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Strike for the Environment, Strike for Social Justice, Strike!

Strike for the Environment, Strike for Social Justice, Strike!

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

A very large chasm exists between those in power, including most of the 2020 presidential candidates, and environmentalists and scientists intent on acting now to resolve growing environmental crises. To reiterate what is known, the United Nations, through its IPCC and the IPBES committees, has provided comprehensive evidence that little time remains to avert catastrophic global warming. And the world is already in the midst of the sixth mass extinction.

Given that oligarchs, corporate executives and politicians are at least in theory physical beings as dependent on a livable world as the rest of us, it is incompatible views of the world that are illustrated by this indifference. Some people care more about wealth and power than they do about the environment, the planet and the rest of us. Lest this be confused with the human condition, the power to destroy the world has only existed for about seven decades.

The conclusion of the UN committees, considered conservative by many environmentalists, is that the opportunity to make incremental changes to industrial practices has passed. There is no way to achieve necessary goals without quickly and radically reorganizing Western political economy. And the alternative isn’t to continue on the current path. Doing nothing will alter the world in ways that will put hundreds of millions of people’s lives and livelihoods at risk.

Graph: the IPCC estimated that the world has twelve years from one year ago to cut carbon emissions in half or adverse consequences will rise at an increasing (exponential) rate. Many environmental scientists view this window as too conservative. They argue that adverse consequences are already assured by carbon releases to date. The American political class remains unbowed. Climate science believers in congress have joined deniers to assure that no environmental legislation of consequence will be passed. Source: c2es.org.

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Neoliberalism and Environmental Calamity

Neoliberalism and Environmental Calamity

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

Current conditions represent a political emergency of sorts, meaning that ways of solving environmental and social problems will either be worked out or circumstances, led by the environment, will assume a life of their own. Given that these conditions are the result of historical processes that were decades and centuries in the making, understanding how we got here is crucial to resolving them.

The relevant ‘we’ here is being redefined through the relation of late-stage capitalism to the world. Climate change and species loss are shifting boundaries, shrinking the universe of arable land, breathable air and drinkable water. Fortress America, previously a conflation of place with one’s status in the imperial order, is largely the source of this vengeful gravity. Political geography is about to get interesting.

In this regard, the IPCC just won’t quit issuing proclamations. Joining climate change and mass extinction is dead and dying land. It seems that you can’t just denude a few hundred million acres of arable land, destroying the ecosystems to which it belongs, without consequences. What mystical clairvoyance could have imagined such an outcome? And more to the point, what can be done about it?

With updates on the breadth and depth of environmental calamity coming fast and furious, still missing is the political path to salvation. The only certainty— as offered by the authors of said calamity, is that we, the little people who add up to 90% or thereabouts of the demos, want— nay demand, calamity. The proof: we still eat, live indoors, wear clothing and find our way to and from work.

However, this is but mere paraphrase. The direct proof is that we consume. And we do so through the social mechanisms— stores, the internet, etc., that have been provided. From this slim foundation the certainty is built that we ‘demanded’ state corporatism, a/k/a neoliberalism, a/k/a rule from above. Markets are the transfer mechanism through which the purchase of a bag of rice becomes support for industrial agriculture.

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Iran, Venezuela and the Throes of Empire

Iran, Venezuela and the Throes of Empire

Illustration by Nathaniel St. Clair

With the Trump administration threatening war against Iran and Venezuela, the question of how the U.S. was brought to this point needs to be considered. To argue that current circumstances are particular to this administration is to overlook U.S. history vis-a-vis both Iran and Venezuela and that between them they possess a material proportion of the world’s proved oil reserves (graph below). In 2019, the pretense that local provocations explain anything beyond domestic political posturing is absurd.

However, domestic political considerations do explain threats of war to a greater degree than should rationally be the case. Removing Americans from the risks of wars the U.S. starts has produced a form of technological nihilism. Just because technology can be used to kill large numbers of people without risk to self doesn’t mean that it should be. Combined with economic motives for launching wars, death, destruction and misery have become just another business opportunity. At this point in history, war is what America does.

More insidiously, and admitted into evidence that the national Democrats just aren’t very politically astute, two- and one-half years into a soft coup staged by key members of the surveillance and warfare states and national Democrats against his administration, Donald Trump now apparently undertsands the domestic political benefits of unhinged militarism. Through a sycophant press predisposed to support any manner of unprovoked slaughter and the myriad business interests that see their stocks rise with the same, war is apparently a good business to be in.

Graph: the American defense industry, in this case aerospace, generally gives more in campaign contributions to Republicans than to Democrats. However, the contributions appear to be tactical. When Democrats Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were running for the presidency, the balance of contributions shifted to Democrats. This tactic keeps Democrats ‘competing’ for contributions from people that profit from war. Source: https://www.opensecrets.org.

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Environmental Crisis, Oil Geopolitics and the Trump Diversion

Environmental Crisis, Oil Geopolitics and the Trump Diversion

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

America in 2019 is a very strange place. The problems of the age: looming environmental calamity, the threat of nuclear annihilation and accumulating class tensions, keep being shoved to the side through diversionary tactics. No sooner had a range of left programs been consolidated under the banner of a Green New Deal than establishment Democrats and their partners in misdirection made it known that ‘stopping Trump’ was their only priority. As priorities go, this one speaks to the limitations of its proponents.

Back in the land that time hasn’t forgotten, environmental calamity has been a growing threat for three centuries now. Its growth rate accelerated after WWII along with the threat of nuclear annihilation. Class tensions have been escalating since the 1970s as neoliberalism has diminished the public sphere and accrued wealth and income to those who benefit from social destruction. Given the singular source and its persistence through periods in which either Republicans or Democrats exercised control, systemic drivers are the only explanation left standing.

Graph: Capitalist countries produce CO2 emissions; the Global South bears the impact in terms of global warming. In environmental terms, capitalist production is class warfare where the rich get richer by making the poor poorer. On the right side of the graph is the relationship of GDP to CO2 emissions. On the left is the economic impact of CO2 emissions on those who didn’t produce it. By forcing costs, in terms of global warming, onto the Global South, people who see no benefit from capitalist production bear its costs. Source: Diffenbaugh, Burke Standford.edu.

The rational reason for suggesting that these problems preceded Donald Trump’s tenure as President is to posit that because he didn’t cause them, they won’t disappear when he leaves office.

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Politics, Democracy and Environmental Rebellion

Politics, Democracy and Environmental Rebellion

Pulp Mill, Longview, Washington. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

A question worth asking is: what conceivable national electoral outcome would resolve the political dysfunction that currently prevents much-needed programs such as solving climate change and mass extinction, national health care, and an end to militarism from being enacted? While setting aside for a moment the national / international divide that facilitated post-War liberalism, class struggle has reemerged to redraw political alignments that lack formal institutions from ‘below’ to move them forward. Would a Democratic sweep in 2020 really change this political landscape?

Focus on elected officials rather than the systemic levers of class control support the carefully crafted posture of great difference between the governing Parties. Political marketing posits the locus of power within personal traits that suborn the class relations the candidates support to a passive role. In the realm of diversions, the passion of anti-Trumpism has been temperedsomewhat since the 2018 mid-term elections by actual Democrats regaining control of the House. As enthusiastically despised as Mr. Trump is, all it takes is a gander at the ‘opposition’ to illuminate the political role that manufactured constraints play.

The near-term political success of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is likely attributable to the distance she has kept from the much-despised political establishment. She said so herself. To paraphrase, her constituents are the people who elected her, not her colleagues in congress. This return to politics, to taking one’s case to the people, 1) is the only way forward for left politics and 2) illustrates how institutional constraints are political in the sense that they preclude only those acts and policies that are inconvenient to official interests. Radical policies that benefit the rich are normalized as necessary— e.g. the U.S. war against Iraq and the Wall Street bailouts.

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Iraq’s WMDs Found…In Russia

Iraq’s WMDs Found…In Russia

White House photo by Eric Draper

In late 2017, actor Morgan Freeman announced in a video created by a who’s who of senior U.S. Intelligence officials that Russia had attacked the United States and that ‘we’ were at war. Freeman, whose net worth is said to be about a quarter-billion dollars, claimed that ex-Soviet ‘authoritarian’ Vladimir Putin, bitter about the dissolution of ‘his’ country, was behind the attack. The terms ‘attack’ and ‘war’ were not qualified as metaphors.

The crudeness of the appeal— provoking naked fear of invading hordes of godless communists led by an evil dictator, had a retro quality that undid thirty years of technocratic upgrading of American agitprop Where is the Reagan-era Patrick Swayze packing a grenade launcher when you need him? Or going back a bit further in agitprop history, where is Kevin McCarthy with a panicked warning about your neighbors going to sleep as good Americans and waking up as communistsstooges of the Kremlin?

Within weeks of Donald Trump’s electoral victory the ‘true American’ press, in the form of the Washington Post, revealed that it had a list of known communists who had infiltrated the U.S. government political websites that were acting as witting or unwitting agents of the Kremlin, current company included. One could be forgiven for imagining that the ‘authoritarian’ Donald Trump was behind the smear.  But no— it appears to have been Ukrainian ‘patriots’ with ties to both the Democratic Party leadership and actual European Nazisthat struck this blow for freedom.

Freedom through censorship might seem an odd construct until it is understood that Kremlin agents are everywhere. By 2017, my friends from New York were suddenly afraid to venture out of Manhattan for fear of encountering a ‘Trump voter.’ (This is true).

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Ecocide as Creative Destruction

Ecocide as Creative Destruction

According to the WWF (World Wildlife Fund), since 1970 60% of the mammals, birds, fish and reptiles on the planet have been driven to extinction. To the extent that the WWF has it right, climate change accounts for less than 10% of these losses (graph below). As important and logistically complex as resolving climate change is, it is but one of a host of environmental ills in equal or greater need of resolution.

Habitat degradation and loss and animal exploitation (e.g. trawl-net fishing) explain most of this animal extinction. Habitat loss is primarily due to deforestation to feed factory farm animalsAccording to the Guardian, these animal losses would require 5 – 7 million years to recover from. But as of today, the causes of extinction continue unabated with no plausible plans being put forward by national governments to address it.

Graph: Of the mass extinction of animals that the WWF is reporting, most comes from habitat loss and degradation. Climate change explains less than 10% of the losses. The point isn’t to downplay climate change, but to express the breadth of the environmental crisis that the world now faces. While the role of global warming will increase in time, mass extinction is at present a related but separate crisis in need of resolution. Source: wwf.org.uk.

As reported hereand here, the animal extinction isn’t anomalous. Over approximately the same time frame, 60% – 80% of insects have also been made extinct. The precise balance of causes is debatable, but putting climate change forwardas the primary cause reframes the concept of a ‘carbon budget’ in wildly alarming terms. If the one-degreeCelsius warming experienced to date explains the insect extinction, where does that leave the IPCC’s1.5 degree warming ‘budget?’

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Degrowth: Toward a Green Revolution

Degrowth: Toward a Green Revolution

The Americanism that people will never voluntarily give up the consumption that is killing the planet represents the triumph of a long con. The problem that consumed (apologies) economists in the early twentieth century was how to get people to want the stuff that capitalism produces. Past the point of meeting basic needs, people really didn’t want consumer goods. Early on, capitalism was a method of economic production in search of a constituency.

In the present, this most likely reads as being wildly counterintuitive. China and other recent entrants into mass consumer culture prove the universal character of the desire to consume, goes the argument. But the Chinese development of a consumer culture has been driven by top-down economic policies, not ‘demand’ from below. As a strategy for maintaining political control, it is easier to satiate manufactured wants than to cede power to truly democratic inclinations.

In 1958 economist and advisor to presidents John Kenneth Galbraith wrote The Affluent Societyas an explanation of post-War political economy in the U.S. Prominent in his theory of ‘dependence’ are corporations that use commercial propaganda (advertising) to create demand for the products they produce. Mr. Galbraith, a committed capitalist, understood that Western consumption is a function of what is produced, not ‘consumer demand.’

Graph: Growth of inflation-adjusted average incomes in the U.S. has been wildly tilted in favor of the rich. The time-frame illustrated covers the growth of consumer culture from its approximate inception to the present. Making this lopsided economic distribution politically palatable is the role of commercial propaganda. Source: Emmanuel Saez.

Take a moment to think about this: capitalism doesn’t satisfy self-determined wants, it creates them. Advertising is part of the production process— it produces consumer ‘demand.’ The political argument is that people want capitalism. But this is circular logic.

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Nuclear Weapons are a Nightmare Made in America

Nuclear Weapons are a Nightmare Made in America

Photo Source International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons | CC BY 2.0

What transforms American elections from participatory politics into farce is the exclusion of crucial issues. Environmental crisis, the threat of nuclear annihilation and the wildly skewed distribution of political and economic power will affect how people live in coming years, regardless of how effectively they are excluded from electoral consideration.

Each of these are historical accumulations— they exist in different time-space than the binary oppositions of political marketing. Environmental crisis has been accumulating since the dawn of the industrial revolution. The threat of nuclear annihilation emerged from WWII as the lunatic id of technological innovation. Class relations have determined the realm of official power since the birth of capitalism.

This history grants presence to each, regardless of how hidden they are in any given political moment. If a bomb is dropped on a city in the forest, it destroys the lives of those it is dropped on regardless of whether you and I hear it. The subtexts of modernity are automatically written to preclude reflection.

Recently, U.S. President Donald Trump announced that he would unilaterally end the INF (Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces) treaty with Russia. The calculated irrelevance of American electoral politics to the side, this didn’t happen in an historical vacuum. It ties back to Bill Clinton’s unilateral placement of NATO troops on Russia’s border following George H.W. Bush’s promise not to do so.

Graph: On top of the $700 billion Pentagon budget for 2018, U.S. weapons sales abroad are big business. Among the top recipients of American weapons are Saudi Arabia, China, Japan and South Korea. The Saudis are currently funding a dirty war in Yemen that puts the lives of millions of human beings at risk. Sources: tradingeconomics.comSIPRI.

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Climate Crisis is Upon Us

Climate Crisis is Upon Us

One of the more useful allusions hidden in plain sight in the recent IPCC / UN report on climate crisis is the distinction between the pre-industrial and industrial ages that defines the era of climate crisis. Industrial capitalism, a/k/a capitalism, is the cause of climate crisis. Plenty of pseudo-scientific rubbish about human caused and Anthropocene can be found in the report’s text. But industry— the integration of science and technology in capitalist production, is identified as the cause. No longer are goat herders in Turkmenistan as responsible as the executives of Exxon-Mobil for the unfolding debacle.

The report is striking in its urgency. Feedback loops and tipping points contradict any straight-line assurances of an orderly and knowable path forward. Behind pages of stark calculations can be found Gaia, the unknowable relations of Mother Earth that make a mockery of scientific certainty beyond the understanding that the environment of the planet is being destroyed and needs to be fixed. Missing is any semblance of a political program to move resolution forward. But also missing is the usual subtext of technocrats meeting in swank hotels to eat four-star meals, swap resumes and network. The stakes are now apparently too high.

Identification of the industrial age— capitalism, as the cause of climate crisis brings with it a host of related revelations. Capitalist wealth becomes a crude measure of its reciprocal in environmental devastation. The relation of wealth to political power makes timely and / or peaceful resolution improbable. Capitalist accumulation will hereafter be a measure of informed socio-pathology. The writing is on the wall. The American political ‘choice’ between the wealthy or their technocratic servants is a formula for environmental annihilation. The system crisis is a metaphor for the political crisis that makes resolution so intractable.

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American Fascism

American Fascism

Photo Source Alan Turkus | CC BY 2.0

From Whence ‘We’ Came

Fascism is a loaded topic for Americans. The term is usually put forward as oppositional, as the flip side of representative democracy, e.g. authoritarian. Left unaddressed is whose interests’ American representative democracy represents. Twenty years of research by political scientist Thomas Ferguson strongly supports the conclusion that it is monied interests (a/k/a the rich) that determines public policy. And while this isn’t the authoritarian leader alluded to with the charge of fascism, neither does it contrast with it in the sense implied.

In the American iconography, slavery and genocide against the indigenous population took place from the so-called founding forward under this system of representative democracy. Phrased differently, there is nothing intrinsic to representative democracy that precludes slavery and genocide. The social, economic and political repression and exploitation they represented had economic taking as their motive and they were systemic in structure— no single authoritarian leader, no Adolf Hitler or Benito Mussolini, created them as social facts.

The way that slavery and genocide functioned as American institutions was through oppositional definitions of the polity and not-polity. The assignation of slaves as three-fifths a human being in the Constitution was to accrue political representation to slave owners, not partial representation to slaves. Any geographic definition of the polity would have included slaves and some proportion of the indigenous population. One can argue the details of ‘the progress of history,’ but from the founding to the present, with ‘restorative’ interregnums, American representative democracy has meant class rule.

The class relations of American political economy are antithetical to the notion of a unified public interest. The point isn’t to suggest that this or that authoritarian leader isn’t authoritarian, but rather to sketch in the political backdrop to argue that the lived experience of social, economic and political repression is lived experience, not academic theories or bourgeois fantasies.

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Elections and the Illusion of Political Control

Elections and the Illusion of Political Control

Photo Source Paul Sableman | CC BY 2.0

As if on special at Metaphors-R-Us, and just in time for the primary elections, CNN published an article on fake buttons that are provided to give people the illusion of control. It seems psychologists determined that fake buttons at crosswalks, in elevators and in other public and quasi-public places convey a sense of control without the power of control. In the space between upcoming elections and the creeping realization that connected capitalists still control the country, the question is of what reform candidates can really accomplish?

Staying with the metaphor for a minute, of relevance is that these buttons are engineered illusions— they are intended to deceive. The modes of existing they are designed to facilitate— office dwelling, high-rise living and urban traffic, preceded the psychologists’ additions. The fake controls are a response to adverse reactions to these modes of living. The question left unasked is: why are people having adverse reactions to the absence of control? The follow-on question is: what are the human consequences of the distance between the illusion and real control?

The progressives running in upcoming elections seem to be decent enough people. And reflexive cynicism— say about the plausibility of reform politics, only passes for knowledge in some particularly deplorable circle of hell. With apologies, welcome to hell. National Democrat Nancy Pelosi is promising to preclude all of the irresponsible social spending on progressive programs with ‘pay-go,’ the national Democrats’ austerity-in-a-can. And the New York Times is endorsing Andrew Cuomo over Cynthia Nixon because (corrupt machine politician) Cuomo can better ‘stop Trump.’

Graph: Given the relationship of economic distribution to political power, it is a good proxy for the distribution of political power. Since the 1980s a rising proportion of national product has been shifted from working class workers to the very rich.

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Mueller, Russia and Oil Politics

Mueller, Russia and Oil Politics

Dunder-Mifflin as Troll Farm

The Mueller indictment made public on Friday charges 13 Russian nationals with trolling the American electoral process to ‘sow discord’ by falsely representing themselves as American dissident personas. Once the field of presidential aspirants had been narrowed in 2016, their goal became to support Donald Trump’s candidacy while disparaging Hillary Clinton. There is no charge that the outcome of the 2016 election was changed by these actions.

The form of the alleged conspiracy was a ‘troll farm,’ an office populated by various functionaries who worked together from 2014 to today to magnify already existing social tensions on social media. Those charged were likewise mainly functionaries— IT workers, managers, etc. Despite allegations to the contrary in the American press, no links between the alleged troll farm and the Kremlin and / or Vladimir Putin were put forward.

The 13 people charged are Russian nationals presumably living in Russia. As of this writing none have been arrested. Unless they plan to voluntarily return to the U.S., an unlikely move, the charges will never be contested in a courtroom. This most certainly was understood by Mr. Mueller before the indictments were handed down. Lest this remain unclear, charges made without the likelihood of a trial are unlikely to ever be resolved.

In reading through the charges, what is striking is that the Russians aren’t charged with creating social tensions. They are charged with exploiting and exacerbating them. It is their personas that are deemed to be false, not the familiar chatter of quasi-anonymous voices on social media. The point is that the social tensions preceded the chatter. Mr. Mueller’s term ‘sowing discord’ literally means that discord was planted. The actual sequence is of discord being exploited.

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Why ‘Russian Meddling’ is a Trojan Horse

Why ‘Russian Meddling’ is a Trojan Horse

Prior to the 2016 presidential election, if one were to ask what single act could seal a new Cold War with Russia, align liberals and progressives with the operational core of the American military-industrial-surveillance complex, expose the preponderance of left-activism as an offshoot of Democratic Party operations and consign most of what remained to personal invective against an empirically dangerous leader, consensus would likely have it that doing so wouldn’t be easy.

The decision to blame Russian meddling for Hillary Clinton’s electoral loss was made in the immediate aftermath of the election by her senior campaign staff. Within days the received wisdom amongst Clinton supporters was that the election had been stolen and that Donald Trump was set to enter the White House as a pawn of the Russian political leadership. Left out was the history of U.S. – Russian relations; that the largest voting bloc in the 2016 election was eligible voters who didn’t vote and that domestic business interests substantially control the American electoral process.

Graph: The Democrats’ choice to blame external forces, e.g. Russian meddling, for their electoral loss in 2016 ignores evidence of that none-of-the-above is the people’s choice. The largest voting bloc in the 2016 election was eligible voters who chose not to vote. In contrast to the received wisdom in political consultant circles, choosing not to vote is a political act. The U.S. has the lowest voter turnout in the ‘developed’ world for a reason. Source: electproject.org.

More than a year later, no credible evidence has been put forward to establish that any votes were changed due to ‘external’ meddling. As the Intercept has reported, since the election progressive candidates seeking public office have been systematically subverted by establishment Democrats in favor of those with connections to big-money donors.

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Inside the Dead Zone

Inside the Dead Zone

It was at a point when linguistics, cultural anthropology and continental philosophy were converging that philosopher Martin Heidegger proclaimed ‘language is the house of the truth of being.’ The problem at hand was conceiving the role of language in an experiential (phenomenological) sense that closed the distance between the Western inheritance of Cartesian dualism, and with it the need for ‘transcendence,’ and the world.

As abstruse as this probably reads, the political, economic and cultural subtexts of Western modernity: social control, economic concentration and commodification of the social realm, tie through the all-purpose apologia of neoliberal capitalism to shared premises about the structure and nature of the world. What then is to be done regarding the colloquialism ‘don’t shit where you eat’ when the world is home.

Image: Oceanic ‘dead zones’ where climate change, industrial pollution and agricultural runoff, have depleted oxygen levels to the point where nothing lives, surround the U.S., developed Europe, Britain and Japan. The common link is capitalism. One would think the term ‘dead zones’ would cause reconsideration on the part of those causing them. What relationship with the world explains treating it is a garbage dump?

At the nexus of linguistics and cultural anthropology is the otherwise banal observation that different peoples approach ‘the world’ differently. The Western, predominantly Platonic / Cartesian, conception of ‘the world’ as an external object has rough corollary in the astrophysicist’s distinction between the ‘big bang’ as expansion of, rather than in, space. In the prior conception there is no dimension in which to put space. Allow for a moment that this problem of dimensionality applies to key conceits of the Western worldview.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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