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November 14, 2005

The Surrendered Husband

Now that I have better comment spam management tools, I'm able to leave comments open on older entries, so occasionally one will sprout a new comment. One recent addition occurred in the Covenant Marriage is Stupid comment thread, in which a new poster comments about the desirability of covenant marriages and how, among other things, "wives must submit to their husbands" and "You, as the husband are head of the household and are responsible to God for your actions and your families." My response to this was as follows:

Leaving aside the fact that I am agnostic (so being responsible to God is not something I worry about) and that marriage in this country is a civil ceremony and that my wife has the same rights in marriage that I do, and because of all of the above the religious aspect of marriage is non-applicable to us in any way -- even if my wife were amenable to submitting to my role as head of the household, which she is not, why would I want that? My wife is smarter, more competent and more organized than I; if we had to pick one of us to be head of the household, it should be she.

And in fact, while as a theoretical matter we both share equally in the "head of household" duties -- I can't think of major family decision that was not jointly signed off on by the both of us, and both of us can exercise a veto on any major commitment or expenditure, and also on the matter of child-rearing -- as a practical matter, Krissy is indisputably the head of the household on a day-to-day basis. Evidence:

* Krissy tends to be far more proactive on household issues than I am by a rather significant margin, so leadership devolves to her simply as a matter of default, and to my immense relief she doesn't seem to mind (usually). The vast majority of the choices she makes in running our household are so common-sense smart that I would be a moron not to concur.

* While there's no doubt that the fact that I am the stay-at-home parent gives me a rather high level of minute-to-minute involvement in the child-rearing of our daughter, it's pretty clear to me that Athena considers Krissy to be the Alpha Parent, which she will occasionally express by saying to me "you're the boss of me, but mommy's the boss of you." When Krissy and I note that neither of us is the boss of the other, she gives us a look that says "yes, that's what you say," and then sort of changes the subject.

* So competent and efficient is Krissy with our finances that when checks come in, I hardly bother to look at them; I just sign them over and let her handle it. When I want to buy something over a certain pre-established amount, I ask Krissy if I can. If she says yes, then I get it, if she says no, then I don't. It's really just that simple. To be fair, when Krissy wants to buy something over our pre-established amount, she asks me about it, too. But as my response tends to be "well, as long as you think we can afford it," we're once again relying on her stewardship of our finances.

In fact, Krissy's assumption of household responsibility -- and my ceding of said responsibilities to her -- is so practically complete that one could make the not entirely facetious argument that I am the definition of the "Surrendered Husband," per the odious concept of 2001, the "Surrendered Wife," in which women are supposed to let their man handle all the hard stuff in the relationship, like finances and thinking, in order to be better ambulatory pleasure receptacles or some such. Sadly, in our own relationship, I am not merely allowed to lounge about in a loincloth, oiled and shaved, tasked with nothing but the unending pleasure of my mistress Kristine -- I do actually have to make some money in there, and also watch the kid, take out the trash, kill spiders, and occasionally make Krissy laugh. But someone observing our relationship from the outside would find it hard to miss the extent to which I defer to my wife in many things, and rely on her in many others.

And why do I do this? Because, as I note, she is smarter, more competent and more organized than I am. This is not to say I am not smart, because I am, nor not competent, because I am (I make no claims regarding organization). I don't doubt I can handle things, and from time to time Krissy will take a step back on a household issue and I'll take the lead. However, experience tells me over and over that Krissy is the go-to person in our relationship to make certain things happen, and in a marriage as in other circumstances, one would be foolish not to let the most competent person for a task handle the task. While I am amusingly belittling myself in this entry, I will note that in our relationship and in our life there are several areas where I take the lead, because I am driven and competent in those areas and it makes sense for me to do so. Between the two of us, we make a damn fine team.

As a practical matter, my asserting that I am head of the household (and the marriage) would be foolish, particularly if the rationale behind it was a presumed God's presumed preference for testicles over ovaries. As a theoretical matter, I am almost violently opposed to it, because implicit in the assertion is the idea that my wife is somehow lesser than me, which I find insulting, not only to my wife, but to me. Why on God's green earth would I want to cleave to a lesser being than myself? What possible advantage could that confer? I am  not so venal that I cannot accept a marriage of equals -- indeed that was what I had always sought and was fortunate to achieve, and what I work hard to maintain, every day. Even if I could assert a "leadership" role in this marriage I would not; I did not marry to rule over a family kingdom. That my wife is my equal (at least!) is one of the primary benefits of my marriage. I can't possibly imagine why I would want it any other way.

And as for passing along the "the husband is the head of household" meme to my daughter, well. Here we pause for a long and hearty laugh. I've already given Athena permission to kneecap the first jackass who tries to pass that one off to her. And you don't want to know what Krissy's given her permission to do.

Posted by john at November 14, 2005 10:01 AM

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I know some religious folks who will bristle at Scalzi's sensible views on family management and relationships but they live in dark places and if they are very lucky their sons will not look to be dating Athena:And as for passing along the "the husban... [Read More]

Tracked on November 14, 2005 04:15 PM


John H | November 14, 2005 01:02 PM

And you don't want to know what Krissy's given her permission to do.

One can only imagine. Oy!

Jessica | November 14, 2005 01:03 PM

Here here scalzi. Sounds like your and your wife know what you are doing. My parents have a similar relationship.

Honestly I don't know why it's 2005 and people still believe in this The Surrendered Husband/Wife buisness. My boyfriend had to read that book for a class and he was apalled by that philosophy. We agreed that we want our marriage to be about equal partnership, not about one person bossing the other around. (well at least when we're not in the bedroom)

RooK | November 14, 2005 01:26 PM

You know, when I finally manage to marry my sweetheart, I'd be willing to bet you that almost anybody - inclusive of fundamentalists - would vastly prefer her having the default lead in our relationship. It's not that I'm not suitably capable, it's just that I'm an asshole. And she's, well, she's not.

Besides, she's got a doctorate in psychology, and I'm just an engineer. Who do you think is more qualified to be leading the public presentation of our relationship?

Livia Llewellyn | November 14, 2005 02:30 PM

Hee! I imagine Athena would apply the "capping" to something other than the knee...

Paulo Brabo | November 14, 2005 02:32 PM

"Why on God's green earth would I want to cleave to a lesser being than myself?"

As a single Christian male, I am allowed to answer this half-seriously. Of course, it is God's job to ask hard things of people - but, in this case, it's not what you are thinking.

In fact, only Christian women know how hard surrendered marriage is. It is not you that have to cleave to a lesser being, it is married women that have to submit to one.

Dwight Brown | November 14, 2005 02:57 PM

I'm still having trouble with the mental image of a shaved and oiled Scalzi in a loincloth. Must...reboot...brain.

John Scalzi | November 14, 2005 03:00 PM

Oh, stop. I'd look fabulous.

orangemike | November 14, 2005 03:17 PM

As a happily married Christian male, I would never want to marry the kind of woman who could become a Surrendered Wife. It's a peculiar fundamentalist perversion without even the wholesome aspects of sex play enlivening the decayed remnants of desert patriarchalism. I have long since surrendered authority over myself to the Lord; I will not usurp His place in my wife's heart just because Saul of Tarsus was a sexist bigot who didn't understand women as fellow human beings.

Paul | November 14, 2005 03:20 PM

As I read this, I am struck by the remarkable similarities between your relationship, and my own, right down to my role as dedicated spider killer. The only real difference I can see is that my response to that comment would have been, "screw off, moron!"

Scott | November 14, 2005 03:27 PM

It is not you that have to cleave to a lesser being, it is married women that have to submit to one.

I swear... I need more non-objectivist friends. Because I'm sure that Rush (the band would be pleased at how immediately I thought:
"Anybody who volunteers their own loss of free will is necessarily a lesser being. They are denying the essential character of humans (as decision-makers)."

Which is not to say that you must disagree with other people to be a real human, it's just that you do make decisions. Deciding that you should never decide again is still a shame, and after somebody's made that decision I don't understand how anybody could consider them anything other than "lesser."

Dwight Brown | November 14, 2005 03:39 PM

"Oh, stop. I'd look fabulous."

I won't argue with the site proprietor, since that's a mug's game.

But, sir, I beg you: please spare me the Photoshop.

Laurie Mann | November 14, 2005 04:08 PM

Jim and I were interviewed for a book back in about 1980 called "The 50-50 Marriage." We've tried to have an egalitarian marriage since the very beginning (heck, since before we were married).


Jim has been much more successful in the work arena than I have. He's also a better cook, but just tends to cook on weekends. I tend to handle finances, most yardwork, and most of the day-to-day cooking.

Mris | November 14, 2005 04:15 PM

We took a vote to see if our household was a matriarchy. I lost, so we are.

Ted Lemon | November 14, 2005 04:50 PM

Hm. Andrea makes me take the spiders outside - I'm not allowed to kill them. Not that I'd want to. Also, she sometimes needs me to take the need in producing calories in an ingestible form, because low blood sugar makes her sad. Otherwise, though, what you've described sounds quite familiar.

If nothing else, usurping her position as Person In Charge would mean a lot more work for me, and I am too lazy to try to embark on anything like that.

Crystal | November 14, 2005 04:51 PM

Loincloth or no loincloth, it sounds as if you and Krissy have a happy marriage that works for both of you. And that's a very good thing.

Not only is the divorce rate lowest in the "blue" states (with godless, liberal Massachusetts the lowest of all) but sociologist Frances Goldscheider has found that "egalitarian" men are less likely to be divorced. Also, it is common sociological wisdom that divorce rates are much lower among the college-educated. (I don't know if anyone has determined if atheists and agnostics have lower divorce rates as well. It would be interesting to find out.)

I'm going to go out on a limb here and surmise that one of the reasons for this lower divorce rate among the above categories is a willingness to be flexible with marriage roles. Not being bound by rigid gender roles and definitions as to who does what, but instead each doing what one is best at and working as a team, goes a long way toward making a happy marriage.

And, btw, you have GORGEOUS kitties.

Leslie | November 14, 2005 05:13 PM

My keyboard is grateful that I wasn't drinking anything when I got to:
"I'm still having trouble with the mental image of a shaved and oiled Scalzi in a loincloth. Must...reboot...brain.

Posted by: Dwight Brown at November 14, 2005 02:57 PM

Oh, stop. I'd look fabulous.

As half of what tries to be an egalitarian marriage (for 20 years now) I have to agree with you - I can't imagine wanting to be in any other kind of relationship.

Leslie | November 14, 2005 05:14 PM

meh - you'd think I'd get the end quote tag in the right place!

Avdi | November 14, 2005 06:09 PM

Purely for the sake of being devil's advocate, a [possible] case for establishing a head of household:

In modern western society, rule by consensus at the family level is nearly always possible. The very worst that can possibly happen is that they will reach an unresolvable impasse and go their seperate ways - but even in that unhappy scenario they and their children will still in all likelihood go on to lead a full and happy life. Under less agreeable circumstances that may not have always been the case. The more precarious and dangerous is a social group's situation, the more important it becomes to have an executive to make the final decisions. Heinlein's The Number of the Beast is essentially a book-length exploration of this truth. When lives or even just livelihoods are on the line, the buck has to stop somewhere.

Of course, none of this makes a case for the man, specifically, being the head. In my experience the men I've known have been on average more likely to be able to make tough but necessary decisions quickly and firmly; but this may just be a result of differences in upbringing.

Which is to say that having a head of household doesn't necessarily imply inferiority. The head could be selected by coin-toss or pillow-fight; the important thing is just having someone who can make the final call.

Submitted simply for the sake of argument.

Avdi | November 14, 2005 06:45 PM


Having looked at the Covenant Marriage post, a question:

As a reader and writer of science fiction, which is notorious for playing what-if games with permutations of marriage, are there any particular alternative marriage laws or customs from the world of sci-fi that you'd like to see tried in real life?

John Scalzi | November 14, 2005 06:48 PM

I don't see your argument as being, uh, very argumentative, actually -- just pointing out that different times call for different situations.

Karl | November 14, 2005 07:06 PM

Hi John,

I finished reading Old Man's War. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Rook wrote:
You know, when I finally manage to marry my sweetheart, I'd be willing to bet you that almost anybody - inclusive of fundamentalists - would vastly prefer her having the default lead in our relationship. It's not that I'm not suitably capable, it's just that I'm an asshole. And she's, well, she's not.

Excellent PR strategy.

Jeff | November 14, 2005 07:18 PM

I've already given Athena permission to kneecap the first jackass who tries to pass that one off to her.

Thanks, John, for the laugh-out-loud moment I desperately needed today. I can clearly recall visual evidence that Athena knows how to handle the required tools...

Simon | November 14, 2005 10:49 PM

1) Fact: even people who can handle something often prefer not to, and are happy to hand the job over to someone else who can do it better and who is more eager to. I'm sure you handled your finances well enough when you were single, but now that you have a wife who's able and willing, why should you have to?

2) Old joke, with updated examples: "I handle the big decisions in my household and my wife handles the little ones. She decides what we'll have for dinner and whether we can afford to go on vacation. I decide what U.S. policy should be on Iraq and whether Alito should be confirmed."

DonBoy | November 15, 2005 01:06 AM

It's all like an inversion of C.S. Lewis' argument for why men are the head of the household, which went like this:

1. Since you'll have disagreements, somebody has to be in charge, or you have no way to settle the issue.
2. C'mon, it can't be the woman.
3. By a process of elimination, this leaves the man in charge.

(There was a little more to point 2 than I've given, but that was the gist of it.)

Wan Zafran | November 15, 2005 02:45 AM

I need to get hitched with a Japanese female.

I'll then surrender every month's salary to her, and have her take care of the household. And I'll have her make my green tea, woot!

Soni | November 15, 2005 02:47 AM

Hubs and I are still fighting this battle with family (in a unified "us vs them" manner, not fighting each other). We live with gran, for the time being, who grew up with the whole woman as subjugated BS. Thom and I, OTOH, have a pretty well dove-tailed policy worked out, just based on preference and competence.

He handles all things high up and heavy, deals with mammalian and most other live pests, puts away dishes, deals with biologicals that come out of the front-end oriface of animals, wrangles hardware and does "manly" grunt work and outside household stuff.

I handle all things down low and delicate, deal with most insectoid pests and manage representatives of the formerly-living that show up usually thanks to the cats, wash dishes, clean up back-end biologicals, wrangle software and do womanly inside housework type stuff.

Thing is, gran doesn't get it. Example: I wash dishes, Thom puts away. Our rule is, I don't wash more until Thom clears the drainer. Simple. Except that if the dishes aren't all done, it's always my fault. He's a hard working boy and I should have done his share of the dishes as well as my own, instead of expecting him to lift a finger (despite the fact that we both work and have made this agreement ahead of time). Yarrrgghhh.

Also, again noting that we both work, I'm supposed to wash his clothes instead of letting him do them. Uh uh. He's too picky for that - I'm a "toss it all in and let God sort them out" kinda laundry chick. OTOH, each of Thom's shirts has it's own set of personal instructions. We both decided to do our own after I shrunk one too many of his rayons.

It's sometimes funny...like when gran will go on a rant about something that I left out or messed up or didn't do, making her displeasure clearly known, until I point out that Thom did that or failed to undo it. Then all of a sudden it's okay. No big deal. Never mind. Move along - nothing to see here, folks.

And the kicker is that I'm her biological grandaughter. He just married in. Sheesh.

mythago | November 15, 2005 02:50 AM

John, I'm sure this doesn't apply to your situation, but there is a flip side to "she runs the household" that does happen in a lot of marriages: it's not the husband ceding authority, it's the husband leaving the household management (and all its attendant extra work, headaches, brain-cell dedication to knowing exactly how much mayo is left in the fridge, etc.) to the wife.

I've seen this in female friends who end up doing the lion's share of the housework because they're 'better at it', and in marriages where the husband does some of the chores but none of the managements. (The stereotypical guy who will do the grocery shopping, but his wife is the one who makes the list.)

Again, not pointing a finger in your direction--you make it pretty clear that you do your share, too--but there are an awful lot of people who use "she does it so much better" as a gloss on "I leave most of the crapwork to her."

John Scalzi | November 15, 2005 06:53 AM


"There are an awful lot of people who use 'she does it so much better' as a gloss on 'I leave most of the crapwork to her.'"

Well, to be entirely truthful, don't think I don't try to get away with this from time to time, as I am tremendously lazy. However, Krissy is intolerant of doing everything and will eventually point out to me the error of my ways. And then it usually gets corrected, because while I am lazy, I'm not stupid.

In other words, let's make sure we're all clear that I'm not perfectly evolved.

Sue | November 15, 2005 09:09 AM

My husband and I have never really sat down and said, "OK, you handle this, I'll do that," except for when we were both working full-time and crazy busy. Then, it was "OK, I'll do the laundry, you do the dishes. Anything else is a plus."

Still, after 13.5 years, we have a well-established system that's based on our interests and abilities. He's a numbers guy, so he handles the finances. I used to pay the bills, but then online bill paying came along and now he does it. I do the laundry, mostly because I don't trust him not to shrink my sweaters.

When I'm not working full-time, I do more of the stuff around the house. When I am, we share it more. We don't keep score. Sure, I defer to him on some things, like "can we afford a vacation?" or "can I afford this $75 pair of shoes?", but he defers to me on things like buying his clothing and hiring contractors to do work around the house.

And as for St. Paul, he precedes many of his comments with a statement that he's speaking his opinion, not speaking for God. The number of females he worked with indicates that he was OK with having women around, but I don't think he really believed they could do the same quality of work as men. Sadly for him, he didn't have the chance to meet capable women, like Krissy. And his mind would have been really blown away by women like Oprah or (ick) Martha Stewart.

Steve Thorn | November 15, 2005 09:11 AM

John, great post. My wife and I have a relationship that sounds a lot like you and Krissy's. Of course, though, she showed her divine intellect with her comment not long ago on one of your clone entries.. to paraphrase: 'You don't have time to take out the garbage but you have time to do this shit?'


Sara | November 15, 2005 09:49 AM

Yeah, St. Paul gets a bad rep... he's actually surprisingly egalitarian. He does say that woman is not independent from man because woman was made from man (or his rib, rather); he also says that men are not independent from women either because men are born from women (good call, there). Wives should not divorce their husbands... but husbands should not divorce their wives either. Women must keep their hair long, but men must keep their hair short; that's actually not Paul's law, but an existing one. Finally, "there is no male or female." Seems he doesn't care too much about who gets more power--it'll all be the same when everyone is resurrected, he thinks. One has to remember, though, (a) Paul's writing in a society that already has plenty of laws restricting women, and that's Jewish AND Roman law; (b) his rhetorical trick of "women must not do this, but men must not do it either" makes it easy for politically invested preachers to split the verses up and say "Lookit, Paul said women can't do anything! Nyah!", ignoring the second half.

This from an agnostic, for what it's worth.
I enjoyed your post, Mr. Scalzi. It's an inspiring example for those of us who are inclined to think marriage is outmoded. It's good to remember it can work.

Dennis | November 15, 2005 11:50 AM

I was going to write a thoughtful response to this post, but I just couldn't get past "ambulatory pleasure receptacles"...

Dean | November 15, 2005 01:04 PM

When I saw the title, I misread it as 'The Sundered Husband'.

I wonder if that says anything about me.

Justine Larbalestier | November 15, 2005 01:38 PM

You kill spiders?! Scalzi, how could you? They're our friends! They eat mosquitoes and flies. Leave 'em alone!

John Scalzi | November 15, 2005 01:50 PM

Actually, I have a rule about spiders, which is as long as they are out of arm's reach, they're fine. It's only when they come down into the human living space that they are fair game.

Jas | November 15, 2005 02:11 PM

You're too easy going, Scalzi. In our house, all bugs get the axe. And it's me doing the axing. Our whole "coexist with nature" ends at the walls and roof of our home. :)

Justin Anderson | November 15, 2005 03:39 PM

The axe?

Jeez, maybe if you weren't slicing holes in your walls to kill bugs, you wouldn't have quite as many in the place....

mythago | November 15, 2005 05:34 PM

I do the laundry, mostly because I don't trust him not to shrink my sweaters

Ah, the old "screw up the chores so you don't have to do them again" trick. ;)

Scott | November 15, 2005 09:06 PM

Wan Said:
I need to get hitched with a Japanese female.

Just make sure you find yourself a traditional Japanese Female who wants to remain traditional in that way. It's my understanding that a fair number of the Japanese Females that marry Overtly Western Males are doing so out of a belief that the OWM will not expect traditional behaviors out of them. But what do I know... I'm just an OWM.

Anne C. | November 15, 2005 10:45 PM

I'm certainly not against female-run households, I just hope I don't end up in one. Nor a male run one either, true. As a single female who has had to do all the chores and all the management (because there is only me), I would love to be in a relationship where I wasn't expected to do all the mental work: organizing, planning, budgeting, etc. In fact, a hubby with good planning skills, a tendency towards tidiness, and a fondness for vacuuming is my dream. Equality would be my preference, though not the measure-everything-exactly-50-50 sort.
Women can be lazy too! ;)

Sue | November 16, 2005 08:24 AM

Quoth Mythago: "Ah, the old "screw up the chores so you don't have to do them again" trick. ;)"

In my husband's defense, he has never shrunk any of my clothing. I cannot say the same thing.

He was relieved of laundry duty when I discovered him attempting to wash towels and jeans together. His argument: they're both dark. I promptly informed him that jeans were to be washed in cold water (so they don't shrink) and towels in warm or hot water. And that was when none of my clothing needed special care, like hand washing or a delicate cycle.

Sara is correct when she says that Paul's words are abused. But then, I guess I shouldn't be surprised, given how much of the rest of the Bible is likewise misapplied.

Seth Gordon | November 17, 2005 03:42 PM

In Christian America, an excellent sociological study of those evangelical Christians who don't have their own TV programs or six-figure book deals, the topic of gender roles, of course, came up. The majority of evangelicals interviewed (male and female) believed that the husband should be the head of the house, and interpreted that as meaning that of course the husband and wife should work by consensus, but if they can't agree, then the husband is in charge.

And then the interviewer asked a married evangelical, "So, when was the last time you were in that situation--where the husband had to pull rank to settle a disagreement?" And the answer was always "umm ... actually, that's never happened, we've always been able to work things out."

Go figure.

occula | November 18, 2005 12:48 PM

I love everything about this post.

Cindy! | November 18, 2005 01:45 PM

You said: "While there's no doubt that the fact that I am the stay-at-home parent gives me a rather high level of minute-to-minute involvement in the child-rearing of our daughter, it's pretty clear to me that Athena considers Krissy to be the Alpha Parent, which she will occasionally express by saying to me "you're the boss of me, but mommy's the boss of you." When Krissy and I note that neither of us is the boss of the other, she gives us a look that says "yes, that's what you say," and then sort of changes the subject."

GO ATHENA! Ah, the wisdom of children! They have a way of getting right to the truth! :)
~Cindy! :)

ABC's Wife Swap | October 12, 2006 12:17 PM


I'm a Casting Producer with ABC Television and we're looking to feature families who live by the Surrendered Husband philosophy for our hit family program, Wife Swap. We know how popular the Surrendered Husband movement has become in recent years and we would love to meet families who are passionate about passing this philosophy on to others. We're looking for wholesome families who spend true quality time together and treasure good old fashioned values with their children.

In case you are unfamiliar with the show, Wife Swap is a family show on ABC primetime. The premise is simple: two moms from two very different families get the opportunity to swap lives for one week to experience what it's like to live a different lifestyle. This also provides them the chance to see what they can teach another family about their own philosophy. The goal of our show is for two families with different viewpoints on life and family to both give and take away something positive by “stepping outside the box” for one week.

We are looking for two parent families with children between the ages of 5 and 18 who have outgoing personalities! All featured families receive a $20,000 honorarium as a thank you for their ten day filming commitment. We also offer a $1000 finder’s fee to anyone who refers a family that makes it on the show.

I appreciate any help you can offer in reaching out to these families. I look forward to hearing from you!

Rachel Hertz

Nathan | October 12, 2006 12:25 PM

Oh, Please, please,Puleeeeeeeez sign up for this. Krissy should pack the bat.

John Scalzi | October 12, 2006 12:27 PM

Uh, Rachel, I made up the term "Surrendered Husband" -- I doubt rather seriously anyone follows it as a way of life. you may be thinking of the "Surrendered Wife" movement, and not only do I doubt that any of my readers would follow such a patently silly philosophy, I would also not be interested in going out of my way to promote it.

Jemaleddin | October 12, 2006 06:38 PM

I made a "me too" blog post pointing to this one and became the sixth hit in Google for your made-up philosophy. Rachel posted a comment on my site as well - I guess that makes me a follower of your movement. Thanks, John!

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