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By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

What will be the eventual outcome of the current perceived brinkmanship between the United States and North Korea?

For students of history in the region the answer is conspicuous. The outcome will rise from the historical template of national evolution in the region. This history is among the most ancient of civilized man. As a result of this deep historical context and precedent, the script is likely already written, but the acts will unfold on a new stage of hyper-fast media that can exert a dangerous influence.

To the laymen and popular media consumer there will continue to be a forward facing game of media sensationalized military brinkmanship played out above a very subtle, quiet and deliberate process of diplomacy. The likely outcome will be an asymmetrical win-win that will benefit all parties in the broad spectrum, but more so North Korea than any other party. Part of this asymmetry in benefit is earned by North Korea’s increased tolerance for risk in this era.

North Korea finally realizes a need to enter the “Functioning Core” of the world community. Unencumbered by a radical religious mantra their only divinity is servitude to state. They are long overdue from becoming a modern nation state in nearly every way.

Author and scholar Thomas P.M. Barnett broadly divided the nations and governing ideologies of the world into two categories; the “Functioning Core” and the “Non-Integrated Gap”. Barnett’s theory was presented into a now-famous Powerpoint delivered at the Pentagon called “The Pentagon’s New Map”. In his thesis Barnett describes how nations and cultures of the Non-Integrated Gap who are not perverted by idealogical distortion eventually realize they could have things better; they could have easy access to clean water, they could have dependable electricity, safe and abundant food and adequate clothing and shelter. In the greater evolution they could have access to the world community via the Internet. Once that social evolution is complete the citizenry can cross borders at the speed of the Internet, unencumbered by national dogma and censorship. This is their express ticket to the world economy.

North Korea realizes the pitfalls of the Arab Spring.  They are smart enough to have learned from the Middle East, where most countries are worse off following the Arab Spring. Russia and the U.S. are mostly the only ones to benefit during the near term in the Middle East and left with the lion’s share of plunder- albeit at great cost. But the countries and people in the Arab Spring are left destitute, trapped in a vacuum that is a breeding ground for messy, infectious radicalism as difficult to kill as a stubborn mold in a dank cellar. Kim Jung Un has been quiet witness to this phenomenon, and seeks to avoid becoming the next Syria, Libya or Iraq.

There is a subtle, brutal genius to Kim Jung Un’s strategy. He has avoided coups, subverted military conflict and expertly wielded nuclear brinkmanship to his advantage. He has everything to gain, and gain he will. When this is over a year or two from now, North Korea will be substantially more integrated into the global economy. The big losers in the near term will be the North Korean people. They have been subject to poverty and oppression on a titanic scale, unprecedented almost anywhere in the world today except North Africa. Their march into the modern world, from the non-integrated gap to the Functioning Core will take a decade at least, and it will be a grinding procession lubricated by more North Korean peasant blood. But war on a pan-Pacific scale will be subverted.

In the media this evolution will look and feel like brinkmanship, but on the back channels of old-world Asian diplomacy it will be business as usual, not far removed from the age of Niccolò Polo and Maffeo Polo as chronicled by their famous son, Marco Polo.

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By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

Mrs. Hawkins was my fifth grade teacher. She wore long skirts and horn-rimmed glasses. In every way, the elementary schoolmarm. I was 10-years old. At this age we form our perceptions of the world and values. When the normally deadpan Mrs. Hawkins spoke of the Battle of Dunkirk she became animated. She orated about the desperation, the fear, the heroism.

I don’t remember anything else from 5th grade or Mrs. Hawkins. I only remember her animated recounting of the Battle of Dunkirk. I was captivated.

For those thin on history, The Battle of Dunkirk was a terrifying turning point when the world began to believe Nazi Germany could not be stopped. Hitler’s army drove the free French and British to the coastal northern border of France. They had no more land to retreat to. They were trapped and likely to be rounded up in a humiliating rout, or annihilated as the Blitzkrieg, Hitler’s “lightning war”, rolled north. The implication was clear: Britain was next.

Boyhood recollections are frail and nuanced things. Would this movie honor my recollections of Mrs. Hawkins’ theatrical oration from way back in 1972 about the horrors and heroism of Dunkirk?

I remember my teacher’s recounting of The Battle of Dunkirk as a grainy black and white photo from a history filmstrip.

The Battle of Dunkirk is a uniquely British drama. Men were reserved and dignified in stoic heroism. They wore wool uniforms and held tightly to military conventions. Leaders were leaders and foot soldiers were resigned to their often-drudgerious life as ground-pounding order-takers. There were heroes in every rank, every role, but the most gallant flew the Spitfires and Hurricanes above the bloody sacrifice of land battle.

That was how I pictured Dunkirk: a tragic epic on the scale of Greek mythology. I did not want that boyhood impression sullied by some poorly executed, fast-cut, CGI remake of “Saving Private Ryan” that relied on shock and gore to impress.

Director Christopher Nolan’s film “Dunkirk” honored my boyhood impression as though it were a beautiful, lyrical poem recited by a Shakespearean actor in a quiet theater setting.

In every way, “Dunkirk” is perfect.

Tense and deeply stylized, Writer and Director Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” adds a new level of sophistication to the war movie genre and a creative new way to depict the enormity and horror of war.

Beyond its theatrical depiction of the Battle of Dunkirk in grey, somber visual and musical tones, “Dunkirk” also pays homage to the British resolve that saved the nation. Every person in England during WWII could be regarded as a guardian of freedom, unlikely heroes rising to confront the terror of war.

In “Dunkirk”, actor Mark Rylance who plays “Mr. Dawson”, is all of Great Britain. His character, and those of his sons, defines “Keep Calm and Carry On”. He also exemplifies adherence to tradition and dignity that makes Britain great. Rylance’s performance carries a significant amount of the weight in “Dunkirk”.

“Dunkirk” is completely unlike any war film, and perhaps epitomizes an elegant transition in film making to a new visual and audio feel. The film strikes an optimal balance between flow, image, sound and dialogue. The haunting soundtrack of Hans Zimmer, whom you know from the masterful score of “Blackhawk Down” and “Gladiator”, adds additionally sensory experience to the story. Its effect is trance-like and poetic, as I remember my teacher’s glassy-eyed account of the battle. With the measured use of editing the film flows beautifully, no small accomplishment in this era of movie making.

More importantly than just seeing “Dunkirk”, it is worth studying not only as a historically inspired based-on-fact accounting, but also a masterful new direction and flavor of filmmaking.

 

 

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By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

 

Author Peter Benchley’s marginally successful novel “Jaws” was released as a movie 42 years ago today. The film shattered box office records, rewrote the rules on movie release methods and touched off a succession of progressively awful sequels and occasionally credible documentaries that continue to fuel fascination- and mostly unreasonable fear of sharks- to this day.

Since “Jaws” every shark attack makes headlines. Nearly everyone remembers seeing the film with its shocking surprise visuals and its oddly floppy fake rubber robot shark. But most terrifyingly, everyone remembers the scenes in the water when you can see… nothing.

Director Steven Spielberg did an incredible job of building tension and terror in the unknown with soundtrack, lighting, foreshadowing and a looming sense of unseen menace. And of course, those two low notes of music that now universally signal impending doom: “duh…DUH.”

Speilberg’s skill was so effective it has created several generations of people with an irrational fear of the water, absurd notions about sharks as wanton maneaters and a general and wholly unwarranted misconception about the sea.

My girlfriend was afraid of the water. Not just what was in it, but even putting her face in it. Eight weeks later she swam unprotected at 70-feet depth off Roatan Island in Honduras in a school of 10-foot sharks in a feeding frenzy while I photographed her. Her only anxiety stemmed from my penchant to swim too far away from her to try to photograph, and pet, the swirling mass of “man eaters” as they swam around us.

My girlfriend Jan at 80-feet depth in a school of nice-sized reef sharks.

The truth is, sharks aren’t really that dangerous. In fact, I’ve spent years and thousands of dollars in travel and equipment just to find them for the chance to swim with them. And when I have been successful, which takes time, money and work. I have always been rewarded. They are beautiful and majestic. Often they are even gentle and playful.

I have swum in schools of sharks, petted sharks, fed sharks, and photographed sharks while in the water with them. No cages. Not one has ever tried to bite me. One shark in Curaçao demonstrated aggressive behavior toward me, she may have been playing with me, but she was big and she and I did not speak the same language so I simply swam away from her. She left.

Sharks are not wanton killing machines as Peter Benchley’s fictional novel suggests. Benchley’s novel is based loosely on a real life incident that took place between July 1 and July 12 in 1916 along the New Jersey coastline and, oddly, far up a small, brackish water rivulet named Matawan Creek. Sharks, or a single shark, attacked five people. Four of the victims died, more from poor first aid in 1916 than the severity of their wounds. One survived their attack.

The 1916 Jersey Shore shark attacks happened as American news media was growing and people were on summer holiday. It made for sensational (and grossly embellished) headlines. It sold newspapers, pamphlets and books. And it created an absurd level of hysteria and fear so vast it continues today. Talk to any modern triathlon competitor about their biggest fear, and they will tell you it is swimming in the open ocean.

While the 1916 Jersey Shore attacks were terrifying, they were a bizarre anomaly likely attributable to a unique happenstance in shark behavior. A large shark was likely confused by the moon phase that influenced the tide and accidentally swam upriver as the water salinity (salt levels in sea water) increased in the usually fresh water. As the shark became increasingly distressed, it became increasingly aggressive and panicked. And it bit people. The same behavior is common from a squirrel, a house cat or a panicked dog. But a medium size shark can inflict a larger bite than a dog.

Since Benchley’s novel and Spielberg’s movie was released conservationists have had to wage war on the terror-driven misconceptions that have caused unreasonable fear and wanton killing of sharks. To this day the unwarranted fear continues, not only of sharks, but of the ocean in general.

Could a shark bite you? It could. But the chances are more than remote. They’re astronomical, even when you are in the water with sharks. Think about this, if you were on a street with three strange dogs would you be panicked about them attacking you? Common sense dictates you observe their behavior and go about your business. The exact same is true of sharks. Even the rarest of sharks, the holy grail of shark spotting, the great white shark, is relatively placid when not feeding. If you are ever lucky enough to actually find one it will likely swim away in disinterest.

Our fear of sharks and the ocean is like nearly all fears. It is founded in lore and ignorance. The remedy is learning and understanding while developing a strong respect for this vast remaining wilderness and the marvelous creatures that live in it.

 

Author Tom Demerly will pet just about anything, even sharks, but never catches any fish. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

It’s common for people who finish an Ironman™ brand race to get a tattoo with the recognizable “M-Dot” Ironman™ logo.

Tattoos are an interesting cultural hot point. The late comedian Rodney Dangerfield quipped, “Marriage? Yes! But get a tattoo? No way, they are way too permanent.”

Not many people who get a tattoo will look you in face after they got it and say, “I regret getting this tattoo. It was a mistake.”

I was curious about people who get tattoos, and more specifically, people who have Ironman™ brand tattoos. So I did some reading, asked some questions and did more than a bit of thinking.

Pay close attention to how I’ve typed the term “Ironman™ brand”, not “ironman triathlon” or “long distance triathlon”. There is a legal distinction between these terms. The term “Ironman™” is a registered trademark, along with another 45 terms related to “Ironman™” that include the phrase “Anything is Possible™” and, somewhat curiously, the single word “Grace™”. The M-Dot™ logo is also trademarked by Ironman™.

In the strictest interpretation of the law a person with an Ironman™ brand M-Dot™ tattoo has committed trademark violation if they did not get permission from the Ironman™ organization and presumably pay a licensing fee. It is stipulated right here on the Ironman™ webpage:

“If you are a Sponsor or Licensee of WTC that is contractually entitled to use an IRONMAN, IRONMAN 70.3, IRON GIRL or IRONKIDS trademark, service mark or logo (the “Marks”), please follow the specific usage guidelines provided as a part of your sponsorship or license agreement.  If you have questions regarding your use as is outlined in your specific agreement, please contact your WTC Account Manager.”

And also:

“If you are not a Sponsor or Licensee of WTC that is contractually entitled to use the Marks, please be advised that WTC normally does not grant third party use of its Marks.  After you have carefully reviewed this entire document and feel that extraordinary special circumstances may apply to your request, please contact the Trademark Permissions Center at trademarks@ironman.com.  Permissions are granted solely at the discretion of WTC as owner of the Marks.”

But those are technicalities, and people get Harley-Davidson and Metallica tattoos all the time, so those facts seem removed from the central question of why people get Ironman™ brand tattoos. But these ideas did cloud my understanding of the behavior.

After thinking about it for a while, it occurred to me that the real question is not, “Why do people get Ironman tattoos?” but more accurately, “Why do I care what other people do?”

I had an epiphany. While I like to think of myself as open minded, I was actually being shortsighted in even trying to render judgment about other people getting tattoos. I was reminded of one of my favorite quotes, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” I wasn’t sincerely trying to understand the reasons people get Ironman™ tattoos; I was trying to form an opinion about why- before truly understanding why. And why was I trying to form an opinion about getting an Ironman™ tattoo in the first place?

To better understand the motives behind Ironman™ brand tattoos I visited the Facebook group “IronMan Tats” and posted the question, “Why did you get an Ironman™ tattoo?”

The answers I got had a little to do with showing other people that someone accomplished a goal. But more people in the Facebook group told me their tattoos serve as a reminder of what they accomplished to themselves. This reminder does not just memorialize their Ironman™ race, but more significantly the hard work and change that was required to even get to the start line. The tattoo is a conspicuous reminder that lives on their skin and says, “Anything is Possible™”. The tattoo reminds them that they can accomplish anything if they put in enough work.

The bigger question was, why was I so judgmental about peoples’ motives for getting an Ironman™ tattoo? I chalk my initial questioning up to a learned set of cognitive biases that, according to the famous Cognitive Bias chart says that; “We favor simple looking options and complete information over complex, ambiguous options.”

One thing I’ve learned about triathletes themselves is that there are as many motives for participating as there are athletes, each one slightly nuanced by personal values and experiences. To make matters even more complex I have seen the motives for participation in triathlons actually evolve over time, especially for people who have been in the sport for decades.

I wanted to understand something I did not, and tried to find the answer with already established internal concepts of my own. That didn’t work. I didn’t set out to sincerely learn external motives.

This changed my concept of M-Dot™ tattoos and their owners, but more importantly it illustrated a dangerous slippery slope that I think we are sometimes subject to: judging through our own lens before learning to view an experience through someone else’s. Once I set out to sincerely learn why people get these tattoos then I could actually learn something new rather than comparing something I already believed to something I was seeing and trying to make the two fit together.

This is likely not a very sensational thesis if you’ve read the preceding 900 words, but it is a solid, if not thrilling one. To me it is worth remembering when I experience something I have difficulty understanding: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

 

Tom Demerly has done six Ironmans including Hawaii, but has no tattoos mostly because, while he likes triathlons, he doesn’t like needles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com

My life is 70% over. Only 30% remains. WorldLifeExpectency.com says I will die when I am 73. I’m 55.

I know all the colloquialisms about “the best is yet to come”, “your best days are still ahead” and “70 is the new 40”. I’ve heard them. This is our way of establishing emotional distance from mortality with fable. We’re afraid to die, and we distance ourselves from its inevitability any way we can, so much so that we often forget to live.

Last night the arc of abundance in my life converged in a marvelous peak that reminded me of something very rewarding, very comforting, very valuable. I have friends. Good friends.

We met at my lifelong best friend’s house for a house warming party. I know it was the realization among us that our lives are finite and every rare opportunity to meet is precious that brought us together last night. It wasn’t someone’s new house. None of my friends took that for granted, and nearly all of us were there.

I could gush to you about my friends, they are incredible people. Collectively they are engineers, scientists, real estate brokers, writers, physical therapists, code writers. Those are some of their jobs. But who they are as people is friends. Friends to me, to each other, to the other people in their lives outside our circle. Friends to mankind who spread abundance and tolerance and understanding and wonder. They are a watershed of kindness and good judgement that is never ending. It has spanned decades. We met when we were teenagers. We have changed little since, and what change there has been is overwhelmingly for the better. These people made my life better, and they make the world better. I’m lucky to have them.

My reflection on last night is seen in the mirror of a textured life lived from one end of the human spectrum to another. I’ve dined with kings in the Arab desert, slept on the streets in California. I’ve been wealthy, and beyond completely broke. I’ve been the pinnacle of health and fitness, and struggled to remember my name after waking up from a stroke. And I’ve watched life pass from this earth before my eyes in ways both violent and comforting.

And through it all the consistent thing I return to for comfort, no matter where I am, delighting in abundance or comforting myself in the dark intimacy of looming death, I return to the comforting realization that friends are immensely valuable.

 

 

 

 

By Tom Demerly and Jan Mack for tomdemerly.com

An elderly man and woman driving eastbound on Hines Drive under Telegraph Road in Dearborn Heights were rescued from serious injury or worse after a crash and vehicle fire on Wednesday, June 14, at approximately 5:15 PM by passing cyclists Nate Nalder, 41, of Dearborn, Michigan and friend Dave Taylor.

Nalder, an experienced road cyclist who frequently trains along Hines Drive, told us, “Dave Taylor and I were riding down Hines, going west. Just after we passed under Telegraph we saw a white, late model Ford Fusion driving across the lawn on the other side of the walking path. It was moving fast across the grass, maybe 45-50 MPH. It came back toward Hines, we heard a loud ‘boom’ and the car rolled three times.”

An unidentified male was driving the vehicle with a female in the passenger seat. The occupants of the vehicle were described as “elderly”. According to witnesses at the scene of the accident, a medical incident may have affected the driver. The cause of the accident has not been officially determined.

When cyclist Nate Nalder saw the accident happen he turned back toward the place where the vehicle came to rest. “I hurried and checked the traffic real quick and rode back to the car and dropped my bike and ran there to the driver’s side and pounded on the window.”

Nalder was attempting rescue from the driver’s side door, but heard a voice from the passenger side shout, “Help me, I’m trapped, get me out of here.”

The airbags in the vehicle had deployed and the interior filling with smoke. The vehicle began burning shortly after it came to rest.

“I said, ‘We got to get them out of here!’ said Nalder, directing rescue efforts of bystanders.  “I did not know the extent of his injuries so I asked him to undo his own seatbelt to kind of assess his condition. Myself and two others guys helped him out and walked him over and set him down.”

As the fire spread, and without regard for his personal safety, Nalder returned to the burning vehicle to recover the female passenger and move her to a safe distance. Another cyclist had arrived on the scene to assist Nate Nalder and Dave Taylor in the rescue. A passing motorist had stopped on the scene and phoned 911 for assistance.

It is possible that, because of the age of the vehicle occupants and the possible medical condition of the driver, the swift selfless actions of Nate Nalder and Dave Taylor at the scene prevented more serious injury from the fire or fatalities as a result of the crash and fire.

According to the account Nalder heard from the passenger of the vehicle, who was transported from the scene by emergency personnel, the driver lost the ability to control the vehicle, possibly due to a medical incident. The passenger was able to grab the steering wheel but could not control the pedals because the driver’s legs were in the way. The passenger steered the vehicle off the road away from other cars but could not control the speed of the vehicle. It struck a pole and rolled several times.

Cyclist Nate Nalder, 41, of Dearborn, Michigan and friend Dave Taylor rescued motorists from a burning vehicle on Hines Drive on Wednesday.

When we asked cyclist Nate Nalder what made him decide to respond by pulling the victims from the burning car and how he had learned to respond to an accident situation he told us:

“When I was younger in high school I was riding in the back seat of a Jeep and came over a hill and accidentally hit a friend who was walking across the street. I just jumped out and helped. It was the automatic thing to do I guess. I grew up being a Boy Scout, doing a lot of lifeguarding classes and learning CPR. Just learning how to take care of a person when they are hurt. Something just said, ‘Get over there and do what you can to help because no one else was’ I was the first person to that car I guess.”

The quick, selfless actions of Nate Nalder and Dave Taylor at the accident scene almost certainly prevented further injury to the two vehicle occupants once the car began burning.

By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com


 It was like the beginning of a favorite new song. It began quietly, and you could barely hear it. The soft cooing of a distant sound, a trilling that seemed reassuring and comforting. The world was safe. Everything was all right. It was home and warm and nature surrounded our little neighborhood. I listened to it in bed, shushing my girlfriend with our heads on the pillows, “Listen!” I whispered. There was silence in the dark. Then the gentle spring breeze carried the rising song. “It’s an owl! Can you hear it?” She did. “That’s a good sign. They trap mice and are good for the environment and the neighborhood. He probably lives at the end of the block down by the park.”

We drifted off to sleep to his quiet, lilting song. It made for an easy transition to dreams of rolling, wooded hills filled with friendly owls building nests, cooing their gentle songs while sitting on tree branches as wise, powerful sentinels maintaining the delicate balance of nature.

The Eastern Screech Owl (Megascops asio) is a relatively common small owl species found throughout the Midwest and into Canada. It eats mice, rodents, and has adapted well to a suburban environment.

Owls are oddly social and friendly birds to humans. One very early morning a few years ago in Mission Viejo, California I saw an owl swoop down, glance off the windshield of an SUV driving in the early morning darkness, then drop into the street. I walked over to him, he appeared stunned in the middle of the street but otherwise, hopefully, OK. I spoke to him for a moment, asked him if he was OK. His feathery owl head pivoted to my voice. He looked confused, stunned. I scooped him up carefully in my arms, his soft feathers delicate to the feel.

I don’t know how to take care of an owl. I figured I would bring him home, get him a drink and make a little nest for him and take it from there. He was large, the size of a small cat, and very beautiful. He was also exceptionally well mannered, riding in my arms comfortably as if he knew I was trying to help.

In only a block of walking he had composed himself from the brush with calamity. He spread his wide wings carefully even as I held him, then gently lifted off with a downward flap and flew out of my arms. He did one circle over my head, as if to demonstrate he was fine and say thank you for the help, then he flew east up toward the mountains on the outskirts of town. Helping the owl felt like religion. It was like being visited, and blessed, from another world. A kinder, fairer world.

When I heard the owl outside our window here in Dearborn, Michigan I was elated. This is a great omen, a sign that our neighborhood is blessed and safe and well looked after. That things are in balance and that nature and mankind have arrived at a reasonable détente.

But then reality smashed home.

The quiet song disappeared. The owl was found in the street, his eyes barely open, standing on the ground. Confused, sick, in deep trouble.

A Good Samaritan named Jamie found the owl in the street a few days later around 10 PM. She said he was half dead. She picked him up, called the University of Michigan Emergency Veterinary Hospital. She was on the phone with them, getting instructions for how to save the owl as she held him in her arms. He opened his eyes once and she spoke to him as she held him. Then he closed his eyes.

They never opened again.

The owl in our neighborhood died because someone put out rat poison to try to control mice. But the problem with poison is it doesn’t know to only kill mice. It kills everything. The mouse eats the poison, the owl eats the mouse. The owl dies too. And we are left in a world without the owl’s song. It’s a world different than intended. A world that is ruled by our poison, literal and moral.

Using poison to control animals is wrong and immoral. We learned that in the 1950’s and ’60’s with DDT poisoning, and countless times since. It’s also ineffective and short-sighted. The owl was in charge of controlling rodent populations and did an effective job. He maintained a manageable balance of nature. When that is disrupted the results are always different than we imagine, and never better. But our human, insatiable need to control things drive these short-sighted and selfish decisions like using poison to kill a mouse.

You can buy things and you can build things. A fancy house, a yard that looks like a golf course. It proves you are rich and fancy. But you are driving a wedge into the world that pries things apart and ruins what was here before us and will hopefully return when we are gone. We are not better or smarter or stronger or more important. We’re temporary participants in a complex process. When we upset the process we spread suffering, not only to animals around us but to our own lives, often without even know it.

When I think of the most important events in my life, the most extraordinary, the most valuable and lasting they are not the day I bought a car or a house. I actually don’t remember much about those things. But I remember the owl in the street in California. I remember the song of the owl down the block. These things had value. They reminded me that I am part of something bigger and that, if I care for it, it will care for me.

But when the owl down the street went silent I suddenly felt very alone.

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