Podcast 010: Zero Tolerance

In This Episode: No Longer Weird: An obliviot trying to pass a 99-cent “$1 million bill”. And it’s Episode 10: you’re darn right it’s time to do a bit of a rant on zero tolerance! Clare and I talk about an older case that was so clearly a case of “Sue ’em!” — that the family did. But it sure wasn’t an easy road, in part because the offending school fought it hard (read: freely spent tax money to defend absolutely outrageous actions!)

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Show Notes

  • Damned If You Do, and Damned If You Don’t: Early listeners told me there was too much fluff — banter with Clare. Recent listeners told me they miss the personality of chatting with Clare more. Well, can’t please everyone, so I’m gonna do this the way I want to. So there!
  • The Associated Press Story (the “No Longer Weird” entry this week) about Dennis Strickland is here.
  • A Stack of One Thousand $100 Bills measures 4.3 inches thick. A million dollars is 10,000 $100 bills, or a stack 43″ tall, which weighs more than 20 pounds. Obviously, an armored car could easily haul that amount, but in the much more likely event of having a mix of currency (1s, 5s, 10s, and 20s in addition to a much smaller number of 100s), then it’s obviously going to be much larger and heavier. Either way, not even a Super Walmart is going to have that much cash available to give someone that much change.
  • My Lengthy Writeup of the Savana Redding Case is on this page (from which I liberally borrowed text from court decisions for my mini rants in this episode).
  • A photo of Savana is included below, in the transcript area.

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Randy: Welcome to Uncommon Sense, the Podcast where we delve a little more deeply into the stories and issues discussed in the thisistrue.com newsletter. I’m Randy Cassingham

And I’m Clare Angelica.

Randy: This week the issue is a long-time staple of This is True: zero tolerance. But before we talk about that, it’s time for another installment of … No Longer Weird!

What is that? What is this week’s?

Randy: Last month I passed on a story, even though it seemed pretty weird: In Sioux City, Iowa, Dennis Strickland, 33, was arrested after going to a bank. He wasn’t there to rob it, per se, but he did try to deposit a large bill. A very large bill…

Clare: I remember that!

Randy: …a $1 million Federal Reserve Note. Now, I’ve done that story before — variants of that — but I’ve passed by a lot more of them. For the record, no: you can’t buy novelty currency on Amazon or eBay, and expect a bank to give you face value for it.

Clare: Darn it!

Randy: It’s really, really, obviously — obviously! — fake money. Literally, I just checked and you can get a vaguely legitimate-looking million dollar bill on eBay for a whopping 99 cents — with free shipping.

So really: what kind of obliviot thinks a million dollar bill is real? Dennis Strickland of Sioux City, Iowa — who, at 33 years old, should know better by now.

The biggest bill that has been in circulation for years is the hundred. The biggest bill that has ever been printed, but never in general circulation, is the $100,000 gold certificate, last printed in 1935 and no longer used. Those were only used for transactions between Federal Reserve Banks.

You can’t even find a $500 bill in circulation anymore, though I remember as a child noticing my uncle carried $500 bills in the mid-1960s …and I remember he often couldn’t use them, since few businesses had enough cash on hand to give him change. Sometimes these financial wizards try to pass a million dollar bill at places like Walmart, and they actually expect to get the change! An armored car wouldn’t be enough to haul the change, since the $100 note is the largest that the government has printed since 1969 — 48 years ago. So literally, much longer than Strickland has been alive. A million-buck-bill? Only an obliviot would think a bank would fall for that.

Clare: So we see lots of recurring themes in TRUE. How do you decide it’s no longer weird?

Randy: It comes down to the way a story hits me. Do I look at it and say “What, again?” — or do I laugh at an ingenious twist in the story. Like, if this guy had figured out a way to get someone else to give him $10,000 for it, or something like that, that might be enough to get me to go for it. So it’s possible I could go for a million dollar story again someday, but it’ll have to have some intriguing or funny aspect to it that catches my attention so that it can be written up in a way that’s entertaining or thought-provoking. Because I don’t want readers to say, “What, again?”

Clare: So I’m guessing this is the segue to zero tolerance stories.

Why right you are! So that’s a great example of different twists. The first Z.T. story ever was in 1995, in Rhode Island. Then there was a swarm of them in Colorado. So I started seeing a pattern, and that showed just how ridiculous these stories really were, and showed that it’s not just a big city thing, it’s not just a small town thing. And it’s not just a Colorado thing. And it’s not just an American thing: we’ve had Z.T. stories from a number of different countries.

It’s not just about a kid bringing an actual knife to school, or actual drugs. Twist after twist after twist came up, like a toy gun. Or candy that supposedly looked like drugs. Then it was toy guns that maybe, possibly, could have been confused for a real gun. And then it was toy guns that couldn’t possibly be confused with real guns. And then kids playing with toy guns on school field trips, because even though they weren’t on campus, they had “guns!” at a school function. Then it was, the kids were playing with toy guns in their own yards! Yes, that really happened too.

Clare: Huh.

Randy: But it’s not just kids, and not just schools: TSA stopped an adult woman for trying to get a sock puppet through airport security that had a one-inch toy gun as a prop. I mean one inch! C’mon! That so-called “gun” was confiscated by so-called security professionals.

Clare: So, refresh my memory. You started This is True in ’94?

Randy: Yep.

Clare: So it only took a year for zero tolerance stories to create a pattern that was noticeable.

Randy: Right. And they’ve been crazy enough, and getting more and more crazy enough, that I still have things to say about these stories.

Savana, apparently when she was about 13 (family photo).

So let’s go back to drugs in schools: there was a 13-year-old girl who was accused of having drugs at school in Safford, Arizona, only because another student who was in trouble said this other girl had drugs. The drugs that Savana Redding was accused of having: ibuprofen. Well, you sure wouldn’t want high school girls treating their own menstrual cramps now, would we?! Even though there was no allegation of Redding hiding the alleged pills somewhere on her body, they searched her in addition to her belongings like her backpack.

Clare: That’s horrible!

Randy: Wait! You don’t know how horrible.

Here’s how an appeals court in the case summarized the search:

At [vice principal Kerry] Wilson’s behest, [Wilson’s administrative assistant Helen] Romero and the school nurse, Peggy Schwallier, conducted a strip search of Savana. The officials had Savana peel off each layer of clothing in turn. First, Savana removed her socks, shoes and jacket for inspection for ibuprofen. The officials found nothing. Then, Romero asked Savana to remove her T-shirt and stretch pants. Embarrassed and scared, Savana complied and sat in her bra and underwear while the two adults examined her clothes. Again, the officials found nothing. Still progressing with the search, despite receiving only corroboration of Savana’s pleas that she did not have any ibuprofen, Romero instructed Savana to pull her bra out to the side and shake it. Savana followed the instructions, exposing her naked breasts in the process. The shaking failed to dislodge any pills. Romero next requested that Savana pull out her underwear at the crotch and shake it. Hiding her head so that the adults could not see that she was about to cry, Savana complied and pulled out her underwear, revealing her pelvic area. No ibuprofen was found. The school officials finally stopped and told Savana to put her clothes back on and accompany Romero back to Wilson’s office. Savana did not freely agree to this search. She was “embarrassed and scared, but felt [she] would be in more trouble if [she] did not do what they asked.” In her affidavit, Savana described the experience as “the most humiliating experience” of her short life, and felt “violated by the strip search.”

Clare: That’s horrible. And it’s all women — that’s one of the worst parts. They had no understanding or empathy there? That’s incredible.

Randy: That’s one thing that kind of surprises me about these school officials: they don’t remember being kids themselves. They don’t stop to think, what would it be like to be in this position? They just automatically assume the kids are guilty of some horrible crime, and that justifies them treating them horribly.

Clare: It happened to me, in school.

Randy: Really!

Clare: Yeah!

Randy: When was that?

Clare: That was my sophomore year of high school. I don’t know why, but they brought a drug dog into school, and my backpack was in the Common area and the dog sniffed it. So they called me to the office. It’s not at all as humiliating as hers, or as horrible, but…

Randy: And did you have drugs in your backpack?

Clare: I did not!

Randy: So how did you feel about that kind of accusation?

Clare: I definitely didn’t feel good about it. I don’t know the words.

Randy: Were you scared?

Clare: I mean, I knew I didn’t have anything, so I wasn’t necessarily scared. I was nervous, just because of the whole situation, of what they were accusing me of and having to go in, and had empty out my entire backpack. I don’t remember, they might have patted me down. I don’t remember. But yeah, it was kind of stressful and nerve-wracking. And then come to find my backpack had been at a friend’s house whose parents liked to partake in recreational activities! And so the scent of the marijuana had gotten on my backpack, and that’s what tagged me.

Randy: So at least there was some legitimacy to it, not just some other kid trying to get themselves out of trouble by accusing you.

Clare: Right. I don’t think even told them anything as to why the drug dog could have tagged my backpack.

Randy: Well that was smart.

Clare: Oh yeah. I just got out of there as quickly as I could. I did what they told me to, and…. But the reaction from my parents, and some other people who were like parents to me — I’ve known them forever — was really interesting. They were very upset about it, ’cause one, no parent was called. So I’m wondering if…

Randy: And that’s very typical in these cases, where they sit these kids down, grill them, sometimes make them sign confessions, without ever contacting their parents.

Clare: And that’s actually the protocol I found out later, is that they’re supposed to call your parents first, before they even open your backpack. You don’t even have to do anything they say, because there’s has to be a parent present. That was the biggest thing that they were upset about, is that there was no parent present. So I wonder if Savana’s parents got the call too?

Randy: I wonder how many schools actually have a policy like that? I mean that’s terrific that they would have such a policy but guess what: they didn’t follow it.

Clare: Yeah, they didn’t follow it at all!

Randy: Which is also kind of typical, I’ve found.

Clare: Uh huh. They knew what they were supposed to do, and they didn’t do it.

Randy: And they knew what they weren’t supposed to do, and they did it anyway.

Clare: Right.

Randy: So that’s one of the things that gets me, that even when the school boards are smart and put in policies like this, sometimes the schools ignore those policies. And you know what, when they do that, I think they really need to be fired or at least suspended without pay. Because what they really are doing is creating liability for the school district, which means: taxpayers. So it’s really easy to say “Sue ’em! Sue ’em! Sue ’em!” — but what you’re really saying is “Sue us.”

I think there has to be some kind of penalty or trouble that these people get into, and instead in this case in Arizona, they were actually paying for lawyers to back them up!

Clare: It atrocious! What that poor girl went through, it’s incredible.

Randy: And I’m glad you don’t have these terrible nightmares that this girl probably does, because your case was relatively minor in comparison, but I think it just goes to show that this happens a lot — it’s not just a here and there thing.

Clare: Right. I absolutely agree. There were parents that were so upset at what had happened to me, I mean I’m not on the same scale as Savana. And it was not as… it was humiliating, it was violating, but not at all like what happened to her. And they wanted me to sue, because they were so upset about what had happened to me, and the violation that had occurred. And the protocol that was not followed.

Randy: Right. And so they were actually saying, “Sue us,” ’cause I’m sure they were local people.

Clare: Yes, they were all locals. Small town, too.

Randy: And why these school officials didn’t get slapped down, I just don’t get. That’s an example of the liability that they’re putting — I mean, they were saying “Sue us for this”!

Clare: Well, it’s setting a precedence. “Yeah, we can do it again! We can get away with these actions — without consequence.”

Randy: And maybe escalate, you know, and maybe strip-search the next girl.

Clare: Right.

Randy: Outrageous. So let me quote just a bit of the court’s decision in the Savana Redding case: “It does not take a constitutional scholar to conclude that a nude search of a 13-year-old girl is an invasion of constitutional rights,” wrote Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw for the majority of the Appeals Court judges. “More than that,” she continues, “it is a violation of any known principle of human dignity.”

One thing I like to remind readers of is this: public school officials are literally government agents. They’re searching kids without a warrant based on hearsay. They’re not calling parents, they’re not letting the kids call a lawyer. And that’s why this was in court in the first place: the humiliated girl’s parents sued the school district. Amazingly, the school fought back rather than admit wrongdoing. It went back and forth in court, which why this was an appeals court ruling.

So naturally, the school appealed this very clear verdict. The case went all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Clare: Wow. I hope she got justice!

Randy: Well, let’s continue on with this!

Clare: Yeah, I want to hear.

Randy: Now, in this particular case, this was alleged to be prescription-strength ibuprofen: 400 mg., which is double the strength of what even children can buy in just about any grocery store. If a girl is old enough to have menstrual cramps, she’s old enough to buy ibuprofen to try to get relief from them. So the court was not swayed by this drug’s “prescription-only” status.

Clare: Well and again, they were all women. They know what’s going on with her.

Randy: Absolutely!

Clare: Or they should! They should know why she wants the ibuprofen.

Randy: And again, if these women are past menopause, they don’t remember what it was like. I mean, c’mon!

Clare: That’s what’s horrible too!

Randy: So back to the court’s decision:

We reject Safford’s effort to lump together these run-of-the-mill anti-inflammatory pills with the evocative term “prescription drugs,” in a knowing effort to shield an imprudent strip search of a young girl behind a larger war against drugs. … Nothing in the record provides any evidence that the school officials were concerned in this case about controlled substances violative of state or federal law. No legal decision cited to us or that we could find permitted a strip search to discover substances regularly available over the counter at any convenience store throughout the United States. … And contrary to any suggestion that finding the ibuprofen was an urgent matter to avoid a parade of horribles, even if Savana had possessed the ibuprofen pills, any danger they posed was neutralized once school officials seized Savana and held her in the assistant principal’s office. Savana had no means at that point to distribute the pills, and whatever immediately threatening activity the school may have perceived by the alleged possession of prescription-strength ibuprofen had been thwarted. The school officials had only to send Savana home for the afternoon to prevent the rumored lunchtime distribution from taking place — assuming she in fact possessed the pills on her person. The lack of any immediate danger to students only further diminishes the initial minimal nature of the alleged infraction of bringing ibuprofen onto campus.

Clare: It’s just atrocious what they did to her.

Randy: Yeah. There’s really no justification—

Clare: No!

Randy: —as they’re making really clear in their verdict.

Clare: And I can almost guarantee that there was no parent notified, until after…

Randy: Absolutely.

Clare: …when she crying and humiliated and violated.

Randy: For what?

Clare: Exactly.

Randy: For some stupid “war on drugs” that this isn’t really about anyway.

“There are two kinds of people in the world,” editorialized Jacob Sullum, the senior editor at Reason magazine: “the kind who think it’s perfectly reasonable to strip-search a 13-year-old girl suspected of bringing ibuprofen to school, and the kind who think those people should be kept as far away from children as possible.”

Clare: Oh man, that’s a good one.

Randy: Sullum continues that “Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between drug warriors and child molesters.” He grumbled that “It’s a good thing the school took swift action, before anybody got unauthorized relief from menstrual cramps.”

So what about higher level school officials? They did nothing but support the vice principal.

Clare: Oh wow.

Randy: Principal Robert Beeman said “he did not think the strip search was a big deal because they did not find anything.”

Clare: Well Mr. Beeman, let’s put you in her shoes for a minute.

Randy: Yeah: “Because she was innocent, there’s no problem with stripping her naked in front of adults!”

Clare: Ugh. Fired!

Randy: Yet: “A reasonable school official,” the court lectured, “seeking to protect the students in his charge, does not subject a thirteen-year-old girl to a traumatic search to ‘protect’ her from the danger of Advil.”

When there is a really outrageous case like this, one thing readers like to say is, “SUE ’EM!” So here’s the deal: this happened in the fall of 2003. The appeals court ruling was in 2008 — five years later, and all that ruling said was that the lawsuit that the parents had filed could proceed. Then it went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard the case remarkably quickly, and issued its verdict in mid-2009, ruling for the Redding family on a vote of 8 to 1. Yeah, there was a dissenter in that, it wasn’t even unanimous. But even then, it wasn’t over, since pretty much all they could do is affirm the lower courts that yes, this was a legitimate case, and it could proceed. They kicked it back to the lower court to determine damages. The Redding family, meanwhile, was having to fight this year after year after year. And if they didn’t find a lawyer to take the case pro bono, or for a portion of the lawsuit award, they were out of pocket for what would likely be tens of thousands of dollars in expenses. It wasn’t until August of 2011 that they were finally awarded $250,000, out of which they’d have to pay their lawyer. They certainly didn’t get rich from this case, but they were at least vindicated: strip-searching a teen girl for a non-dangerous drug was held to be outrageous, not reasonable. But it took years and years of fighting to even get there.

Clare: That’s also hideous. That poor girl had to live with that until it was over. And she still has to.

Randy: Yeah.

Clare: Oh, that’s horrible.

Randy: And for what?

Clare: Ibuprofen.

Randy: For a stupid war on drugs, and they’re linking ibuprofen with heroin or cocaine.

Clare: ’Cause they’re really very similar!

Randy: Yeah. It’s just outrageous. So to circle back and answer your question, Clare, yes: I do in fact pass on a lot of Z.T. stories as “no longer weird.” I probably let about let about ten times as many just go by as I use as stories in This is True. But now and then, there’s some bizarre new twist that catches my attention, and will demonstrate to readers that yes, the outrageously weird phenomenon of zero tolerance is still alive and well not just in schools, not just in American schools, but guess what: kids grow up and zero tolerance is spreading out into the real world in the U.S. and other places. So that’s not “no longer weird,” but extremely weird indeed.

Clare: And it just seems like there getting tighter and tighter. I mean, it’s getting bigger, the expanse, but it’s also, what they’re zeroing in on, it’s minuscule. And the restrictions are just incredible, it’s just getting tighter and tighter what’s “zero tolerance” now.

Randy: It really gets down to yes, these are bizarre but true stories. It’s really sad, but there is progress: some states are saying no-no, we need to rethink this. A lot of districts have put policies in place, like you said earlier, that are meant to get the school officials to back off, but sometimes they just ignore those policies, and are still doing this outrageous stuff.

Clare: It needs to stop. People need to think more, instead of being so reactionary to everything.

Randy: You know what we need? We need some kind of newsletter that promotes that kind of thinking!

Clare: By jolly, I think we’ve got one!

Randy: All right! And that’s it for this week. The This is True newsletter and the Uncommon Sense Podcast are supported by your subscriptions, whether you have the paid edition of our email newsletter, or even the abbreviated free version, which you can get by signing up at thisistrue.com.

You can also support us via Patreon at Patreon.com/thisistrue.

We would really appreciate your rating our show through your podcast app or on iTunes. A review would really help too: ratings and reviews help others discover our work. I hope you’ll agree our efforts are worth a 5-star rating.

The Show Notes for this episode with the details and links discussed this week are at thisistrue.com/podcast10. I’m Randy Cassingham…

Clare: and I’m Clare Angelica. Thanks for listening to Uncommon Sense!

Randy: …And we’ll talk at you later.


Originally posted 7 September 2017

7 thoughts on “Podcast 010: Zero Tolerance

  1. About Savana the young girl who was illegaly strip searched.

    Under UK law the persons who strip searched her and ordered the strip search would be guilty of assalt with menaces, sexual assalt and numereouse othe crimes.

    Is this not the case in the USA?

    Your podcasts are improving with age. Keep it up, keep doing it the way YOU want to.

    You would certainly think so! And you would hope so. I presume in the U.K., criminal law is nationwide. For the most part in the U.S., such personal crime laws are state-specific (and state-prosecuted), and I just don’t know enough about Arizona law to say what’s prohibited and, then, when there are exceptions. Still, I’d think that kind of action would be prohibited, and there would not be an exception made for school personnel.

    You might ask: “Exceptions”?! Sure. As a medic, I have stripped teen girls myself — due to overwhelming medical necessity. (Example: consider synthetic clothing on fire; you want that away from the skin immediately to stop the damage to flesh!) Having the school nurse involved in this case might have muddied things, even though I certainly could not make a case here for “medical necessity” on any level.

    So yes, very good point that it sounds like there’s a real case here for criminal charges yet, as far as I know, none were pursued, and I don’t know why not. And thanks for your kind comment regarding the podcast. -rc

  2. What good is an “official school policy” if the school officials *DON’T FOLLOW IT*?! ALL the school officials involved (i.e. the vice principal, his administrative assistant and the school nurse) should have been *FIRED* on the spot! Any/all officials who later condoned the search or condoned/authorized fighting the lawsuit should *also* have been *FIRED*! Once the school lost the case, the parents should have been awarded the $250K *PLUS* legal expenses (i.e. make the school pay their legal fees). Ideally, the school officials should have been ordered to pay the parents’ legal fees out of their own pockets.

    It should be part of the contracts of all school officials that if someone sues the school over something they did, and their actions are a violation of established school policy, and the school *loses* the lawsuit, then those officials will be terminated without getting their pension & they will *personally* have to pay some significant portion (e.g. 1/4, 1/3, 1/2, 3/4) of the legal fees for *both* sides as well as any awarded damages. If that were done (assuming it *could* be done), and some school officials had to pay this, and the media made a *BIG* “splash” about it, then *and only* then would some school officials *stop* this insanity. As long as there are no penalties for the involved school officials (beyond *maybe* being fired), they have no incentive to stop.

    *LOVE* your podcasts! Keep up the great work.

    While I agree the school officials in this case should have been fired for this outrageous behavior (rather than defended in court at taxpayer expense), and should have been personally liable for at least some of the resulting costs, it’s unclear what the district’s “official policy” was in this case. The story Clare related happened in a different district (and in a different state). -rc

  3. I truly believe the only way we will end such blind adherence to Zero Tolerance is to actively post the faces and profiles of people who perpetrate these evils on others while using their authority. Eventually if for nothing else people will stop and think for being afraid of the public shaming.

  4. With regard to this episode: I agree that Zero Tolerance stories are, in general, no longer weird and don’t expect to see them in True, as much as I would appreciate them when they do appear. I think it is still important to keep people aware of them, and I like Mark’s comment about the value of Public Shaming.

    With regard to the podcast in general, I really appreciate the deeper look at the stories in True. I also enjoy the commentary between you and Claire, even if it is not directly relevant to the topic. It makes both of you more relatable and makes the podcast more enjoyable. Please keep up the good work.

  5. Great discussion of a most important subject. When I first read about this incident, I was left utterly stunned and speechless. The entire school district is responsible for backing up these “teachers” and “administrators” leading to the family’s years-long battle just to receive a modicum of recompense. And, as for the two women who actually conducted the strip search, it would not have been inappropriate for them to be charged with child abuse and received jail time, or, at the very least, a significant period of counseling (which the school board seems to need as well).

  6. I think there actually are million-dollar bills, but they’re only used to exchange money between banks. I think federal law prohibits million-dollar bills being released to the general public.

    Nope, never. As I said in the podcast, “The biggest bill that has ever been printed, but never in general circulation, is the $100,000 gold certificate, last printed in 1935 and no longer used. Those were only used for transactions between Federal Reserve Banks.” There’s no need for bills for interbank transactions anymore: that’s all been done electronically for years. -rc

  7. The proponents of zero tolerance refuse to see any parallel or hypocrisy when they also support anti-bullying programs. These same proponents also will accuse students and parents of harassment when common sense and reasonableness are suggested as bases for decisions.

    Inherent to its nature, zero tolerance is a policy that stipulates that the administrators of an institution are incapable of possessing and using common sense and making basic judgments as to the severity, or lack thereof, of an action, utterance, symbol or expression that equates to a prohibited behavior, directly or by implication, reference or suggestion. This results in absurdities becoming legal issues, affecting the mental health of the transgressors, stigmatizing children, destroying lives and, in general making the administrations look like fools, idiots or zealots unworthy of their salaries.

    Zero tolerance is also enforced punishment of routine activity without any kind of objective standard, depending heavily on the imagination of the accuser and attempting to stifle the freedom and imagination of the “perpetrator”. Because listing all the legal products that become contraband on campus is too hard, the lazy administrators ban broad categories with very loose descriptions. This leads to children getting in trouble because the assignment to draw their father in work clothes resulted in a drawing of a police officer with a firearm.

    A child should be free to eat a sandwich in whatever pattern possible. If at some point it looks like a pistol, it likely also looks like a carpenter’s square. A tool is not a weapon until it is used to actually threaten someone; a high school student should not be suspended because he has tools in the trunk of his car -– even tools with sharp edges. Neither should he be punished because the accoutrements of his military re-enactment hobby give some teacher the vapors. The use of Chapstick, ibuprofen or aspirin should not create a crisis -– even if a student shared with a classmate.

    You’re singing my song, Ed! If we don’t let them earn their salaries by making common sense decisions, then why are we paying those salaries?! -rc

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