Posted by: theodorecosmosophia | January 15, 2013

Creatively Maladjusted: Thoughts on the Watering-Down of Dr King

“Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

While I love Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream Speech,” my favorite quote of his is this: “Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.”  For King, salvation is not something individualistic, or entirely distinct from the world, but a process whereby we discover our selves as enmeshed in a community in which our fate cannot be separated from anyone else’s.  Salvation, for Dr. King, is communal.  And it is not by conforming to society that we find salvation, but by transforming it.

The most radical concept in the quote is the term “creatively maladjusted.”  For King, like any prophet, the highest calling is not conformity to society’s norms.  If we are maladjusted to a corrupt system, our task is not to become “well adjusted”, but to use our maladjustment as a creative, not a destructive, force.

Black Liberation Theology

When Howard Thurman, another, lesser known preacher out of that tradition, wrote Jesus and the Disinherited, he was responding, at least in part, to the “strange mutation” of Christianity that American religion had become. Thurman had gone to Morehouse with Martin Luther King, Sr., and knew MLK Jr. In fact, it is said that Dr King carried a copy of Jesus and the Disinherited with him on the road.

The Black Church was uniquely positioned to re-imagine American Christianity. Thurman and King knew this, as did Thurman’s grandmother who had made a young Howard Thurman tear pages out of her Bible that seemed to justify slavery.

The tradition of the Black Church, due in no small part to its position at the margins of American society, also connects to the mythic sensibility in a way that American Protestantism has generally failed.  Prophetic leaders such as Dr. King have seen how their people lived out Biblical myths.  His speeches are mythic participation at its best, in which he sees himself both participating in the past (“I have been to the mountaintop”) and giving voice to an as yet unrealized hope for the future (“I have a dream”).

The Radical Vision

Unfortunately, King’s vision has been watered down in the public discourse. While it is true that Dr King dreamt of a world in which it is possible for Black, White, and Brown children to go to school together, to play together, to love each other without thinking much of color difference–indeed, my four-year-old’s school demonstrates that this dream has been partly realized–it is also true that his vision was far more radical.

His was a three-fold critique of American power: he opposed American racism, American imperialism and military aggression, and the economic inequities of American capitalism. (Perhaps George W Bush meant to attack Imperialism, Capitalism, and Racism when he coined the termed “axis of evil”.) Surely, Dr. King would recognize that, while it is wonderful that some children today, like my daughter, are less hindered by racism, the inequities and seemingly endless wars he saw in his day are still common and, if anything, more extreme.

Finally, when we remember Dr King, the depth and nuance of his theology must not be forgotten as it so often is. His “Beloved Community” was not about churches and block clubs; this was a metaphysical position about the interconnected nature of reality. We are inseparably and inextricably linked. The fate of our sisters and brothers is our fate as well.

“If we are to have peace on earth… we must develop a world perspective…. Yes, as nations and individuals, we are interdependent…. It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality…. This is the way our universe is structured, this is its interrelated quality. We aren’t going to have peace on earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality.”

–Martin Luther King Jr., “A Christmas Eve Sermon on Peace,” Dec. 24, 1967.

So let us not make the day set aside to remember Dr King’s message the day in which that message is most blatantly and cynically forgotten.

Dr King’s against the “triple evils” in his speach in opposition to Vietnam

To read more from Dr King on “Creative Maladjustment” click here.

To read more about my forthcoming book, Creatively Maladjusted: The Wisdom Education Movement Manifesto, click here.

Posted by: theodorecosmosophia | January 8, 2013

A Poem: At a Train Station in India

“At a Train Station in India”


At a train station, somewhere


in India

mobs of people everywhere,

sitting, smoking bidis, staring blankly.

Dogs fight in front of the entrance.

A cow wanders unmolested through the interior,

dropping dung on the floor, mooing loudly.

A boy paces across the platform,

past the men urinating onto the tracks,

past the rows and rows of families

lined up in as orderly a manner as anything else I would encounter in India—

this is where they will sleep tonight—

with his tea kettle, calling out rhythmically

the unofficial anthem of India:

Cha – chaaaiiii.”




The ride to Varanasi is short.

I sit by the window

and watch the uninteresting scenery of the Ganga plain,

watch the people defecate in their fields.

A little boy with no legs scurries down the isle,

sweeping the garbage off the floor.

His head remains down,

conveying his diligence,

his total consumption by his task,

his humility, his inferiority.

He sweeps quickly,

only looking up to ask for money.

The chai man steps over him.



On a train from Varanasi to Calcutta,

There are two people sleeping in my bunk,

refugees from overcrowded third-class.

I show another passenger my ticket—

I encounter no train workers during the whole ride—

and he helps me get them to move aside.

The long ride is made worse

by minor stomach problems.

I ride with a family of rough, friendly Kashmiris.

After nearly twenty-four hours, I arrive in Calcutta.


Calcutta is the city of my dreams.

As much as I have dreamt of ancient ruins,

empty beaches and mountaintops,

I have dreamt of Calcutta.

An Aussie in Apia—a man who made his living installing ATMs in third world


once told me it was the worst place on Earth.

The poverty of Calcutta captured my imagination,

the only place on Earth

where rickshaws are still pulled

by men on foot rather than bicycles;

a place where people live on the street,

not solitary individuals,

but entire families.

And they live there with such dignity!

They clean their dishes;

bathe, with soap, in their underwear on the corner.

Calcutta is indeed the city of my dreams.


There is something about Indian poverty

that makes it seem worse than any other.

India’s poverty, like everything else there,

is more.

More of everything.

The poor of India are not only poor,

they lie in the street,

bleeding and dying.

They are not merely sick;

they are lepers.


As I set out one morning in search of work,

there are men in their underwear,

lathering their bodies with soap,

bathing on the corner.

Women wash clothes and dishes.

A leper tugs at my sleeve;

I give him some change.

Another man lay on the corner on his back, moaning,

his body covered with boils.

There is a small cup next to him.

I cringe as I step over him,

and cringe again,

ashamed at my discomfort.


Further along a group of children

play on a pile of garbage

Dirty, but somehow impervious

to the stench,

seem somehow to float above it.

They smile.

Theirs is not the expectant smile

of the rickshaw driver,

but the smile of pure joy.

I remember there is a slum in Calcutta called “The City of Joy”.

I walk through the slums,

past the smells.

The smells of India!

Bidis and incense,

cow dung and curry,

Pictures of the place are always insufficient

because they cannot capture its smell.

Konark Sun Temple

Konark Sun Temple


I ride on to the Taj Mahal,

which the great Indian poet Tagore

called a great teardrop.

Indeed, it does look like a giant tear,

falling up,

from the tormented land, into the endless, burdenless sky.

And India itself recalls a giant teardrop,

falling slowly from the Himalayas into the Indian Ocean,

the crying earth matching a crying, dying people,

flowing from the confusion of this land,

where sense and order are always sought but never attained,

into the great, simple ocean,

where salt and water and life do not feel the need to be

separated, ordered, understood.

I sit peacefully and write in the shadow of the Taj Mahal,

waiting until it is time to return to the train station.

Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal


Indian tea is not merely chai,

But masala chai


I ride on to Haridwar to study with a Sadhu

Who teaches me little,

But asks me often for money.

He is sick

From drinking holy Ganga water

“God is Ganga,” he says.

Haridwar is a holy city.

Each night, the people come down to the Ganga

at the Hari-Ki-Pairi Ghat

and leave tiny boats with candles floating down the river,

candles carrying wishes.

I am not sure,

but I guess the wish rests in the flames.

If the candle reaches the sea,

the wish is fulfilled.

I stare at the army of wishes,

doubting any will make it.

I think of all that has been put in the river:

Dead bodies and garbage and wishes.

Plastic bags float alongside holy candles

in this holiest of rivers.

It is purely Indian, like chai:


India, 2000

Originally published in Handprints on the Womb

Puri Sunset

Puri Sunset

All Photos taken by Theodore Richards

Posted by: theodorecosmosophia | January 1, 2013

A New Year Blessing: “The Love That Burns”

Tibet, 2000

Tibet, 2000

“The Love that Burns”

To know

What it means to be human;

To find the wisdom to become

Homo sapiens:

To live the love

That burns;

To remember,

And to dream a world

To life;

To sing songs, to write poems, to tell stories;

To taste the wind with our tongues

And to listen to the leaves;

To press our tiny hands

To the edge of our womb world;

To be amazed and terrified,

At this awesome, awful world;

To be born,

Bloody, swollen, and full of possibility.

July 2008

[Originally published in Handprints on the Womb]

earth birth

“Earth Birth” By Deborah Milton

Posted by: theodorecosmosophia | December 27, 2012

Creatively Maladjusted Preview in Written River

The work of education, of course, is not to make better schools, but to make a better world.  Too often, I believe, educators forget this obvious and simple truth.  Discussions about education seldom reflect the kind of world we might imagine is possible; rather, they focus on achievement and success within a given paradigm.  Educators seem not to realize that the way we educate our children creates, reinforces, or shatters the paradigm.

For example, when we assume that the purpose of education is to help students find a job in the global economy, we forget that the “global economy” is not some force of nature.  Humans created it.  It exists because of the decisions we made, decisions based upon how we view the world, which is based on the way we have been educated.

While what goes on in a school is important in itself—after all, our children spend most of their childhoods there—the ultimate relevance of a school is what kind of civilization it inspires our children to create.  A school is not “good” if its students get good test scores but are so unhappy, so disconnected, and so unable to think critically that they go out in the world and commit acts of violence and destruction.  Such schools only give more power to the mis-educated, who become what Wendell Berry calls “itinerant professional vandals”.  I think I prefer the “bad” schools.

Read more here: Creatively Maladjusted Preview

To see the complete 2013 Winter Solstice edition of Written River, click here

For more on Creatively Maladjusted, click here.

To read about The Chicago Wisdom Project, click here.

“Looking through my bedroom window, out into the moonlight and the unending smoke-colored snow, I could see the lights in the windows of all the other houses on our hill and hear the music rising from them up the long, steadily falling night. I turned the gas down, I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept.”

– Dylan Thomas, A Child’s Christmas in Wales

“Christmas in New York”

In a dark, quiet corner

Amid the blackness of the season of light

Lonesome in a crowd of millions

Sipping hopeful wine, in a hopeless time.

I wonder how many more dreams will die

Before we dance the dance of resurrection.

I know now, how chaotic Jerusalem must have been

On that dark, holy night, many years ago.

In this dark season of light

Christmas, holy profundity

The time of the birth of God

The time of the crying, laughing baby

Born in the soul of millions

In every dark, quiet corner,

Of New York City, at Christmas.

New York, 2004

Originally published in Handprints on the Womb

I have mixed feelings about this season. I don’t like the darkness and the cold, but I know that we need it, that it provides an opportunity to go within. I hate the commercialism, but I know that the Christmas season is an opportunity to remember our connection to the cycle of the seasons.

Here is an excerpt from the preface to Cosmosophia about a very different Christmas experience:

On Christmas morning, exactly 2,000 years after the birth of Christ according to our calendars, I found myself in a small village in the tribal areas of western Pakistan, waiting for the border to Iran to open so I could pass through.  I was terribly sick—some bad dates I’d eaten, perhaps—and lonely.  I had not expected to miss the Christmas season, but the loneliness I was feeling from months alone on the road was exacerbated by my knowledge that it was Christmas. 

Christmas is rather low-key in the tribal areas of Western Pakistan.

It was dark and bitterly cold, as the desert usually is at night.  The darkness, along with my sickness, contributed to my loneliness.  I wandered blindly through the town to find a place to rest, and settled on a pile of burlap sacks.  I lay down and looked up.  Immediately I was transformed by the immensity of the stars; unlike the terror of my youth, I felt intimate with them.  In a few moments, some local men, rifles slung over their shoulders, invited me to come into their home to drink tea around a fire.  The isolation I had felt as an American only made this interaction feel more powerful.  They saw me simply as a human being, smiling and laughing kindly when they realized that I was from America.  Moments of communion are all the more powerful and transformative when creative compassion is required in this way.

Christmas, if we could only stop shopping, teaches us that the moment of deepest darkness is the moment when we realize the light we each possess. It is, after, the celebration of the birth of god in the humblest of places.

Happy Solstice! May you give birth to your own light in this time of darkness.

Posted by: theodorecosmosophia | December 17, 2012

Imagining Violence: A Response to the Connecticut School Shooting

It isn’t hard to put my self in that place of horror and panic. Imagine: there has been a shooting at your child’s school; you do not know if she is alive or dead. This is a violence we can see on the television, presented as such. And it is madness, we tell our selves. It is not like war, which is to be expected. This is the violence of a single, broken individual. Only gun laws, or Jesus, or therapy, or medication could have changed that outcome, say the voices on the television. Perhaps.

The questions I ask, however, have to do with our capacity to empathize more deeply and broadly with the violence of our world today. The Connecticut school shooting, when viewed in isolation, does indeed look like madness. And it is madness. But it is a madness that can only be understood in its context: the most violent civilization the world has ever known.

Imagine: A young man sits alone in his room, day after day. He is not really a man, of course, but a boy. The man-boy stares at his computer screen day after day, night after night. He knows no touch of another human being. Perhaps he can see pornography: bodies violently re-configured through plastic surgery presented on a two-dimensional screen.

But there is another reality beyond this virtual world: The computer he uses, as well as his phone, were made from parts that were dug up from the mines of the Congo. In the months leading up to the massacre, there were massacres and rapes and forced recruitment of child soldiers by militias fighting for those resources so the man-boy could stare at his screen.

Those resources were brought to America, for man-boy and others like him, at the cost of many barrels of oil. This oil was made available oil-company-sponsored-militias in the Niger Delta, by US drone strikes in the Middle East. Imagine: you leave for work and your daughter and nine of her friends died in an explosion. This happened just days after the Connecticut Massacre.

Only an hour from the Sandy Hook massacre is the site of the Mystic Massacre in 1637, where perhaps 500 unarmed Pequot were killed by Europeans. It was believed at the time that this was the cost of progress.

On the day of the massacre, in cities all over America, brown children were gunned down in the streets. No president came to eulogize them.

Everything has a cost. And ours is the most expensive civilization in history. It is a cost that only can be paid for in violence. Consumer culture, based on the primacy of the value of consumption, requires only one thing of us: to buy. And this buying is an illusion. It is really extracting; it is really stealing. We are stealing from our grandchildren when foul the air and pollute our water; we steal from the polar bear when we melt the ice in the arctic; we steal from the Nigerian and the Arab when extract the oil and drop our bombs; we steal from the Congolese when we plug in our smart phone. It is not that we in the Modern West are any meaner than the people of any other civilization; it is that our way of life has grown to expensive. We can barely get out of bed without blood on our hands. Many of us can barely get out of bed at all.

So the consumer culture of our world is made up of the consumers and the consumed.

But what is the cost to the consumer? The cost of such an extravagant lifestyle, such an expensive lifestyle, is that we are impoverished. The cost to the man-boy and to the rest of us is that in order to avoid the real cost of things we must numb our selves. And in doing so we find our selves alone. Imagine the immensity of the man-boy’s loneliness. Imagine a life without touch, a life in which we hate our selves so much that suicide is not enough. It is as if the greed of consumerism has infected even suicide, as if killing only one’s self is as passe as having only one television.

This is indeed a story of madness, and of isolation. But it it not the violence or the madness that it isolated. The violence and the isolation are what happens when we choose to live our lives in denial of the violence that our way of life requires.

The most violent civilizations are not those in which people walk the streets with knives and guns, but those in which people are oblivious to the violence that sustains them.

I’ve been saying for a while that our schools need to be places where our kids can explore their world and discover who they are; where their emotions and their bodies are honored as much as their minds; where nature and creativity are an integral part of the curriculum. This is the mission of  The Chicago Wisdom Project as described in the forthcoming book Creatively Maladjusted: The Wisdom Education Movement Manifesto.

We recently have started a project with one of our groups in which the students imagined the schools of the future. Invariably, the youth want schools with Wisdom principles rather than the punitive and mechanistic schools they get. Interestingly, some of them imagined schools that were parodies of modern school reform: a school run by robots and teachers that were screens or holograms; a school in which the absurdity of punishment created something more like a prison.

Here is spoken word from a group of kids from Albuquerque called “Love Letter to Albuquerque Public Schools”:

An advance review of Creatively Maladjusted from Matthew Fox:

Richards’ book is a very good read—not dull and not overly mental as so many educational studies tend to be.  With stories and humor, as well as anger and a passion to make things better, Richards makes a strong case for putting learning ahead of testing and emphasizing values more than competitive scores.  He recognizes that young people desire to learn but their alienation is such that “things must change quickly and peacefully or they will certainly change rapidly and violently.”  He warns that “if we want the next generation to reimagine our world, we must educate them differently.”  He sees real educational improvements occurring more through movements than through institutions.  A movement is open to all interested parties from parents to teachers, from counselors to philanthropists. Teachers in public schools are “overworked, under pressure, and generally in a bad mood,” he observes.  And many just quit.  Education is not a real happy place these days.  

Richards wants to shape education by story rather than by information, by resisting consumerism rather than educating for it.  The goal of education, he reminds us, “is not to make better schools, but to make a better world.”  And “the ultimate relevance of a school is what kind of civilization it inspires our children to create.”  Modern industrial culture has pretty much defined education in its terms; we can do much better today and must.  The metaphors, narratives and values of our educational system are outmoded.  A Wisdom Education Movement can bring alive new values that assure a “nurturing, creative, joyous, inspiring place.”  This book is well worth reading; and discussing; and arguing; and enacting.

Creatively Maladjusted is scheduled for publication in March 2013.

Posted by: theodorecosmosophia | December 4, 2012

Of Debt & Sin: The Religious Impulse in Right Wing Economics

Centuries ago, a revolution occurred based on the allowance on the part of the Western world’s most powerful institution of the purchasing of sins–“indulgences”. Martin Luther’s famous response, coupled with a radical change in the way information was spread by the printing press, changed Western culture irrevocably. The Supreme Court, arguably the Western world’s most powerful institution today, has again allowed the purchasing of sins. We call the mechanism of this purchase “the corporation”. Because it is recognized as a legal “person” but cannot be held accountable as one, and because the corporation has far more wealth than most individuals, the corporation is able to exercise disproportionate influence on the American political system. Politicians are paid off by the corporation to allow them to indulge in various sins from ecological destruction to contracts for prisons and weapons to the denial of health benefits and working wages.

As a result of the powerful influence on our political system by the corporation, we are in the midst of an unprecedented period of “deregulation”. The market has been transformed in myriad ways that benefit the wealthy. While the direct causes for this are complex and varied, it is allowed for one simple reason: a theology that conflates wealth and merit, poverty and sinfulness.

There are two basic and profound fallacies promoted in the popular discourse, assumptions that have allowed for a right-wing ideological bias to dominate any discussion of economic policy: First, the false dichotomy between the “free” market and regulation; second, the conflation of wealth and goodness, bringing about the desire to punish the poor. As a result we find ourselves in the midst of four decades of these right-wing policies–coming from both political parties–that have resulted in a shrunken middle class, a greater proportion of wealth for the super-rich and unprecedented and unchecked ecological devastation. The markets will correct these problems, we are told, as if that would be any consolation for our grandchildren born in uninhabitable ecosystems.

While presented as “rational”, this faith in “the market” is just that–faith. It is the product of the theological position, particularly powerful in the Calvinist branch of Protestantism that provides a basic context for American culture, that considers poverty to be something like a punishment for sinfulness. Indeed, while it reaches its nadir in Calvinist theology, the connection between debt and sin goes all the way back to the the times of Jesus. Trapped in a cycle of debt and poverty out of which they could not escape, the Israelites were told, under the Romans, that this debt-sin (the same word was used for both) was owed to the Roman authorities just as the sacrifice was owed to the Temple authorities. How ironic it is that Jesus (yes, the same Jesus whose name we hear on the lips of every right wing politician) offered an alternative, a forgiveness of debt.

It has long puzzled many on the Left how politicians like Paul Ryan and their voters could purport to be devout Christians while advocating economic policies closer to the atheist Ayn Rand that the Jesus of the gospels. The cynical position that politicians are knowingly appropriating Christianity is only part of the story. For the American Religious Right, the punishment of the poor is held as a theological position no less important than the resurrection.

The economic position of the Republican party today is based upon a two-fold obsession: the punishment of the poor to appease their own guilt and the removal of the debt as a means of punishment. Neither is based on sound economic policy; both arise out of theological assumptions. That is to say that the Tea Party fixation with a balanced budget–while purported to be about responsible financial management–is the product of this theological position of sin and punishment. While there is some truth in the notion that the government wastes money and overspends, very few on the Right are serious about fixing the problem of waste: if they were, they would be willing to cut defense spending by two-thirds overnight. The solutions on the Right are more about punishing the poor for their poverty, for their debt–“entitlements” are the root of this government evil, the story goes.

Freedom, or the free market, is always found through the imposition of certain rules that allow for the greatest freedom within those parameters. Neoliberalism and Libertarianism are fantasies: Only the anarchist truly believes in a de-regulated economy. Neoliberalism wants its rules to benefit the American industrialist, or corporate farmer, or financier; the libertarian, of course, wants the government to protect those who have the capital. Both advocate myriad government controls and regulations to benefit the wealthy. Neither would advocate the truly unregulated space in which the poor could simply rise up and take what the wealthy have. The truth is that markets function best–indeed, they are the freest–when they can be created and cultivated and guarded against unfair practices. In his recent work, The Illusion of Free Markets, University of Chicago scholar (yes, that University of Chicago) Bernhard Harcourt explains that the notion of the free market goes back to a philosophical assumption, that of “natural order”. Not only are markets always subject to a certain amount of regulation–that is, the market is a space that is constructed by society in which to trade–but the lessening of regulation in the market invariably leads to the increase of control in other areas, namely the penal system. The illusion of a market that is somehow free and natural leads both a less egalitarian society and, perhaps more significantly, the belief that the poor are outside of this natural order and must be punished. The ascension of Chicago School economic policy in the United States has been coupled not only with a shrinking middle class but also with unprecedented mass incarceration.

So we stand here at the edge of an idea, of a capitalism that has become so ideological that it approaches a religion in its dogmatism, a dogmatism that threatens to destroy the very flexibility and openness that makes it possible. Freedom has become an idea that enslaves, that obfuscates a clear understanding of our economic condition. Its priests protect against all heresies with a means of control far more powerful than any inquisition: the idea that our system is natural and rational. Beliefs most deeply held come to us in the mysterious form of what we tend to call reality.

The Italian Marxist theorist and activist Franco “Bifo” Berardi suggests that the root of this skewed view of the economy is found in language. A system of abstract finance is expressed in a similarly abstract language. It is the language of the disembodied, the machine. The way forward, according to Berardi, is to return to the poetic. That is to say that the Citizens United decision and the Right Wing order it supports cannot be addressed merely by pleas to a more rational approach–although it would be more rational to, say, create an economy that accounted for the real, ecological cost of things–because the theological assumptions we have made conflate that order with with Reason itself.

One challenge we face is that, as was the case for Martin Luther (with the printing press), the information revolution of our day (the Internet) leads us to a more disembodied life. Perhaps we do not need 95 theses nailed to doors of the Supreme Court (much less to blog about it) but stand at its doors and cry out with our embodied, poetic voice.

In anticipation of my forthcoming book, Creatively Maladjusted, I am beginning a blog series on education. To begin, here is a quote from Bill Ayers, who is writing the forward to the book, on so-called “education reform”:

“The three pillars of this agenda are nested in a seductive but wholly inaccurate metaphor: Education is a commodity like any other—a car or a refrigerator, a box of bolts or a screwdriver—that is bought and sold in the marketplace. Within this controlling metaphor the schoolhouse is assumed to be a business run by a CEO, with teachers as workers and students as the raw material bumping along the assembly line while information is incrementally stuffed into their little up-turned heads.”

To read more from this article, click here.

The opposite side of this conversation is represented by Jeb Bush’s education reform in Florida. There, Bush received a great deal of credit for a quick and misleading jump in test scores. If we focus enough on a test, the scores will, of course, go up. Predictably, the scores have gone back down. But the so-called reform, which consists largely of on-line classes and privatized schools (more money for Bush’s cronies) continues. Perhaps most unfortunate in this conversation is not that a right-winger like Jeb Bush would implement such a policy, but that these policies would represent the norm for both parties.

Find more on Wisdom Education at The Chicago Wisdom Project.

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