Later On

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

Archive for October 28th, 2010

Really good salad

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I used my Swiss Borner V-Slicer (while wearing a cut-proof glove) to reduce a whole organic (i.e., unwaxed) cucumber and a sweet onion to extremely thin uniform slices. I doused them with organic brown-rice vinegar (sweet, but no sugar—just from the koji) and a good splash of mirin (same deal: sweet from the koji, no sugar). I let that sit at room temperature for a few hours, stirring a couple of times. Then I poured off all the liquid and added Strouse’s European-style nonfat plain yogurt and some white pepper. Extremely tasty, and it occurs to me I could also add just a little Dijon mustard.

Written by Leisureguy

28 October 2010 at 5:17 pm

Prison industry helps write law

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The private prison industry is very, very large dollars: the prisons make lots of money, and the prison guards union (which staffs the prisons) also makes a lot of money: two powerful lobbying groups that want to make even more money. Unfortunately, the way the prison industry makes more money is by locking up more people. So the prison industry strongly supports (and pushes) “3 strikes” laws which, with luck, gives them a prisoner for life even for minor offenses (e.g., stealing a pizza: if it’s the third strike, it’s life). They also like mandatory minimum sentences and they spend time thinking up new ways to lock people up. Laura Sullivan of NPR has this story:

Last year, two men showed up in Benson, Ariz., a small desert town 60 miles from the Mexico border, offering a deal.

Glenn Nichols, the Benson city manager, remembers the pitch.

“The gentleman that’s the main thrust of this thing has a huge turquoise ring on his finger,” Nichols said. “He’s a great big huge guy and I equated him to a car salesman.”

What he was selling was a prison for women and children who were illegal immigrants.

“They talk [about] how positive this was going to be for the community,” Nichols said, “the amount of money that we would realize from each prisoner on a daily rate.”

But Nichols wasn’t buying. He asked them how would they possibly keep a prison full for years — decades even — with illegal immigrants?

“They talked like they didn’t have any doubt they could fill it,” Nichols said.

That’s because prison companies like this one had a plan — a new business model to lock up illegal immigrants. And the plan became Arizona’s immigration law.

Behind-The-Scenes Effort To Draft, Pass The Law

The law is being challenged in the courts. But if it’s upheld, it requires police to lock up anyone they stop who cannot show proof they entered the country legally.

When it was passed in April, it ignited a fire storm. Protesters chanted about racial profiling. Businesses threatened to boycott the state.

Supporters were equally passionate, calling it a bold positive step to curb illegal immigration.

But while the debate raged, few people were aware of how the law came about.

NPR spent the past several months analyzing hundreds of pages of campaign finance reports, lobbying documents and corporate records. What they show is a quiet, behind-the-scenes effort to help draft and pass Arizona Senate Bill 1070 by an industry that stands to benefit from it: the private prison industry.

Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce, pictured here at Tea Party rally on Oct. 22, was instrumental in drafting the state’s immigration law. He also sits on a American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) task force, a group that helped shape the law.

The law could send hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants to prison in a way never done before. And it could mean hundreds of millions of dollars in profits to private prison companies responsible for housing them.

Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce says the bill was his idea. He says it’s not about prisons. It’s about what’s best for the country.

“Enough is enough,” Pearce said in his office, sitting under a banner reading “Let Freedom Reign.” “People need to focus on the cost of not enforcing our laws and securing our border. It is the Trojan horse destroying our country and a republic cannot survive as a lawless nation.”

But instead of taking his idea to the Arizona statehouse floor, Pearce first took it to a hotel conference room.

It was last December at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, D.C. Inside, there was a meeting of a secretive group called the American Legislative Exchange Council. Insiders call it ALEC.

It’s a membership organization of state legislators and powerful corporations and associations, such as the tobacco company Reynolds American Inc., ExxonMobil and the National Rifle Association. Another member is the billion-dollar Corrections Corporation of America — the largest private prison company in the country.

It was there that Pearce’s idea took shape.

“I did a presentation,” Pearce said. “I went through the facts. I went through the impacts and they said, ‘Yeah.'”

Drafting The Bill

The 50 or so people in the room included officials of the Corrections Corporation of America, according to two sources who were there.

Pearce and the Corrections Corporation of America have been coming to these meetings for years. Both have seats on one of several of ALEC’s boards…

Continue reading. Also, check out the graphic:

Written by Leisureguy

28 October 2010 at 12:00 pm

They just don’t care

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Big Business simply doesn’t give a damn. John Broder reports in the NY Times:

Halliburton and BP knew weeks before the fatal explosion of the Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico that the cement mixture they planned to use to seal the bottom of the well was unstable but still went ahead with the job, the presidential commission investigating the accident said on Thursday.

In the first official finding of responsibility for the blowout, which killed 11 workers and led to the largest offshore oil spill in American history, the commission staff determined that Halliburton had conducted three laboratory tests that indicated that the cement mixture did not meet industry standards.

The result of at least one of those tests was given on March 8 to BP, which failed to act upon it, the panel’s lead investigator, Fred H. Bartlit Jr., said in a letter delivered to the commissioners on Thursday.

Another Halliburton cement test, carried out about a week before the blowout of the well on April 20, also found the mixture to be unstable, yet those findings were never sent to BP, Mr. Bartlit found.

Although Mr. Bartlit does not specifically identify the cement failure as the sole or even primary cause of the blowout, he makes clear in his letter that if the cement had done its job and kept the highly pressured oil and gas out of the well bore, there would not have been an accident.

“We have known for some time that the cement used to secure the production casing and isolate the hydrocarbon zone at the bottom of the Macondo well must have failed in some manner,” he said in his letter to the seven members of the presidential commission. “The cement should have prevented hydrocarbons from entering the well.”

The failure of the cement set off a complex and ultimately deadly cascade of events as oil and gas exploded upward from the 18,000-foot-deep well. The blowout preventer, which sits on the ocean floor atop the well and is supposed to contain a well bore blowout, also failed.

In an internal investigation, BP identified the faulty cement job as one of the main factors contributing to the accident and blamed Halliburton, the cementing contractor on the Macondo well, as the responsible party. Halliburton has said in public testimony that it tested and used a proper cement formula on the well and said BP’s flawed well design and poor operations caused the disaster.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

28 October 2010 at 11:49 am

A rare example of a religious institution that takes clergy sexual abuse seriously

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Marci Hamilton of FindLaw:

Three cheers for the Methodist Church! A recent statement from the Rev. Darryl Stephens, who is the Church’s assistant general secretary for advocacy and sexual ethics for the General Commission on the Status & Role of Women, supports the National Organization of Women’s 2009 Resolution that would include clergy in the list of professionals who can be charged with a crime for having "unlawful sexual relations" with those they are advising.

The notion that professionals may not take sexual advantage of their patients and clients is not new. The Resolution simply would extend the same principle to clergy. Much to the Methodist Church’s credit, Rev. Stephens endorses the Resolution and urges his own Church to be more active in preventing and stopping such conduct. He deserves praise for his leadership in an area where other religious institutions have shirked responsibility, as has his own church, which he acknowledges.

A Recent Case Illustrates the Gravity of the Problem — and the NOW Resolution Provides a Strong Response

No one questions the point that ministers, priests, and rabbis preying on emotionally-disabled persons are engaging in despicable behavior. Clergy have taken advantage of congregants who come to them for counseling when the congregant is going through a divorce, has recently suffered the loss of a spouse or child, or is having marital difficulties.

The most recent case to bring these issues to the forefront is Ramani, which is pending at the Nevada Supreme Court. (The Methodist Church’s amicus brief can be found here.) That case involves a tort claim, as opposed to a criminal prosecution, but the facts are sufficient to make the case for criminalizing the conduct. In that case, a woman alleged that she was sexually assaulted by her synagogue’s cantor. When she reported the assault to her rabbi, the rabbi threatened to remove her from the congregation if she did not have sex with him.

The NOW Resolution would make it possible for prosecutors to charge with a crime a clergy member who uses such a relationship to obtain sex. As Assistant General Secretary Stephens points out, NOW’s focus on "clergy misconduct" may present some constitutional hurdles, and the better approach may well be focusing on the lack of meaningful consent instead. But at least the proposal is on the table and every state should consider how best to protect the vulnerable in these situations.

Stephens continues as follows, in what is a remarkable and laudable statement coming from a high-ranking person in a religious organization:

"The Church does need to be called to accountability by the state. Intervention through state law has recent precedent. The UMC did not begin to address sexual harassment within its ranks until the 1980s, prompted by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and a U.S. Supreme Court case upholding EEOC guidelines and reporting mechanisms. Only after secular law forced a cultural change did the UMC first take a stand against the sin of sexual harassment in 1988. Criminalization of clergy misconduct may have the positive effect of deterring would-be clergy sexual predators, protecting potential victims and promoting clarity about sexual activity as an abuse of power."

It’s very instructive to compare this striking willingness to accept nudging from the legal system to protect the vulnerable to the position taken in amicus briefs filed in the Ramani case by Catholic bishops and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints: There, the Mormon and Catholic leadership argued that the Constitution requires the courts to stay out of cases involving the sexual exploitation of emotionally-disabled congregants by clergy. Will they never cease their quest to keep secret the sexual misbehavior of their clergy, and the perpetual cycle of abuse those policies trigger?

As Stephens Notes, Church/State Separation Provides No Good Reason for Leaving the Vulnerable Defenseless

Stephens points out correctly that the courts have been reluctant to find criminal or tort liability in such circumstances, because they are leery of making a determination of who, within a religious organization, counts as "clergy," and deferential to the principle of the separation of church and state. But while courts have been reluctant to expand liability or accountability to churches and ministers for sex with adults, they have been operating under a misunderstanding of the First Amendment. Under the Constitution, conduct can be regulated even when it is religiously-motivated, as the Supreme Court has made clear in Employment Div. v. Smith and Jones v. Wolf.

The argument against applying the laws that protect the vulnerable in these circumstances is even weaker than the courts have acknowledged. In fact, the First Amendment’s free-exercise guarantees were never intended to apply to what the framing generation called "licentiousness," or illicit sex acts. Religious liberty was never intended to be a haven for sexual predators who are using clergy garb to further their goals. A number of state constitutions explicitly exclude "licentious" acts from their free exercise protection, but the history makes it quite clear that sexual abuse and assault were never thought to belong in the sphere of constitutionally-protected activity. I explain these principles at greater length in a recent article.

Accordingly, in clergy-sex-abuse cases, the First Amendment defense should be set aside by the courts from the very start, and the courts should be focusing on the alleged illegal conduct, not to mention justice for the vulnerable.

I also believe that too many state court judges in these cases consciously or unconsciously follow two factual misconceptions: First, they presume that clergy act in the best interests of their congregants more often then not, so they tend to discount victim statements. Second, they retain the outdated view that a congregant in such a "relationship" caused it to happen by tempting the clergyperson, so that somehow the clergy member is the real victim.

Both views are misguided and unjust, and it is nice to see NOW and the Rev. Stephens putting the lie to such misconceptions.

Why Reverend Stephens’s View Should Be Especially Lauded

Stephens’s view on behalf of the Methodist Church is particularly welcome in that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 October 2010 at 10:44 am

Blood on our hands

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Ellen Knickmeyer writes more in Foreign Policy on revelations from Wikileaks:

In early March 2006, Donald Rumsfeld called a Pentagon news conference to declare Iraq peaceful — and to say that U.S. reporters in Baghdad were liars for reporting otherwise.

Contrary to the jumble of "exaggerated" reporting from Baghdad, the then-secretary of defense said at the Washington press briefing, Iraq was experiencing no such thing as the explosion of sectarian violence that myself and many of my fellow journalists in Baghdad were covering in the aftermath of a fateful February 2006 bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra.

Certainly, some Iraqis were trying to incite civil war, Rumsfeld acknowledged. But Iraq’s own security forces had "taken the lead in controlling the situation," he insisted, and quick action by the Shiite-led government had "a calming effect."

Rumsfeld also made clear at the time that U.S. officials were fighting another kind of war over Iraq — the battle for U.S. opinion. The "misreporting" on the death toll was driving down U.S. support for the war, the defense secretary complained.

Four years on, however, WikiLeaks’ release of contemporary troop logs raises serious questions about who, exactly, was doing the lying.

One of the few absolute revelations from the Wikileaks documents is the extent to which Rumsfeld, then-U.S. commander Gen. George Casey, and others had access to ample information from unimpeachable sources — their own troops on the ground in Iraq — regarding how badly events had turned in Iraq by 2006, but nonetheless denied a surge in killing to reporters and the U.S. public.

"The country is not awash in sectarian violence,” Casey told one U.S. television network in the wake of the Samarra bombing. And talk of Iraq sliding into civil war? "I don’t see it happening, certainly anytime in the near term,” Casey said.

But in hundreds of terse log entries from the field — now made public by WikiLeaks — U.S. troops documented more comprehensively than we reporters could ever have hoped the explosion of retaliatory killings, kidnappings, tortures, mosque attacks, and open street fighting. The reports streamed in the hours and days after the bombing of the Shiite shrine in Samarra enraged Iraq’s Shiite militias. What we reported then has now been confirmed: The bombing transformed Iraq’s building sectarian violence into something even darker.

In one of scores of entries recording U.S. troops coming upon handcuffed, tortured bodies on Feb. 22, 2006, and in the days after, a U.S. officer recounted happening upon fighters as they threw bodies from a car. The commander was in time to note how fresh the corpses were: "BODIES WERE SHOT IN THE FACE AND BODIES WERE STILL WARM," he wrote. 

In fact, U.S. soldiers in Iraq saw and heard the eruption of civil war in Iraq from the first minutes. According to one of the tense, redacted log entries logging the moment of the mosque bombing, "AT ___ 0701C FEB ___, THERE WERE 2X AUDIBLE EXPLOSIONS THAT WERE REPORTED FROM A MOUNTED PATROL … THE ROOF OF THE GOLDEN MOSQUE HAD COLLAPSED."

By the afternoon of Feb. 22, 2006, U.S. soldiers in Baghdad, Basra, Diyala, and around central Iraq were recording dozens of retaliatory attacks with grenade launchers and small arms on mosques, and the outbreak of tense, angry demonstrations countrywide. (The log entries below are a sampling; pages of more such log entries for Feb. 22 and the days after can be found on An article I wrote for the Daily Beast gives a shorter version of the log entries.)

Not always comprehendingly, U.S. soldiers noted the massing protesters often were the armed and black-clad fighters of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s feared Mahdi Army militia.

One report read:


In another incident elsewhere:


The reports persisted, enough that the military seems to have given them a distinct heading, "Golden Mosque."

One of the WikiLeaks log entries, for 3:30 p.m. on the day of the mosque bombing, shows apparent Mahdi Army fighters posing as Iraqi Interior Ministry officials to take away Sunni prisoners from a police jail. "PRISONERS ARE NOW DEAD," the report noted:


In the streets of Iraq’s capital, open fighting erupted between Shiite fighters — known as the Mahdi Army, or Jaish al-Mahdi (JAM) –and Sunni men of the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party:


Soon, troops were reporting bodies in the streets of Baghdad. Without necessarily seeking them out, U.S. troops were coming across dozens of them. Half pages and full pages of such finds made their way into the logs, in numbing repetition: . . .

Continue reading. The Bush Administration lied to the American publicly, overtly and repeatedly. And Obama thinks that’s just great.

Written by Leisureguy

28 October 2010 at 9:22 am

Intriguing look at procrastination

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David McRaney blogs:

The Misconception: You procrastinate because you are lazy and can’t manage your time well.

The Truth: Procrastination is fueled by weakness in the face of impulse and a failure to think about thinking.

Netflix reveals something about your own behavior you should have noticed by now, something which keeps getting between you and the things you want to accomplish.

If you have Netflix, especially if you stream it to your TV, you tend to gradually accumulate a cache of hundreds of films you think you’ll watch one day. This is a bigger deal than you think.

Take a look at your queue. Why are there so damn many documentaries and dramatic epics collecting virtual dust in there? By now you could draw the cover art to “Dead Man Walking” from memory. Why do you keep passing over it?

Psychologists actually know the answer to this question, to why you keep adding movies you will never watch to your growing collection of future rentals, and its the same reason you believe you will eventually do what’s best for yourself in all the other parts of your life, but rarely do.

A study conducted in 1999 by Read, Loewenstein and Kalyanaraman had people pick three movies out of a selection of 24. Some were lowbrow like “Sleepless in Seattle” or “Mrs. Doubtfire.” Some were highbrow like “Schindler’s List” or “The Piano.” In other words, it was a choice between movies which promised to be fun and forgettable or would be memorable but require more effort to absorb.

After picking, the subjects had to watch one movie right away. They then had to watch another in two days and a third two days after that.

Most people picked Schindler’s List as one of their three. They knew it was a great movie because all their friends said it was. All the reviews were glowing, and it earned dozens of the highest awards. Most didn’t, however, choose to watch it on the first day.

Instead, people tended to pick lowbrow movies on the first day. Only 44 percent went for the heavier stuff first. The majority tended to pick comedies like “The Mask” or action flicks like “Speed” when they knew they had to watch it forthwith.

Planning ahead, people picked highbrow movies 63 percent of the time for their second movie and 71 percent of the time for their third.

When they ran the experiment again but told subjects they had to watch all three selections back-to-back, “Schindler’s List” was 13 times less likely to be chosen at all.

The researchers had a hunch people would go for the junk food first, but plan healthy meals in the future.

Many studies over the years have shown you tend to have time-inconsistent preferences. When asked if you would rather have fruit or cake one week from now, you will usually say fruit. A week later when the slice of German chocolate and the apple are offered, you are statistically more likely to go for the cake.

This is why your Netflix queue is full of great films you keep passing over for “Family Guy.” With Netflix, the choice of what to watch right now and what to watch later is like candy bars versus carrot sticks. When you are planning ahead, your better angels point to the nourishing choices, but in the moment you go for what tastes good.

As behavioral economist Katherine Milkman has pointed out, this is why grocery stores put candy right next to the checkout.

This is sometimes called present bias – being unable to grasp what you want will change over time, and what you want now isn’t the same thing you will want later. Present bias explains why you buy lettuce and bananas only to throw them out later when you forget to eat them. This is why when you are a kid you wonder why adults don’t own more toys.

Present bias is why you’ve made the same resolution for the tenth year in a row, but this time you mean it. You are going to lose weight and forge a six-pack of abs so ripped you could deflect arrows.

You weigh yourself. You buy a workout DVD. You order a set of weights.

One day you have the choice between running around the block or watching a movie, and you choose the movie. Another day you are out with friends and can choose a cheeseburger or a salad. You choose the cheeseburger.

The slips become more frequent, but you keep saying you’ll get around to it. You’ll start again on Monday, which becomes a week from Monday. Your will succumbs to a death by a thousand cuts. By the time winter comes it looks like you already know what your resolution will be the next year.

Procrastination manifests itself within every aspect of your life…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 October 2010 at 9:18 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

Gutting regulations through unethical judges

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Kevin Drum:

Is George Painter just another old guy suffering from the effects of Alzheimer’s disease? Or is he perfectly in control of his faculties and quite correct when he says that Bruce Levine, his longtime colleague as an administrative law judge for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, made a vow 20 years ago never to rule against an investment firm? He made the charge in his resignation letter last month:

There are two administrative law judges at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission: myself and the Honorable Bruce Levine. On Judge Levine’s first week on the job, nearly twenty years ago, he came into my office and stated that he had promised Wendy Gramm, then Chairwoman of the Commission, that we would never rule in a complainant’s favor. A review of his rulings will confirm that he has fulfilled his vow. Judge Levine, in the cynical guise of enforcing the rules, forces pro se complaints to run a hostile procedural gauntlet until they lose hope, and either withdraw their complaint or settle for a pittance, regardless of the merits of the case.

Michael Hiltzik looks into Painter’s charges here, and concludes that (a) he seems pretty lucid, and (b) he seems to be right. It’s a great example of how you can effectively gut a financial regulatory regime without actually going through the hassle of getting the regulations themselves changed. Just hire someone someone who refuses to enforce the regulations, and voila! They might as well not exist. Nice work, George H.W. Bush.

Written by Leisureguy

28 October 2010 at 8:49 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

Nick Kristof: Legalize marijuana

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Nick Kristof in his column today acknowledges the failure of the War on Drugs and takes a position in favor of legalizing (and regulating and taxing) marijuana.

Written by Leisureguy

28 October 2010 at 8:30 am

Very cool bespoke shaving brush

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BruceOnShaving describes how he ended up with a completely custom shaving brush, with photos.

Written by Leisureguy

28 October 2010 at 8:26 am

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

"Just for today"

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I think I have blogged previously about the power of doing something positive for yourself (exercise, good food choices, etc.) today—just today. Because if you don’t do it today, you don’t do it: today is really the only time you have at hand. The past is gone, and the future is being constructed by what we do today. "Today" is when everything happens.

Trent Hamm has an interesting post on this idea:

On page 227 of my book, I recount a short tale of a woman dreaming a negative dream:

“Someday, things will change for me and my ship will come in,” Helen said.

Helen and I had each just gone through a trial by fire at our respective new jobs. Since we were old friends from our college days, we agreed to eat lunch together and effectively allow each other to vent about the difficult and sometimes seemingly unfair challenges we faced.

When I heard Helen talk about her ship coming in, though, I had a strange feeling inside of me. If she keeps sitting there by the dock waiting, her ship will never come in. If she’s genuinely unhappy with things to the point that she’s pinning her hopes on an unforeseen windfall, she’s doing nothing more than ensuring the continuation of her own misery.

In Helen’s comment, I saw myself. It scared me, and it made me want to start something new.

There was a long period in my life where I pretty much bet everything on my “future self.”

Someday, things would be better than they were right now, but for now, I’ll keep following the same old routine.

Someday, I would have the money to pay off all of these debts, but for now, I’ll keep spending.

Someday, I’ll be a writer, but for now, I’ll keep spending my evenings watching television and playing games.

Someday, we’ll have a house, but for now, I’ll buy myself another pile of books and a new gadget, too.

Guess what? “Someday” was never going to happen.

Every action that I took wasn’t merely a fun choice in the moment. Each of those actions had the terrible side effect of . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 October 2010 at 8:19 am

Posted in Daily life

My gold (plated) iKon

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I really like my iKon highly polished stainless-steel open-comb razor: it is an extremely comfortable razor to use, and now I’ve had it gold-plated by Razor Emporium. Since it’s a new razor, it requires no special refurbishing, and so the price for gold plating is $45 rather than the $65 for a full refurbishing (as you would probably want for a vintage razor).

I used the Essence of Scotland Scottish Heather shaving soap that Razor Emporium sells, and with the Rooney 2 it made a nice and fragrant lather. The blurb on the soap:

Enriched and fragranced with Heather, Natural honey, Mixed spices, Sweet orange, Beeswax and Patchouli. This soap has the fragrance of fresh fields of heather.

Three passes of the gold iKon with a Swedish Gillette blade, a splash of New York aftershave, and I’m ready for the day.

Written by Leisureguy

28 October 2010 at 8:08 am

Posted in Shaving

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