Archive for December, 2008

I received an email today from Starhawk, born a Jew in the US and long-term peace activist who many times has been to Palestine to support the people there against constant Israeli state terror. In this mail she reflects not only on the homeland myth she was raised with but also on the need for Israel to atone rather then to continue to practice mass-murder, ethnic cleansing and contempt for another people. It’s a passionate piece written with honesty and compassion. (And follow one of the practical actions suggested at the end of the mail!)

[images inserted by me]

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Dear friends,

All day I’ve been thinking about Gaza, listening to reports on NPR, following the news on the internet when I can spare a moment.  I’ve been thinking about the friends I made there four years ago, and wondering how they are faring, and imagining their terror as the bombs fall on that giant, open-air prison.

The Israeli ambassador speaks movingly of the terror felt by Israeli children as Hamas rockets explode in the night.  I agree with him—that no child should have her sleep menaced by rocket fire, or wake in the night fearing death.

But I can’t help but remember one night on the Rafah border, sleeping in a house close to the line, watching the children dive for cover as bullets thudded into the walls. There was a shell-hole in the back room they liked to jump through into the garden, which at that time still held fruit trees and chickens.  Their mother fed me eggs, and their grandmother stuffed oranges into my pockets with the shy pride every gardener shares.

That house is gone, now, along with all of its neighbors.  Those children wake in the night, every night of their lives, in terror.  I don’t know if they have survived the hunger, the lack of medical supplies, the bombs.  I only know that they are children, too.

I’ve ridden on busses in Israel.  I understand that gnawing fear, the squirrely feeling in the pit or your stomach, how you eye your fellow passengers wondering if any of them are too thick around the middle. Could that portly fellow be wearing a suicide belt, or just too many late night snacks of hummus?  That’s no way to live.

But I’ve also walked the pock-marked streets of Rafah, where every house bears the scars of Israeli snipers, where tanks prowled the border every night, where children played in the rubble, sometimes under fire, and this was all four years ago, when things were much, much better there.

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And I just don’t get it.  I mean, I get why suicide bombs and homemade rockets that kill innocent civilians are wrong. I just don’t get why bombs from F16s that kill far more innocent civilians are right.  Why a kid from the ghetto who shoots a cop is a criminal, but a pilot who bombs a police station from the air is a hero.

Is it a distance thing?  Does the air or the altitude confer a purifying effect?  Or is it a matter of scale?  Individual murder is vile, but mass murder, carried out by a state as an aspect of national policy, that’s a fine and noble thing?

I don’t get how my own people can be doing this.  Or rather, I do get it.  I am a Jew, by birth and upbringing, born six years after the Holocaust ended, raised on the myth and hope of Israel.  The myth goes like this:

“For two thousand years we wandered in exile, homeless and persecuted, nearly destroyed utterly by the Nazis.  But out of that suffering was born one good thing—the homeland that we have come back to, our own land at last, where we can be safe, and proud, and strong.”

That’s a powerful story, a moving story.  There’s only one problem with it—it leaves the Palestinians out.  It has to leave them out, for if we were to admit that the homeland belonged to another people, well, that spoils the story.

The result is a kind of psychic blind spot where the Palestinians are concerned.  If you are truly invested in Israel as the Jewish homeland, the Jewish state, then you can’t let the Palestinians be real to you.  It’s like you can’t really focus on them.  Golda Meir said, “The Palestinians, who are they?  They don’t exist.”  We hear, “There is no partner for peace,”  “There is no one to talk to.”

PALESTINIANS-ISRAEL/VIOLENCEAnd so Israel, a modern state with high standards of hygiene, a state rooted in a religion that requires washing your hands before you eat and regular, ritual baths, builds settlements that don’t bother to construct sewage treatment plants. They just dump raw sewage onto the Palestinian fields across the fence, somewhat like a spaceship ejecting its wastes into the void.  I am truly not making this up—I’ve seen it, smelled it, and it’s a known though shameful fact.  But if the Palestinians aren’t really real—who are they?  They don’t exist!—then the land they inhabit becomes a kind of void in the psyche, and it isn’t really real, either.  At times, in those border villages, walking the fencelines of settlements, you feel like you have slipped into a science fiction movie, where parallel universes exist in the same space, but in different strands of reality, that never touch.

When I was on the West Bank, during Israeli incursions the Israeli military would often take over a Palestinian house to billet their soldiers.  Many times, they would simply lock the family who owned it into one room, and keep them there, sometimes for hours, sometimes for days—parents, grandparents, kids and all.  I’ve sat with a family, singing to the children while soldiers trashed their house, and I’ve been detained by a group of soldiers playing cards in the kitchen with a family locked in the other room.  (I got out of that one—but that’s another story.)

It’s a kind of uneasy feeling, having something locked away in a room in your house that you can’t look at.  Ever caught a mouse in a glue trap?  And you can’t bear to watch it suffer, so you leave the room and close the door and don’t come back until it’s really, really dead.

Like a horrific fractal, the locked room repeats on different scales.  The Israelis have built a wall to lock away the West Bank.  And Gaza itself is one huge, locked room.  Close the borders, keep food and medical supplies and necessities from getting through, and perhaps they will just quietly fade out of existence and stop spoiling our story.

“All we want is a return to calm,” the Israeli ambassador says.  “All we want is peace.”

One way to get peace is to exterminate what threatens you.  In fact, that may be the prime directive of the last few thousand years.

But attempts to exterminate pests breed resistance, whether you’re dealing with insects or bacteria or people.  The more insecticides you pour on a field, the more pests you have to deal with—because insecticides are always more potent at killing the beneficial bugs than the pesky ones.

The harshness, the crackdowns, the border closings, the checkpoints, the assassinations, the incursions, the building of settlements deep into Palestinian territory, all the daily frustrations and humiliations of occupation, have been breeding the conditions for Hamas, or something like it, to thrive.  If Israel truly wants peace, there’s a more subtle, a more intelligent and more effective strategy to pursue than simply trying to kill the enemy and anyone else who happens to be in the vicinity.

It’s this—instead of killing what threatens you, feed what you want to grow.  Consider in what conditions peace can thrive, and create them, just as you would prepare the bed for the crops you want to plant. Find those among your opponents who also want peace, and support them.  Make alliances.  Offer your enemies incentives to change, and reward your friends.

Of course, to follow such a strategy, you must actually see and know your enemy.  If they are nothing to you but cartoon characters of terrorists, you will not be able to tell one from another, to discern the religious fanatic from the guy muttering under his breath, “F-ing Hammas, they closed the cinema again!”

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And you must be willing to give something up.  No one gets peace if your basic bargaining position is, “I get everything I want, and you eat my shit.”  You might get a temporary victory, but it will never be a peaceful one.

To know and see the enemy, you must let them into the story.  They must become real to you, nuanced, distinctive as individuals.

But when we let the Palestinians into the story, it changes.  Oh, how painfully it changes!  For there is no way to tell a new story, one that includes both peoples of the land, without starting like this:

“In our yearning for a homeland, in our attempts as a threatened and traumatized people to find safety and power, we have done a great wrong to another people, and now we must atone.”

Just try saying it. If you, like me, were raised on that other story, just try this one out.  Say it three times.  It hurts, yes, but it might also bring a great, liberating sense of relief with it.

And if you’re not Jewish, if you’re American, if you’re white, if you’re German, if you’re a thousand other things, really, if you’re a human being, there’s probably some version of that story that is true for you.

Out of our own great need and fear and pain, we have often done great harm, and we are called to atone.  To atone is to be at one—to stop drawing a circle that includes our tribe and excludes the other, and start drawing a larger circle that takes everyone in.

How do we atone? Open your eyes.  Look into the face of the enemy, and see a human being, flawed, distinct, unique and precious.  Stop killing.  Start talking. Compost the shit and the rot and feed the olive trees.

Act.  Cross the line.  There are Israelis who do it all the time, joining with Palestinians on the West Bank to protest the wall, watching at checkpoints, refusing to serve in the occupying army, standing for peace.  Thousands have demonstrated this week in Tel Aviv.

There are Palestinians who advocate nonviolent resistance, who have organized their villages to protest the wall, who face tear gas, beatings, arrests, rubber bullets and real bullets to make their stand.

There are internationals who have put themselves on the line—like the boatload of human rights activists, journalists and doctors on board the Dignity, the ship from the Free Gaza movement that was rammed and fired on by the Israeli navy yesterday as it attempted to reach Gaza with humanitarian aid.

Maybe we can’t all do that. But we can all write a letter, make a phone call, send an email. We can make the Palestinian people visible to us, and to the world.  When we do so, we make a world that is safer for every child.

Below is a good summary of some of the actions we can take.

Please feel free to repost this. In fact, send it to someone you think will disagree with it.
Starhawk

www.starhawk.org

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Updated Action Alert on Gaza:
We Need “Sustained, Determined Political Action”
December 29, 2008

As of this writing, a third consecutive day of Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip have killed an estimated 315 Palestinians and injured more than 1,400.  According to the UN, at least 51 of the victims were civilians and 8 were children.  Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has vowed ominously “a war to the bitter end.”

Israel’s attacks on the Gaza Strip are being carried out with F16 fighter jets, Apache helicopters, and naval gunboats all given to Israel by the United States with our tax dollars.

From 2001-2006, the United States transferred to Israel more than $200 million worth of spare parts to fly its fleet of F16’s and more than $100 million worth of helicopter spare parts for its fleet of Apaches. In July 2008, the United States gave Israel 186 million gallons of JP-8 aviation jet fuel and signed a contract to transfer an addition $1.9 billion worth of littoral combat ships to the Israeli navy. Last year, the United States signed a $1.3 billion contract with Raytheon to transfer to Israel thousands of TOW, Hellfire, and “bunker buster” missiles.

Make no mistake about it-Israel’s war on the Gaza Strip would not be possible without the jets, helicopters, ships, missiles, and fuel provided by the United States.

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Ali Abunimah, of The Electronic Intifada, wrote, “Palestinians everywhere are asking for solidarity, real solidarity, in the form of sustained, determined political action.”  In light of our country’s enabling role in Israel’s war on the Gaza Strip, it is the least we can do.  Here’s how:

1. Attend a protest or vigil. We’ve compiled a list of more than 60 emergency protests taking place in 25 states and the District of Columbia, many of which are taking place today or tomorrow. Find one near you and bring as many people to it as you can. If you know of a protest that isn’t listed on our website, please send us all the logistical details and contact information by clicking here. More events are being posted all the time-check back frequently for the latest updates.  

2. Contact the White House, the State Department, your Representative and Senators, and the Obama Transition Team to protest Israel’s war on Gaza and demand an immediate cease-fire.

3. Make your voice heard in the media. Contact your local media by phoning into a talk show or writing a letter to the editor. To find contact info for your local media, click here.

4. Tell President-Elect Barack Obama that ” We Need a Change in Israel/Palestine Policy. Join more than 200 organizations in 38 states plus Washington, DC and abroad and thousands of individuals by endorsing this letter which will be published as a full-page ad on Inauguration Day.  Let all your friends know by copying and pasting the graphic below into your email signature, blog, or website and by joining our Facebook group.

5. Sign up to organize people in your community to end U.S. military aid to Israel. We’ll send you an organizing packet complete with our brand new postcards featuring the icon below. If we’re going to change U.S. policy, we’ve got to go beyond agreeing among ourselves and educate and organize others as well. Sign up today and we’ll send you a package tomorrow by clicking here.

6. Join us in Washington, DC for Inauguration Day on January 20. Upwards of 4 million people are expected in Washington, DC for President-Elect Obama’s inauguration. This is a perfect time for us to reach out to and educate our fellow citizens about U.S. policy toward Palestine/Israel. If you plan to be in Washington for the inauguration and would like to help us distribute information and get signatures on postcards calling for a cut off of arms transfers to Israel, please click here.

7. Join us again in Washington, DC for a Grassroots Advocacy Training and Lobby Day on February 1-2. Interfaith Peace-Builders and the US Campaign are organizing this exciting two-day event, featuring interactive, skills-building workshops and the chance to meet with your Representative and Senators to discuss U.S. policy toward Israel/Palestine. Spaces are filling up fast. For more details, and to register, please click here.

8. Forward this email to everyone you know and ask them to take action.

Thank you for doing all you can during this tragic time. US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation DONATE | SUBSCRIBE

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Odetta Holmes, simply known as Odetta passed away at the beginning of this month. Like Mama Africa (Miriam Makeba) she was one of the great black women using music to inspire and call on people to fight for Human Rights. What Makeba did against apartheid in South Africa, Odetta did for Civil Rights in America. 

In 1961, Martin Luther King, Jr. anointed her “The Queen of American folk music” and many Americans remember her performance at the 1963 civil rights movement’s march to Washington where she sang “O Freedom.” When Rosa Parks was asked which songs meant the most to her, she replied, “All of the songs Odetta sings.” 

With a repertoire that included 19th century slave songs and spirituals as well as the topical ballads of such 20th century folk icons as Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, Odetta became one of the most beloved figures in folk music. She was said to have influenced the emergence of artists as varied as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Janis Joplin and Tracy Chapman [BrooklynVegan]. “The first thing that turned me on to folk singing was Odetta,” Dylan once said. [Los Angeles Times]

There’s plenty of information on her on Wikipedia and on the net in general;  Democracy Now! made an interesting interview on Odetta with Bernice Johnson Reagon, another legendary Civil Rights activist and original member of the SNCC Freedom Singers and founder of the all-female, African American acapella group Sweet Honey in the Rock.

Here are some examples of Odetta’s sometimes chillingly moving and haunting repertoire. Teary stuff.

Malcolm Brown, Sydney Morning Herald
December 30, 2008

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THEY’RE sneaky, they’re bitey, and they’re out and about. Funnel web spiders are on their mating prowl more than a month earlier than usual.

Mary Rayner, general manager of the Australian Reptile Park, said that in the past few weeks up to 40 funnel webs had been delivered to the park, which milks their venom for CSL Limited.

“Normally we are down to two or three funnel webs, till February, but now they have come out very early,” Ms Rayner said.

“In November, a two-year-old boy was bitten at Cooranbong [near Lake Macquarie] when a funnel web got into his gumboot. He called out to his mother that there was a stick in his gumboot, but it was a spider.”

The boy, Jack Gaffney, was bitten. His mother, Leonie, called an ambulance and soon after it arrived he began vomiting, convulsing and struggling to breathe.

“It was frightening,” his father, Luke Gaffney, said yesterday. “The ambulance treated him. They also caught the spider. They got Jack to Wyong Hospital, where he got anti-venom, then he was taken by Child Flight to Westmead Hospital, where he went into intensive care.”

Ms Rayner said experts were not sure whether the spiders have been brought out by the ground temperature or by the rain after the drought.

“The males are out looking for a mate,” she said. “They require moisture to travel. They come out at the dead of night, and once the sun comes up they have got to get to cover or they will shrivel up and die in a few minutes.”

Scuttling out of the sunlight, funnel webs go in search of dark spaces such as Jack Gaffney’s gumboot. They can climb into any shoes, dark spaces in or under the house, into the folds of towels and between backyard rockery.

The last time a funnel web killed someone was in early 1980, when a two-year-old boy was bitten. The anti-venom became available that year and there has not been a death since.

But up to 12 people have been bitten each year in Australia since then, and most of those bites could have been fatal if help had not been immediately called.

There are about 40 species of the spider in Australia, but the deadliest are on the east coast, between Toowoomba and the Victorian boarder.

Among the deadliest is the paperbark funnel web, which has a bite so toxic that 17 ampules of anti-venom were required to treat one victim.

The most anti-venom used to treat a victim of the Sydney funnel web is five or six ampules.

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Through the Amy Stein | Photography | Blog I came across the Australian photographer Graham Miller, which is not surprising given that both artists seem to share a fascination for suburbia, its people and cultural accessories as well as the sense of “isolation from community, culture and the environment” (Stein) that seems to pervade much of the suburban emotional landscape here and probably in the US.

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Miller’s says in an interview with Stein that his work is strongly influenced by short story writer and poet Raymond Carver. Carver’s work reflects the life of the working class, whose characters often experience isolation, marginalisation, sadness and loss as part of everyday existence. The lives of these ordinary people could be aptly described with Henry David Thoreau‘s idea of living lives of “quiet desperation.” 

This is exactly what Miller’s photos capture and express. And like Carver he does it in a way that the former once described as being “inclined toward brevity and intensity”; Stein calls it befittingly “laconic intensity”. When reflecting on Carver’s work and ultimately on his own Miller talks about “… sketching out the bare outlines of a story with telling details and simple dialogue. He lets the reader’s imagination embellish the rest. His stories are lean but powerful, taking fragments from the lives of regular people and putting a magnifying glass on them for a brief period of time. They are stories of loss, broken relationships and struggle, told in a way that pulls at your gut.” And he mentions that Carver’s stories “are often unresolved, leaving you hanging to try and make sense of what has just taken place or what was about to happen”. 

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Miller quotes Carver who in turn quotes V.S. Pritchett’s description of the short story as “something glimpsed from the corner of the eye, in passing. First the glimpse, the glimpse given life, turned into something that will illuminate the moment and just maybe lock it indelibly into the reader’s consciousness.” Carver goes on saying that he very often just catches a brief glimpse of something and a while later then begins to see this hurried image settling into a scene, a stage that he then populates with characters.

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That brings me to a critique apparently levelled at both Miller and Stein: that their images are being staged. What’s wrong with that? We go to see plays or movies; in fact, documentaries are right at the almost imperceptible bottom of public taste. We also read fiction as well as non-fiction, without ever complaining about the former being less valuable than the latter because it’s fantasy. But when it comes to taking photos, we somehow have this illusion of ‘truth’ attached to the actual image. The fact is, there’s never been a single photo in the whole history of photography that stood for truth – and that includes every snap we take and every ‘documentary’ image ever shot. Apart from the artificiality of the discriminatory distinction between photographs and the rest of the world of art objects, the differentiation between photos depicting ‘reality’ and those being staged is complete nonsense – they all are a window into the unique world of the photographer, not into whatever reality might exist out there.

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Back to Miller’s actual work: Amy Stein’s interview with him, by which my own thoughts about Miller’s work have been inspired, has a lot more to say about the artist. In it Miller talks his appreciation of the “theatricality and artifice” in  Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s work, makes reference to other photographic artists and filmmakers and about why he agrees with Stein that there is some ‘American’ about his own photos. The interview is well worth reading.

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I f0und this Carver poem on Miller’s website, which wonderfully describes the subtleties that we can imagine underlieing Miller’s imagery, the dreams and hope in that quiet despair of life …

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All these images were taken from Graham Miller’s Suburban Splendour series, and it’s more than worth it having a look at the rest of the series; after all, this is MY subjective selection out of 30 photos. He’s also got two other portfolios: The Performance of Everyday Life and Erick’s Cafe and other stories that are sometimes hilarious but always deeply reflective, meaningful depictions of his take on reality.

 

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Torrent downloads can be kind of a crap shoot. If you’d like a little reassurance about what you’re about to download, take a look at Vertor.

The service launched recently and provides automated checking of torrents from a number of trackers, like Pirate Bay, Demonoid, and several others. To date, the service has verified more than 140,000 torrents.

20 second MP3 clips are provided to let you preview album downloads. Movies and TV shows display screencaps taken at regular intervals (usually every 10 or 15 minutes) during playback. The contents of text files (like NFOs) packed with applications and games are also posted.

All downloads are also scanned with antivirus software, though they’re currently dissatisfied with its performance. It’s slated for replacement with a more reliable engine on December 30, 2008. Even in its present state, it’s still more of a reassurance than most other torrent sites provide.

Already downloaded something from another tracker? Using Vertor’s advanced options menu you can enter the hash code and see the results of their checks, provided Vertor has grabbed the torrent.

Thanks, DownloadSquat  for this post and Harry for pointing me it out to me!

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Before listening recently to the words of a hatred filled woman talking about gunning down Afro-Americans in the wake of Katrina, it hadn’t really crossed my mind to associate women with guns. Far from being sexist, I somehow had the notion of a wiser and more gentle gender, of women by their very nature being more linked to nurturing than to killing. But I obviously was naive in my generalising assumptions (certainly about American women), and I now wouldn’t be surprised if I’m still underestimating the numbers of gun toting women.

Especially after seeing  Amy Stein‘s series of “women and guns”. Stein is not only a renowned emerging American photographer, but also holds a BSc in Political Science from James Madison University and a MSc in Political Science from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland; I therefore like to assume her being part of the liberal thinking US arts elite. So even if many (or maybe all) of her image sets are staged, I would not be astounded anymore if she presents us with a facet of the empire that, while not startling, is quite disturbing.

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Communist architecture wasn’t exactly known for aesthetic beauty or bold futuristic design. The only exception I’m aware of so far (and there are probably a handful of  others) was the colossal Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang, which remained a shell coz the regime ran out of money. Here though is another, much more modest example (in a round-about way): the Danube Flower building in Belgrade, Serbia. 

It was built in the early seventies, sponsored by the communist government of the time and championed by the then ubiquitous dictator president J.B.Tito, who also was the first diner at its elite restaurant on November 22nd, 1973. It was a famed hangout spot first for the regime’s rich and infamous until its decay in the nineties; its final closure coincided with the start of the civil war in the country

Architecturally it’s quite interesting, as described by the mob who was charged with revitalising it: “In many ways the building is particular but above all for its synthesis between architectural and structural reasoning. The main volume of the building, triangular in plan, is elevated some fifteen meters above the river and the ground level with the pedestrian esplanade. It is supported solely by the central core which contains two elevator shafts and double spiral staircase. Cantilevers are reaching out some twelve meters giving a levitating feel to the building. In addition one more structural move is crucial for seamless interaction between exterior and interior of the building. Concrete floor-slab and ceiling shell are not connected at the perimeter of the building, allowing for the continuity of the glass façade to the full extent. Uninterrupted glass strip, with the total length of 150 meters, is wrapping around the building to give constant presence of the Danube River in the interior, with sweeping views reaching far out, both upstream and downstream.”

Now it has become an up-market gym (funny how it seems to remain a spot that’s out of reach for the plebs). Called ‘Sky Wellness’ and therefore conjuring up feelings of light and spaciousness, the idea took hold that visitors should be getting an impression of entering a cloud on arrival. In response the floating designers “opted for reflective resin floor finishes throughout and a semi translucent Barrisol stretched ceiling; both aiming to expose sleek forms of Technogym training equipment in the open plan arrangement”. To break free from the original equilateral triangular grid design and get the cloud feel, the designers replaced the ceiling with approximately 390 backlit panels that, varying in shape and size, are suspended from the triangular steel construction. 

I could think of softer cloud material but: it doesn’t look bad. I bet though these guys never had any sleepless nights over the state of the environment: I doubt for example that the ceiling is backlit by skylights or, certainly at night, illuminated by LED bulbs. I also wonder about all the chemicals used in the production of the ceiling panels and the floor resin, leave alone the embodied energy factor or the health-conscious breathing in mega volumes of solvents and other nasties. I guess the old communist adages of carelessness and grandeur morphed seamlessly into the capitalist combo notion of design and material misuse, and therefore won’t make this building shortlisted any time soon for the next sustainable architecture/interior design award.

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