Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for November 10th, 2009

Words to ponder re: Medical malpractice

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From The Medical Malpractice Myth:



Written by Leisureguy

10 November 2009 at 8:33 pm


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I generally don’t comment on war news, but this is exceptional. Dexter Filkins in the NY Times:

With fertilizer bombs now the most lethal weapons used against American and NATO soldiers in southern Afghanistan, the bomb-making operation in Kandahar was something close to astonishing.

In a pair of raids on Sunday, Afghan police officers and American soldiers discovered a half-million pounds of ammonium nitrate, a fertilizer that is used in the overwhelming majority of homemade bombs here. About 2,000 bomb-making devices like timers and triggers were also found, and 15 Afghans were detained.

With a typical homemade bomb weighing no more than 60 pounds, the seizure of that much fertilizer — more than 10 tractor-trailer loads — removed potentially thousands of bombs from the streets and trails of southern Afghanistan, officials said.

“You can turn a bag of ammonium nitrate into a bomb in a matter of hours,” said Col. Mark Lee, who leads NATO’s effort to stop the bomb makers in southern Afghanistan. “This is a great first step.”

The operation in the southern city of Kandahar, which was announced Tuesday, is by far the largest of its type. Ammonium nitrate is illegal in Afghanistan; farmers here are allowed to use other types of fertilizer, like those that are urea-based, on their crops. Most of the ammonium nitrate fertilizer in Afghanistan is believed to be imported from Pakistan.

Ammonium nitrate has long been used as both a fertilizer and an explosive. Timothy J. McVeigh and Terry L. Nichols used a 600-pound ammonium nitrate bomb, mixed with fuel oil, to attack the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995. The attack killed 168 people…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 November 2009 at 5:42 pm

Posted in Afghanistan War


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Just back from the library, having returned Lev Grossman’s The Magicians (on which there are currently 7 holds—quite a popular book). I checked out Lev Grossman’s Codex, Alison Gopnik’s The Philosophical Baby: What Children’s Minds Tell Us About Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life, and Tom Baker’s The Medical Malpractice Myth.

I’ve already learned that the medical malpractice myth has deep roots. It started in the 1970’s, with the message, "Medical malpractice insurance premiums are going through the roof. Frivolous litigation and runaway juries will drive doctors out of the profession." The medical societies—and the insurance companies—said that the answer was medical malpractice tort reform—to make it harder for misguided patients and their lawyers to sue. But:


This is going to be a very interesting book. I hope that others who have accepted as fact that tort reform is needed or that it helps will read the book. The answer is not tort reform, but for physicians and their societies and the various state boards to take action against the very small number of doctors who are repeatedly guilty of malpractice and to amend procedures to prevent errors. Such revisions in procedures can have a big payoff. From an article in Slate:

And while doctors hate to admit it, lawsuits can save lives. Motivated in part by liability suits, anesthesiologists dropped the risk of death in surgery from one in 5,000 to one in 250,000 over two decades, and their premiums have dropped from being the highest among doctors to some of the lowest. At the hospital where I trained in pediatric cardiology, a publicized malpractice case in which a child died led quickly to critical improvements in patient safety throughout the hospital.

Indeed, read that whole article—and also the book. The reader reviews of the book on are quite interesting, BTW.

Written by Leisureguy

10 November 2009 at 2:26 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life, Law, Medical

America’s Cup competitor will use hard, fixed wing instead of a sail

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Interesting article in Scientific American by Lynn Fitzpatrick:

After more than a year of practicing for the America’s Cup, the U.S. team is replacing its boat’s lofty 60-meter mast and 620-square-meter cloth mainsail with a hard, fixed wing that is 80 percent larger than a Boeing 747 wing and will tower 58 meters above their giant trimaran’s deck. The team, known as the BMW ORACLE Racing Team, will start to practice with and evaluate the high-strength yet lightweight carbon-fiber wing on its 27-meter carbon-composite trimaran later this week.

The Americans have been testing new frontiers with the loads that their massive multihull endures while sailing. Crash helmets, personal floatation devices and other body armor have been de rigueur during BMW ORACLE Racing’s practices—even while using a mast and a mainsail, which preceded the wing. During a practice session on November 3, the boat’s huge mast snapped and toppled into the Pacific. Thankfully, no one was injured. Although the team’s research and development unit has been conducting a forensic evaluation of the mast mishap, another unit has been finishing the assembly of the wing under the cover of a huge tent at the team’s base in San Diego, in an attempt to keep the technology a secret from competitors…

Continue reading. Photos at the link.

Written by Leisureguy

10 November 2009 at 12:55 pm

Posted in Daily life, Technology


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One additional block out, total time 30 minutes 35 seconds. Some photos along the way:


More after the break. A pocket camera is a good idea. I focused (sometimes badly, you’ll note) on the surviving flowers.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

10 November 2009 at 12:39 pm

Posted in Daily life

Rendition case tests FBI immunity

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Daphne Eviatar in the Washington Independent:

Twenty-four-year-old Amir Meshal, the son of Muslim immigrants from Egypt, was a lifelong resident of New Jersey when, after living briefly in Cairo with extended family members, in 2006 he decided to go to Somalia to study Islam and experience living under Islamic law. The country appeared to have stabilized and a new Islamic government was on good terms with the United States.

But Somalia wasn’t as stable as Meshal had thought, and as violence erupted there again in January 2007, Meshal fled, along with many Somali civilians. He was arrested in a joint U.S.-Kenyan-Ethiopian operation along the border of Kenya.

During the next four months, Meshal says, he was detained and interrogated in three different African countries without charge, denied the right to speak to a lawyer or family member, and refused the right to even appear before a judicial officer. Although a lifelong U.S. citizen with two U.S. citizen parents, Meshal was repeatedly threatened with torture, rendition to another country where he would be tortured, and forced disappearance. And he believes that U.S. officials, who interrogated him more than 30 times during this process, directed his arrest and treatment.

Those claims are the subject of a new lawsuit being filed Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington. Although it’s not the first lawsuit against U.S. officials seeking damages for torture and other mistreatment abroad, Meshal is only the second U.S. citizen to sue for U.S.-sponsored torture. That and a few other distinctive facts in this case may give him some advantages over those that have been dismissed.

“This is a U.S. citizen who was caught in hostilities abroad, and instead of helping him return, U.S. officials abused him and mistreated him and never charged him with a crime,” said Nusrat Choudhury, one of the lead lawyers from the ACLU representing Meshal. “Should they be allowed to do that without helping a U.S. citizen get home, and instead, denying him access to lawyers?”

That’s the question that will face judges in this case. In the past, the government has managed to convince courts to dismiss torture victims’ cases by saying that government officials are entitled to qualified immunity, or that the case would reveal state secrets, or that courts should not imply a right to sue government officials for constitutional violations when the case involves national security and foreign policy. But will courts be so willing to dismiss a case brought by a U.S. citizen, born to U.S. citizen parents, allegedly tortured directly by U.S. officials, and who has never even been charged with doing anything wrong?

American University Law Professor Stephen Vladeck, an expert on constitutional and national security law, says that although doctrinally the cases are not very different, the fact that Meshal is a U.S. citizen “practically, could make a difference to judges,” he said. “It would just highlight how wrong those other decisions are,” he said.

One of those decisions is …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 November 2009 at 11:44 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

Knocking down the unit-cohesion argument

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Steve Benen:

I’ve never heard a good argument for excluding patriotic, physically-able American volunteers from serving in the Armed Forces, simply on the basis of sexual orientation. But the most common argument has to do with "unit cohesion."

As the claim goes, servicemen and women might be uncomfortable serving alongside soldiers who are openly gay, and that discomfort means a unit may not function as it should. It’s better, the argument goes, to exclude qualified, well-trained soldiers from service in the midst of two wars than to make anti-gay soldiers feel ill at ease.

As policymakers take steps toward undoing the absurd "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy, the evidence to support a shift keeps growing.

A survey of troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan concluded that having gay or lesbian soldiers in fighting units has no significant impact on unit cohesion or readiness.

The data raise new doubts about the underlying assumption of the congressional ban, namely that military discipline will fall apart if gays and lesbians are permitted to serve openly.

"Service members said the most important factors for unit cohesion and readiness were the quality of their officers, training, and equipment,” said Laura Miller, a military sociologist at the RAND Corporation, a private research group that has long advised the Pentagon, which conducted the study along with the University of Florida. "Serving with another service member who was gay or lesbian was not a significant factor that affected unit cohesion or readiness to fight.”

Three-quarters of the veterans surveyed said they felt "comfortable" or "very comfortable" in the presence of gays or lesbians, and nearly one in five said they already knew of a gay or lesbian member in their unit.

As a rule, reality, evidence, and common sense hasn’t played much of a role in the debate over DADT, so it’s likely that the new study won’t have much of an effect. But the RAND Corporation’s report is a reminder that it’s probably time to stop thinking about a DADT repeal as "controversial." It’s not — most civilians are fine with letting openly gay soldiers serve, and most of the troops agree.

Time to end the policy.

Written by Leisureguy

10 November 2009 at 11:41 am

How to view the Fort Hood incident

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Marc Lynch has an excellent post:

Since the Ft Hood atrocity, I’ve seen a meme going around that it somehow  exposed a contradiction between “political correctness” and “security.”  The avoidance of Nidal Hassan’s religion out of fear of offending anyone, goes the argument, created the conditions which allowed him to go undetected and unsanctioned in the months and years leading up to his rampage.  American security, therefore, demands dropping the “political correctness” of avoiding a  confrontation with Islamist ideas and asking the “tough questions” about Islam as a religion and the loyalty of Muslim-Americans.

This framing of the issue is almost 100% wrong. There is a connection between what these critics are calling “political correctness” and national security, but it runs in the opposite direction.   The real linkage is that there is a strong security imperative to prevent the consolidation of a narrative in which America is engaged in a clash of civilizations with Islam, and instead to nurture a narrative in which al-Qaeda and its affiliates represent a marginal fringe to be jointly combated.  Fortunately, American leaders — from the Obama administration through General George Casey and top counter-terrorism officials — understand this and have been acting appropriately.

It’s worth walking through the connection once again, because how America responds to Ft. Hood really is important in the wider attempt to change the nature of its engagement with Muslim publics across the world.  Get the response right, as the administration thus far has done, and they show that things really have changed.  Get it wrong, as its critics demand, and the world could tumble back down into the ‘clash of civilizations’ trap which al-Qaeda so dearly wants and which the improved American approach of the last couple of years has increasingly denied it…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 November 2009 at 11:39 am

Posted in Daily life

Buying into English

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Interesting book review:

Buying Into English: Language and Investment in the New Capitalist World (Pitt Comp Literacy Culture)

by Catherine Prendergast

A review by Ange Mlinko

In Metropole, the 1970 novel by Ferenc Karinthy, a linguist named Budai traveling to a conference in Helsinki boards the wrong plane and finds himself in a country whose language, despite all his training, he can’t begin to parse. Budai tries out a variety of common languages on hotel staff, with no success; he starts posting signs in different alphabets, only to see them ripped down. He spies what looks to be a phone directory, swipes it, and does the rational thing: he sets about writing down "all the different characters he could find" and calms himself with the thought that once he has a restricted range of data, he can start deciphering their writing system and find his way back home to his wife and young son. But "he soon realized that he had noted over one hundred characters and that he was still discovering more."

Metropole isn’t just about language — or rather, it is, but it gathers other systems under the rubric of language as well. It has been said that any cosmopolite could parachute into a new city and decipher its main features and transportation system instinctively. But in Metropole, Budai looks in vain for any sort of system that could direct him to a train to the airport: "He looked for intersections between lines, those circled stations that appeared more important, since in every major city the metro service was directly connected to the main railway routes." No luck. He can’t decide exactly where on the world map this city might be: "the majority of people here seemed to be of mixed race or at some transitional point between various races like that Japanese-looking, slant-eyed, young woman with light blonde hair and slightly Negroid lips." He gets himself arrested in hopes of encountering a translator through the legal system, but as we might expect by this point, that is no system either. He’s reduced to wondering if he’s even on planet Earth. He tries to recall what he knows of celestial navigation to determine his latitude.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

10 November 2009 at 11:24 am

Posted in Books

Fort Hood is a violent place in general

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Interesting story by Michael Moss and Ray Rivera in the NY Times:

Staff Sgt. Gilberto Mota, 35, and his wife, Diana, 30, an Army specialist, had returned to Fort Hood from Iraq last year when he used his gun to kill her, and then took his own life, the authorities say. In July, two members of the First Cavalry Division, also just back from the war with decorations for their service, were at a party when one killed the other.

That same month, Staff Sgt. Justin Lee Garza, 28, under stress from two deployments, killed himself in a friend’s apartment outside Fort Hood, four days after he was told no therapists were available for a counseling session. “What bothers me most is this happened while he was supposed to be on suicide watch,” said his mother, Teri Smith. “To this day, I don’t know where he got the gun.”

Fort Hood is still reeling from last week’s carnage, in which an Army psychiatrist is accused of a massacre that left 13 people dead. But in the town of Killeen and other surrounding communities, the attack, one of the worst mass shootings on a military base in the United States, is also seen by many as another blow in an area that has been beset by crime and violence since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began. Reports of domestic abuse have grown by 75 percent since 2001. At the same time, violent crime in Killeen has risen 22 percent while declining 7 percent in towns of similar size in other parts of the country.

The stresses are seen in other ways, too.

Since 2003, there have been 76 suicides by personnel assigned to Fort Hood, with 10 this year, according to military officials.

A crisis center on base is averaging 60 phone calls a week from soldiers and family members seeking various help for problems from suicide to anger management, with about the same volume of walk-ins and scheduled appointments.
In recent days, Army officials have …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 November 2009 at 11:17 am

Posted in Army, Daily life, Military

It must get much worse before it can get any better

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Kevin Drum has a good post on our situation in California, which has become ungovernable and hugely debt-ridden. I think he’s right: things are not bad enough yet.

Written by Leisureguy

10 November 2009 at 11:12 am

Posted in Daily life, Government

The Fall of Mexico

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Phil Caputo has a very interesting article in the latest issue of the Atlantic Monthly. The blurb:

In the almost three years since President Felipe Calderón launched a war on drug cartels, border towns in Mexico have turned into halls of mirrors where no one knows who is on which side or what chance remark could get you murdered. Some 14,000 people have been killed in that time—the worst carnage since the Mexican Revolution—and part of the country is effectively under martial law. Is this evidence of a creeping coup by the military? A war between drug cartels? Between the president and his opposition? Or just collateral damage from the (U.S.-supported) war on drugs? Nobody knows: Mexico is where facts, like people, simply disappear. The stakes for the U.S. are high, especially as the prospect of a failed state on our southern border begins to seem all too real.

His article begins:

Poor Mexico. So far from God and so close to the United States.
—Porfirio Díaz, dictator of Mexico from 1876 to 1880 and 1884 to 1911

Those famous words came to mind when another man named Díaz offered me an equally concise observation about the realities of life in the country today: “In Mexico it is dangerous to speak the truth. It is even dangerous to know the truth.”

His full name is Fernando Díaz Santana. He hosts two AM-radio news-and-commentary shows in the small Chihuahuan city of Nuevo Casas Grandes. A stocky, broad-faced man in late middle age, he projects an air of warmth, openness, and intelligence. As he tells me that it’s dangerous to speak or know the truth, the half-rueful, half-apologetic expression in his eyes makes it plain that he’d rather not keep his mouth shut and his mind closed.

He’s received text messages from listeners cautioning him to be careful of what he says on the air. He takes these friendly warnings seriously; failure to heed them could bring a death sentence like the one meted out to Armando Rodríguez, a crime reporter murdered by an unidentified gunman in November 2008 in Juárez, the violent border city across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas. The fear of suffering a similar fate is a powerful incentive for self-censorship, for training a naturally inquisitive mind to acquire ignorance.

“So now we give just the objective facts,” Díaz says as he sits facing me in a stuffy, windowless rear room of the radio station, in Nuevo Casas Grandes’s central business district. He and the co-host of his afternoon show, David Andrew (pronounced Da-veed An-dray-oo), explain that the “objective facts” are those reported by the police or city hall or some other official source. Though the accuracy of such facts is often questionable, no questions dare be asked. “We say nothing more,” Díaz adds. “As long as we don’t get too deeply into a story, we are safe.”

I am reminded of Winnie Verloc, the character in Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent who “felt profoundly that things do not stand much looking into.” …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 November 2009 at 11:10 am

The Stupak amendment: About class, not choice

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Ezra Klein in the Washington Post:

Rep. Bart Stupak’s amendment did not make abortion illegal. And it did not block the federal government from subsidizing abortion. All it did was block it from subsidizing abortion for poorer women.

Stupak’s amendment stated that the public option cannot provide abortion coverage, and that no insurer participating on the exchange can provide abortion coverage to anyone receiving subsidies. But as Rep. Jim Cooper points out in the interview below, the biggest federal subsidy for private insurance coverage is untouched by Stupak’s amendment. It’s the $250 billion the government spends each year making employer-sponsored health-care insurance tax-free.

That money, however, subsidizes the insurance of 157 million Americans, many of them quite affluent. Imagine if Stupak had attempted to expand his amendment to their coverage. It would, after all, have been the same principle: Federal policy should not subsidize insurance that offers abortion coverage. But it would have failed in an instant. That group is too large, and too affluent, and too politically powerful for Congress to dare to touch their access to reproductive services. But the poorer women who will be using subsidies on the exchange proved a much easier target. In substance, this amendment was as much about class as it was about choice.

Written by Leisureguy

10 November 2009 at 11:06 am

The Alden Shoe Company

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Kafeneio has been posting recently about Alden shoes (see this post for example). He also linked to this video that explains the source of their excellence.

In June 2009, Epaulet co-owner Michael Kuhle and documentary filmmaker/animation artist Tom Eaton visited the Alden Shoe Company in Massachusetts. During our stay, we were treated to a rundown of the entire shoe crafting process, a meet and greet with the Alden staff, and some seriously good cheeseburgers. We’re thrilled to present this 12-minute documentary video by Tom Eaton. Please check it out and see the dedicated people, intricate work, culture of excellence, and incredible attention to detail that makes an Alden Shoe possible.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about "The Alden Shoe Company", posted with vodpod

Written by Leisureguy

10 November 2009 at 11:04 am

Posted in Daily life

Peak oil: already there?

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Kevin Drum this morning:

The International Energy Administration is, supposedly, the gold standard for projections of future oil supply.  In 2004 they projected that the world would produce 121 million barrels per day of crude oil.  In 2005 they lowered that to 115 million bpd.  Last year they lowered it again to 106 million bpd.  Today, the Guardian reports that a “whistleblower” at the IEA says that even this number is rubbish and the IEA knows it:

The senior official claims the US has played an influential role in encouraging the watchdog to underplay the rate of decline from existing oil fields while overplaying the chances of finding new reserves….”The 120m figure always was nonsense but even today’s number is much higher than can be justified and the IEA knows this.

“Many inside the organisation believe that maintaining oil supplies at even 90m to 95m barrels a day would be impossible but there are fears that panic could spread on the financial markets if the figures were brought down further. And the Americans fear the end of oil supremacy because it would threaten their power over access to oil resources,” he added.

….A second senior IEA source, who has now left but was also unwilling to give his name, said a key rule at the organisation was that it was “imperative not to anger the Americans” but the fact was that there was not as much oil in the world as had been admitted. “We have [already] entered the ‘peak oil’ zone. I think that the situation is really bad,” he added.


It’s pretty much impossible to know how seriously to take this.  It’s almost certainly true that analysts within the IEA disagree with each other about long-term projections, and it’s also probably true that there are regional pressures of various kinds within the organization.  That’s pretty normal for international groups.

But is the U.S. actively pushing the IEA to produce figures that it knows to be wrong?  And are these two anonymous sources the first ones to ever go public with this?  Hmmm.  I’m not so sure about that.  But the IEA’s 2009 World Energy Outlook comes out on Tuesday (last year’s projections are above), and we’ll see what they have to say then.

Written by Leisureguy

10 November 2009 at 10:48 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

Good idea for obstructionism

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The Party of No is becoming quite open about their desire to obstruct any legislation. From Climate Progress, for example:

Inhofe said the Committee on Environment and Public Works passed the John Kerry—Barbara Boxer global warming bill without any Republican votes.

“We set up the rules of the Environment and Public Works Committee way back in 1970—a long time ago. The rules say that you can’t report a bill out of the committee to go to the floor of the Senate unless there are two members of the minority there,” Inhofe said. “What we did was I told all of the Republicans not to go so they couldn’t have an official mark-up.

It’s good that he finally admitted the truth that the GOP claim this was all about waiting for more EPA analysis was as bogus as everyone thought.  He just wanted to kill the bill.  But since that bill isn’t going to the floor, his whole effort was wasted.

The entire article makes clear that Inhofe channels Groucho “Whatever it is, I’m against it”Marx.  It opens:

Although the healthcare bill made it through the House of Representatives on Saturday, United States Senator Jim Inhofe said it would face a harder road in the Senate.

“We will kill it in the Senate,” Inhofe said. “I think the main thing I want to get across is it doesn’t really matter because it (the healthcare bill) is not going anywhere.”

Paul Krugman this morning points out that in the old days they knew how to handle people like Inhofe:

For travel reading, I’m currently working my way through Tom Holland’s Rubicon: The Fall of the Roman Republic. And it turns out that back when men were men and women were property, they had ways of dealing with obstructionist tactics from the legislative opposition:

Cato and Bibulus threw themselves into a desperate rearguard action to halt the passage of the land bill. On the day of the public vote Bibulus appeared in the Forum to announce that he had observed unfavorable omens in the sky, and that the vote would therefore have to be suspended. The response of the pontifex maximus was to have a bucket of dung emptied over Bibulus’s head.


I think that would be appropriate for Inhofe: to treat the outside of his head to the same matter that seems to reside within.

Written by Leisureguy

10 November 2009 at 10:45 am

Posted in Congress, Daily life, GOP

More De Vergulde Hand

with 3 comments


I thought about making a superlather using the soap and the shaving cream, but in the end I went only with the soap because the Koh-I-Noor boar brush created such fine lather. It seemed during the first two passes that the brush was already broken in, but the third pass showed that some breaking in remains. Still, I am impressed by this brush. (They also offer a companion badger brush in same shape with same handle.)

The lather was very nice, and three passes with the Elite Razor with the gold-laced black onyx handle, holding an Astra Keramik blade, left my face totally smooth. Geo. F. Trumper Spanish Leather aftershave was very nice.

Written by Leisureguy

10 November 2009 at 9:44 am

Posted in Shaving

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