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July 2015



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Jul. 21st, 2015

Collie muse

Reluctant heroes

I have been fortunate, over the years of my post-grad work, to have had some truly exceptional and deservedly renown professors. Some of my proudest memories, in fact, are when one or the other of them would praise my work – that was quite exciting! Frankly, I suspect it always will be, as these are all brilliant and perceptive women. I would be utterly thrilled to find out, years from now, that my writing was even half so good as some of theirs! Amazing authors and visionaries such as Vicky Noble, Judy Grahn, Marguerite Rigoglioso, Charlene Spretnak, Carol Christ, and more have been a major part of growing and encouraging my thinking. I'm exceptionally pleased I could take classes from those five in particular, and very proud that they thought my thinking and writing was and is worthwhile. Judy Grahn in particular urged me to continue my work, especially when she said to me something along the lines of, "You're so smart, Collie! Why don't you challenge yourself more?"

Ouch. ;)

She's right, though. There have been many times when it was just easier to turn in the swiftly written paper just like everyone else's, knowing it was only average work on my part — rather than really searching or digging deep for something more thoughtful and/or unique.

So I was amusedly reminded of this the other day when I got back my Methodology chapter for my dissertation proposal from my committee Chair. I was so pleased to read that my Chair felt that I "demonstrate an excellent grasp of the texts that you cite, and you engage with them in a masterful way," and that my "writing is sophisticated and engaging"! Aww, yesssss! I paused in my reading to preen a little, mentally – yay, me! Then I continued reading to get all the feedback she'd given, and to make note of her requested refinements…

-and at some point I found myself wondering a bit resentfully why my Chair was picking on me so! All these finicky little details she was fussing over – it's not like the other proposals I'd read had been that much different than mine! Why, one of them had a much, much simpler Methodology chapter than mine already was. This was so unfair! My Chair was being pointlessly mean to me! Whine whine whine…

-and then it hit me: wait, hadn't I asked for this? Hadn't I specifically tried to find people for my dissertation committee that would confront me with the difficult questions, so I would hopefully end up with a truly excellent bit of research in my dissertation? –people who would notice and point out where I was lazily trying to just slide by on my writing? –that wouldn't let me just fudge on the little details?

Well… yes, actually: I did ask for this. I'm whining… at the results of my own request. That's remarkably dumb of me — how embarrassing! Thank goodness the only person here in my head to hear this kvetching is me! :-)

So this one's for you, Judy – since your simultaneously inspiring and disconcerting comment is one of the main reasons I'm still trying to challenge myself; to continue learning and growing rather than sitting smugly on tatty old laurels and just stagnating mentally. Admittedly, sometimes trying to constantly test myself is a right pain in the ass! –but I'm glad you were there for me, to give me that much-needed metaphorical kick in the butt when I needed it. ;)


Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Jul. 14th, 2015

Collie muse

Field notes on disturbing ethical questions, part 2

Just as the worrying realities of Field notes on disturbing ethical questions, part 1 are starting to really register as I read, there's a quote in the book that hits me hard:

Because feminism has challenged the pose of neutrality and objectivity that for so long governed positivist social science, it has forced us to scrutinize our own practice as scholars. . . . Is it possible — not in theory but in the actual conditions of the real world today — to write about the oppressed without becoming one of the oppressors? (139)

I'm not trying to rank oppressions here or anything… I'm just a little spooked. I want to do a good job on my research, and to write a dissertation that is of some value in the world… but I also already know good intentions aren't enough. I'm familiar with the SWG ("Silly White Girl") designation — a sometimes whimsically foolish white girl who really doesn't understand the realities of life for women of color, and probably doesn't want to. I'd like to not be that person… but in doing research I know I can't just shyly hush up so I don't say anything stupid. Further, I'm pretty sure pretending to just stay "neutral" or "objective" is taking the easy and emotionally cowardly way out — especially when the book mentions some worrying questions:

What if the ethnographer witnesses an act of violence, such as domestic violence, elder abuse, or child abuse? Or what if the ethnographer is studying a teenage gang that plans to engage in criminal activity? As a researcher and feminist, should the ethnographer intervene by calling the police, reporting the case to child welfare authorities, taking the victim to a shelter, or warning potential victims? It is important to be aware of the legal, ethical, and research implications of the answers to these questions. . . . If an ethnographer witnesses some form of abuse, he or she may have to balance confidentiality agreements, legal reporting requirements (which may apply to health, education, and social work researchers, among others), and his or her own ethical stance. (131)

Dear heavens… what am I getting myself into?! I would like to confidently state that I'd do the right thing, of course — but how do I tell what the right thing is, in a subaltern culture that is foreign to me, and has different definitions of what is right and what is wrong? What if the abusive person is the only individual who is taking care of the abused — how will the abused child or elder survive without assistance? What if the person I'm observing is trusting me — do I betray that trust? At what point? How far?

I wish the article gave more solid responses to its questions so I'd have a nice, clear, simple to-do list to follow — but simultaneously I understand why it cannot do that. There's no way the authors of the article can know what ethical issues I or any other reader may face… and honestly, my wishing for a simple to-do list is just me being emotionally immature, I think. To do this right I myself have to face whatever the personal, individual challenge is that will potentially confront me — I have to pull together the courage to both decide what is ethical, and live by the consequences of my decision's effects on others. It's… frankly a somewhat scary thought. I really don't want to hurt anyone without reason, you know? My goal here is to help these women — not to damage them or their lives.

On the other hand, what if during my interviews I get what feels like the perfect story for my research — but later the participant tells me she's uncomfortable having revealed that information to me, and she'd like me to please pull the story? Do I pull the story even though it beautifully illustrates some critical point I'm trying to make? Is it honest to do so? Won't that lessen my research? Or do I instead ignore her wishes? But… doesn't that violate her trust in me? Who has the real power here, and where is true justice?Just because I can do something… does that mean I should? I'm a little nervous as I turn to the next chapter, "Feminist Practice of Action & Community Research," and read the beginning quote:

We [Mayan] women . . . who have endured la violencia [36-year armed conflict] are remembering, through means of the PhotoVoice project, what we have seen or experiences and we are establishing a memory of it. This is very important because there are many young people who are growing up now who did not see this suffering and, because they didn't live through it they doubth that it happened. In contrast, people like us, who lived and suffered in our own flesh, remember it very well. And so, interviewing the people who suffered through it and who saw their family members die offers a sort of relief for them, because they recount what happened to another person. You think or feel that in sharing that person is asking, hoping, that this violence, this war, never again return. (145)

…and I have to stop and blink back the prickle of tears. So… much… pain in those simple words! Entire lifetimes of anguish and devastation glimpsed for an instant: of telling your story about watching those you loved slaughtered by laughing, indifferent soldiers who then raped you and left you for dead; of the violation and horror you've faced in the effort to survive and finally find justice — and then the slap in the face of being told by your uncomfortable listeners that no, no, that's too much — that couldn't have happened, you must be exaggerating, that must be wrong.

Reading, I feel… almost dizzily surreal, sitting here in the comfortably air conditioned restaurant with my ice cream and heated chocolate brownie. I know women have been ignored and silenced throughout much of history when the truths they told were too uncomfortable for the men in power. Hell, I've experienced a mild form of that myself. I also intellectually understand men have traditionally used rape to silence women. But this… there is something terrifyingly real in the words I'm reading — an immediacy of pain that won't allow me to immediately hide behind a soothing faux objectivity. I feel all raw edges and abraded emotions… and in retrospect I realize: this — THIS. This is how I want to be able to write — to reach out and grab the reader by the emotions and show them what pain is — and then to ask them: What are you going to do about it? This pain should not be! Its cause must be stopped — so what can we do about it?

I do not know if I am up to this task. Maybe, probably not… but I have to at least try. If I do not, I suspect I will always regret my being a coward — at least until I somehow comfortingly self-justify it to myself as too much for just one person, or not a "proper" topic for a dissertation, or whatever. But one of the things I keep reading over and over in all my methodological research is to write up my field notes into memos as quickly as possible, even if it takes well into the night after an exhausting day of research. Well, this hasn't been an exhausting day… but I believe reflexivity and research on myself counts, in the process of trying to write a truthful and worthwhile dissertation. This is a memo on my Self.

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Jul. 13th, 2015

Collie muse

Field notes on disturbing ethical questions, part 1

I'm eating lunch and reading one of my methodology books and scaring myself. It's Feminist Research Practice: A Primer, 2nd edition. Sharlene Nagy Hesse-Biber is the editor. Don't get me wrong — it's an excellent book full of really well-written articles on precisely the things I should be considering in order to write a good dissertation proposal and, later, a really useful and productive dissertation. Also, it's not like I didn't already know some of this, going into this dog-and-pony show. Ethics, for example — I've taken good sociology courses where the professors (rightly) emphasized repeatedly that the First Commandment of Sociology was "Thou shalt do no harm!" That being said… it's one thing to know there are ethical issues I may have to face — and another entirely to realize they could potentially entirely derail my research.

Ethics are huge for me for a simple reason: as a member of academia, what I write will to some degree define my subject. If the subject were inanimate I wouldn't worry so much — but it's not. These will be real, live, breathing, joy- and pain-feeling people that I will be interviewing. What if I decide what they're saying means one thing… but what they meant was something else entirely? My work will fail or succeed due as much to their efforts and kindness as due to my work. How can I properly thank them? What responsibility do I owe them in my writings?

Here's an example which I wish were entirely fictional, though it's not — it is based somewhat on reality (and yes, things are somewhat better than this today; and yes, not all male researchers are like this example… but unfortunately some still are). Let's say the male ethnographer goes to another city and wishes to research how a subaltern culture there lives. Let's say also that the woman who leads that subaltern culture courteously welcomes him, showing him around and introducing him to everyone there so he can interview and observe them — because they all wish for their subaltern culture to be known to the world. They're all very helpful and friendly, opening their homes and hearts to the male ethnographer.

Now let's say the researcher returns to his university and writes up his notes, then publishes a book on the research. He gets quite a few bennies for this, of course: potentially he becomes the expert to go to regarding this subaltern culture, his book makes some nice royalties for him, the university is pleased to have such a respected name teaching there… maybe he even makes tenure on the basis of his research on this subaltern culture. All seems well, yes?

However, when the book reaches the members of the subaltern culture, they are shocked and horrified at what was written. Since the male ethnographer comes from an androcentric culture, the concept of a woman leader has never occurred to him — and so not only does he emphatically not treat his female research participant with the respect she is properly due, he also somewhat disparages the men of the subaltern culture for being such wimps, to his biased way of seeing things. Further, he reports only the men's rituals which he observed, since he believes that whatever females do really isn't interesting. Finally, in his conclusion he explains that men make all the decisions in this culture — and he comes to this astonishingly incorrect conclusion because he is incapable of noticing that it is women who are dealing with all the day-to-day issues of life.

What are the likely results of such research? The male ethnographer has pretty much bastardized reality for the subaltern culture, and violated the trust of its members. He may sincerely believe he's done a truly exceptional job of reportage, when in fact he has harmed those people. Further, by continuing to accept all the accolades he is receiving from the university and the reading public (both of which have no idea of what a terrible job he's done), he continues to damage his research subjects — because that's all they are, to him: experimental subjects — not real people. Further, even if their anger and dismay manages to reach him, it's not like he'll feel like he needs to change any of his research conclusions — or, god forbid, issue an apology — or attempt to share any of the wealth he's accrued at their expense. They're not "trained professionals," after all — what do they know about reality? It took his supposedly discerning eye to uncover the real truth.

That is, of course, a worst-case scenario for me — one I don't think I'll face simply because of the realities of both my research subject and my gender. Women who study women's subaltern cultures are not as scholastically rewarded and revered as men who study the things men find interesting — which predominantly and emphatically do not include women or their issues. However, as the book I'm reading points out, there are issues I will potentially face. I'm a middle-aged white woman: deliberately childless, comfortably middle class, rather privileged for my gender. I will probably be interviewing women whose lives have been much more challenging than mine: women of color, lesbians, young women living in poverty and/or trying to raise a family, women who have faced or are facing structural violence or domestic violence or other possibilities I'm nervously not yet imagining…

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Jun. 26th, 2015

Collie muse

Gleeful news! :-D

Whew! Got my definition for indigenous hammered out adequately, I think — thank heavens! It's been a pretty good couple of days so far, in fact, which makes me very happy. There've been a few really nice or fun things that've left me pretty pleased with how life is going. Admittedly, I wish I could leave up the very complimentary comments my blog occasionally gets from spammers… but I comfort myself with the thought that if the compliments aren't sincere then I don't really want them anyway. Really. Yeah, I'll keep telling myself that. :-)

But just as a single example, waking up today to the news that SCOTUS has ruled that same sex marriage is legal in all states? -and even better, that this weekend is the Pride Parade weekend in both San Jose and San Francisco?



This is truly wonderful news that gives me a great deal of hope for the US continuing to become a better, more egalitarian, and healthier society. I'm crossing my fingers that the next step is the recognition of families as self-constructed and -identified! That would allow both multi-generational and poly families to be recognized as worthy of familial rights under the law. This ruling by SCOTUS may be just a baby step for now, but I believe we are indeed making progress! :)

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

More fabulous news! I've already mentioned the Parliament of Religions conference which I and several of my sister scholars were interested in attending in order to present a panel on Women's Spirituality. The official notification said all presentation decisions would be made by May 15th. However, as the date came and went while we waited, we heard there were more than 4000 presentation applications for the five-day event! Thus we weren't surprised when they sent out a polite email soon thereafter stating that it would take a little longer to make all the choices and notify everyone. So we continued waiting… and then we heard another sister scholar had had her application accepted already! That caused us to start giving up hope as we waited yet more, to the point that a few days ago I was idly debating whether to write a mildly snarky comment here regarding religious strictures of doing unto others as you'd like done to yourself, and the PoR actually having the courtesy to respond to all the folks who'd put in the time and effort to apply…

-but then I checked my email late last night, and lo and behold: we were accepted!! I'm so excited! Heck, all four of us are — we had literally gotten to the point where we were sure we'd been passed over! It's going to be a real thrill to get to present in front of some of the world's foremost religious leaders — and if we can make even one person think more carefully about patriarchy's destructive legacy, I shall count the entire weekend as a tremendous win! Now I just need to start saving my pennies… oh! -and also now I actually have to work on my planned weight loss! Oh nosers… :-D

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

So, remember how some time ago I mentioned that the patriarch of the family that previously owned this house was not what I would call a truly effective handyman? Heh… the Saga continues! See, there's an alarm system on the house which now works okay — now that we've added new batteries and reset the central box, which we had to do because they neglected to give us the connection information.

So once that was done one of my housemates went through the house to check all the individual window and sliding glass door alarm boxes. They're all working, which is nice. They consist of two magnetically connected pieces: one that's solid and unmoving, stuck to the wall or doorjamb or whatever — and one that's on the moving part of the glass. When you open a door or window, the two pieces separate, the magnetic connection breaks, and you hear the little chime that notifies you that a door or window has been opened.

Or at least that's how it's supposed to work. We were inordinately amused to discover, in the son's bedroom, that he'd removed the piece that was supposed to be glued down — and simply set it on top of the piece connected to the glass! It stayed quite well due to the magnetics, but as my housemate pointed out, this meant the son could sneak in and out of the house… without his parents ever knowing! :-D

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Other fun stuff in a roleplaying game we're in:

DM: The forest path is starting to wind more deeply into the trees. It's getting harder to see the ocean cliff when you look through the trees.

Player 1: I've got a high perception… so can I make a Bluff roll to find the cliff?

Player 2: Wait, what? How does he use Bluff to find a cliff? I want to hear his explanation!

Player 3: You just aren't into puns, are you, dude?

Player 2: …now I get it.

There was much giggling and snickering after that! ;-)


Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Jun. 22nd, 2015

Collie muse

Definitional angst during the dissertation blues

Due to the subject matter of my dissertation and proposal, I've had to include a Glossary. Dear heavens, what a headache. Here's my introduction to the Glossary, with reasoning:

Because of the ever-changing nature of the English language, the definitions of words can be slippery to pin down. This issue is compounded when particular words or phrases become culturally contentious, with different social groups claiming the word is being twisted to signify things it was not meant to, or that only their definition is correct, or even insisting they are 'reclaiming' the word under discussion. I experienced a mild form of this issue while having what I believed was a thoughtful discussion with an acquaintance about misogyny within patriarchal societies. At one point I asked his opinion on what I'd said, and he airily informed me that every time I used the word 'patriarchy' he just stopped listening — because he was tired of being told he was to blame for all women's problems.

Needless to say, we emphatically did not have a shared definition of patriarchy. As a consequence, this issue is of great importance to me — because I wish for my work to be useful to the women about which I write. In such a situation do I use the word or phrase which truly means what I'm trying to say, and thereby potentially alienate or lose possible readers? Or do I keep people's interest by applying a term which is so watered down as to lose any conceivable political contentiousness? After much reflection I have decided to use what I believe are the correct words for my meaning, regardless of possible repercussions — but to also take the step of including a Glossary, so I may inform the reader of my intended meaning by including the working definitions of particular words used repeatedly within this paper.

I have chosen to initially refer to Oxford's on-line dictionary due to both its convenience and its well-known and commonly accepted status as cultural arbiter of language and meaning. Admittedly, I often take issue with its rather positivist slant towards the definition of words, but I believe it will be an acceptable beginning from which to start the process of understanding — with the caveat that its use is not a requirement in order to create relevant and egalitarian meaning. Where Oxford's either gives what I consider an insufficient definition, or does not recognize a word or phrase, I have either turned to other dictionaries or authors, or added my thoughts and beliefs to the Oxford definition, or created my own definition for phrases which I feel are important to this work but which are not in standard usage. Each of these cases will be obvious to the reader, however — either through footnotes, or due to my clearly noting that I am explaining further rather than simply including a definition. Also, in situations where I am personally defining a phrase, I will demonstrate how I arrived at my choice through first applying definitions supplied by Oxford's for the separate words, then continue from there to work out an appropriate meaning.

From this basis, therefore, we may progress to working out an appropriate and useful definition for words and phrases which Oxford's either does not recognize, or defines in a manner I consider either androcentric, positivist, or somewhat misogynist. As a final caveat, I will also note that I understand meanings change over time, and so I am consequently aware my definitions cannot be the only true and correct ones — but the reader is asked to abide by them at least while perusing my work here.

Makes the entire process sound so calm and dispassionate and lovely, doesn't it? Argh. There are some terms where the Oxford's definition is so glaringly inadequate, though, that I simply cannot let it stand uncontested. Like… indigenous: "Originating or occurring naturally in a particular place; native." Talk about completely sidestepping the issue there!

On the other hand… trying to pin down all the elements of indigenousness — indigenosity? Sorry ;) — so that you don't shut out any groups that should be there, and don't let in those that shouldn't… well, I have some sympathy for the inherent difficulties in taking on that job. Like with the old preliminary or working definition used by the UN's Working Group on Indigenous Populations (WGIP) — it gets wordy and legalistic. From what I've read, too, even this definition was criticized as inadequate due to it applying specifically — maybe only? — to pre-colonial indigenous populations.

Indigenous communities, peoples, and nations are those that, having a historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories, consider themselves distinct from other sectors of the societies now prevailing in those territories, or parts of them. They form at present non-dominant sectors of society and are determined to preserve, develop, and transmit to future generations their ancestral territories, and their ethnic identity, as the basis of their continued existence as peoples, in accordance with their own cultural patterns, social institutions and legal systems.
— José R. Martínez-Cobo, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Yeah, no. On the other other hand, I'm not sure getting all in people's faces about this is helpful for my paper either. For example, there's another Special Rapporteur (which, if I'm going to quote any of them, I should look up what a 'rapporteur' is — it's giving me vague mental images of some guy helping beginners at mountain climbing & rappelling or something!) named James Anaya who says indigenous peoples are "living descendants of pre-invasion inhabitants of lands now dominated by others. They are culturally distinct groups that find themselves engulfed by other settler societies born of forces of empire and conquest."

Urgh… closer, but not quite. While I'm not big on white expansionism and colonization, the anthropologist in me likes pointing out that all of our ancestors — with the sole exception of those still living in Africa — migrated out of Africa at some point. Technically, does that make us all invaders? I don't buy that, honestly… but coming up with a definition of my own is, well, a battle in and of itself. Here's what I've got so far, and my thoughts… and a headache.

Indigenous: "Originating or occurring naturally in a particular place; native." Intriguingly, Oxford's seems to imply that indigenous peoples are equivalent to wilderness or nature. This assumption — and the conceptually linked, binarily oppositional and hierarchical connection of women with nature — is the basis of ecofeminism's protest of patriarchal manipulation and oppression of women, people of color and indigenous, and non-human others. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Oxford's also completely ignores the long history of oppression and colonization suffered by indigenous peoples.

While the exact meaning of indigenous is highly contested — to the point that there is no precise definition for indigenous even in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples — for the purposes of this paper my (admittedly rough) explanation is as follows:

A culturally distinct people … [things to mention: territorial linkage? needing to keep their sovereignty/culture & environment/traditional ways of living to survive, usually subsistence-based production and most often not urban, Wikipedia (which I CAN NOT use in the paper): "certain indigenous people are vulnerable to exploitation, marginalization and oppression by nation states formed from colonizing populations or by politically dominant, different ethnic groups."]

Of note: the two groups referred to as indigenous and people of color have a great deal of overlap, but are not identical. For example, African-Americans are people of color who are not indigenous to North America. Also, the indigenous Saami of Sweden are pale-skinned. [see also Women (or people) of color]

Throwing all this out onto my blog as a chance to clear my head and maybe let my non-conscious mind work it out for me. For now… think I need a break. ;-p

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Jun. 18th, 2015

Collie muse

Finding the source of dis-ease

Butter chicken for dinner tonight — yum! It's in the crockpot and starting to make the house smell delicious. Combined with the fact that it's summer and my proposal deadlines are all stalled until my adviser returns from her (well-deserved) vacation, that means I find myself with a bit of writing time on my hands, and a moment to muse on my life, rather than frantically/busily trying to fix yet one more bit in the proposal. I confess I'm starting to actually enjoy methodology (gasp! ;-) as I finally get a handle on it, too. I should write something about that… later, I think.

During these bits of free time, however, I've also taken the opportunity to do a bit more freelance editing for folks, in order to pick up a bit more pocket money. It's been rather interesting, in an odd way, because I tend to get a light overview of whatever the paper's subject is, as I perform the editing process. Some of the folks I edit for, as an example, are working on various psychology degrees, and I'm getting a sort-of refresher course on psychology's epistemological background — what the field thinks is important, what's worth researching, stuff like that. What makes this oddly intriguing to me this time is that I'm doing this editing and psychology reviewing — while also holding all the women's spirituality stuff in my head.

There's a concept in feminist scholarship called a feminist heuristic of suspicion, which I really love having in my mental toolkit. Heuristics are a commonsense set of rules intended to increase the probability of solving some problem. A feminist heuristic of suspicion was originally and is still most commonly used, to my knowledge, in feminist religious apologetics, though I think it's applicable just about anywhere. What it means is that while you're reading you keep constantly in mind the fact that the text you're reading was most likely written primarily by men, for men, and about men. Recognizing the imperfect human natures of the male authors thereby allows you to perform a valid and valuable feminist critique of the writings — through demonstrating that, for example, demeaning portrayals of women in the "sacred" texts are the products of men's beliefs and attitudes — and not those of some deity that inexplicably decided to hate and punish half of what it created.

A simple example off the top of my head is the realization that hit me while reading… hmm, I think it was Rita M. Gross's Feminism & Religion: An Introduction. I do not always agree with Dr. Gross, but if I'm remembering rightly she was incredibly pertinent while discussing Judaism's covenant with Yahweh, right around the time Moses destroyed the Golden Calf. As she notes, Yahweh pretty much says flat out that he will make a covenant with the patriarchs of the families there, and their sons, and their sons' sons, and so on with all their male descendants.

All right, that's all fine and good… but what about the women? Apparently their god has made no covenant with them?! Do they somehow not deserve Yahweh's attention and love, but rather only the men do? I consider that supposition deeply invalid, especially considering how many stories of powerful and devout women there are in the bible. Alternatively, the argument could be raised that the women of that time were considered chattel, and Yahweh would no more make a covenant with them than he would with an ox or a mule. I refuse that argument simply because it is deeply insulting to women's agency, and denotes a deity which I personally don't think deserves worship. Further, if that really is the case in the story… then why was Miriam, Moses' adoptive sister, considered a powerful leader and a woman in her own right?

This is where a feminist heuristic of suspicion comes in really handy: it enables the reader to notice glaring issues like this, and — in the best case scenario — bring them to the public eye so that reasoned discussion can occur to try to fix things. That's also why I try to keep that heuristic commonly in mind when doing my reading… and it's what caused me to notice something odd while editing some of the psychology papers.

Some of the papers were about eating disorders — which are now (I think rightfully) considered a disease rather than simply, say, a lack of will-power on the part of the afflicted person. Apparently eating disorders are mostly an issue for women, and are incredibly difficult to cure due to their being caused by a complex mélange of interacting factors which include — in no particular order — psychological issues, genetics, cultural socialization, media pressure, current biological complications, and behavioral teachings. Further, it appears eating disorders frequently (or most often? Not sure…) crop up in association with other stressors in the women's lives — such as unexpectedly losing a partner or fear of losing a partner's love, self-loathing, domestic violence, bad body image, sexual abuse, and/or other equally terrible events. Fortunately psychologists and other therapy professionals still continue to do the best they can to help these women, addressing the stressors they know of in each individual case.

So I was editing along and feeling vaguely sorry for both the afflicted women, and the professionals struggling almost fruitlessly to help them heal… and at some point my feminist heuristic of suspicion sat up and smacked me across the nose with the proverbial rolled-up newspaper. There was a unifying theme in all these women's stories! They all lived in an ultimately misogynistic culture — one which pressured them constantly to struggle always towards an impossible body image, and which frequently "punished" them for their lack of physical perfection.

Have you ever heard the old saying about stopping a disease at its source, rather than just dealing with the symptoms? That's what I found myself suddenly wondering: why is psychology dealing with these women as separable cases of a disease? Why is it struggling to address each individual woman's poor body image and/or lingering PTSD from emotional violence or rape or childhood abuse, or whatever the terrible physical or psychic injury was that they'd suffered, that brought them to having an eating disorder? That wasn't the source of what was wrong, from what I could see from my (admittedly prejudiced) perspective. No, the real disease all these women were struggling with… appeared to be the destructive effects of living in a patriarchal culture that considers women second-class citizens, valued by men primarily only for their looks.

So I asked myself: if that's the case then why is psychology working to treat these women's symptoms — but not the actual disease which is causing the symptoms? After all, if all these women had malaria, say, or rabies, we'd doubtless see extremely swift and effective analysis of the infection, followed by a hunt for its source like you wouldn't believe — and then whatever the cause of the disease was, it would be ruthlessly stamped out! -so that no one else could fall victim to so dangerous and lethal a malady.

…and poof! — there was the (unpleasant and unwanted) answer to my query: psychology as a field of study is androcentric; it is primarily male-conceived, -oriented, and -taught. Freud and Jung are considered the "fathers" of psychology — there aren't really any "mothers" that are recognized, despite (as a single example) Anna Freud's extensive work — and in their writings both Freud and Jung were incredibly patronizing and dismissive of women. Also, comparatively speaking, malaria or rabies harms all humans — but emotional destruction due to an abusive and androcentric culture? That most often only affects women. Consequently, if you don't consider women as important as men then your response to that statement could quite logically be an indifferent, "So what?" To be fair, too, I suspect most people don't even notice the toxic cultural stew we all swim in. It would be a bit like asking a fish if it recognized the wetness of the water it lived in.

So what does this leave me? I don't have a checklist of quick-fix items to suggest, unfortunately. But I do know that changing cultural issues like privilege or racism begin with recognition and admission of their existence. Admittedly, it's not much fun to self-examine and realize one has been a bigot… but I also firmly believe if I am to change the world, I must start with myself. This is, therefore, my personal recognition of bigotry: I have been patronizing to women who had eating disorders — especially overweight women. I can see now how I did nothing to help them with that attitude — that, in fact, I added to the weight of the culturally-born disease with which they were struggling.

From now on I will do my best to not be a dick to other women. Instead I will try however I can to help alleviate the casual cruelties our culture teaches us to impose on women. This androcentric culture may have done its best to demonize and vilify both women's bodies and the natural, healthy processes of menstruation and giving birth — but I will not continue to help it do so. Our bodies can do something amazing, unique, divine: women can, if they wish, create life. Let's not forget that in the great work towards a less patriarchal and more egalitarian society: women are sacred.

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

May. 13th, 2015

Collie muse

Happy riffing on de dissertation bluez

Just a few happy-making things today! Most pleasingly, things are progressing well, I think, with my dissertation proposal — woohoo! I've sent in the rough drafts of the Introduction, Methodology, and Literature Review, and received commentary back. In all the cases there's a lot of polishing to do, of course, and a few bits where I was told this was a very interesting point and I should develop it further — which is very encouraging to read! But I didn't receive any requests for major re-writes or do-overs, which is a great relief. I'm guesstimating this should be all completed on my part in about a month, tops, which will include sending in the proposal, the dissertation committee paperwork, and the ethics committee paperwork. Whew! I think I'm gonna make it! ;)

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Speaking of hard work, I was seated in a local Kirk's for lunch the other day, enjoying my burger — delicious, as always — and just relaxing my brain a bit from writing. I was rather desultorily doing some reading on my cell, so it took me a bit to register the two guys in the booth before me. They appeared to be two blue-collar guys on lunch break, one in his 30s and the other in his 40s, and they were slowly talking their way through a difficult problem together. I couldn't tell exactly who was talking, since I didn't want to stare and be rude, but I could hear bits and pieces of the conversation.

From the tone of their voices, they were clearly struggling with whatever it was they were talking about. One of them would say something like, "Okay, so how big is it," and the other would reply with a measurement… and then ask, "Wait, how do you change it from inches to centimeters?" Or one would ask, "So do we have to include the thickness, or what?" and the other would think hard for a bit, then slowly answer. It was when one of them said, "What's the volume of a circle again?" that I amusedly thought to myself that I should get off my duff and go over and offer to help if I could — but then I heard, "Google it!" and I knew they had cell phones with internet connections — they'd be fine, and they wouldn't potentially be embarrassed by a girl knowing math better than they.

They continued in this vein for a while as I listened and grinned quietly to myself — I remember well struggling with both multiplication tables and long division as a child, and with calculus as an adult! From what I could overhear, it appeared they were calculating how much pipeline and what sized pipe they needed for a contracting job. Eventually they finished and came to a satisfactory answer to their problem.

It was at that point that I feel I must congratulate myself on my self-restraint — because as they put away their cell phones, pencil stubs, and scribbled-on napkins, I heard one of them exclaim ruefully to the other, "Math is hard!" — and somehow I managed not to immediately stand up and shout, "BARBIE! YOU ARE VINDICATED!!" ;-D

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

Oh! One last wonderful thing to note: I had an awesome Mother's Day! Sort of, at least… ;)

For Mother's Day I sent my mom one of the beautiful SARK blankets — it's the one titled "Just for Mom" here. It arrived in plenty of time, and on the actual day I called my mom to wish her a happy Mother's Day! That was nice, both because I like talking with her and I don't do that enough, and because she seemed to really love the gift — yay! However, she had to end the call early because she had some women friends coming over for bridge. When I asked what else she was doing to celebrate Mother's Day I discovered that apparently Dad wasn't taking Mom out for dinner or anything because his birthday is coming up in two weeks and they decided to celebrate then — so Mom had invited the friends over for bridge.

After I hung up I was kind of bummed — I mean, come on! Mom is a fabulous mother and an all-around awesome woman! She's brilliant, has the patience of Job as well as endless creativity and a wicked sense of humor, cooks like a dream, and always looks smart and attractive — though if she reads this she'll laugh and put herself down, which I wish she wouldn't. She also bicycles, goes horseback riding, hikes, cheerleads for the local basketball team, and serves on worthy committees — and that's only the things I know of off the top of my head! In fact, a friend of mine once listened to me talking about all the physical activities she loves to engage in, then said in awe, "Your mother is a retired superheroine, Collie, right?" ;)

So after talking about this with my housemates, we agreed that one's husband simply must give a gift on Mother's Day to his awesome wife of about 50 years! So I went on-line to Edible Arrangements, found a store local to Mom and Dad, selected a beautiful and delicious little fruit basket that included chocolate-dipped strawberries and pineapple slices cut into star shapes, and had the attached note read: "To a fantastic mother and wife! Love, [Dad's name]." I hit the purchase button, had a small 'squeeeee! Mom's gonna love this!' moment… and then thought no more of it.

This morning — three days after Mother's Day! — I got a call from my mom. Heehee! She was so shocked and pleased about the basket! Between enthusing about how sweet and juicy and delicious and beautiful the fruit basket was, I got the story from Mom: apparently the basket arrived a mere one hour after my purchase on Mother's Day! That impressed me immensely — Edible Arrangements is a simply amazing company which I'm happy to promote! Better yet, however, was the story of how Mom tried to figure out who the basket was from. I got a case of the giggles as she related how Dad immediately disavowed purchasing it — silly man! He should have gracefully accepted the credit, then figured out who actually sent it!

Next Mom thought maybe it was my sister — but she called later that day and mentioned that Dad had alerted her to its being Mother's Day today in the US, so that she could send her best wishes to Mom on time. My sister lives in the UK, and their Mother's Day is a week later than ours. So then Mom thought it must have been my sister's husband — so she sent him a lovely thank you email telling him what a wonderful, sweet, thoughtful son-in-law he was! Of course, he wrote back a day or two later saying he'd love to be all those things… but it wasn't he who'd sent the basket either! Mom thought some more about this, and then decided it must've been one of her women friends who'd come over for bridge. After all, while several of them brought over hosting gifts, one of them hadn't — so maybe this was a subtle and very sweet way for her to do so! Mom was about to send her an email just like she'd sent to her son-in-law… but then she thought: no, best to be sure! So she called Edible Arrangements and asked who had sent the basket… and they told her, and she called me right away.

So yeah… best Mother's Day evar! :-D

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Apr. 22nd, 2015

Collie muse

My esprit de l'escalier, part 1

There is a French term I love: esprit de l'escalier. It translates literally as "wit of the stairs," and means roughly "the concise and clever retort that occurs to you too late, as you are on the stairs and leaving the scene." I was sad to hear it is rarely used any more in French, as I think it's a perfect turn of phrase for what often happens to me when I'm having difficulty focusing, or am participating in a particularly contentious discussion where everyone is both struggling hard to remain civil, but also exploring issues which are often hard to conceptualize or verbalize.

I've noticed I often come up with the perfect answer for a question only some time after I've had time to muse quietly and in peace. So that's what this blog is: an answer — maybe two — to questions which were important to me, but difficult to answer well at that particular, often heated moment. I suspect questions like these will come up more than once in my life, and I want to remember the good answers I was able to come up with. If this helps anyone else with similar issues, all the better.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Many years ago I worked for a short time in a mall that had a Chick-fil-A in it. I often ate there because I liked their chicken sandwiches. The mall was slowly failing, though, so eventually the Chick-fil-A closed. I was mildly bummed, but thought no more of it.

Fast forward to today, where there's still controversy over what precisely Chick-fil-A supports. For myself, I've read over what I could find on the subject, and as a consequence I've come to the conclusion that I cannot in good conscience spend my money there any more. Again, after making that decision I thought no more of it, past keeping an eye out for any sign that the company has had a public change of decision… but the issue came to the fore for me recently when an acquaintance of mine and I were trying to figure out where to go for lunch. He suggested Chick-fil-A, I declined, I explained why when he asked — and he grinned incredulously and said he thought that was silly! If I liked the sandwiches then I should eat there! Did I really think one single person depriving themselves of something they liked would make a difference to the company?

…wow. Where to start.

Well, first the easy one: do I think my actions alone will change some arrogant corporation's attitude? No, of course not. But there is nothing quite so powerful in a democracy as a large and determined mass of people. We may not be able to vote with Chick-fil-A's board on their corporate policies, but we sure as hell can vote with our dollars. That's the best way I know of for us to let them know when we disapprove of their actions, and feel they should change their behavior if they want our continued patronage.

Next: should I eat there if I liked the sandwiches, regardless of Chick-fil-A's policies? I don't believe so — firstly because my hard-earned dollars are effectively my consumerist stamp of approval. Secondly, I doubt my companion really wants me to do what pleases me regardless of the associated ethical issues. If I'm going to eat what I please simply because it pleases me, at what point do I start applying ethics once more to my life choices? Why shouldn't I, for example, simply steal the sandwich — it pleases me not to have to pay, after all. When the clerks try to stop me, maybe I'll punch them too — I might enjoy that, after all, since I don't like the company they're working for. Heck, why not engage in a gunfight with the police as well? That'd be exciting, and I do love excitement in my life.

Yes, I know that particular argument is a form of reductio ad absurdum — but I happen to believe the old saying that says if a person cannot be trusted with little things then they cannot be trusted with big things either.* So yes, I intend to live as ethically as I can, despite the immediate physical pleasure I may forego. In the long run I've found it's a greater pleasure to feel I've done the right thing rather than simply grabbing always for instant gratification.

Finally there is what I consider the greater philosophical issue involved. It is true that I, as a white middle-class female, will not be immediately much affected by hateful or fearful actions taken against gays or lesbians. Upping the ante dramatically, I'm also not personally physically harmed by a bad neighbor kicking his dog, his wife, or his kids; or corrupt police brutalizing or murdering either peaceful protesters or people of color; or even appalled soldiers of the US army obeying direct orders to torture prisoners. None of these actions physically damage me right here and now.

But I strongly feel that if I know of these things — and I stand by and do nothing — then I am as complicit as the perpetrators. Worse, by my lack of action I am directly working towards making my society an ethically poorer, more undemocratic, more totalitarian place. True, I probably cannot stop any of these bigoted actions on my own. But I will do what I can… and in a strong, healthy democratic society the best thing I can do is to vote, with either the ballot or my dollars… and to try to convince as many as I can to vote with me.

My lunch companion was a white, hetero, middle-class male; I would venture that he is, in fact, a good example of this society's epitome of self-centered privilege. I have my own forms of privilege as well; I won't deny that for a moment. But I don't want to maintain that privilege at the expense of others — I want us all to be able to live lives of dignity and self-respect.

So no… I will not be eating at Chick-fil-A any time soon. Feel free to give me a call, though, if they finally issue a clear, unambiguous retraction of their support of anti-gay-marriage groups.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 * How interesting — when looking up the source of this saying, I've discovered it's actually from a bible verse — Luke 16:10 (NIRV) — "Suppose you can be trusted with something very little. Then you can also be trusted with something very large. But suppose you are not honest with something very little. Then you will also not be honest with something very large."


Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Apr. 21st, 2015

Collie muse

JCP's Dance of the Hours

Consumerism often confuses me.

Statistically speaking, I am apparently taller than average for US women and (depending on what charts you use) either average or above average height for US men. I also mass more than the average woman, though I've not checked my weight in comparison to US men -- that has the potential to be way too annoying! This means buying clothes is occasionally quite irritating, as "one size fits most" for women is invariably defined as about 2" to 3" and anywhere from 15 to 30 pounds less than I.

Further, as a student, I dislike spending money I don't have (to), so I believe the statement "Must-have seasonal fashion!" is an oxymoron designed to separate gullible suckers from their money. I am not a clotheshorse by any stretch of the imagination, so I really don't understand why some women get frenetic over purses and/or shoes. I tend to live in sturdy, simple, colorful shirts and blue jeans that are comfortable, which means they last a long time.

That being said, on rare occasion a colorful, pretty shirt -- or something -- will catch my eye as we walk through a store on the way to the mall. This happened to me the other day in JCPenneys, and my sweetie was so delighted to see me (vaguely) interested in shopping -- something he enjoys far more than I -- that we stopped and browsed around through the clothing to see what we might find.

It was… an enlightening experience. Because it was the end of the season, a great many clothes were on sale. Further, we soon discovered that most of the clothing set out on sale were a few Larges and a whole lot of the X sizes -- from 1X to 3X. All sorts of bright, fun, pretty shirts… all for less than $10 -- and in some cases for less than $5!

At one point I looked bemusedly at my companions and asked them: why don't the stores put these sizes out all the time? Ordinarily, the rare times I'm forced to go shopping by necessity, finding the X sizes is all but impossible. I usually wear a Large, but I've been told when clothing is made for the Asian market they're sized a little smaller -- and in that case I have to buy a 1X. Finding comfortable, sturdy, colorful clothing that fits is therefore (as I've mentioned above) often an exercise in frustration and annoyance. Yet here they were: a plethora of larger sized shirts; a bouquet of colors -- all at incredibly slashed prices! Why weren't these out all the time? Didn't Penney's want to make any money on all these shirts?

My companions had no answers for me, though one doubtfully wondered if maybe Penney's didn't want larger sized people wandering in their store? That made no sense to me, really -- after all, their money's just as good as anyone else's. I really hoped that wasn't the reason, too -- prejudice against large people is just as ugly, cruel, and pointless as prejudice against any other social minority.

Whatever the reason, it worked out well for me that day. I ended up purchasing about ten pretty, comfortable, colorful shirts and several other odds and ends, all for well under $50. Woo!

Apr. 15th, 2015

Collie muse

The signs & results of property ownership

Our old apple tree has a few blossoms on it! They look like lovely pinkish froth, almost, despite there being only a handful of them. I hope next year the tree has more blossoms — I remember the apple trees we had in Texas nearly exploded with blossoms each year. To my knowledge we've also got two hummingbird nests on the property, which I love. There's one in the front and one in the back, and the backyard one is right outside the window where I sit to work. I was so pleased to see the backyard hummingbird feeding babies in the nest yesterday — incredibly cool! I've purchased a new hummingbird feeder and a metal stand to make sure it stays up high; that's getting installed this weekend. I'd like to plant a bunch of flowers that attract hummers, butterflies, and bees, but that's going to have to wait probably until next year — when I have more time and money to devote to planning and performing that.

On the other hand, in order to finish the bat houses all I have to do is find all the pieces, finish putting them together, and mount them. I think we're going to have to put them back-to-back on a pole, though. While the south side of a house is considered the best location, our south side is all first floor… and they need to be at least 15' up in the air. Maybe the west side of the house would work too? There's a nice, big wall on that side that gets all the setting sun, after all… and that's when the bats should be waking up, if my understanding is correct.

Electrical madness! ;)

Electrical madness! ;)

Speaking of houses… it's funny what the maintenance of a house can tell you about its inhabitants. There's an old saying about if the only tool you have is a hammer, then everything starts looking like a nail that needs hammering down. Well, the husband of the previous inhabitants of this house apparently had the impression he was a handyman, because there are all sorts of "repairs" and "upgrades" throughout the house that show a distinctly, umm… heavy hand! In the photo you can see his additions of cable cord and a light dimmer — where the plates are crooked both horizontally and vertically, and the dimmer-roller is nearly falling off its stem. Had the man never heard of a level?

Who needs molding anyway?

Who needs molding anyway?

There are entire rooms where the baseboard molding was applied not with the slim little molding nails you're supposed to use… but with big honkin' woodscrews! Those woodscrews are visible all over the house, rammed in so deeply on occasion that I bet the man had a screw-gun he enjoyed using. More visibly, the molding is occasionally either unfinished… or there's more than one kind in the room! It made us wonder if maybe he set in the sliding glass door as new or something, and had to pull out the original molding… maybe? I mean, why else would you leave cracked tile and open dirt around the door? It's all very strange looking in places, but we figure we'll fix things little by little.

Aww, molding is overrated

Aww, molding is overrated

Of course, there was also an open 1/2" metal tube sticking up about an inch or so from floor level by the wall on the other side of the room. We were told the tube went down both floors, and they didn't know what it did — it was there when they arrived. That one they covered with duct tape — apparently so the young grandson would stop dropping things down it! :) Oh, there's also a closet where the man didn't bother finishing the molding — and he drilled a hole (thoughtfully left open for us) in the wood floor! We're not sure, but we think maybe that's where he pulled the cable wires up into the room? That, or they had a tiny pet snake that lived under the house most of the year… :) You can just see the hole as a black dot on the left hand side of the photo.

Who"s gonna see, amirite?

Who's gonna see, amirite?

That was in the daughter's bedroom — a room that contains an astonishing number of peculiarities. For example, in that room alone we find all the following along with the odd closet: there's a little set of three shelves set into the wall… at knee height. I'm guessing it was a bedside table sort of arrangement? There was a 1" diameter hole drilled through the inside wall of the shelving that came out on the other side of the wall into a sort of, um… room alcove? It was about 1 & 1/2' deep and about 5' wide… but whatever the hole was drilled for was apparently yanked free of the wall so violently that it left an irregular 3" or 4" rip out of the wall's plaster! I suspect impatience was a big part of this man's emotional repertoire whilst engaging in house repairs… which means I'm becoming a dab hand with the spackle. :)

We don"t need no steenkin" faceplates!

We don't need no steenkin' faceplates!

Oh, there was one other oddity within the closet: there was no pole for hangers! There was a shelf with hooks to hang the pole on — but no pole! Don't ask me why; they didn't say. Also, the sliding glass doors to the outside had wiring strung for at least three layers of curtains — but one of the wires apparently snapped. So… they curled it up, tied it off, and left it hanging there! Further, the plugs had no faceplate on them, and you can feel cold air blowing through them. There's also what I think was a phone jack, but its plate was applied so badly that they used big blotches of glue to hold it in place. That's it on the left in the photo; my apologies for how blurry the photo is. I was holding an excited dog on leash at the same time as I snapped the photo on my cell — a technique I often recommend for "action" photography! :)

Loose wiring -- to what?

Loose wiring — to what?

There's also a wiring technique I cannot recommend, which the man was apparently fond of: running miles of wiring along the floorboards and over the door frames, rather than inside the walls or within some sort of protective piping. Sometimes he left us two or three different types of wiring, either still woodscrewed to the ceiling or trailing loose on the floor! He didn't confine himself to the inside of the house, either — there are long loops of it still remaining that festoon the outside of at least one second floor window, and decoratively frame the garage door. We've got enough cable cord by now to start our own business, I think. In at least two cases he drilled right through an outside wall — to feed the cable cord into the house. Hello, spackle, my old friend; I've come to need you here again… :)

Well, at least the buffalo still roam

Well, at least the buffalo still roam

I also suspect the man sometimes went to the hardware store and bought whatever was on sale. For example, there were numerous rooms where the light switch plates and plug plates were all different, and in most of the rooms with more than one light there are usually two or three different types of bulbs. The room I'm sitting in now had, for example, two sort of antique-looking decorative metal foil plug faceplates, three molded plastic ones that looked like wood, and one ordinary white plastic one. Oh! Also, there's one room that was apparently supposed to have a Western motif or vibe… so two of the five lightswitch plates had that Western theme: the classic "sad Indian" on a horse, and a buffalo. Hilariously, the buffalo light plate is for two switches — but there's only one in the wall! So of course he applied it anyway. Yes, those have been removed from that room… sorry, but I find them incredibly irritating to look at. :)

Floating light switches

Floating light switches

I'm guessing the wife liked dimmers, because there are a lot of them in the house. For example, walking in towards the kitchen you have two entire sets of light switches! Some are rockers like in the photo, some are little horizontal rockers below two buttons — one for light, one for the fan — and some are pressure panels. Delightfully, it's often unclear which switch goes with precisely which light — because there's a plethora of them all in that spot, for something like four different rooms that kind of "meet" at that point. Often the light switches and the plates framing them are at different levels, or the plugs will be tilted slightly, such that you can tell the man installed them hastily and at an angle, rather than flush with the wall. We've also noticed that there are several electrical outlets where pieces were hammered in so violently that part of the wall's plaster broke off, like in the photo below… but again, the electrical faceplate was just applied over it, ignoring the damage done!

What damage? It"s covered! ...mostly!

What damage? It's covered! …mostly!

We're going room by room, replacing and updating, but it still occasionally makes us burst out laughing at some of the shortcuts the man took. Weirdly, I'm finding this rather fun to fix up, too. It's like his mistakes are our opportunity to make the house both nicer and more ours, you know? Currently I'm kind of head-down in proposal writing — blogging is a mental break and relief for me — but I'm looking forward to getting back to work with the housemates on making the place look nicer and be more energy effective.

Eeeeee! We got a beautiful new house! :)

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

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