Public vs. Private

The organized Right has had a longtime campaign against the public sphere, continually selling the idea that dynamic private enterprise is always preferable to public program solutions.   This is undoubtedly true from the point of view of maximizing profits for private businesses, although it is a dubious claim in many areas, like education, fairness, access to opportunity, good public policy, etc.   You’d think the failure of the charter schools and the explosion of privatized for-profit prisons (along with mandatory sentences and vast increases in the number of incarcerated Americans — including, today, the confiscated children of asylum seekers) would put this zombie theory to rest.  You’d be wrong.   Private freedom trumps improving the public sphere every time.  Winners vs. Losers, it doesn’t get any simpler than that, chumps.

I was talking to a friend last night who told me that the only reason he got a decent public education in NYC in the 1960s was because he went to schools with a lot of white kids.  He was not a white kid, nor is he a white man today.   The elementary school he’d attended in the Bronx was like the one I attended in Queens, outwardly integrated (in the case of the school I went to only after an ugly battle among the parents and teachers) but internally segregated.   Each grade had classes ranked from one on down, the one class being the top students, down to two, three, and, in the case of most larger public schools,  four, five, six, etc.  As my friend reminded me, the further down you went, the more predominantly non-white the classes became.

In my friend’s case, he was in a class closer to the one class every year and as a result had mostly white kids as classmates.  Because of that, he got the same education as the local white kids.   Expectations were higher for them, and the level of teaching was higher and more challenging.   He had the same experience in Junior High School and High School, both schools having populations approximately evenly distributed between “whites”, “blacks” and “Hispanics”.    He said the schools he went to are no longer integrated, neighborhood patterns having changed, and we agreed that the schools had probably all declined along with the exodus of “white” kids and the general lowering of educational expectations.

At one point I mentioned that I ‘d grown up about a mile from the birthplace and childhood homes of our current president.   I recall my mother telling me that small, intimate P.S. 178, my alma mater, was the top rated public school in New York City.   That was one reason some of the parents and teachers were so adamant about not admitting black students from nearby Jamaica.   Jamaica was a predominantly black area and the schools there were much lower rated than P.S. 178, obviously.

The neighborhood around the school was called Jamaica Estates, and its tree-lined streets contained mansions and the children of some very rich people.  (I grew up in the adjacent, more modest neighborhood called “Flushing”).  Many of the kids from Jamaica Estates attended 178.   I figured our current president might well have attended the highest rated public school in the city ten years before I did.  I’d figured wrong, as Jeeves informed me when I asked what elementary school The Man had attended:

Trump grew up in Jamaica, Queens, and attended the Kew-Forest School from kindergarten through seventh grade. At age 13, he was enrolled in the New York Military Academy, a private boarding school, after his parents discovered that he had made frequent trips into Manhattan without their permission.

Imagine my surprise to find out he’d grown up in Jamaica, among the blacks!  Puts the man and his alleged racism in a whole new light, as they say.  Then again, not surprising that his parents would raise him to be truly elite — a man of the right people.   Good breeding and all that.  No need for the best public school in the city, a ten minute walk from his home, when he could meet the children of the truly elite at a private school where his childish bullying could blossom unrestrained by the laws of the schoolyard.

If you go to public school, you never know what kind of ruffian you might encounter as you begin to intimidate your little classmates.   In a private school, where the student is also the child of a customer (and the customer, if wealthy, is always right) a lot more leeway can be given for this kind of behavior.   In the interest of curbing their son’s impulse to bully, to ignore rules, to put himself always first, the parents sent the young man to military academy.   The results speak for themselves.

If you have a limousine waiting to take you wherever you want to go, and a helicopter, and a private jet for longer trips, you are much better off than the sad sack who has to wait for a public subway train at eleven pm and squeeze into a crowded car where he will stand for the long ride home.  There is no question about this.  

As a matter of public policy, even if only for purposes of reducing traffic and air pollution from millions of cars, it would be best to have a first rate public transportation system in New York City.   This, sadly, is not a priority of the wealthy people who make these decisions.  As for the people who ride the subways at night, standing room only, fuck ’em.   Seriously.  What are they going to do about it, no matter how intolerably bad the service gets?   Spend $50 for an uber?   A rich person need never even know about this situation, and it is certainly not remotely among their problems if a bunch of low-income losers have to stand on a late-night subway train.

Those people who stayed in New Orleans during that hundred year hurricane and flood a few years ago.   The question was asked: what, are those motherfuckers stupid?  Didn’t they hear the warnings?  Couldn’t they have gotten out, moved temporarily to one of their summer homes until the shit blew over in New Orleans? What were they doing on the roofs of their houses, crying for help as alligators, snakes and dead cows floated by?   They fully expected the rest of us to save them from their own bad life choices.   What can you do with those kind of people?

That’s why many of the most wealthy are so devoted to reducing the size of government so that it can be drowned in a bathtub.   The public is dirty, overused, crowded, smelly.  The private is clean, comfortable, plenty of space for everyone, smells nice.   Why do poor motherfuckers keep acting like there is supposed to be a better choice?   Who gets to choose?  You, loser?

 

 

 

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Feral Trio

In spite of the generally accepted idea that a feral cat, once it reaches a certain age, will not allow itself to be touched by humans, we have a feral cat, Mama Kitten, who at first would not be touched and now very much likes to be petted.   On her terms, of course, being a cat, but nonetheless, quite affectionate when the mood is on her.  She came by this gradually, sitting near us when we were outside, showing her newborn kittens to Sekhnet in the garden, coming closer, rubbing against us, eventually letting herself be touched.  We fed many of her kittens off a spoon, once she weaned them.

She is a beautiful cat, and a prodigious survivor, who, starting at six month’s old, has given birth to perhaps twenty kittens.   She is a good mother, until it is time to push the latest brood out of the nest, to attend to the next.  She can be quite savage driving off the surviving kittens when the time comes.   Sekhnet, applying human morality (oxymoron?) condemns the little survivor as a bitch when she turns savagely on her children.   In a better world we’d adopt Mama Kitten, get her spayed, make her an indoor/outdoor cat, extend her life by years, etc.   This is not, of course, a better world.

Here are three of the latest batch of four, lounging on the ramp outside the back door from which, periodically, human servants emerge, opening cans of food.  There are a few such cans on the right side of this recent photo by Sekhnet.

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We generally don’t give these beautiful little strays names because every time we get attached to a particular individual he or she disappears.  Sometimes there is a bad smell in the garden and we find a tiny corpse under a bush.  More usually the kittens are whisked off without a trace, to become meals for the local hawks.

Yesterday, strolling back from Cunningham Park just before sundown, I passed several groups of cats, a lounging mother and two or three kittens playing under a bush.  The kittens watched me as I approached, scurrying for cover as I got close.   Their mothers eyed me warily until I was a safe distance away.    Their looks said “that’s right, motherfucker, continue to carry your ass on down the street and stop looking at my children, you sick bastard.”

I recalled the debate Jonathan Franzen was involved in at one time, about wiping out the colonies of feral cats that kill, as it turns out, not thousands but billions of local birds and rodents every year.   Often for sport, it appears.   Sekhnet once saw Mama Kitten take down a finch, leaped up and tore the little yellow bird out of the air.  “I hope she’s teaching her children to hunt,” she sometimes says when she laments that we are not always around to feed them.    

It’s a brutal world out there for animals in the wild.  Even more brutal, I suppose, in areas where humans have remade the natural world, turning local species into cagey outlaws.    This brutality has been escalated (like a consumer complaint to any corporation, only for real) by the needs of the world’s top predator, homo sapiens, until not that long ago another insignificant and desperate prey animal, living by guile, as ruthless as necessary to survive.   I’d love to be able to live without making constant judgements, the way I don’t judge Mama Kitten, but, as you may have noticed, greedy, ruthless, ignorant, loud talking motherfuckers will not give it a rest.

These are three very cute kittens, though, no?

Internet Service Provider Duopoly Millionaire Strikebreaker

I’ve got to write and post this quickly, my internet has been out all day so far, as it was most of yesterday, only winking back on a few minutes ago during a long call with Spectrum tech support. While on hold I learned, and passed on to Ron, the good-natured Spectrum rep, that Tom Rutledge, the great and important CEO of Spectrum’s parent company, a guy who made $98.5 million in 2016 when his outfit bought Time Warner Cable, is still refusing to negotiate with the technicians union, IBEW local No. 3, an outfit whose strike is in its second year.

Rutledge, in fairness to him and his principled refusal to negotiate with the lawfully constituted technicians’ union, is probably bitter at the vast drop in his income.  He made a mere $7,800,000 last year and his ungrateful technicians are bitching about giving up certain features of their health plan, retirement benefits and things like that.   It’s hard to blame Rutledge for being so intractable, unless you are the kind of person who is harsh to complete assholes.

Ron had no idea Spectrum technicians in New York were on strike, though he’d heard of vandalism in NYC.  I explained the difference between vandalism and acts of skilled sabotage by workers whose rights under the National Labor Relations Act seemed to be being violated.   I explained to him that in the old days workers who accepted bad pay to cross a picket line and break a strike were called bad names, including scabs, and that I was reluctant to let a strike breaking technician into my apartment to check a modem that doesn’t seem to be faulty, as it is currently working.  

Ron agreed the problem was not the modem, since it is getting a fine signal at the moment.   The problem could be in the “drop”, the box that splits off from the “node” for delivery into individual buildings.  The node serves 248 modems in my area, the drop might serve a dozen in my building.   There was no way for him to monitor activity on my “drop”, though only 10 of 248 modems on my node are currently offline.  If you are wondering why I don’t just switch to an ISP that is not so fucked up, I will tell you.

We have two ISPs in most of New York City, Spectrum (a branch of Charter, who bought the franchise from Time Warner Cable a few years back) and Verizon.  Both ISP giants provide substandard internet service, intermittent service, and, because the free competition we hear so much about only involves two giants in our free market, they are free to set whatever prices it pleases them to set for whatever service they see fit to provide.  I currently pay $50 a month for intermittent internet service from Spectrum, having grown tired of no service and repeated lies from Verizon.  Ron was somehow able to give me a double credit today for the hours last night into today that I had no service: a generous $3.33.

I have to contact the technicians’ union, IBEW local # 3 and get the latest on their strike against Spectrum, the internet provider with the handsomely compensated CEO, a chap who made over $100 million the last two years.  This wealthy titan will not negotiate with the union.  He does not believe in unions.  If he had his way, workers would not be paid at all. Think of how much more money he could make if all those wasted technician salaries, vacation days, health benefits, pension contributions were saved, clawed back, put into his tax-free investment portfolio!

I need to contact the IBEW and offer to help them publicize their strike.  They ran a great online ad a few months back, very compelling, but not a public word since.   Almost nobody knows about the status of the strike that strikebreaker CEO Tom Rutledge is doing his best to make go away.   I wonder how many are still on strike after more than a year, like Jewish children making a strong moral case to a Nazi. I want to support the union and I need the striking workers, if possible, to exempt my home from their sabotage of Spectrum’s never perfect, now never worse, service.

Spectrum told me yesterday that my modem is defective, that, for once, there is no outage in my area, on my node.   They will need to send scab technicians over to inspect it all, the modem, the interior connection, outside connectivity at the “drop”, issues relating to the entire node, etc. They gave me a generous $1.67 credit yesterday for a day without internet service (this outage must last, according to corporate policy, at least four consecutive hours to qualify for the refund). The modem I was assured yesterday must be broken, after hours of no service with no outages reported, is delivering a signal again now.   Ron assured me today it is very unlikely to be the modem.

Shades of the old runaround from Spectrum’s fellow duopolist ISP Verizon, who told me for months that there was a technical problem with my line and that they were working on it, that a technical team would contact me the following day. I was never contacted. The problem was not with my line, it was with the entire Verizon network, which was off-line for many months as they switched their network from copper wire to fiber. This required digging up streets, getting permits, burying fiberoptic cable, it took many months. A call to Verizon was the same bullshit, month after month. A complete lie.  The technical team will call you tomorrow, we have no idea why you have no service, now about that huge bill you keep refusing to pay…

If your only business is making profit, it would behoove you to lie if you might lose the bulk of your customers during the months they will have no service.  What self-respecting American business would admit something that would undoubtedly cause an exodus of customers?  Verizon billed me, month after month, for service I had not been receiving.  According to them, no refund was due until I paid in full.  They were demanding hundreds of dollars by the end.  Would it seem petty of me to call them Nazi motherfuckers?  Sure it would, they are just an American business trying to keep the lights on so that all Americans can enjoy a brighter day!

 

post-script:

The modern world, my friends, where every war must be fought by propagandists who specialize in branding, messaging and targeted marketing, sometimes brings us, just fucking bullshit.

Pull up the IBEW information on their long-running strike against Charter/Spectrum, and here you go:

check us out, brothers and sisters

You can read about the neo-liberal asshole NYS Governor’s battle with the mega-corporation, complete with mealy mouthed almost-threats and a hint at support for a striking union that is a key political support group.  We have to go to Crain’s, in May 2018, for any kind of update on this shit?

Crain’s article

Monopoly

Monopolies, one entity controlling an entire market and using unfair practices to squash competition, are officially frowned on in the “Free Market”.   Teddy Roosevelt made a name for himself as friend of the Common Man by busting up some big monopolistic conglomerates.   It was called Trust Busting when TR did it, walking quietly, carrying a big legislative stick.   A quick google search gives us:   

When a corporation eliminates its competition it becomes what is known as a “monopoly.” Monopolies took several organization forms including what were known as trusts. Stockholders of several competing corporations turn in their stock to trustees in exchange for a trust certificate entitling them to a dividend…

John D. Rockefeller, ruthless founder, chairman and largest shareholder of the Standard Oil monopoly, found that his vast fortune actually increased when the monopoly he ran was broken into many smaller companies, companies which included ExxonMobil and Chevron. Go figure!

The theory of Trust Busting was that it should not be legal for one giant company, using its vast size and market power, to gain preferential rates for itself and thereby eliminate all competition, control an entire market and charge whatever that market will bear for its products.

Today, since we live in a land of freedom, a nation of law (or, more accurately, two distinct and different sets of laws: one for corporate citizens and their human executors and one for everybody else), where nobody is allowed to run a monopoly, on the books, anyway, such practices are, heh, frowned upon.   We have businesses that are “too big to fail” and the government will use tax dollars to make sure they don’t, sure, that’s the Free Market.   We don’t worry that Google is really the only internet search engine, its name having been verbed to mean “search the internet”. Google, by the merit of its superior product, eliminated the many competing search engines of yesteryear: Altavista and Ask Jeeves are two that come to mind.   I suppose there is still Bing, technically.  I could google it, I suppose.

We live in a corporate culture.   The leaders of business have an army of skilled lobbyists who worked for the government agencies they are now handsomely paid for influencing on behalf of their generous corporate masters.   Corporations have accomplished campaign funders and wheeler dealers who make sure the laws are friendly to the interests of these artificial “persons” known as corporations.  If you were a wealthy psychopath, human or legally created, you might well do no less. 

My internet winks on and off throughout the day and night.  It may be out for ten minutes or an hour, when it goes down.  At times it will be out for two or three hours at a stretch.   It does this unpredictably but it seems to happen more regularly during peak internet use hours, like Friday or Saturday nights when many customers just want to sit back and stream a movie.  

It doesn’t take much research to learn that Spectrum, the company that swallowed up Time Warner, the company owned by, or also known as, Charter, is the only internet provider in my neighborhood.  (You will mention Verizon, and I will say: fuck them.   Here you go.)   Fine, if you want to be technical, internet service in my neighborhood is a duopoloy [1] and customers are free to choose either of the ISP giants.

I called Spectrum a couple of times yesterday, as my internet went out.   I ranted, politely but forcefully, stalling until my internet service came back on line.   The representatives I spoke to were cool, sympathetic.   The first told me at one point that there were 400+ people on my “node”, meaning that our internet was coming into all of our homes through the same “pipeline”.  He noted that 34 other people on my node were currently experiencing no internet.   As this was less than 10%, the company does not consider this an “outage” and so the robot you initially hear tells you confidently that there are no internet issues reported in your area.  The robot then walks you through resetting your modem, unless you shout “representative” forcefully enough over her instructions to be connected to a human.

The second time I called back, an hour or two later, I was again told  by the robot that there was no outage in my area.  The rep I finally talked to was a nice kid.  Tony was entirely sympathetic, in the end even issuing me two days credit, over $3, for the regular loss of internet service I’ve been experiencing.  He and I spoke for about 25 minutes, and during that time the internet winked back on just long enough for me to google this motherfucker, the highest paid CEO in the U.S., probably in the world.

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I told the kid I had the photo of his grimly smiling weasel CEO up on the screen, Tom Rutledge, I said his accursed name again, repeated his $98.5 million dollar paycheck and riffed on that and how intolerable it is to be at the mercy of a ruthless monopoly.  The rep was very agreeable, had no argument at all, no corporate talking points to spin the situation differently.  He completely understood, from personal experience, how frustrating intermittent internet service is.  

My polite but vicious rant passed the time while waiting for the internet service to come back on-line.   I managed to refrain from referring to Rutledge as anything worse than a grimly smiling weasel.  I had to admire my own restraint, looking at the soulless face of this foul, infected, years unwashed shit-spattered sphincter.  The smug face of a monopolistic master of the universe.

I know, I know!   I’m so judgmental!   Isn’t this piece of shit Tom Rutledge entitled to be paid whatever the market will bear for someone of his superior talents, his genius, his great contributions to society?   I told the kid about the technicians who work for Time Warner/Spectrum/Charter, the ones who have been on strike for over a year.  The company will not bargain with these unionized workers as it seeks to cut their medical and retirement benefits.  

The kid didn’t seem to know much about the strike, or maybe the fact that we were being recorded added to his reticence.   Here you go.   I mentioned to Tony that it was quite possible these rolling outages were sabotage by technicians old Tom Rutledge was nonchalantly fucking by not negotiating with them.  I said that while these interruptions were a major pain in the ass, you had to hand it to the striking technicians if this was industrial sabotage.  Tony sort of agreed.

One reward of a long conversation with a sympathetic phone rep for a huge corporation is that you can sometimes learn something.  Tony told me he was looking at a chart of my intermittent internet service (service which is out right now, I notice…) and could see by all the red areas on the chart exactly how many times, and for how long, my internet has gone out.  I asked him if he could send me that chart.  Naturally, he could not.  It was no surprise.  8% of customers on my “node” were currently experiencing no internet connection.  Not enough, you understand, to call this an outage or service interruption of any kind, but enough to demonstrate that these rolling outages are almost certainly not caused by my modem or router.

Tom Rutledge’s policy is that nobody is entitled to a refund for lack of service unless that service is out for at least 4 hours.  Why four hours?   Rutledge pulled it out of his highly compensated ass.  4 hours of no internet qualifies the customer for a credit of 1/30 of the monthly charge, unless the month has 28 or 31 days, in which case the credit is 1/28 or 1/31 of the monthly fee.   Tony was the first rep who told me he could actually see a visual record of the last month and that the record looked very, very intermittent, sketchy, unreliable.   Several of the other reps had pretended they were bound not to give me a refund for less than fours continuous hours of no service.  Go figure.

I told Tony that while Tom Rutledge smiles his fucking weasel smile and makes new rules to maximize the corporate bottom line, raising rates for shit service by up to 25% a year, underpaying reps and others who do the actual work for Charter/Spectrum, refusing to negotiate with the unionized technical workers, everybody else, of course, is getting what we deserve.   Hey, it’s a free country, you dig?  Even though Charter/Spectrum/Time Warner has a monopoly, or duopoly, for crap internet service in my area, squeezing the bandwidth to provide unreliable service as cheaply and profitably as possible, you have a choice.  You can always choose NOT have internet service.  It’s not a right, it’s a privilege.  This is America, bitches.

American Exceptionalism:  piss on average consumers and insist they are fucking liars for pretending it’s not raining.

 

[1] a situation in which two suppliers dominate the market for a commodity or service.

“I’m going to assemble my thoughts”

“Where are you going to assemble them?” asked Sekhnet, covered in dirt as she tills the rich earth of her little farm in the back.   Sekhnet is never happier than when she is covered with dirt.

Upstairs, I tell her, where I can write them down, see them before me, move them around until they make some sense.  

“Oh,” she said, “I didn’t know where they were.”

I made lunch for us, vegetable wraps, which we ate out in the garden, which  is starting to come to life, there are beautiful colors everywhere.   Mama Kitten, now almost three years old, an ancient for feral cats around here, came over to rub against my leg and have her ears scratched, her face stroked.  She liked having her back scratched so much that she turned her face around, with an open mouthed expression, thinking of sinking her fangs into my hand, then thought better of it and rolled on to her side, to have her ribs scratched.

Her four latest kittens (she’s given birth to at least twenty, the first litter when she was six months old) are as beautiful as all the rest, as good looking as their beautiful mother.   They are not much bigger than large mice at the moment, and much cuter.  All the rest of Mama Kitten’s many offspring are dead, but when they were alive they were very handsome, playful little cats.   Sekhnet has photos of a hawk sitting on a nearby tree.   The fucker was licking his beak the other day as the tiny kittens were dragged by their mother to another hiding place.   Six months or a year is a long life for these beautiful little animals.

We have a friend who takes care of a small colony of feral cats in her backyard.  She has had them all spayed and neutered and they all get along fine, huddling in winter months in the warm insulated dens our friend makes for them.  Most of them are seven years old and older.   One year, at her urging, we caught three young kittens here, took them to her vet to be neutered.   Within a few weeks all were gone, probably delicious snacks for the hawks.  Of Mama Kitten’s many offspring, every one of them a beautiful little animal, these four new ones are the only ones alive.  Alive and delicious.

 We watch these adorable, doomed little souls, the four of them, then the three, then maybe one.  They play, they display bravery, or timidity, they show their little personalities.   Then nature does what nature does.  Man plans, God laughs.  We try not to give them names, though some, like Dobbie, Cathead and Mini Me, we could not resist getting personal with.    

We were told by a cat expert that once a feral cat gets to a certain age without being touched by a human it will never let a human touch it.   Mama Kitten, as a young adult, often sat close to us when we sat outside, but never let us touch her.   Then she began eating from a spoon we’d hold out to her, as her next batch of kittens also did.   Then she began rubbing against our legs.  Now she is like our pet, living in the merciless wild, surviving not through God’s mercy but by her superior skills as a survivor.

How do you bear the sorrow of seeing these adorable animals disappeared like political dissidents in some South American dictatorship?   I have no idea.  God’s merciless plan, I suppose.  Everybody’s got to eat.  

Sekhnet shot a video of Mama Kitten in a stand-off with a fledgling hawk.   Sekhnet took the earthbound bird’s side, you can hear her in the video trying to dissuade Mama Kitten from killing the bird, which was almost the same size as the cat.  The plucky little predator was not taking any shit from the cat who could have easily killed her.   It was a standoff.  The bird hobbled off to grow up to feast on kittens, most likely. 

When I feel the anxiety that plagues so many in America today I usually try to get some exercise.  I walk five miles a day most days, I ride the bike for short, hard, uphill rides or long leisurely ones along the beautiful Hudson River, and always feel better after a ride.   Since my fucking idiopathic kidney disease, and the twelve weeks of no exercise after the “chemo,” I have been trying to get back into shape.   It has been a battle, trying to get the legs strong again, the heart and lungs back up to capacity.  I tried too hard, apparently, a week or two ago, pushing myself two days in a row, and now wear a knee brace.   I am bitter, I am anxious, I feel sorry for myself, and angry.   If I get up too fast, CLICK!, my knee locks up like a steel trap, with the flash of sudden pain one associates with a steel trap.

Nothing for it but a visit to a specialist.  Thankfully I managed to arrange one for two weeks from now.   I will try to take it easy, keep my knees calm, take hot baths, let the soreness in my shoulder from doing a sitting one-handed push up every time I stood, when the knee pain was at the worst, calm down.   I will try my best to keep myself calm and reasonable.   That is more than most people are able to do but I consider it a worthy goal.  

 There are millions of anxious people who live with deadly secrets, too terrifying to even think about.  The threat of certain fearful truths becoming known makes people into fabulous story-tellers, geniuses of fictive narrative.  They rewrite history, they invent the present, they dream of a future where they are magically not irrevocably fucked by hideous things they can never admit.  

I must take solace where I can find it — from the blessings of my life, of all life, and from my stance– at least I’m not one of those poor fuckers who can’t bear to explore themselves, look at the demons that are always close behind.   I may not know everything I need to know about living a good life, but I have a leg up on many people I can think of.  Even if that leg is currently a bit tender to walk on, or even to sit with now as I assemble my curious thoughts here in the far reaches of Cyberia.

 

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