Sunday, June 16, 2019


I just wanted to reiterate that Han was a very good best friend, and we were great friends for close to two decades. I will always feel fondly about those times. I realize that sometimes I synthesize fear and hurt as anger immediately, so it sounds like I feel vindictive about Han, but I'm not. I have written many angry things about maybe Joey, and about my mom and dad, and I think most of it was just because I feel/felt hurt and neglected, but I recognize the things they've done for me. I acknowledge that my mother raised me for 26 years before she eventually really made me feel unsafe, and 26 years is not a small amount of time. Despite acknowledging everything my mother has done for me to shape me into the person I am, I also do know that I can no longer live with her for the rest of my adult life. I feel slightly guilty because I know Han has been there for me through the past three years which were some of my toughest times, and I cannot be there for her when she needs me during her wedding this year, but I do hope before this, it's been a balanced friendship, and I did as much for her as a friend as she's done for me. I hope I provided solid covers when she needed them, I hope I provided company when she needed it, and I hope that neither of us is indebted to the other.

There are many people I know who might need or want to read this, even if some people I know might already understand what I'll be trying to put across. I'm not being personal, honestly, I think many people whom I'm even still talking to would still need to read this. They are people I work with, my family members, friends I know from previous social circles. I initially said a couple of blogposts ago that I didn't care enough to justify the things I said, but I figure if I'm eventually going to study women and gender issues, I must eventually write about things similar to these following ones, so I may as well get a little bit of practice, though this is in no way of academic standards. I read a lot about feminism and feminist issues, these are my interests and passions so obviously I read more about such theories than perhaps other people would have. I don't think it is my responsibility to always be educating everybody else, because for one, not everyone is up to being educated, for two, it takes a lot of emotional labor and sometimes I just want peace of mind, and for three, these articles and resources are readily available online and elsewhere, and if someone truly wanted to, they could Google phrases and terms without having to even speak with me.

A number of people, not just the friends I've mentioned in recent posts, took some issue (to different extents) with my caption about Lucas. If you've already forgotten it, I'll make it simpler by quoting it here:
Men raised in Southeast Asia, particularly the communities I identify with, have internalized misogyny, and my peers have only very recently been taught to recognize it, let alone to unlearn such behaviors. I have not found a man my age who's gone for therapy, never been on a date with a local man who's acknowledged the privilege he carries. I've witnessed firsthand how toxic masculinity (but also systemic institutional racism) has driven the men among my loved ones to violence, to drink, to substance abuse, without ever considering that perhaps all these burdens could be lifted off their shoulders if they just spoke about their feelings, if they didn't depend on one singular woman as their therapist, best friend, lover and mother all in one.
Some of them think the paragraph above is racist thinking, and here I come to defend it.

In Singapore, it doesn't matter what race you are. I've heard parents of my female friends ask them to get married before sleeping over at their boyfriend's place or they would lose their worth. They could be Chinese, Indian, or Malay and this would happen. Mothers would say this, and fathers would say this, and what I'm trying to highlight with this is that not only men are sexist, women can also be complicit in sexism and misogyny. A woman's worth is dependent on how many men she's been with or if she's been with any man at all, but interestingly enough, nobody says this about their sons. Nobody tells their son not to sleep over at their girlfriend's place, because he doesn't lose any worth, but if they do have sex, then suddenly the woman is worthy of less respect in their eyes. In Malaysia, a Muslim man is still legally allowed to marry four women if he's financially, emotionally, mentally capable of treating them equally. Note that for people who practise Sharia law, they always use the qualification that when this was first in place, it was to ease the burdens of girls and women who were struggling and had lower social standings. So, instead of changing those impressions and the laws in place to ease the lives of women, it became defensible for a man to marry more women to help them instead. In China, the younger generation are still fighting against this notion of 'surplus women', which is when women reach their 30s and are still single, they're looked at as having less value because supposedly they couldn't find a man who's wanted to settle down with them, even if they're single by choice. Older women who are unmarried even face discrimination at their workplaces, because they're looked at as flawed. In India, marital rape is legal, or there is no law in place against marital rape. This means that if you are a married woman, your husband can have sex with you whenever he pleases, even without your consent.

I told a friend of mine that Lucas is bisexual, and the first thing they said was "has he gotten tested??" and I asked what for, to which the response was, "for AIDS!" I heard from a newly-made friend that during Eid festivities, her extended family was over at her place. An uncle of hers decided to show a clip of a gay couple being interviewed or something, to the family in the living room, with the sole purpose of mocking the gay couple. This is a clip that just exists somewhere in the world, not begging to be watched, yet this uncle-person brought it into the collective consciousness of his family so they could make fun of them. In the last week, I met two men who are not religious, but who had their spouses converted to Islam, just so that the men's parents would accept their marriages. Another friend said a man told her she was lesbian because it's just a phase, and she just needed to "try some dick".

When a few people read my caption about men in Southeast Asia embodying internalized misogyny and toxic masculinity, they said it was racist because it sounds like I think all Asian men have this problem, whereas I acknowledged myself that white men could be misogynists or they could not be, and it had nothing to do with their race. So, they were basically using #notallAsianmen on me. These friends of mine, they don't exist on online forums like I do, they are doing other important things like teaching the next generation of people or saving their lives, but here is what's wrong with #notallmen. Even if these female friends of mine have not experienced misogyny from the men they personally know, many countless women in Asia have. That's why I had a lot of agreement to my caption, even if it was supposed to be about my love for Lucas. Saying #notallAsianmen means you are again mollycoddling men's feelings, despite the fact that women in Asia have been oppressed and repressed for ages and ages, even if at the hands of other women. These stories I'm sharing aren't about men, they are about how women have experienced life at the hands of a patriarchal society. Here are links for further reading: 6 Reasons "Not All Men" Misses The Point, Because It's Derailing Important Conversations, Why Men Should Stop Saying #NotAllMen. Immediately., and A Response to the Not All Men Argument. I quote:
Feminist motions to change the inferiority of women and femininity in the public and private sphere require the support of both sexes. Statements about men that relay personal incidents aren’t sexist. The current and long-standing power dynamics between men and women put men above women in society, more often allowing men a voice. When men avoid validating these stories, that only perpetuates the systematic oppression of women. It may be uncomfortable to read statements about men’s treatment of women and they may seem like generalizations, but if you’re truly not a sexist or misogynistic person, there should probably not be the resentment that comes with the indignant, “not all men are like that, I’m not!”
Here is where I have a problem with Asian-raised men as opposed to white men, or even Asian society as opposed to Western society. I am a very opinionated woman, and I have called out the elders in my family, or the men in my family, despite this making me the black sheep. I don't think that being older makes you automatically wiser, and even if my cousins or aunts agree with me, nobody voices it except privately to me. The Asian family unit depends strongly on hierarchy. Just because I exist, and people like me exist, it doesn't mean the problem is somehow gone. It means we've just struggled through very difficult situations. Remember the men I said who had their partners convert just for the sake of pleasing their parents? That's unfortunately still the common reality in Singapore. Asians are not comfortable with calling out other people or being called out, they'd rather pretend everything is a-okay, until the cows come home. I recently told a friend at work a guy was cute, and she said he looked like a nerd, and I told her nerds are the best, because they're willing to learn. I'm sure there are good, non-problematic men in Asia, of course I do, I have cousins and friends married to great men, but unless and until these men can accept and acknowledge that an overwhelmingly misogynistic society exists in Asia, and they can call out other men, whether it's their brother/father/friend/son, or even the women in their lives, the mothers/daughters/sisters, and until men can feel comfortable with letting the conversation be about the problems that women face, instead of about men and their feelings (pertaining to patriarchy and misogyny), the society will never change. This is the major difference, that the Western world recognizes problems and call each other out on it, so that everybody can learn and change. We need to accept that a part of call-out culture is healthy for progress, because if we don't change society now, there is simply no time left before climate change.

And now, I would like to share Mahirah's paper (edited very slightly for typos but not content). This has no relation to the rest of this post, I just read it recently and enjoyed it. She studies criminology, and is a Malay-Muslim, and I'm always very proud of her, so if you'd still like to think I have racist thinking, go ahead. I have no more words. She also wrote: Which groups in Singapore may be said to experience institutionalised racism and how does this influence their life chances? which you can find here.
Why is it so difficult to imagine a society without prison?


During the pre-enlightenment era, society utilised public executions and corporal punishments in order to assert social control (Foucault, 1995). In his book Discipline and Punish, Foucault introduced the gory imagery of capital punishment and juxtaposed this with the conception of the prison as the more advanced and seemingly ‘humane’ method of punishment (Foucault, 1995, p.231). This paper understands prisons as its broad definition of institutions that legally hold convicted offenders and are instruments for society to prevent and control crime (MacCormick, 1950). With cognisance that societies are contextual and ever-changing, this paper will refer to society as the modern-day society in this 21st century, and unless geographically-specified, the global society as a collective. Placing imprisonment in the international context will allow for a wider understanding of the phenomena across geographical locations.

Every country has its own penal system which is based off the country’s collective cultures, values and belief systems. However, prisons are omnipresent in every country’s legal system albeit in different forms and structures. This essay builds upon Foucault’s claims that it is almost impossible to abolish prisons due to the “carceral network” that infiltrates throughout society. The carceral network is the prevalence of prisons in every aspect of society such that it normalises and legalises the prison as a punitive measure (Foucault, 1995). This essay posits that the reason why it is so difficult to think of a society without prison is because the concept of prison is deeply embedded in the cultural, economic and political realms of society. This will be shown through (1) Penal culture, (2) Prison and popular culture, (3) Prisons in economic and political spheres.

Prisons’ Infiltration in Society

1. Penal culture

Penal culture is defined by both “the law, policy and practices” which informs the use of prison as a form of social control, and also the “broad system of meanings, beliefs, ideas and symbols” which shapes people’s perceptions of prison and the meanings that they attach to it (Cunneen, 2013, p.2). The use of imprisonment as a response to crime and social disorder is increasing rapidly around the world- with the global prison population now well over 10 million (Jacobson, Heard and Fair, 2017). The concept of prison has become so synonymous with punishment (Melossi and Pavarini, 1981) that it has made it difficult to imagine a society without prison. In this section, this paper will elucidate the existing penal culture in relation to the ways prison is perceived to control crime by society.

In order to control crime, penal culture sees deterrence as an important role of imprisonment as punishment. The rationale behind the concept of deterrence was introduced by early classical thinkers like Jeremy Bentham and Cesare Beccaria (Moran, Wright and Decker, 1996). According to the utilitarian calculus behind rational choice theory, individuals would rationally calculate whether the pains of punishment outweigh the pleasure of ‘crime’ (Moran, Wright and Decker, 1996). Hence, under this utilitarian calculus, imprisonment is an effective deterrent to crime insofar as it brings greater pain to the individual than the gains of committing the crime. In a speech regarding prison reform, the Justice Secretary of the United Kingdom mentioned that “prison deprives offenders of their liberty and certain freedoms enjoyed by the rest of society and acts as a deterrent” (Ministry of Justice, 2018). Deterrence is also mentioned as an aim of punishment in the functions of various prisons (Singapore Prison Service, 2019; National Institute of Justice, 2016). Prisons are built to deter crimes, with its functions propagated by prison institutions and government officials.

Another aspect of penal culture that cements the need for prisons is the idea that prisons rehabilitate offenders. In this notion, prisons are seen as instrumental in turning offenders into law-abiding citizens. In Singapore, the Singapore Prisons Service prides themselves with the mission to “...enforce secure custody of offenders and rehabilitate them, for a safe Singapore”, (Singapore Prisons Service, 2019). In Chua’s book, The Making of Captain of Lives, he narrates how he transformed Singapore’s prison system, from being overpopulated and rooted in punitive measures to seeing a steady decline in the prison population due to the shift towards a rehabilitative approach (Chua, 2012). In Australia, prisons serve the same rehabilitative purpose by providing educational, vocational and reintegrative programmes for inmates (Heseltine and Day, 2017). Prisons are seen to be crucial into turning offenders into ‘good’ citizens.

Prisons serve to incapacitate offenders as well. Jeremy Bentham places incapacitation along utilitarian lines. He reasons that incapacitation is a suffering that is justifiable insofar as it reduces future crimes from the imprisoned offender (Zimring and Hawkins, 1995). This sentiment is shared with Bauman (2000) who explains that the rising prison population reflects society’s need to take the offender away from society so that they will no longer be able to harm the public. The basis of incapacitation is to protect society from violent or corrupt individuals. If prisons were non-existent, how else would society protect itself from sexual or violent offenders?

Penal culture also consists of society’s beliefs that there is a need to punish those who have transgressed the law (Bauman, 2000). Durkheim introduces the idea of “collective conscience”, in which it is society’s moral values which are deemed to be sacred (Garland, 1991, p.122). Violations of the law is seen to be an act of violation against society’s “collective conscience”, which inevitably invokes “moral outrage and a desire for vengeance” from society (Garland, 1991). Imprisonment meets the retributive aim of punishment in the eyes of society as it punishes those who go against society’s collective moral conscience. Penal culture sees prison as instrumental in controlling crime with its functions of deterrence, rehabilitation, incapacitation and retribution. However, scholars and criminologists contend the effectiveness of the prison. Academics have argued that prisons do not sufficiently deter crime (Scott and Codd, 2010). Contemporary academic discourses are shifting away from the utilitarian view of rational choice theory, positing that there are multiple factors that can predispose an individual to criminality and not all offenders are “rational utility maximizers” (Saunders and Billante, 2003, p.4). Scott (2013) posits that the notion of rehabilitation in prisons is deterministic and focuses too much on the pathologies found in individuals and/or society. Prison abolitionists like Davis (2012) believe that prisons mostly incapacitate those who are marginalized from society and in doing so, reproduce and maintain social and economic inequalities. These social and economic inequalities are evident as majority of prison inmates in the United States are from “lower working-class, black and minority ethnicity, migrant and foreign national lawbreakers” (Scott, 2013, p.14).

However, this paper contends that despite their arguments, the reality is that prisons around the world still function on the basis of deterring crime, rehabilitating and incapacitating offenders. It is difficult for society to imagine a world without prisons as today’s penal culture is insistent that prisons are the answer to controlling crime and order in society.

2. Prisons in Popular Culture

Prison is deeply embedded in the society of today’s popular culture. Although a contested term, this paper understands popular culture as the “culture of the people” (Brummett, 2006, p.4). This encompasses but is not limited to, a dominant set of beliefs, values, practices and tangible artefacts that reflect the majority of a given society. Popular culture is simultaneously a product of and informs the mass media. In this section, this paper will explain how the concept of prison has permeated into the popular culture of today’s society through media and penal tourism, such that it has become an irrefutable symbol of punishment. Consequently, how the representation of prison in popular culture misinforms society on the realities of prison.

It is hard to think of a society without prison when the concept of prison as a viable form of punishment has been indoctrinated through various mediums of popular culture. In the media, there is a fascination with glamourizing prison and prison life. Shawshank Redemption, a movie that revolves around two imprisoned men is one of the most popular films of its genre, gaining multiple awards and nominations (IMDB, 2019). In 2013, over 18,000 people visited Ohio Reformatory and other film sites of Shawshank Redemption (Shulz, 2014), clearly showing the impact the film had on the public. Netflix’s Orange is the New Black, an Internet series showcasing life and day-to-day drama in a women’s federal prison, was Netflix’s most watched original TV series of its time (Denham, 2016). Media representation of prison is crucial in shaping the opinions of the public towards prison (Brown, 2013). Although media representation of prison is not depicted to be a flawless and incorruptible institution, there are recurring themes that the characters face life-changing experiences in prison, which insinuates that the prison is central to the character development of these characters. Despite prison films depicting the need for prison reform, the message that prison is a social necessity is clear. With the general acceptance of prison as a functional aspect of society as depicted in the media, this consequently makes it harder for society to contemplate the notion of prison abolishment.

Another aspect of popular culture that which reinforces legitimacy of the prison lies in penal tourism. According to Brown (2013), thousands of people embark on commercialized defunct prison tours annually. Former prisons refurbished as museums serve to educate the public on the historical aspects of the construction and need for prisons. Welch narrates that penal tourism is an instrument for the social construction of the “dream of order” (2015, p.92). The dream of order is defined as the notions of punishment that are mandated in order to maintain society (Welch, 2015). This is illustrated through penal museums that educate the public on the ideals of order which shaped society as it is today (Welch, 2015). Taking a look at the Argentine Penitentiary Museum, Welch found that it is used by state officials as a means to convey a certain narrative about “Argentine penology and state making” (2015, p. 33). This was done so by highlighting aspects of penal reform that shows the Argentine state as benevolent and withdrawing information that could potentially stain the state’s reputation (Welch, 2015). Welch (2015) concludes that penitentiary museums promote legitimacy of the state and the ways in which it has used punitive measures in order to protect and maintain society. Museums are widely accepted by the public as a legitimate social authority and hence, the cultural transmissions and messages that they portray are likely to be unquestioned by visitors (Welch, 2015). Therefore, if institutions like museums convey messages of prison legitimacy, society would be receptive to the notion of prison as a form of social control as it has successfully done so throughout the course of history.

Hence, media and penal tourism are elements of popular culture that inform and shape society’s perceptions of prison. It is difficult to think of a society without prisons when its importance and impact on society are propagated through popular culture. If society has been indoctrinated through various mediums of the legitimacy of the prison institution, it would then make it difficult to imagine alternative ways of punishment and how society would function without prisons.

3. Prisons in Economic and Political Spheres

The previous sections have shown how prisons have permeated society through the prevalence of penal culture and the image of prisons in popular culture. This section will show how prisons have permeated the economic and political spheres of society. With the global prison population seeing a 24% increase since the year 2000 (Walmsley, 2018), this paper suggests that this rising of the prison population is partly due to the popularity of both penal populism and the privatisation of prisons resulting in the commodification of prisons (Scott, 2013).

In the past three decades, there has been a global shift towards increased incarceration rates and policies that promote harsher punishments for offenders (Fenwick, 2013). This punitive discourse on crime control is echoed through western societies like the United Kingdom (UK), and the United States (US) and even Southeast Asian societies like Japan (Fernwick, 2013; Pratt, 2007). Penal populism can be described as the public’s general anxieties towards the prevalence of criminal activities in society and how the current criminal justice systems are in dire need of reform (Pratt, 2007). Penal populism is also a political discourse in which the political elites wax lyrical on criminal justice reformations and the need to be tougher on crime therefore pandering to the public’s anxieties towards crime and social disorder (Fernwick, 2013). Similarly, Roberts suggest that it is “a set of penal policies designed to win votes rather than to reduce crime or to promote justice” (2002, p.5).

Penal populism is a discourse that politicians often engage in to win over the votes of the public. Pratt (2007) suggests that then US president Clinton paved the way for electoral success based on penal populism. Clinton spearheaded the Democrats to presidential victory in the US by championing a campaign that promoted the death penalty and mass incarceration (Pratt, 2007). In the year 2001, the UK’s then New Labour party held the motto ‘tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’, which proved to be effective as they managed to achieve electoral success that year (Newburn and Jones, 2005). Politicians in New Zealand emerged victorious as well when they applied a similar motto for their political campaigns (Pratt and Clarke, 2005). In Japan, the waning of the public’s confidence in their criminal justice system was one of the antecedents to the introduction of greater public involvement in the criminal justice sector (Fernwick, 2013). Emerging political opponents gave emotive arguments on the demand for justice and harsher punishments, using tones of alarm and anxiety, which eventually won over the public (Fernwick, 2013). The pattern is clear across geographical locations, that politicians exploit the anxieties of the public towards crime and disorder to push their own political agendas.

Penal populism has caused the demonisation of criminals, resulting in the legitimisation of harsh punitive policies. Clinton mandated the ‘Three Strikes and You’re Out’ policy that places recidivist offenders in life imprisonment (Pratt, 2007). In Britain, political rhetoric of the Conservatives saw the prison as a site for social exclusion for deserving individuals who are seen to be “immoral” (Scott, 2013, p.49). In New Zealand, public sentiment managed to convince politicians to reform the 2002 Sentencing Act to impose stricter punishments, one of which are long and often indefinite prison charges for sexual and violent crime offenders (Pratt and Clark, 2005). In England and New Zealand, where penal populism was most effective, England saw its prison population rate “rate increased from 88 per 100,000 of population in 1992 to 145 in 2006” while the latter country saw an increase, “… from 128 in 1995 to 189 in 2006” (Pratt, 2007, p.23). Although situated in different geographical locations, there is a similar template that can be derived from the above examples of the effects of penal populism- that the public generally feels that there is a need for more punitive measures and there is a dissatisfaction with their current criminal justice systems, hence allowing politicians to tap on their anxieties to pursue their electoral interests. In each of these scenarios, the exacerbated use of prison as punishment seems to be the only way to satiate the public’s need for harsher punitive policies.

Prison has been so ingrained in the economical realms of society such that it has become an aspect of economic life (Levin, 2014). Levin (2014) explains that the normalisation of prison as a commodity was symbolised by the Belgian-Dutch exchange. In 2009, 500 Belgian prisoners were sent to Dutch prisons in exchange for an annual payment of £26 million (Levin, 2014). This Belgian-Dutch was beneficial for both nations as Belgium could not accommodate its growing prison population whereas the Netherlands had plenty of prison space that were left vacant (Levin, 2014). Although it may seem to be a justifiable deal as it is in the interest of both nations, the inmates’ rights were left neglected. Levin (2014) observed that the well-being of the inmates was not recorded and being sent to a Dutch prison would make them vulnerable and incapable of reporting abuse. The privatisation of prisons is when private corporations are in-charge and provide prison services when it is supposed to be a public sector responsibility (Levin, 2014). This has led to the commodification of prisons and exploitation of labour of inmates as a source of profit (Levin, 2014). According to Thompson, inmates are a lucrative source of cheap labour for corporations to exploit, especially in the midst of an economic downturn (Thompson, 2012). Thompson (2012) also suggests that Americans think that prison labour is economically beneficial for society. Privatisation of prisons occurs in places like the UK, Australia, Mexico and South Africa. Private sectors are increasingly managing prisons to meet the demand of the increasing prison population (Allen and English, 2013). However, the nature of for-profit prisons disincentivises proper funding for the well-being and rehabilitation of inmates to cut costs. Private prisons are often insufficiently equipped and are breeding grounds for abuse of inmates (Thompson, 2012). Furthermore, Appleman (2018) suggests the nature of forced labour on inmates is reminiscent of the practices of forced work imposed upon slaves before slavery was abolished, especially since the racial makeup of private prisons in the US are mostly of minority races.

In politics, politicians often exploit the anxieties of the public by promoting punitive policies. These punitive policies utilise prisons as the most vital and in some cases, the only means of punishment. In economics, privatisation of prisons as a response to the overpopulation of incarcerated individuals instead of looking into the structural causes of mass incarceration legitimises the use of prisons as a tool of crime control. The casual exploitation of the labour of inmates point towards the normalisation of prisons such that mass incarceration is not seen to be a societal problem but instead, an opportunity for business corporations to utilise cheap labour. Hence, it would be difficult to imagine a society without prisons as it is prevalent in the economic and political spheres of society.


It is difficult to think of a society without prisons because the idea of prisons has infiltrated the cultural, economic and political realms of society. Penal culture informs the public on the deterrent, rehabilitative, incapacitation and retributive functions of prison. Prisons' presence in popular culture; in the media and in penal tourism legitimises the use of prisons by validating its importance in crime control. The idea of prisons as a form of social control is propagated by politicians who utilise penal populism in their campaign rhetoric. Prisons have also shown to be beneficial to the economy in part of business corporations profiting from exploiting the labour of prison inmates. Hence, its existence in various facets of society makes it difficult to imagine a society without prison.

Although this paper has briefly included the problematic aspects of prison, how its effectiveness is dubious in the realm of academia and how it is exploitative and potentially neglects the rights of incarcerated individuals, it is hard to shift towards a paradigm of prison abolition as there will be gaps in society where prison has filled the notions of punishment and crime control. However, prison abolitionists would argue that the pain and suffering caused by prison institutions should be an impetus for society to question the norms of imprisonment (Scott, 2013). Davis (2013) contends that instead of relying on imprisonment to control crime, society needs to take responsibility for the structural inequalities and social problems that beget the need for prisons. In order for society to be able to accept prison abolition, the factors that make it hard to imagine a society without one as outlined in this essay need to be addressed. As mentioned by Davis (2012), an entire revolution of society’s current institutions is needed in order to imagine a society without prisons. Davis (2012) suggests that there needs to be a demilitarisation of education systems, free and accessible physical and mental health services and a justice system rooted in reconciliation and reparation. However, such a feat would require a lot of determination and willingness from society to entertain alternatives to prison. Therefore, it is only difficult to imagine a society without prisons insofar as society is unwilling to undergo major changes in dismantling deep- rooted socio-economic and political problems that result in the dependency on prisons.

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