Ayn Rand

What Writer Most Turned You on to Freedom?

Or, What We Heard at Reason's Bastiat Prize Dinner.


On Thursday, November 8, The Wall Street Journal's Anne Jolis took home top honors in Reason's Bastiat Prize for Journalism, which celebrates writers who demonstrate the importance of individual liberty and free markets with originality, eloquence, and wit. Over 200 writers entered the contest and winners were named at reception and dinner held in New York City.

Reason TV asked a variety of attendees to name the writer who first turned them on to the importance of freedom in human flourishing and what they see as the brightest hope for progress in 2013 and beyond. George Orwell, Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard, Hunter S. Thompson, D.H. Lawrence, and former Reason editor Virginia Postrel get shout-outs, along with many other writers.

Among the people appearing in this video: Shikha Dalmia (Reason Foundation); Gene Epstein (Barron's); Andrea Millen Rich (Laissez Faire Books); Judge Andrew Napolitano (Fox News); Damon Root (Reason.com); Matt Welch (Reason magazine); Michael C. Moynihan (The Daily Beast); John Aglialaro (Producer, Atlas Shrugged); John Tierney (The New York Times); Tunku Varadarajan (Newsweek International); Andrew Kirell (Mediaite); John Stossel (Fox Business); Michael Goodwin (New York Post); John Fund (National Review); Trevor Butterworth (STATS.org); James O'Keefe (Project Veritas), Emmanuelle Richard (journalist); and Hyperion Knight (pianist).

About 2.40 minutes long. Edited by Jim Epstein, with assistance from Amanda Winkler and Anthony L. Fisher. Interviews by Nick Gillespie.

Scroll below for downloadable versions and subscribe to Reason TV's YouTube channel to get automatic notifications when new material goes live.


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  1. Nice to see Andrea Rich, who looks fabulous.

  2. The writers who probably first got me pointed out of the statist consensus and toward libertarianism?

    Robert Anton Wilson and Timothy Leary, with a side helping of R.U. Sirius.

  3. What Writer Most Turned You on to Freedom?

    Your mom.

  4. Seriously? It was coming to HampersandR. Seriously.

    Learned lots of people, ideas, resources, books, websites – started checking them out – utterly changed my view of the world in terms of politics.

    Thanks, Reasonoids!

    1. me too… though the contrarian in me always despised “the system” as it stands. If power corrupts, then it is necessary to make sure that a good government is a small one.

      1. YEah, I’ve always been a rule breaker big time. Drugs r good, live and let live, etc. for the most part. But I had some fucked up Warboner views that I’ve done a complete 180 on after some reflection.

        I really do appreciate what I’ve been exposed to here. Even SugarFree.

        1. Just finish the full course of the prescription and you’ll be fine.

    2. I was pretty much born with a live and let live attitude regarding social issues, but never really thought about how that applied to economics until I started reading H&R. Up until then, I’d considered myself a liberal who couldn’t stand other liberals.

      1. I was pretty much born with a live and let live attitude regarding social issues, but never really thought about how that applied to economics until I started reading H&R. Up until then, I’d considered myself a liberal who couldn’t stand other liberals.


  5. For me it was simple; while an under-grad Robert Higgs was a visiting professor and we were forced to read ‘Crisis and Leviathan’. At the time I skimmed over it half-heartedly, believing it was a waste of time. After graduating, and subsequently getting dumped by my fiance, I had some extra time on my hands and poured over it more carefully, actually giving it some thought. From there I jumped right into Friedman’s and Hayek’s political writings.

    At the time I was a Republican (1994-5), and from there joined the Republican Liberty Caucus, and soon after became completely disenfranchised by the party as a whole, with Ron Paul being the lone exception (of course he wasn’t in politics at the time). From then on I’ve been a small-L libertarian.

    Not that anyone cares.

    1. This is where some douche plugs in a ‘cool story, bro.’

      1. Cool story, bro.

        1. tl;dr

  6. James Madison and Thomas Jefferson.

  7. 2004 was my year of atheism. 2005 was my year of libertarianism. Penn and Teller: BS steered me to Cato, and I read their stuff voraciously that entire year.

    1. Now that I think about, the 2004-2006 seasons of South Park also influenced me. Especially the episodes about immigration, voting, Terry Schiavo, Scientology, and Richard Dawkins.

      1. “Douche and Turd”

        1. That’s a good one. But “Goobacks” and “Best Friends Forever” really blew my mind open and changed the way I look at the world.

  8. HA HA! You goobers needed to read the words of some other person to want freedom. Good show.

    1. Well no, it is more like “why the hell won’t they leave me alone?” that I kept asking myself through half of high school and all of college. Then I read some books and realized why. They just can’t help themselves.

      1. Another person’s words may be a fine way to get another perspective on freedom, but if you don’t have the desire for freedom on your own then all you really want is some other person’s idea of freedom.


          1. See what I mean?

  9. Harry Browne, writing at World Net Daily, of all places.

    1. Harry Browne and Milton Friedman.

      Harry Browne’s “How to Profit from the Coming Devaluation” (or something like that) came with a heaping dose of libertarianism and Objectivism.

      I didn’t know who Milton Friedman was when I read his Newsweek commentaries, but I always found them persuasive.

      And, yes, I’m dating myself.

  10. Milton Friedman was my gateway drug to freedom.

  11. WZRD Chicago turned me libertarian.

  12. Robert Heinlein.

    1. Robert Heinlein.

      Came here to mention the man himself!

    2. I second the Heinlein.

    3. Yes, indeed … Heinlein!

    4. RAH! I’m shocked that none of the “luminaries” in the video mentioned him.

    5. RAH is first on my list, with Rand a close second.

      But I still go back and reread Heinlein over and over just for the company of his characters. Rand… a bit too heavy to just pick up for a quickie.

  13. This may seem weird, but reading Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings at an early age made me skeptical of power and authority. From there it only took a nudge to turn me into a libertarian.

    1. That is not strange at all. That book is in many ways an ode to local governance and freedom. What is Mordor but a giant central government looking to destroy and control peaceful places like the Shire?

      1. It made me think of who seeks power and why.

        1. Didn’t you see the pic of the closeup of Bush’s (the Younger) ring? Strange Elvish markings on that thing!

  14. Hammer of Truth, may that excellent site RIP.

    1. Whoa.. totally forgot about that site, I was a big fan.

      Whatever happened to HoT?

    2. It’s back. Or is it not the same people?

  15. Actually, the initial push was somebody on &TOTSE; linking me to the LP platform sometime in 2005.

  16. Heinlein, but really he just put a framework around what I already instinctively believed.

    1. This is the best description for me as well. I’d also like to pull from Almanian’s shoutout above: my friend introduced me to Reason online and from then on I belonged to the squirrels of freedom.

      1. IIRC when I first became aware of Reason Magazine, “online” meant your laundry was drying.

    2. Heinlein, of course, but one day I’ll elaborate a qualifier there I haven’t felt like elaborating yet. Pournelle taught me about parasites in human form unrelated to race, religion or really even creed. We’re talking about the age of nine and ten here when I started reading science fiction. It took me years later to really put it altogether. I still voted Dukakis even with this early exposure.

      1. Around late thirteen to fourteen, playing AD&D, listening to the Doors, and smoking grass, my path diverged from those early signs of assburgers, and took a mystical bent. Anton Wilson, Hunter Thompson, Samuel Delany and varius writers for Playboy and Penthouse became more prominent in my thinking.

        1. lol yeah I’m sure it was the writers that drew you to playboy and penthouse at that age 🙂

          1. Rasilio, I’ve expressed this often enough to not need explaining; today, I’m embarrassed by those writers, usually dipshit leftist with only half formed ideas about civil liberties, from Playboy and Penthouse that influenced my early thinking, and only looks at those mags for the porn now.

        2. I did all of those things too. What is funny is my straight as an arrow parents were secretly reading things like On the Road and just not talking about it.

  17. Reading biographies of the founders, particularly Adams (although he’s a bad example after the Revolution ended). ThBut it was nice to find this blog a few years’ back; the hampersandr crowd added a nice icing of inanity to the crispy thin layers of depression and anger that form the standard libertarian napoleon.

  18. If my narcolepsy didn’t make reading for pleasure impossible, I would say it might have been reading Orwell as a lad. Either that, or like most of us, I have an innate drive for individual liberty that did not need to be awakened by any words on a page. OR MOST LIKELY reading the novelization of the movie epic Armageddon in which private sector go-getters save the public sector do-nothings and in turn save the world.

  19. My foray into libertarianism was mostly an epiphany of why not both.

    I was attracted to Democratic ideology because of their stance on social issues, but their complete lack of knowledge on anything to do with business or economics drove me up a wall.

    With the Republicans it was pretty much the opposite. They got it for most part on economics but bring up social issues and I lost it.

    For a while I just thought I was weird and I didn’t fit in anywhere until I discovered libertarianism.

  20. I read an essay critical of the war on drugs in an economics class my freshman year of high school that completely changed how I viewed every person of authority around me. Around the same time I had a small part in a production of Fiddler on the Roof – it was my first real exposure to the emotional consequences of arbitrary power. A year or so later I noticed that the girl I liked was reading a big book by Ayn Rand. That was that.

    1. A little later than the others in my exposure, in the middle of college, but yep, a titan.

  21. RE: Fiddler – I mean the consequences of being on the receiving end of arbitrary power.

  22. I found HandR through a Balko post at Hot Air, where i wasn’t a good fit. That I fit in here is equally distressing.

  23. What Writer Turned You on to Freedom Most?

    No single one.

    Tom Paine
    John Locke
    Federalist Papers (Hamilton & Madison)
    Ralph Waldo Emerson
    Erif Hoffer
    W.S. Burroughs
    Hunter Thompson
    Rand – but not what you’d think. Just ‘Anthem’. Never liked her other books.

    …strangely enough, also writings of people I thought made ‘anti-liberty’ cases. Like Rousseau. And many, many, many others.

  24. P.J. O’Rourke.

    1. He wrote my favor take on the state of education.

      End Them Don’t Mend Them — which won’t link for some reason.

    2. P.J. O’Rourke.

      Enjoyed him first strictly as humorist but grew to appreciate his critiques of government as time passed…Parliament of Whores is a favorite to this day.

      I almost hate to admit it but Limbaugh also started me down the road…he’s a libertarian gateway drug…as you get more libertarian you leave him behind….way behind.

    3. It’s his birthday tomorrow I believe

  25. H L Mencken

    *nods to Citizen Nothing*

  26. I was raised to be suspicious of authority, and to “think for myself”. Then in 8th grade I totally fell in love with the music of The Clash, as well as their lyrics. Granted, they did write a triple album about a communist revolution, but they still had a very anti-government, pro-self expression message. Couple that with P.J. O’Rourke, Hunter Thompson, lots of punk, ska, and reggae lyrics, even Rush Limbaugh circa 1993-1995, and by 2009, I was a walking contradiction. I was a peace loving, pro-drug, pro-individual, free-market Republican. But there was no room for me in the GOP. Which is fine, because I was doing research on what it meant to be a “true conservative” and was researching Barry Goldwater and his politics. And right in the first paragraph of his Wikipedia entry it mentions libertarianism. I followed the link, and followed the Cato Institute link, to Reason Foundation, to Reason, to Hit & Run.

    Then I read the comments of you idiots…

    1. Never underestimate Buckaroo Banzai.

    2. Then I read the comments of you idiots…

      People like Lonewacko really made me reconsider the idea of Free Speech… and start thinking favorably of re-education camps, or work-Gulags

  27. He might not have meant to, but

    Richard Lowell Rubenstein

    and his Cunning of History

  28. Then I read the comments of you idiots…

    Haha, sucker.

    1. This is why nobody takes libertarianism seriously.

  29. CRL+F “Nozick”

    Nothing. 🙁

    1. Because nobody starts off reading Nozick.

  30. I don’t know about “most”, but I remember reading Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes in elementary school and being intrigued by/supportive of the revolutionary ideas within.

    Of course as Bart Simpson pointed out, if she really wanted to get kid’s attention, she should have call the book “Johnny Deformed”.

    1. Call it Johnny Silverhand and you pull in the fantasy readers too.

      1. Johnny Silverhand: The Man With The Silver Hand

        Chapter One

        I didn’t always have this silver hand. I think. I remember a time without it out, but maybe I just want to remember a time I was free from it. My silver hand does things. Things I don’t always tell it to do. My silver hand has a mind of its own. Crazy, right? Well, I’m not crazy. I know the score. And so does my silver hand, it seems.

        1. There is where it takes a strange turn and meshes with Welsh mythology.

          1. I wish that Nutra-Sweets writing could be described as a “strange turn” but I suspect that it will be much more horrible than we can imagine.

            I have my barf bowl ready.

    2. Great book. Disney also made a very stirring short film out of the book that cut deep grooves in my brain.

      Also, in a weird way, Jim Rome’s radio show was very inspirational to me by glorifying individual accomplishments, teaching the importance of “getting paid”, etc.

      Also, Ayn Rand, Orwell, Kesey, Kerouac, Whitman, and Thoreau. I read most of that stuff in high school and college, and though they were profound and informed who I am, I never made an explicit “libertarian” connection. Because before stumbling on Reason, I didn’t know what libertarianism was.

      1. Jim Rome is a comedian and social commentator doing a sports show. When he talks about anything but sports, he is hysterical and mostly spot on. When he tries to seriously talk about the game on the field versus the things around it, he is totally lost.

        1. True. But at the time I started listening to him (1993), many of my friends were fucking up on drugs, going to jail, living on the dole, “getting over”, and generally trying to drag me down with them. It was “the cool thing” to do amongst punk musicians in SoCal. Rome, for whatever reason, kept me sane, grounded, and taught me to not follow with the collective, but to be my own man, to excel, and to not be a chuckle head.

        2. I bet his sports commentary is very advanced in the sports commentary world.

          Those guys create a world of belief which is devoid of the contours of athletic competition. Its like they are largely unaware of what competition feels like, what coaching they receive, etc.

          The problem starts with interviewing the athletes and taking them at face value. They are good at playing the sport, not discussing it or explaining their experience in any meaningful way.

          1. Those guys create a world of belief which is devoid of the contours of athletic competition. Its like they are largely unaware of what competition feels like…

            And in the early days, Rome would often say that he was not an athlete and could not understand athletic competition. He would go on to say however, that he was a sports talk radio host, so he set his goals to “win” sports talk radio. His goal from when I started listening was to own the best sports talk radio show in the business. I think he was successful.

  31. Although she’s not a writer my hippie progressive aunt.

    I grew up in a family that didn’t read but I was a voracious reader from a very young age and when I was about 12 I guess my parents must have mentioned it to her because she sent me a bunch of old books to read. Among them were Animal Farm, 1984, Brave New World, and Tolkien. Even though I was not quite old enough to get everything in those books they did foster a distrust in power and those who seek it. Later on when I was in the military I picked up a book by Jerry Pournelle at the BX just because the cover and title looked cool and I needed something to read. That lead me into Heinlein.

    I can’t say that Heinlein and Pournelle influenced me into libertarianism but they did give me a framework around which to sort out what I mostly already believed.

    1. Oh almost forgot, I gotta throw a shout out to Vonnegut for Harrison Bergeron too. Amazingly enough I actually read that in Public Schools, around 6th grade iirc. My guess is that it is effectively banned in them now.

      1. What is weird, Rand was pushed on to me by my Chemistry teacher in 11th grade. Some of my teachers like the one I was stuck with in 3rd and 4th grade were downright subversive communist, she made us memorize a bunch Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger tunes, but a lot of the high school teachers of that era that I had were downright skeptical of government beyond their limited area of employment.

        A good deal of contrast, actually.

        Our eighth grade civics teacher made sure we understood that ‘the pursuit of happiness’, meant the pursuit of material well being and property’ within a framework of what we now call capitalism. The ninth grade American history professor was just a propagandist, she taught us that WWI was the result of reactionaries who successful thwarted the Progressive Era goal of creating a better world, and that Hoover was a laissez-faire abomination corrected by the pragmatist, not at all socialist, FDR.

  32. “The Wall Street Journal’s Anne Jolis”

    Is this really the best person to embody the meaning of individual liberty? Someone employed by a newspaper? Do you see the irony of using the possessive case? “Martin’s pants,” for example. Can these pants ever be free as long as they remain in Martin’s possession?

    I suggest the next award go to a free-lance writer. Someone who takes their freedom seriously.

    1. why not a hermit who lives in alaska?

      this is about abstraction, not practice.

      What someone does with their own freedom is of small consequence in evaluation of their writing.

      If the alliances they join interferes with literary freedom, that is a good point to make.

      Attack the possessor, at personal level, instead of the alliance. Or attack the QUALITY of the alliance, instead of its mere existence.

      1. “why not a hermit who lives in alaska?”

        Why not a writer who actually owns what they write, and are free to dispose of it as they wish?

        Alliances? She’s not an ally of the Wall Street Journal, but an employee. She does what her editor tells her to do.

        1. Why not someone who inspired us about freedom? Oh wait, that’s what it is, you just wanna whine about the wording.

          1. “you just wanna whine about the wording”

            No, I’m saying that a writer is more than the words he or she writes.

  33. several of the above.



  34. The band Rush dedicated 2112 to Ayn Rand. I read Anthem and the rest followed from that. Hayek has probably been the most influential on me, but the primary mover was Rush.

    1. Any chance that last sentence contains a sly reference to the best slightly obscure Rush song ever ?

      1. Had I typed what I intended to, it would have been less sly and more obvious. But I still wouldn’t have expected anyone to notice it. Good catch.

    2. You know, I never knew about Ayn Rand as a teenager listening to Rush. I liked the music and what they said but never really made the connection until my 40s when I read Rand’s books and it just validated and canonized what I have believed my whole life.

  35. This passage in War and Peace always affected me a lot.

    Pierre could not afterwards remember how he went, whether it was far, or in which direction. His faculties were quite numbed, he was stupefied, and noticing nothing around him went on moving his legs as the others did till they all stopped and he stopped too. The only thought in his mind at that time was: who was it that had really sentenced him to death? Not the men on the commission that had first examined him?not one of them wished to or, evidently, could have done it. It was not Davout, who had looked at him in so human a way. In another moment Davout would have realized that he was doing wrong, but just then the adjutant had come in and interrupted him. The adjutant, also, had evidently had no evil intent though he might have refrained from coming in. Then who was executing him, killing him, depriving him of life?him, Pierre, with all his memories, aspirations, hopes, and thoughts? Who was doing this? And Pierre felt that it was no one.

    It was a system?a concurrence of circumstances.

    A system of some sort was killing him?Pierre?depriving him of life, of everything, annihilating him.

    People turn into different sorts of creatures when put in large, controlled groups.

  36. Ayn Rand. THERE, I SAID IT.

    1. You are just an evil, selfish nihilist!!

  37. Heinlein, but those ideas were always in me.

    1. That comment is echoed below. And it’s always true, whether from Thoreau and Emerson, or Rand and Heinlein.

  38. The Constitution of Liberty debased me of any sort of belief in government planning of the economy.

  39. Bernard Malamud

    1. In chains all that was left of freedom was life, just existence; but to exist without choice was the same as death. -Bernard Malamud, The Fixer

  40. Ayn Rand when I was 15. Oh shit…don’t tell Gawker.

    1. actually, Gawker helped push me in this direction too.

      1. “Wait a minute, these people are complete idiots and I hate every one of them! What’s the opposite of what they believe?”

  41. fund says the hope is for liberalism to fail.

    what an idiotic thing to hope.

    liberalism failing puts us on the evolutionary chopping block. that is not a position to hope for.

    there is no need to hope for it either, its inevitable. all of history proves that outcome.

    That is the HOPE in obama’s “hope and change”? why not hope for something positive?

    1. You forgot to add the anonimity website link, Lou. You’re slippin’.

  42. Johnny Paycheque. The man who wrote “Take this job and shove it” and Johnny Biafra who sang it.

    Aside from throwing a rock at a cop, which I’m too much of a chicken to do, quitting a job is about as pure and true an expression of freedom that working class shlubs like me can manage.

  43. I was a Republican for a long time. But I was never quite down with the whole so. con. movement. It really wasn’t until I found H&R that my views solidified libertarian. I’m sure it didn’t help that in high school I did well in my school’s Constitution contest.

  44. I remember learning the definition of interest in the 8th grade. Interest was the cost of money. And then learning that the interest rate was set by the Federal Reserve. I remember thinking at the time “Why does a committee of people get to determine how much my money is worth?”

    In high school, I temporarily “suspended” my belief in religion because I took three years of philosophy taught by an agnostic and I didn’t want to my mind to be biased towards my religious beliefs. Afterwards, I wanted a more solid foundation for why I believed what I believed – religion or otherwise. I started reading G.K. Chesterton and Kiekegaard

    I started weightlifting in college and reading lifting books by Mark Rippetoe, which introduced me to Robert Heinlein and to Reason Magazine. Rippetoe keeps old issues of Reason in the bathroom in his gym in Texas.

    I found Bastiat, Von Mises, Hayek, etc through Reason.

  45. God! I’m old… Apparently.
    I read Ayn Rand in the late sixties, joined the cult (took the lectures etc.) Nearly got drummed out during the split (Toronto had high-level true believers). Subscribed to Reason in the early seventies and still (I think) have all the issues in the basement. Just plain libertarian now, but boy it’s been a long time. Mostly still enjoying the ride.

  46. I started reading Erowid, then tried some weed to treat headaches, figured out that it wasn’t as bad as I’d been led to believe, did some more research, tried MDMA, mushrooms, LSD, and from there it was just a downhill slide to giving blowjobs on street corners to get my next hit…Oh, right, no it wasn’t. Tried coke, didn’t like it, tried some other stuff, learned what I like and what I don’t, started wondering what the big deal was with all that stuff, found DrugWarRant, from there The Agitator, and then followed Radley over here where I started reading the comments section, and then Heinlein, etc., because of recommendations from commenters here. And I have become more and more libertarian over the last 8 years. But it basically started not because of any particular author, but just because I wanted to do some drugs without being harassed.

  47. Ah, the true reason for Reason’s existence, attending cocktail parties…

    Was David Frum there?

  48. Rush Limbaugh opened me up to John Stossel at some point which lead me to Penn Jillette’s Bullshit! which lead me to Reason Magazine which had an endorsement from Rush Limbaugh. Word of mouth can really lead people to some interesting sources. I honestly can’t say how it all happened or in what order, but Rush was the one who started it by being entertaining to listen to.

  49. It was simply Carl Sagan’s observation in Cosmos that a strong leader of men is much worse than a weak leader — which did a 180 in my way of thinking.

    Plus, those 70s porn dudes Flynt and Hef.

  50. In elementary school, I learned that the revolution was fought to secure liberty. I accepted the notion that liberty was good. Eventually I learned that the government didn’t mean it, so lost my regard while liberty became my main value.

    Science fiction became my reading mainline, Heinlein: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Strangers in a Strange Land, etc.

    1980, saw a poster at the community college in Germantown, MD regarding a debate between some libertarians and Citizens Party reps. During the debate, these words formed in my head: “These people are socialists.”

    I picked up Ed Clark’s campaign book, read it and said to myself “Yep!”

  51. First, my parents, who had independent streaks a mile long. Then Thoreau in high school and political science prof Gottfried Dietze in college. Had us reading Hayek.

  52. “Milton Friedman was my gateway drug to freedom.”

    I used almost those exact words on a left-leaning friend of mine just last week.

    Also, Dailyreckoning.com, Financialsense.com and mises.org kept pointing me toward the light.

    Thank dog for the intertubes.

  53. I’m afraid that I don’t have a writer that got me interested in freedom. I’ve just always equated injustice with a loss of freedom, and I hate injustice.

    1. I’ll amend this a bit. Probably the first fiction writers I ever read, whoever they were, turned me on to freedom. I mean, isn’t that what all the epic clashes come down to? Standing up to oppression? I’ve always been in love with the idea of justice.

  54. The first book to get me thinking about freedom (specifically “free will” and “freedom of conscience”) was Burgess’s “A Clockwork Orange.” Mind you I’m talking about the book; Kubrick’s movie was a different kettle of fish entirely…

  55. John Stuart Mill – he’s the cat’s pjs baby…

  56. Orwell and Heinlein fiction early on followed by a surprisingly good grad school econ program that made me truly appreciate the power of markets. It was The Road to Serfdom that really tied everything together though.

  57. Milton Friedman was a titan

  58. Murray N Rothbard — specifically “For a New Liberty”, which I still believe to be a great head-first into to our ideas.

  59. And one more–Thomas Szasz. My mom introduced me to his books when I was in high school (how cool is that?)

  60. My reaction was the same as Stossel’s when I discovered Reason magazine.

    That was one glorious afternoon.

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