From Poultry to Pandemic

[chick1]The chicks are nervous. Transferred by the students into plastic boxes to be weighed for ANS 252, Introduction to Management of Avian Species, they chirp loudly and crowd over each other for space. These hens are White-Rock Cornish mixes, the fastest growing animal on earth in their first six weeks of life. At three-weeks old, they’re in their awkward teen phases now.
Getting the chicks on the scales is a difficult matter at first. One chick is literally scared shitless, and relieves herself on the scale. After the students get her weight, they weigh the poo. “8.4 grams!” Another student replies, “isn’t that more than when we first weighed them?” Everyone in the smelly coop laughs, and the chicks become easier to handle.
“One reporter was asking me all these questions, like, ‘should people stop eating poultry?’ The answer is of course not,” says Richard Balander, associate professor of animal science and teacher for ANS 252. “As far as I can tell, it’s extremely, extremely unlikely that any of our commercial birds would come down with [avian influenza].”
Thanks to the media, bird flu has become synonymous with the word pandemic. The justification for the claim generally comes from three main talking points: 1) the H5N1 strain of the bird flu is similar to the virus that caused the Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918, including the high fatality rate 2) the virus needs only to gain the ability to transfer from human to human in order for the disease to become dangerous, and 3) we’re, um, about due for a pandemic anyways. Well, it certainly sounds serious.
“In the pandemic of 1918, I believe 40,000,000 people died…it traversed the whole globe,” Willie Reed, director of the diagnostic center for population and animal health at MSU. The MSU Diagnostic Center actually has the equipment used to track the H5N1 strain of the bird flu. “The virus is spreading to more bird populations. And so the key for us in the US is to have a good surveillance program which means we are routinely testing birds…so that if we find [the virus]…that flock would be depopulated as quickly as possible.”
[chick2]The depopulation efforts were used as preventative measures in China, Vietnam, and other countries in Southeast Asia where the virus is thought to have originated. The lack of efforts to control the virus in Indonesia, however, has brought the country under fire by Western nations. Indonesia is reluctant to kill off flocks of chickens for economic reasons, but also as a defiant gesture.
“Owning chickens is a sign of wealth and well-being to many of [the Indonesian] people. So many of them may have twenty, thirty, fourty chickens running around,” said Balander. If you can imagine, this is a major contrast to the United States poultry. “Most of our birds in this country are completely environmentally-housed, being all indoors.” Free range birds are fairly uncommon and are unheard of among large chicken producers like Tyson. And while many animal rights activists take issue with these large companies’ treatment of the chicken, the measures poultry producers have taken will severely limit the possibility of the virus entering the country through chickens.
There is so little one can say for certain about the virus, though, except that it has caused one big panic worldwide. We aren’t completely certain how the virus is transmitted and we don’t know when or if the virus will be able to pass from human to human and we don’t know if the virus will continue to mutate further to become more or less dangerous than it is now and we don’t know whether the little viruses are actually magical radioactive space creatures dropped onto the planet by a comet, only to be discovered by a group of wacky, mismatched teenagers. What we do know is that both Indonesia and the rest of the world are overreacting a bit. The Russian response to an outbreak in their country was to send men in protective health suits in to kill chickens in mobile gas chambers and then wrap them up and then bury the bodies under lime. Meanwhile, countries from America to Europe to Asia have all been trying to stockpile the drug Tamiflu, which may or may not even be an effective means of dealing with the H5N1 strain of the virus. On the other hand, you have the Indonesian people who have been, even somewhat recently, denying the viruses’ existence (in spite of the Indonesian government’s recognition of the problem) and blaming the illness on “the wind.”
If the bird flu has done anything (besides kill about 60 of the 121 people it has infected), it is to highlight the differences between the Westerners and Indonesians in general. A general sense of fear and hypochondria (remember SARS?) is beginning to take over the population; people claim to have already caught the virus in the United States. These people are perhaps forgetting that regular old flu that seems to come around, once a season or so. It doesn’t help when the President gives speeches that allude to massive, military-controlled quarantines as he did early in October. The Indonesian response is mixed, with many fearing that destroying bird populations would ruin the agriculturally dependent economy. The possible financial disaster could also be exacerbated by the end of gas subsidies in the country which, until September, kept Indonesian gas prices far below even America’s. Worry about the virus itself tends to fall by the wayside.
The avian influenza is both far in the future and right in our face. We should remain cautious, but realistic. As of right now, the timid little birds in ANS 252 are only a worry if you’re a PETA member. So enjoy them while you can.[chick3]

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Condom Conclusions

Standing in front of the condom display at Meijer, names jump out at me. I guess Lifestyles brand seems friendly enough. Durex, hmm. Durability sounds good. Trojan always struck me as a rather gung-ho name for a condom. Sure, the horse seemed like a nice gift at first, but who wants their penis to be thought of as the enemy troops? The real kicker is the Reality brand of condoms, a product name that baffles my mind. So you thought sex was about fun and mutual love and flowers and bunnies and happy-ever-after, huh? Well, it’s about unwanted pregnancies and unsightly bumps and strings of meaningless relationships and AIDS. That’s Reality. Enjoy!
[residentmental]
But that’s really not what sex is about, or even condoms! For those who are sexually active, condoms are the most common contraceptive used that helps prevent pregnancies and STDs. Naturally, condoms are important, but who wants to go through the bother of finding out which ones are the safest, least liable to break, and tastiest? Look no further than The Big Green to provide an almost (but not quite) entirely uninformative look at an issue that’s never dealt with lightly enough.
How the condoms were selected:
1. Cost. I care about all of your safety, of course, but within reason. I mean $26.99 for lambskin condoms? Not reasonable. And besides the fact that lambskin makes me actually think of a penis turning into a sausage, diseases can pass right through them; it even says so on the back!
2. Variety. I got your standard Trojan lubricated along with your Durex Ultimate Feeling (ribbed), your Durex Performax (shaped like a chess bishop, minus that nasty slit), your Durex Intense Sensation (has bumps in it like padded socks), Durex Tropical (you don’t even want to know), and I haven’t even gotten to the polyurethane condoms yet.
[latex2] 3. Size. The tests I conducted needed consistency, so only standard-sized condoms were used.
The Tests
1. Ease of use. It isn’t as easy as putting it on, actually. Condoms come with lots of neat instructions such as this little excerpt from Trojan, Shared Pleasure: “Keep unused condoms in their packs in a cool, dry place (not in a wallet).” My personal favorite, however, is “Never let a latex condom touch oil in any form–no petroleum jelly, no baby oil, no mineral oil, no vegetable oil–oil rots rubber.” Someone somewhere decided that vegetable oil would be a good lubricant. Also: cottonseed oil? Don’t use it. Motor oil? Don’t use it. Olive Oyl? That’s a contraceptive in itself.
The main problem, which is the problem only of the Trojan and LifeStyles brands, is that the instructions are hidden on the inside of the box. Tiny, tiny print on the top of the box tells you that yes, there are instructions. But by the time you’ve found them, you’ve taken apart the box entirely and need to find a brand new cool, dry place to store your condoms! It would be much more convenient should the box have printed instructions inside as the Durex brand does, or possibly have instructions printed on each condom individually. I would imagine the Reality brand would probably print the instructions on the condoms themselves, just to be extra-safe.
2. Durability. This is the important one, right? Right. Aesthetics and flavor aside, all that really matters is how likely the condom is to do its job. As you would expect, I’ve already been beaten to the punch by the “real” scientists. Maryann Napoli reported as far back as May 1999 in HealthFacts magazine that latex condoms are actually safer than polyurethane condoms in the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. Using 805 heterosexual couples (I’m seeing the need for continued research already), over six months, the pregnancy rate was 4.8 percent for the latex condoms and 6.3 percent for the polyurethane condoms. Also, the rate of slippage for the polyurethane condoms were more than five times the rate of slippage for latex condoms.
“Real” science isn’t about to stop me, though!
Using unlimited tap water from Abbot Hall over one afternoon, I conducted my own research, with three trials each. I used two latex condoms (Durex ribbed, for her pleasure, and Trojan Warm Sensations, for everyone’s pleasure, I suppose) and one polyurethane condom. Each condom was filled with water, taken down three flights of stairs, and swung in circles for thirty seconds. I don’t mess around when it comes to reliability, folks.
You’d never guess it, but latex is really, really stretchy leading to a condom that, perhaps, could never be filled. I settled for as far as the picture shows, and began my trials.
Normal latex condom: Amazing. Nothing happened! For all three trials, the condoms were consistently able to withstand thirty seconds of swinging! I made the mistake of becoming too enthusiastic with the third trial and extending it until the condom did break. At 49 seconds, everything was doused, myself included, as if it were in a gentle spring shower. Only with more lubricant.
[ribbed2] Ribbed latex condom: These were slightly less spectacular since the second trial also concluded with a splash of spermicidal lube, but that trial still lasted 23 seconds. The lesson I learned from these trials is that latex condoms would make awful water balloons.
Polyurethane condom: The polyurethane condoms would also make a bad water balloon for entirely different reasons. Trial one ended before it started with a slight mess on the stairwell on the way downstairs. Trial two made it down all the way outside and then broke immediately. Trial three…ah, trial three. Just when I thought I had escaped the trials relatively mess free, the third polyurethane broke on the way down the stairs, also. This time, however, the water splashed backwards and made a mess all over the front of my pants. Who says physics doesn’t have a sense of humor?
[polyhold]
For those of you questioning “real” science and totally willing to take some weird college student off the Internet seriously, let it be known that I agree with the experts. My (unscientific) conclusion is that polyurethane condoms should only be used for those with latex allergies, a mere 7 percent of the population.
3. Flavor: My first instinct upon seeing flavored varieties of condoms was to congratulate the person who felt that they needed to come pre-lubricated. Since the only possible reason for flavoring them is oral sex, I felt that perhaps the creator of flavored condoms forgot about saliva.
Actually, it is the lubrication itself that is flavored, which I suppose is to maintain the integrity of the latex. At least the flavoring is an innovative reminder to some that oral sex is, indeed, sex; unwanted pregnancy has never been the only consequence of not being protected, as any sexually active gay person can tell you. Condoms, unlike anything else barring abstinence, are one of the most important protections people have from getting something embarrassing, inconvenient, or life-threatening. And, uh, that’s Reality.
In order to test which of the condoms were the very tastiest, I randomly sampled MSU’s student population to test three flavors. None of the male and female respondents knew which flavors were which, and each was asked to guess the flavor of all three condoms and comment on which they would recommend based on their flavor.
The first condom presented was the yellow Durex “Tropical” condom. Of the five respondents (hey, there’s only so much condom to go around) four believed the taste was banana and one thought it had no taste. I belonged to a separate camp entirely and thought it tasted like a kind of banana-pineapple fusion. Only one person recommended “Tropical,” and I tend to agree. It’s a bit Freudian, really, to make a penis taste like a banana.
[lick2]Second up came the red LifeStyles “Strawberry” flavor. Four people recognized it as strawberry while one thought it was “sugary and cherryish.” On flavor alone, four people recommended the LifeStyles strawberry, and I have to admit, that is the tastiest condom I’ve ever tried. The only downside, however, is that I could not find these condoms on their own; there was only one in a pack of three, and that pack clearly has a strawberry, a banana, and something that looks similar to a clove of garlic on it.
Finally, to see if everyone was paying attention, I used the green LifeStyles flavorless condom. Three people believed it tasted like rubber, one thought it had no flavor, and one, grasping at straws, wrote “mint, maybe?” To no one’s surprise, nobody could really recommend the rubber tire on taste alone. It reminded me of an old flavorless mouthwash I used once.
Conclusions
Everyone’s seen those awful Trojan Man commercials that have thankfully gotten less frequent over the years. It’s thankful not because of the message, but because they were hideously unfunny. Little Johnny and Suzy are out getting hot and heavy and then a weird guy on a horse and his flank of chorus singers sweep in talking about wrapping his dink in rubber. And it’s done like a radio spot! Dumb!
Haven’t we all groaned, though, about the Allegra and Lunestra commercials that talk vaguely about symptoms over images of people doing Tai Chi in a park at sunset and green butterflies landing on the cheeks of people who smile even in their sleep? Those commercials have no sense of humor, nothing but strange, happy people.
Condoms have a sense of humor about them because sex is a funny thing. Most people that use them have heard sordid tales about them: buying them, unfurling them the wrong way, getting them caught in various piercings and others. They also deal with a specific, significant issue that many people are uncomfortable talking about: casual sex. The only serious side effect they have (morals aside) is that they make casual sex safer. Because unwanted pregnancies and gonorrhea are not funny.
Now, I’m off to find a cool, dry place.

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The Mugabe Problem

It’s been a busy few weeks for Robert Mugabe, the President of Zimbabwe.[mug]
Being a devout Catholic, nothing was going to stop him from attending the funeral of Pope John Paul II. Not even an itsy bitsy little travel ban imposed upon him from Europe could prevent him! And while he was there, he even was able to work his diplomatic muscles. What better time for him to become more acquainted with his good friends in England, Tony Blair and Prince Charles, who he had so slyly been arranged to sit next to? Unfortunately, Blair skillfully avoided his seat and the possibility of an international incident. Fortunately, Charles was not so lucky, and was almost forced to (gasp!) shake hands with the man! Could you imagine the scandal?
Pity not the Zimbabwean leader, however; Mr. Mugabe doesn’t need friends. He’s got a country to run.
While he will no doubt be following the events in the Vatican City for the next couple of weeks closely, he may have to spend some time analyzing his own position in the world. After winning the Zimbabwean elections by a 14% margin on March 31st on his Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front party ticket, one would think that the president would have a clear mandate. His party also won 78 out of 120 of the representative positions in addition to the 30 seats Mugabe is allowed to hand-pick.
The former hero of Zimbabwe, Mugabe is now facing the outrageous claims that he may or may not have fiddled just a little bit with the statistics. Just because some areas had more Mugabe votes coming out of them than they had in actual population, just because many people were turned away at the polls, just because voter registration in some areas was based on utility bills which many of the opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (telling name), could not produce because they could not afford utilities, and just because no ballots from the millions of Zimbabweans abroad were accepted, they claim that the election was fixed.
“My personal opinion is that the elections were rigged. Definitely,” says electrical engineering junior Gugulethu Mabuza, a Zimbabwean student. “MPC’s strong point is in the cities. So Mugabe decreased the parliamentary representation in the cities and increased the parliamentary representation in the country.”
But most knows that Mugabe has always had his heart in the right place. As one of the liberators of a country that had previously been under Apartheid-like conditions, he was instrumental in ending years of oppression.
“He contributed quite a lot during the first decade of Zimbabwe’s independence,” says Dr. John Makumbe, a visiting professor from the University of Zimbabwe. Makumbe had to leave the country for political reasons, but plans to return this summer. “A lot of schools were built, a lot of hospitals and clinics as well as health centers. A lot of roads were built.”
Mugabe made Zimbabwe a dominant African power during much of the 1990s by boosting literacy rates, providing clean water, and allowing his country to prosper agriculturally and be largely independent.
All good things must come to an end, however, and Zimbabwe’s economy began to decline around 1998. Mugabe’s plan to redistribute the land from the rich, white commercial farmers to the poorer population by forcibly driving them out, backfired. The farms could no longer be tended to as they had been before and the country began to have problems even feeding itself, despite providing food to places like South Africa for years. Services declined and Mugabe attempted to pass a constitution through congress in February 2000 that would have given him and his party more direct control over everything from economic issues to the military.
After the measure failed, people claimed that Mugabe began fiddling with election results in order to pass his constitution through congress. And Mugabe was looking to the world like a dictator, perhaps even a hilarious caricature of one considering his formerly strong position for democracy.
But many believe Mugabe is paving the way for the continued future of his party, considering that he is now 82 years old. Also, his constitution would stipulate that he would have power even after getting out of office, including immunity to all of Zimbabwe’s laws.
“There’s always that reluctance to say whoever’s going to take over should not be a puppet of the Western countries. We’ve seen it happen time and time again,” Mabuza says. “But at this point, anyone is better than Mugabe.”
Others, however would disagree. South Africa, for example, still supports Mugabe whole-heartedly. “The [African National Congress in South Africa] views itself as a liberation party,” Dr. Makumbe says. “And it views Mugabe’s party, ZANU-PF, as a liberation party. And so the ANC would like to keep the liberation party in power.”
That’s not to say that Zimbabwe’s recent hard times would not also be an economic boost to South Africa; the two countries have had a recent history of economic rivalry which recently has come to a halt. South Africa is able to edge in on Zimbabwe’s tourist industry and trade with the now underdeveloped nation. But we all know that’s not how a politician’s mind works! South Africa obviously just truly believes Mugabe has the legal right to rule.
And so what are we doing about such malicious accusations on the character of Mugabe? Why, of course, we are taking the high road! The State Department said that the United States would not get involved even before the election was held and is continuing to stay out of the region’s affairs. If there’s one thing American diplomacy has been touting since Vietnam, it’s non-interference in the workings of governments worlds away. They don’t even have any commodities we need, not that a silly thing like that would matter.
So Mugabe appears to be safe from the harsh world community for now, back in the welcome arms of his mother country. Now he can finally get back to doing what he has done best of late: engendering even more distrust and unrest among his own people. It’s good to be the king.

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On Bias and Reconciliation

Reporter’s Note: In the past few weeks, I’ve had plenty of time to consider what bias means. Looking at my piece before editing, I would say I was biased against both the speaker and the other looming presence that was in the Erickson Kiva that night: Christianity. My editors saw that, and corrected half the problem, which created a new one. I have re-edited this article myself; some parts of this article were kept the same, others restored and others changed yet again. I apologize to my editors and readers if they were offended by my original article, and I’d like to make my stance perfectly clear this time.
I’m not Muslim and I’m not Christian. I dislike hatred in all of its forms, and I found some of Dr. Al-Sayed’s arguments and sections of Salman Rushdie’s writing to be hateful. I hope this article was inflammatory to some extent. Muslims did not ask to be attacked by Rushdie, and Rushdie did not ask for a death sentence. My purpose with this article is to highlight the cultural differences between the East and the West (and there are many) and pose the question: If this relatively minor situation has remained irreconcilable for a decade and a half, what does that say about our attempts to regain diplomacy in the Middle East and our own tolerance within America?

I had read some of Salman Rushdie’s work for some compulsory English course I took over the summer and had pursued some of his short stories afterward. I knew he was exiled because one of his works was upsetting the Muslim higher-ups and his life was always in danger. But I never really understood the persecution he faced.
[satanic] In 1989, the Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran declared a fatwa, or Islamic religious edict, on Rushdie for his fourth novel, The Satanic Verses. Khomeini was the head of his religion in his own mind, even though Islam is without an institutionalized hierarchy like that of the Catholic Church. The fatwa Khomeini issued was a radio broadcasted call for “all zealous Muslims” to kill Rushdie. Naturally, the Western world was alarmed, and continues to be alarmed, as the fatwa still stands. Since the broadcast, two of Rushdie’s translators and his publisher have all been attacked by Muslim extremists. It was and is an example of an unbridgeable gap between the West and the Middle East.
Further complicating matters is the 1998 Iranian president’s claim that the matter was resolved, although a private Muslim group continues the bounty on his head and the current Ayatollah says the fatwa remains in effect. The British government is backing the Iranian president and trying to downplay the words of the Ayatollah, but the statement is as alive as ever.
Rushdie had visited MSU’s Wharton Center the week before I wrote my first article. In response to his attendance at the university, the Islamic Student Association called a counter-meeting. “If it wasn’t for the fatwa, The Satanic Verses and Salman Rushdie would have gone unnoticed,” Dr. Mohamed Al-Sayed, our guest speaker from Kettering University, said.
Al-Sayed began by saying he wanted to give a basic biography of Rushdie, and then move on to talk about the Muslim position on Rushdie’s blasphemous words, but it became apparent Al-Sayed had a comment for every part of Rushdie’s life. He was born in 1947 in Bombay to a Muslim family, yet he doesn’t know the meaning of his own name in Arabic, so how can he claim to be a Muslim? He moved to Britain and that’s where he learned about Islam. And how can he call himself a Muslim when he’s been married and divorced as much as he has? His novel Midnight’s Children was so offensive to Indira Gandhi that she filed a lawsuit against Rushdie — and won. And no Muslim would ever live with a woman for years before marrying her; it just isn’t done.
“How many of you have read The Satanic Verses?” Al-Sayed asked the audience. A sparse few raised their hands in the gathering of about 30 people. “Good. You know, The Satanic Verses is the most unread bestseller.” He went on to say the book itself was perplexing, with bits of Farsi, Hindi and Arabic all mixed in, and it is difficult for most to penetrate Rushdie’s writing. But I also believe he was genuinely glad so few of us had actually read the work.
This is not to say Muslims do not have very good reason to be angry with Rushdie. If he is a Muslim, he does not follow the tenets of his religion, the Islamic way of life; this is considered apostasy, the abandoning of one’s religion. Al-Sayed insisted Rushdie still considers himself a Muslim, but if one of the charges against him is apostasy, then he cannot be.
The bulk of Al-Sayed’s presentation addressed the claim that Rushdie uses the names of the Prophet’s wives for characters who are whores. The scene in question has the youngest, most naïve prostitute “play-acting” as Ayesha, the prophet Mohammed’s wife, for her John’s pleasure. Attacking the wives of the Prophet is far worse in Islam than insulting someone’s actual mother, as the Prophet is the father and his wives are the mothers in the Qur’an. Chemistry junior and Islamic Student Association member Waleed Brinjikji was in attendance at the meeting and agreed Rushdie’s words were hurtful. “It’s not a scholarly criticism, it’s an attack.”
Al-Sayed also made some thought-provoking statements about the difference between — “though (he) hates to call them that” — the East and the West. He said Christianity is largely an egocentric religion: “Jesus died for me.” It therefore allows more freedom because one’s life is lived for oneself, and all that is important is accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior and repenting. However, of course, he doesn’t account for the differences between Christian sects; Calvinists, for example, argue one is predestined to be saved or not be saved and must follow strict rules of conduct.
In stark contrast, he continued, Muslim live for Allah. They are His alone and must obey His word above all costs. The most important difference is that religion is religion here, but when you’re Islamic, religion is life and guides everything you do. So an attack on religion here may get you a lot of angry people, but an attack on religion in the Middle East is an attack on the culture and everything it stands for. It says to Muslims, in no uncertain terms, everything they know is wrong. Al-Sayed said the Western world was rife with resources Middle Easterners were lacking: “Islam was what unified the people.” He concluded Rushdie is a Westerner at heart, and that in the late 1980s he was being used as a “weapon for the West against the East.”
After the first hour of his presentation, the question-and-answer session began, which lasted far longer than the information section. As the presentation progressed, people began filing out of the building and the audience was reduced to less than half its original size. A student asked a question about Rushdie’s right to the freedom of speech, to which Al-Sayed responded Rushdie was libelous against the Prophet’s wives; even freedom of speech has bounds within America.
Then one student said perhaps Rushdie meant the book only as a piece of art, and the entire discussion changed – lines were drawn between the Muslim students and faculty in attendance and the non-Muslims. When one student said Rushdie’s work was not a call to action, other students insisted that because The Satanic Verses caused some deaths (in protests over the book’s publishing in India) it had incited violence and was like Hitler or The Communist Manifesto. (As if the link between those two events wasn’t tenuous enough, can we at least agree that Rushdie is not Stalin or Hitler?)
[matt] Soon everyone was talking at once and things got increasingly surreal. Al-Sayed then said — “and no offense to the gays” — but Rushdie having the ‘right’ to say the things he said in The Satanic Verses was like a “homosexual pedophile” saying he has the ‘right’ to rape little boys. A few mouths dropped open, including mine. Others agreed with Al-Sayed’s assessment and defended it as valid. And as the discussion grew more heated, I grew colder. “No offense” that I had been grouped de facto with child molesters. And these weren’t radicals, of course. These were moderates.
After the presentation, I caught up with physics junior Matt Bentley, who had also seen Rushdie the week before. “[Rushdie] joked a lot about the death sentence on his head. From what I understood, he said that he didn’t even really like religion at all.” In regard to the Islamic Student Association and Al-Sayed, Bentley said, while he agreed on the points about free speech and could sympathize with the Muslim attitude towards Rushdie, “[H]e seemed to be pretty closed-minded. He wasn’t open to the fact that maybe Rushdie wasn’t aware of his offense because Rushdie wasn’t a Muslim.”
I don’t agree entirely with this sentiment – he had to have some intention in his writing because, as Al-Sayed said and I can vouch for, all of his work does. Rushdie has written novels and short stories criticizing everything from the Indian government to fanaticism to the battle between good and evil internally.
Rushdie is an intelligent man and a good writer, but what he did was incomprehensible. Why attract the ire of so many people, whether or not it would cause him any personal danger? Rushdie did, as the presentation pointed out, grow up in an exclusive, racist British society as someone who didn’t fit in and couldn’t fit in – a recurring theme in his writing. This anger was possibly misdirected toward the Muslim community and fostered the growth of a seedling of hatred that grew into the culture clash it is today.
So what do I know now that I didn’t before? I was able to ask the last question of the night: With the fatwa on Salman Rushdie’s head still standing and the bounty on his head constantly increasing, what do you believe is the proper punishment for him? The reply: He should be brought before a Muslim court, where he must either plead ignorance and be taught the true doctrine of Islam or he should become “an enemy of Islam.”
But then what? I didn’t ask that question, because I knew the answer, and I think Rushdie knows the answer, too. He probably wouldn’t make it out of that courtroom alive. What I know now is that the feeling of hurt I felt when Al-Sayed made his pedophile comment was the same feeling he had about Rushdie. So hurt and anger begets hurt and anger begets hurt and anger. The West and the East aren’t that different after all.
It’s time all parties involved consider what reconciliation would mean to them, as dreary as the prospects are.

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Biased Bounty?

I had read some of Salman Rushdie’s work before for a compulsory English course I took over the summer and had perused some of his short stories afterward. I knew he was in constant exile because of one of his works upsetting the Muslim higher-ups and his life was always in danger.
But I never really understood until now.
In 1989, the Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran declared a fatwa, or Islamic religious edict, on Rushdie for his book, The Satanic Verses, his fourth novel, published in 1988, criticizing the Islamic religion. Khomeini was the head of his religion in his own mind, even though Islam is without hierarchy. The fatwa Khomeini issued for in a radio broadcast was a call for “all zealous Muslims” to kill Rushdie. Naturally, parts of the global community were alarmed, and continue to be alarmed, as the request still stands. Presently, two of Rushdie’s translators and his publisher have been attacked by Muslim extremists.
[satanic] In March, Rushdie spoke at the Wharton Center as part of World View- the Lecture Series. The next week, the Islamic Student Association called a meeting to discuss Rushdie in response to his visit.
“How many of you have read The Satanic Verses?” Dr. Mohamed Al-Sayed, a guest speaker from Kettering University, asked the gathering of about 30 people. A sparse few raised their hands. “Good. You know, The Satanic Verses is the most unread bestseller.” He went on to say the book itself is perplexing, with bits of Farsi, Hindi and Arabic all mixed in and it is difficult for most to penetrate Rushdie’s writing. But I also believe he was genuinely glad so few of us had actually read the work.
Al-Sayed began by saying he wanted to give a basic biography of Rushdie and then move on to talk about the Muslim position on Rushdie’s blasphemous words, but it became apparent Al-Sayed had a personal comment for every part of Rushdie’s life: He was born in 1947 in Bombay to a Muslim family. He doesn’t know the meaning of his own name in Arabic, so how can he claim to be a Muslim? He moved to Britain, and that’s where he learned about Islam. And how can he call himself a Muslim when he’s been married and divorced as much as he has? His novel Midnight’s Children was offensive enough to Indira Gandhi that she filed a lawsuit against Rushdie — and won. No Muslim would ever live with a woman for years before marrying her; it just isn’t done. And so on.
This is not to say Muslims do not have good reason to be angry with Rushdie. If he is still a Muslim, which Al-Sayed insists he is, Rushdie does not follow the tenets of his religion and the Islamic way of life, and this is considered apostasy, the abandoning of one’s religion. But, if Rushdie has not abandoned his religion, then this charge is erroneous.
[satan1] Al-Sayed also said Rushdie uses the names of the prophet’s wives for characters that are whores in his novel. Attacking the wives of the prophet is far worse in Islam than insulting someone’s actual mother, as the prophet is the father and his wives are the mothers in the Qur’an. Chemistry junior and Islamic Student Association member Waleed Brinjikji attended the meeting and agreed that Salman’s words were hurtful. “It’s not a scholarly criticism, it’s an attack.”
While his attacks on Rushdie mostly fell flat, Al-Sayed did make some very compelling statements about the difference between the East and the West religions that can help Christians better understand where Muslims are coming from on this topic. He said Christianity is largely an egocentric religion – “Jesus died for me.” It therefore allows more freedom because one’s life is lived for oneself, and all that is important is that you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior. However, many Christians also aim to live for the lord and would argue with Al-Sayed.
[waleed]In Islam, Al-Sayed says, you live your life for Allah. You are His alone and you must obey His word above all costs. The most important difference is that religion is simply religion here in the U.S., but when you’re Islamic, religion is life and guides everything you do. So an attack on religion here may get you a lot of angry people, but an attack on religion in the Middle East is an attack on the culture and everything it stands for. It says to Muslims, in no uncertain terms, everything they know is wrong.
Al-Sayed said the Western world is rife with resources Middle Easterners are lacking: “Islam was what unified the people.” He claims Rushdie is a Westerner at heart, and that in the late 1980s, he was being used as a “weapon for the West against the East.”
[satan2] After an hour, the question-and-answer session began, which lasted another hour and a half. Slowly, people began filing out of the building and the audience was reduced to less than half its original size. A student asked a question about Rushdie’s right to freedom of speech, to which Al-Sayed responded that Rushdie was libelous against the prophet’s wives.
After the presentation, I caught up with physics junior Matt Bentley who had also seen Rushdie the week before. “[Rushdie] joked a lot about the death sentence on his head. From what I understood, he said that he didn’t even really like religion at all,” Bentley said. In regards to the Islamic Student Association and Al-Sayed, Bentley said while he agreed on the points about free speech and could sympathize with the Muslim attitude towards Rushdie, Al-Sayed “seemed to be pretty closed-minded. He wasn’t open to the fact that maybe Rushdie wasn’t aware of his offense because Rushdie wasn’t a Muslim.”
I don’t agree entirely with this sentiment; he had to have some intentions in his writing because, as Al-Sayed said, all of his work does. Rushdie has written novels and short stories criticizing everything from the Indian government to fanaticism to the internal battle between good and evil.
[satan3] Another student had brought this point up in the question and answer session: perhaps Rushdie meant the book as only a piece of art? Suddenly, the entire discussion changed, drawing boundary lines between the Muslim students and faculty in attendance and the non-Muslims. When one student said Rushdie’s work was not a call to action, other students insisted that because The Satanic Verses caused the deaths of some people (in protests over the book’s publishing in India), it had incited violence and was like Hitler or the Communist Manifesto. No joke. Soon everyone was talking at once.
Al-Sayed then said, “..and no offense to the gays” but Rushdie having the “right” to say the things he said in his book was like a “homosexual pedophile” saying he has the “right” to rape little boys. As the discussion grew more heated, I grew colder. “No offense” that I had been just grouped de facto with child molesters.[michael]
And these weren’t radicals, these were moderates.
I was able to ask the last question of the night: “With the fatwa still standing and the bounty on Rushdie’s head constantly increasing, what do you believe is the proper punishment?” The reply: he should be brought before a Muslim court where he must either plead ignorance and be taught the true doctrine of Islam, or he should become “an enemy of Islam.”
But then what? I didn’t ask that question, because I knew the answer. The way I felt about Al-Sayed making the remark comparing homosexuals with pedophiles- hurt- was the way Al-Sayed felt about Rushdie. So hurt and anger begets hurt and anger begets hurt and anger. Maybe the West and the East aren’t very different after all.

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Eastern Where?

Remember a decade ago? I barely do, but maybe that’s a good thing. What a mess of emerging zits and self-loathing that time period was. Remember Bosnia, though? Around the time “Rocko’s Modern Life” was popular and the coolest new toy was that Gak stuff that smelled like tuna fish, Bosnia was experiencing a serious ethnic conflict. But according to nearly every cynical columnist in the mid-’90s, the more important issue was America’s relative ignorance about foreign policy.
[yay] “[T]he administration bemoans the isolationists who are now heading congressional foreign affairs panels and the wrongheaded Balkan policies of George Bush,” Michael Moran of The International Herald Tribune wrote in Nov. 1995. “About the only thing both camps can agree upon is the fact that the average American Joe and Josephine Six-Pack, in the vernacular, couldn’t find Bosnia on a map of Bosnia.”
We’ve all heard it: Americans don’t know where Bosnia is, Americans don’t know the difference between Croats and Serbs, Americans’ foreign policy is both horribly ignored and horribly ineffectual… blah, blah, blah. This is in my generation, in my lifetime, but hell if I can tell you more than the barest facts about a crisis that served only to embed one idea in my mind: Americans are ignorant.
Think back over the years. How often did your classes, high school or university, cover Eastern European history? How often was Russia or any of its many former satellites discussed in your ninth grade global studies class? How often are they mentioned now?
“There’s me in the history department, there’s at least one political scientist that occasionally works on it; there are no Eastern European languages, except Russian,” associate professor Keely Stauter-Halsted said. Stauter-Halsted speaks Polish, Ukranian and Russian and specializes in Northeastern European history.
“There’s no money for it, and the excuse that is given for this when it comes up in meetings is that the University of Michigan does have a strong Eastern European studies program. Therefore, we don’t need to,” Stauter-Halsted said.
In order to properly gauge knowledge of Eastern European countries, I decided to conduct a survey. The survey asked five main questions of MSU students:
1) Where is Bosnia-Herzegovina?
2) Where is Germany?
3) What is the capital of Bulgaria?
4) What is the capital of Poland?
5) Who was the president of Yugoslavia until 2003?
Conducting the survey was interesting in and of itself. People sure are eager to take a survey, until they realize it’s a current events quiz. When I gave the survey, groups of two or more people tried to pool answers. Sometimes people would simply circle their major, write their age and hand the quiz back to me.
The results of the survey were not entirely shocking, but a little sad. I gathered 48 respondents for the survey from the lobby and dining area of the International Center. Of those 48 surveys, 17 correctly identified where Germany was. That doesn’t sound too bad until you realize 18 people thought Poland was Germany. Seven people correctly identified Bosnia (the cynical journalists win), 13 people knew Warsaw, nine recognized Slobodan Milosevic (perhaps the most important question) and one person knew Sofia was the capital of Bulgaria. I’m not going to lie – I had to look that one up.
[quiz1] “It made me feel ill-prepared for the outside world,” Kenzie Nargang, psychology junior, said, barely able to suppress her giggling. She, like many of us, had not taken any classes that dealt with Eastern Europe for quite a long time. “I had a freshman class in high school that was kind of geography and would have answered a lot of these questions, but I don’t remember anything from it.”
Across the board, Eastern Europe seems to be getting the shaft. There are no ISS or IAH classes devoted to Eastern Europe or that seem to make more than an extremely brief pass over maybe Russia or Poland. There is one history class, HST 342, which covers the modern history of Central and Eastern Europe. The other class where one might expect to learn about the region is HST 206, which covers European History after 1500.
But if 500 years of history in a geographically large and well-documented region seems rather broad to you, “HST 206 is to introduce students to the modern period of European History. It’s very superficial,” associate professor of history Anne Meyering said. It is a course that’s circulated among most of the European history teachers, and oftentimes the direction of the class is decided entirely by the teacher’s preferences. Meyering’s class, for example, focused greatly on French history because it is her field of expertise. “You can show the main topics of European culture without using Eastern Europe as an example,” Meyering said. “You could teach a course using just Russia or Germany or Austria.”
[yay2] But why care? “A lot of our ancestors come from there. A pretty significant portion of the American population and especially the Jewish population has grandparents that come from Eastern Europe,” Stauter-Halsted said. The Cold War is over, and thawed with it are the decades-long ethnic conflicts in geographically contrived regions such as former Czechoslovakia. Picture something similar to colonial Africa: country lines drawn up in Europe over a century ago with no regard for the people of the area. Under Slobodan Milosevic, there were mass executions of Albanian and Muslim men and rape camps for the non-Serbian women — and thus, the horrors of Bosnia were made. Today, the Serbs, especially in Kosovo, are facing similar, if somewhat less intense, aggression. When you consider the time and energy America has devoted to the Israel-Palestine conflict, the lack of action in Eastern Europe (where many of us have ancestors and where problems are much more volatile) is irresponsible and leaves us perpetually in the dark. These are current events, too.
So, yes, you could go to the University of Michigan and get involved in the rather impressive department there (just as U-M students very well could get involved in our large African Studies programs). But many people are not history majors, and a good deal want to remain here. We’ve all complained about how useless our required ISS classes are, but those are the classes that try to inform you, to spark your interest in politics or just encourage you to pick up a national newspaper once in a while.
Ten years from now, we will probably still remember the smell of childhood toys and the names of Nickelodeon cartoons, and if nothing changes, Bosnia won’t even be a speck of dust in that colorful portrait. As for Eastern Europe, if the university continues to cut key sections from history and our interest, it will remain a blank expanse on our minds’ map of the globe.

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A Wrinkle in Travel Plans

Whether we realize it or not, the state of the world is reflected in our community. The price and quality of our food can be determined by the tenacity of the rainy seasons in the countries within an intertropical convergence zone. The situation in Darfur is declared genocide, and our government, uh, springs into action. French wine goes down in cost, and Bill O’Reilly calls for a boycott on French goods until Jacques Chirac can stop… doing whatever it is he’s doing that pisses O’Reilly off. Even a stroll through MSU’s very own Study Abroad website reveals many of Americans’ attitudes toward global culture and foreign policy.
Senegal is one of the most beautiful and diverse countries in Africa, bolsters MSU’s Study Abroad Web site and yet remains relatively unknown. No kidding, lack of response to the program (two applicants) has forced the university to cancel this program for the spring semester. Pity, that. Especially since Senegal is one of the safest and most stable countries in Africa, and since Financial Times recently reported that 40 percent of the country’s new budget is going to education. Our own recent budget proposal, by the way, would cut $4.3 billion from education according to the Knight Ridder Tribune. Nevertheless, MSU students interested in the program plan to join University of Michigan students in a joint program.
[cuba] For other programs, the issues are more complex than lack of interest.
“I’ve been on 25 to 30 programs myself. I’ve developed about a dozen of them, and this was probably the best program we ever had,” Dr. Paul Roberts, director of study abroad and international training for the now-suspended Nepal program, said. Students choosing to go to Nepal were allowed to stay with families within a mile’s distance of one another. In addition, students on the semester-long program took part in an elephant safari and could hike through the Himalayas. The program was the last and most successful in a series of previous attempted programs in Nepal back in 2001.
However, since then, it has been suspended indefinitely due to Nepal’s dangerous political climate. A Maoist insurgence in 1996, intent on overthrowing the crown and instating a Communist republic spurred concern about stability in the area. Those worries came to a head when the current King Gyanendra took power after Crown Prince Dipendra, his brother, took his own life, as well as those of 10 other royal family members, including the king and queen. The massacre was initially attributed to the prince’s enragement over his parents’ refusal to allow him to marry, but the situation was not investigated well and is suspected to have been orchestrated by King Gyanendra himself. Now Gyanendra has refused to call parliament in session, Maoist tensions are increasing and MSU has opted to avoid the conflict.
[nepal] “If the situation changes with the king, yes, there’s a chance [the program will resume],” said Roberts. Not likely anytime soon, unfortunately.
Sometimes it’s not even the country itself that has the problems. For example, federal law has directly prohibited MSU’s programs in Cuba. Passed in June 2004, the law suspended all Cuban study abroad programs nationwide unless they were at least 10 weeks long and were directly sponsored by the student’s university, effectively destroying the majority of U.S. programs. Regarded at the time by Colin Powell’s chief of staff Larry Wilkerson as “the dumbest policy on the face of the earth,” the law additionally prevented Cuban-Americans from visiting their families more than once every three years, as opposed to annually, and increased aid to dissidents in Cuba (who want no part of the money and the obligation that comes attached to it). The reason study abroad was targeted? To cut money students may have spent in Cuba that would support Fidel Castro’s regime. This seems to be just another small part of the United States’ Ignore-It-And-Maybe-The-Problem-Will-Die-Of-Old-Age Initiative we have been following fairly steadily since the Cuban Missile Crisis. It doesn’t seem to take into account that the severance of human contact between two nations will not encourage much goodwill between them – especially while the United States is anticipating taking a quite active and rather invasive role in Cuba’s political structure in the near future.
[bloom] One country that quite recently began readying itself for the possibility of receiving MSU student visitors after almost five years of suspensions is Israel. The decision was made to suspend programs in the area because of – what else? – violence and ethnic conflicts. But not all students feel the Israeli terrain is as dangerous as MSU officials have made it out to be. “I feel so safe there,” Jennifer Bloom, political theory sophomore, said. Bloom recently returned from a trip to Israel that began in 2000, and is among the students and faculty members pushing the revivification of MSU programs there. “You go to Israel and you realize it’s a normal place; it’s a normal country with normal people,” Bloom said.
Ken Waltzer, the new director of the Jewish Studies Program at MSU, lobbied in 2004 for both the lifting of the embargo on financial aid to students choosing to study abroad in Israel independently and ending the years-long suspension on the program. With the creation of better Israeli defenses and the death of Yasser Arafat, many felt the benefits of studying in Israel would outweigh the possible safety issues. And, of course, the language that seems to speak to all peoples around the world – money – was also a factor. “[There was a] fund that a generous donor had given to allow students to go to Israel, and it had just been frozen,” Bloom said. In 2005 – 2006, there is a distinct possibility MSU will once again send students to Israel, just as other universities across the country are reopening their own programs.
Look at a map of the world. There are over 260 countries right now. That number might be as stable as a Nepalese prince slaughtering his family, mortally wounding himself, getting crowned anyway and then dying, but MSU has programs in only about 60 of them. It’s important to know why you can or cannot go to Angola or Pakistan or Bolivia, because with an increasingly global economy, one day you might have to make the trip.

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Trees for Peace

Plant a tree, keep the peace.
For Wangari Maathai, this seemingly crazy concept is essential to understanding her exhaustive efforts for almost 30 years that earned her the title of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.
“Wangari has fought for woman’s rights, human rights in Kenya,” Assistant Professor Mary Mwiandi said. Mwiandi is an ardent supporter of Maathai, often protesting with her alongside scores of other women and men in Kenya. “The key is that she thinks globally and acts locally.”
[trees] Seriously though, Wangari Maathai kicks a little ass. Her resumé has a lot of firsts on it: first woman in Kenya to receive a doctorate, first woman to become a professor at her university (majoring in biology and in anatomy) and first woman from Africa to win the Peace Prize. Her most famous effort, a group known today as the Green Belt Movement, is responsible for beginning the reforestation of Kenya and inspiring at least 30 other African countries to follow suit. In 2002, under a newly democratic (though still highly corrupt) government, Wangari Maathai became a member of the Kenyan Parliament and Assistant Minister for Environment and Natural Resources. “When they had the elections, she won by 98% of the votes. That shows you how important she has become,” Mwiandi said.
Maathai decided to fight the Kenyan government tooth-and-nail with her Green Belt Movement until the former regime was replaced — a decision which led her to be slandered, beaten unconscious and jailed for long stretches of time.
The Green Belt movement is what makes environmentalists idolize this woman; her group has replanted over 30 million trees, according to Kenya’s newspaper, The Daily National. (Fun side note: what’s the only American comic strip I could find in that paper? Would you believe Andy Capp of all things?) Her emphasis has been on educating women, who are the majority of the farmers in her country, about the planting of trees and the benefits of resource management. Food and hunger had not been major problems for Kenyans, but the need for firewood had become critical. Maathai also emphasized trees’ ability to ground good soil and prevent soil erosion.
[local] So how does this lead to peace? Well, what has caused or has been the underlying cause of just about every war? Resource management. It’s why the imperial powers-that-be were in Africa in the first place. And dare I even mention oil, folks? With carefully regulated and maintained resources, peace becomes a much more achievable goal. Wangari Maathai saw this and decided resource management was most attainable on an individual level, which was, in retrospect, an absolutely brilliant idea.
Donations to the Green Belt Movement can be made at its website: www.greenbeltmovement.org. A donation of £10 allows two women to plant 20 trees (basically multiply by two to figure out a dollar amount, and cry for our sorry economy. And don’t be surprised that the estimate is not listed in dollars – Americans are notoriously low aid donors). Also, £200 provides start-up costs for a tree nursery. Or, of course, you could start a Green Belt Movement of your own right here at MSU.

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Steroids: The Juice Isn’t Worth the Squeeze

The most iconic abuser of anabolic steroids is likely former actor and current (deserved or undeserved) running joke of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Schwarzenegger won the prestigious Mr. Olympia bodybuilding every year from 1974 to 1980, preparing him well for his prestigious acting career. Ahhnold now fights against their usage in competitive bodybuilding, but does not regret having used them in the past.
“I believe that he already maxed out his genetic potential and then used steroids for the extra bonus,” states film study Junior Chris Crandall, who is also an aspiring actor and model. Crandall is also a member of both the cycling and Tae Kwon Do club teams at MSU. “I believe Arnold is an excellent example of ethical use of steroids.”
Major League Baseball’s Jose Canseco released the book Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits and How Baseball Got Big in May of this year that tells how he and five other former Texas Rangers players were using steroids in the 1990s. Many sports fanatics are already critical of steroids use after Roger Maris’ 1961 record of making 61 home runs in one season was broken by Mark McGwire in 1998 with 70 home runs. Just three years later, Barry Bonds broke all of those records in 2001 with 73 home runs. Other players such as Brady Anderson, Ken Caminiti, Jason Giambi and Rafael Palmeiro have all been labeled as known steroid users, and Bonds, Sosa, McGwire and Ivan Rodriguez have all been suspected of abusing the drug.
“It’s just a bad situation overall. Not only did they jeopardize the integrity of the game by using steroids, they forever marred their legacies,” says junior biochemistry major and lifelong baseball fan John Krcatovich. “Most of the alleged and known steroid users had already established very productive careers, and now fans will be left wondering how much of their success can be attributed to performance-enhancing drugs. Their accomplishments and records are forever tainted, and they gave a black eye to Major League Baseball. I feel sorry for those players that they could show such poor judgment.”
If the professionals use them, what’s going to stop Spartans athletes from shooting up? Well, in spite of the lack of media attention on colligate drug usage (unless you are former-ambiguous-substance-abuser Jeff Smoker), the National Colligate Athletic Association (NCAA) is supposed to keep tabs on all Michigan State athletes. According to bylaw 31.2.3.2 of the NCAA rules and regulations, any student under a second offense will lose all regular and post-season eligibility for all sports. That does not tend to sit well in the stomachs of the scouts who are looking at athletes for professional league drafts.
Not to mention that the side effects read worse than prescription drug commercials. Liver tumors, cancer, jaundice, fluid retention, high blood pressure, cholesterol problems, kidney tumors, severe acne, trembling, aggressive tendencies, psychiatric instability, insomnia, male-pattern baldness, decreased sperm count or infertility in males, shrinking of testicles, gynecomastia (male breasts), enlargement of the clitoris, prostate cancer, etc. Schwarzenegger has been suffering heart problems due to his bicuspid aortic valve (most people have a tricuspid) not being able to handle the effects of the steroids combined with his aging. Knowing all of that, many people still use the drug.
Although the mentioned list of steroid effects is lengthy, about 40-precent of 17-year olds in 2002 (according to NIDA) believed that there was relatively no risk in using such anabolic or androgenic steroids. The subject is not covered in many middle or high school health education classes, so the students never find out. As college students just a few years older, many are now suffering from lower metabolisms (which result in changes in body weight). Steroids are often considered as an option to lose weight and tone or gain muscle (even though muscles weigh more then fat) without considering the risks.
It remains easy, however, to build yourself up using steroids. Through processes called “cycling” and “stacking,” athletes and others beef themselves up with excessive dosages. Cycling is the process of taking steroids for a period of time, stopping for a while, starting back up and continuing shifting back and forth. Stacking is the use of several different types or brands of steroids at once to maximize the desired result while minimizing the negative side effects that are always attached. For anyone already under a training regimen, this would not be much harder to add into the rotation.
But just because Ahhnold does it, doesn’t mean that you should.

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