Year of the Goat/Sheep

Happy Chinese New Year. February 19th marks the Year of the Sheep/Goat/Ram—one of 12 zodiac signs—in the lunar calendar.

Knowing the zodiac year can be like having an advisor who offers a practical path to the best fortune we can gain each year.

If your sign has good predictions for the year, then you may find inspiration in the zodiac. For example, a Tiger in a Sheep year will “find good luck with money.” But if your fortune is bad, then you may chalk the zodiac up to superstition. For example, Sheep people “may easily get injured this year.” Sorry, Sheep.

With minimal research—as in the examples above—you will find that each zodiac is destined to experience the year in a different way. This is the matching of personality types with outward conditions in order to map probable outcomes.

This forecasting is based on timing, or cycles. For it is recognized that natural cycles are associated with environmental conditions. This includes the social climate within a community. These cycles can be observed, recorded and analyzed.

The Chinese zodiac and lunar calendar is simply the study of man and nature, coalesced into probability theory. While probabilities are not guarantees, they can provide a basis for the actions we choose to take in life.

Often our actions are not mindful, and many of our decisions are impulsive. A good example is the constant need for immediate gratification, fostered by a consumer culture. But there is an opportunity to practice mindfulness when we study the lunar calendar. For this is the point of mapping the years in terms of the zodiac: to ensure that our actions work toward our best interests, based on our natures (tendencies) and the climate we’re in—social, economic, political, and environmental.

The Chinese zodiac is not based on hard data but soft data. That is, the data comes from interpretations of phenomena. It is qualitative rather than quantitative. It may be labeled as superstition since it is subjective. However, qualitative analysis complements real life well because of the infinite variables and interactions we see outside of a laboratory—where quantitative analysis takes place.

To argue whether the zodiac is superstition is moot. For I find the zodiac to be a way of engaging our creativity, and thus see value added by this system. This value comes when we are made to evaluate our lives in the context of whatever the lunar calendar foretells. Upon such reflection, we have the opportunity to rationalize solutions to our problems, and to develop strategies for our success—based on our personality types (dispositions) and the outward conditions that affect us.

Find your sign below, as well as some 2015 predictions for each zodiac:

Rat

  • Feb 10, 1948 – Jan 28, 1949
  • Jan 28, 1960 – Feb 14, 1961
  • Feb 15, 1972 – Feb 2, 1973
  • Feb 2, 1984 – Feb 19, 1985
  • Feb 19, 1996 – Feb 6, 1997
  • Feb 7, 2008 – Jan 25, 2009

Characteristics: Imaginative, generous, successful, popular, curious

Ox

  • Jan 29, 1949 – Feb 16, 1950
  • Feb 15, 1961 – Feb 4, 1962
  • Feb 3, 1973 – Jan 22, 1974
  • Feb 20, 1985 – Feb 8, 1986
  • Feb 7, 1997 – Jan 27, 1998
  • Jan 26, 2009 – Feb 13, 2010

Characteristics: Confident, honest, patient, conservative, strong

Tiger

  • Feb 17, 1950 – Feb 5, 1951
  • Feb 5, 1962 – Jan 24, 1963
  • Jan 23, 1974 – Feb 10, 1975
  • Feb 9, 1986 – Jan 28, 1987
  • Jan 28, 1998 – Feb 15, 1999
  • Feb 14, 2010 – Feb 2, 2011

Characteristics: Sensitive, tolerant, brave, active, resilient

Rabbit

  • Feb 6, 1951 – Jan 26, 1952
  • Jan 25, 1963 – Feb 12, 1964
  • Feb 11, 1975 – Jan 30, 1976
  • Jan 29, 1987 – Feb 16, 1988
  • Feb 16, 1999 – Feb 4, 2000
  • Feb 3, 2011 – Jan 22, 2012

Characteristics: Affectionate, kind, gentle, compassionate, merciful

Dragon

  • Jan 27, 1952 – Feb 13, 1953
  • Feb 13, 1964 – Feb 1, 1965
  • Jan 31, 1976 – Feb 17, 1977
  • Feb 17, 1988 – Feb 5, 1989
  • Feb 5, 2000 – Jan 23, 2001
  • Jan 23, 2012 – Feb 9, 2013

Characteristics: Enthusiastic, intelligent, lively, energetic, innovative

Snake

  • Feb 14, 1953 – Feb 2, 1954
  • Feb 2, 1965 – Jan 20, 1966
  • Feb 18, 1977 – Feb 6, 1978
  • Feb 6, 1989 – Jan 26, 1990
  • Jan 24, 2001 – Feb 11, 2002
  • Feb 10, 2013 – Jan 30, 2014

Characteristics: Charming, intuitive, romantic, highly perceptive, polite

Horse

  • Feb 3, 1954 – Jan 23, 1955
  • Jan 21, 1966 – Feb 8, 1967
  • Feb 7, 1978 – Jan 27, 1979
  • Jan 27, 1990 – Feb 14, 1991
  • Feb 12, 2002 – Jan 31, 2003
  • Jan 31, 2014 – Feb 18, 2015

Characteristics: Diligent, friendly, sophisticated, talented, clever

Sheep / Goat / Ram

  • Jan 24, 1955 – Feb 11, 1956
  • Feb 9, 1967 – Jan 29, 1968
  • Jan 28, 1979 – Feb 15, 1980
  • Feb 15, 1991 – Feb 3, 1992
  • Feb 1, 2003 – Jan 21, 2004
  • Feb 19, 2015 – Feb 7, 2016

Characteristics: Artistic, calm, reserved, happy, kind

Monkey

  • Feb 12, 1956 – Jan 30, 1957
  • Jan 30, 1968 – Feb 16, 1969
  • Feb 16, 1980 – Feb 4, 1981
  • Feb 4, 1992 – Jan 22, 1993
  • Jan 22, 2004 – Feb 8, 2005

Characteristics: Witty, lively, flexible, humorous, curious

Rooster

  • Jan 31, 1957 – Feb 17, 1958
  • Feb 17, 1969 – Feb 5, 1970
  • Feb 5, 1981 – Jan 24, 1982
  • Jan 23, 1993 – Feb 9, 1994
  • Feb 9, 2005 – Jan 28, 2006

Characteristics: Shrewd, honest, communicative, motivated, punctual

Dog

  • Feb 18, 1958 – Feb 8, 1959
  • Feb 6, 1970 – Jan 26, 1971
  • Jan 25, 1982 – Feb 12, 1983
  • Feb 10, 1994 – Jan 30, 1995
  • Jan 29, 2006 – Feb 17, 2007

Characteristics: Loyal, honest, responsible, courageous, warm-hearted

Pig

  • Feb 8, 1959 – Jan 27, 1960
  • Jan 27, 1971 – Feb 14, 1972
  • Feb 13, 1983 – Feb 1, 1984
  • Jan 31, 1995 – Feb 18, 1996
  • Feb 18, 2007 – Feb 6, 2008

Characteristics: Sincere, tolerant, hard-working, honest, optimistic

Ref. http://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/chinese-zodiac-signs.html

 

2015 Predictions

sheep

Click here for some 2015 predictions for each zodiac. (Your mileage may vary.)

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Immune Cells

Immune cells surrounding hair follicles. ©2012 NIAID (https://www.flickr.com/photos/niaid/) under a Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0

There’s something going around—a nasty flu virus; a non-flu virus causing coughs and phlegm; and frequent colds. This season, it seems our immune systems are being bombarded.

To the zealous pathogens: Challenge accepted. For there are steps we can take at home to enhance our immunity. The following addresses prevention of sickness, therapy (should sickness occur), and recovery.

 

Prevention

Of course prevention is preferred, for it helps ensure limited down-time. In this respect, nutrition, exercise and rest are essential keys. Though these keys can be a challenge given our responsibilities and ambitions, their necessity stands.

Regarding nutrition, vitamins and minerals are the building blocks of a healthy immune system—specifically, the nutrients below:

Vitamins

C, E, A, D, B6, B12, folate

Minerals

selenium, copper, zinc, iron

Gather these nutrients in succulent pill-form as you frolic and forage through the pristine landscape of the supplement aisle. OR, exchange the potato chips for carrots and rely on whole foods as medicine.

All these nutrients can be found in nuts, seeds, legumes, vegetables, and grains (except for Vit B12, which is found in animal sources). Further, note that the minerals above are more abundant in animal sources and—in the case of iron—more bioavailable.

If you eat a variety of whole foods and don’t skip meals (and healthy snack times), then you will likely have enough intake of immunity-enhancing nutrients. But in case you want specifics, here’s a cheat-sheet:

Food collage

© 2015 Balingit Acupuncture (Credit for individual images given under references below.)

Food legend

The foods above are either good or great sources for the nutrients listed, but you can find other foods if you want to diversify your meals further.

Summary of the benefits of exercise and rest (sleep):

Exercise

In trials, exercise has been shown to reduce the incidence and severity of respiratory infections. In addition to toning muscles, exercise helps tone the immune system by mobilizing components of our innate immunity (e.g. neutrophils, eosinophils, basophils, natural killer cells).

Exercise should be regular and moderate. For overtraining—or highly intense exercise—may increase susceptibility to respiratory infection by reducing adaptive immunity (i.e. temporarily lowering T cells and B cells).

Sleep

Sleep regulates the function (i.e. circadian rhythm) of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which interacts with our immune systems.

The HPA axis is the mechanism involved in our stress response, controlling the release of glucocorticoids (stress hormones) from the adrenals. While glucocorticoids have been implicated in immune suppression, the neuroendocrine-immunity interaction is complex, and glucocorticoids actually have a modulating effect on immune response.

Because sleep reduces stress, it allows the HPA axis to promote a healthy immune response rather than suppress it.

 

Food Therapy

We do what we can. But sometimes we get sick anyway. In this case, our nutrient intake is hindered as our appetites are weakened by pathogens.

Because our digestive function is low at this time, we should focus on ingesting bland, nutrient-dense and easily-absorbed foods—think: vegetable and bone broths. We should also limit the intake of iron, as it can otherwise nourish bacteria and thus worsen infections.

Below are self-care methods to address specific symptoms:

Daikon radish

© 2009 FooNar (https://www.flickr.com/photos/foonar/) under a Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0

For Initial Onset of Common Cold

Prepare Ginger Scallion Tea by boiling a few slices of ginger in 1 to 1 ½ cups water for 5-10 min, adding the chopped white part of 1 scallion near the end of boiling. Optional: sweeten with a pinch of brown sugar.

For added anti-microbial oomph, you may add a chopped garlic clove, boiled with the ginger.

For a Cold with Cough

Prepare Ginger Mustard Tea by boiling a few slices of ginger in 1 to 1 ½ cups water for 5-10 min, adding a few mustard greens near the end of boiling. Drink the tea. Eat the greens.

For a Cough with Phlegm Congestion

Eat raw daikon radish, or juice it.

Steam your respiratory tract with an infusion of Hyssop essential oil: Add 5-10 drops of essential oil to a large bowl of boiling water. Hover your face over it and breathe deeply, covering your head with a towel.

For Dry Cough

Juice (or eat) Asian pears. If there is irritation that causes bloody coughs, add lotus root to your diet. You can also juice lotus root, or add it to soups or sauté it.

 

Recovery

Huang Qi

© 2013 Hovenweep National Monument (https://www.flickr.com/photos/hovenweepnps/) under a Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Herbs are a good source for revitalizing our immune systems. The following herbs can be used long-term, i.e. during the prevention phase. However, during prevention, I focused on everyday foods as they seem more readily accessible for most people.

Astragalus Root (flower shown above)

Known as huang qi in Chinese Medicine, astragalus strengthens lung qi and thus tones the immune system. Its effect is evident in cancer treatment, as it prevents immunosuppression caused by chemotherapy. It also tonifies the spleen system (i.e. metabolism) to address poor appetite and fatigue.

Prince Seng

Known as tai zi shen in Chinese Medicine, prince seng strengthens the lungs and spleen system. Though, its spleen action is milder than astragalus. It contains immunostimulating polysaccharides, and has been called the “ginseng of the lungs.”

Astragalus and Prince Seng are categorized as adaptogenic herbs and generally safe for long-term use. However, it is recommended to consult your healthcare practitioner regarding an appropriate dosage for you. A Chinese Medicine practitioner can also help you discern which of the two may be more applicable to your current state.

 

Acupuncture

In addition to self-care, take it to the next level with professional support. For example, acupuncture can be employed at any phase—during prevention, infection or recovery. The treatment approach varies, depending on which phase you’re in.

  • During the prevention phase, acupuncture tones the respiratory and immune systems.
  • During infection, it excites an immune response by mobilizing white blood cells. It also specifically addresses any of the symptoms of infection (e.g. headache, body aches, digestive disturbance, chills/fever, cough, sore throat, fatigue).
  • During recovery, it revitalizes overall health and further addresses lingering fatigue, cough and/or phlegm congestion.

Schedule an appointment with Carl M Balingit, L.Ac. at (619) 994.2119.

 

References

Photo Collage. Individual images are credited from left-to-right, top-to-bottom, under a Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0 as follows: Riza Nugraha https://www.flickr.com/photos/rnugraha/, Liz West https://www.flickr.com/photos/calliope/, Color Line https://www.flickr.com/photos/sunrise/, Nick Mote https://www.flickr.com/photos/mote/, Ian Ransley https://www.flickr.com/photos/design-dog/, Andria Ariste Santacreu https://www.flickr.com/photos/manicomi/, Matthew Robinson https://www.flickr.com/photos/noisecollusion/, Tup Wanders https://www.flickr.com/photos/tupwanders/, Rob & Dani https://www.flickr.com/photos/rob-qld/, Mike McCune https://www.flickr.com/photos/mccun934/, News21-National https://www.flickr.com/photos/news21/, Stuart Webster https://www.flickr.com/photos/stuartwebster/, KT King https://www.flickr.com/photos/xtrah/, 46137 https://www.flickr.com/photos/wolfworld/, Jeremy Keith https://www.flickr.com/photos/adactio/, Ezra Wolfe https://www.flickr.com/photos/ezraw/, Kate Ter Haar https://www.flickr.com/photos/katerha/, Liz Muir https://www.flickr.com/photos/julescatering/, coniferconifer https://www.flickr.com/photos/conifer/, Paul Joseph https://www.flickr.com/photos/sashafatcat/, Jules Morgan https://www.flickr.com/photos/ladymissmarquise/, Daniella Segura https://www.flickr.com/photos/77568040@N08/, Jamonation https://www.flickr.com/photos/jamonation/, Valdemar Fishmen https://www.flickr.com/photos/torange-biz/, Personal Creations https://www.flickr.com/photos/personalcreations/, Pink Sherbet Photography https://www.flickr.com/photos/pinksherbet/, Ofer Deshe https://www.flickr.com/photos/desheboard/, Cookbookman17 https://www.flickr.com/photos/cookbookman/.

Freidenreich, D., & Volek, J. (2012). Immune Responses to Resistance Exercise. Exercise Immunology Review,(18), 8-41.

Guyon, A., & Et. Al. (2014). Adverse effects of two nights of sleep restriction on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis in healthy men. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 99(8), 2861-8.

Jefferies, W. (1991). Cortisol and Immunity. Medical Hypotheses, 34(3), 198-208.

Silverman, M., Pearce, B., Biron, C., & Miller, A. (2005). Immune Modulation of the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) Axis during Viral Infection. Viral Immunology, 18(1), 41-78.

Walsh, N., & Et. al. (2011). Position Statement Part One: Immune Function and Exercise. Exercise Immunology Review,(17), 6-63.

Wintergerst, E., Maggini, S., & Hornig, D. (2007). Contribution of Selected Vitamins and Trace Elements to Immune Function.Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, (51), 301-323.

Yamaguchi, N., Takahashi, T., Sakuma, M., Sugita, T., Uchikawa, K., Sakaihara, S., … Kawakita, K. (2007). Acupuncture Regulates Leukocyte Subpopulations in Human Peripheral Blood. Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine,4(4), 447-453.

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The Spirit Herb

by Carl Balingit on September 17, 2014

in Chinese Medicine, Spirituality

Purple Ganoderma

© 2014 See-ming Lee (www.flickr.com/photos/seeminglee/) under a Creative Commons attribution license.

People may think of psychedelic plants as a gateway to the nature of mind, as a way to enlightenment. Maybe these mind-altering drugs can help reinforce those on the bodhi path. But they are optional, and secondary to the process that is truly essential for spiritual evolution: meditation (or contemplation).

While laws and social stigmas limit the use of psychedelics, there is an alternative substance you can freely consume that can aid contemplation. And you can do so without landing in jail, or getting excommunicated from your social niche. The herb–or mushroom–is reishi (Chinese name: ling zhi), and it is classified as an adaptogen.

Adaptogens are herbs that help us manage our response to stress. The stress may be mental, emotional or physical. These herbs are anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antibacterial, antiviral, and/or anti-tumor. They balance hormones, enhance immunity, calm anxiety, and/or uplift depression. They enhance cellular respiration (oxygen uptake) for increased energy production. In scientific-y summary, they regulate the neuroendocrine-immune system.

All adaptogens exhibit at least one of the above attributes, and most exhibit several of them at once. All are also safe for long-term use and supported by a significant volume of research as well as millennia of clinical use, mainly in Ayurveda and Chinese Medicine. While the agelong use of these herbs is a testament to their safety and efficacy, new uses for them are continually being found as modern diseases emerge.

Of all the adaptogens, reishi is the sole “soul-searching” herb. By “soul-searching,” I am not alluding to religion but spirituality, or—in a more secular tone—existentialism. In this regard, we are capitalizing on the herb’s ability to promote mental clarity and calm the mind. (In Chinese Medicine, there is no division between spirit and mind.)

Ling zhi can be translated as “spirit plant” or “divine fungus,” and the mushroom has been used through the ages by Taoists, monks, and other spiritual seekers to support a meditative life. In the Chinese Medicine pharmacopeia, it:

  1. Nourishes the heart and calms the spirit
  2. Stops coughing and wheezing
  3. Tonifies qi and nourishes blood

It can be used for insomnia, fatigue, poor appetite, or lung disorders. It is also considered a longevity herb. It was first listed in the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing (Divine Husbandman’s Materia Medicia), which was written sometime shortly after the Han Dynasty (ending 220 CE). There, it is classified as a superior herb, meaning that it nourishes life and is very safe to use.

If existentialism is not your thing, you may jump ahead to Adaptogenic Properties of Ling Zhi for modern herbal applications. However, if you want to nourish your shen (i.e. spirit, but not your Catholic soul), then read on for the Shen-Nong-Ben-Cao-Jing elucidation…

Ling Zhi in the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing

The SNBCG lists six types of ling zhi: blue/green, red, yellow, white, black and purple. They all have similar properties for nourishing life, but are individually characterized by distinct mental-emotional effects. These are summarized in David Winston’s book, ‘Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina and Stress Relief.’

  • Blue/green reishi calms the spirit and “helps a person become more compassionate.”
  • Red reishi improves cognitive function.
  • Yellow reishi “helps a person become loyal, honest, and relaxed.”
  • White reishi quiets the mind and “gives fortitude and bravery.”
  • Black reishi isn’t attributed specific mental-emotional effects, but strengthens the kidney system which traditionally corresponds to will power.
  • Purple reishi (pictured above) “protects the shen [spirit], and prevents senility.”

Adaptogenic Properties of Ling Zhi

Ling zhi’s adaptogenic properties include:

  • strengthening the immune system
  • enhancing cardiovascular function
  • anti-tumor
  • anti-inflammatory
  • antiviral

In China it is used in fu zheng therapy during cancer treatment. Fu zheng means “to support normal qi.” It is a therapeutic approach that focuses on strengthening the body and building its resistance to disease, rather than attacking disease directly. In integrative cancer treatment, while chemo- or radiation therapy aggressively attacks the cancer, fu zheng treatments protect the body and counter the side-effects of chemo and radiation.

On Meditation and Psychedelics

Regarding enlightenment, it is an infinite path that is open for travel as far as you are willing to go. Meditation is the guide along the path.

Take a few steps in meditative thought and you may feel at peace, and choose to stay there. If you walk further, you will leave the comfort of peace, and explore hatred, envy, fear and/or other negative emotions that characterize the human condition. But your journey will be more complete, for you have chosen not to repress existing emotions. Thus, your path becomes winding, as you weave through peace and conflict.

Way, way down the path you will touch upon the place you started. You will realize you haven’t been moving forward, winding along. For you will have reached the point of infinite oneness, where everything moves together, and there is no relativity.

Psychedelics may do this mind-work for you, as a shortcut to heightened sensory awareness. But it is a shortcut through Wonderland, where you can easily get lost. Ling zhi, in contrast, will help you do the enlightening mental work yourself while retaining logic and opening your mind to intuitive clarity.

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Mistletoe: for Christmas, Kissing and High Blood Pressure

December 20, 2013

Happy Holidays. Give gifts. Steal kisses. That is, if you follow the mistletoe tradition.

There are several stories on the origin of kissing below a mistletoe. They may come from mythology, Druidic history, or the musings of horny men of the 19th century.

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How To Self-Treat Thanksgiving Bloating

November 26, 2013

Thanksgiving is not only a time to share thanks but to also share food. While some of us are better at moderation than others, overeating could be an issue this festive time of year. If so, an immediate side effect may be bloating and gas.

If you experience this, here’s a quick self-care tip to help your gut process all that stuffing:

Massage acupuncture point, Ren 12 (Zhong Wan)

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Recipe – Black Sesame Soup

October 31, 2013

Though I wrote about the side effects of sugar in my Halloween newsletter, that does not straightaway mean that we should eliminate the sweet flavor from our diet. Sweetness is one of the five flavors, each of which offers a different health benefit. Sweet foods tend to nourish fluids and relax muscles and tendons.

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Benefit of Herbs to Invigorate Blood in Cancer Therapy

September 9, 2013

While visiting the hospital at the Chengdu University of Traditional Chinese Medicine in 2005, it was interesting to witness the heavy use of blood invigorating herbs in cancer therapy along with chemo and/or radiation. It was interesting because 90% of cancer deaths are due to metastasis, in which cancer cells migrate and invade distant tissues via vascular and lymphatic circulation.

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Autumn and Regional Impact on Dietary Advice

September 2, 2013

Climate impacts our health, and food may be used to counteract any adverse effects of environmental conditions. Low relative humidity can lead to dryness of our skin, and mucous membranes along our respiratory pathways, as the air draws moisture from our bodies. In Chinese medicine, the lung system is not only related to respiration but also to the functioning of our skin. Traditionally, autumn is considered arid, thus calling for foods that moisten dryness and benefit the lung system.

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Book Recommendation — ‘Chinese medicine in early communist China, 1945-63: a medicine of revolution’

June 9, 2013

‘Chinese Medicine in Early Communist China’ is a monograph of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). The word ‘traditional’ in TCM misleads. For it suggests that the tenets of Chinese medicine (particularly, acupuncture) have remained essentially unchanged throughout the millennia. However, this unchanging nature is an ostensible characteristic. Taylor’s book explains how ‘Traditional Chinese Medicine’ is—more succinctly—a political term, coined by the Communist party in the years after it seized government control in 1949.

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How Old Is Old? — In the Time of Acupuncture

April 10, 2013

There is some confusion—even among acupuncturists—over just how old acupuncture really is. To understand the origins of acupuncture, we must see the difference between using the nearest sharp object to poke people where it hurts, and practicing acupuncture based on an organized medical system.

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