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WHAT IS THE ORIGIN OF LIFE?

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“Inconceivable is the beginning, O disciples, of this faring on. The earliest point is not revealed of the running on, the faring on, of beings, cloaked in ignorance, tied by craving.”

                                                        — SAMYUTTA NIKAYA

 

(from THE BUDDHA AND HIS TEACHINGS by Venerable Narada MahaāThera)

Rebirth, which Buddhists do not regard as a mere theory but as a fact verifiable by evidence, forms a fundamental tenet of Buddhism, though its goal Nibbana is attainable in this life itself. The Bodhisatta Ideal and the correlative doctrine of freedom to attain utter perfection are based on this doctrine of rebirth.

Documents record that this belief in rebirth, viewed as transmigration or reincarnation, was accepted by philosophers like Pythagoras and Plato, poets like Shelly, Tennyson and Wordsworth, and many ordinary people in the East as well as in the West.

The Buddhist doctrine of rebirth should be differentiated from the theory of transmigration and reincarnation of other systems, because Buddhism denies the existence of a transmigrating permanent soul, created by God, or emanating from a Paramatma (Divine Essence).

It is Kamma that conditions rebirth. Past Kamma conditions the present birth; and present Kamma, in combination with past Kamma, conditions the future. The present is the offspring of the past, and becomes, in turn. the parent of the future.

The actuality of the present needs no proof as it is self-evident. That of the past is based on memory and report, and that of the future on forethought and inference.

If we postulate a past, a present and a future life, then we are at once faced with the problem “What is the ultimate origin of life?”

One school, in attempting to solve the problem, postulates a first cause, whether as a cosmic force or as an Almighty Being. Another school denies a first cause for, in common experience, the cause ever becomes the effect and the effect becomes the cause. In a circle of cause and effect a first cause is inconceivable. According to the former, life has had a beginning, according to the latter, it is beginningless. In the opinion of some the conception of a first cause is as ridiculous as a round triangle.

One might argue that life must have had a beginning in the infinite past and that beginning or the First Cause is the Creator.

In that case there is no reason why the same demand may not be made of this postulated Creator.

With respect to this alleged First Cause men have held widely different views. In interpreting this First Cause, Paramatma, Brahma, Isvara, Jehovah, God, the Almighty, Allah, Supreme Being, Father in Heaven, Creator, Order of Heaven, Prime Mover, Uncaused Cause, Divine Essence, Chance, Pakati, Padhāna are some significant terms employed by certain religious teachers and philosophers.

Hinduism traces the origin of life to a mystical Paramatma from which emanate all Āatmas or souls that transmigrate from existence to existence until they are finally reabsorbed in Paramatma. One might question whether there is any possibility for these reabsorbed Āatmas for a further transmigration.

Christianity, admitting the possibility of an ultimate origin, attributes everything to the fiat of an Almighty God.

“Whoever,” as Sohopenhaeur says, “regards himself as having come out of nothing must also think that he will again become nothing, for that an eternity has passed before he was, and then a second eternity had begun, through which he will never cease to be, is a monstrous thought.

“Moreover, if birth is the absolute beginning, then death must be the absolute end; and the assumption that man is made out of nothing, leads necessarily to the assumption that death is his absolute end. “

“According to the Theological principles,”

argues Spencer Lewis, “man is created arbitrarily and without his desire, and at the moment of creation is either blessed or unfortunate, noble or depraved, from the first step in the process of his physical creation to the moment of his last breath, regardless of his individual desires, hopes, ambitions, struggles or devoted prayers. Such is theological fatalism.

“The doctrine that all men are sinners and have the essential sin of Adam is a challenge to justice, mercy, love and omnipotent fairness.”

Huxley says:–

“If we are to assume that anybody has designedly set this wonderful universe going, it is perfectly clear to me that he is no more entirely benevolent and just, in any intelligible sense of the words, than that he is malevolent and unjust.”

According to Einstein:–

“If this being (God) is omnipotent, then every occurrence, including every human action, every human thought, and every human feeling and aspiration is also his work; how is it possible to think of holding men responsible for their deeds and thoughts before such an Almighty Being?

“In giving out punishments and rewards, He would to a certain extent be passing judgment on himself. How can this be combined with the goodness and righteousness ascribed to him?”

According to Charles Bradlaugh:

“The existence of evil is a terrible stumbling block to the Theist. Pain, misery, crime, poverty confront the

advocate of eternal goodness, and challenge with unanswerable potency his declaration of Deity as all-good, all-wise, and all-powerful.”

Commenting on human suffering and God, Prof. J. B. S. Haldane writes:–

“Either suffering is needed to perfect human character, or God is not Almighty. The former theory is disproved by the fact that some people who have suffered very little but have been fortunate in their ancestry and education have very fine characters. The objection to the second is that it is only in connection with the universe as a whole that there is any intellectual gap to be filled by the postulation of a deity. And a creator could presumably create whatever he or it wanted. “

In “Despair,” a poem of his old age, Lord Tennyson thus boldly attacks God, who, as recorded in Isaiah, says ?”I make peace and create evil.

“What! I should call on that infinite Love that

has served us so well?
Infinite cruelty, rather, that made everlasting hell.

Made us, foreknew us, foredoomed us, and does what he will with his own.
Better our dead brute mother who never has
heard us groan.”

Dogmatic writers of old authoritatively declared that God created man after his own image. Some modern thinkers state, on the contrary, that man created God after his own image. With the growth of civilization man’s conception of God grows more and more refined. There is at present a tendency to substitute this personal God by an impersonal God.

Voltaire states that God is the noblest creation of man.

It is however impossible to conceive of such an omnipotent, omnipresent being, an epitome of everything that is good — either in or outside the universe.

Modern science endeavours to tackle the problem with its limited systematized knowledge. According to the scientific standpoint, we are the direct products of the sperm and ovum cells provided by our parents. But science does not give a satisfactory explanation with regard to the development of the mind, which is infinitely more important than the machinery of man’s material body, Scientists, while asserting “Omne vivum ex vivo” “all life from life” maintain that mind and life evolved from the lifeless.

Now from the scientific standpoint we are absolutely parent-born. Thus our lives are necessarily preceded by those of our parents and so on. In this way life is preceded by life until one goes back to the first protoplasm or colloid. As regards the origin of this first protoplasm or colloid, however, scientists plead ignorance.

What is the attitude of Buddhism with regard to the origin of life?

At the outset it should be stated that the Buddha does not attempt to solve all the ethical and philosophical problems that perplex mankind. Nor does He deal with speculations and theories that tend neither to edification nor to enlightenment. Nor does He demand blind faith from His adherents anent a First Cause. He is chiefly concerned with one practical and specific problem — that of suffering and its destruction, all side issues are completely ignored.

On one occasion a Bhikkhu named Malunkyaputta, not content to lead the Holy Life, and achieve his Emancipation by degrees, approached the Buddha and impatiently demanded an immediate solution of some speculative problems with the threat of discarding the robes if no satisfactory answer was given.

“Lord,”

he said, “these theories have not been elucidated, have been set aside and rejected by the Blessed One — whether the world is eternal or not eternal, whether the world is finite or infinite. If the Blessed One will elucidate these questions to me, then I will lead the Holy Life under Him. If he will not, then I will abandon the precepts and return to the lay life.

“If the Blessed One knows that the world is eternal, let the Blessed One elucidate to me that the world is eternal; if the Blessed One knows that the world is not eternal, let the Blessed One elucidate that the world is not eternal — in that case, certainly, for one who does not know and lacks the insight, the only upright thing is to say: I do not know, I have not the insight.”

Calmly the Buddha questioned the erring Bhikkhu whether his adoption of the Holy Life was in any way conditional upon the solution of such problems.

“Nay, Lord,” the Bhikkhu replied.

The Buddha then admonished him not to waste time and energy over idle speculations detrimental to his moral progress, and said:

“Whoever, Malunkyaputta, should say, ‘I will not lead the Holy Life under the Blessed One until the Blessed One elucidates these questions to me’ — that person would die before these questions had ever been elucidated by the Accomplished One.

“It is as if a person were pierced by an arrow thickly smeared with poison, and his friends and relatives were to procure a surgeon, and then he were to say. ‘I will not have this arrow taken out until I know the details of the person by whom I was wounded, nature of the arrow with which I was pierced, etc.’ That person would die before this would ever be known by him.

“In exactly the same way whoever should say, ‘I will not lead the Holy Life under the Blessed One until He elucidated to me whether the world is eternal or not eternal, whether the world is finite or infinite. . .’ That person would die before these questions had ever been elucidated by the Accomplished One.

“If it be the belief that the world is eternal, will there be the observance of the Holy Life? In such a case — No! If it be the belief that the world is not eternal, will there be the observance of the Holy Life? In that case also — No! But, whether the belief be that the world is eternal or that it is not eternal, there is birth, there is old age, there is death, the extinction of which in this life itself I make known.

“Malunkyaputta, I have not revealed whether the world is eternal or not eternal, whether the world is finite or infinite. Why have I not revealed these? Because these are not profitable, do not concern the bases of holiness, are not conducive to aversion, to passionlessness, to cessation, to tranquility, to intuitive wisdom, to enlightenment or to Nibbāna. Therefore I have not revealed these.

According to Buddhism, we are born from the matrix of action (Kammayoni). Parents merely provide us with a material layer. Therefore being precedes being. At the moment of conception, it is Kamma that conditions the initial consciousness that vitalizes the foetus. It is this invisible Kammic energy, generated from the past birth, that produces mental phenomena and the phenomena of life in an already extant physical phenomena, to complete the trio that constitutes man.

Dealing with the conception of beings, the Buddha states:

“Where three are found in combination, there a germ of life is planted. If mother and father come together, but it is not the mother’s fertile period, and the ‘being-to-be-born’ (gandhabba) is not present, then no germ of life is planted. If mother and father come together, and it is the mother’s fertile period, but the ‘being-to-be-born’ is not present then again no germ of life is planted. If mother and father come together and it is the mother’s fertile period, and the ‘being-to-be-born’ is present, then by the conjunction of these three, a germ of life is there planted. “

Here Gandhabba (= gantabba) does not mean “a class of devas said to preside over the process of conception” but refers to a suitable being ready to be born in that particular womb. This term is used only in this particular connection, and must not be mistaken for a permanent soul.

For a being to be born here, somewhere a being must die. The birth of a being, which strictly means the arising of the Aggregates (khandhānam pātubhāvo), or psycho-physical phenomena in this present life, corresponds to the death of a being in a past life; just as, in conventional terms, the rising of the sun in one place means the setting of the sun in another place. This enigmatic statement may be better understood by imagining life as a wave and not as a straight line. Birth and death are only two phases of the same process. Birth precedes death, and death, on the other hand, precedes birth. This constant succession of birth and death connection with each individual life-flux constitutes what is technically known as Samsara — recurrent wandering.

What is the ultimate origin of life?

The Buddha positively declares:

“Without, cognizable beginning is this Samsāra. The earliest point of beings who, obstructed by ignorance and fettered by craving, wander and fare on, is not to be perceived. “

This life-stream flows ad infinitum, as long as it is fed with the muddy waters of ignorance and craving. When these two are completely cut off, then only does the life-stream cease to flow; rebirth ends, as in the case of Buddhas and Arahants. A first beginning of this life-stream cannot be determined, as a stage cannot be perceived when this life force was not fraught with ignorance and craving.

It should be understood that the Buddha has here referred merely to the beginning of the life stream of living beings. It is left to scientists to speculate on the origin and the evolution of the universe. (Courtesy: Dhammatalks.net)



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Terror figuring increasingly in Russian invasion of Ukraine

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In yet another mind-numbing manifestation of the sheer savagery marking the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a shopping mall in Ukraine’s eastern city of Kremenchuk was razed to the ground recently in a Russian missile strike. Reportedly more than a hundred civilian lives were lost in the chilling attack.

If the unconscionable killing of civilians is a definition of terrorism, then the above attack is unalloyed terrorism and should be forthrightly condemned by all sections that consider themselves civilized. Will these sections condemn this most recent instance of blood-curdling barbarism by the Putin regime in the Ukrainian theatre and thereby provide proof that the collective moral conscience of the world continues to tick? Could progressive opinion be reassured on this score without further delay or prevarication?

These issues need to be addressed with the utmost urgency by the world community. May be, the UN General Assembly could meet in emergency session for the purpose and speak out loud and clear in one voice against such wanton brutality by the Putin regime which seems to be spilling the blood of Ukrainian civilians as a matter of habit. The majority of UNGA members did well to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine close on the heels of it occurring a few months back but the Putin regime seems to be continuing the civilian bloodletting in Ukraine with a degree of impunity that signals to the international community that the latter could no longer remain passive in the face of the aggravating tragedy in Ukraine.

The deafening silence, on this question, on the part of those sections the world over that very rightly condemn terror, from whichever quarter it may emanate, is itself most intriguing. There cannot be double standards on this problem. If the claiming of the lives of civilians by militant organizations fighting governments is terror, so are the Putin regime’s targeted actions in Ukraine which result in the wanton spilling of civilian blood. The international community needs to break free of its inner paralysis.

While most Western democracies are bound to decry the Russian-inspired atrocities in Ukraine, more or less unambiguously, the same does not go for the remaining democracies of the South. Increasing economic pressures, stemming from high energy and oil prices in particular, are likely to render them tongue-tied.

Such is the case with Sri Lanka, today reduced to absolute beggary. These states could be expected ‘to look the other way’, lest they be penalized on the economic front by Russia. One wonders what those quarters in Sri Lanka that have been projecting themselves as ‘progressives’ over the years have to say to the increasing atrocities against civilians in Ukraine. Aren’t these excesses instances of state terror that call for condemnation?

However, ignoring the Putin regime’s terror acts is tantamount to condoning them. Among other things, the failure on the part of the world community to condemn the Putin government’s commissioning of war crimes sends out the message that the international community is gladly accommodative of these violations of International Law. An eventual result from such international complacency could be the further aggravation of world disorder and lawlessness.

The Putin regime’s latest civilian atrocities in Ukraine are being seen by the Western media in particular as the Russian strongman’s answer to the further closing of ranks among the G7 states to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the issues growing out of it. There is a considerable amount of truth in this position but the brazen unleashing of civilian atrocities by the Russian state also points to mounting impatience on the part of the latter for more positive results from its invasion.

Right now, the invasion could be described as having reached a stalemate for Russia. Having been beaten back by the robust and spirited Ukrainian resistance in Kyiv, the Russian forces are directing their fire power at present on Eastern Ukraine. Their intentions have narrowed down to carving out the Donbas region from the rest of Ukraine; the aim being to establish the region as a Russian sphere of influence and buffer state against perceived NATO encirclement.

On the other hand, having failed to the break the back thus far of the Ukraine resistance the Putin regime seems to be intent on demoralizing the resistance by targeting Ukraine civilians and their cities. Right now, most of Eastern Ukraine has been reduced to rubble. The regime’s broad strategy seems to be to capture the region by bombing it out. This strategy was tried out by Western imperialist powers, such as the US and France, in South East Asia some decades back, quite unsuccessfully.

However, by targeting civilians the Putin regime seems to be also banking on the US and its allies committing what could come to be seen as indiscretions, such as, getting more fully militarily and physically involved in the conflict.

To be sure, Russia’s rulers know quite well that it cannot afford to get into a full-blown armed conflict with the West and it also knows that the West would doing its uttermost to avoid an international armed confrontation of this kind that could lead to a Third World War. Both sides could be banked on to be cautious about creating concrete conditions that could lead to another Europe-wide armed conflict, considering its wide-ranging dire consequences.

However, by grossly violating the norms and laws of war in Ukraine Russia could tempt the West into putting more and more of its financial and material resources into strengthening the military capability of the Ukraine resistance and thereby weaken its economies through excessive military expenditure.

That is, the Western military-industrial complex would be further bolstered at the expense of the relevant civilian publics, who would be deprived of much needed welfare expenditure. This is a prospect no Western government could afford to countenance at the present juncture when the West too is beginning to weaken in economic terms. Discontented publics, growing out of shrinking welfare budgets, could only aggravate the worries of Western governments.

Accordingly, Putin’s game plan could very well be to subject the West to a ‘slow death’ through his merciless onslaught on the Ukraine. At the time of writing US President Joe Biden is emphatic about the need for united and firm ‘Transatlantic’ security in the face of the Russian invasion but it is open to question whether Western military muscle could be consistently bolstered amid rising, wide-ranging economic pressures.

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At 80, now serving humanity

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Thaku Chugani! Does this name ring a bell! It should, for those who are familiar with the local music scene, decades ago.

Thaku, in fact, was involved with the original group X-Periments, as a vocalist.

No, he is not making a comeback to the music scene!

At 80, when Engelbert and Tom Jones are still active, catering to their fans, Thaku is doing it differently. He is now serving humanity.

Says Thaku: “During my tenure as Lion District Governor 2006/2007, Dr Mosun Faderin and I visited the poor of the poorest blind school in Ijebu Ode Ogun state, in Nigeria.

“During our visit, a small boy touched me and called me a white man. I was astonished! How could a blind boy know the colour of my skin? I was then informed that he is cornea blind and his vision could be restored if a cornea could be sourced for him. This was the first time in my life that I heard of a cornea transplant. “

And that incident was the beginning of Thaku’s humanity service – the search to source for corneas to restore the vision of the cornea blind.

It was in 2007, when Dr Mosun and Thaku requested Past International President Lion Rohit Mehta, who was the Chief Guest at MD 404 Nigeria Lions convention, at Illorin, in Nigeria, to assist them in sourcing for corneas as Nigeria was facing a great challenge in getting any eye donation, even though there was an established eye bank.

“We did explain our problems and reasons of not being able to harvest corneas and Lion Rohit Metha promised to look into our plea and assured us that he will try his utmost best to assist in sourcing for corneas.”

Nigeria, at that period of time, had a wait list of over 70 cornea blind children and young adults.

“As assured by PIP Lion Rohit Mehta, we got an email from Gautam Mazumdar, and Dr. Dilip Shah, of Ahmedabad, in India, inviting us for World Blind Day

“Our trip was very fruitful as it was World Blind Day and we had to speak on the blind in Nigeria.”

“We were invited by Gautam Mazumdar to visit his eye bank and he explained the whole process of eye banking.

“We requested for corneas and also informed him about our difficulties in harvesting corneas.

“After a long deliberation, he finally agreed to give us six corneas. It was a historical moment as we were going to restore vision of six cornea blind children. To me, it was a great experience as I was privileged to witness cornea transplant in my life and what a moment it was for these children, when their vision was restored.

“Thus began my journey of sight restoration of the cornea blind, and today I have sourced over 1000 corneas and restored vision of the cornea blind in Nigeria, Kenya and India till date.

“Also, I need to mention that this includes corneas to the armed forces, and their family, all over India.

“On the 12th, August, 2018, the Eye Bank, I work with, had Launched Pre-Cut Corneas, which means with one pair of eyes, donated, four Cornea Blind persons sight will be restored.”

Thaku Chugani, who is based in India, says he is now able to get corneas regularly, but, initially, had to carry them personally – facing huge costs as well as international travel difficulties, etc.

However, he says he is so happy that his humanitarian mission has been a huge success.

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Health services face imminent collapse due to fuel crisis

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A file picture of a recent doctors’ protest

By Dr B. J. C. PERERA

MBBS(Cey), DCH(Cey), DCH(Eng), MD(Paed), MRCP(UK), FRCP(Edin), FRCP(Lon), FRCPCH(UK), FSLCPaed, FCCP, Hony FRCPCH(UK), Hony. FCGP(SL)

Specialist Consultant Pediatrician and Honorary Senior Fellow, Postgraduate Institute of Medicine, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Our free National Health Service is something that brings succor to the poorest of the poor, as well as even the well-to-do, and everybody in-between. As a country and a nation, we are so proud of our health services. In fact, as a developing country, we have shown the entire world how much can be accomplished, even with our meager resources, and with so few facilities made available to us in our health facilities. Our healthcare personnel are second to none anywhere else on the planet, and they try to do their best, even under trying circumstances.

There are shortages of medicines, disposable articles and equipment in our healthcare institutions. It has really gotten worse during the current economic crisis. Yet, we have managed to rise above all that, innovate, beg, borrow and do our best for the patients who come to us. Generally, our health workers will not allow a life to be lost without a fight. A case in point is how these personnel, from the lowest-ranked to the highest, rose and fought tooth and nail during the current COVID-19 pandemic. They worked without any worthwhile rest, even foregoing their meals when things had to be done to save lives. Our countrymen and countrywomen hailed us as their saviours, singing hosannas to all of them for so selflessly handling the crisis. The healthcare personnel showed results and they sacrificed many things and went through hell on earth, to save lives.

However, there is a looming dragon that is likely to inflict telling blows to cripple this hallowed service that is provided for our people. It is not due to shortages of drugs or equipment. Those can be handled to the very best of our abilities. The problem is due to severe human resource depletion that is the likely result of the current fuel shortage. It is a looming catastrophe, as large as life, where our healthcare personnel will not be able to get to their places of work, and they will not be able to respond to sudden emergencies, as there is no transport. The government, ministers and all other stupid politicians do not seem to realise this, and perhaps could not even care less about that. That is of course to be expected, as they have their agendas. They will somehow get their things done, but the people who suffer would be the poor who come to our hospitals.

However, the most distressing thing about this entire fiasco is how among our general public, the thugs, ruffians, desperados, those engaged in nefarious hoarding of fuel and all kinds of Mafias, are beginning to treat healthcare personnel at fuel queues and fuel sheds. Healthcare personnel are not asking for special treatment at fuel stations. They are an absolutely essential service, and all they are asking is for some fuel to enable them to attend to their essential service provisions. Even ambulances have to wait in queues, and are not allowed by the irate public to get priority for fuel.

A couple of weeks ago we saw in the news that a lady doctor driver was driven away from a fuel station by a mob. The most distressing thing about that entire episode was the bravado of a non-health staff lady driver, who shouted with powerful gesticulation of her arms that she had children in the car and could not make concessions to lady doctors. God forbid, but what if one of those children suddenly fell ill and the person to attend to them was the very same lady doctor who was chased away, and that person was not able to get to the hospital due to the lack of fuel?

Starting from Friday the 24th of June 2022, there was a lukewarm arrangement made to provide fuel to essential services, from certain designated fuel stations. every Friday. This was not communicated properly through all the media, and in very many places the public vehemently objected to this. The Borella junction Ceypetco fuel shed was one of the stations which were allocated for this purpose, where the essential services people, including healthcare personnel, queued up in their vehicles from around 6.00 am. The bowsers of fuel arrived only in the late evening, after a 12-hour long wait. There was hardly any security cover and virtually a free for all, with the sparse security personnel turning a blind eye to all the misdemeanors of the general public. There were loads of nurses, doctors and other healthcare workers from the National Hospital, Lady Ridgeway Hospital for Children, National Eye Hospital, De Soysa Maternity Hospital and the Castle Street Hospital for Women, who were in these vehicle queues, twiddling their thumbs and being forced to keep away from their places of work. No doubt, these hospitals worked with only minimal skeleton staff. All these hospitals have a collective staff strength running into very large numbers, all working in an absolutely vital essential service. In some outstation areas, the incensed public insisted on the healthcare personnel queuing up with the general public, even on that dedicated Friday, and at least in one area, the hospital had to be closed as most of the hospital staff had to be in fuel queues. For whatever it is worth, this writer has not been able to see his patients for more than a week due to lack of fuel.

Unless a proper system to provide fuel to essential services is implemented by this impotent government, this situation will go from bad to worse. Many hospitals will have to be closed, not due to strikes or trade union actions, but due to a lack of human resources to run the hospitals. Medical personnel will not be able to attend to emergencies, especially outside working hours, and many lives will be lost. Our inability to provide timely treatment could also lead to some patients being maimed for life.

So be warned, our people of our own country. Selfishness and scant regard for law and order on the part of the general public will lead to an unprecedented catastrophe. There will be riots inside and outside the medical institutions with damage to public property. Innocent lives will be lost and blood will necessarily have to be on the hands of the decision-makers and the powers-that-be.

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