Tuesday, July 1, 2008

World's Greatest Underground Destinations

From a thousand-year-old Turkish cave to an ancient French rock fortress, these subterranean hotels are above average

John Gray in "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" suggested men respond to stressful situations by withdrawing or "retreating into their cave." What if you really could retreat to a cave which offered escape without compromising on comfort? From a thousand year old cave carved out of volcanic rock in beautiful Turkey, to going "down under" in an Australian desert-like opal mining town or an ancient fortress carved from rock in France, there's plenty of options for the adventurous traveler looking to get in touch with their Neanderthal roots... and without compromising on luxury.

Online resources like Unusual Hotels of the World offer information on many of these below-ground destinations. Here's a taste of our favorites:

American cave retreats

Kokopelli's Cave Bed & Breakfast is in Farmington, New Mexico and is a privately-owned sandstone hotel which was excavated and blasted out in 1980. This 1650 square foot, one bedroom inn is 70 feet below the ground with the entrance located in a cliff face. Getting to the entrance of Kokopelli sounds difficult (75 steps and a further 110 steps on an inclined path) but with unparalleled views from the cave and cliff tops of Shiprock and the Chuska mountains on the Navajo Indian reservation in northwest New Mexico or the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado, it sounds as though it is worth the exertion. The cave has carpet, hot and cold running water and a fully appointed kitchen and the cascading waterfall-style shower and flagstone hot tub may help soothe aching legs after the climb down. Just remember, you'll need to get up again.

Beckham Creek Cave Hotel is located in Buffalo National River country, Arkansas and is one very luxurious cave hotel. The Cave House is on a 530 acre estate and features natural 'living' cave walls and ceilings. The windows ensure that lots of natural light enter the living areas during the day and with central heating, you will stay comfortable throughout the day and night. If you can tear yourself outside, away from the games room, complete with billiard table, then you may enjoy a spot of hiking or fishing on the estate. The house has five bedrooms, each with bath and has a kitchen with everything required for the creation of a simple breakfast or a nighttime banquet. Rooms start at USD $1000 per night.

Turkish Delight

Cappadocia is located in the middle Anatolian region of Turkey. Due to volcanic eruptions millions of years ago, the Cappadocian landscape is covered with hundreds of volcanic pillars from which, over the ages, people have carved out to form houses and other buildings. Elkep Evi was once an ancient cave dwelling and has been transformed into a 9-room (including two suites) bed and breakfast hotel. Located in Urgup, Cappadocia, all the rooms at Elkep Evi have en-suites and most have a terrace which allows the visitor sweeping views over this truly fascinating land.

The Gamirasu Cave Hotel is also located in Urgup, Turkey and is guaranteed to take your breath away. This former monastery still has a 12th century Byzantine Christian church attached to it and has, in the past, also been used as a prison. The hotel has eighteen rooms including a family suite and has all the features you would expect in a hotel but is set in a fascinating location, with a hiking trail which begins at the front door and winds through a valley.

Cool off "down under"

In the summer months, average temperatures in Central Australia can be as high as 36.2 degrees Celsius (97.16 degrees Fahrenheit) so sleeping in the cool of a cave makes a lot of sense. The hotel rooms at the Coober Pedy's Desert Cave Hotel are not only cool, but are also quiet, airy and dark. Coober Pedy is an opal mining town in outback Australia and has lured opal miners and tourists for many years but it is semi-desert country so it gets very hot. The hotel has nineteen underground rooms but you can choose to sleep above ground as well. There's also a bar, café and shops and a pool and gym if you're feeling energetic.

In another Australian state; New South Wales, is the White Cliffs Underground Motel , a 3-star hotel with 30 underground rooms, some of which feature unpainted walls to highlight the beauty of the rock. The rooms or 'dugouts' also have in-built shafts so natural light can enter the room and the hotel has a swimming pool and its own restaurant and bar.

Ooh La La…

Fancy a vacation to Provence, France but looking for accommodation other than a French villa or pensione? Le Prince Noir in Les Baux, Provence, France offers a truly unique experience. This hotel sits on top of an ancient Roman fortress and the rooms are carved into the rock face. The hotel offers three rooms all with ensuite and can sleep up to four people. Legend has it that one of the founders of Les Baux is one of the three kings of the Nativity, Balthazar and his family arms features a comet with 16 rays which represents the star that guided him all those years ago.

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6 Essential Items To Pack If You Want To Meet The Locals

There are six things to have in your bag that can help break the ice and make an introduction.

Many of my best travel experiences have been shared with local people who have invited me into their lives.

  • Singing Russian drinking songs with my cabin-mates in Siberia.
  • Playing cards until dawn on an overnight train across China.
  • Relaxing on an isolated beach with a fisherman in Panama.

These moments, when you actually step off the tourist trail and enter into the reality of the place you are visiting, are the much talked about, yet ever elusive goals of many travelers.

At times, when you are alone in a new place, nothing seems more impenetrable then the strange culture that surrounds you. If you are feeling lonely, there is always the opportunity to make friends with your fellow travelers.

However, when you are feeling adventurous and willing to delve deeper into the world around you, there are six things to have in your bag that can help break the ice and make an introduction.

1. A Ticket On The Slow Bus

The faster, air conditioned, express bus is always tempting on a hot day, but it will not help you meet the locals.

The easiest way to meet local people when traveling is to surround yourself with them. There is no better way to do this than taking the absolute cheapest transportation option available.

When you board the overstuffed train or bus, likely you will be seated next to dozens of people eager to have a conversation. Squat down on a bag of rice, stack of rope, or anywhere you can lean, and keep a smile about the whole ordeal.

The people around you will be watching to see how you react to the situation. Staying relaxed and smiling will go a long way towards warming up your new travel companions.

2. Cassette Tapes

Bringing your own music in an MP3 player or portable CD player is a great way to block out the screeching noise of foreign cities, smooth the ride on trying bus or jeep journeys, or pass the time during long transit periods. On the other hand, there is nothing more isolating than a pair of headphones.

Instead, try traveling with one or two classic cassette mix-tapes. When you tire of the cab’s selection of “the coolest American music,” or a jeep driver’s library of Mongolian throat singing tapes, offer the driver one of your own.

You’re not the only one who may be interested in hearing something new.

3. A Deck Of Playing Cards

Every country in the world seems to have at least one game that uses playing cards. Once you claim your spot on the train or in the bus station, instead of hiding behind a book, start to lazily play a game of solitaire. Before you know it there will be a crowd of people eager to join you.

4. Pictures Of Home, Your Friends And Family

P1010238Besides being a great reminder of your friends and family when you are feeling homesick, a few pictures of home are a great way to build a connection with people you meet on the road.

When choosing pictures try to focus on images that capture the relationship you have with the people in the photograph.

Pictures of houses, apartments, cars, and other possessions can appear opulent and ostentatious in other parts of the world, regardless of their status in your hometown or city.

5. A Reservation Through The Hospitality Club.

Organizations like the Hospitality Club, CouchSurfing, the WWOOF program, and forums like the Digihitch Rideboard, are more than just places to find free lodging or a free ride.

These resources are a great way to escape the typical traveler’s circuit and spend an evening, a few days, or even a few weeks with a local, hanging out, sharing an apartment, or even working.

Remember that, in addition to rooms for lodging, the Hospitality Club and CouchSurfing have listings of local people who just want to grab a beer, do some sightseeing, or share their favorite restaurant.

6. A Phrasebook

The most useful tool for building relationships abroad is language - and if you sincerely hope to make friends the few pages at the end of your guidebook will not be enough.

A dedicated phrasebook, with two-way dictionaries and liberal use of native script, can be passed back and forth and be surprisingly useful for conveying meaning.

As a fun challenge, leave the guidebook in the hostel and spend a day navigating with only your phrasebook, or for the dedicated, try to learn a new language in only a few weeks.

Having these six things with you will not magically open a world of friendships, but they are small and light and can make a huge difference when you are trying to break into a foreign social group.

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Anti-Doping Agency: Viagra OK For Athletes

(AP) Athletes looking for a performance boost appear to be turning to a little blue pill more usually taken for its off-the-field benefits: Viagra.

But experts are divided over whether it actually offers athletes an edge.

Some sports authorities say the drug is now finding a following among athletes. It isn't clear how many might be taking it in hopes of improving athletic performance.

It also has attracted the attention of the World Anti-Doping Agency. The agency is studying Viagra's effects in athletes, but hasn't yet banned it. Viagra is not on the International Olympic Committee's list of prohibited drugs, so athletes can take it at the Beijing Olympics.

Viagra, also known as sildenafil, is manufactured by Pfizer Inc. It originally was developed as a heart drug; its use as a treatment for erectile dysfunction was accidentally discovered.

The drug works by increasing the effects of nitric oxide, which makes blood vessels expand. That should theoretically allow blood cells to get more oxygen from the lungs. It also might improve heart function.

Viagra also is approved to treat pulmonary hypertension, a condition in which the lungs' blood vessels tighten. Doctors have used the drug experimentally to treat pregnant women with high blood pressure and to ward off jet lag.

But whether Viagra makes athletes faster, higher or stronger is uncertain.

"Just because you have more nitric oxide doesn't mean that you are going to be a better athlete," said Anthony Butch, director of the Olympic Analytical laboratory at UCLA. "If you have all the nitric oxide you need, and if you generate more from Viagra, it's not clear what effect that would have."

Still, some preliminary studies have shown that cyclists taking Viagra improved their performances by up to 40 percent.

"If you have more oxygen going to your muscles, that's more energy and that makes you a better athlete," said Dr. Andrew McCullough, a sexual health expert at the New York University School of Medicine. "Even if it only gives you a 10 percent increase, in peak athletes that is enough to win."

McCullough said Viagra is only likely to help athletes such as runners, cyclists or skiers - sports where endurance and speed are key. Viagra does not work directly on muscles, so will not make athletes stronger.

Athletes often mistakenly assume a drug will work in their bodies the same way it does in sick people. For instance, in people with lung problems who take Viagra, the drug widens their blood vessels so they can absorb more oxygen.

Athletes taking Viagra might hope the drug would expand their already normal-sized vessels to give them extra lung capacity. But some experts say that's unlikely.

"Viagra corrects problems in people who are in a challenged or diseased state," said Ian McGrath, a professor of physiology at the University of Glasgow.

In normal people, McGrath said, the body's own regulating system is not so easily superseded by drugs, and taking Viagra might be useless. But McGrath also said taking Viagra theoretically could help people breathe better in heavily polluted cities, such as Beijing.

"If you have some sort of illness from pollution, then Viagra might help," he said.

Scientists at laboratories that conduct drug tests say they haven't noticed a suspicious spike in samples containing Viagra.

"We see it as much as we see ibuprofen or aspirin or antibiotics that are not prohibited," said Christiane Ayotte, director of a WADA-accredited laboratory in Canada. "Athletes may be taking it, but they may be taking it for non-doping purposes."

Ayotte thinks it would be unrealistic to ban Viagra.

"Are athletes going to have to submit therapeutic-use exemptions for Viagra?" she asked. "That would be quite humiliating."

Other doctors hypothesized that Viagra's more well-known effects on men's sex lives might be the ultimate explanation for any enhanced athletic abilities.

"It could be that athletes are taking Viagra and then having vigorous sexual activity," said Dr. Gerard Varlotta, director of sports rehabilitation at New York University's Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine. Varlotta doubted that Viagra itself could improve an athlete's performance.

"If athletes are euphoric after sex after taking Viagra, they may be euphoric about their athletic endeavors," Varlotta said. "That may make them a better athlete."
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The 11 Best Foods You Aren’t Eating

Nutritionist and author Jonny Bowden has created several lists of healthful foods people should be eating but aren’t. But some of his favorites, like purslane, guava and goji berries, aren’t always available at regular grocery stores. I asked Dr. Bowden, author of “The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth,” to update his list with some favorite foods that are easy to find but don’t always find their way into our shopping carts. Here’s his advice.

  1. Beets: Think of beets as red spinach, Dr. Bowden said, because they are a rich source of folate as well as natural red pigments that may be cancer fighters.
    How to eat: Fresh, raw and grated to make a salad. Heating decreases the antioxidant power.
  2. Cabbage: Loaded with nutrients like sulforaphane, a chemical said to boost cancer-fighting enzymes.
    How to eat: Asian-style slaw or as a crunchy topping on burgers and sandwiches.
  3. Swiss chard: A leafy green vegetable packed with carotenoids that protect aging eyes.
    How to eat it: Chop and saute in olive oil.
  4. Cinnamon: May help control blood sugar and cholesterol.
    How to eat it: Sprinkle on coffee or oatmeal.
  5. Pomegranate juice: Appears to lower blood pressure and loaded with antioxidants.
    How to eat: Just drink it.
  6. Dried plums: Okay, so they are really prunes, but packed with cancer-fighting antioxidants.
    How to eat: Wrapped in prosciutto and baked.
  7. Pumpkin seeds: The most nutritious part of the pumpkin and packed with magnesium; high levels of the mineral are associated with lower risk for early death.
    How to eat: Roasted as a snack, or sprinkled on salad.
  8. Sardines: Dr. Bowden calls them “health food in a can.'’ They are high in omega-3’s, contain virtually no mercury and are loaded with calcium. They also contain iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper and manganese as well as a full complement of B vitamins.
    How to eat: Choose sardines packed in olive or sardine oil. Eat plain, mixed with salad, on toast, or mashed with dijon mustard and onions as a spread.
  9. Turmeric: The “superstar of spices,'’ it has anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.
    How to eat: Mix with scrambled eggs or in any vegetable dish.
  10. Frozen blueberries: Even though freezing can degrade some of the nutrients in fruits and vegetables, frozen blueberries are available year-round and don’t spoil; associated with better memory in animal studies.
    How to eat: Blended with yogurt or chocolate soy milk and sprinkled with crushed almonds.
  11. Canned pumpkin: A low-calorie vegetable that is high in fiber and immune-stimulating vitamin A; fills you up on very few calories.
    How to eat: Mix with a little butter, cinnamon and nutmeg.

You can find more details and recipes on the Men’s Health Web site, which published the original version of the list last year.

In my own house, I only have two of these items — pumpkin seeds, which I often roast and put on salads, and frozen blueberries, which I mix with milk, yogurt and other fruits for morning smoothies. How about you? Have any of these foods found their way into your shopping cart?

Some Proof that Marijuana is a Powerful Medicine

Marijuana contains an amazing chemical, beta-caryophyllene, and scientists have thoroughly proven that it could be used to treat pain, inflammation, atherosclerosis, and osteoporosis.

Jürg Gertsch, of ETH Zürich, and his collaborators from three other universities learned that the natural molecule can activate a protein called cannabinoid receptor type 2. When that biological button is pushed, it soothes the immune system, increases bone mass, and blocks pain signals -- without causing euphoria or interfering with the central nervous system.

Gertsch and his team published their findings on June 23 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.They focused on the anti-inflammatory properties of the impressive substance -- testing it on immune cells called monocytes and also in mice.

Since beta-caryophyllene seems to be powerful, occurs naturally in many foods, and does not get people high, it could turn out to be a nearly ideal medication. The organic compound is also phenomenally cheap. Sigma Aldrich sells it, in kosher form, for forty-two dollars per kilogram.

Unfortunately, big pharmaceutical companies tend not to seek FDA approval for natural chemicals, and most doctors are reluctant to prescribe drugs that have not received a green light from the regulatory agency. Thus, it would require a heroic effort by academic researchers to prove that beta-caryophyllene is safe and effective in humans.

Perhaps, before that happens, the natural substance will find its way into the herbal medicine aisle of health food stores.

Smoking ban 'helps 400,000 to quit'

More than 400,000 people in England have given up smoking thanks to the ban on lighting up in public introduced a year ago tomorrow, a study claims.

The surge in numbers kicking the habit is expected to save 40,000 former smokers from early death over the next ten years.

Researchers tracked 32,000 smokers before and after the ban came into effect.

In the nine months prior to the ban 1.6 per cent gave up smoking, compared with 5.5 per cent in the following nine months.

The survey results will be presented to the UK National Smoking Cessation Conference in Birmingham tomorrow, marking the first anniversary of the ban in pubs, restaurants and other public places.

Professor Robert West, Cancer Research UK's director of tobacco studies, who carried out the survey, said: 'These figures show the largest fall in the number of smokers on record.

'I never expected such a dramatic impact and of course there are no guarantees that smoking rates will not climb back up again.

'But if the Department of Health can keep up the momentum this has created, there is a realistic prospect of achieving a target of less than 15 per cent of the population smoking within the next ten years.'

Another study by the Health Department will show a similar trend, with 234,060 people making successful use of the NHS Quit Smoking Service since last July - 22 per cent more than the same period a year earlier.

But separate research shows that new rules raising the minimum age for buying cigarettes from 16 to 18 are not being strictly enforced.

An annual survey of all underage 'sting' test purchases by trading standards officers found the proportion of shops caught selling to under-age customers rose from 13 to 19 per cent last year.

Nazi Jews: A Historical Paradox

Would it surprise anyone to learn that there were upwards of 150, 000 soldiers of partial Jewish descent serving in the Nazi army during World War II? I had no idea until I attended a lecture by Bryan Mark Rigg discussing his book entitled Hitler’s Jewish Soldiers. What is even more startling is that Adolf Hitler was aware of this and for a while allowed them to serve. In most cases these soldiers had no knowledge of the Holocaust killing machine. From their point of view they were simple German patriots fighting for their country. Many did not even consider themselves Jewish. Some were unaware of their “Jewish blood”.

When I look back at my own Jewish Immigrant background, the “specter” of Jews fighting for the Nazis in the traditional sense sickens stomach. My ancestry is much like other Jewish immigrants. Both sides of my family immigrated to the Unites States from Czarist Russia in the early 1900’s. They came to escape the brutal exterminating pogroms of the Russian authorities much like the extermination of Jews by the Nazis. Czarist officials not only promoted pogroms to blame Jews for government failures and economic depressions but also to isolate jews and keep them fearful. They forced the “Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion,” a documents used the to justify persecuting Jews ans stil in circulation now in Middle Eastern Countries to “prove” that Jews controlled World Finance. Moreover, the Czars conscripted Jewish youth as young as 12 to serve 25 years in the army. Some Russian Jews immigrated to Poland only to be ultimately persecuted by both the Hitler regime and their very own. German born Jews treated Eastern Jews as inferior calling them “Ghetto Jews”. Jews of this background constituted the majority of the Jews massacred pursuant to “The Final Solution“.

The common public notion is that no one of Jewish descent would have ever been allowed to serve in the Nazi regime and, if discovered, would be immediately deported to a forced labor or extermination/concentration camp. This was not the case. The Nazi racial classification or “Nuremberg Lawswere complex and bizarre as to who was classified as a “Jew”. (see Nazi classification chart) This classification dispute is responsible for some controversy. Some scholars have complained that the title of Rigg’s book is sensational and misleading because it implies that these Nazi soldiers were Jewish when, in fact, many of them would not be classified as Jews under Jewish law (Young men were considered Jewish if their mothers were Jewish.). Many of the soldiers interviewed did not consider themselves Jewish at all and had been baptized into a Christian tradition. I view this as a simplistic criticism since the overall issue of how Hitler bent and twisted the racial laws of his regime to serve his own bizarre purposes in the face of the Nuremberg laws is a fascinating idea that Riggs explains from a unique perspective. Riggs demonstrates the willingness of the Nazis to bend their own laws of racial classification and Jewish persecution and documents Hitler’s extensive , obsessive involvement in deciding which “Jews” received a pass ,which would be discharged, and which would ultimately be deported. Riggs also explores the historical, religious and cultural individual personal conflicts of “The Jewish Identity”. A very interesting side-note to Rigg’s book is that his research has popped up on Holocaust Revisionist websites as support for their outrageously bizarre claim that there was substantial support for Hitler from parts of the Jewish Community.

While most of Jewish descent were ordinary Wehrmacht soldiers, some rose to very high ranking positions of authority in the Nazi Regime. Some either directly or indirectly participated in the Jewish killing machine. Germans of Jewish descent were fighting for a country whose official policy was that they were regarded as second-class citizens and, in most cases, not even human. Germans of Jewish descent were fighting for a country that was deporting their relatives to concentrations camps for eventual extermination. Germans of Jewish descent were fighting for a country who, some say, planned to ultimately exterminate them also when Germany won the war. How could these fight for a country that planned their extinction? Why did Hitler allow this to take place? We know it is not due to the common misconception that Hitler was part Jewish. Scholars universally agree that there is no evidence of this. Rigg’s thesis certainly goes against everything I believed about my identity as a Jew and what it means to be a Jew. Does having “Jewish blood” in itself make you Jewish? While the simple answer seems to be no, it was quite complicated in Nazi Germany.

A fascinating aspect of the lecture and the book is the method by which the Nazis determined who was Jewish and who was not. For racial and military purposes, the Nazi Party classified Jewish people as full Jews, half Jews, and quarter Jews. Each classification was treated differently with regards to whether they could serve in the German military and what rights, if any, they had under German law. As previously mentioned, according to Jewish law, a person is determined to be a Jew if the person’s mother is Jewish.

I would have been a full Jew under Nazi laws. All four of my grandparents on both sides were Jewish. I am also of Russian descent. Not only would I have been prohibited from serving in the German military, I would have in all likelihood been on the first train out to to Auschwitz or some other extermination camp. Jews of Eastern descent or “Ghetto Jews” were also looked down upon and discriminated against by German born Jews as well as the Germans. It was a double whammy. (it was an upper vs lower class type discrimination as compared to the totalitarian discrimination of the Nazis)

Many of those of partial Jewish descent while Jewish by both Jewish law and Nazi racial classification had become so assimilated into the German-Christian society through mixed marriages that they did not consider themselves Jewish. Some were practicing Christians. This was only changed through Hitler’s racial classification system and the Nuremberg Laws which officially made the majority of people of full and partial Jewish descent second-class citizens called “Mischling“, meaning they came from a mixed marriage and had partial Jewish ancestry. Germans of partial Jewish descent who had practiced Christianity all of their lives, were suddenly classified as a “Mischling,” Jews under Hitler’s racial classification laws. They were suddenly stripped of most rights under German law.

Interestingly, the situation was not just a German/Jewish phenomenon. In 1941, Finland joined the war as a “co-belligerent” of Germany. (Finland refused to call itself an ally.) There were 250-300 Finnish-Jews fighting alongside Germany on the eastern front against Russia, and some of the Finnish-Jews were even awarded German battle decorations. Soldiers with Jew ish heritage also fought along side the Nazis when Romania was aligned against the Soviet Union as well as for Italy.

There was a huge ideology gap between what occurred in Finland and Nazi Germany. Finland was not under Nazi rule. Finland, from its perspective, was fighting for its independence from Russia rather than to support any anti-Semitic ideology or German persecution. Finland as a nation refused to endorse the Nazi anti-Semitic policies and refused to deport, persecute or discriminate against its Jewish population. It is quite the paradox that despite this policy their fighting alongside Germany certainly helped Germany achieve military goals and indirectly aided in the Jewish persecutions. The Finnish-Jewish soldiers were not blind to what was going on. It caused quite a bit of internal conflict and tension with the German soldiers. This was also not a racial classification issue. Finland did not discriminate against or classify their Jews. In this situation, full, practicing Jews were fighting alongside the Nazis against the Allies, fighting predominately at Stalingrad.

The German racial classification system for Jews and the resulting disparate treatment with regards to military service in the Nazi army highlights some of the fundamental issues of Jewish Identify that exist even today. What does it mean to be Jewish? What qualities and beliefs make someone Jewish? If your mother is Jewish you are certainly a Jews by definition of Jewish Law but that may not be how you may look at yourself if you were not raised in the Jewish tradition. Are we as Jews defined by our culture, our religious practices or how other view us? As an example, several years ago I got into a heated argument when a person who was close to me told me in her opinion I was not Jewish because I did not adhere to Jewish religious practices. I was infuriated. It was and is my belief that my bond to Judaism is through culture, common history and suffering. The bond that all Jews share. That is what defines me as a Jew. She could not grasp this concept. This was the dilemma faced by many of the Mischling in Nazi Germany. This is a historical and religious conflict faced by Jews today as mixed marriages have become much more common and accepted in the United States. Jews argue among themselves over this issue. It is a conflict that transcends time.

*Thank you to my uncle and distinguished author Larry Cuban for helping me with the Russian History aspect of this piece.

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