Monday, September 20, 2010

God Sings

God sings.  Did you know that?


This past Sunday I went to church and was not in charge of anything – didn’t play on the worship team, wasn’t preaching, didn’t have the new friends and members class to teach.  I just went to church.  My friend Erik was leading worship this week, and it was a fairly small team.  He chose songs that communicated the immense majesty of God, as well as the fact that He calls His people close to Himself.  It was so cool!


It was so great to be worshiping with the Grace family.  We were singing our hearts out to God.


And then suddenly, I heard Him singing back.  It was through Pete’s guitar on a song called Here in Your Presence, and it was awesome.


There is a verse in the Bible that tells us that God rejoices over us with singing.  I know it’s true.  I heard it Sunday morning.

Friday, September 03, 2010


My next sermon topic - for 9/12 - is "Lost."  It's on the Lost Sheep and Lost Coin parables in Luke 15. 

I've been thinking about seeking.  How hard we seek depends on how much we care about finding whatever it is we're looking for.  And sometimes, there's that sense we're seeking something we didn't even know we were missing.

Ever feel like that?

There's something in us that is constantly on the lookout for that next thing.  Or person.  Or job.

Or maybe, there's something that, once we find it, we'll be so content that our hearts will stop seeking the unknown missing piece.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

An Occasion

This evening, at our final band camp session, a funny thing happened.
My Assistant Band Director, pictured, if this all works like it should, had his very first Starburst Fruit Chew ever.
"It's like taffy, with a very tangy taste. Here we go, diabetes."
He retired two years ago from a full career teaching elementary school instrumental music for 34 years.
How did he avoid Starburst for so long? "I'm more of a chocolate person. You offer me an Almond Joy or a Starburst, I'm taking the Almond Joy, you know with the chocolate. And coconut's one of my favorite flavors."
Me? I like Starburst. But add Mounds to the mix, and I take that. Because I like the chocolate and the coconut, but I'm not so big on the almonds added in there.
Strange rehearsal conversation.
But it sounds like the makings of a great end of season gift, to me.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Now this is truly encouraging!

This article breaks down a poll, the results of which show that the American public is NOT on the same page as the Obama administration when it comes to school reform.

It seems the public has more confidence in public school teachers than all the recent media and speeching and such would lead us to believe.  The public would rather see teachers improved rather than see mass firings and school closings.  Read the article for more.

That is a truly encouraging fact.

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

And they're off!

(This article has been cross posted at

We have just finished our first week of band camp, and we are off and running with a very good start.

I can hardly believe another year is upon us.  The summer, for me, has been one of reading blogs, conversing with teachers around the country and the world, and checking out all sorts of new resources.  Through Twitter, I have built a valuable and challenging Professional Learning Network, comprised of teachers, principals, educational consultants, and higher education professionals.  These people all have one thing in common - a passion for educating children to the very best of our abilities.

To do this, we recognize that there are some things about our system that must change.  However, we are of the opinion that it should be educators leading the way, because we know what's really going on.  Good as the President's intentions are, he has not been a public school educator.  Secretary Duncan is working to repeat strategies that he implemented in Chicago and which failed.  And our favorite billionaire drop-out, Bill Gates, and the group of "philanthropists" he has put together, simply think we can privatize it all and run schools like businesses.

We can't.  We don't make widgets.  We teach young people.

I have spent some time thinking about what I would like to do professionally this year - thinking about little ways I can begin to, as Ghandi said, "Be the change I want to see."  

I want to find new ways to help my students take responsibility for their own learning.  I would like to teach them how to use the Web 2.0 resources I've found - be it blogging, using online recording tools, or learning new methods - besides PowerPoint - for making presentations.  It will be a challenge to find ways this will all fit into my discipline of music, but if I want to give my best to my students I will do it.

As for our department, we have another busy and event filled year in store, and TMPO is bringing the Polar Express to the area.  We're going to be working long hours together - but that's the best part.  Through these events, through our work together, we connect and build community.

What's better than that?

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Friday, August 06, 2010

Why Teacher Tenure is Important

It is fashionable right now to attack education and teachers - at least, it's politically fashionable. These attacks are being led by President Barack Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. And they are being pushed along by the billionaire boys club, led by Bill Gates, that seems hell-bent on taking over and privatizing education in the US.
Oh, they pay lip service to how much they respect teachers. But the rest of what they say flies in the face of the reality of the respect they claim to hold.
There's a lot to be concerned about, and I applaud those who are attempting to put their concern into action.
The problem is, they haven't bothered to really find out what they're talking about, and they conveniently ignore pertinent research that does not support their ideas and strategies.
There's a lot wrong with the "initiatives" being touted by this happy band. To keep this post focused, and short, I would like to remind readers about why teacher tenure exists.
I think we can agree that children are best served by teachers who are established, confident educators. And our schools need experienced teacher leaders. So the point is not jobs - it is serving the needs of children and the school communities of which they are part.
But, because we work in the public sector, we are not part of for-profit companies that can raise prices or sell more widgets when times get tough. We are in the business of people, and it is a different world. And, as in most every occupation, personnel is the most expensive part of the budget.
As a result, without tenure, come budget crunch time, school boards and superintendents might be inclined to simply fire the experienced, self-assured, established teacher-leaders in favor of hiring inexperienced, raw teachers right out of college.
I am not knocking young teachers. Indeed, the best faculty teams are comprised of a balanced roster of seasoned veterans and enthusiastic younger folks.
But, absent teacher tenure, I believe - no, actually, I'm sadly confident - that we would face the wholesale loss of all of the "expensive" people - our veteran educators.
The argument I most often hear against tenure is that it stops administrators from "getting rid of" the older, lazy, ineffective place-holders who are resistant to the changes being tried in schools. This argument is, quite frankly, bunk.
Administrators with some guts who are willing to follow the contractual process would find themselves able to take care of those issues. Unfortunately, it seems we have few administrators willing to do the job.
At any rate, tenure is an important factor for educators, and it is my hope that this little reminder of why it exists in the first place will help people understand why we must not lose it.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

What the President "forgot" to mention...

The President gave a big speech about education reform yesterday.  He touted his pet project - Race to the Top - and refused to budge.

And he told the great story of a successful charter school.

Larry Ferlazzo, an educator and blogger I follow, reminded us about what the President failed to share about that charter school.  Sadly typical of politicians.  Here's the link to Larry's post.

This charter school raised its students math and English proficiency levels.  At the same time they experienced a 42% student attrition rate.  Need me to explain that?

They kicked out the kids that couldn't hack it.  This is the untold story of most charter schools.

And Bill Gates, and the President, and Secretary Duncan think they're great.

What if your kid is the one who can't hack it?

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Monday, July 26, 2010

Weblogg-ed » We Need a Test for That

Lately, I’ve been finding myself wondering if maybe the best strategy for changing education is to join ‘em, not fight ‘em. I mean, if the only material that we think is important is the stuff that our kids are going to get tested on, well, then let’s have MORE tests! (Play along!)

Here's a cynical post on testing. Imagine me sharing something like that...

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"We've mined their minds like we've strip-mined the earth."

This is a talk by Sir Ken Robinson, delivered at TED in 2006.  With all the recent articles and discussion about the decline of creativity in our kids I found it really interesting.

He talks about our current system of public education as being a protracted entrance process for college and university, and noted that all public ed systems have the same hierarchy of subjects, where we end up educating kids from the waist up, and then only from the neck up.  In the end, we educate the creativity out of our kids.

We have to rethink how we educate our children.

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Monday, July 19, 2010


Being near water is good for the soul, I think.  I spent the weekend at a lake house with some friends, and I am headed to another lake house tomorrow for the rest of the week.  There's something relaxing about hanging out near water.

Maybe that's why Eden was at the crossroads of rivers.

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Monday, July 12, 2010

Benjamin Zander on music and passion

20:46 of brilliance by a leading interpreter of Mahler and Beethoven. Here, he plays Chopin.

This is really worth the watch.

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Freedom of Information: How a Wisconsin School District Ditched Internet Filters | Edutopia

Freedom of Information: How a Wisconsin School District Ditched Internet Filters

By Edutopia


Among the more memorable people I met at last week's ISTE conference in Denver is a renegade technology director from Racine, Wisconsin. Just a few months after his promotion from network manager to director of information systems of the Racine Unified School District last summer, Tim Peltz made a revolutionary move: he removed the firewalls that had blocked students from many parts of the Internet. He didn't just remove a brick here and there. He tore those walls completely down.


-- Grace Rubenstein, is a senior producer at Edutopia

Brave tech director? Forward-thinking, at least.

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Sunday, July 11, 2010

Leonie Haimson: The most dangerous man in America

All this, despite the fact that an expert panel from the National Academy of Sciences pointed out that there was no research backing for this agenda, and urged caution before the federal government essentially bribed cash-strapped states to enact its provisions.

Since the panel's findings had to go through a lengthy peer review process, as does all good science, it did not make the short deadline that the US DOE set for public feedback on the "Race to the Top" proposals, leaving them free to ignore it.

When George W. Bush adopted environmental policies that ignored the scientific consensus from expert bodies like the National Academy of Sciences, he rightfully got blasted by advocates and the mainstream media. Where was the outrage when the NAS experts on testing and evaluation were ignored by the Obama administration? Instead, there was ....silence. The NAS warning was pretty much ignored, as educators and politicians were steamrolled by an undemocratic oligopoly of the deep-pocketed Gates Foundation and elected officials (some authoritarian types like NYC's Bloomberg, others merely weak-kneed and cowed by the inside-the-beltway group think.).

But the Gates Foundation has been quite clever in ignoring or suppressing evidence that contradicts its corporate mindset.

This is just a sample of the larger article, worth a read if you care in the least about what's good for the proper education of our nation's children.

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Saturday, July 10, 2010

Teacher Magazine: Moving Students By Ability, Not Grade

Published: July 6, 2010

Moving Students By Ability, Not Grade

Now this is an interesting idea that could work really well. But it would require most of the community getting on board with it to really make it work.
Still, aren't these kinds of things more worthy of a try than simply firing staff and closing schools?

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

First night at Plymouth

Kids these days...
OK, I know it's not nice to start a post that way, but I am in a dorm at Plymouth State University, and it has air conditioning and a private bath.
So what I was going to say was, kids these days who go to college don't know how good they have it.
When I went to college, and stayed in one of the nicest dorms on campus, I had to share two bathrooms with 6 other people!
I know, I know. Someone out there had it even worse than that.
You know, they don't even put hard line phones in the rooms anymore. I remember at UVM in 19somethingsomething, having to wait for a pay phone. And if someone called me, anyone on my floor might answer it, and maybe get a message right or maybe not. I remember when all the rooms got their own phones - that was a huge deal. Now everybody comes with cell phones.
About the only thing cramping my style right now is that I am posting this from my BlackBerry - which you will see, because all my emails from this device have an automatic signature, and since I cannot get online yet with my computer, I can't fix it.
Apparently, I was supposed to get a packet when I checked in which would have explained the procedure and given me a password to get online. Guess I'll get that tomorrow when I check in to the actual conference.
Also, no TV, though there's a cable drop in the room. In my day we went to the common area to watch TV with rabbit ears, and hoped we wanted to watch the same thing as other people. Or, we brought a little TV to our rooms. Still - rabbit ear reception wasn't all that great.
My folks got cable TV after I went away to college. Before that, they had deemed it unnecessary, much like the microwave they decided to get at some point during my junior or senior years.
Times change. Technology improves, becomes more prevalent, and even changes to the point where sometimes things go away all over again.
Like rabbit ears, and phones in all the rooms on a big campus switchboard system.
And now we're back to one campus phone in the hallway for emergencies.
Kids these days. They don't know how good they have it!
It's an adventure.

Achievement Gap Mystery Partly Solved - It's Murder - Living in Dialogue - Education Week Teacher

There's a lot of talk about the "achievement gap" on standardized tests. It's even been referred to as a "civil rights issue."

But "the powers that be," led by Secretary Arne Duncan and President Obama, don't seem to understand the underlying causes of the achievement gap, and are hell bent on extorting states to enact their pet strategies and plans, in spite of the fact that they've already been tried and found to fail.

I will also say once again how asinine it is that education policy is made without educators. Duncan has never been a teacher, and neither has Obama. Politicians do NOT belong making decisions about education policy - teachers should be making the decisions.

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Friday, June 25, 2010

The Answer Sheet - Principal: How to REALLY turn around a school

This guest article, by George Wood, states cogently and compellingly the issues with the current pattern of "reform" being touted by President Obama and Secretary Duncan. With respect to the office of the POTUS and the Secretary, they are resorting to something only just shy of extortion to push an agenda of failed tactics to "reform" our public schools.

Sort of like trying all the same techniques to deal with the oil spill that DIDN'T work in 1979.

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

New Pond

With all the rain we’ve had, we’ve got a new pond across the street.  And it does not appear it will be going away.  It has slowly been getting bigger with each new storm.

You could say I am not in waterfront property, but there are trees in the pond if you get far enough into it.  Not sure if we should try slalom-water-skiing. 

These shots don’t exactly do it justice.

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Friday, March 19, 2010

Something really cool

Yesterday (March 18, 2010) through a set of circumstances, I ended up with a drama class in my band room.  A couple of them had asked if they could come to my room instead of sit in the cafeteria with 5 or 6 other classes, and so I said yes.  I figured they’d come and do some work, chat, maybe even turn on some music on my classroom stereo.


I was sitting in my office slowly working through the pile on my desk, and I began to realize that I was hearing them read a script.  After they finished, they engaged in a sensitive, thoughtful, and thorough critique about what they’d read, and where it could go.  No voices got raised, nobody’s feelings got hurt.  They just talked about the script.


Which, it turns out, one of them had written.


It takes guts to put yourself out there, but with this group it is obviously safe to do that.   They showed independence, self-motivation, creativity, and kindness.  They talked through issues in the story, and found their way through them, solving little plot problems here and there.  They worked as a team.


This is not just about drama.  The skills employed by these students are the kinds of skills being sought by business leaders, college admissions officers, and society at large, which seems to be losing the civility these young people showed one another.  This arts thing is no frill – this is central to everything we are trying to do.


I was so impressed I emailed Sha Riordan, the teacher who was out sick, and copied the principal and assistant principals.  What a great group of students!


And what a way to be reminded why I went into this business in the first place.

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Friday, March 12, 2010

Who is developing the Common Core Standards?

I saw the list of people that make up the committee which is developing the Common Core Standards for our country's children.  You might be surprised to know that most of them are from testing companies.  Yup - testing companies. 

There aren't educators on this list - no current high school teachers, or college professors, or even principals.  No pedagogues.  The standards are up for public comment -  I hope many teachers, students, parents will get involved and comment.

Check out the list of people on the committee:

Sara Clough, Director, Elementary and Secondary School Programs, Development, Education Division, ACT, Inc.
David Coleman, Founder, Student Achievement Partners
Sally Hampton, Senior Fellow for Literacy, Americas Choice
Joel Harris, Director, English Language Arts Curriculum and Standards, Research and Development, The College Board
Beth Hart, Senior Assessment Specialist, Research and Development, The College Board
John Kraman, Associate Director, Research, Achieve
Laura McGiffert Slover, Vice President, Content and Policy Research, Achieve
Nina Metzner, Senior Test Development Associate--Language Arts, Elementary and Secondary School Programs, Development, Education Division, ACT, Inc.
Sherri Miller, Assistant Vice President, Educational Planning and Assessment System (EPAS) Development, Education Division, ACT, Inc.
Sandy Murphy, Professor Emeritus, University of California ? Davis
Jim Patterson, Senior Program Development Associate--Language Arts, Elementary and Secondary School Programs, Development, Education Division, ACT, Inc.
Sue Pimentel, Co-Founder, StandardsWork; English Language Arts Consultant, Achieve
Natasha Vasavada, Senior Director, Standards and Curriculum Alignment Services, Research and Development, The College Board
Martha Vockley, Principal and Founder, VockleyLang, LLC

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Thursday, March 04, 2010

President Obama's Common Core

So perhaps you have heard about the development of a national common core of education standards for our country.  On the surface, it seems like a great idea.

The problem is that, as usual, the wrong people are doing the work.  Governors are deciding.  With state school chiefs they appointed.

Let's see.  What analogy can I draw that would properly communicate the absurdity of this whole thing?

Oh - I know.  I will put myself in charge of drafting national standards and codes for new home construction.  Wouldn't that be awesome?  I will decide what kind of wood you can use, how thick the foundation will be, what kind of land on which you can build.  And I will get a bunch of my teacher friends to form the committee to help me.

Think that would work?  We would end up with some beautiful and stable houses, right?  I have no knowledge of anything related to construction beyond the 10th grade geometry and 11th grade trigonometry I took almost 30 years ago.

Would you live in a house I built?

But these people, who are NOT doing the work of educating the kids, who do NOT know anything about carrying out this sacred task, are going to decide what every child across the country should be reading. 

And if we refuse to follow, we don't get the money Obama has set aside to assist education.  In my book, that's extortion.

Take a look at this article for more information.  It will blow your mind.

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Why we want to dissect Tiger's apology

I guess when a guy makes his living in the public eye, his life naturally becomes fodder for our conversation.  It's normal curiosity, and to some extent, these public figures do live "in public."

So Tiger Woods has done some things he is not proud of, and which has diminished his image and lessened his worthiness as a role model.  And for this, he was right to apologize.

So he did.

Now, why do so many people then have to spend hours - and likely days - dissecting what he said, trying to decide whether it was sincere, and all that?  Sheesh!  Accept it and leave it alone.

But we won't. 

Because it is always easier to dwell on someone else's sin than on our own.

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What's with our Tiger fascination?

I guess when a guy makes his living in the public eye, his life naturally becomes fodder for our conversation. It's normal curiosity, and to some extent, these public figures do live "in public."

So Tiger Woods has done some things he is not proud of, and this has diminished his image and lessened his worthiness as a role model. And for this, he was right to apologize.

So he did.

Now, why do so many people then have to spend hours - and likely days - dissecting what he said, trying to decide whether it was sincere, and all that? Sheesh! Leave it alone.

But we won't. Because it is always easier to dwell on someone else's sin than on our own.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Now entering...Lent

For Christians, the period between Ash Wednesday and Easter, called Lent, is a time of reflection, repentance, and spiritual renewal. It's an ancient tradition, and whether people realize it or not, has created ramification in surprising places.

I remember, for instance, when I was growing up noticing that the school cafeteria menu on Friday's was always fish. Mostly it was our school's take-off on McDonald's Filet of Fish sandwich, which we called the "Viking Special.". It was a fish patty with cheese in it, fried, served with fries, and cole slaw. I can't imagine they sold too many of them - they never seemed all that appetizing to me, but maybe that was because I was still in my "I hate fish" phase.

Anyway, not growing up Catholic, I had to ask my mom why that Friday menu never varied for such a long period of time. Who knew it was because many people who observed Lent did not eat meat on Friday?

Many people give something up for Lent. I have several friends giving up sweets, or TV, or coffee, or soda.

Some people add something - more prayer, more serving at a local agency.

Some marry the two. Giving up buying morning coffee, and donating the money saved to a homeless shelter, for instance. Giving to the poor is one of the basic four things that Christians tend to observe during Lent.

I confess, I am late deciding how I will observe Lent this year. I wouldn't tell you anyhow - it's not about tooting the horn. Except to say this - I do plan to ask God to show me where I need to repent of something I might not even realize I am doing.

The point is, it's a time to renew our spiritual commitment. It's not about choosing something to be legalistic about, it's about focus, and on getting things which might be distractions to our spiritual growth out of the way.

That's something I could use. How about you?
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Monday, February 01, 2010

Once more, with feeling

Friends, once again music is proved to have a positive effect on the learning capabilities, self-confidence, and academic achievement of children.  A study in the UK is outlined in the article to which the link is posted below.  I encourage you to read it and share it!

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Monday, January 25, 2010

illogical, Captain.

I am so tired of people talking about ed reform that have no clue about education.  And I am so tired of people assuming that teachers wanting to be involved in the process means that they are against reform.

OMG.  We want reform so bad we can taste it.  We have TONS of good ideas. 

But we’re the only voice not heeded.


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Thursday, January 21, 2010


There's a compilation of letter excerpts by Francois Fenelon called "Let Go." We got it as a gift at a retreat I'm at with my church worship team.

I opened it up, and the first letter is about the necessity of humility, which is "profitable for all things for it makes a teachable spirit."

Yeah. Kicked my butt. Not because it's all that revolutionary, but because it goes right along with a realization I had this week as I was preparing for the weekend.

I have some difficult people in my life and I have completely failed to pray for them. I too often get busy thinking about how they've wronged me. Because I am too busy hanging onto my pride.

Not that we're supposed to allow people to walk over us or take unfair advantage of situations.

But the speaker pulled out letter 16 of Fenelon, and there was the reminder that we should not be upset about what other people say about us. He says, "Let the world talk. You simply need to strive to do the will of God."

So I am swallowing my pride and starting to pray for some of the difficult people.

Lord, help me be humble.
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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The "tell me how good you are" method of evaluation

You know what? In my experience, principals and superintendents are evaluated only on what they themselves tell their immediate superiors.

Yeah - you heard that right. What the principal tells the superintendent about what is happening in the school is how that principal is evaluated. How'd you like that system at your job? There's no feedback loop from employees, anyone who works with them, parents in the community who have dealt with them. Just what they tell their boss. HA!

And they think teachers need a new system!

A good leader is not afraid to ask, "How am I doing?" Why do so few do it?

In political circles, there is a growing pressure to evaluate teachers based on students test scores. In some ways, the so-called "Race to the Top" grant program is the Obama administration's method to extort state education agencies to move in that direction, and use what some call "merit pay" systems based on those test scores

Unfortunately for proponents of such methods, education isn't that simple. Because humans aren't that simple.

Let's draw an analogy. Let's evaluate dentists solely on the basis of how many cavities their patients have. Let's not factor in whether the patient grew up with flouride in the water, whether that patient's parents taught them the importance of brushing and saw to it happening, or even whether or not the patient showed up for regular dental appointments.

Would you really have an accurate picture of the effectiveness of that dentist? Or would it likely be a better picture of the effectiveness of those parents and what their priorities were?

There's the problem. There's more to evaluating students than a paper and pencil test given over hours, and there's more to evaluating teachers than how well their kids do on those tests.

Which is why I think it is important for teachers to be part of the process of developing better evaluation - authentic assessment - for students and for themselves.

And why I think everyone needs to sit at the same table to come up with a new system. For everyone.

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Monday, January 11, 2010

How Education Policy is Made...and how it's silly

The link below leads to an article which is an apt take on how education policy is made in this country.  Take a look – I bet you’ll agree how silly it is!

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