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TRUMP AND DEMOCRACY – LESSONS FROM THE USA

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by Nigel Hatch P.C.

President Donald Trump (Trump) will be leaving office as a one term president on January 20 unless he resigns or is impeached for a second time or removed by the 25th Amendment prior to that.

His latest gambit was to incite his supporters to prevent the certification of the victory of President-elect Biden by storming Congress on Jan. 8. The images that flashed across the world of this frenzied mob attack stunned allies and was greeted with amusement by foes. Resultantly the Democrats who now control the House, Senate and the presidency are expected to impeach him for “incitement to insurrection”. Despicable attacks on democratic legislatures have historical antecedents – the Reichstag fire, the bomb flung at the parliamentary group meeting presided by President Jayewardene in 1987 and the 2017 attack on the UK Parliament.

This comes in the aftermath of Trump’s refusal to accept the results of the election after his loss to Biden by a majority of over seven million votes, perhaps the largest in US political history with unsubstantiated allegations that the election was “stolen” from him – somewhat reminiscent on a far lesser and certainly more peaceful scale of Gen. Fonseka’s claim that he lost to Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2010 due to a “computer jilmart”. Several ensuing law suits initiated by Trump failed. His lawyer Guilliani, a once respected Mayor of New York, has reduced himself to a jester.

The overrunning of Congress by his supporters was to prevent the final certification of the Biden victory ordained by the American Constitution. That constitution is unique in the world – the first written constitution, sovereignty vested in the people, an elected executive president, a Bill of Rights and a separation of powers with checks and balances between the branches of government.

Its influence on other constitutions is immense including the Sri Lankan second Republican constitution of 1978. The American commitment to constitutionalism also formed the bedrock of its foreign policy where the virtues of democracy and the rule of law was projected as the triumph of a liberal democracy signifying the “end of history” as there was no superior system known to man. Other nations are judged by the standards of the American system.

But the Trump presidency and the actions of his supporters have exposed the internal stresses of democracy even in the most powerful democratic country in the first world.

Trump’s refusal to accept what the Wall Street Journal editorialized as “the basic bargain of democracy which is to accept the result win or lose” has significant repercussions for democracy worldwide. His initial refusal to allow the incoming administration access to briefings and not yet conceding the election are some manifestations. But there was no excuse for senior Republican Senators McConnell and Graham delaying their acceptance of President-elect Biden’s victory once the legal challenges became manifestly ludicrous.

Part of the problem engendered by Trump is the process of electing a President in the US. It is perhaps the only country in the world where the winner can lose the popular vote but still claim the presidency due to the system of the electoral college which allocates to each State based on its population a number of electors a plurality of which determines the outcome. Thus despite losing the popular vote Bush beat Gore in 2000, and Trump beat Hillary Clinton in 2016. Given America’s Federal nature, each State controls the election process overseen by officials who have overt political affiliations to either of the main parties. Candidates are permitted observers at the counting centers and this has generally worked smoothly. Congress ultimately certifies the results of each State or electoral college – but the antitheses of democracy still persists in that the winner can be declared although he has lost the popular vote.

Fortunately for Sri Lanka we have a constitutionally prescribed threshold of the popular vote for a candidate to win, and an election overseen by an election commission. India too has a National Elections Commission which oversees its elections despite being a semi Federal State.

American democracy has been crisis ridden even before Trump – several shutdowns of the Federal administrative system due to gridlock between the president and Congress over budgets, fraught race relations and fierce internal debate over abortion, gay rights, and the ideological predilections of Supreme Court nominees. Attempts at disenfranchising black voters persists in certain areas despite the gains made under President Johnson in the early 1960s.

But arguably Trump exacerbated divisions in America. He took control of the Republican party and infused it with a toxic mix of a one man show and palpable dissembling with no dissenting voices, except Mitt Romney latterly. That he was perhaps the most inarticulate president in recent times beggars belief on his hypnotic ability in this regard. As President with majority support in the Senate (until Georgia) he escaped conviction despite prior impeachment by the lower House for offences which were egregious. He used foreign policy which is a presidential preserve as an extension of his personal political interest.

Partisanship and rancor has increased between the two parties in Congress. One recalls Senator McCain who lost to Obama who embodied bipartisanship. Clearly the Republican party lacks seniors in congress who have a bipartisan approach. For example Senator Ted Cruz urged Trumps supporters to become “revolutionary soldiers” and challenge the election results despite there being no basis. He picked an amenable AG in William Barr and had until recently the unconditional support of the Fox news empire which has raised debate over the power of a largely unregulated media despite libel laws.

In fact in Australia, former PMs’ Rudd and Turnbull, once political adversaries have joined to call for greater oversight of Fox. Trump indiscriminately used the presidential pardon in favour of his supporters or political allies. The extent, if any, to which his family business was enriched is yet to be fully investigated. His handling of the COVID-19 pandemic which has claimed over 300,000 deaths in the US further polarized society.

Trump skilfully tapped into the largely white, disgruntled blue collar electorate who had been marginalized by economic policies of his predecessors. A resurgence of white supremacists and a countervailing black lives matter movement necessitated by institutionalized police discrimination in some areas ensued. The American political ethos under Trump whose rallying slogan was to “make America great again” has been a blend of self styled “patriots” and a wild west frontier mentality with a latent but now overt belief in a citizens right to taking control of government manifested by the assault on Congress.

The latter in particular springs from a misguided perception that as that constitution vested the constituent power in the people in a federal setting, that an assault on the democratic process by a resort to violence was legitimate although it was clearly not. It is highly doubtful that the patriots who fought the revolutionary war for independence against Britain as immortalized in the Mel Gibson movie “Patriot” would identify with what transpired recently.

Trump constantly asserted that as President he had an unfettered right to do as he pleased. But this view did not receive judicial approbation and the Supreme Court in July 2019 rejected his claims that the New York State could not subpoena his financial records.

The constitutional and democratic landscape in America under Trump resonates in many parts of the world including Sri Lanka. America now has to reestablish its credentials as the leading first world democracy. But one thing is clear; in any democracy checks and balances and the rule of law and accountability are paramount. This includes internal debate, even within the ruling party.



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Science vs religion-I

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Like oil and water, science and religion are immiscible and belong to mutually exclusive domains without any interface. Whenever they have been attempted to be brought together, the result invariably has been confusion, conflict, and bloodshed, of which there are too many gory examples in history. Allow religion to explain the origin of the Universe, according to its own ideas, and you end up with corpses of men and women burnt at stakes.

By GOVIND BHATTACHARJEE

In Tao of Physics, Fritzof Capra wrote that science does not need religion and religion does not need science, while a man needs both. I am not so sure. Again, in The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, Carl Sagan wrote, “Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality.

“When we recognize our place in an immensity of light-years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty, and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual.” If spirituality implies appreciating our own insignificance in the Universe and the resulting feeling of humbleness, then this has nothing to do with religion.

But, leaving aside spirituality, religion and science have never been compatible. While science teaches us a systematic, rational way of exploring this universe to understand the laws of nature that guide life and non-life, religion has brought untold misery and suffering upon humanity. throughout the course of history. by claiming certainty in “information” and “facts” amenable neither to reason nor to observation.

Like oil and water, science and religion are immiscible and belong to mutually exclusive domains without any interface. Whenever they have been attempted to be brought together, the result invariably has been confusion, conflict, and bloodshed, of which there are too many gory examples in history.

Allow religion to explain the origin of the Universe, according to its own ideas, and you end up with corpses of men and women burnt at stakes. Same with politics. Allow religion to rule a nation, according to its own theories, and you end up with Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Iran where the laws of Sharia are more important than human life or human happiness.

Given the chance, religion would turn this world into a demon-haunted place in no time – in fact it has attained a remarkable degree of success in doing so. But, what exactly is science, and what is religion? According to The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, “One way to distinguish between science and religion is the claim that science concerns the natural world, whereas religion concerns the supernatural world and its relationship to the natural. Scientific explanations do not appeal to supernatural entities such as gods or angels (fallen or not), or to non-natural forces (such as miracles, karma, or qi).

“For example, neuroscientists typically explain our thoughts in terms of brain states, not by reference to an immaterial soul or spirit, and legal scholars do not invoke karmic load when discussing why people commit crimes.” Science concerns itself with what is or can be observed and seeks an immediate answer. Religion claims the answer is either unknowable or explained only with the help of faith, that is acceptance of something whose existence is indeterminate.

Science claims to explain phenomena or mysteries only through the tested method of empirical inquiry which is a series of steps involving observation-hypothesis-experiment-inference-theory-prediction-testing. This process is indispensable, even where it may not succeed in explaining all observed phenomena, whereas religion takes recourse to God and finds it absurd that by studying STEM subjects (Science-Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) alone, the concept of God can be reduced to irrelevance. Given the chance, it will subsume science, too.

In fact, a great deal of effort has already been invested towards this end, to start a dialogue between science and religion that is actually an exercise in futility.In 1998, the Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson in his book, Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge, argued that knowledge is a unified system that embraces science, morality, and ethics as well. The aim was perhaps not to make science spiritual but to make religion scientific.

In the 1990s, with its multi-million-dollar grants, the John Templeton Foundation launched a magazine called Science & Spirit, “to explain what science cannot, and asking science to validate religious teachings”. The magazine died a natural death in 2009.The Foundation also financed several documentaries like “Faith and Reason”, “Cybergrace: The Search for God in the Digital World” or “God & the Big Bang: Discovering Harmony Between Science & Spirituality”.

Scores of bestselling books, written by eminent scientists, followed, like Belief in God in an Age of Science (1998) by John Polkinghorne, a Cambridge physicist turned Anglican priest, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (2006) by Francis Collins, Director of the Human Genome Project, or Return of the God Hypothesis: Three Scientific Discoveries That Reveal the Mind Behind the Universe (2021) by Stephen Meyer, Director of the Center for Science and Culture of the Discovery Institute which is the main organization behind the so-called Intelligent Design Movement, according to which the universe was created by an intelligent designer, the God almighty.

But physics explains the origin of the universe convincingly from quantum electrodynamics as arising from a vacuum fluctuation and biology explains the evolution of all life, starting with a chance molecule that learned to replicate itself. But both intelligent design and evolution cannot be true at the same time, hence the attempt to find a middle path – an absurd one at that – that God created the universe and left it to the laws of nature, also designed by him, to run it, without any further interference in its future course.

As the New York Times science journalist George Johnson wrote, thus “God becomes a metaphor for the laws that science tries to uncover.” On the question of faith, there are deep divisions among the scientists themselves. While Einstein’s God was one “who reveals himself in the lawful harmony of all that exists”, and not one “who concerns himself with the fate and the doings of mankind”, many scientists hold radically different views. Some, like the cosmologist Allan Sandage, wonder: “‘How is it that inanimate matter can organize itself to contemplate itself? That’s outside of any science I know”, while others, like the Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins, believe that pursuing God is a “waste” of time that never has “added anything to the storehouse of human wisdom”.

Believers in God hold that a grand unified theory to explain the universe in terms of a single theory that is the holy grain of science would be incomplete without the integration of faith and ancient wisdom in it, while others, like Christians, were outraged when the radiocarbon dating of the shroud of Turin suggested it as a medieval forgery and not the burial cloth of Jesus, feel that as science develops more sophisticated techniques, their religious beliefs will be vindicated.

Fortunately, the endeavour of all these new-age scientists to blur and finally erase the boundary between science and pseudoscience has not yet succeeded. Similar efforts are on even in our own country. Religion is essentially about worship, and worship means surrender.

Faith is necessarily blind and has to disregard evidence in order to reinforce and validate its belief system. Human life is full of misery and suffering ~ indeed it is a “flash of occasional enjoyments lighting up a mass of pain and misery” from which faith alone can provide a temporary deliverance. “Happiness is but only an occasional episode in the general drama of pain” that surrounds us, as Thomas Hardy said, and if surrender could mitigate even a little of that pain, it should be welcome.

Surrender can also be made more convincing when imbued with love and fear that a God is capable of inspiring in human minds. Finally, if the surrender can hold out the promise of something eternal, like an eternal deliverance from pain or from the endless cycles of birth and death, such an eternal vision becomes too tantalising to resist by most.

All that remains is to remind and reinforce these ideas continually through repetitive rituals, meaningless though they are, and the whole package becomes so overwhelming that few could emerge out of its enchanting aura to be able to see the world and reality with objectivity.

After all, we still do not know how the objective reality conveyed to our brain through the senses acquires a subjective meaning in our mind, how the scent of a rose gets transformed into the memory of our first love, or a fading photograph brings back long-forgotten emotions.

Subjectivity rules the roost, everything else, even hard evidence, becomes mere speculation. Blind faith has no rival, and when blind faith masquerades as science, the conquest of the mind by religion becomes total, and all logic has been clinically erased. The evolution of life and that too on a tiny planet called earth that has just about the right conditions with the right values of fundamental constants among billions of such planets is an awesome mystery that the believers cite to establish intelligent design as the only explanation.

They ignore the fact that there are planets with all possibilities and ours happen to be the one with only just one of these permutations that made life – and God – possible. Logic and faith, like science and religion – are incompatible; if bring them together, there will be combustion and conflict.

But bring complexity to replace conflict, and the science-religion debate immediately acquires a political dimension ~ struggle between secular liberalism and traditional conservatism, authority versus individual liberty, herd mentality versus reason, and state versus individual. In each one of these struggles, rationality is the obvious victim that is left bleeding to die.

(The Statesman/ANN)

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Vijayabahu, Gajabahu, and meanings of names

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By Uditha Devapriya

The Sri Lanka Navy recently commissioned Vijayabahu, a former US Coastguard Cutter. The ship joins two other US origin vessels in the Navy. For some reason, the name seems to have caused consternation among certain circles. Alan Keenan of the International Crisis Group, for instance, has noted on Twitter that it is “loaded with social and political meaning” and that “it’s hardly an advertisement for the multi-ethnic, multicultural #SriLanka western govts say they want to promote.” He cites two other names, Gajabahu and Samudura.

The Pali and Sinhalese Chronicles depict both Gajabahu and Vijayabahu as national heroes: Gajabahu (113-136 AD) for having led a campaign to rescue 12,000 Sinhala captives in the Chola (or Soli) kingdom, and Vijayabahu (1055-1110 AD) for having driven Chola invaders from Polonnaruwa and laid the foundation for the unification of the polity by one of his successors, Parakramabahu (1123–1186 AD). Alan Keenan’s reference to the “social” and “political” meanings of these names is doubtless based on how Sinhalese Buddhists imagine these kings today, and how military regiments have appropriated them.

There is no denying that nationalist historiography has reduced these personages into mythical heroes today. It’s not just the military. Even popular writers prefer to see history through a particular prism. Their interpretation of the past places these kings as saviours of the race (jatiya) and unifiers of the polity (rata). This presents an interesting problem. In praising these monarchs for having brought the country together, nationalist writers tend to impute contemporary terms, like sovereignty, on what was essentially a non-unitary State. This is historical anachronism at its best (or worst?), and it is from there that these writers extract the contemporary meanings of these kings and their names.

I have implied in many of my essays that by viewing history through these prisms, Sinhala nationalists have done a disservice to their own history. In other words, they have not been fair to their past. We must be careful not to commit the same mistake when criticising these writers. While pointing out the errors of their methodology, it would be prudent not to use the same categories and binaries they deploy. To that end, it would be more constructive, instead of pointing out the “contemporary” meanings of Sinhala kings and their names, to highlight their historical and non-mythical meanings. Once we do that, we will be able to reconstruct a past more in keeping with the multi-ethnic, multi-caste character of Sri Lankan history, particularly in the Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa periods.

Vijayabahu, for instance, was the product of a period that saw deep and close interaction between Sri Lankan (Sinhala) monarchs and their South Indian contemporaries. In his book Rewriting Buddhism: Pali Literature and Monastic Reform in Sri Lanka, 1157-1270, Alastair Gornall notes three “interrelated” changes in the 10th and 11th centuries that profoundly shaped Sri Lankan history: the invasions of two Cola kings (Raja Raja and Rajendra I), the “fragmentation” of the ruling family, and “changing attitudes” to Sanskrit literature, which influenced Sinhala and Pali literary works. The early Chola invasions laid the foundation for Kalinga Magha’s conquests in the 13th century AD and the later shift from Anuradhapura to Polonnaruwa. In other words, there were linkages between an ostensibly “Sinhala Buddhist” polity and a “Hindu” South Indian dynasty that makes the use of binaries like Sinhala/Tamil, Buddhist/Hindu, and Sri Lanka/Soli redundant, if not anachronistic.

Indeed, the kings of these times actively involved themselves in the politics of South India. During the first millennium AD, Gornall writes, conflicts within the State were “contained.” What this means is that they never threatened the social and political patterns of the country. Once we pass this period, though, the Anuradhapura State becomes embroiled in the politics of its neighbouring states. As Professor Raj Somadeva has argued, between the reigns of Sena I (833-853 AD), Dappula IV (924-935 AD), and Mahinda V (982-1029 AD), Sinhala kings sided with one or the other contending dynasties in South India, thus exposing themselves to “the threat of outside invasion.” These interventions eventually lead to the humiliating deposal of Mahinda V, the last ruler of Anuradhapura.

Vijayabahu is celebrated in nationalist reconstructions of history as a just and able ruler who put an end to these humiliations, recaptured the State from the Chola invaders, and fortified the State. However, his hold was considerably tenuous. In seeking to unify the State, he had to account for and accommodate certain realities: he therefore entrusted the tooth relic of the Buddha to Velaikkara mercenaries. Gornall suggests that the Chola invaders harboured very little cultural ambitions in Sri Lanka: it was the South Indian social and mercantile elites who patronised and built Hindu temples in Polonnaruwa. Yet they did exert an influence on the political, social, and literary landscape of the post-Anuradhapura State.

In his book Foreign relations of Sri Lanka, from earliest times to 1965, Vernon Mendis argues that history has not been fair to this ruler: he is castigated for having capitulated to South Indian overlords and mercenaries. Nevertheless, to borrow an oft-quoted phrase, there was little that he could do. Vijayabahu’s response to these geopolitical realities was pragmatic, if not inevitable: in the interests of the State, he put up with a South Indian presence, to the extent that an inscription eulogising him was carved in literary Tamil, and married a Kalinga princess, Tiloka Sundari, to ensure “the longevity of his own lineage.” Not surprisingly, it is in this ruler’s reign that ties with South India become complex.

What nationalist interpretations of Vijayabahu’s achievements and failures thus omit is that the times he lived in were simply too complex to accommodate the binaries that popular writers impute to their reading of history. Long before Vijayabahu, before even the collapse of Anuradhapura, Sinhala kings had begun a tradition of claiming descent from the Kalinga line. This was, at one level, to add respectability to their office. It was also a creative way of accommodating the rise of South Indian power and the decline of Sinhalese power, both of which can be dated between the fourth and 14th centuries AD.

Following these cycles of decline and revival, we come across literary works, predominantly Sinhalese, that legitimise certain colonisation and nationalist myths. While the authors of the early Chronicles, especially the Mahavamsa, sought to validate specific religious sects, the authors of the later Chronicles, especially the Rajavaliya, sought to romanticise if not mythologise these cycles of decline and revival and to valorise the supposedly “enduring” character of Sinhala society. Hence the Rajavaliya eulogises Gajabahu for having rescued 12,000 captives from the clutches of a Chola king, though as Obeyesekere has pointed out there is little historical evidence for this. It also depicts him as settling Tamil communities in and around Kandy, though the rather anachronistic inclusion of Kandy indicates that this episode would have been the basis for a colonisation myth.

The polity and State presented in these stories are, to be sure, Sinhalese and Buddhist, and they admittedly legitimise the hero/villain distinctions that popular writers deploy in their re-imaginings of the past. Yet embedded with these same stories are important clues and signs of a vibrant, diverse, even multi-ethnic society. Gajabahu is presented as a Sinhalese hero, but there are narratives that depict him as the patron of the Pattini cult in Sri Lanka. Obeyesekere questions these myths and posits that they are “worthless.” Yet the inclusion of this king in a major Tamil literary work, the Silppadikaram, and the invocation of him in a ritual associated with the Pattini cult, the gammaduwa, tells us that the society of his time was more multifaceted that what the Chronicles would have us believe.

The Pattini cult itself shows clear linkages between Sinhalese and Tamil communities that have survived the many fratricidal conflicts we have seen since independence. Gananath Obeyesekere’s advice, in that sense, is probably the most important: when reading these myths, it is essential that we do not literalise them, since a literalist reading can pave the way for conflict and tension. That is why Alan Keenan’s point about the social and political meanings of names is highly relevant. However, it is important to not only highlight those meanings, but also look at possible alternative meanings. This admittedly requires historical and anthropological research of a sort we simply do not have here. It is only through such research and scholarship that we can prevent the country from sliding down into the murky waters of ethno-supremacism. For that, we need to return to our past.

The writer is an international relations analyst, researcher, and columnist who can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com

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Relationship between sleep and blood glucose levels

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Therapeutic sleep might furthermore reduce lethal blood sugar levels by facilitating healthy systems. Curtailed sleep is a risk aspect for improved blood sugar levels.

SNS: Sleep and blood glucose levels: Contended Sleep and good health is inseparable with immense health benefits. Sleep deprivation leads to many health complications including blood sugar levels which has a major link with sleep cycle. There are proven facts that decrease in sleep impacts the blood sugar level leading to diabetes which, if stretched longer may result in heart diseases.

However, the connection between sleep and blood sugar is complicated. There is not a reasonable formula that demonstrates a relationship between the amount of sleep and an interconnected increase or decrease in blood sugar.

How does sleep impact Glucose Levels in Blood?

It sounds antithetical that sleep can both raise and lower glucose levels. According to a Rutgers University study report our bodies encounter a cycle of changes every day which is called a “circadian rhythm” which naturally boosts blood sugar levels at night and when an individual sleeps. However these natural blood sugar mounds are not a reason for worry.

Therapeutic sleep might furthermore reduce lethal blood sugar levels by facilitating healthy systems. Curtailed sleep is a risk aspect for improved blood sugar levels. Even discriminatory sleep deprivation over one night improves insulin resistance, which can in turn upswing blood sugar levels. As a result, a lack of sleep has been linked with diabetes, a blood sugar disorder.

Additional analysis is needed to better understand the relationship between sleep and blood sugar.

Factors managing the relationship between sleep and blood sugar levels:

-The abundance of time a person sleeps.

-The phases of sleep a person experiences.

-The time of day a person sleeps.

-A person’s age.

-A person’s eating habits (which coincide with nourishment and sleep).

How does inadequate sleep and Blood Sugar levels?

According to Dr Stuti Sharma, PG Resident MAMC Delhi, inadequacy of sleep and blood sugar levels are connected.  Inadequate  sleeping significantly increases blood sugar levels. Researchers have conveyed the following relationships between sugar and lack of sleep or sleep problems:

Sleep-disordered breathing is related to higher glucose levels

Obstructive sleep apnea is attributed to defective glucose tolerance

More intense sleep breathing issues are linked with higher blood sugar

Obstructive sleep apnea stringency is associated with increased fasting glucose

Poor sleep is associated with a decreased capacity to control glucose levels in diabetic patients

Sleep loss is correlated with risen glucose levels in hospitalized patients with and without diabetes

Relationship between blood sugar levels and heart disease

People with diabetes have a higher chances of developing various health problems including heart disease. High blood sugar levels over time can damage the blood vessels of our heart and other organs leading to different health problems.  It means the longer you have diabetes the greater your risk for heart disease. Because of higher blood glucose level the heart may suffer from stroke and even death. But if blood sugar levels are maintained then there will be less chances of heart diseases. And it can be done by sound sleep as discussed earlier.

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