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  • Ted Mann 8:30 pm on November 17, 2006 Permalink | Reply  

    7 New Wonders go Splat 

    GMA finished unveiling it’s “7 New Wonders of the World” today and, well, let’s just say that it was very consistent. Consistently bad.

    Picking up where I left off in my last post, the sixth wonder is the Mayan Pyramids. Now, to be fair, this is just about the closest thing to a Wonder (capital W) that the numskulls at GMA and USA Today have named so far, but still, the Mayans built pyramids in many countries. It’s kind of like saying that skyscrapers are a modern wonder. OK, I guess they’re a modern building trend, but why not pick one? The ancient wonder list went with the Great Pyramid at Giza, not all pyramids. Likewise, you wouldn’t say skyscrapers, you’d pick the Empire State building or Sears Tower or Petronis Towers. Gotta be specific.

    The seventh wonder was quite possibly the most absurd of all: The Great Migration: Circle of Life. Ugh. We’re talking about the animal patterns of the Serengeti and the Masai Mara plains in the heart of East Africa. This is such an unbelievably dopey wonder — ah, what’s the point.

    Frustrated by this utter disaster — a fundamentally good idea that was well promoted and well executed by the GMA team, but horribly conceived of by the expert panelists (if only they could shitcan those turkeys) — I bitched on the GMA message board. But then I decided to do something far more productive: vote on the “New 7 Wonders” project (note the inverted 7 and New), which actually gets it.

    The vote totals won’t be revealed until 7/7/07, but at least the nominees are all drawn from the same rational, logical pool of man-made marvels. So at last, I have peace with the Wonders.

  • Ted Mann 4:07 pm on February 25, 2005 Permalink | Reply  

    Settling the Urban Park Debate 

    At work this morning I got into an unusually passionate debate with a coworker about which is the largest city park in the United States. He adamantly maintained that it was Golden Gate Park, in San Francisco. And I, being a proud Philadelphian, boasted that Fairmount Park was the undisputed urban park champ of the world.

    Well, turns out both of us are wrong. And, to my Brooklyn homies out there, no, it ain’t Prospect Park either. Nor is it Central Park, you egocentric Manhattanites!

    According to The Straight Dope, Golden Gate, with its measly 1,107 acres, wouldn’t even be in the top ten. At 840 acres, Central Park would come in at about 15th place. By comparison, Philly’s Fairmount Park looks like Goliath, with 4,618 acres (4,239 if you deduct the Schuylkill River, which runs right down the middle). But even that isn’t enough to give it the top spot. It’s not number two, either!

    As it turns out, one city lays claim to both. The largest city park in the U.S. is South Mountain Park, currently 16,169 acres but planning to expand to 16,455. Which city spawned this monster? None other than cursed Phoenix, the metropolitan abortion that just usurped Philly as the 5th largest city in the U.S. This cancer of the Southwest is also home to the number two park, Phoenix Mountain Reserve, which is also expanding from 7,358 to 7,750 acres.

    Still, I’m not willing to concede nothin’ to Phoenix — Phoe-friggin-nix! If insisting that Philly has the largest urban park is wrong, then I don’t want to be right.

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  • Ted Mann 1:49 pm on February 7, 2005 Permalink | Reply  

    Who Needs a Quarterback When You’ve Got Skyscrapers? 

    Everybody is sooo bummed out about the Superbowl. Find me a Philadelphian who isn’t down in the dumps about the Eagles’ loss and I’ll find you a Superbowl ad that devotes more than 2 seconds to a brand message.

    Even at my office, which is populated by egghead editors and sports-phobic women, people are hanging their heads in shame and disappointment. To help brighten the mood, I’ve been changing the topic of conversation to Philadelphia architecture, that ol’ watercooler standby. We may not have much of a rushing game here in Philadelphia, but we still gots a mad building boom going on. With all the glass-and-steel phalic skyscrapers that have been popping up lately, it’s almost possible to foget how the city was castrated of its championship hopes yesterday.

    The new building that everyone’s talking about is the Comcast Tower at 17th and JFK Boulevard, which they just broke ground on a couple weeks ago. Once completed, it’ll be the largest building in the city — 57 stories tall, 975 feet. My beloved Inga Saffron already dissed the tower in her Jan. 9th column, but I’m not going along with her on this one.
    Sure, Comcast ain’t building another Crysler building, and sure it’s a little boxy and uninspired as far as skyscrapers go. But the powers that be are finally doing something with this skyscraper that they didn’t do with its predecessors; namely, they’re planning at the street-level, not just in the clouds. The planners have hired Laurie Olin, a renound landscape architect (and Penn Press author), to design the grassy plaza on the groud level; they’re building a huge, glassed-in “winter garden,” sort of like the WTC used to have; and a giant indoor/outdoor food court, connected to Surburban Station, is in the works. The hope is that all of this will finally convert that stretch Market and JFK into something other than an apocalyptic, barren wasteland. Maybe if people are actually milling about and enjoying the street life places like Trader Joe’s will finally place their entrances on the street, rather than facing parking lots. And take a look at the architect’s rendering of the new city skyline. Personally, I think it looks pretty damn cool. (Not as cool as it would have from a Phillies ballpark on the Schuylkill, mind you, but we won’t go there right now.)

    On the topic of glass-enclosed monoliths, the Cira Centre project seems to be moving along nicely. The building is scheduled for an April 2005 completion, and it looks like they’ve almost finished the exterior. As anyone who has come through 30th Street Station recently knows, the Cira Centre (why the “re” I wonder?) is right next to the train station, due north on JFK. I’m not exactly sure how much of an economic impact the Cira building will have on Philly, considering that it’s basically just poaching a couple law firms that used to be in Center City. Surely it won’t be as significant as the Comcast Tower, but West Philly can use all the help it can get.

    The thing that has my officemates really perplexed are the new condos scheduled to be built at 4200 Pine Street. 4200 Pine.jpgNow, I know we’re not talking about another skyscraper here, but we have an obvious reason for concern: Our office is at 4200 Pine Street. We’ve known for a while that we were going to be booted from here, and moved to the boarded-up hovel that is the former WXPN building, but now that the condo plans have been revealed we’re even more steamed than ever. Take a look at the luxuy condo price list: $270,000 for one-bedroom units, $350,000 for two-bedroom units, and the upper $400,000 range for the three-bedroom, three-bath units. Who on earth would pay that much to live in a neighborhood where the average 4-bedroom family home is about $250,000? These are condos we’re talking about! Jeez. I can’t wait to see how they justify this on their new website (4200pine.com). Just thinking about it makes me feel amost as frustrated as during the last three minutes of the Eagles-Pats game. Oh well, so much for distracting everyone with good news. Time to go mope some more.

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    • Gabe 5:40 pm on February 7, 2005 Permalink | Reply

      Very interesting, Ted, how you shift from the topic of a Philadelphia pro-sports championship near-miss to the topic of Philadelphia skyscrapers, all without any reference to the obvious causal link between the two. It’s almost as if you were tempting me to point it out. Almost.

    • Korey 6:37 pm on February 7, 2005 Permalink | Reply

      Inga Saffron’s opinions are good for me to poop on. And speaking of poop, take a look at the Swiss Re tower she admires:

      It looks like a suppository.

      And she’s jealous of the style of the Time-Warner Center, which features “one of the most expensive and exclusive restaurants in the world.”

      Is she referring to Masa?

      I wish she would spare us all this “oh, London and New York are so daring,” whining. Philly’s not the place to build domed high-rises with over priced sushi joints — and I love it for that.

      Now, how many days until the 2005 season kicks off?

    • Korey 3:51 pm on February 8, 2005 Permalink | Reply

      The price differential in commercial Philly real estate is astounding.

      “Philadelphia is a real bargain compared to other major cities, Grubb & Ellis said. In London, prime office space rents for an average of $137.53 a year per foot. Comparable numbers are $87 in Tokyo, $76 in Paris, $53.66 in New York City, $46.45 in Washington, D.C., $38.33 in Boston, $40 in Hong Kong and $35.41 in Sydney.”


    • Korey 12:59 am on February 9, 2005 Permalink | Reply

      Oops…left out Philly rent. “The city’s so-called “trophy buildings,” which commanded annual rents of $38 per square foot, plus electric, in 2002, are now getting $28, plus electric, said Craig Scheuerle, Grubb & Ellis senior vice president.”

    • Excited 4200 buyer 10:50 pm on February 28, 2005 Permalink | Reply

      I am writing to strongly disagree with your comments about the new project at 4200 pine st. You must know ( since you work there) how beautifull the old Trambauer mansion and its accompanying neighborhood. Good luck finding a newly renovated four bedroom home for 250,000 in the this hot neighborhood. And while your at it can you find me a 3 bedroom 3 bath condo for less than 550,00 in center city……….

  • Ted Mann 10:17 am on December 23, 2004 Permalink | Reply  

    Beware the Burka Bandits 

    As if you needed one more reason to be weirded out by burkas, the Philadelphia Daily News reported yesterday that a team of thieves have been dressing in the women’s Muslim garb to rob local convenience stores and banks. Police estimate that there are four to five people in the ring, including a couple males, and they carry silver, sawed-off shotguns under their black dresses.

    I suspect that the reason for all this tomfoolery might just be that the bandits have been listening to sultry lyrics of the one, the only, John Legend — specifically, to the lyric, “maybe, I should, rob somebody.” Personally, though, I feel that wearing burkas undermines the stylish authority of Mr. Legend. Maybe that beekeeper lady’s outfit would be a better alternative.

  • Ted Mann 8:30 am on December 8, 2004 Permalink | Reply  

    Mistress Saffron Strikes Again 

    After canceling my Philadelphia Inquirer subscription last month, the one thing that I miss desperately is Inga Saffron’s column. Every once in a while I’d get a kick out of Tom Ferrick or Tanya Barrientos, or I’d read the latest on the City Hall corruption probe, but Inga was the only staff writer that had my undivided attention, week in and week out.

    I set up an RSS feed of the paper to My Yahoo, but because they don’t attach bylines to the excerpts, I usually miss her stories now. So, muchas gracias to Philebrity.com for pointing out Inga’s latest withering attack on Philly architecture. Kimmel CenterSpecifically, the six or so massive civic projects that have been built in the last five years: Kimmel Center, Linc, Constitution center, the ballpark, etc. While every Philadelphian is delighted to have snazzy new concert halls and football stadiums, all of these constructions are, aesthetically speaking, uninspired heaps of concrete and red brick. Philebrity sums up the critique this way: “Even though Ed Rendell was all like Mr. Bold when it came to greenlighting big new buildings, the fact of the matter is, they all pretty much look like university cafeterias.” Not quite as elegant as the Pulitzer prose of Ms. Saffron, but well said nonetheless.

    • Korey 3:11 pm on December 8, 2004 Permalink | Reply

      I’m not fully persuaded. As she readily admits, “Lots of dazzling designs have turned out to be functional failures; others quickly got old.” The interior of Seattle’s library does look like Pod, but the outside strikes me — from the photos, because I haven’t seen it in person — as pretty wacked. I’m curious how it will be viewed in ten or twenty year’s time. Will Seattle residents view it as “an ambitious public dare” or some wacky concoction that has a disparaging nickname?

      Anyway, some of her other points are valid, although the location of the ticket box in the Kimmel center, or the lack of engaging walls for the rest rooms at 5th street, don’t strike me as major failures. But anyway, my second thought is: does she (or did she) do anything to try and influence the design of Philadelphia buildings? Or did she just let this once in a generation spat of design pass her by? I’m just curious.

    • Korey 3:19 pm on December 8, 2004 Permalink | Reply

      OK, I have more thoughts. I think the point about Philly needing to get away from the red brick is a great one. But the Milwaukee art museum, like the Seattle library, looks to me like a wacky shape (bold design?) that doesn’t trigger any association with the city. I prefer things like the Sydney Opera house and Boston’s Zakim bridge, which make some connection to the locale, but that’s just me.

    • Ted 2:51 pm on December 9, 2004 Permalink | Reply

      Whether or not the Seattle library is wacky, don’t be dissing my woman, ya hear!

      And yes, to answer your question, she does an awful lot to influence the design of Philly architecture. She wouldn’t be nominated for the Pulitzer if her writing was solely critical and ineffectual. Though she does do as much Monday morning quarterbacking as the next architectural critic, a large portion of her pieces deal with as-yet unbuilt structures and city planning. Her critiques of the Penn’s landing plans–including asinine schematics calling for more office space and a giant Ferris wheel–were withering and dead on. Her commentary on the Free Library addition really helped the designers to recognize some flaws in their plans. And her personal campaign to stop the building of ginormous parking lots on Rittenhouse square, while unsuccessful, were valiant and pro-active nonetheless.

      So, say what you want about Milwaukee, but don’t even think about badmouthing Inga with that same filthy mouth.

    • Gabe 4:19 pm on December 12, 2004 Permalink | Reply

      Saffron, Schmaffron. I haven’t bothered reading the Inquirer since Mike Leary left.

  • Ted Mann 12:54 am on December 3, 2004 Permalink | Reply  

    West Philly, Reconsidered 

    When I first moved to West Philadelphia, in college, it took less than four hours before the thieves struck. A freshman girl stole all eight of the 20-pound cinderblocks I’d hauled to use as bed stilts, and when I caught the biz-atch red handed, she insisted that concrete could not be owned by anyone.

    During the next four years, a lot of my other prized possessions were stolen. My new Trek mountain bike, sophomore year; the new VW Jetta, junior year; and my dignity, when Kevin bitch-slapped me and damned my “boarding school bullshit,” senior year. Given this track record, I sometimes wonder how it came to pass that I’m again living in the WC, back among the Christopher Miller joyriders and cinderblock bandits of the city.

    One simple word: Cereality. Well, that and a 3-block walk to work. And the Green Line coffee shop. And the woman who jogs around Clark Park in what looks like a beekeeper’s outfit. And the other woman who speedwalks while smoking a foot-long cigarette and sipping from a coffee cup the size of Texas.

    As you can probably tell, I’m trying to psych myself up about the neighborhood, especially now that there seems to be a better than 50 percent chance Ana and I will be staying put through her residency. In the spirit of festive optimism, I hereby present three things about the West Philly renaissance that make me happy — or at least keep me from fearing for my life.

    1. The renovated 40th Street library. Despite all the budget cuts that the library system has gone through, the 1906 “Carnegie” branch, long in disrepair from a flood, was somehow able to scrounge up the change for a massive restoration. They basically gutted the interior and replaced it with equal parts ski chalet and self-help book archive. OK, maybe that latter part is unfair, and I just naturally gravitate to the “Dummies” and “Idiot’s Guide” shelves — all eight of them. Though the library doesn’t appear to stock your traditional scholarly tombs (no Penn Press books, for shame!), it is a wonderfully warm and happy space. Plus, the electronic self-checkout system is undeniably rad.

    2. We’re getting a bowling alley! Seriously. That post I made a few months ago appears to actually be coming true (the one about bowling, not the one about free citywide wi-fi — which is going nowhere fast). Walking home the other night I passed by the old, empty storefront next to the Video Vault, on Locust between 40th and 41st, and there it was: a big sign announcing “Strikes! Open this January.” Aw jeah.

    3. Retro trolleys. Back when Ana and I were off frolicking in Belize, the UC District unveiled three restored 1930s trolleys, which have now been put into operation on the #15 Girard Avenue line. They were christened on October 16, Trolley Day, “where 1938 meets today on the tracks.” Trolley Day sounded like a jolly good time, except of course for the black participants who had to sit at the back, who thought it kinda sucked ass. Hey folks, at least the ride was free.

    • Korey 11:20 am on December 3, 2004 Permalink | Reply

      Also, that supermarket you have at 40th and walnut kicks the crap out of the one I live near here in Beantown.

      I think the goal of West Philly is to become a poor man’s Cambridge. The problem is that ten or fifteen block span of pure blight…I don’t see that getting fixed any time soon.

    • andy 9:24 pm on December 4, 2004 Permalink | Reply

      Sam and I always get a good laugh at the crazy beekeeper woman when she speedwalks by us on our way to the GL.

    • Katie 3:50 pm on December 5, 2004 Permalink | Reply

      Neat blog. My friend (and I guess yours too) Priya showed it to me. 🙂
      I really like the pictures you took. They’re amazing. I’m not so handy with my digital camera.

  • Ted Mann 4:35 pm on September 17, 2004 Permalink | Reply  

    The Cereal Experiment 

    A few weeks ago, while helping Gabe move up to New York, we hobbled into a Panera Bread restaurant for lunch. Over a meal of $10 deli sandwiches, we got into one of those entrepreneurial brainstorming discussions, where you talk about some weird commercial phenomenon and figure out how you can exploit it. In this case, it was the yuppization of blue-collar food.

    Specifically, we were talking about how restaurants like PF Chang’s try to capture the experience of eating ordinary takeout Chinese food in a Pottery Barn setting. Likewise, the Cheesecake Factory is really nothing more than a pimped out diner. In Philly we have Jones, a Steven Starr restaurant that is basically like getting KFC in an ironic, hyper-cool Brady Bunch lounge. And isn’t the food at Maggiano’s an awful lot like your typical Little Italy restaurant, minus the opera singin’ waiters? The thing about all these places is that they’ve taken staple comfort foods and it with mood lighting, part-time actress waiters, hard wood, cloth napkins, and jazzy mix tapes.

    So, Gabe and I wondered, what boring, but essential, food could we repackage into a postmodern ultra-hip restaurant? Pizza’s already been done. Indian is just a little too unusual. Rice is just–well, rice. Way too postmodern (those who’ve heard the story of “divorced girl” will know what I’m talkin’ about). Ultimately, we couldn’t come up with anything, and decided to spend the rest of the drive debating the size of John Kerry’s bladder.

    As it turns out, there was an untapped comfort food, but we never came close. You gotta think supermarket. Think cereal. CEREAL!

    Imagine a “Seinfeld-esque” kitchen setting featuring homey kitchen cabinets stocked with familiar cereals. Right there you’ve got the design concept for Cereality, the new franchise that’s trying to do for cereal what Taco Bell did for Chihuahuas. There’s already a franchise in the works, set to open in early November. Most remarkable, it’s going to be right in the heart of Penn’s campus, next to the bookstore.

    The company’s slogan is “all cereal, all day, all ways.” The idea of custom-blending name-brand and specialty cereals, as well as hot and cold varieties, seems downright brilliant. I’m not sure I agree with the company’s press release, which touts cereal eating as a “habitual and highly personal” habit, with late-night compulsive tendencies. But no matter, this idea is friggin’ brilliant anyway.

    I gave up cereal long ago, figuring that it was devoid of nutrients and protein. But hearing about Cereality’s wacky concept, I’ll be one of the first to line up at the 1,500-square-foot cafe at 36th and Walnut.

    I’ll be there hawking my smashed sandwiches and homemade donuts, of course.

  • Ted Mann 11:00 pm on September 13, 2004 Permalink | Reply  

    Pride in Philadelphia 

    I don’t usually have the kindest words for the city that I call home. If I’m not railing against Mayor Street’s corrupt administration, then I’m bitching about the legalization of gambling in Pennsylvania and the inevitable riverboat casinos that will end up on the Delaware. To maximize the nausea, I often combine the two albatrosses, Street and gambling, and concoct a Michael Moore-brand conspiracy theory.

    But this summer, in the city of bro-lo, there’s been little to gripe about. In fact, time and again, there have been exciting announcements that make me think Philly might finally be emerging from its medieval mentality of isolationist fiefdoms, pay-to-play politicians, and all-around malaise. Herewith, the top five recent developments that deserve mad props:

    1. South Philly Ikea: In late August, Ikea opened it’s first “urban” store, on Columbus Boulevard in Philly. Not only is the store as gi-normous and pimped out as Ikeas get, its cafeteria’s got a fabulous view of the S.S. United States, the Titanic-like ship that’s parked outside (rusting, on the Delaware) and still owns the record for fastest trans-Atlantic cruise. Though my beloved Inga Saffron complains that the lack of exterior sidewalks, nearby bus stops, and windows make the store seem distinctly suburban (ie not urban), I don’t really see the need to quibble over such details. I mean, hey, we’re the first major American city to get an Ikea within our borders! (Sorry, Elizabeth, NJ. With all due respect to my fiance, the store at exit 13A just don’t count.) Other cities, like Chicago, are sure to get urban Ikeas soon, but, as with the store in Plymouth Meeting (first in North America), the region will still be able to say that we’re on the cutting edge of Swedish furniture retailing.

    2. Wireless City: Speakin’ of cutting edge … in one of the most surprising moves John Street has made in his five years as mayor, he announced two weeks ago that he wants Philly to be the nation’s first city with wireless access to the Internet everywhere within its borders. Back with all the investigation into Street’s shady business dealings–the bug, the federal probe, all that–it came out that Street was an obsessive Blackberry emailer (the fed’s confiscated three of his devices), so I guess it’s not totally shocking that Street came up with this techie fantasy. Who knows if it’ll be implemented, or if citizens will balk at the idea of taxpayer funded web access, or if Verizon will freak at the idea of losing DSL business to city-subsidized access points. But for the time being, I’m delighted to finally see Philly taking a pro-active attitude towards the technology sector and the young-adult population. If the Inquirer story is correct, and the total cost for city-wide wireless would be around $10 million, that seems like a steal.

    3. 2024 Olympics: As reported by my old mentor from the City Paper, Howard Altman, at the end of August, the William Penn Foundation has been conducting a feasibility study to determine whether the city should put in a bid for the 2024 Summer Games. Remarkably, the prognosis looks good. Philly already has 17 of the required 31 sports venues; the transportation system and hotel capacity is already capable of sustaining the traffic that the Olympics bring; and there’s already a perfect location for an Olympic Village, down in FDR park, near the stadiums. Of course, I’ll be 47 by the times these plans come to fruition, and I’ll probably be driving little Timmy and Suzy to band camp and unable to return to Philly to enjoy the games … but who knows, maybe I’ll be able to talk Timmy and Suzy into watching a little ping-pong. That would be swell.

    Quick editorial note: Why the hell did the City Paper ever let Altman go? Having just read his Inquirer article about the Olympics bid, one of the biggest city scoops this year, I don’t have the foggiest idea why a two-bit alt weekly would have fired their best reporter–who, I might add, also happened to be editor-in-chief and the heart and soul of the paper. With executive decisions like that, things don’t bode well for the good ol’ CP.

  • Ted Mann 11:43 pm on August 9, 2004 Permalink | Reply  

    Bowlers Paradise 

    Last Friday, while wandering down Chestnut Street on Korey’s final night in Philly, I was struck with my latest million-dollar idea: This city needs a bowling alley! As far as I know, the only half-decent lanes are in Cherry Hill, NJ. What major American city doesn’t have a centrally located bowling alley? It’s a brilliant idea, I tell you. Brilliant!

    So brilliant that, apparently, three other groups are already cashing in on it. After a couple days of picturing myself as an Ed-like alley manager, I got a surprise email from Katie Diller today, telling me that a West Philly storefront next to the Video Library has been rezoned forwhat else?a bowling alley. A search of the Inquirer website revealed that two more alley-lounges are coming soon, one on the 1300 block of Chestnut, and one in Northern Liberties.

    So much for my brilliant business plan. Back to the homemade donut scheme.

  • Ted Mann 4:59 pm on August 9, 2004 Permalink | Reply  

    Seth the GoFares Psycho 

    In my email this afternoon was a cheerful message from US Air:


    At the times and locations listed below, if you are the first person to find Seth, the “GoFares Guy,” and passionately yell I LOVE US AIRWAYS UNBELIEVABLY LOW GOFARES!, you’ll win 4 roundtrip tickets for travel anywhere US Airways flies in the continental U.S.!

    A little gimmicky, yes, but who am I to pass up free airline tickets? Then I kept reading. It’s the second part of the US Air pitch that’s really creepy.


    While he’s in the area, Seth would love to experience some of the famed Philly hospitality and give away some more tickets to three lucky individuals.

    On Wednesday evening, August 11th , between 6:30 and 10:00pm, Seth will accept the invitation of three party or event hosts, pop in to say a few words, possibly sample some food and give a set of four tickets to each of the selected event sponsors. The event could be a pre-planned birthday or anniversary party, a college alumni or after- work get together, or a party you throw specifically in Seth’s honor.

    I can’t fathom why anyone, having looked at Seth, would consider inviting him into their home. Not for 4 round trip tickets– be they domestic, international, or on the Space Shuttle. That hair just isn’t natural!

    • martha 1:35 pm on December 4, 2004 Permalink | Reply

      Pity is the virture of the law, and none but tyrants use it cruelly. martha Conversation should be pleasant without scurrility, witty without affectation, free without indecency, learned without conceitedness, novel without falsehood.

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