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Tuesday, June 7, 2005 - 8:05amSanction this postReply
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An action can only be performed by an entity, i.e. there can be no such thing as an action that does not involve an entity

Except for the Big Bang.




Post 1

Tuesday, June 7, 2005 - 9:23amSanction this postReply
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Reading OPAR did me no good when I had no prior background in philosophy.  Only after reading Ayn Rand's original work was I able to go back to OPAR and actually understand it.

Rand does a much better job of breaking down philosophical principles than Peikoff. I think it's definitely worth reading but would caution against it for those new to philosophy. 

Jason




Post 2

Tuesday, June 7, 2005 - 10:20amSanction this postReply
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Yes - Philosophy, Who Needs It is a much better book, as a whole, to begin with, even as it is a collection of assorted essays.....



Post 3

Tuesday, June 7, 2005 - 1:25pmSanction this postReply
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This is the last non-fiction book I attempted to read following all of Ayn Rands own books. I didn't actually finish this one because I found it quite boring in style and I pretty much knew the content already.



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Wednesday, June 8, 2005 - 4:16pmSanction this postReply
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If it's anything like Peikoff's other work might be somewhat interesting but it seems like in everything he does he has absolutely no intention of doing anything but preaching to the choir.  Helpful for existing Objectivists but probably not the best thing to hand to someone who never heard of the philosophy before.

---Landon




Post 5

Wednesday, June 8, 2005 - 4:34pmSanction this postReply
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Landon,

The only non-Objectivist to whom I've ever recommended OPAR is someone who already had a bit of philosophy under his belt and had gotten an understanding of the philosophy from me.  After he read Philosophy: Who Needs It he was very curious and wanted the whole thing laid out for him in a hierarchial format.  He was the perfect target for the approach Piekoff uses.  For someone who's never read Ayn Rand, though, I prefer to recommend her original work first.  It's much more exciting and incisive.

(I kinda' feel like I'm repeating my post above but wanted to reply to Landon's post.)

Jason




Post 6

Wednesday, June 8, 2005 - 4:38pmSanction this postReply
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Landon,
Just to be clear, Philosophy: Who Needs It is not a work by Peikoff. It is a collection of Ayn Rand essays, mostly from The Ayn Rand Letter.




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Wednesday, June 8, 2005 - 5:23pmSanction this postReply
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I know I've read philosophy who needs it.  Mainly if anything I was referring more to the "Ominous Parallels" , and his introductions to all Randian Fiction (he gives away ALL the major plot twists which kind of kills it for someone who's never read it).

I agree that Philosophy who needs it is an overall superior book. The critique was more directed at Peikoff's overall approach as opposed to any particular work of his.

---Landon

p.s. Sorry I made you repeat yourself Jason.




Post 8

Wednesday, January 17, 2007 - 7:27pmSanction this postReply
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As a new student to the philosophy of Objectivism, I had a hard time following the book, it has lots of informative material but not interesting enough and difficult to follow through. I read about 86 pages and I put the book away. I ordered Atlas Shrugged which I understand is a must read and is written much more clear.



Post 9

Friday, January 19, 2007 - 10:01pmSanction this postReply
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Albert,

You might be right about reading "Atlas Shrugged" first. You apparently got about half-way through Peikoff's "Concept-Formation" chapter. Let me give you this advice: If you decide to pick up "Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand" again, I'd suggest skipping forward to page 121 (Knowledge as Contextual) -- and reading from there, on. And if you want the most bang for your Objectivist buck, I'd suggest On Ayn Rand by Allan Gottfhelf.

Ed

(Edited by Ed Thompson on 1/19, 10:04pm)




Post 10

Friday, February 9, 2007 - 2:03pmSanction this postReply
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I actually started reading Objectivism with Peikoff's OPAR. And then I read Ayn Rand's books. After reading Rand's writing, I think I can say I've been spoiled terribly. Her writing is profoundly pithy and more compelling. Peikoff on the other hand, is a bit dry - though he certainly lays it all out logically and clear.

If I were to recommend a sequence of books to read for an aspiring Objectivist:

1.) For The New Intellectual

2.) Virtue of Selfishness

3.) Philosophy: Who Needs It?

And then, mostly for valuable reference: Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand.

Anyway, Luke that overview of Objectivism was great! Very nicely done. This will go in my favorites.




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Post 11

Saturday, February 10, 2007 - 2:37pmSanction this postReply
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I would start with The Fountainhead first, in order to apprehend Rand's vision of the life her kind of hero or moral ideal. Then I'd read Atlas Shrugged in order to put that heroic ideal into the wider context of Rand's complete worldview.

Why start with her fiction? Because that's how RAND started; because Rand herself gave pride of place to her role as an artist and romantic visionary -- i.e., to her presentation of her heroic vision of man; and because she regarded her nonfiction as a necessary, but entirely secondary, explication of that artistic projection. She also made clear, in The Romantic Manifesto, that it was very, very difficult to explain, didactically and in nonfiction alone, what "the ideal man" would look like, and how he would live and act, without the aid of art. Rand's art SHOWS; her nonfiction only TELLS.

In fact, I do not believe it is possible to truly and fully grasp Rand's philosophy outside of the context of her fiction. I've found that whenever I'm puzzled about what Rand may have meant in her nonfiction writing, her fiction invariably provided valuable keys for unlocking the proper interpretation. (I'll be addressing this very topic at the 2007 TAS Summer Seminar.)

THEN, if I were to become a serious student of her philosophy, I would proceed to Rand's own non-fiction, in this order: For the New Intellectual (a general overview), The Virtue of Selfishness (her ethics), Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal (her politics), The Romantic Manifesto (her esthetics), and then Philosophy: Who Needs It (fleshing out a variety of issues). Then, if I were TRULY serious about understanding the philosophic nuances and foundations of her position, I would tackle Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. Afterward, to fill in the gaps, I would get the bound back issues of The Objectivist Newsletter and The Objectivist.

ONLY with that basis of understanding RAND in her own words would I recommend that people proceed into the posthumous collections and books that include the writings of others -- The Voice of Reason and Return of the Primitive -- or the works of interpreters, such as Peikoff's OPAR. One should acquaint himself with the reality of Ayn Rand first-hand before attempting to grapple with her ideas through the prism of interpreters and editors. The same goes for posthumous collections where Rand's own words have been edited, such as the books The Art of Fiction and The Art of Nonfiction, where it's not always clear where Rand's words end and the words of the editors begin. The caveat certainly applies to courses by others about Rand's ideas, or to the various biographical treatments of her life.

Let me emphasize that I don't for a moment dispute the many great values and insights offered by these works of others. But I think it's primarily important to try first to acquire an independent perspective on what Rand was all about from her own words. Only then do I believe one will have the necessary background to weigh the merits of various interpretations put forth by others.
(Edited by Robert Bidinotto
on 2/10, 2:40pm)




Post 12

Saturday, February 10, 2007 - 3:15pmSanction this postReply
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Robert,

=================
In fact, I do not believe it is possible to truly and fully grasp Rand's philosophy outside of the context of her fiction.
=================

I beg to disagree. I consider myself living proof. And, perhaps this proposition can be considered for an open debate here: Why don't you give me an Objectivist quiz, Robert? And I guarantee I'll pass it -- most probably with an "A" grade (90+%).

Regardless of whether you take this bait, I have several years of interaction here speaking to my proficiency in this philosophy.

Now, granted, I have read "some" of Rand's fiction as it is found in other books: the Lexicon, For the New Intellectual, etc.; but I haven't read Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged yet -- and in several years of interaction with other Objectivists; I haven't come up short (i.e., "deficient" in my understanding).

If what you're saying is true, then I can't possibly understand Objectivism as well as others can. I cordially invite you to attempt to prove this.

Ed
[I have tried to read Fountainhead, but couldn't finish; it's something in my "wiring" -- I suspect]



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Post 13

Saturday, February 10, 2007 - 10:38pmSanction this postReply
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Ed,

We're talking on two totally different wavelengths here. You're talking about understanding Rand's lyrics; I'm talking about hearing her music.

I'm not talking about anyone's ability to grasp and discuss her philosophical system chapter and verse. I have no doubt of your ability to do that, perhaps expertly. I have met many people who can do that proficiently.

I'm talking, rather, about experiencing and seeing life and the world and man as she did. I'm talking about the difference between hearing the word "Objectivism" and immediately visualizing OPAR, versus hearing the word "Objectivism" and immediately visualizing a Roark, Galt, Francisco, or Dagny.

I'm talking about the difference between someone (not you; this is a hypothetical example) becoming a fluent expert in explaining and defending all her derivations of various principles and concepts -- but then, say, spending his or her leisure time wallowing in spiritually bankrupt entertainment and pursuits, or in psychologically degrading relationships -- or perhaps in simply living a crabbed, barren existence largely in his skull rather than pursuing challenging values out in the world. I've seen such things an awful lot in Objectivist circles, often from people who could parse Objectivist philosophical concepts down into atoms.

But was that Rand's own view of her philosophy? Rand said that the "essence" of her philosophy was a view of "man as a heroic being"; she wrote that the very "goal of my writing" was "the projection of an ideal man"; she stated clearly that her own art was the "projection" and "model" of what her philosophy was intended to mean in reality.

These metaphysical and sense-of-life matters were at the very foundation of her view of the world, and of her life's mission. She said she was not an artist in order to communicate her philosophy; she became a philosopher in order to explain and defend her art. She was, above all else, a romantic visionary and artist. She said as much in The Romantic Manifesto.

For that reason, I will repeat: I do not believe it is possible to truly and fully grasp Rand's philosophy outside of the context of her fiction. It's like studying architecture or drafting without ever seeing, let alone constructing, actual buildings or models; it's like a person born deaf studying books and taking courses about musical theory and history; it's like memorizing a baseball rule book, but never swinging a bat. There is simply a limit to what you can get out of Rand that way.

Rather than belabor this here, I'll save further elaboration for my talk at the TAS Summer Seminar.




Post 14

Sunday, February 11, 2007 - 12:16amSanction this postReply
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Robert,

I realize that you probably won't respond due to fact that you have an upcoming seminar on the subject. But I didn't want my silence to appear as tacit acceptance of your view on the importance of Rand's fiction in 'fully-getting' Rand's philosophy.

I can see that by "truly and fully grasp" you meant a type of understanding that is more than a "heady" or "intellectual" understanding -- but almost a feeling, or sense of life, if you will. Taking this specific perspective then -- instead of any perspective that appeals to the mere ability to recite her "chapter and verse" -- I still disagree with you.

I get the idea that there are many 'Objectivist-types' who aren't fully being human in Rand's sense of that term (in the heroic sense). I get the idea that 3 axioms, 5 position statements recited while standing on one foot, and a dozen or less non-fiction works -- don't provide a living being, ipso facto, with a blueprint and the carpentry for building a successful life on earth.

Where we disagree is in the point about the necessity of her fiction. I'm sure that we both agree that her fiction is not sufficient, per se; as there are just too many examples of folks who've read Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged -- and still managed to go on to live either shabby or shoddy lives.

This necessity that you've mentioned of course appeals to Rand's sublime vision of what is possible to man -- embodied in her protagonist characters. Our point of disagreement is over whether this sublime vision (and its integration into one's own life) is only possible to readers of her fiction. I say that it is possible even to those who haven't read them (and cite myself as an example of this), you say that it's not.

A tipping point in this discussion could be reached when one of us could marshal evidence as to whether each of our views is born of integrated experience. You might cite yourself as an example (as I did, myself), and say that -- for you -- it was the fiction that really touched your soul and allowed you to "dream bigger." You might say that -- for you -- it was the fiction that really inspired you to see your life as not only worth living; but worth living magnificently.

But citing yourself in this case is not strong enough to justify your more general claim of the necessity of Rand's fiction. So then, I suspect, you would go on to cite the experience of others close to you. You would portray how Rand's fiction changed their lives. How, when they were down and out, it was Rand's clear depictions of the sublime embodied in man -- that led to the spiritual fortitude that carried them forward.

Even still, I'd say back to you, but that is only a dozen people or so -- what stronger evidence can you provide to support your more general claim? Of course, in order to invalidate a general claim, one only needs one counter-example; and that is what I purport to provide -- when I cite myself as evidence.

The burning question then, is whether I do indeed have this truly benevolent sense of life, and heroic view of man, and myself -- but without first reading Rand's fiction. Now, the evidence must only be circumstantial here; as you would need to know me very well in order to come to a conclusion about me -- one way or the other. It is necessarily circumstantial and somewhat subjective. On a forum like this, I couldn't "prove" to hold these views of life, and man, and myself -- I can only point to signs, signals, and tokens of the kind of behavior that would be seen by the kind of man holding these views.

As I foresee the process of "proving" these things to be quite tedious -- I'll simply start with my RoR personal description (http://rebirthofreason.com/Users/55.shtml), and finish with a postscript citing concrete and heroic life choices ...

===============
... I am a student for life, and a student of life. *** I am absolutely overjoyed with the human capacity of discovery and the human potential that is thereby made possible. I see the world with the freshness and exuberance of a child (a world without limits - BECAUSE curious, joy-seeking humans inhabit it). *** I liken philosophy to learning a skill or trade; the most important skill or trade possible. I believe that discovering the proper use of a human mind is literal emancipation (the "bottle-neck"; beyond which "truth, goodness, beauty, virtue, wisdom, and love" begin to flow like Niagra Falls).***
===============

Did any sense of life or man shine through there?

;-)

Ed
[In "real life" I love what I do at work -- and students, judging from evaluations, love me as their teacher; and I love who I am with in a relationship; she inspires and challenges me and always keeps me honest]



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Post 15

Sunday, February 11, 2007 - 1:24amSanction this postReply
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(Deep breath.)
 
This is probably going to get me in the proverbial doghouse, but here goes...:-)
 
 
Robert just expertly laid out the entire point of view I hold. He just did it much, much better than I ever have.
 
One can truly become an expert in the nuts and bolts of the philosophy; but they are definitely missing a little something without the artistic manifestation of it. And it is something intangible...and not fully comprehended by those who insist on studying the philosophy as they would a math or science text, learning theorems and formulas only.
 
It is a joy for (rational) humans to experience life-affirming art produced by a life-loving artists. This is not in question.
 
How much more profound a joy (for an Objectivist), then, can be found in art that actively depicts humans, albeit fictional ones, LIVING the philosophy of Objectivism...The Philosophy for Living? (Is this not, at least, an acceptable argument?)
 
If you are someone who enjoys fiction, and if you are Objectivist, your life will be enriched for reading the fiction works, if only for the sense of joy that they deliver.
 
 
Bottom line:
 
Rand's fiction fleshes out the philosophy in big, bold, beautiful colors. That splash of color would definitely be missed in my life if I hadn't experienced her art, as well as her teachings.
 


Erica
(no doubt sleeping on the couch tonight :-)
 
 





Post 16

Sunday, February 11, 2007 - 2:35amSanction this postReply
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Erica, you're not in the doghouse.

;-)

Robert's main point is that Rand's fiction is crucial. Your main point was that Rand's fiction is beautiful and awe- and life-inspiring. There's a difference in those 2 points.

Ed





Post 17

Sunday, February 11, 2007 - 8:51amSanction this postReply
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Robert, one more point before letting this lay:

I concur with you that whenever there's disagreement about interpretations of Rand's philosophy, that her fiction can be invaluable in the process of fleshing out just exactly what she meant to say, or was thinking, when she wrote down words. In short, I agree that a piece of art is "worth a thousand words" -- and very much can be learned about someone from their art.

Indeed, I look around myself and see folks wrestle with the ideas while often struggling with preconceptions. Most often it appears that they've been "touched" by other "philosophy" first -- just as Rand prophetically calculated in "Philosophy: Who Needs It" when speaking to the West Point graduates.

In fact, in response to this issue of ongoing struggle with folks' preconceptions and their own idea integration, I am setting out toward writing a series that better fleshes out the essential dynamics between ideas and that peculiar creature, man (called "The only kind there is" series).

That said, I hope that I make it to your seminar (you've peaked my interest). I believe you will have a few excellent examples about how an appeal to Rand's fiction would solve a borderline or fuzzy case over the interpretation of her philosophy. Perhaps I'll even read a work of fiction by her in the meantime ...

;-)

Ed





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Post 18

Sunday, February 11, 2007 - 8:52amSanction this postReply
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Let's rephrase this a bit - if all ye read was Galt's speech, do you honestly  claim ye could know Rand's philosophy without the dramatization given prior to his speech?




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Post 19

Sunday, February 11, 2007 - 9:01amSanction this postReply
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Good gosh, if my posts are gonna be causing domestic spats, I'm OUTTA here.

;^)

Ed -- let me put it this way: "A picture is worth a thousand words." I'm referring to a principle well known to Objectivists concerning the "crow epistemology." It is simply impossible to hold in one's consciousness the enormous complexity of the entire Objectivist system in the form of mere abstractions. To grasp and internalize the sum of it -- to have it available to one's consciousness at any given moment in one's life -- you need to concretize these abstractions, and reduce the number of concretes to a few, easily grasped percepts...such as the image of a hero.

Here's Rand in her indispensable essay on this subject, "The Psycho-Epistemology of Art," in The Romantic Manifesto:
Metaphysics--the science that deals with the fundamental nature of reality--involves man's widest abstractions. It includes every concrete he has ever perceived, it involves such a vast sum of knowledge and such a long chain of concepts that no man could hold it all in the focus of his immediate conscious awareness. Yet he needs that sum and that awareness to guide him--he needs the power to summon them into full, conscious focus.

That power is given to him by art....

...Art is a concretization of metaphysics. Art brings man's concepts to the perceptual level of his consciousness and allows him to grasp them directly as if they were percepts.

This
is the psycho-epistemological function of art and the reason of its importance in man's life (and the crux of the Objectivist esthetics)....

...Observe that in mankind's history, art began as an adjunct (and, often, a monopoly) of religion. Religion was the primitive form of philosophy: it provided man with a comprehensive view of existence. Observe that the art of these primitive cultures was a concretization of their religion's metaphysical and ethica abstractions.

The best illustration of the psycho-epistemological process involved in art can be given by one aspect of one particular art: by characterization in literature. Human character--with all of its innumerable potentialities, virtues, vices, inconsistencies, contradictions--is so complex that man is his own most bewildering enigma. It is very difficult to isolate and integrate human traits even into purely cognitive abstractions and to bear them all in mind when seeking to understand the men one meets....

...When we come to normative abstractions--to the task of defining moral principles and projecting what man ought to be--the psycho-epistemological process required is still harder. The task demands years of study--and the results are almost impossible to communicate without the assistance of art. An exhaustive philosophical treatise defining moral values, with a long list of virtues to be practiced, will not do it; it will not convey what an ideal man would be like and how he would act: no mind can deal with so immense a sum of abstractions...and hold it all in the focus of one's conscious awareness. There is no way to integrate such a sum without projecting an actual human figure--an integrated concretization that illuminates the theory and makes it intelligible. [emphasis added]

Hence the sterile, uninspiring futility of a great many theoretical discussions of ethics, and the resentment which many people feel toward such discussions: moral principles remain in their minds as floating abstractions, offering them a goal they cannot grasp and demanding that they reshape their souls in its image, thus leaving them with a burden of undefinable moral guilt. Art is the indispensable medium for the communication of a moral ideal....

This does not mean that art is a substitute for philosophical thought: without a conceptual theory of ethics, an artist would not be able successfully to concretize an image of the ideal. But without the assistance of art, ethics remains in the position of theoretical engineering; art is the model-builder. [emphasis added]

Many readers of The Fountainhead have told me that the character of Howard Roark helped them to make a decision when they faced a moral dilemma. They asked themselves: "What would Roark do in this situation?"--and, faster than their mind could identify the proper application of all the complex principles involved, the image of Roark gave them the answer. They sensed, almost instantly, what he would or would not do--and this helped them to isolate and to identify the reasons, the moral principles that would have guided him. Such is the psycho-epistemological function of a personified (concretized) human ideal.


Ed, who am I to argue with Ayn Rand?

;^)

I will repeat again: I believe that it is impossible to truly and fully grasp what Rand meant by her philosophy without reference to her fiction. At best, one gets a woozy, vague approximation consisting of nothing but long lists of abstract virtues.

In recent decades, as more and more theoretical and nonfiction work about Objectivism has become available, I have seen many people begin their study of Objectivism with Rand's (and others') theoretical and abstract nonfiction. Not knowing how her own unique version of the "moral ideal" actually looked and lived, they invariably tried to fit her ideas into their own, preconceived, more conventional conception of "the hero." But they never quite "got it."

The reason for this failure is that we learn starting at the perceptual level, by observing concretes, and then integrating those concretes into abstractions. Rand's art isolates and focuses upon those concretes and characteristics that add up to a sum total: her conception of "the hero" or "the moral ideal." Without reference to those concretes, and without perceiving the concretized image of that sum total, it's virtually impossible to get a true sense of what she really meant.

And that is why I often find myself depressed these days as I follow online discussions by people who believe they are promoting "Objectivism," when I could not, for the life of me, imagine a Randian fictional hero espousing the same values and positions. These people "reason" their way into conclusions diametrically opposed to Rand's fundamental worldview -- something that a moment's contemplation of her fictional characters would make obvious, and which would also reveal the reasons behind those differences.

I believe adamantly that in properly interpreting what Rand meant by her philosophy on any key point, her art constitutes the Rosetta Stone of translation. By her own words, above, her fiction was her means of concretizing what she really meant. Trying to interpret her without reference to those artistic concretizations invariably leads to futile, often rationalistic arguments, where people deduce away from abstractions to more abstractions, getting farther and farther removed from Rand's own vision.

So, we now circle back to the beginning of this discussion, and to my recommendations. For the beginning student of Objectivism, don't start with OPAR or even any of Rand's own nonfiction. Start instead with her fiction, especially The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, where she shows you exactly what she meant...and where, incidentally, she is also remarkably clear and explicit about telling you, too.

After experiencing Rand's universe that way, you'll have the necessary basis for properly grasping and integrating the theoretical abstractions presented in her nonfiction.



(Edited by Robert Bidinotto
on 2/11, 9:05am)




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