MUST READ: Ice-Cream Dreams

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HOW WILL the generations who came after the Baby Boomers be remembered? Every generation has a “signature”: a collection of ideas and aspirations that renders it instantly recognisable to the scholars and artists whose job it is to make sense of the past. Certainly, that is the case with the Baby Boom Generation. One has only to write a list of words and expressions: Beatnik, folk-singer, anti-war protester, New Leftist, civil-rights worker, feminist, acid rock, hippy, commune, Woodstock, New-Ager, environmentalist; and immediately, images, sounds, and a colourful cascade of defining historical moments conjure-up the generation born between 1946 and 1965 like a gaudy pantomime demon.

It is out of these vivid historical moments that the ideas and aspirations of Baby Boomers may be distilled. Like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle they fit together to form a complex generational portrait. The face we see bears the imprint of idealism and hedonism; rebelliousness and expediency; creativity and venality. The Baby Boomers may have set out to do good, but they settled for doing well. They may have been brave, but they weren’t stupid. They longed to be free, but drew the line at being poor.

Mick Jagger (who, like just about all of the cultural icons who enthralled and inspired the Baby Boom generation, is not a Boomer) happily adopted the persona of a street-fighting man, but fought the taxman harder. “Money, it’s a hit”, declared Pink Floyd, “don’t give me that do-goody-good bullshit.” Bob Dylan warned his young followers that “Up on Housing Project Hill/It’s either fortune or fame/You must pick one or the other/Though neither of them are to be what they claim.”

There has always been something disconcertingly sly about the Boomers. Sly, and a just a little bit cynical. The Who famously tipped their hat to ‘The Revolution’, only to bring their fans crashing back down to earth with that immortal sign-off: “Meet the new boss/Same as the old boss.” It was as if the Boomers, like the Russians, were saying: “Trust – but verify.”

So, what about the Generations that followed the Boomers? What about Generations X, Y and Z? What distinguishes these unfortunate souls, historically, is that, unlike the Boomers, they were not born into an age of plenty and limitless horizons, but into a world of reduced circumstances and abandoned dreams. The Boomers looked at their parents and felt mostly pity. A worldwide economic depression, followed by a world war, had created a generation whose over-riding desire was for security. Work hard, keep your nose clean, don’t rock the boat, and, most of all, be wary of people peddling big ideas – because that way lies trouble! They got their security, bless ‘em, but only at the price of enjoying it in a cramped and unadventurous society. Poor bastards!

The end-of-the-alphabet generations looked at the Boomers and felt not pity, but a contemptuous, envy-driven rage. It was as if the luckiest generation in human history had invited them into the wondrous ice-cream emporium it had inherited from the Greatest Generation, only to tape their mouths shut at the door, and continue scoffing. They were sorry, they said, observing the resentment in the younger generations’ eyes, but there just wasn’t enough for everybody. When you’re older, the Boomers promised, ice-cream dribbling down their double-chins, you will understand.

In the meantime, however, Generations X,Y, and Z have created a culture negatively defined by the cynical idealism and hedonistic excesses of the Boomers. If the civil-rights workers and the feminists wanted equality; if the New Left of the 1960s preached participatory democracy; and if the hippies worshipped freedom; then the inheritors of these big Boomer ideas would impose them without debate. When they got their hands on power, Gen-X, Y and Z were fiercely determined to actually do the things that the Boomers only talked, and sang, and marched about.

When it came to politics, arts and culture, bombastic White men would have to step back for people of colour, women and the rainbow community. It was their turn now to strut and fret upon the stages of the world. The prophets and peacocks, whose singular political and artistic voices defined the 1960s and 70s, were creatively superseded by the mad-cap kaleidoscope of social media, and the incessant buzzing of innumerable Spotified bees. So many masters, so few masterpieces.

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But what about the ice-cream? Who got the ice-cream? It is in relation to economic and social policy that the awful legacy of the Baby Boomers is most plainly in evidence. Because Generations X, Y and Z are not socialists – not even in their dreams. The neoliberals (who, like most of the Boomers’ cultural icons, were not Boomers themselves) may have seduced the Baby Boom Generation (Boomers are easily seduced!) but they convinced the generations that followed them. Ice-cream is for the best – not the rest. Work hard, keep your nose clean, don’t challenge the ideological powers-that-be, and you, too, will be invited to dine at the big emporium – and this time your mouth will not be taped shut.

This then will be the signature of the generations that followed the Boomers. Idealistic authoritarians. Obedient conformists. Incorruptible puritans. Unflinching meritocrats. They will be remembered as the generations who, more than anything, wanted to have the Boomers’ ice-cream – and eat it too.

May God forgive us.

53 COMMENTS

  1. Boomers just take take take. They are like spoilt brats who demand attention and demand to get their own way. Jacinda is scared of them and takes from everyone else to feed these fat grubs.

    • X labour. If we are greedy. You are ignorant. Ignorant because it’s convenient for you to write off a whole generation because of your assumption they ruined the world for their own wealth and spent their ill gotten gains on themselves instead of giving it to you. I’ve just turned 70. My parents worked hard and so have I. As most boomers have. Yes we’ve contributed to global warming and the abuse of our surroundings but that started on a large scale with the industrial revolution not the boomers. I’m guessing you feel we knowingly abused our surroundings. We didn’t know. When I got my drivers license in the mid sixties the traffic was a fraction of what we have now. The burning of fossil fuel didn’t seem to be a problem and at the time it wasn’t. We didn’t know that cows farting was a problem and we thought putting as much fertiliser on the land as we could was a good thing. It made the grass grow. Your generation has had the advantage of computerised knowledge, ours didn’t. The demise of our environment is cumulative not caused by any one generation. The fairness of our wealth distribution is political, not generational. And as seen by our present masters, a left government doesn’t mean any improvement in anything. I suggest you keep your mindless comments to yourself unless you intend to contribute to Chris’s post in an intelligent way.

        • RosieLee – ‘ I am sick and tired of the perjorative use of the term “Boomers”. ‘Me too. I don’t use it and nor do I know anyone who does. It is not a particularly pleasant word in itself, sounds vulgar, and I’m thinking of a work-around.

      • The South African boomers said the same about apartheid. It didn’t seem to be a problem at the time…. TO THEM!!!! If only boomers could see how they come across.

      • Yeah nah.
        There have been people talking about changing climate since the 1960s and 1970s
        https://www.theguardian.com/science/2021/jul/05/sixty-years-of-climate-change-warnings-the-signs-that-were-missed-and-ignored
        You weren’t listening.
        Generation pull-up-the-ladder weren’t going to stop living their fossil fueled lifestyles for anyone though.
        Until of course with working lives done, having had free education cheap housing and money in the bank, they buy their e-bikes, retire (younger, on a pension next generations won’t have) to their second house by the lake, vote Labour or Green and preach to the struggling generations how their work utes are bad and our lifestyles are unsustainable.

      • Well said….We wanted to save the world and employing our work ethic, got seduced into consumerism.
        Our gen continues to prod govt to address environmental, Treaty, welfare and inequality issues… just saying eh?

        • EBOP all things your generation overwhelmingly caused but someone else now has to pay for/sacrifice to fix.
          It’s all about keeping what you have and making someone else pay for the problem eh.
          The preaching just rubs it in.

          That is what the boomers will be remembered for, their legacy.

        • EBOP So you and KCCO aren’t into consumerism then. Mobile phone, computer, Tele, plastic milk carton, shirts made in China, nappies. net flix. coffee on the go, flushing toxic shit down the dunny. So you can’t afford a car then, Give me a break.

          • No, I am in to those things, reasonably responsibly.
            What I am not is preaching to other people to adjust their lifestyles, towards the end of mine having bathed in excess all my pampered life.

  2. The Boomer generation gifted their grandchildren subscriptions to World Vision at Christmas, to sponsor poor children in distant countries and give those children opportunities to better their lives.

    New Zealanders are now being asked to sponsor our home- grown children living in poverty in a country awash with noisy supporters of issues largely contrived by their hedonist selves, while the poor grapple with the guilt instilled in them for being so. ( I remember John Cleese referring to hope as a burden.)

    A Prime Minister with the inability or reluctance to pronounce the word “poverty” while purporting to care about “ child povidy” leaves me sceptical, just as PM English did flying to Auckland to watch a pop star the weekend ‘Hit&Run’ hit the bookshops, singing ‘ nothing to see here. ‘ Same as.

  3. What are the chances?
    To be born on planet Earth in a rich developed country at the exact point in history when consumption was endless, sex was free, uncomplicated and unprotected, the environment was pristine, news and information came from a newspaper or a radio and petrol was 5 cents a litre!
    Ignorance was definitely bliss.

  4. It’s going to be interesting to watch the comments to this post @Chris.
    I can understand @Ex Labour’s response and agree. The Boomers’ parents the product of the World War years genuinely wanting things to be better for their offspring – just as most parents in ‘developing’ nations often do.
    Never ceases to amaze me how many boomers I know now rationailse and justify their behaviour and then wonder why there’s resentment from generations following.

    • So by your definition, any other generation but the boomers are justified in their behaviours and don’t need to rationalise it? Besides that, what exactly would Trotter like the boomers to do?…obviously to grovel and atone for some sort of serious wrongdoings I presume? Lay them out please. Should boomers have rejected opportunities coming their way? Would anyone have acted differently back then? What’s the point of these boomers vs the rest articles other than some historical information…much of it being opinion.

        • Yay, I’ve done it!!!! Seriously, boomer this, millennial that, now is now, let’s get on with and work with what we have and get stuff done.

      • “So by your definition, any other generation but the boomers are justified in their behaviours and don’t need to rationalise it?”
        Where did I say that?
        I seem to recall rebelling against mine telling me I didn’t know how lucky I was. I do find it interesting how the rebellious hedonists of the past flip as the treats and trinkets eventually get to them. Jerry Hall ffs! and Rupe.
        And my point about the developing nations – in my experience each generation seems to have a better commitment to the welfare of the previous and the next.

      • I would think what we want from the Boomers – yes I am one – is to work for change, pick your topic / or topics: racism, climate change, child poverty, cost of doctors visits, hospital waiting lists, business screwing IRD, swimable rivers, tax take, screwing over the Pacifica community, poverty generally, SIS, GCSB, the booze industry, pokies and gambling generally one could go on and on and the many many environmental issues that we have!

        And then of course outside Aotearoa there are: Afganistan, Palestine, Western Sahara, the Kurds, West Papua, pharmaceutical companies, pesticide companies, big tobacco, to name but a few.

        Of course I think the people that should be getting the energy top up from the government are anyone with a green card, giving it to every retired person is nuts, many of them don’t need it, and please don’t tell me that they should give it away because we not all made to think of others like that.

        I have both signed petitions on many of these things, made banners and marched and picketed on the streets, written to ministers and written to the paper, and worn T shirts advertising my beliefs!

  5. The vast majority of the baby boomer generation were never anti-establishment etc. As Country Joe of Country Joe and the Fish said, you only had to drive inland ten miles from the west coast of America and you were in redneck country. The same goes for New Zealand. Hippies etc were only ever a small percentage of the baby boomer generation. Most got married, got a mortgage, raised children and then waited till they were in their sixties and seventies before buying a mobile home and going out on the road

  6. “Boomers… born into an age of plenty and limitless horizons” Yeah, right. Not the NZ I remember. Strange words from Chris who was born the year after myself and I believe is originally another Mainlander as well. Truly, “the past is a foreign country”.

      • How right (oops) you are, RosieLee. The 50’s and 60’s parents carried the memories and the scars of the Great Depression, and had some solid values, and even just some
        commonday practices, which some of us acquired never dreaming how much we would need them one day too.

        It may have been an age of plenty for the sheep farmers of Canterbury salivating over their fat wool cheques, and the Southland dairy farmers driving big shiny-finned American cars, but in the middle there, people still worked hard, and ladies like my mother rode bicycles to church every Sunday. It was the people at the bottom who were invisible, same as now, so no, this age of plenty business, may be a bit off centre.

    • The inequality landscape was different–most people had not very much and modest lifestyles–and it could be a rather boring, conformist place. But, it was cool too with barely 2 million people.

      On a weekly car industry workers wage I could afford to live in Auckland and run a ’58 Ford V8, which I would drive to Wellington on several weekends a year and other regional destinations for social purposes, and just to see the country. Light traffic, great days. But not limitless horizons unless you were “outstanding in your field” on a high station or something!

      • Funny, the exact same discussion held the other day. When working on a car assemblers wage , you could have a family, own a house and car and with the population as it was, there was no “road rage” and driving too and in around Auckland did not involve stress related illnesses. The weekends involved sport and recreation + socializing. Oh how things have changed.

        • Heh, what was lost, and what was gained…consumer fetishism, flybuys points…

          was in Auck a month back and went shopping…in New Market…needed an app on phone to get into the carpark, and the shopping “precinct”–we are over malls–is like a small town, spacious though with lots of well groomed people moving through for some reason or another.

  7. “Boomer” is classic academic and statistical grouping as are “millennial” etc. and convenient shorthand for various social phenomenona, and correct enough in a broad brush way. People of the boomer cohort do not all conform however–I fought against Rogernomics in the 80s, Ruthanasia in the 90s, and fight to this day in various political formats.

    The slight problem we have in NZ now is that 50% own just 2% of the wealth, so there is a class mountain to climb to turn that around. All struggles are linked in the end, and that is the challenge. Trying to deal with racism, gender, sexism etc. within a neo liberal state without some class unity is a losing proposition given the Climate Disaster pressure we are under. That is where X,Y, Z come in. They are different from boomers in their attitudes to various things so disruption is definitely on the cards.

    Unity of the oppressed and exploited against the 1%ers is the goal–and more difficult in an environment of Uber, social media and obsessive individualism. But there is quite a bit of unity at the moment over dealing with COVID which may have been a lesson for some people that collectivism is a good thing.

  8. Those icons of the ’60’s that people ascribe to the 60’s were just minor anomalies. Carnaby street was just one street in London and Flower Power lasted one year and was restricted to Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. The rest of us got on with our lives as best we could. There were more mods and rockers than there ever were hippies.
    We definitely did grow up with the best music though. It represents a freedom of expression that no longer exists.

  9. I am 33. Fortunate to be from a well-to-do family. I can’t help but detect a self-centred-ness in many older than me, as in my contemporaries. One isn’t to say whether or not it afflicts oneself, or how much. Probably does to a degree, though none is all good/all bad. Have acutely felt Bob Dylan’s words ring true in many of the choices I have faced to date.

    I can’t help but think a lot of this thinking in terms of single generations – single lifespans – is related to a collapse of faith. We see it on both problem and solution side. We can’t spend our way out of a mental health crisis, because we have a meaning crisis. If there is only now, there is only now. And only now kinda sucks. A Nietzsche point, I think. May indeed God – whatever He/She/Zir/Zee is – forgive us.

  10. “That is where X,Y, Z come in. They are different from boomers in their attitudes to various things so disruption is definitely on the cards.”

    In my personal experience I have found generation Z the most entitled in my lifetime, probably due to technology?
    It is a want society now rather than a need.

    • Not only do I want to agree with your here, I need to to! Technology has reduced patience, attention span and appreciation of human skills. Example: a senior position used to mean, say 10-15 years experience in the business. Now, senior position means one year in business after a free (govt paid) diploma course (which had two terms of study at 12 weeks per term – most of it online). “You old guys know nothing because I can build a website using an online tool. So give me that senior marketing strategy job now, or I will complain to HR and go on Twitter for discrimination towards young candidates!”

      • “………….has reduced patience, attention span and appreciation of human skills”

        AND spatial awareness.

        Skills are being lost. I can hardly be describes as a luddite, but technology for technology’s sake is going to get us in the end. People should drive technology, not the other way around
        All Hail the Algorithm. We get what we deserve because we tolerate it and encourage it.
        Fuck me! – I think I’m agreeing with you Mr Kraut! I might need cousellling

        Reduced attention span. reduced spatial awareness, RELIANCE on technology coupled with uber competitiveness doesn’t bode well for the future – in this space, going forward

  11. Ha! I love the Russian statement. “Trust, then verify.” That’s brilliant.
    We’ve been conned into taking the idiocy of life far too seriously so we can be harvested for that other lunacy that’s ‘money’. What’s the value of money when one might have a cancer that assures you, you have one month to live?
    Life can be measured by the value we can find in each second of each minute of each hour of each day of each week of each month of each year. When we reflect on the day? How much of it can you say was joyous?
    Therefore never let the bastards grind you down and even in the most violent revolution a giggle can be found.
    Ice cream? Try Kapiti Coast ice cream? The rhubarb and raspberry flavour. It’s about $10 a liter but trust me, it’s worth trying to shoplift it down your underpants.

  12. What distinguishes the so-called boomer generation is the large number of people at the same age, at the same time, over a long period. “On the baby’s knuckle or the baby’s knee…” sang George Clooney’s aunt, while their pretty young post-war parents awaited their birth. “Hope I die before I get old” sang The Who, as they flexed their teenaged muscles. Phenomena like Beatles mania were able to occur because of the number of people at a receptive age at the same time.
    Politically, you can look at almost any episode of Prime Rocks and observe the mixture of socialism, hedonism and libertarianism that they largely took to be facets of the same thing – a broad opposition to the conservative, capitalist “man.” This left them wide open to manipulation when the monetarist creed (developed for the most part by people born into the “heroic” generation) came into play. The biggest mistake of the boomer generation, in my opinion, lay in taking social democracy as achieved, and open to being extended, rather than precarious, and open to being dismantled. A mistake amplified by their number.

  13. I am a boomer and I think I was born in the luckiest era.

    I fell for younger kids today. Where do I start….student loans, housing crisis, the climate going to hell (floods today in West Auckland). Covid denying them the freedom to do their OE.

    And neo liberalism taught them individualism. Focus on self rather than collectivism. Aspiring to dream jobs (rather than organising collectively). Getting caught up in dare I use the words woke virtue signaling. Meanwhile poor kids don’t stand much of a chance. I am truly sorry for them.

    I think boomers must shoulder some responsibility for the mess we are in. But the real question is what can be done about it?

    • Every generation has its challenges and we had ours too. The Millennials won’t face DDT, asbestos and lead in the fuel. Their diet and clothing will be far better because they will avoid post war rationing and gain the advantages of modern medicine. No polio for them or smallpox! They’re also less likely to be fried in a nuclear holocaust.

      Also the Boomer experience varied greatly from country to country and also covered quite a wide span of years – from ’46 to ’64 in fact. So we cannot generalize. Certainly your halcyon experience in NZ of the 50’s and 60’s seems a damn site better than mine in the UK!

      I was born in the East Midlands of the UK and we were surrounded by RAF and USAF nuclear bomber bases which although fun for plane spotting, meant that we were ground zero if the Cold War had even become tepid. My generation came out of education and into the job market to face high inflation and a collapsing industrial base, caused by nationalization and high taxes. So after being laid off twice, I left the country, along with many others to seek a better future (and here I am!)

    • Anka I’m struggling with some of your reasoning. Times were still pretty tough when I was born in 1951. My farther studied and became a chemist and we lived relatively comfortably, but his new car didn’t come until he retired. The later boomers had it better but generally the post war world economies were picking up also. Its not a case of focusing on self, it’s simply trying to do the best you can, and unfortunately some will always have better opportunities. What the boomers had was jobs. The world wasn’t run by computers and everything was done manually. If you couldn’t get educated enough to have a desk job, you had a manual job. You worked in a factory or the meat works. Now days many aren’t prepared to do those jobs and the required number of those job’s aren’t available. The consumer driven society we now live in has, along with demand and inflation over time created the distortion in the housing supply that successive governments have failed to address. We have a million more people here than we did twenty years ago. That’s why theres not enough houses and why they’re so expensive and that’s not the boomers fault it’s successive governments that we elected.

  14. Well said….We wanted to save the world and employing our work ethic, got seduced into consumerism.
    Our gen continues to prod govt to address environmental, Treaty, welfare and inequality issues… just saying eh?

  15. The real kicker is that even as we speak, corporates are trying to hoover as much of the Boomer Generation’s wealth via health insurance, medical expenses, reverse mortgages, retirement village agreements, rest home fees etc. Forget your inheritance, forget getting the family home, that’s all going to further enrich the 0.1%.

    Your only legacy will be the financial & environmental debts left behind.

    • Oh well John I guess we all have time on our hands.You’re right tho: we are all a product of our time.

      “Neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood without understanding both.”
      CWM

      C. Wright Mills died in 1962 just as the early baby boomers were coming of age. His view would probably not turn a hair now but back in the day it was surprisingly quite radical. For some reason it is one thing I remember.

      Another lesson learnt: individuals from the same era cannot be tarred with the same brush

  16. More divisive identity politics! Don’t think you can tar people’s personalities and generations by their age group!

    There are as many greedy people from every age group but the neoliberals like to have someone to blame as it’s against modern woke rules to take responsibility!

    How can people take responsibility when nobody is good enough, aka the school climate groups had to cancel themselves under the suggestion and guidance of the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour)” members of the group, “as well as individual BIPOC activists and organisations”.

  17. It is easy to make a list of the good thinks from this era and there were plenty but there was bad as well. Women were raped and were at fault because they wore a short dress. Racist attitudes were not noticed as if you were not white you had no voice and the same was applicable to those with disabilities who were invisible. My wife’s wages were not counted when we went for a mortgage and she could not get her own credit card unless I guaranteed it .
    The good old days were only good for some not all.

    • Of course, yes there was that side of things. Apart from the credit card pilferers, sadly the rest hasn’t changed much Trevor.
      And also today is only good for a very small minority, not all.

    • Goes without saying Trevor for those of us that were there. Kids, disabled of all kinds, women, girls, Māori and Chinese and Samoans, Tongans and others could regularly have a tough time of it. Shops closed all weekend, Doctors word was law, cops made their own version of the law, and anyone half academic was regarded with suspicion.

      For younger people, Level 4 lockdown is a good example of 70s traffic flow on a weekend!

      There were underground scenes of every type though, and bohemians and writers and artists etc. (loudly ridiculed if the put their heads up). No paradise, but we made our own fun and worked on our own cars.

  18. One can’t help but wonder if previous civilisations progressed through similar generational evolutionary pathways, he mused, as he finished his plateful. 🙂

  19. I wholeheartedly agree with the comments of “New View” but also suggest that the notion of such a huge social demographic, all those born between 1946 and 1965, wantonly and knowingly advancing their own selfish agenda, is nonsense.
    Like a ship at sea, the vast majority of people go where the prevailing wind blows. And the wind that prevailed throughout our time, which is still blowing today, was Capitalism, and Capitalism has never favoured our sails being set for the course Chris says we could and should have sailed.
    So how could we be expected to have done otherwise when the wind and the chart in front of us, rolled out on our media’s chart table everyday, not only kept us on Capitalism’s doomed course, but demonised anyone who dared call for a course change .
    Whatever the topic, be it public ownership of vital utilities, the demise of the 40 hour week, neo-liberalism, pollution, nitrate leaching, global warming, racsim, Zionism, the exposure of war mongers and those who blow the whistle on them, the media keeps us on Capitalism’s course.
    The fact is, collectively, people aren’t as smart as is pretended, a fact well know by the Capitalist moguls and the media they control, which constantly manufactures our consent not only to our own inevitable demise but that too of countless others along the way, all in pursuit of profit over people.

  20. I am Gen X.

    I did not fight reforms, I did not challenge authority.

    I accepted shit, and still do.

    I should have burnt stuff to the ground and fought tooth and nail.

    I do not blame specific generations.

    I blame the professional managerial class and their on going bullshit.

  21. Most boomers born in the late 1940s that I know started with very little. The idea that your parents or the State were your safety net was not even in our radar. Sure, there was plenty of work, but it was a given that it was over to you to shape your own future. Our generation lived through a period of incredible technological change, but we seldom see history when it’s happening, do we? If you’d told me 30 years ago that I have my own home computer, giving me access to all the knowledge in the world at the push of a button, I wouldn’t have believed it. By the way, we had to deal with little inconveniences such as 20% mortgage interest rates in the 80s – difficult to comprehend now. We were a fortunate generation, but nobody I knew had any sense of ‘entitlement’ to anything that they didn’t create ourselves.

  22. Chris is losing credibility with me by lumping all of the post-war generation as the baddies who have ruined NZ society. How about recognising social and political influences as the drivers? This is why we have unaffordable housing as an apparent ongoing Labour POLICY setting. As for SOME Millenials, there could not possibly be a more spoilt, entitled and ignorant lot. However I have huge respect for the rest of them as they can be clever and show a flexibility that was never in the older generation’s psyche.

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