Later On

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

Archive for April 18th, 2018

Kobach held in contempt in voter registration case

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Trump really knows how to pick people, doesn’t he? And to fire those he picks….

Written by LeisureGuy

18 April 2018 at 8:06 pm

Cohen’s World Gets Mobbier The Closer I Look

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Josh Marshall writes at TPM:

In today’s podcast, we look into the background of Michael Cohen. TPM first reported last year that Cohen was actually a childhood friend of Felix Sater, whose father was himself a reputed capo in the Mogilevich organized crime syndicate, said to be Russia’s largest and most dangerous. Filling out this picture of how Cohen fell into this milieu we’ve always been focused on the fact that Cohen’s uncle, Morton Levine, owned and ran a Brooklyn social club, El Caribe, which was a well-known meeting spot for members of Italian and Russian organized crime families in the 1970s and 1980s. (Levine, a medical doctor has never been charged with a crime.) But now it turns out there’s a bit more to this story.

I came across this in a January AP article about Boris Nayfeld, one-time organized crime boss in Brooklyn who now wants to go home to Russia to start a new life. Nayfeld is 70 and he just finished his latest prison sentence. The whole story is a bit low energy and a sad sack in a nonetheless menacing and predatory way.

According to published reports, in the 70s and early 80s, the boss of the Russian mob in New York (and for practical purposes the whole U.S) was a man named Evsei Agron. Things ended badly for Agron when was gunned down in a mob hit in 1985. After Agron was assassinated, his organization was taken over by under-boss Marat Balagula. Authorities believed Balagula was behind Agron’s killing. But he was never charged with the crime. Balagula ran things until 1991 when he was convicted of gasoline bootlegging. Nayfeld had been the bodyguard and enforcer for both Agron and Balagula, one would say more successfully in the latter case than the former. He took over the organization when Balagula went to prison.

What I didn’t realize until now is that both Agron and his successor Balagula ran their operations out of an office in the El Caribe social club. So the El Caribe wasn’t just a mob hangout. From the 70s through the 90s at least, the bosses of the Russian mafia in the U.S. literally ran their crime organization out of the El Caribe.

So Michael Cohen’s uncle Morton Levine’s social club was the headquarters of Russian organized crime in the U.S.

That’s quite something.

The AP article includes another detail.

According to Levine, who is apparently still alive, all his nieces and nephews owned shares of the El Caribe and still do. Levine told the AP that Michael Cohen owned his stake in the club until Donald Trump was elected President when he “gave up his stake.”

That was probably wise!

It was also very recent.

One of the abiding questions about Cohen is  . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 April 2018 at 8:02 pm

Do You Have “Advantage Blindness”?

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Ben Fuchs, Megan Reitz, and John Higgins write in the Harvard Business Review:

No one wants to think they got to the top through an unfair advantage. You want to feel that you’ve earned it — that your hard work and carefully honed skills have paid off.

But the evidence on diversity in the workplace is conclusive: There are lots of people held back by bias. And that means that some of the people at the top have advanced partly through privilege.

Our research finds the idea of being advantaged to be uncomfortable for many senior leaders. We interviewed David, a senior executive who recognizes both having benefited from unfair advantages and the injustice of bias. He’s tall, middle-aged, well-educated, heterosexual, able-bodied, white, and male — and these provide David with unearned advantages that he intellectually knows he has, but that in practice he barely notices. He tells us he feels an underlying sense of guilt. He wants to feel that his successes in life are down to his abilities and hard work, not unfair advantage. “I feel like a child who discovers that people have been letting him win a game all along,” he says. “How can I feel good about myself succeeding if the game was never fair?”

In speaking with leaders about their built-in advantages, we have seen that David’s experience is widely shared. Acknowledging these advantages can challenge their very identities and sense of worth. If you find yourself in this situation, how should you process it? And what should you do about it?

Our research on speaking truth to power shows there is often a blind spotamong the powerful, preventing them from seeing their impact on the less powerful. We call this advantage blindness. When you have advantage blindness, you don’t feel privileged. You don’t notice a life of special treatment; it’s just normal. You don’t think about your physical safety most of the time; you don’t worry about holding hands with your partner in public; when you get angry, no one asks you if it’s because of your hormones; and people in power generally look like you. (This list is inspired by the work of activist scholar Peggy McIntosh.)

In our interviews with leaders, we’ve seen both helpful and unhelpful reactions when people are confronted with their advantage blindness. The unhelpful ones include:

Denying the playing field is unlevel. George, for instance, responds very differently from David, saying: “If someone doesn’t achieve, it’s not for lack of opportunity. It’s too easy to blame others. Life isn’t always fair. But things have changed. Being white or male no longer matters. I deserve what I’ve worked for.” By believing success is due only to hard work and personal talent, individuals don’t see how systems convey advantages to them. Board-level conversations confirmed for us that men don’t realize how easily they get heard, while women get ignored, even when they are making the same point in the same situation. One woman said of her white male chair, after a fruitless attempt at conversation: “I have to assume he’s deaf.”

Focusing on one’s own disadvantages. Michael describes his working-class background: “My grandparents faced hard times and discrimination. Sure, I now have many opportunities my grandparents lacked. But being privileged? It’s not part of who I am.” Chris also doesn’t feel advantaged, but for different reasons. He experienced bullying in an elite boarding school that had a lasting impact: “Others see me as someone privileged. But I hated my education and didn’t want any of the so-called advantages.” A difficult personal history can make it hard to recognize systemic advantages that favor one’s group.

Claiming inequality is justified by the innate superiority of some groups over others. From this perspective, results justify themselves — for example, “If men earn more, they must be worth more.” In a recent high-profile incident, James Damore posted a memo at Google arguing that women are biologically less capable of being engineers. Tellingly, his memo was greeted by many of his male peers as refreshingly candid, rather than full of false claims.

How, then, can leaders positively respond to being challenged about their advantages, without triggering one of these defensive reactions? Here are three constructive reactions we saw leaders make to address the issue:

Owning personal prejudice and bias. Addressing unfairness and injustice requires its beneficiaries to recognize their advantages. David says: “Years ago, I was in a meeting that was two-thirds women. A woman pointed out that the minority of men were talking most of the time. I was embarrassed I hadn’t noticed, and recognized it was true. Now I try to notice how much ‘air time’ men take.” In a business setting, it is not uncommon for women to struggle to be heard by men. Noticing how we implicitly ignore, interrupt, label, or judge people can be embarrassing, especially when we view ourselves as someone untouched by prejudice or habits that silence others.

Empathy from connecting with people who are “other.” In our fast-paced world, it’s hard to slow down enough to connect with people. One CEO said: “I like people to be bright, be quick, and be gone” when they offer an opinion. Yet we often don’t really understand another’s experience until we allow it to touch us. After his 360-degree feedback session, Tom now makes an effort to get to know coworkers who are different from him. By asking questions and really listening to their experiences, he tries to put himself in their shoes. This meant letting go of an unhelpful habit of explaining to people why his perspective is right and, by implication, theirs is wrong. “It’s sometimes uncomfortable to just listen,” he reflected, “but that really helps me to understand what it’s like for people who are different from me.”

Putting personal advantage to collective good use. Use your advantages to challenge the system, because you’re more likely to be heard and not to have your suggestions dismissed. Nick, another CEO, has initiated a system of reverse mentoring in his organization. Senior leaders are invited to choose a less senior employee of a different sex or ethnic background from themselves as a mentor. The mentors help leaders to understand what’s really going on from a very different perspective, through the invitation to speak truth to power. “It’s a win/win,” Nick says. “Executives have found it eye-opening, and the mentors have raised their profiles for career advancement.”

To address inequality of opportunity, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 April 2018 at 3:10 pm

Whose Story (and Country) Is This?

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Rebecca Solnit writes at Literary Hub:

Watching the film Phantom Thread, I kept wondering why I was supposed to be interested in a control freak who is consistently unpleasant to all the people around him. I kept looking at the other characters—his sister who manages his couture business, his seamstresses, eventually the furniture (as a child, I read a very nice story about the romance between two chairs)—wondering why we couldn’t have a story about one of them instead.

Who gets to be the subject of the story is an immensely political question, and feminism has given us a host of books that shift the focus from the original protagonist—from Jane Eyre to Mr. Rochester’s Caribbean first wife, from Dorothy to the Wicked Witch, and so forth. But in the news and political life, we’re still struggling over whose story it is, who matters, and who our compassion and interest should be directed at.

The common denominator of so many of the strange and troubling cultural narratives coming our way is a set of assumptions about who matters, whose story it is, who deserves the pity and the treats and the presumptions of innocence, the kid gloves and the red carpet, and ultimately the kingdom, the power, and the glory. You already know who. It’s white people in general and white men in particular, and especially white Protestant men, some of whom are apparently dismayed to find out that there is going to be, as your mom might have put it, sharing. The history of this country has been written as their story, and the news sometimes still tells it this way—one of the battles of our time is about who the story is about, who matters and who decides.

It is this population we are constantly asked to pay more attention to and forgive even when they hate us or seek to harm us. It is toward them we are all supposed to direct our empathy. The exhortations are everywhere. PBS News Hour featured a quiz by Charles Murray in March that asked “Do You Live in a Bubble?” The questions assumed that if you didn’t know people who drank cheap beer and drove pick-up trucks and worked in factories you lived in an elitist bubble. Among the questions: “Have you ever lived for at least a year in an American community with a population under 50,000 that is not part of a metropolitan area and is not where you went to college? Have you ever walked on a factory floor? Have you ever had a close friend who was an evangelical Christian?”

The quiz is essentially about whether you are in touch with working-class small-town white Christian America, as though everyone who’s not Joe the Plumber is Maurice the Elitist. We should know them, the logic goes; they do not need to know us. Less than 20 percent of Americans are white evangelicals, only slightly more than are Latino. Most Americans are urban. The quiz delivers, yet again, the message that the 80 percent of us who live in urban areas are not America, treats non-Protestant (including the quarter of this country that is Catholic) and non-white people as not America, treats many kinds of underpaid working people (salespeople, service workers, farmworkers) who are not male industrial workers as not America. More Americans work in museums than work in coal, but coalminers are treated as sacred beings owed huge subsidies and the sacrifice of the climate, and museum workers—well, no one is talking about their jobs as a totem of our national identity.

PBS added a little note at the end of the bubble quiz, “The introduction has been edited to clarify Charles Murray’s expertise, which focuses on white American culture.” They don’t mention that he’s the author of the notorious Bell Curve or explain why someone widely considered racist was welcomed onto a publicly funded program. Perhaps the actual problem is that white Christian suburban, small-town, and rural America includes too many people who want to live in a bubble and think they’re entitled to, and that all of us who are not like them are menaces and intrusions who needs to be cleared out of the way.

After all, there was a march in Charlottesville, Virginia, last year full of white men with tiki torches chanting “You will not replace us.” Which translates as get the fuck out of my bubble, a bubble that is a state of mind and a sentimental attachment to a largely fictional former America. It’s not everyone in this America; for example, Syed Ahmed Jamal’s neighbors in Lawrence, Kansas, rallied to defend him when ICE arrested and tried to deport the chemistry teacher and father who had lived in the area for 30 years. It’s not all white men; perpetration of the narrative centered on them is something too many women buy into and some admirable men are trying to break out of.

And the meanest voices aren’t necessarily those of the actual rural and small-town. In a story about a Pennsylvania coal town named Hazelton, Fox’s Tucker Carlson recently declared that immigration brings “more change than human beings are designed to digest,” the human beings in this scenario being the white Hazeltonians who are not immigrants, with perhaps an intimation that immigrants are not human beings, let alone human beings who have already had to digest a lot of change. Once again a small-town white American narrative is being treated as though it’s about all of us or all of us who count, as though the gentrification of immigrant neighborhoods is not also a story that matters, as though Los Angeles and New York City, both of which have larger populations than many American states, are not America. In New York City, the immigrant population alone exceeds the total population of Kansas (or Nebraska or Idaho or West Virginia, where all those coal miners are).

In the aftermath of the 2016 election, we were told that we needed to be nicer to the white working class, which reaffirmed the message that whiteness and the working class were the same thing and made the vast non-white working class invisible or inconsequential. We were told that Trump voters were the salt of the earth and the authentic sufferers, even though poorer people tended to vote for the other candidate. We were told that we had to be understanding of their choice to vote for a man who threatened to harm almost everyone who was not a white Christian man, because their feelings preempt everyone else’s survival. “Some people think that the people who voted for Trump are racists and sexists and homophobes and deplorable folks,” Bernie Sanders reprimanded us, though studies showed that many were indeed often racists, sexists, and homophobes.

Part of how we know whose party it is was demonstrated by who gets excused for hatred and attacks, literal or verbal. A couple of weeks ago, the Atlantic tried out hiring a writer, Kevin Williamson, who said women who have abortions should be hanged, and then un-hired him under public pressure from people who don’t like the idea that a quarter of American women should be executed. The New York Times has hired a few conservatives akin to Williams, including climate waffler Bret Stephens. Stephens devoted a column to sympathy on Williams’s behalf and indignation that anyone might oppose him. Sympathy in pro-bubble America often goes reflexively to the white man in the story. The assumption is that the story is about him; he’s the protagonist, the person who matters, and when you, say, read Stephens defending Woody Allen and attacking Dylan Farrow for saying Allen molested her, you see how much work he’s done imagining being Woody Allen, how little being Dylan Farrow or anyone like her. It reminds me of how young women pressing rape charges are often told they’re harming the bright future of the rapist in question, rather than that maybe he did it to himself, and that their bright future should matter too. The Onion nailed it years ago: “College Basketball Star Heroically Overcomes Tragic Rape He Committed.”

This misdistribution of sympathy is epidemic. The New York Times called the man with a domestic-violence history who in 2015 shot up the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood, killing three parents of young children, “a gentle loner.” And then when the bomber who had been terrorizing Austin, TX, last month was finally caught, journalists at the newspaper interviewed his family and friends and let their positive descriptions stand as though they were more valid than the fact he was an extremist and a terrorist who set out to kill and terrorize black people in a particularly vicious and cowardly way. He was a “quiet, ‘nerdy’ young man who came from ‘a tight-knit, godly family,” the Times let us know in a tweet, while the Washington Post’s headline noted he was “frustrated with his life,” which is true of millions of young people around the world who don’t get this pity party and also don’t become terrorists. The Daily Beast got it right with a subhead about the latest right-wing terrorist, the one who blew himself up in his home full of bombmaking materials: “Friends and family say Ben Morrow was a Bible-toting lab worker. Investigators say he was a bomb-building white supremacist.”

But this March, when a teenage boy took a gun to his high school in Maryland and used it to murder Jaelynn Willey, the newspapers labeled him lovesick, as though premeditated murder was just a natural reaction to being rejected by someone you dated. In a powerfully eloquent editorialin the New York Times, Marjory Stoneman Douglas student Isabelle Robinson writes about the “disturbing number of comments I’ve read that go something like this: Maybe if Mr. Cruz’s classmates and peers had been a little nicer to him, the shooting at Stoneman Douglas would never have occurred.” As she notes, this puts the burden—and then the blame—on peers to meet the needs of boys and men who may be hostile or homicidal.

This framework suggests we owe them something, which feeds a sense of entitlement, which sets up the logic of payback for not delivering what they think we owe them. Elliot Rodgers set out to massacre the members of a sorority at UC Santa Barbara in 2014 because he believed that sex with attractive women was a right of his that women were violating and that another right of his was to punish any or all of them unto death. He killed sixpeople and injured fourteen. Nikolas Cruz said, “Elliot Rodgers will not be forgotten.”

Women often internalize that sense of responsibility for men’s needs. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 April 2018 at 1:04 pm

Posted in Daily life

Science hinted that cancer patients could take less of a $148,000-a-year drug. Its maker tripled the price of a pill.

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American healthcare has a serious problem, and it is spelled “g-r-e-e-d.” Carolyn Johnson reports in the Washington Post:

A group of cancer doctors focused on bringing down the cost of treatments by testing whether lower — and cheaper — doses are effective thought they had found a prime candidate in a blood cancer drug called Imbruvica that typically costs $148,000 a year.
The science behind Imbruvica suggested that it could work at lower doses, and early clinical evidence indicated that patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia might do just as well on one or two pills a day after completing an initial round of treatment at three pills per day.
The researchers at the Value in Cancer Care Consortium, a nonprofit focused on cutting treatment costs for some of the most expensive drugs, set out to test whether the lower dose was just as effective — and could save patients money.
Then they learned of a new pricing strategy by Janssen and Pharmacyclics, the companies that sell Imbruvica through a partnership. Within the next three months, the companies will stop making the original 140-milligram capsule, a spokeswoman confirmed. They will instead offer tablets in four strengths — each of which has the same flat price of about $400, or triple the original cost of the pill.
Just as scientific momentum was building to test the effectiveness of lower doses, the new pricing scheme ensures dose reductions won’t save patients money or erode companies’ revenue from selling the drug. In fact, patients who had been doing well on a low dose of the drug would now pay more for their treatment. Those who stay on three pills a day won’t see a change in price.
“That got us kind of p—ed off,” said Mark J. Ratain, an oncologist at the University of Chicago Medicine who wrote about the issue in the Cancer Letter, a publication read by oncologists. “We were just in the early stages of planning [a clinical trial] and getting it organized, and thinking about sample size and funding, and we caught wind of what the company was doing.”

Research and anecdotal experience of physicians suggests that co-pays can be a major barrier to people staying on their drugs. Stacie Dusetzina, an associate professor of cancer research at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said that if a patient were taking one of the old capsules each day, their out-of-pocket costs under Medicare would be close to $5,000. Under the new pricing regimen, the patient’s burden of the cost — for the same dosage — would roughly double. The difference in the cost to Medicare would be about $100,000. That does not reflect rebates paid by the drug company to Medicare.
“It’s fascinating and disturbing,” Dusetzina said. “It appears to be a program being implemented, possibly to save some of the profits they’d be losing if dose reductions are really rapidly going to start coming down the pike.”
In a statement, Janssen and Pharmacyclics said the companies began to develop the new single-tablet dosing regimen in 2015 “as a new innovation to provide patients with a convenient one pill, once-a-day dosing regimen and improved packaging, with the intent to improve adherence to this important therapy.” They called the studies on lower dosing “highly exploratory in nature” and noted that patients who take a higher dose of the drug will save money.
But the new regimen could undermine patient safety, Ratain and colleagues argue. People on Imbruvica often need to have their doses adjusted, because it can interact with other drugs. Physicians also may try lower doses when people have trouble tolerating the drug because of side effects, such as extreme joint pain.
The companies said in their statement that a dose exchange program with rapid shipment would allow physicians to make those changes.
Under the old regimen, doctors could adjust the dose immediately by telling a patient to take one or two pills a day, instead of three, then return them to the higher dose when necessary. Under the new regimen, physicians will have to initiate a dose-switching protocol that requires paperwork. The phone number physicians have been given to call is only open Monday to Friday during business hours, several oncologists noted.
“I do share their concerns,” said Jennifer Brown, director of the Center for Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, who was not an author of the Cancer Letter paper. “We frequently change the dose of this drug, in relation to drug interactions in particular, and usually we need to do that basically instantaneously.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 April 2018 at 9:42 am

Remembering Barbara Bush

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The paper is filled with accolades to and memories of Barbara Bush. One of my most indelible memories of her is her response to some of the results of her son’s incompetent response to Hurricane Katrina.

President George W. Bush picked Michael D. Brown, who was the Judges and Stewards Commissioner for the International Arabian Horse Association, to head FEMA. His experience in that capacity did not transfer well to disaster preparedness and response, as Hurricane Katrina revealed. Despite Bush’s praise (“Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job“), the Federal response was inadequate (to say the least), and hundreds of refugees were housed in the Houston Astrodome.

Snopes.com notes:

On 5 September 2005, Barbara Bush and her husband, former president George H.W. Bush, toured the Astrodome complex in Houston that was being used as temporary lodging for thousands of citizens displaced from New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina. They visited with evacuees being housed in the stadium, and on their walk-thru of the make-shift quarters that amounted to little more than a sea of cots in a wide open room, they were accompanied by former president Bill Clinton and his wife, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The visit was intended as a bipartisan show of support for victims and a as forum for announcing the creation of the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund, a charitable endeavor aimed at facilitating short and long term relief efforts in the afflicted Gulf Coast states.

Later that day, Mrs. Bush was a guest on Marketplace, a show on public radio. During that interview she made these remarks about her interactions with the people quartered in the Astrodome:

Almost everyone I’ve talked to says, ‘We’re going to move to Houston.’ What I’m hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality.

And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this, this is working very well for them.

New Orleans residents housed in the various post-Katrina evacuation camps (such as the Astrodome) lost to the hurricane and the subsequent flood their loved ones, homes, jobs, pets, and their possessions. Their city sustained a tremendous amount of damage that may take years to repair, and many residents never returned to the city. That they temporarily had cots to sleep on, food, water, medical care, and the protection of law and order probably wasn’t what most of them would have considered the book definition of events’ “working very well for them.”

Barbara Bush was also impressed by the beauty of her own mind. Again from Snopes.com:

The former first lady made the following remark on national television shortly before the commencement of the invasion of Iraq:

‘Why should we hear about body bags and deaths? It’s not relevant. So why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?’

The comment came about during a Good Morning America interview with the couple who were formerly President and First Lady, George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush. The interview was conducted by Diane Sawyer in Houston scant hours before the couple’s son, President George W.Bush, delivered a televised ultimatum to Saddam Hussein to step down from power and leave Iraq or face U.S.-led military action. The chat with the senior Bushes aired the following morning, 18 March 2003.

The remark in question occurred early in the three-way conversation, following a line of query directed at Mrs. Bush regarding whether she found herself studying her son for verbal or visual signs of how well he was holding up under the pressure. (Sawyer: “As a mother, do you watch for strain on him?”) Mrs. Bush replied that she looked for such indications in all five of her children and remarked on the family’s propensity for having hair that turns white earlier than is the norm. An additional query about whether the senior Bushes, who do not normally watch a great deal of television, found themselves watching more TV during this period than was their usual custom fetched from Mrs. Bush the quote that has since earned a measure of notoriety:

I watch none. He [former President Bush] sits and listens and I read books, because I know perfectly well that, don’t take offense, that 90 percent of what I hear on television is supposition, when we’re talking about the news. And he’s not, not as understanding of my pettiness about that. But why should we hear about body bags, and deaths, and how many, what day it’s gonna happen, and how many this or what do you suppose? Or, I mean, it’s, it’s not relevant. So, why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that? And watch him suffer.

Oddly, neither of these famous remarks appear in any of the reports I’ve read about Barbara Bush, but I’ll always remember her saying them.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 April 2018 at 9:01 am

Posted in Daily life

Extending the run of RazoRock razors: Old Type, with Nancy Boy

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I realized this morning that this is the third shave in a row with a RazoRock razor, so I’m going to ride it on out.

The Simpson Duke 3 Best is a very nice little brush, and I always enjoy using Nancy Boy Signature shaving cream—I even convinced a reader in Australia to try it (hi, Eddie!), and he likes it as well. I think it will be particularly nice as a summer shaving cream because of the peppermint.

Three passes with the Old Type delivered a great result with no problems—this really is an excellent razor—and then a splash of Truefitt & Hill Trafalgar finished the job. Great way to celebrate the middle of the week.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 April 2018 at 8:45 am

Posted in Shaving

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