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So here's the deal: my story takes place in modern America in the aftermath of an unexplained event where a runic magic system was introduced to humanity by an unknown entity. Every week a new rune is given to everyone on Earth over the age of 13, and everyone can keep any six of their choosing before having to give one up to make room for the next week's rune. Each rune represents a supernatural power the bearer is capable of using.

One of the biggest difficulties of adapting society to this new paradigm is that there's no way anyone can tell what new power everyone's going to get next Saturday at 12:00 PM EST. Mounting concerns about potential unpredictable consequences of future runes, and mounting distrust of the motives of the unknown entity providing the powers, eventually prompt governments to start safeguarding against potential accidents. And the American government decides that it wants everyone off of the roads and on the ground during an hour long period every week, from 11:15AM to 12:15PM EST, to make sure that if something unexpected and dangerous arrives on the rune pipeline one week, it doesn't result in massive, deadly, infrastructure-crippling pileups on all major roadways.

The additional Doylist reason for this is because by the end of the first book, one of these runes will cause total societal collapse by disabling all technology that runs on electricity, and the main villain's plan ultimately makes this last way longer than one week, thereby plunging the setting into post-apocalyptic territory. And for various storyline reasons, I want the roads to still be usable, and I don't want to have to wait until massive organized efforts to get the useless cars off of highways can happen before I can do these things.

But my main issue is that I don't know for certain if such a law would be constitutional, passable, feasible, or even enforceable in practice. Would it be?

Would there be any fundamental issues I'd have to address in order to justify an hour-long period on Saturdays when everyone has to keep their vehicles parked and off of the roads and all planes are grounded?

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – James Jan 18 at 20:14
  • $\begingroup$ If all you're looking for is roads in relatively good conditions (not clogged up) a policy of discouraging driving, especially casual driving, during that window may be enough for you, coupled with encouraging people who have a reason to drive (etc) to pull over during the actual tickover. Any leftover cars, trucks etc on the road may then be (assumed) to be rare enough to allow your roads to be (mostly) usable and occasionally plot-centeredly unusable. $\endgroup$ – Megha Jan 22 at 5:28
  • $\begingroup$ Wait, are you Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez? $\endgroup$ – blaster Jan 24 at 22:37

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Transport networks act as the lifeblood of modern societies, and just like the human circulation system, it's a lot harder to stop and restart these networks than you might think. To explain why, let's start with planes.

At any given time around the world, there's around 9,000 or more planes carrying over a million people in the air. Grounding them all was seriously considered as a Y2k mitigation strategy until people realised that;

1) There wasn't enough hangar space to go around
2) Restarting the network of flights with their connections et al was going to be a nightmare

During 9/11, the USA did actually ground planes, and it caused chaos. Admittedly, part of this was the suddenness of the grounding, but planes were parked on aprons, runways, wherever they could fit. Ultimately, planes cost a lot of money and the businesses that buy them know that the best use of this massive capital investment is having them in the air as much as possible, earning them money. As such, airports and other supporting infrastructure are built around the idea of getting them up and getting them down as efficiently as possible, not on storage.

It can be done when needed however, and the 9/11 example shows that. Whether or not it could be done regularly is another matter. It's not so much getting all those planes back in the air at once that is even the biggest issue; it's the scheduling that makes sure that connections still work without massive layovers in one airport or another.

Similarly, with trucks in particular, this is going to be more of an issue than you might realise. Most large cities are entirely dependent on trucks to be bringing in food and essential supplies on a constant basis. Large cities consume massive amounts of food, but produce almost none. Could a city survive with an hour's outage once a week? Perhaps, but some industries are time dependent and in the hour bracket you describe, the one that I see bearing the bulk of the impact would be the dairy industry.

Cows are milked every day, no exceptions. They have to be to ensure their milk keeps being let down. That means, trucks come to each farm, every day, to pick the milk up. Depending on how far away the processing plant is, it's possible in some instances that the trucks might not make the plant before the driving ban kicks in. Can the farms hold the milk for an afternoon pickup once a week? Perhaps, but at least in some cases this would involve upgrading infrastructure to support that through better refrigeration. It's not an insurmountable problem, but it would certainly have to be planned for.

I don't think your core problem is legal; good leaders would be able to explain the risks and then set up the driving and flying 'curfew' with relatively little fuss. Pilots in particular are not going to risk being in the air during an event that could impair their flying skills.

I think the biggest issue you'll face is actually logistics. Trucks can park on the side of the road for an hour, planes can't. Schedules, deliveries and connections need to be planned around the regular shutdown, meaning that you need better sophistication in your planning of where trucks and planes are at the point of grounding. The economic impacts are certainly there, but relatively minor, especially when people get used to it. What would happen however is people with logistical planning skills could start asking for a lot more money.

Of course, the other consideration here that needs to be managed is whether there is any military exemption. If the US has enemies in your book, 11:59 am on a Saturday sounds like a great time to launch a sneak attack...

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    $\begingroup$ As for trucks, until quite recently there was a general ban on truck traffic in Germany on sundays, a ban that stood for decades (not that this ban coincided with a ban on shops and indeed most companies being open for business on sundays). If a society is used and adapted to something like that it can very well be done. $\endgroup$ – jwenting Jan 16 at 5:03
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    $\begingroup$ @jwenting that's interesting, I didn't know about that. I'd have to look at average temperatures between Germany and the location of the bulk of the dairy industry in the USA (not sure where that is at present) to know if the infrastructure upgrade on dairy farms is still warranted, and I feel compelled to point out that Germany is a lot smaller geographically than the USA, but you are right to point out that if it's been done somewhere in the past for a whole 1/7 of a week, then it's possible in the USA for only an hour per week instead. $\endgroup$ – Tim B II Jan 16 at 5:09
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    $\begingroup$ Storing raw milk for a day isn't much of a problem. European farmers have been doing it for decades, as most are too small to warrant daily pickup by trucks. We use chilled storage tanks for that, keeping the milk cold. Tanks are big enough to allow for several days of milking before they need emptying, at which time a truck from a dairy factory comes along and pumps out the product. $\endgroup$ – jwenting Jan 16 at 5:53
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    $\begingroup$ In fact, the reason the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Sunday morning was because they knew perfectly well that between religious services and shore leave every ship would be fundamentally - and predictably - disabled. You've pointed out that the proverbial thousand things can go wrong with this idea. $\endgroup$ – JBH Jan 16 at 6:43
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    $\begingroup$ @jwenting in Hungary, we still have a large truck ban on weekends, with some exceptions (for example, transporting live plants or animals, or perishable goods). Based on trafficban.com, other countries have similar rules. $\endgroup$ – molnarm Jan 16 at 9:33
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I don't think it would be possible to enforce

Some scenarios to consider

  • People in just generally remote areas where there wouldn't be anyone to enforce the rule
  • Safety. I may not want to leave my car if I am driving through an unsavory neighborhood
  • Its an entire hour, Why do I want to be next to my car or just sit there for an hour when its going to be almost impossible for you to make me stop (You would need a lot of police officers walking around the streets but its harder in residential areas).
  • There might not be enough parking in certain areas (e.g. shopping malls) due to weekend activities being concentrated in those areas. There will be a ton of congestion after an hour when people need to return to their cars and some people might not since they just went off shopping.
  • Plane Flights, especially international long distance flights would have timing issues. No flights would be able to arrive on a Saturday afternoon as they would need to be operating through your closure time and no morning flights would be allowed to leave since they would also operate though the closure time.
  • Short distances. If I only need to drive 5 or 10 minutes, I could just ignore the rule because its such a short distance and the perceived danger is extremely low. Sort of like Drunk driving.
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    $\begingroup$ Regarding (2) and (3): This is a planned ban, so given the forewarning you have ample time to adapt your timetable. $\endgroup$ – Matthieu M. Jan 16 at 7:59
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    $\begingroup$ @MatthieuM. Just because its planned, doesn't mean that everyone will follow it, especially if it is perceived as pointless or a waste of time. Take Jaywalking for example. Sometimes the lights are just a bit too far away for you to car. Or littering... the bin is just too far away or non existent. Or Texting/mobile use while driving, drink driving, speeding or going faster than the speed limit, not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign, indicating you are leaving a multilane round-a-bout, indicating you are changing lanes in general, not slowing for a yellow light. $\endgroup$ – Shadowzee Jan 16 at 22:25
  • $\begingroup$ @MatthieuM. So just because you tell everyone they need to get out and stop driving, doesn't mean people will automatically comply or change their driving habits, especially when such a rule can be difficult and hard to enforce. $\endgroup$ – Shadowzee Jan 16 at 22:27
  • $\begingroup$ Sure; but they better come up with a better excuse than that. $\endgroup$ – Matthieu M. Jan 17 at 7:52
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The point is, that shouldn't be something enforced by the cops, but become a moral custom.

Look at 9/11 it just needed one accident for people in america get permanently freaked out by the idea of a new attack and were ready to let the government do basically anything to prevent it.

What you need to have the population accept and help enforce it is a big catastrophe, maybe some people got fire powers inside of planes and in a single day dozens of planes simply burst out in flames at once. The population would be begging the government to do anything to prevent it from happening once again.

Sure, you would have people that would try to break the curfew, but those would be seen by everyone as assholes and possibly endangering others.

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Legally, the government of a country can do pretty much as it pleases as long as it can defend its decisions in a constitutional court and what manner of parliament is available.

In the US, an executive order by the president becomes law unless and until successfully overturned by congress or the supreme court for example. So the president, assuming he is confident of his position being upheld, could simply issue an executive order and presto, your ban on road and air travel is now in place.

Of course after that you get to the point of enforcement and practicality. As others have already pointed out, such a ban would be highly impractical for several reasons, as well as next to impossible to enforce, certainly without a lot more police resources than the USA has available (and you'd have to exclude the police from that same ban for them to be able to enforce it too of course).

That'd stand as a temporary solution. Next a law would have to be drafted and work its way through congress without being modified by committees in such a way that it's unrecognisable from the original proposal in order to make it a permanent thing. That might be even harder than enforcing the ban in the first place.

And of course it'd have to be done quickly before someone finds a partisan judge opposed to the president who overturns the executive order not because of what it says but because of who issued it (yes, this happens a lot the last couple of years, it's not uncommon). Of course this judge can then be overruled again by a higher court, until finally the US Supreme Court decides.

In the end, a constitutional amendment would be needed to make it really permanent (or as permanent as any law can be), which is a very long drawn out process.

And even after that's enacted, the problem with enforcement still remains as big as ever.

So could it be legal? Yes. But practical? Not really.

Now, a longer ban than an hour might work. Take for example the ban on operating commercial vehicles on a sunday that was in place in Germany for decades. That worked as every trucker knew about it and would seek a parking lot or just go home for the day. Saturday afternoon and evening every single truckstop in Germany and near the borders in neighbouring countries would fill up to capacity with trucks, many of them relying on the business in their restaurants and shops for the income the truckers provided over the weekend to make a profit. As all or most shops are closed on sundays in Germany and indeed saturday afternoons, as are most other companies, there was no real need to have deliveries on sunday anyway. As more and more companies started operating sunday shifts, the pressure to allow trucking on sundays increased and eventually the ban was lifted.

Which teaches a lesson: such a ban is best enacted in combination with changes to society that remove the need or desire to travel during that interval.

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It would be constitutional yes.

In fact, something vaguely similar was done in 1974, when the Federal Government imposed a nationwide speed limit of 55MPH. Technically such laws are up to the states, so the general mechanism is that you tie state compliance to their receipt of Federal highway funds. Something similar was done to pass the national age minimum of 21 for alcoholic beverages in the 1980's.

However, enforcement of such a law would be left up to states and municipalities, so if its something they aren't also on-board with, it is liable to be widely flouted.

For instance, many Western states where there was generally much less traffic and the major population centers are far apart and the new law effectively just picked them all up dropped them an hour further away from each other, hated the 55MPH law, and barely enforced it. I've heard tales of speeders in Nevada during this era getting a $10 ticket for "wasting natural resources."

So, like with most laws, you can pass it, but if everyone isn't behind it, that won't do much.

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  • $\begingroup$ Interesting. That actually works fine for my purposes. $\endgroup$ – Jason Clyde Jan 16 at 16:50
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    $\begingroup$ $5 in Montana $\endgroup$ – James Jenkins Jan 17 at 16:23
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With superpowers available? Absolutely!

The key thing here is "everyone can keep any six of their choosing before having to give one up to make room for the next week's rune". Suppose one week the rune is for teleportation. That by itself could make cars and planes pretty much obsolete. Such a useful ability would likely be kept by many people for as long as they could.

You haven't indicated what superpowers people are going to be getting with these runes, but it shouldn't be too hard to come up with a rune or combination of runes that alleviates the reasons other answers have brought up as to why the driving ban would be hard to put in place.

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If it weren't for the unique circumstances surrounding the need for a shutdown, I would agree with the majority of answers that this wouldn't be feasible. People like to rebel, after all. But the new runic powers almost completely shut down that line of argument. For people that want to rebel - hey, they just got a new toy to play with. Maybe it won't be particularly useful; but on the other hand, it could be something really cool. You just won't know until you get a chance to play with it; and frankly, you might find that the need to enforce an official ban on driving might prove unnecessary, as people are checking out their new toys.

But of course you will have the other end of the spectrum, people that think the runes are evil, and will be insisting on controls, kind of like the transportation ban you propose. I think I don't need to explain why those people will be obeying the ban.

In the middle, you have the average Joe you isn't particularly interested in rebelling or controlling other people. The people who just want to get on with their lives. They will probably take a quick break to see what they've got, and then get on with their lives. They will probably be the group that wants to get on the road the quickest - so they found out that their new rune lets them levitate raisin bread, that's cool - now let's find something to distract the kids before the walls are covered in raisin bread. I'd say you can count on 5 minutes before, and 10 minutes after receiving their runes before they're on the road again.

Other people have places to be, meetings to attend - oh, wait, it's Saturday. Well, okay, deliveries have to be made. To people are going to be distracted. So they can take a smokerune break, and listen on their radio or watch the feed on their cell phone for the all clear to be sounded that says civilization isn't ending today. That's probably not going to be an hour, though if the law insists, they'll be perfectly willing to doctor their logs to look like they sat out the entire hour.

Ah, planes. First things first: there's no way TSA is going to allow anybody on a plane without knowing what runes they have. Since there is no predicting what runes someone will receive, that means no passenger planes will be allowed to be in the air at that time, even before the government considers a ban on all travel during that time. Not that most people would want to be on a plane at that time anyway. And the airlines won't want to risk their planes. Will there be some difficulty storing planes during that time? Probably. But there won't be a complete lack of planes in the air - this window will be perfect for cargo planes. No passengers at risk, and the pilots have clearance to be in the air during this time of high alert. The only thing that could be a problem is if the runes somehow make planes stop working. Then there will be crashes, but the pilots should have plenty of time to bail or land without power, and any crashes will only lose goods, not lives, and should be out of the way.

Which leads to essential services. Essential services don't get shut down. End of story. Police, fire, emergency services, will not only be allowed on the street, they will be required to be ready to go. What? Your pregnant wife is in labor? The streets are clear, go for it; when the police stop you and see that you have a pressing need to be on the road, not only will they let you go, they'll probably be accompanying you for something to do. Other essentials, like long-distance trucking, can apply for exemptions if they feel a sufficient business need - but again, they're probably going to be playing with their new toy, so there's not going to be much interest. I mean, yeah, the employers will get the exemption, but that doesn't mean the drivers will be making use of it, unless they're really insistent on getting to their destination now.

But all told, the number of the drivers on the road will be cut way back.

One last thing - some answers have pointed to historical instances of attacks during expected shutdowns, suggesting that this would be likely to happen during this shutdown. NOTHING COULD BE FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH. Yeah, I'm a militant enemy of the state, and I'm going to launch an attack during the time when we have no idea what new forces could be in play, while my target is on high alert because they also don't have any idea what new forces could be in play? This would only not be an incredibly stupid idea if the runes were almost always lame and useless, in which case nobody would be shutting down in the first place.

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It’s widely accepted because mass wrecks already happened

The wrong pair or triplet of runes can have unexpected consequences. On a smaller scale, Rune interactions have in the past caused widespread driving mishaps.

The first time was the February Massacre, when thousands of semitrucks crashed in an ice storm. That isn't unusual but how they crashed, and how it caused so many fatalities, caused a full-on investigation by the NTSB. Turns out truck drivers had become accustomed to using the Eth and Kall runes together to triple their fuel economy. The mere possession of these runes made you highly sought-after as a truck driver. They also liked to use the Rog rune to help steer their truck. These two acts, combined with how the Fizz rune interacted with a large regional ice storm, stacked with poor understanding of how rubber tires work on ice. Not everyone with that rune combo crashed; it really depended on driver skill (or lack thereof).

But then, there was Black Saturday. If a person had Tubb, Kalif, Eth and Lyd runes, and did not replace one of them with Vord rune when it arrived, they wound up with all 5. Their peculiar interaction of those 5 runes drew them toward other people, and clouded their minds if they tried to avert this attraction. This combined cataclysmically with the driving task, with drivers driving their car right into crowds because their mind told them that was the right thing to do. This could not be overcome with will or skill, and the only thing that contained the casualties below 100,000 is that the combination was so very rare.

So for society, it was not unexpected that a new rune, or a new rune combining with existing runes, could turn every driver into a menace.

So the law forbade driving in that timeframe, and mindful of the tragedies, people got it. It also criminalized not driving exactly, but any consequence of driving was treated as "intent, with malice aforethought". During that hour, a fender bender suddenly turned into a felony malicious destruction, even if runes had nothing to do with it. That put good people right off driving.

It also became a maintenance window

When the paving companies figured out how to chisel up and repave a city block inside a 1-hour window, that settled the matter. Now you wouldn't drive anyway, becuase you couldn't count on the road not being blocked by the giant machine resurfacing it.

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Why would the government have to? Everybody is psyched about the new abilities they might get and sure as hell wants to try out, what Santa brought this week. Sure, some doofus' don't care, but those three people can't do much harm when driving around.

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  • $\begingroup$ Seriously. I got the Twinkies, you got the Mott's? People have to use these runes; like guns, the misuse of which is criminal. It'd be different if sometimes people automatically turned into flaming orbs while driving. No Flame Orbing While Driving. There, we're done. Spark it, yo. $\endgroup$ – Mazura Jan 16 at 14:13
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Yes, it is trivially done. In fact the power to impose a nation-wide curfew, once a week for an hour, is granted by one of the runes in the hands of the members of the cabinet.

We can even say that it is in possession of the President, to make things easier. It was the first rune that this character received, and they are very fond of it.

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    $\begingroup$ OP wants to know how to legally do this, and what issues would come up. Just hand-waving it away as magic is not what OP wanted, because anyone can hand-wave with magic without needing to post here. $\endgroup$ – Jarred Allen Jan 16 at 3:24
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    $\begingroup$ @JarredAllen [sometimes the obvious solution is the hardest][en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egg_of_Columbus] $\endgroup$ – NofP Jan 16 at 13:20
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When you change the rules, the rules are going to change.

A lot of answers so far talk about how this would be problematic, or possibly even illegal, in today's society, but this book posits that we are no longer in today's society. As President Lincoln famously put it, "the Constitution is not a suicide pact," and one of the things Americans do best is solve real-world problems.

I'm reminded of Brandon Sanderson's The Reckoners books, set in an Earth where some mysterious entity is handing out superpowers, with a twist: there are no superheroes, only supervillains. Whether it's a "power corrupts" type of thing, or someone is consciously giving power only to the worst of humanity is not known, (at least not at the start of the series; stuff does become more clear as it goes on,) but what is common knowledge is that everyone who gets powers becomes a villain that the good guys have little recourse against.

The books mention the "Capitulation Act" that the United States had no choice but to pass, which gave supervillains complete legal immunity for their acts. It's implied that this happened because the alternative was to get all of the law enforcement / military / whatever other personnel killed trying to enforce the laws against them. And as ugly a solution as this is, in the context of the rules having changed so completely, it was probably the least bad alternative.

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When asked, Americans will step up and do what is needed if there is a situation that they believe is a national emergency. I feel it is entirely possible with the right motivation, but it changes everything.

It's not a matter of stopping planes and automobiles, you would also need to stop ferries, ships, boats, mines, factories and other operations involving heavy equipment.

Even if we all knew we needed to stop at 12:00 for one hour, it's getting to the point where we can bring things to a halt. You can't just power down a factory or a steam generating plant for an hour. Taking pressure off boilers and closing valves can be a very time intensive job because if you close a steam valve the wrong way for that situation, it might eat through the valve making it impossible to power down until the boiler is off-line. Replacing a 36" valve is a weeks long process.

Some factories and plants take days to start up and shut down. As an example, you can't just stop and start a nuclear reactor and the motors that run it will still need to operate. Some power generating plants work with liquid sodium and when it cools, it becomes a very intensive process to melt the sodium to get the liquid to flow once again.

You can't simply stop a tugboat under tow. There is the issue of tides and currents, so even at a full stop, they will still be running to hold that position. The same with ferries and ships.

With time you can get all of these things to coordinate a stop, but you may have to fundamentally change how the US works. Thursday and Friday become power down day and power up day, which would need to move into Saturday. This would change our pattern of resting on Saturday and Sunday.

Good luck with changing everything. With all of that cooperation, you might end up with a better society as an end result.

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From a narrative stand point I see no major issues with this. Governments can impose curfews and transportation restrictions as they please. With such drastic change tho surely comes civil unrest.

Human populations especially us citizens of the US do not take kindly to disruption in our daily routine of any kind. If the people are not given a proper explanation for the need of the curfew/Transportation restriction then you almost certainly will have rebel militias sprouting like wildfire trying to combat restriction placed on them, for reasons ranging from distrust of any government actions to simple frustrations with the inconvenience of the mandatory auto mobile shutdown.

As some side notes you may need to include information about the boom of public transportation during such shut downs.

I can for see a possible final conflict between the central government, and rapidly growing militia groups. This could result in massive loss for two sides who are essentially fighting for the same goal of public safety.

So to close your original question yes, an enforced hour on Saturdays void of automobiles is feasible, but likely to cause future problems.

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protected by James Jan 18 at 20:15

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