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In Python 2, if you have a series of bytes -or- a "string", the language has no opinion about the encoding

This is incorrect. Python 2 lets you get away with a lot of things, but some string-y operations on Python 2 bytestrings will still trip the "need to know the encoding" issue. And absent you telling it the encoding, Python 2 will assume ASCII and begin throwing exceptions as soon as it sees a byte outside the ASCII range.

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