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Old 14 June 2020, 16:47
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Rethinking History

Is there a graceful way of reassessing history?

This topic has been on my mind a lot lately. I got "triggered" by the removal of the Confederate Soldier statue from my street. All is left is an empty pedestal, sticking out like a sore thumb.

And of course, there are other statues (Christopher Columbus' including) being vandalized and/or removed and there are proposals of renaming military bases. Given the logic behind these actions, I suppose that in due time there will be a conversation to rechristen Washington DC, given that it is comprised of names of two "major offenders".

Having spent my childhood in a country that has always been overly enthusiastic to tear down the statues of its former rulers and rename all the geographical points of reference overnight, I do not believe that this is necessarily the best way to arrive to reconciliation. At the same time, some of the rationale behind these recent exercises in "rethinking history" cannot be ignored (besides the times when it is a complete jerk knee reaction, which was the case with the Confederate Soldier statue, IMO).

In Germany there are very few *standalone* monuments dedicated to German soldiers who fell during WWII. However, the decision not to commemorate them was adopted immediately in the aftermath of the war, so the German experience is only somewhat relevant. In many cases, names of the WWII casualties were added to the earlier monuments to the victims of Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 and WWI.

I would love to hear everyone's thoughts on this issue, since we have so many history nerds here. Is there a graceful way to preserve American history while respecting all sides involved?

(I am writing this post with Gone with the Wind playing in the background... not sure what this will turn into once iTunes delivers "additional materials exploring issues surrounding the film's historical context." )
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Old 14 June 2020, 17:24
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Some applicable quotes....ironically from the past.

Quote:
“Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.” - 1984
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“[T]he Party member, like the proletarian, tolerates present-day conditions because he has no standards of comparison. He must be cut off from the past, just as he must be cut off from foreign countries, because it is necessary for him to believe that he is better off than his ancestors and that the average level of material comfort is constantly rising.”
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Old 14 June 2020, 17:43
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The problem that I see resurfacing is that vocal people want to cherry pick grievances from the past.

Part of that is because our educational system does a terrible job covering history.

Part of that is because of our own biases.

Ultimately, most people want a "good guy" and a "bad guy". They want, figuratively speaking, a "black and white" view of history. From my vantage point, there's a lot of gray zones.

From my vantage point, no one belongs on a pedestal. Historical figures had to make tough decisions based on limited data.

Just look at how Native Americans are portrayed. Mainstream history has them as noble savages ravaged by the conniving of the white people.

There's so much more nuances and examples from history.
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Old 14 June 2020, 18:49
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I just do not understand how history is offensive. It is what it is. Trying to re-write it is not learning from mistakes or successes, but sticking your head in the sand.

As for a graceful way of "re-assessing" history? Sure. Go to college and study it, and then write your re-assessment in academic form, or write a damn book.
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Old 14 June 2020, 18:55
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History is there to serve as an example of something that worked and should be done again or of something that was a miserable failure and should never be repeated.

History isn't something that should be re-written or changed. It was concerning people making conscious thoughts and actions. Good and bad. They cannot be removed from the annals of time. Statues can be taken down, but the memory and history of the person cannot be stricken from the records. People need to grow up and learn and quit allowing themselves to be victims of their own minds.
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Old 14 June 2020, 18:59
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I agree that this generation, maybe a couple back have selective memory or education about history. It should taught more and in more detail at schools. When liberals cherry pick what they want your kids to learn this happens.

History comes with good and bad. You should learn from both. Not erase it, or re name it, or tear it down because it hurts your fucking feelings. That’s NAZI/Facist bullshit.

To answer the first question. No.
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Old 14 June 2020, 19:18
Armitage12 Armitage12 is offline
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There is a way that professionals in the mid 20th century came to do it, which was an informed reconsideration (constantly) combined with ethical adherence to rigorous analysis of primary sources. I saw a very senior professor, a legend in the international history field, say in 1999 that his view had now changed, and though he expected to be struck down by lightning, Reagan was actually a good president -- and that he added that his was certainly not what he and his colleagues would have said when Reagan was president. And that professionalism lingers among some of us. That is what would have been seen by outsiders as a graceful reassessment.

The problem of doing it gently is multifold, because of the attack on the profession and the ways of doing history from the New Left in the 1960s, some of which was appropriate (there were prejudices and stereotypes that persisted) and some of which was not appropriate (because it overemphasized some subjects and permitted followers to denigrate certain ways of doing history). It was in this latter area that you got the "we shouldn't study military history because that's not really important/it's celebrating bad things and amid Vietnam we don't like war." I'm being simplistic, because there are some serious works on this that dive into it more deeply.

Gentle reassessment can come when people are not vested in the narrative, either because it is not their professional identity (I've spent my life studying this - fuck you for suggesting I'm wrong) or their personal identity (I'm Kosovar and dammit we will never forget the Battle of Kosovo). One branch of the reassessment argument is that only people of that culture can do that history -- so you need to be black to do black history. Welp, that rules out any more Ancient Roman history, since they're all gone.

We are also very aware that non-specialists try to corrupt history for their own
ends. The Communists were masters of this (look up the disappearing Commissar) and their intellectual step-children are trying to today.

This pull-down-the-statue stuff is no accident. And the profession of historians abhors it. We don't want statues of Hitler, but we don't want such statues to disappear. We want them to stay in museums, where we can point to evil that once existed lest we forget.

I hope this helps.
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Old 14 June 2020, 20:04
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We want them to stay in museums, where we can point to evil that once existed lest we forget.
I think this is an excellent point. I'm no professional, IMO it all depends upon how we make meaning of something along various lines - cultural, political, economic, etc.

I'll take an organizational culture perspective based on Edgar Schein's construct of artifacts (surface level), espoused beliefs and values (under the surface), and basic underlying assumptions (deeper or even unconscious).

There are interacting factors here from different concepts on what is history vs. what is historical, and if something is historical, then how to preserve it.

IMO, history is what it is, we often learn and meanings change as more artifacts come to light that can be studied providing more thick descriptions of events or situations.

What is deemed of historical value has changed over time. Some statues or monuments are truly historical and stand the test of time. Others were erected or crafted by people well after the historical events as a way to project cultural values, still stemming from deeper beliefs.

An aspect of deeper beliefs, for example, is idol worship of "Great men". We name things after Presidents, Generals, Admirals, other powerful figures in history. This trend shows up globally and can stem from an innate social relationship to authority, or a proxy of authority. In the United States, our culture is interestingly bipolar on this - we seem to hold both traditional authority figures in high esteem, yet also have an anti-authoritarian streak that explicitly fought against it (for example, artifacts of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence). The discussion on what to name our chief executive as our country was formed highlighted this struggle (King, President, and how to honor the title).

Therefore, I would invite consideration around the following - (1) facts and events of history, (2) historical artifacts that represent those facts and events in context/time (chronology matters, IMO), (3) cultural artifacts conflated with historical not related to those facts and events (going down the funnel of espoused beliefs/values and underlying assumptions), and (4) what the later means as underlying assumptions change (for good or bad).

If something is worth historical preservation as an artifact of history, either maintain if its a structure (like the Pyramids) or place it in a museum. Some structures are absolutely terrible, like Auschwitz-Birkenau, but the context around it is not of worship. For others, we see this play out when folks petition to preserve ships vice send them to the scrappers and the long process of determining significance while passing the hat for $$$ occurs. Many statues of individuals (artifacts) IMO, speak more to worship of the figure, and associated beliefs and underlying assumptions.

My own bias is against the worship of authority figures of history in big, expensive, grand statues. It echoes of humanity's seduction to power, kings/queens. Some are historical in nature, others are not. YMMV.

Edit: I may be in the minority, but I think Gone With the Wind sucked.

Last edited by smp52; 14 June 2020 at 20:17.
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Old 14 June 2020, 20:26
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Both of you guys say it more professionally than I and I give both great thought. I think the difference here is evil. All of these statues and bases being renamed weren’t all named after evil men. Hilter = evil. I don’t know how the Germans teach that?

There is a place for some in museums but not destroyed. ISIS done that kinda cultural destruction.
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Old 14 June 2020, 21:14
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Historiography is the study of the interpretation of history. Essentially, each generation interprets historical events somewhat differently, through their own biases, worldview, educational exposure.

Not to mention those manipulating interpretations for political/personal gains.
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Old 14 June 2020, 21:14
Armitage12 Armitage12 is offline
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Exactly, SMP and 1Riser.

We are witnessing the destruction of statues difficult to defend (Robert E. Lee as the hero); statues of people who are complex (the Confederate Soldier -- which includes both those who fought to keep their family's slaves and those who were drafted and whose parents had arrived not two decades earlier in this country); and statues of people who are completely unrelated to this.

In the latter-most category, it's open season on stupid. Let's get rid of Columbus's statue, because indigenous people. Okay, but statues of Columbus were erected because of the earlier "Italian Lives Matter" movement of the late 19th century, for which see this if you didn't know about it:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/March_...eans_lynchings

Where do people think Columbus Day came from? It's part of the backlash against anti-Italian and anti-Catholic sentiments.

Or, people going after Churchill's statue. Or Gandhi's. That's people attempting to erase history, to replace it with a history-less past that can be moulded to suit the rulers' desires.

Forgetting these things by getting rid of statues and monuments and commemorations opens the door up to ignorance of the past that can be manipulated.
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Old 14 June 2020, 21:52
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Originally Posted by GirlwithaGlock View Post
Is there a graceful way of reassessing history?

This topic has been on my mind a lot lately. I got "triggered" by the removal of the Confederate Soldier statue from my street. All is left is an empty pedestal, sticking out like a sore thumb.

And of course, there are other statues (Christopher Columbus' including) being vandalized and/or removed and there are proposals of renaming military bases. Given the logic behind these actions, I suppose that in due time there will be a conversation to rechristen Washington DC, given that it is comprised of names of two "major offenders".

Having spent my childhood in a country that has always been overly enthusiastic to tear down the statues of its former rulers and rename all the geographical points of reference overnight, I do not believe that this is necessarily the best way to arrive to reconciliation. At the same time, some of the rationale behind these recent exercises in "rethinking history" cannot be ignored (besides the times when it is a complete jerk knee reaction, which was the case with the Confederate Soldier statue, IMO).

In Germany there are very few *standalone* monuments dedicated to German soldiers who fell during WWII. However, the decision not to commemorate them was adopted immediately in the aftermath of the war, so the German experience is only somewhat relevant. In many cases, names of the WWII casualties were added to the earlier monuments to the victims of Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 and WWI.

I would love to hear everyone's thoughts on this issue, since we have so many history nerds here. Is there a graceful way to preserve American history while respecting all sides involved?

(I am writing this post with Gone with the Wind playing in the background... not sure what this will turn into once iTunes delivers "additional materials exploring issues surrounding the film's historical context." )
Graceful is probably subjective at best. Reassessing how we display artifacts of United States & Continental History? We probably could come to a moderate consensus.

My fear is that what is wanted is to erase history and turn it into at best an oral tradition.

When people are actively tearing down statues they know nothing about I have little faith that United States Citizens could ever come to long lasting peaceful consensus on our American History, it's display, it's celebration.
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Old 15 June 2020, 13:49
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I don’t know how the Germans teach that?
When I was in school it was taught from about fifth grade on. You would have holocaust survivors come and speak at the school one day per year. A decent amount of time was allocated throughout every year to discuss the Holocaust, Nazism, and the European part of WW2.

During my time in school, which happened to be during the unification, it became a constant topic due to the Neonazism that was exploding in the eastern part of the country. Immigrants were constantly being attacked, firebombed, and targeted by Skinheads and there has been a pervasive undercurrent of white supremacy terrorism since then. It certainly existed following WW2 but it took a much more dramatic footprint in German society in the 90's. In the early 00's it spilled over.

The Government is now in an odd position where ultra-nationalism is being embraced by many who are fed up with being on the receiving end of high taxes, marginal opportunities, and floods of immigrants. The media there does the same thing it's doing here and historical revisionism is going on both sides. Holocaust deniers are growing in numbers. So are the "German guilt" ridden masses.

To that effect, I just ended a lifelong friendship dating back to childhood. After posting a tribute to the American flag on my IG, she replied with a long post about how it had an almost "far right extremism feel" to it. That's how fucked up the country is right. Nationalism was repressed for decades because "bad German, WW2 bad" to the point where now they're either perpetually apologizing for something they barely understand and had no part in, or they're tired of the browbeating and go full potato in the other direction.
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Old 15 June 2020, 14:46
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When it comes specifically to Confederate statues, we are dealing with a current reassessment of a past reassessment of what was the history of the period.

Most of the Confederate statues that were found throughout the states of the former CSA in front of every county courthouse and state capitol were monuments to soldiers and, occasionally, to the women who endured wartime and post-war conditions without those men or with only mangled versions of them. Many of the generic soldier monuments (they were mass-produced in the 1890s to meet demand) have an inscription on the front about soldiers and one on the back about women.
Notable figures of the CSA (Jeff Davis and well-known generals in particular) sometimes had statues in the state capitols of their home states as well as in their home towns, but were vastly outnumbered by generic soldier statues.

There were three concurrent reasons why those statues went up when they did. First, there was the matter of unmarked graves. Whichever army retreated away from a battlefield typically had their dead soldiers either left to the buzzards or tossed into unmarked mass graves. The CSA lost most of the major battles, especially those that produced the most casualties, and even though most of those battles were within the CSA, most of the troops dying in most of them were not from the local area or were even from out of state. Due to the lack of a transportation system analogous to the USA, soldiers who died in CSA hospitals were typically buried on site instead of shipping bodies home, and the destruction of records in state capitols at the end of the war and afterwards meant that the memory of burial locations went by the wayside (the undestroyed state archives of South Carolina seized by occupation forces in the summer of 1865 were not returned until the Jimmy Carter presidency). The combination of those factors resulted in a very large number of southern families who, even if they knew what had happened to a family member, had no idea of where they were buried. Those soldier monuments acted as the gravestones for soldiers who never came home. While nearly all of the Confederate politicians and some of the high ranking Confederate officers were slaveholders obsessed with preserving slavery, neither of those characteristics were true of most of the rank and file soldiers, so those who saw the monuments as gravestones tended to see no connection between the monuments and slavery or civil rights issues.

The second reason those monuments were erected involved political symbolism. The Democratic Party spent the early 1860s as the government of the CSA, the late 1860s as persecuted criminals, the early 1870s as the KKK and equivalent paramilitary insurgent organizations (Red Shirts, White Rose, etc.) opposing northern occupation troops, and the late 1870s as the political opposition to the groups who had gained power during Reconstruction (Republicans, black people, bankers, railroad holding companies, carpetbaggers, etc.). In the 1880s the Democrats promoted the New South model, in which political power was exclusively in the hands of white Democrats, black people who worked their way out of sharecropping would be allowed to own small farms and small businesses, and white investors would be encouraged to pursue industrialization. In the 1890s there was a backlash within the Democratic Party against what was seen as too much liberalization in the 1880s, resulting in the Jim Crow laws, enforced segregation, suppression of black voting rights, and a renewed push to reduce black people to a status as close as possible to slavery. The 1890s erection of most of the Confederate monuments outside courthouses and capitols was an in-your-face statement that the south had been returned to one-party rule by the same Democrats who defended slavery, and that black people and anyone sympathetic to them must accept that situation. In that regard, the monuments were a blatantly anti-civil rights message.

The third reason those monuments went up when they did was as a function of human lifespans. By the 1890s, most of the high ranking politicians and generals of the CSA were dead and gone or on the verge of that. The bulk of the soldiers had become old men. With most of the fire-breathing pro-slavery voices from the war gone, and most of the soldiers made up of poor people who (regardless of their racial attitudes) had never been able to afford a single slave, it was easier for northern and southern soldiers to meet for happy reunions at old battlefields. Much as veterans of other wars since have, several decades after the fighting ended, gone on nostalgic trips to Vietnam or Korea or wherever, the improved transportation systems and media of the 1890s made trips to reunions both possible and popular. There was a push to commemorate the deeds of northern and southern soldiers before they all dropped dead, similar to the later push to build the WW2 monument before all those veterans died.

The complicated part is that there was significant overlap between the three different groups of people who wanted the monuments built. That overlap was primarily found in southern women. The southern soldiers were much more willing than southern women to compartmentalize aspects of the war, to separate the slavery issue from the war, to separate the government from the soldiers, and to see the northern soldiers as just men like themselves following orders and defending their homes. Just as "waving the bloody shirt" was an effective northern political tactic (Presidents Grant, Hayes, Garfield, Arthur, Harrison & McKinley were all northern officers in the war), southern women were the true keepers of the "lost cause" mythology and actively shamed men publicly whom they perceived as too willing to compromise with or accommodate northerners and northern ideas, including both civil rights and industrialization. That was a major transformation from the antebellum era, when women generally played little public role in southern politics and were seldom vocal about "men's issues" like commerce in a society as segregated by gender as it was by race. The psychology behind the actions of post-war southern women was widely studied because it was so new and controversial; the first true blossoming of women as active participants in American politics happened out west in the late 1800s, mostly among women who migrated from the south during that time frame. The most common conclusion, accurate or not, was that southern women were most likely to face rape, robbery, extortion, arson and murder as their homes were conquered by northerners and looted by occupation forces; likewise, they blamed their losses of lives, homes and possessions on faceless northern strangers and generalized a hatred for all things northern. The fundraising drives to purchase and install the monuments were typically done by women who then shamed the men into going along. The influence of those grudge-holding women lasted about another generation, which is why the 1920s is when the KKK had its largest membership and greatest activity among women who proudly marched in white robes with their faces uncovered.

The result is that Democrat politicians, their political opponents, and black people saw the monuments as political statements; former soldiers saw them as non-political remembrances; and southern women saw them as both as well as a reminder of the reason for their unending rage. As complex as the intentions of the people were who put those monuments up, it should come as no surprise that people today should argue over competing narratives of what those statues represent and whether they should be removed.

The most ironic thing about those statues is that they were erected by Democrats while Republicans disdained them as falling somewhere between sedition and bad taste. These days Democrats want the removal of statues they think should have never been erected while Republicans oppose rewriting history to appease people who constantly complain regardless of any compromise.

A quote attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte is that history is no more than an agreed-upon set of lies. In American history, it has been difficult for over a century to even find a single set of lies to agree upon.
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Old 15 June 2020, 15:07
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Your Post.
That was an amazing read! Thank you for sharing!
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Old 15 June 2020, 15:15
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History is just continuously repeated cycles of human emotions, actions and reactions. Good or bad cycles create the environment for emotional responses to whichever is the dominant one of the times.

No matter what, negative human emotions (Greed, fear, jealousy, racism, cruelty, ect) and primal instinctual reactions (survival fight or flight, the need to procreate, pack mentality, etc) will always seep into the foundations of accepted societal norms and will always be the reasons for opportunistic people taking advantage of the upheaval. The cycle will always exist to create problems for societies in the future.

The understanding of history is only available through the writings and information left behind by those who had their own opinions and perceptions of the events, even those who were there, will see it differently from each other.

So what is history and how do we know we have all of the facts before judgement is made as to what is the truth from a historical perspective?

History is complicated and will never be portrayed with every angle and differing perspectives covered by the ones who wrote about it.

Erasing facts of the past because groups do not agree with it now, leaves future generations without all of the facts to make their own choices and opinions.

With all that said, giant monuments to those who perpetrated and orchestrated chaos onto a society is a stretch for me to accept. Hero's and villains are sometimes one in the same, depending on the perspective complicating the issue.

History is definitely a complicated and almost uninterpretable mess. We can't even get the facts strait on the same day of an event with our current MSM.
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Old 15 June 2020, 15:22
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I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who has responded so far. I am learning a lot from all of you, for which I am grateful... and I think it is a timely discussion to have.

I admit that I am terrified to observe our history being twisted and turned inside out. It is a like a bad déjà vu. And the worst part is that people are building their opinions and choosing their actions based on a bunch of misinterpreted and/or selectively chosen "facts" or straight out lies that are posted on social media, so the change is not knowledge-based. Just the other day I saw a series of Instagram posts with very limited context about Willy Brandt and the famous Kniefall von Warschau. The author of the post made a rather sloppy parallel between that spontaneous act of penance and the recent kneeling act in the Congress. But now everyone is an SME on Willie Brandt all of a sudden... and this happens all the time.
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Old 15 June 2020, 16:16
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I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who has responded so far. I am learning a lot from all of you, for which I am grateful... and I think it is a timely discussion to have.
+1 Good thread. I hope it stays civil. (Haha)
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Old 15 June 2020, 17:58
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That was an amazing read! Thank you for sharing!
Can't agree more, especially the Napoleon reference (which I'd never heard before).
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Old 15 June 2020, 18:41
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Great read, thanks for posting that.
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