Station Break with Paul Farhi: Michael Jackson Memorial and More
Tuesday, July 7, 2009; 3:00 PM
Washington Post staff writer Paul Farhi was online Tuesday, July 7, at 3 p.m. ET to talk about the Michael Jackson memorial and the rest of the news in the pop culture world that is not about Michael Jackson.
Paul Farhi: Greetings, all, and welcome to a Special Edition of the chat ("special" because we're two hours later than normal, and the website is really acting very grumpy today)...Well, they say funerals are for the living, not the dead, so perhaps Michael Jackson's memorial today will sate the media and public's appetite for Michael mania. Overkill? As a perpetrator of several Michael Jackson stories, I plead guilty, in behalf of the news media. The live cable coverage the past two weeks has exceeded even the appalling levels set by Princess Diana's death a decade ago. So little actual news, so much bloviation. Today's memorial had its dignified and moving moments, but it was more like an entertainment extravaganza than a traditional memorial service. Maybe that's as it should be, considering that Jackson was a great entertainer. But did Mariah Carey really need to wear a plunging black dress? What did Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson have to do with Jackson? And why was John Mayer there at all? Anyway, as they say, perhaps this will give everyone--the family, the fans, and most of all the news media--"closure." RIP, MJ.
And, briefly, in local news: Shout outs (shouts out?) to local radio legend Ed Walker, late of WAMU-FM and his very fine "Big Broadcast" on Sunday evenings, for his nomination to the National Radio Hall of Fame. Walker has been a fixture on the local radio scene since waaay back in the day of his "Joy Boys" program with Willard Scott. Nice to see the man get his just desserts for a lifetime behind the mic...
Okay, let's go to the phones.
Remembering Michael in Blaine, Wash.: Listening to these great performers cover some of MJ's greatest hits, its evident than none of them can compare to Michael. Why is that, and is my impression right, or just one clouded by sentiment?
Paul Farhi: Sentiment, sure. But would you WANT someone to overshadow Jackson's original on the day of his public memorial? That would be bad form, as they Brits say. Besides, the original is always the frontrunner. Hard to think of many recordings that exceed the original, let alone live "covers" of the original.
Arlington, Va.: Ok -- which group is more hysterical when their idol died: MJ fans or Princess Di fans?
Paul Farhi: Excellent question. I think the Diana fans were more numerous, or at least more publicly demonstrative (remember those enormous crowds lining the streets in London for her funeral? Nothing like that in Jackson's case). Reason: She was not just beloved, but she was a beloved figure who died much closer to her peak of fame.
It's possible that Elvis had a larger outpouring of fans than Michael has had, but I don't quite remember Elvis's funeral/public memorial...
Tucson, Ariz.: Overheard at a restaurant the other night: A five-year-old launching into a pitch-perfect version of "Viva Viagra," as his parents looked on, mortified. Isn't this the best argument yet for restricting these ads to after 10 p.m.?
Paul Farhi: Hahaha! How simultaneously delightful AND disturbing. I'm not sure why those campy Enzyte ads are restricted to post 10 pm hours but Viagra and Cialis (home of the four-hour erection/see your doctor warnings) air all the time, all day.
Recordings that exceed the original: Off topic, but Johnny Cash's version of "Hurt" is way better than the original NIN version.
Paul Farhi: Don't know either song, but thanks for letting us know.
Ellicottville, N.Y.: Doesn't the fact that 15 Palin supporters and 35 journalists came to the "Fire David Letterman" rally last month prove that Sarah Palin's real "core base" isn't Evangelicals or anti-tax lobbying groups, but really the media?
Paul Farhi: I don't know how many journalists actually voted for Sarah Palin, but we sure do love her. She is nothing but great copy and footage!
Upper Marlboro, Md.: I thought it was an odd choice to have Kobe Bryant participating in the memorial. I get his relation to the Staples Center, but his presence just reminded me of his criminal trial, subsequently reminding me of Michael's trial at a point in the service where it hadn't crossed my mind. Kinda halting and weird.
Paul Farhi: I didn't make that connection, but now I can't think of any other associations BUT those...
Chicago: Can I just say....
Paul Farhi: I know it wasn't about this, but she sure looked purty. And came off as very dignified, intelligent and classy.
Woodbridge, Va.: How is it that MJ wants his mother to have custody of his kids, when she apparently sat back all those years ago while Joe was abusing him?
Paul Farhi: Doesn't surprise me in the least. He always loved his mom, felt sorry for her, felt she was in some ways a victim of a domineering husband. I think he identified with her suffering, even as she basically enabled the suffering/abuse of the kids.
Wondering in Seattle: I find myself oddly moved by the MJ memorial service, oddly as I haven't thought much about Michael in years. But the events surrounding his death, including the memorial, have brought back how many of his songs have meaning for me, tied to certain times and places (I am a few years younger than him, so I basically grew up with his music). My question -- I wonder about his mother, who it is said is a Jehovah's witness, reconciled herself to her children's career, and her husband's role in promoting them as kids. Doesn't JW prohibit dancing??
Paul Farhi: I'm not at all surprised by this (because this is what funerals and memorials are about), but the last 20 very bad years of Jackson's life have been utterly scrubbed from this spectacle. It's as if all the tabloid-y stuff of his life--the surgeries, custody fights, trials, financial problems, etc.--never existed. Of course you don't bring up bad stuff when memorializing the dead, but it almost seems like they're celebrating the pre-1993 Michael Jackson only.
Jackson Memori, AL: Hey Paul, did you know that Jackson Memorial is the name of a hospital down in Miami?
Paul Farhi: Are they changing it to MICHAEL Jackson Memorial Hospital?
Fairfax, Va.: Any more word on the rumored demise of the Mike O'Meara Show?
Paul Farhi: It appears to be toast. CBS was trying to find a role for Mike O'Meara in the new sports-talk WJFK (coming very soon), but I don't know where things stand with that, if they stand anywhere. But O'Meara's regular show doesn't fit anywhere in the new format.
Wenatchee, Wash.: Do you know if the other Jackson kids acknowledge their father's abuse? I know in many families one child says abuse occurred, while others deny it happened.
Paul Farhi: I'm not sure to what extent Tito, Jackie, Jermaine, Marlon, Janet, etc. have acknowledged it. Conversely, I don't recall ANY comments from them denying Michael's basic accounts.
Harrisburg, Pa.: In a deathmatch, who would win: MJ's service, or the combined forces of all three James Brown services?
Paul Farhi: James Brown's services didn't have mass TV coverage, and the crowds wouldn't have filled half the Staples Center. So I'll have to go with Jackson's. By far.
Someplace Sane: So there were supposed to be hundreds of thousands of fans gathering outside the Staples Center for MJ's memorial service and...nobody showed up? That tells us everything we need to know about how out of touch the media is about this story. It was a big deal the day he died -- but TV and online ratings on it are down in days since, yet the coverage has been unrelenting. Do the networks, etc., have any idea how out of touch with pop culture and public sentiment they are?
Paul Farhi: They don't have to be in touch with the mass of public sentiment. They only have to be in touch with a few million viewers at a time. And so they're doing what they always do--devoting enormous resources to a single story, a story that will maintain a relatively high and relatively steady audience. Not a HUGE audience, just a loyal and somewhat large one.
Jackson Abuse: I believe LaToya has backed up Michael's story, but to be fair...it is LaToya.
Paul Farhi: Haha! Uh, yeah...
Herndon, Va.: " Overheard at a restaurant the other night: A five-year-old launching into a pitch-perfect version of "Viva Viagra," as his parents looked on, mortified."
Is it wrong that this is going to make me giggle like a little girl for the rest of the day?
Paul Farhi: It's so wrong what we expose young children to, and don't we as adults bear a special responsi...Oh, hell. It IS hilarious!
Arlington, Va.: So it looks like the end for The Mike O'Meara Show at WJFK. Assuming CBS doesn't keep paying him in order to keep him off the air, there has to be some station in D.C. that'll pick him up, right? We're talking about a 25-year institution.
Paul Farhi: I wouldn't necessarily count on it. First, he still has a contract with CBS that would (like his buddy, Mike "Don Geronimo" Sorce) keep him in non-compete mode for some time (dunno how long). Second, the radio industry is in absolute cut-to-the-bone panic mode. Talented as he is, O'Meara would be expensive. And who has any money right now?
Speaking of WJFK: Paul,
You're holding out on me. I know I ask this question every week, and to wit you've never actually answered it. You're my go-to guy WRT the radio industry, especially the local radio market.
In a nutshell: "How does the WJFK format flip make any sense business-wise?" the way I see it, they are flipping formats to compete directly with 980 AM, a station that they are 'already beating' in the ratings.
What exactly is the thought process here, Paul?
Paul Farhi: Well, I thought I'd tackled this one before, but let's try again. CBS is looking to reduce WJFK's costs AND expand its audience of young guys. Dumping Mike O'Meara and crew would save CBS a substantial amount of money over the long haul. As for expanding the audience, that's a little trickier. Putting sports-talk on FM, where it isn't now, is conceivably a smart move because so much of the radio audience is already listening to FM, not AM. Theoretically, it's like opening a new restaurant on restaurant row. All the people who like restaurants are already going there. That's the theory, at least. For a real-world test of the theory, btw, ask WTOP how well switching from AM (1500) to FM (103.5) worked. Answer: It worked fabulously.
believe LaToya has backed up Michael's story, but to be fair...it is LaToya.: She also said MJ was a pedophile and then took it back and claimed her husband forced her to say that. You can't believe anything LaToya says. She's just as crazy as MJ. Probably because she was abused as a child.
Paul Farhi: Well, I'm not going to defend LaToya's credibility. Heck, I'm not going to defend anything about LaToya.
Magic at the memorial: Michael Jordan was in one of Michael's videos. Remember the Time, which also had Iman and Eddie Murphy
Paul Farhi: Okay. I guess. But do we really think there was much, if any, association between them other than that?
Not the demographic: I miss David Stein already and now more changes. Is another station going to take over Love Line, and really will they keep the Junkies? 40ish lady listener wants to know!
Paul Farhi: The Junkies are going to continue on the station. I think, but am not sure, that Loveline will be gone. Just a question of when.
Boston, Mass.: Which would you recommend for analysis of meetings between Dmitry Medvedev, American mass media or local Russian? Personally found the local mass media very interesting during Barack Obama's brief foreign trips to Canada, Mexico, Egypt, Germany, France U.K., etc...
Paul Farhi: The Russian media, for sure. I don't understand a word they're saying, but that makes the bad news much easier to swallow.
Atlanta, Ga.: I found it awful weird that Jennifer Hudson was there. Had she even met him? Let alone knew him well?
Paul Farhi: Or Queen Latifah. Or John Mayer. Or Kobe. I guess you didn't really have to know him to laud him, but it would have been a little more genuine, no?
Arlington, Va.: Sorry to be snarky, but where were all these people when MJ needed them the most? Everyone reports on how lonely he was, but jeez, this funeral is a networking dream!
There -- I'm finished now...
Paul Farhi: The Michael Jackson-is-lonely trope is an odd one. He was surrounded by professional people--doctors, managers, publicists, "advisers," lawyers, record-company guys--throughout his life. But it's pretty fair to say he was kind of misanthropic. He really didn't seem to have many adult friends, or lasting associations. Yes, he did like children. But he seems to have pushed almost everyone else away; he was lonely by choice.
On Another Planet: It's being reported that Sci Fi Channel is changing it's name to the SyFy channel. I am NOT making this up. Are they nuts? Is it just possible that the new moniker is short for something like System FUBAR? Can you imagine what the MST3K gang would say about this?
Paul Farhi: Yes, that's quite possibly the worst name ever for a new channel. At least the worst since the Outdoor Life Network changed its name to OLN, then changed it to Versus (but, boy, do I love its Tour de France coverage).
washingtonpost.com: SyFy Channel
The Airless Cubicle: How much coverage [will] Robert McNamara's funeral will get? Or Steve McNair's? Shouldn't there be a TV version of the obituary column? The BBC does a version on the radio and it works for them. Fox? NBC? Care to try it?
Paul Farhi: Both might rate a bit of footage in the news roundup. McNair might get more on ESPN. But not sure where McNamara would fit, ideologically. Fox News can't grab hold of him because he was a Democrat (or at least identified with Democratic administrations). And MSNBC can't deify him because he was such a flawed Defense secretary. CNN is your default here, but McNamara is of such a long-ago age that he might be too old to rate much.
"Yes, he did like children.": Umm... My vote would be the MJ'ers are crazier than the Diana'ers. Partly because of that, and partly because, for all else, it was slightly (just slightly) more dignified mass hysteria. At least, I don't recall people going bankrupt just to watch her carriage roll by.
(Of course, the real test comes in a few years, after people have had the time to absorb everything and move on. Then you find out the real crazies who won't let go.)
Paul Farhi: I've met, and written about, the hardcore MJ fans, the kind that travelled from around the world to be at his trial or to merely stand in front of Neverland as if it was the Wailing Wall or Mecca or the Vatican. Those people are stone-cold crazy, er, passionate. But I guess there's something irrational in blindly following anyone or anything. I'm not judgin', I'm just sayin'.
Washington, DC: For Tucson: Read Tracee Hamilton's column today about ED ads:
And Now, a Word For the Sponsors . . . (Post, July 7)
Paul Farhi: I'm a big Tracee fan. Highly recommended.
D.C.: Hi Paul. I just do not get the fanatacism over Michael Jackson. He was a drug addict. He was also very bizarre. He is no one I would like my children to emulate. I think the hoopla surrounding his death and funeral is ridiculous. Have we really lost our way?
Paul Farhi: Well, he was all of those things, yes. But before he was those things, he was the biggest-selling musician/entertainer in the world. He's still internationally famous, of course (and there are VERY few people who are known around the world). Plus, in his day, he really was something special.
RE: he was lonely by choice. : I don't think anyone is lonely by choice. Loneliness hurts. I think he was extremely lonely for a few reasons -- the people around him just wanted to use him for money; and he was very naive and could not really relate to adults.
Paul Farhi: Hmmm. I don't profess to know the mysteries of his very troubled psyche. Except that it, and he, WERE very troubled. He had a strange and twisted childhood. That alone doesn't explain his bizarre adult behavior. But his adult behavior suggested a deeply, deeply disturbed individual.
Consipracy: Gene Weingarten sabotaged the chat software. Or maybe Liz did it.
Paul Farhi: It couldn't be Gene. His idea of advanced technology is shoe laces. He tends to become frightened and confused by anything more complicated.
Crystal City, Va.: In reference to O'Meara being cut: I don't understand why you say he won't be picked up by another station because he's too expensive. Faced with the prospect of not having any show at all, why wouldn't he accept less money at another station to stay on the air?
Paul Farhi: I'm sure that's possible. But there may be other ways for him to go--satellite radio, syndication, something--that bypasses the local stations altogether.
Shouldn't there be a TV version of the obituary column? : Yes, we should have the Obituary Channel. Coverage of current celebrity deaths, and we can show bios of dead people during down times.
Eventually we will change its name to something stupid and uninformative and play non-obituary related reality shows.
Paul Farhi: Yes, I bet it would have a "concept" name, like Oxygen or Versus or G4 (I have no idea what G4 means, but it appears to be a cable channel). In this case, the obit channel would be called something like Mourn or Necro or Afterlife!
SyFy channel.: It's a horrible name change. But you can't trademark the name "Sci Fi."
Every time I see it I think "Siffey Channel." How long before it's just another 24/7 reality show channel?
Paul Farhi: You can't trademark that? Why not? Does someone already own it?
Don't forget: the burns. They were very bad. He was abused and was probably inappropriate (don't know how far it got to the or crossed the line). But the bad burns were the beginning of the end as far as pain, drugs, self-image.
Paul Farhi: I don't mean to be insensitive here, but every adult faces "challenges" in his life--divorce, illness, financial problems, deaths of loved ones, you name it--and tries to carry on a "normal" life. That's the very definition of maturity and adulthood. Again, I can't possibly imagine the world Michael Jackson inhabited (not sure anyone but MJ could), but as an adult he had the same obligation to deal with his "challenges" as the rest of us. He dealt with his demons in very bizarre ways. Sad, but true.
Final resting place: Where will Michael Jackson be buried? Hate to think of his gravesite becoming a profit center for those who enriched themselves at his expense. At least Diana's family buried her on an island on their estate with limited public access.
Paul Farhi: Last I heard he was going to be buried at Forest Lawn in L.A.(the final resting place of my beloved grandfather, incidentally). But that story--like much else about him over the past almost two weeks--seems to have been subject to change...And, yes, a public gravesite (or even an unprotected private one) is going to be overrun very fast.
Arlington, Va.: Any update on when the Karl Malden funeral will be televised? ;-)
Let's hear it for a guy who was an excellent actor, yet lived his life quietly, stayed married to the same woman for 70 (!) years, and, if he had any demons, blessedly kept them to himself.
Summer 2009 has not been kind to celebrities so far...
Paul Farhi: Ha! Great actor. What I loved about him was he never had to star to BE a star. Even as the second character, he was always distinctive and memorable. (Personal anecdote that isn't really much of an anecdote: I once met his daughter, who is around my age, quite well adjusted and a very nice person. Her name, unforgettably, is Karla).
Comcast: Comcast has dropped the Cartoon Network from the analogue lineup. They have been continually moving many of their popular stations to the digital side to force customers to pay extra.
Paul Farhi: Really? Now they've gone too far! Comcast's rationale, if you hadn't read this before, is that it needs to move stuff off analog to free up bandwidth to offer more high-def programming, which is very bandwidth intensive. Of course, this ultimately means that Comcast is serving its wealthier customers (who get HD service) at the expense of its basic customers. Seems kind of elitist and unfair...
Atlanta, Ga.: but he COULD deal with them in bizarre ways. He had gobs of money. So no one ever said no to him...that's kinda dangerous in your life.
Paul Farhi: Yes. A few factoids that jumped out at me over the past two weeks were that Michael never went to college (not sure he ever really finished high school, either) and lived at home with his parents until about the age of 28, when he moved to Neverland. He probably was plenty crazy before he moved to N'land, but the craziness seemed to accelerate with that move.
I don't mean to be insensitive here, but every adult faces "challenges" in his life --: Yes, and luckily, most of us aren't too damaged to deal with it well. HE was. Severely.
Paul Farhi: I suspect you're right. And again I don't mean to be harsh. But I would also say that I have seen other adults with far fewer resources than a worldwide superstar deal with severe issues better and with more determination than he did.
Anonymous: How apropos that tomorrow the Ringling Bros will be at Staples. Which do you think is more of a circus?
Paul Farhi: I can weave this thread together with our earlier ones: Michael kept a circus-like menagerie of exotic animals on the premises of Neverland...
And came off as very dignified, intelligent and classy. : Brooke should take the kids. How she ended up so grounded with such a stage mother, I'll never know. Wish Cash Jungle was still here.
Paul Farhi: What's really shocking is how twisted many (most?) child stars turn out to be as adults. Brooke seems to have escaped the worst of it. But she also seems to be an exception. Paul Peterson--a child star way back in the days of "The Donna Reed Show" (1958-66)--started an entire foundation to deal with the problems kid actors face as adults.
But I would also say that I have seen other adults with far fewer resources than a worldwide superstar deal with severe issues better and with more determination than he did.: If he didn't have all that money I suspect he'd be homeless, stark raving mad, wandering the streets.
Paul Farhi: Or maybe the fame and money was a big part of the problem in the first place. Maybe he would have been an accountant, or a lawyer or a steelworker. I don't think you can be as famous as he was and not be affected, in some way, by it.
I don't mean to be insensitive here, but every adult faces "challenges" in his life -- divorce, illness, financial problems, deaths of loved ones, you name it -- and tries to carry on a "normal" life.: Yes, but most people have some sort of normalcy in their lives. I don't believe he ever did, and he had one traumatic thing after another happen. Severe abuse as a child. A childhood spent performing and practicing rather than playing with other kids. Being burned and losing a lot of his hair and needing surgery to his scalp. Breaking his nose, resulting in permanent damage that caused difficulty breathing. He was a freak. But I don't think he woke up one day and said "I'm going to be a freak." He had mental problems. Perhaps he was already disposed to mental problems, and all this stuff just exacerbated it.
Paul Farhi: I am sure being burned is traumatic. But breaking your nose? Big deal. But I take your basic point: He was a freak long before he started acting so freakishly.
Washington, D.C.: Since you seem to have all the radio answers... Can you explain why no radio station broadcasts the Capital Fourth concert so that one might be able to listen to the music while watching the fireworks?
Paul Farhi: I'm surprised WETA didn't do that (and didn't realize they didn't). WETA-TV televises the concert; seems they could have fed the audio, too.
Loveline : Maybe the Junkies can give some relationship and health advice on their show to help the Loveline audience out.
Paul Farhi: Loveline is a fascinating show, isn't it? It reminds us, if nothing else, that human sexuality is incredibly complex and varied (and often quite funny). Who knew there were so many ways it could go wrong? (Well, Dr. Drew probably knew). Plus, it's a public service; a weird and entertaining public service, but a service nevertheless.
Johnny Cash's version of "Hurt" is way better than the original NIN version.: It's because it's so depressing cuz JC sounds so old.
Paul Farhi: Johnny Cash was among the few great singers who should have been recording as his voice deteriorated with age. The creakiness of his voice made him that much more interesting. Not so sure Sinatra should have done it, though. Cash never had as beautiful a voice as Sinatra (who did?), and so it was a different kind of decline for him...
Crowds at the funeral: To be fair re the lack of people, they told people to stay home if they didn't have tickets and for once people listened. They wouldn't have seen anything from the street anyway..they're at home watching on TV.
Paul Farhi: Yeah, the same thing happened during the Olympics in Los Angeles in 1984. But I wonder: Would hundred of thousands of people really have come out in the absence of those announcements? I doubt it. Despite widespread predictions of chaos, people did not descend on Santa Maria when Jackson was on trial there in 2005
But breaking your nose? Big deal.: It's not the broken nose, it's the long term pain and breathing difficulties caused by it. Not enough to make you crazy on it's own, no.
Paul Farhi: I'm sure it hurt. But after a while I'm sure it didn't.
Congress as a fan of Michael Jackson: If the congresswoman who already displayed the congressional plaque honoring Mr. Jackson was doing something beyond campaigning, I don't know what it was. It's one thing for fans to overlook Mr. Jackson's serious legal issues and reputation (conceding his being acquitted of charges, and in another case charges dropped although he reportedly paid $20-plus million to the non-victim), it's quite another for Congress to add to the diefication.
Where I was lost was how Michael Jackson made Magic Johnson a better basketball player. I won't say a word about charges against Kobe Bryant being dropped, although there was apparently a financial settlement for... for... for I guess nothing. Right?
Paul Farhi: Let's be reasonable here. Michael Jackson was a massively popular entertainer, beloved by millions. That alone gets you a plaque in Congress and a big memorial concert in L.A. He DESERVED those things. The rest--the media circus, all the legal and personal issues--is just the tail on the comet.
Out of the mouths of babes: One Thanksgiving, my then 3-year-old sister told my grandfather (who, in fairness, was holding up the proceedings)to "Get his a--" to the dinner table. I thought my parents were going to die. I, on the other hand, laughed so hard that I nearly fell off of my chair.
Paul Farhi: Haha. Reminds me of something my niece, then 5, said while sitting in her underwear watching TV in my brother's sweltering house (his AC was on the blink). When my brother walked into the room and asked her what she was doing, she replied, "I'm just sitting here, sweating my [word that is not technically indecent but cannot be used in this context] off!" Now a legendary story in my house!
Cleveland Park, Washington, D.C.: Paul wrote: "Besides, the original is always the frontrunner. Hard to think of many recordings that exceed the original, let alone live "covers" of the original."
Actually, it's really easy. "Somebody to Love" and "White Rabbit" were originally recorded by Grace Slick's first band, The Great Society, but it's Jefferson Airplane's versions of these songs that are the best known and best regarded versions.
Paul Farhi: I learn something on these chats every week! Was not aware Jefferson Airplane didn't originate those songs. Must find the original originals! Thanks...
Arlington, Va.: Mj funeral/who's footing the bill -- did they pass the hat around at the stadium, or will CA/LA taxpayers be stuck with the projected $3 million in costs to cover this event (including security)? They already have had to lay off over 2,000 teachers, and the state government is sending out IOUs...
Paul Farhi: You KNOW the city is going to have to pick up some of this tab. The cops and crowd control alone will add up to something. But is that any different that your average Lakers game? Cost of running a city, I guess.
Paul Farhi: And on that joyous note, we should bring this chat, hereafter known as Special Edition: Michael Jackson Still Dead, to a close. Let's do this again next week, when there will probably be fewer mega-celebs to mourn and discuss. But you guys are plenty clever, so we'll probably think of something. Thanks for stopping by this week. See you next at our regular time (Tuesday, 1 p.m.). Until then, as always, regards to all!....Paul.
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