO / Twitter, via E&E News)

Timeline for a Not-So-Natural Disaster

On Monday, at 2:00 am, my power went out for the first time. It was out for about 30 minutes. We’d never had rolling blackouts back in Missouri, but if that was what they were like, I figured I could handle them.

At 3:30 am the power went off again. At 4:00 am, I woke up because the house was getting really cold.

That blackout lasted for eight hours. The indoor temperature got down to 40 degrees (F). I could see my breath. My house is all electric, so I couldn’t cook food, make tea, or shower. I had no light and, although I have a fireplace, I had no wood to burn in it. The internet was gone, but my phone was charged. Our local news kept repeating ERCOT’s lie about the 15 to 45-minute rolling blackouts. They recommended we drink hot beverages to stay warm, assuming everybody had a gas stove.

Nearby buildings are dark, but a few blocks over the lights remained on in downtown Dallas.
One deeply unpopular energy-saving strategy utilized partial blackouts like this one in Dallas. (Brandon Wade, via The Dallas Morning News)

Dark Night of the Soul

On Monday afternoon my power came back on for a couple of hours. I hurried to cook a serious meal and make myself hot tea. Every device went on a charger, while I closed off rooms and left drips on all my faucets to keep my pipes from freezing and breaking. Then the lights went off again.

Oncor, my local electric company, admitted that the rolling blackouts might last up to an hour. They told us to only make a report if the power was out for more than 60 minutes. I took grim satisfaction in reporting every hour on the hour as my power outage stretched into the evening.

Temperatures continued to drop, headed for a low of 2 degrees overnight. A friend reported it was 34 degrees in her kitchen. Around 9:00 pm an ambulance took away my next-door neighbor, an eighty-year-old stroke survivor.

I woke at 1:30 am on Tuesday. Fully dressed, buried in blankets, wrapped in jackets and coats and gloves, I was still cold. Wool boot socks did not keep my toes warm, even under the covers. I know about hypothermia, so when I began to shiver, I knew I was in trouble. I wanted to cry, but I didn’t want to get out of bed to find the tissues so I could blow my nose.

The Bryant family of Garland, TX huddled in front of the fireplace with their kids and their dog.
Weathering ERCOT’s blackouts challenged many families in Texas. The Bryant family cuddled by the fireplace in a pile of blankets with their kids and the family dog (wearing two doggie sweaters), in their home in Garland. (Smiley N. Pool, via The Dallas Morning News)

What’s A Woman to Do?

Frightened for my safety, alone except for my animals, I thought about calling 911. But what would I ask them to do? I didn’t need hospitalization, and my city hadn’t opened any warming centers. Who should I call? A mental health line?

Oncor got another outage report from me, and then I did what any pissed-off American citizen should do in such circumstances. Hunched over my tiny phone screen, I pounded out an angry e-mail to my state representative, demanding he introduce legislation to mandate modernization throughout the Texas electrical grid. Another angry screed went to ERCOT, pointing out what utter failures they were. Invoking images of frozen grannies, clutching their paid-up electric bills, I also referenced of frozen nuts. I didn’t mean pecans.

Then I burrowed deeper under my covers and resigned myself to the cold and the dark. I had my rage to keep me warm.

In this editorial cartoon a Texan in a cowboy hat, coat and muffler holds a mug under the frozen spigot of a container marked “Deregulation.”
Editorial Cartoon by Nick Anderson / Tribune Content Agency via

A New Day

When I woke up Tuesday morning, I discovered I hadn’t been the only angry emailer, tweeter, or caller to communicate with our representatives overnight. Some mayor out in West Texas got so tired of the calls he told everybody the government owed them nothing. He quickly became an ex-mayor. Our United States Senator decided to fly to Cancun, where it was warm. The response he got from his constituents was even hotter.

But Texas’ let-business-regulate-itself governor actually called for new legislation to regulate ERCOT. It seemed like everybody (who didn’t fly to Cancun) agreed: this was a not-so-natural disaster, and we wanted those responsible to pay.

By Tuesday night—Oh! Look! Actual rolling blackouts began to happen. They were more like two hours on; six hours off, but they were sort of predictable, and cycled more quickly through the night. On Wednesday, around noon, my power came back on and has stayed on ever since. By Saturday, February 20, a solid week after things began to go bad, the temps in my part of Texas popped up into the 40s, and the snow melted away.

A low camera angle catches frost on the grass in a Texas field at dawn.
A frosty morning in Texas from an “ITAP” (I took a picture) thread on Reddit. (Alyssa J. Perez)


It will take a while to get back to normal. The New York Times reports at least 58 people died as a result of this not-so-natural disaster. The Dallas Morning News reported that broken pipes and cold-related damage will cost insurance companies more than Hurricane Harvey did back in 2017. Politicians have called for investigations. People have called plumbers and lawyers, and started to look for someone to sue.

Me? I’m just happy I survived. I am safe and warm, and my house is undamaged. For just this quiet moment of time, that’s good enough for me.


Many thanks to The Dallas Morning News for three of the photos in this post! First, for the “Debacle on I-35W,” with extra thanks to photographer Lawrence Jenkins. Second, for the “Partial Blackout in Downtown Dallas,” with a tip of the hat to photographer Brandon Wade. And thirdly for the “Family Survival Cuddle,” with gratitude to staff photographer Smiley N. Pool. The “ERCOT Control Room” photo is from ERCOT itself (on Twitter), via E&E News. We offer our deepest gratitude to Nick Anderson and Tribune Content Agency for the “Kool-Aid is Frozen” cartoon, via And we also appreciate the “Frosty Texas Morning” photo by Alyssa J. Perez, via an “I Took A Picture” thread on Reddit. We appreciate all of you!

G.’s Housemates:

For posts about the other living things that share G.’s home, you might enjoy “The Snow Witch Sisters” and “How Does Your Garden Grow?” about her gardens (we hope they survived), “The Texas Pack,” about her dogs, or “Cats in Space?” and “The Universe Gives Me a Cat,” about . . . we bet you can guess!

A balanced reading diet

We’ve all heard the expression, “you are what you eat.” The idea behind it is that what we put into our bodies affects the health of our bodies. We’ll be healthier if we eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. But I think that can be extended to our reading diet as well. What we put into our minds by reading affects how we think. Thus, “you are what you read,” far more than we may realize. If we’re wise, we’ll cultivate a balanced reading diet.

This photo still life shows a beautifully-staged breakfast of figs, yogurt with granola, and tea, next to a magazine open to an article by Zadie Smith titled “New Books.”
Three feasts in one: visual, gustatory, and literary! (photo still life by Juliette Tang, via Food52)

How we understand the world

Our teachers and families may have taught us that balanced nutrition keeps us healthy. Whether we actually eat a balanced diet or not, we’ve probably heard of the concept. But, a balanced reading diet? What would that even look like?

For this discussion, I won’t debate whether listening counts as “reading.” Audiobooks and podcasts? Ebooks and online materials? Print books and publications? Different delivery mechanisms, but they all deliver ideas. Same goes for fiction and nonfiction. They simply are different ways to transmit ideas.

Verbal communication evolved for survival reasons. Humans navigate our world better when we understand it (or think we do). Because of our experiences and influences, we accept some ideas, and reject others as unhelpful. The ideas we keep and use guide us when something new happens. They determine how we understand the world.

What’s in your reading diet?

For me, a balanced reading diet consists of some nonfiction and some fiction. Some of my reading/listening focuses on contemporary issues and news. Other reading/listening is more timeless. And a lot of it, because of the culture in which I live, reflects a white-dominant perspective. I have to make a special effort to find other perspectives.

Portraits of two Black 18th-century writers, Olaudah Equiano and Phillis Wheatley from editions of their books.
Portrait engravings of Olaudah Equiano and Phillis Wheatley from 18th-century editions of their books. (British Library)

That’s why I think it’s important to talk about this during Black History Month. Because for a white person like me, it’s all too easy to get caught in a dominant-group-exclusive perspective. It’s way too easy to ignore other’s experiences.

But white people who cocoon themselves in a “white-perspective-only” bubble render themselves clueless and unfit to influence community affairs. Ignorance leads to dangerous blind spots. Demographic shifts place white people in a majority group that’s dwindling. The privilege many of us take for granted today—and defend with savagery, in some cases—cannot last.

Why do we need a balanced reading diet?

My sister spotlighted some pitfalls of a whites-only perspective in her post last week. Her “tale of two histories” gave a vivid glimpse of why separate is not equal. Nor is it balanced. Nor respectful. And certainly not wise.

People from minority groups have no choice but to pay attention to others ideas, needs, and priorities. If white people don’t develop a wider understanding of the world, we’ll have a far harder transition when we become part of a “majority minority” nation.

Long before that happens, we need to wise up and start rebalancing our inputs. Granted, a minority of white people—and seemingly a majority of one major political party—have embraced a leader linked to white supremacy. They have committed themselves to the “white bubble.” That doesn’t mean the rest of us have to. Or should.

A young man sits on the floor between two bookshelves. He has a book open on his upraised knees and several other books open on the floor beside him.
(uncredited photo via BuddyMantra)

A balanced reading diet prepares us for the future

If we want to prepare ourselves to help create and participate in a more equitable world, we have work to do. We need to learn about white privilege, if that’s a new concept. For those who’ve lived in the “white bubble,” we have to practice before we can perceive the privilege that surrounds us. We also need a willingness to understand how our privilege actually hurts all of us—yes, even those who enjoy the privilege.

We need to ground ourselves in non-white experiences, to keep our thinking lives balanced. Learn about microaggressions, and why their relentless barrage is so destructive. One of my teaching classes included a book titled We Can’t Teach What we Don’t Know. We can’t teach, and we can’t live, in more adaptive ways without broader understanding.

Why seek a broader understanding? We owe it to ourselves, if we value the ideals of a resilient democracy. We’re at a crossroads. Unless we work with other Americans to build a national identity that embraces diversity, we’ll limp into the future diminished and wounded by internal strife.

Recipe for a balanced reading diet

If you want to build a balanced reading diet, I’d recommend several things, but first a guiding principle: just as a balanced diet incorporates a variety of foods, a variety of information sources build a balanced reading diet.

Logos for two great podcasts from NPR, “Code Switch,” and “Throughline.”
Two great podcasts from NPR, Code Switch focuses on culture and current events, while Throughline offers insights from lesser-known history. (Logos via NPR podcast listings)

News and commentary

Study up on antiracism, especially if you’re not sure about claims that white people enjoy a privileged status, or why that might be a problem. Authors who are persons of color can speak from a place of authority on this topic. Podcasts I’d particularly recommend: Code Switch and Throughline, both from NPR.

If you’re lucky enough to have a local newspaper—or at least a broadcast station that covers local news—listen to it or read and support it. Local media keep local governments and other centers of power more accountable.

Likewise, get your national and international news from a variety of well-regarded sources. Include at least one national newspaper, and a news source from a foreign country, such as Reuters or Al Jazeera. Don’t rely on just one source for everything! And make sure you can distinguish straight news from opinion.

This image provides a montage of book covers for works by Black authors, giving a glimpse of the recommendations list in the article.
TED speakers offered their recommendations for 62 great books by Black authors. (TED Ideas)

Don’t neglect fiction

Both nonfiction and fiction offer new windows on the world. Fiction is arguably one of our earliest forms of meaning-making, so don’t dismiss it as useless and frivolous. It is primal. (And, serious novels aside, sometimes we urgently need frivolity in our lives. Fiction has you covered there, too!)

Seek out authors from a variety of backgrounds. As influential novels of the past have shown, sometimes the best way to explore an idea is to wrap it in a riveting story.

That’s my recipe. What do you think? Do you have a balanced reading diet? Please comment below! What’s on your “must-read” list?

This quote-image features the silhouette of a young boy and the William Godwin quote, “He that loves reading has everything within his reach.”
A classic quote from Mary Shelley’s father, William Godwin. (GladReaders)


Many thanks to CASSIEM and Food52, for the photo still life by Juliette Tang, as well as an enjoyable article and several more photos by Tang. I appreciate the British Library for an interesting article on some of its holdings by 18th-century Black authors, and the illustration of the portrait engravings of Olaudah Equiano and Phillis Wheatley. I’m grateful to BuddyMantra for the uncredited photo of the young man in the library, from Pallavi Dutta’s article about “30 Things Only Booklovers Can Relate To.” Thanks also to NPR podcasts, Code Switch, and Throughline, for their logos, and to TED’s “Ideas” for the illustration and the article on “62 Great Books by Black Authors Recommended by TED Speakers.” And finally, I also want to thank Glad Readers for the Quote-image featuring the quote from Mary Shelleys father, William Godwin.

The covers of “The Pioneers,” and “If These Stones Could Talk.” These two books show separate is not equal.

Separate is Not Equal

By G. S. Norwood

It’s cloudy and kind of cold here in Texas. I’ve spent these gloomy days reading. Because I rarely read only one book at a time, I have two different works of historical non-fiction on my nightstand just now. The contrast clearly shows that separate is not equal. That’s why I’ve decided to tell you this tale of two histories.

The covers of “The Pioneers,” and “If These Stones Could Talk.” These two books show separate is not equal.
The Pioneers and If These Stones Could Talk (Bookshop)

Professional v. Amateur

The first book, recommended to me by a friend, is David McCullough’s The Pioneers:The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West. David McCullough is one of America’s most distinguished historians. He’s a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The Pioneers is McCullough’s latest release, although he is best known for his biographies of Harry S. Truman and Theodore Roosevelt.

The other book is If These Stones Could Talk: African American Presence in the Hopewell Valley, Sourland Mountain and Surrounding Regions of New Jersey. Uncovering their community’s history moved two amateur historians, Elaine Buck and Beverly Mills,to write about it.

Old School Style

McCullough focuses on several remarkable individuals in his book. They led the settlement of the vast Northwest Territory. Britain had ceded this area to the US at at the end of the American Revolution. The Reverend Manasseh Cutler and General Rufus Putnam lobbied Congress to charter the Ohio Company and lay out the terms for settling the largely “unexplored” land on the northern bank of the Ohio River. Cutler’s son, Ephraim, and Dr. Samuel Hildreth carry the story into the second generation.

David McCullough at home in West Tisbury on Martha’s Vineyard.
Author David McCullough pauses by a stone wall near his home on Martha’s Vineyard. Behind him stands the small shed-sized structure where McCullough has long liked to write, using a Royal Manual typewriter. (Maria Thibodeau/Vineyard Gazette)

These interesting people did big things. McCullough worked from their letters, journals, and personal papers, bringing them to life for the reader. But the book struck me as curiously old-school in the story it told. Reduced to its most basic elements, it is just one more tale of heroic white men conquering the virgin frontier. I heard history like that all through my school years, back in the Stone Age.

To hear McCullough tell it, the Ohio wilderness was nothing but trees and bears before the white settlers moved in. Native Americans showed up only to be fought against and vanquished by the noble white guys. Despite the fact that a provision banning slavery was written into Ohio’s founding charter, Black people are mostly mentioned as slaves from Virginia, on the southern side of the river.

A Different Perspective

Authors Beverly Mills and Elaine Buck
Authors Beverly Mills and Elaine Buck, with some of their reference materials. (Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum)

Buck and Mills saw things a little differently in If These Stones Could Talk. Their book, too, stretches back into the days just after the American Revolution, when people had first began to lay down their arms and focus on the serious business of building a self-governing country.

In the Sourland Mountain corner of western New Jersey, a community grew up that included White people and Black people. Some of the Black people were enslaved, but some were not. All the people, no matter what their color, contributed to the community. Their work and their lives overlapped, crossed paths, and wove together into the history Buck and Mills relate.

Cemetery near the Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum.
The cemetery near the Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum. (Princeton Magazine)

Separate is not Equal

Reading this book made me see clearly that there is not Black history over on one side of town and a completely separate White history over on the other. History contains both sides and all facets. It is most complete when it tells the story of all the people in a community, no matter what their color. Separate is not equal. History should not be separate at all.

Since Ohio was free territory, I have to believe that there were Black people there, among the carpenters, boat builders, dockhands and farmers in Marietta, where McCullough’s focus lies. In later years, Marietta became an important stop on the Underground Railroad.

Yet the only Black person McCullough has identified by name so far is a gentleman named Micajah Phillips, generally referred to by his slave name, Cajoe. Phillips was educated, and trusted to oversee a major construction project for his enslaver. He was also and nimble enough to escape slavery when the opportunity presented itself. McCullough tells us that, as a free man, Phillips “stayed on in Ohio, married, had children, became widely popular as a preacher, and lived until well past the age of 100.”

Don’t you think his would have been an interesting thread to weave more fully into the story of how Ohio was settled? Don’t you think he, and his children, and their children, might have made a significant contribution to Ohio history, too?

Micajah Phillips’ Family Graveyard
Speaking of cemeteries: apparently he did have an impact. A community project put an iron fence around Micajah Phillips’ Family Graveyard in 2012. (ohsssardispatch)

A Tale of Two Histories

Back in August, Jan and I wrote a blog post about efforts to remove a Confederate statue from the Parker County courthouse in Weatherford, Texas. We made the point that what we know of history depends on who does the telling. In Weatherford’s case, the telling was left to the United Daughters of the Confederacy. They championed the whole toxic Lost Cause nonsense. It will take some time to untangle their lies and distortions from the books and monuments across the old Southern states.

But we know better now and, as Maya Angelou so wisely said, “When you know better, do better.” It’s time to do better when we write our history books. It’s time to give a more complete picture of the people who build any community. And it’s always time to remember that, in history or in daily life, separate is not equal.

This famous quote from Maya Angelou says, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” separate is not equal
(Quote-image courtesy of Medium/Treadmill Treats)


Many thanks to Bookshop, which provided the cover images of the two books discussed in this post: The Pioneers, and If These Stones could Talk. We also thank The Vineyard Gazette and photographer Maria Thibodeau. They published the photo of David McCullough near his home on Martha’s Vineyard.

More thanks go to the Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum for the great photo of Beverly Mills and Elaine Buck. And we extend gratitude to Ohio Society of the Sons of the American Revolution. They provided the photo of the Micajah Phillips Family Cemetery with its new fence. Finally, we thank Medium and the blog “Treadmill Treats” for the illustrated Maya Angelou quote.

This quote from Ijeoma Oluo reads, “Even the most virulent American racist has to wrestle with the fact that the United States would not exist were it not for people of color.”

What Black History Month means to me

At the coldest, bleakest time of each year in the United States, we observe first Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in late January, and then Black History Month in February.

I know there are non-racist reasons for this scheduling. Dr. King’s birthday is January 15. February was chosen by a Black historian for Black History Month (originally Black History Week) because Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass both were born in February (Feb. 12 and 14, respectively).

But I sometimes feel as if this is a way white people accepted so they could seem “enlightened,” get them over with early, and then move on. Like maybe they won’t have to think about Black people the rest of the year.

This quote from Chris Rock says, “Black History Month is in the shortest month of the year, and the coldest—just in case we want to have a parade.”
(AZ Quotes)

Thinking about Black people all year

In recent years I’ve observed Black History Month annually on Artdog Adventures. But we cannot relegate any aspect of our history and national culture to a shadowed corner for ten and a half months of the year.

It’s impossible to live an honest life in today’s world without acknowledging Black people’s pervasive contributions to all aspects of our society, and the incredible depth of their talent pool. Simply put, Black people make our country a better place to live.

This quote from Yvette Clarke says, “We must never forget that Black History is American History. The achievements of African Americans have contributed to our nation’s greatness.”
(AZ Quotes)

Like other meaningful annual observations, Black History Month should be a time of renewing our understanding and deepening our knowledge. The only way to truly grow in our antiracist understanding is to go back to the well of clear-eyed understanding with open-hearted empathy.

Black History Month at a unique moment in US history

If 2020 taught us anything, it should have taught us that way too many of us white folks are clueless and insensitive at best, can often be racist jerks, and may even be violent white supremacists at worst. It should have taught us to respect the massive contributions to our lives by our communities of color.

These groups disproportionately provided the essential workers who’ve kept the rest of us alive—at great personal cost. They came out to vote in huge numbers, overcoming sometimes-daunting obstacles, and literally saved our democracy (if we can keep it). In many ways, white Americans cannot easily fathom how very much gratitude we owe them.

This quote from Ijeoma Oluo reads, “Even the most virulent American racist has to wrestle with the fact that the United States would not exist were it not for people of color.”
(Jan S. Gephardt)

Of course, a lot of us white people are really slow learners, so the inequities persist. A living wage continues to elude many who are still employed. Medical professionals who should know better continue to cherish magical thinking about Black pain tolerance or ignore what their Black patients say. Systemically racist police practices continue to oppress and overpolice and kill.

No turning back now

Some powerful (and a lot of ordinary) white people still act and talk as if we could go back to “the way it used to be” after the pandemic has passed. Now that we have a new administration, they say, we should let bygones be bygones, in the name of “unity.

News flash: time marches on, just as inexorably as the Black Lives Matter demonstrators did last summer. Change has occurred. We’ve seen too much, lost too many family members, and sacrificed too much to subside into numb complacency now.

Not if we retain the smallest scintilla of survival instinct.

This quote from Sister Peggy O’Neill, S.C. reads, “Together we imagine a circle of compassion with no one standing outside of it.”
(Ignatian Solidarity Network)

If we didn’t realize it before, we no longer have any excuses. Everyone now knows how very many things can, and have, and do go wrong. When incompetent people collude with greedy people from a position of abused power, disasters ensue.

It’s going to take all of us, with all of our pooled talent, strength, and resiliency, to pull our country out of the fire. Let’s harness the understandings we gain during Black History Month, together with the spirit of genuine antiracism. Then let’s go forward to create a better future for all of us.


Many thanks to AZ Quotes: first for the Chris Rock quote, and second for the quote from US Rep. Yvette Clarke. I assembled the quote from author Ijeoma Oluo with some help from 123rf. And I appreciate the Ignatian Solidarity Network for the quote from Sister Peggy O’Neill, SC.

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