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This bike theft story will make you feel fantastic about being a Portlander

Posted by on February 24th, 2014 at 11:21 am

Sarah Mirk with the bicycle that was stolen from her Friday night.
(Photos by M.Andersen/BikePortland)

The man was calling, he told Sarah Mirk, from the free phone at Good Samaritan Medical Center.

“I Have your bike,” he’d written in an email to her a few minutes before. “Please e-mail a phone #. as I am not well connected.”

It was two days ago, Saturday afternoon. Mirk, 27, had spent much of the day in a Stumptown Coffee shop, she later explained, “glaring at everybody who went by and thinking ‘maybe you stole my bike.'”

No one could have blamed Mirk for being upset. Her missing ride was a bright blue Univega Via Carisma she’d bought for $360 from the Community Cycling Center on her third day in Portland, in 2008. Mirk, who works as the online editor for Bitch Media, doesn’t own a car and says she’s ridden the bike every day since. She’d added a $200 hub-powered light, matching red grips and pedals and locked everything with a hex key to make it harder to strip for parts.

“I was like, I’ve been worrying about this day for six years and it’s finally here. There was nothing I could do.”
— Sarah Mirk, bike theft victim

Then, on Friday night, she’d walked out of a movie at the Fox Tower theater to see her u-lock dangling from the rack where she thought she’d secured her bike.

“I was like, I’ve been worrying about this day for six years and it’s finally here,” Mirk said. “There was nothing I could do.”

Well, almost nothing. After writing an investigation of bike theft for the Portland Mercury in 2010, Mirk had been inspired to finally take a photo of her bicycle and record its serial number. She dug both up, shared the photo on social media and submitted theft reports to both the police and BikePortland’s Stolen Bike Listings.

Now she was on the phone with Jeffrey, the “not well connected” man who claimed to have her bicycle. (Note: we’ve removed his last name from the story for his privacy.)

How did you get it? she asked.

On Friday night, he said, he’d been at Operation Nightwatch, a downtown recreation center for people who are homeless, and bought it from “a tweaker” for $20. The next day, he looked closer at the bike.

“It seemed like it had been ridden a lot,” he told Mirk. “It looks well-loved.”

So on Saturday afternoon, Jeffrey said, he went to a public library and Googled his way to her stolen bike listing. He’d left a comment and emailed her.

“There was a $100 reward,” she said. “Do you want it?” “Well, $100 seems excessive,” he replied.

“I said there was a $100 reward,” Mirk said. “Do you want it?”

“Well, $100 seems excessive,” he replied.

“How about $40?” she asked.

“That’s what I was going to suggest,” he said.

They made plans to meet immediately, in Couch Park at 6 p.m. She considered calling the police, but didn’t want them to be involved because she didn’t want the man to get in trouble.

“I just don’t think it’s useful for people to go to jail,” she said. “It’s better just to talk it out than to threaten somebody.”

He’d suggested that she bring a friend. She didn’t bother.

“I was thinking, the worst that could happen is I don’t get my bike back,” Mirk said later. But she did tweet an update:

When she got to the park, a “scruffy-looking street dude” with long white hair, maybe in his late 40s, was waiting there, with a male friend. Mirk’s bike was there too, locked to a tree.

“Oh hey, I thought you’d be tall,” he told her. “I was riding it around. This bike is sweet. It hauls ass.”

Mirk handed him the $40 and thanked him. He unlocked her bike, they wished each other well. Mirk rode off and tweeted again:

“My bike is totally intact,” Mirk said in an interview Sunday afternoon. “Nothing is taken off of it.”

I asked Mirk whether she thought Jeffrey had been the thief. She didn’t think so.

“He could be lying,” she said. “Which would be fine, I guess. He seemed to me like a really nice guy and was trying to do the right thing. … I know it’s unlikely. But sometimes people are just friendly, you know? Sometimes good things just happen.”

Do they? I decided to try to find out.

After meeting Mirk Sunday afternoon, I pedaled down to the Operation Nightwatch hospitality center, in St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church. They were just cleaning up after a meal. I asked a few people there if they knew a possibly homeless man in his late 40s with long white hair named Jeffrey, who had been there on Friday night. One guest said he knew him, but wasn’t sure where he was staying — maybe under the Morrison or Burnside bridges. I gave him my number and email on a slip of paper and headed back to my own bike.

After I unlocked but before pulling away, I decided to try one last person — the bushy-haired man sitting on the stoop of the church in an old baseball cap.

“Hey, this is a long shot but I’m looking for a guy named Jeffrey,” I said. “He helped a woman get her bike back the other night.”

Xavior Viator.

The man stared at me and laughed.

“The Univega?” he said.

I sat down beside him on the stoop.

“Jeffrey lives in the woods,” said the man, who gave his own name as Xavier Viator. “I don’t think you’re going to find him.”

Viator, who called himself a traveler, said he’d known Jeffrey, who he described as “a third-generation Oregonian,” since the mid-1990s.

“Did you see the transaction?” I asked Viator.

“It was right here,” Viator said, gesturing to the staple where I’d leaned my bike. “It was just some tweaker-looking guy that was like, ‘You want to buy a bike?’ We were like, ‘What kind?’ and he was like, ‘Just a sec, let me look,’ so it was obvious he’d stolen it.”

Jeffrey had piped up, Viator said. “I got $10,” he told the thief.

“Not $20?” the thief said.

Sorry, Jeffrey had replied.

“Our main objective was to get rid of that tweaker guy,” Viator recalled. “It was just out of the blue, you know?”

After getting the bike back, Jeffrey told Viator that he’d try to look it up on Craigslist to find the owner.

“He’s a good guy,” Viator said. “His dad’s a doctor, something like that. He was raised the old-school way that stuff that’s not yours, you don’t keep.”

“Would you describe him as homeless by choice?” I asked Viator. “What’s his deal?”

“Unfortunate circumstances,” Viator said carefully. “Basically he’s got a degree and he can’t use it. I don’t know why. He used to work for Mighty, an auto-parts place on the other side of the river. The chain stores took away their business so he lost his job.”

“He’s a good guy,” Viator added, and laughed. “You can tell he’s got a good head on his shoulders because he brags about it. Kind of one of those types of people where even though you’re homeless, you’ve got that rich-kid attitude. It annoys us sometimes, but Jeffrey’s Jeffrey. Everybody’s got their personalities.”

I thanked Viator. He seemed pleased to talk about the incident.

“Just goes to show, not all homeless people are the same,” Viator said. “As if just because you’re homeless, you’re not going to do an outstanding thing as a Portlander.”

— Story by Michael Andersen

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

  • q`Tzal February 24, 2014 at 11:48 am


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  • Eric February 24, 2014 at 11:49 am

    Touching story, but maybe she should have locked her bike up.

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    • Tyler February 24, 2014 at 12:45 pm

      Stop blaming the victim.

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      • Eric February 24, 2014 at 1:28 pm

        Maybe she shouldn’t be riding something that she didn’t want stolen. I’m pretty sure that’s a near direct quote from one of the regulars on this site.

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        • scott February 24, 2014 at 3:27 pm

          Yeah man. You’re on turbo about a mistake. Ease back.

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        • Caleb February 24, 2014 at 3:29 pm

          Unless it’s a quote from Sarah Mirk, I’d say it’s irrelevant. “Should” is only a matter of opinion, after all, and she has her own.

          But let’s pretend your logic stands in the context of other crimes. What if we want to avoid being murdered? Maybe we “should” never leave our home. But people can intrude in our homes, so maybe we “should” not live in homes. But then we’re outside where people can get to us, so what are we to do? Maybe we “should” just kill ourselves to prevent someone else murdering us.

          I imagine other people could come up with much healthier alternatives, but maybe people who commit crimes against others “should” just stop committing crimes against others, as that’s the root cause of things like bicycles being stolen. Oh, but people tell me frequently how that’s just an unrealistic ideal since there’s “human nature” and all that. Our “should” applied to others doesn’t amount to much, if you ask me.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) February 24, 2014 at 1:28 pm

      Yo, chill out Eric. Have to say I’ve done that before too… Where I get distracted or for some reason forget to finish locking my bike.

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    • Sarah Mirk February 24, 2014 at 1:37 pm

      Thanks for the pro tip, Eric! I hadn’t previously considered locking my bike. I’ll have to give that a shot on my next ride!

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      • Teo Fieldwood February 24, 2014 at 11:34 pm

        Here’s another story you might enjoy, To Punish the Bike Thief:

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      • BicycleDave February 25, 2014 at 2:39 pm

        I’ve got a few pro tips for anyone who’ll listen:
        Never get involved in a land war in Asia.
        Never go in against a Sicilian when DEATH is on the line!
        Never try to match wits with a professional writer/editor.

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    • Spiffy February 25, 2014 at 8:04 am

      because locked bikes never get stolen?

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  • dmc February 24, 2014 at 11:56 am

    happy dmc

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  • Todd Hudson February 24, 2014 at 12:05 pm

    That’s a great story! It’s great there’s very honest folks to counter the ones that aren’t.

    How did thief defeat her bike security? The article states that Sarah walked out to see “the U-Lock dangling from the rack”, which sounds like it was intact.

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    • Eric February 24, 2014 at 12:08 pm

      She never locked her bike up to begin with. That’s how the thief defeated her bike “security”.

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      • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
        Michael Andersen (News Editor) February 24, 2014 at 12:29 pm

        I didn’t fit this into the story, but Mirk said she was distracted on her way into the theater because a friend walked past just as she was locking, and presumably she just locked the lock to the rack. I’ve made the same mistake a couple times myself – always lucked out, fortunately. But those staples by the Fox Tower are really spread out so this’d be especially easy to spot.

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        • Scott Mizée February 24, 2014 at 12:33 pm

          ah, thanks for clearing that up… now I understand. important detail Michael. (oh, and apologies for not noticing YOU wrote the story–not Jonathan)

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        • Todd Hudson February 24, 2014 at 12:46 pm

          Yep, I’ve made that mistake a couple of times – once with a $2500 cargo bike. Fortunately, it was still there when I returned (and even still, my heart sank to my stomach when I saw I didn’t lock it).

          Unfortunately, Portland has too many tweakers that spend their entire day searching for locking mistakes and cable locks. Fortunately, there are good samaritans to counter some of them.

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          • GlowBoy February 24, 2014 at 4:16 pm

            90% of us have made this mistake before. The other 10% are lying. There but for the grace of (insert deity or random event generator of your choice) go I.

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      • Miss Forpe Stubb February 24, 2014 at 2:00 pm

        Oh sh*&%t! I just assumed the ‘dangling’ was from being cut. Guess this validates my check – check – walk back and check again… before leaving my bike locked!

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  • Scott Mizée February 24, 2014 at 12:25 pm

    I’m also curious how the theif defeated her u-lock. Can you please explain this, Jonathan?

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  • scott February 24, 2014 at 12:29 pm

    She missed.

    It happens to the best of us. Not paying attention because you are excited about whatever or in a hurry to get wherever.

    We used to call it ghost-locking.

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  • Carl February 24, 2014 at 12:39 pm

    Yup. I’ll never forget grabbing my bike to “unlock” it downtown, only to have the u-lock clatter to the ground, locked only around the rack. I felt like such an idiot but given the thousands of times I’ve locked a bike up, I was bound to flub it up at some point.

    The main thing, here, is that a generous and kind character, coupled with Sarah’s quick action and BikePortland’s stolen bike listings, really saved the day.

    The was-he-telling-the-truth follow-up felt a little weird but it’s rare to get a glimpse at the truth between incidents like this. I’m glad Michael found someone who could shed some like on it.

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  • Brendan February 24, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    I saw Jeffrey on NW 22nd and Glisan on Saturday afternoon riding this bike. Must have been just before he met Sarah.

    The thing that made me think twice about it was a man riding on the sidewalk with a bike that had a hub generator and nice fork crown mounted light.

    I’m so happy Sarah got her bike back.

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  • Andrew K February 24, 2014 at 12:52 pm

    I have done that very same thing with my U-Lock as well. Amazing how easy it is to do if you get distracted or just aren’t paying much attention. Fortunately when I’ve done it has been in the secure bike cage at my work so the U-Lock is really only protecting me from my own co-workers.

    Great story!

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  • mran1984 February 24, 2014 at 12:58 pm

    Don’t be too critical in regards to the lock issue. Most of you don’t even know how to wear your helmet. Cheers to the returned bike.

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    • Greg March 1, 2014 at 12:06 am

      I wear my non-helmet properly every time 😉

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  • ralph February 24, 2014 at 12:59 pm

    There’s also ‘ghost-hitching’ apparently. I was loading my bike on a trunk carrier and got distracted by conversation. Had headlights aflashing me on 205 as I was sending sparks from my front wheel dragging on pavement. Only got it half hitched. I have never and will never repeat that mistake.

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  • K February 24, 2014 at 1:25 pm

    I had my beloved no name, hand built, scratched-up, single speed stolen around the corner from The Fox Theater. I don’t lock up around there anymore, especially at night. Anyone know of better locations near by? Maybe more well lit and watched? Good security?

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  • Lenny Anderson
    Lenny Anderson February 24, 2014 at 1:37 pm

    FYI, Sarah wrote a great piece on the CRC for the Merc a few years ago. I miss her reporting in that rag.
    Sarah! Congrats on a great story with a happy ending! and Michael,thanks for an informative follow up.

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    • MaxD February 24, 2014 at 5:10 pm

      THAT is why I recognized her name!

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  • Patty February 24, 2014 at 1:47 pm

    Such a good story, thank you! And quit ragging on an honest mistake. Who hasn’t made one? Thanks to those who came to her defense. Sheesh.

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  • Kasandra February 24, 2014 at 1:58 pm

    I love the story, but I also love that picture! Such great colors!

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  • Adam February 24, 2014 at 2:17 pm

    The time I am most likely to forget to u lock to my bike is when I am dealing with seemingly a billion other things involving locking up – removing my front and rear lights; unhooking panniers, putting raincover on seat etc etc. I’ve locked to a staple but not bike before, like most people. Now, I try to do things in sequence – ulock first, then lights etc!

    The other thing I always try to remember is, there are people out there whose job title is “CEO, Bike Thief Plc.” It took me years to realize this. I always thought bike theft was happenstance, for years and years. Like, somebody just happened to be walking by on their way somewhere like the grocery store, saw my badly locked bike, and stole it.

    I now know, bike theft is a full time job. There are people out there should wake up every morning, and go out to work stealing bikes. They scour every bike rack, streetlight post, stop sign pole, bike corral for bikes to steal.

    Once I realized this, I began locking up my bike real, real good.

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  • Crystal February 24, 2014 at 2:50 pm

    Does he need a bike? I don’t live in Portland, but I would buy him a bike if he wants one. 20 bucks must have been a lot of money for him.

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  • Jill C February 24, 2014 at 3:15 pm

    I had a bike stolen a few years back, and also somehow had the serial number and a photo. I also filed a police report and listed it on Bike Portland. Thanks to Bike Portland someone who went to buy my bike from an add they found on Craig’s List actually typed the serial number into google on their phone and the Bike Portland report of my stolen bike came up.

    They called me and told me address of the guys who was selling so the Police got it back for me. It only took a year and a half but because there are awesome, conscientious people out there, I got my bike back. Yay for Humanity!

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    • Anna February 24, 2014 at 8:55 pm

      I got my stolen bike back last year because of the Bike Portland listings too! Five months after it disappeared someone saw it for sale on CL, thought it seemed suspicious and looked it up, and sent me an email. The next day I contacted the thief and made plans to “test ride” it, and I just rode it away. I’d tried to get the cops to help me several times but they refused, saying they don’t have the time or manpower to deal with recovering stolen bikes.

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  • Ted Buehler February 24, 2014 at 3:41 pm

    Nice reporting, interesting to hear the details of the process.

    Tweakers have offered me bikes for $20 in Old Town, I’ve turned them down because I didn’t have the time or energy to figure out how to find the owner. I suppose it isn’t that hard.

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  • Lori February 24, 2014 at 4:46 pm

    I’m curious why you blacked out Sara’s email address but not Jeffrey’s? Considering you couldn’t locate him it sounds like he doesn’t really want to be found. I think it unlikely he’d want his email address made public like this.

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    • Lori February 24, 2014 at 4:48 pm

      Ah. Nevermind. I see it’s a temp email. Sorry.

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  • JohnS. February 24, 2014 at 5:06 pm

    A couple of times, if not more, I’ve left my keys at home and just wrapped the cable lock around the bike and rack and hoped for the best. Fortunately the bike was there when I came out of the store.

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  • Jolly Dodger February 24, 2014 at 5:19 pm

    Glad to know there are people out there looking out for our friends. Happy for Sarah she got her bike back in good condition.

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  • maxadders February 24, 2014 at 7:57 pm

    Well, good thing it was only a cheap old Univega that she didn’t have much money or sentimentality sunk into…oh, wait, too late

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  • aaronf February 24, 2014 at 9:13 pm

    She talked him down to a $40 reward. Who would/could have deserved the $100 I wonder.

    This story would make me feel fantastic about being a homeless Portlander!

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  • reader February 24, 2014 at 10:37 pm

    i once went to an open mic at a coffee shop. i stayed for a while and then decided to bike home. i unlocked my bike before i realized i left my backpack inside so i went back in to get it, completely forgetting to lock my bike again. when i got back inside, an interesting performer took the stage so i sat down and stayed. my bike wasn’t taken but i was so freaked out when i realized there was no lock on it.

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  • dwainedibbly February 25, 2014 at 5:03 am

    I don’t know how many times I have walked back to my bike after locking just to make sure that I locked it properly. OCD? No, more like paranoia.

    Glad to see that Sarah got her bike back!

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  • Nicole Mallette Giesler February 25, 2014 at 10:31 am

    I am quite certain my brother Roger Mallette, founder of Retro Image Apparel, would have shared this story to all he knew…’s an incredible story, and it is yet another example of why he came to call Portland his home.

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  • joel February 25, 2014 at 2:19 pm

    once because i spaced it i forgot to lock my bike at all in front of powells books. ten hours later after work i found my bike still there where i left it. crazy.

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  • Norma February 26, 2014 at 1:23 am

    Another great Portland story from an LA visitor…my spouse got off your light rail and realized she had left backpack with computer on train. Distraught! We stationed ourselves at train station coming from reverse direction. A young downtown security patrol man searched every passing train, every car and found it intact where she had left it. We were so happy and disbelieving. Thanks, Portlanders!

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  • Paul February 26, 2014 at 3:57 pm

    Jeffrey says he paid $20, Viator says he paid $10. Just an inconsistency that I noticed.
    I can see how stealing bikes and collecting rewards from owners could be a lucrative endeavor in Portland.

    **Note: I’ve edited this comment to remove Jeffrey’s last name, for privacy reasons. -MA**

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    • Aaronf February 26, 2014 at 7:59 pm

      Good catch! We only know that Xavier Viator (if that’s his real name) says Scruffy Jeffrey paid $10. All we know for sure is that one of Them homeless stole it.

      Next time I hope Michael can find the guy out in the woods. That story would pound the crap out of “I crouched next to him on the stoop.” Or if a non-homeless person finds a bike, maybe go to their job and ask coworkers if they are honest/sketchy. Lol

      Maus: I think you might have missed another last name post (his sister!)

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  • Libertarian March 1, 2014 at 8:19 am

    Reducing the reward was tacky, at best. Especially for a homeless guy. TACKY!

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    • Caleb March 3, 2014 at 2:13 pm

      In the article I find no reason to agree with your opinion. Would you be willing to explain the reasoning leading to it?

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