Later On

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

Archive for March 23rd, 2019

Gary Kasparov has a nice article on chess and the new 8-year-old US champion—an immigrant who lives in a homeless shelter

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Gary Kasparov writes in the Washington Post:

Garry Kasparov is the chairman of the Renew Democracy Initiative and author of “Deep Thinking: Where Machine Intelligence Ends and Human Creativity Begins.

The victory of 8-year-old Tanitoluwa Adewumi in the New York State K-3 championship this month has received more attention than any chess story in a long time. His circumstances, a Nigerian refugee living in a family shelter, were the key ingredient, even more than his dazzling smile next to a trophy taller than he is.

According to reports, “Tani” had learned to play only a year earlier, while most of his rivals had been playing in tournaments for several years. It’s an irresistible underdog story, well-deserving of going viral and generating an outpouring of donations to aid him and his family.

This heart-warming tale is also a quintessentially American one. Despite his family’s conditions, Tani learned to play at a good chess program in an excellent Manhattan public school. His mother took the initiative of getting him into the school chess club, reminding any true chess fan of a similar letter written by the mother of future U.S. world champion Bobby Fischer. (All praise to assertive chess mothers like my own!)

The United States is where the world’s talent comes to flourish. Since its inception, one of America’s greatest strengths has been its ability to attract and channel the energy of wave after wave of striving immigrants. It’s a machine that turns that vigor and diversity into economic growth. It may mean opening a dry-cleaners or a start-up that becomes Google. It could mean studying medicine, law or physics, or — as Tani says he would like to do — becoming the world’s youngest chess champion.

Many of the questions I received as world champion centered on why the Soviet Union produced so many great chess players. After the dissolution of the U.S.S.R., these questions were asked again along new national borders. Why did Russia, or Armenia, or my native Azerbaijan have so many grandmasters? Was there something in the water, the genes or the schools? And why weren’t there more chess prodigies from the United States (or wherever the questioner was from)?

My answer was always the same: Talent is universal, but opportunity is not, and talent cannot thrive in a vacuum. Finding talent is a numbers game — the more players there are, the more excellent ones will be found. (This same math applies to the gender disparity in chess. There are so few elite female players because there are still far fewer girls in a traditionally male pastime. Addressing that imbalance is why my foundation sponsors the All-Girls Scholastic Championship.)

The Soviet leadership always looked at chess as an opportunity to tout the superiority of the communist system. The leadership invested heavily in the game and promoted it at every level, for kids and professionals. I benefited directly from this aggressive farm system, receiving good coaching at a very young age in Baku and quickly being placed into a special chess school under the direction of former world champion Mikhail Botvinnik.

I was lucky to find chess, which was like a native language to me, but it wasn’t luck that chess found me. With that in mind, I have worked since 2002 to bring chess into education systems around the world. Chess is excellent for boosting children’s cognitive development and academic skills, but growing the base also means finding more top-level talent.

America’s recognition of chess’s benefits may help explain a development that merits wider recognition: This is a golden age for chess in the United States. The . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 March 2019 at 4:33 pm

A Democratic Firm Is Shaking Up the World of Political Fundraising.

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The report I blogged in the previous post is probably a response in part to this innovation, reported in the Intercept by Rachel Cohen:

WHEN KARA EASTMAN pulled off a primary upset this past spring in Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District, a swing seat in the Omaha metro region, she did so with no help from the national Democratic party. Eastman, a social worker and first-time candidate running on an unapologetic left-wing platform, was competing against former Rep. Brad Ashford, who served for years in the Nebraska legislature and one term in Congress between 2014 and 2016.

Despite Ashford’s long track record of supporting abortion restrictions, pro-choice groups like EMILY’s List, Planned Parenthood, and NARAL Pro-Choice America opted to stay out of the race. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, or DCCC, elevated Ashford to their “Red to Blue” list, a signal of official party support for competitive races, and political action committees controlled by House leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., kicked in over $28,000 to Ashford’s bid.

Eastman, who embraced not only reproductive freedom but also policies like “Medicare for All,” tuition-free college, a $15 minimum wage, and increased gun control, struggled early on to compete. While her proposals and personal story were popular, finding donors was hard.

Yet by the time her primary rolled around, Eastman emerged the winner, raising close to $400,000  and benefitting from a flurry of late-stage media coverage. Using a new digital fundraising company to target customized groups of donors across the country — such as all Democrats who identify as social workers or those who back “Medicare for All” — Eastman’s team was able to change the trajectory of the race.

Her campaign credits Grassroots Analytics, an obscure tech startup that’s quietly shaking up the Democratic campaign finance world. Not a single article has ever been written about or even mentioned it, despite the company having aided some of the biggest upsets of the 2018 cycle, including Joe Cunningham in South Carolina, Lucy McBath in Georgia, and Kendra Horn in Oklahoma.

“Grassroots Analytics absolutely was what allowed us to be competitive in the primary and get on TV, otherwise there is no way we would have won,” said Dave Pantos, the finance director for Eastman’s campaign. “We were definitely not the mainstream candidate, and we didn’t have access to donor lists that more establishment candidates have.” Eastman ended up losing the general election, earning 49 percent of the vote, but has already announced that she’s jumping back in the fray for 2020.

Grassroots Analytics says it wants to level the playing field and to make it easier for candidates to run who don’t already have a built-in network of wealthy family, friends, and co-workers. Using an algorithm to clean and sort publicly available data spread across the internet, the company provides campaigns with customized lists of donors who they believe are most likely to support them. If you’re involved in the world of political fundraising, a thought has probably occurred to you just now: Wait, isn’t that illegal? Hold that thought.

Establishment groups like the Democratic National Committee, the DCCC, and EMILY’s List have largely given the firm the cold shoulder, despite its goals and the fact that it worked with 137 campaigns in the last cycle. Not even mainstream progressive organizations like Our Revolution or Justice Democrats would return Grassroots Analytics’s entreaties to work together.

DANNY HOGENKAMP, THE 24-year-old founder and director of Grassroots Analytics, wasn’t expecting to end up in this kind of business. He had no background in politics; he studied Arabic at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and assumed he’d end up doing foreign policy or refugee resettlement work after college.

But after graduating in 2016, with no job yet to speak of, he decided to go crash with some relatives in Syracuse, New York, where he was born, and try his hand in a congressional campaign. He enlisted with first-time candidate Colleen Deacon, a 39-year-old single mother who had worked as Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s regional aide in upstate New York. Deacon, who previously lived on Medicaid and food stamps, campaigned on putting herself through college with minimum wage jobs and student loans.

Hogenkamp was placed on the finance team, where he was charged with raising money and managing a team of 20 unpaid interns. It was there that he first encountered the opaque world of political fundraising — a world that even many organizers, pundits, and journalists can hardly grasp.

“I had no idea what campaigns were like, and it turns out that literally what candidates actually do to raise money, unless you’re really well-connected and famous, is sit in a room and call rich, old people to beg for $1,500, $2,000, or preferably [the federal maximum] of $2,700,” he said.

To run a competitive House race, Deacon’s campaign knew it needed to raise between $1.5 million and $2 million. Syracuse is one of the poorer metropolitan areas in New York, and after the campaign exhausted all the local prospective donors it could think of, the next step was the big open secret in political campaigning: finding similar candidates in other states and races and then researching who donated to their campaigns. So, for example, Deacon staffers would search for similar candidates — like Monica Vernon, who was running for Congress at the same time in Iowa — and then try and track down the contact information for the donors listed on their Federal Election Commission reports.

“Our interns would literally just Google people and try to find their phone numbers,” Hogenkamp said. “But donors change their numbers all the time, and they’re hard to find.”

The whole thing was invariably slow and disorganized. “It was the stupidest process,” he said. “It’s not digitized; there’s no math; it’s just random and stupid.”

Hogenkamp, still pretty much an idealistic novice, was convinced that there had to be a better way, some obvious step he was missing. So, from his perch as a relatively high-level finance staffer on Deacon’s team, he reached out to everyone he could think of — like the DCCC, EMILY’s List, liberal consulting firms, and other politicians — to find out how to make this fundraising process easier. “No one had any good answers; they said, ‘Well, this is just how you do it,’” he said. Hogenkamp recalled Gillibrand’s team telling him about its personal wealthy contacts in New York and how fundraising for the campaign meant going to those people and asking each of them to go out and find 10 more donors within their own networks.

Eventually, Hogenkamp connected with David Chase, a Democratic political operative who was then managing the campaign for Rubén Kihuen in Nevada’s 4th Congressional District. Chase offered a bit of help: He had developed a very rudimentary tool to aid his team’s fundraising efforts.

“Using OpenSecrets, I built some product that allowed you to search through all the federal and state contributions,” Chase told The Intercept. “It was very simple — I don’t have any advanced technological skills — but I wrote a script that allowed you to upload a list and it spit back the stats on the amount of times someone had given to state races and their average contributions.” In other words, for someone looking to discover who had given $500 or so to multiple candidates, Chase’s tool provided a way to more quickly glean that information.

Chase explained his tool, and Hogenkamp realized that there was a lot more he could do with an idea like that. During college, he had interned at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, where he learned to model how likely students were to default on their student loans. “I just randomly had a background in R and Python and zero-inflated negative binomial regressions from my time at the CFPB, so it was really just serendipitous that I actually knew what to do,” he said. Following that conversation, Hogenkamp went back and recruited a bunch of Syracuse University computer science students to help him build out his vision.

The result was effectively what he calls a “cleaner” of publicly available data, scraped from across the internet, that analyzes and sorts information for more than 14.5 million Democratic donors over the last 15 years. The tool would generate lists of individuals most likely to support a candidate given shared characteristics and shared views — ranging from race and ethnicity to a passion for yoga or universal health care. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 March 2019 at 10:46 am

House Democratic Leadership Shows Its Authoritarian Side

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Akela Lacy reports in the Intercept:

THE DEMOCRATIC CONGRESSIONAL Campaign Committee warned political strategists and vendors Thursday night that if they support candidates mounting primary challenges against incumbent House Democrats, the party will cut them off from business.

The news was officially announced Friday morning, paired with a statement on the committee’s commitment to diversity in consulting — “which, obviously, is just to give themselves cover,” a Democratic political consultant who learned of it Thursday told The Intercept. The consultant asked for anonymity given their relationship with the DCCC, and the party organization’s professed strategy of blacklisting firms that don’t fall in line.

To apply to become a preferred vendor in the 2020 cycle, firms must agree to a set of standards that includes agreeing not to work with anyone challenging an incumbent.

“I understand the above statement that the DCCC will not conduct business with, nor recommend to any of its targeted campaigns, any consultant that works with an opponent of a sitting Member of the House Democratic Caucus,” the form reads.

It’s no secret that the DCCC and national party leaders often interfere on behalf of preferred candidates. Or that they otherwise jump into the game too late, if they don’t completely write off newcomers who don’t meet their standards. The DCCC is known for prioritizing candidates and direct them to its own consultants, most of whom are alumni of the DCCC, which is known in Washington as a “consultant factory.” The latest move only reaffirms that reputation and sends a warning shot to grassroots and progressive consultants.

Groups working to diversify Congress say the committee has been slow to adequately address lack of representation — i.e., recruiting more womenand people of color. Collective PAC, which works to elect black Democrats, sent a letter to the DCCC last year asking why the group didn’t include any black candidates in its “Red to Blue” program, which targets seats that have a promising chance to flip. They added several candidates after that, including current Reps. Lauren Underwood of Illinois and Colin Allred of Texas.

D-trip claims its top priority is protecting the majority, and that in order to do so, they must keep internal discord at a minimum. But as progressive candidates, organizers, and members build grassroots campaigns and prove they can hold their own, the D-trip’s old playbook is having the opposite effect.

The strategy isn’t new. Though it did bring a few more hiccups in 2018 than expected, which makes the rollout all the more puzzling. “There was never an enforcement that I’ve ever seen,” the strategist told The Intercept. “This is the first time that they are ever making it open policy.”

After their coordinated attack on Laura Moser in Texas’s 7th District, she raised $86,000, got an endorsement from Our Revolution, and made it to a runoff. She eventually lost to current Rep. Lizzie Fletcher. But the episode gave fodder to progressive groups like the Working Families Party, Justice Democrats, and Collective PAC, which had formed for precisely that occasion — the party’s increasing inability to make space for new voices, many of them progressive. D-trip proved their point, and Our Revolution and WFP stepped in instead.

And in Nebraska’s 2nd District, the DCCC backed former Rep. Brad Ashford over Kara Eastman, who ended up winning the primary and losing the general election. Ashford was a former Republican who flip-floppedon access to abortion throughout his time in the state legislature and later as a Democrat in the U.S. House, and opposed single-payer health care. Eastman was a staunchly pro-choice progressive who supported Medicare for All. She was one of only two insurgents to beat DCCC-backed candidates last cycle. In the Democratic primary for Kentucky’s 6th District, Amy McGrath beat Jim Gray and later lost to Republican Rep. Andy Barr. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is now recruiting her to run against Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in 2020.

Strategists and congressional staffers with knowledge of the change say it will disproportionately impact vendors and candidates who are women and people of color, as the consultants who work with incumbents are the ones who’ve come up through the party at a time when its commitment to diversity was even dimmer than it is today.

The committee is telling firms they can’t oppose sitting members, the strategist said. “I’d rather keep the majority too, which is why to me this is kind of stupid to have a blanket rule. Because, if it’s a safe incumbent seat, why does it matter?”

The DCCC’s move also creates a new niche business, paradoxically, opening the door for consultants who don’t want to be under the thumb of the party. “From here on out, let’s refer to the DCCC for what it is, the White Male Centrist Campaign Protection Committee,” said Sean McElwee of Data for Progress. “My email is seanadrianmc@gmail.com. Any challenger looking for firms to work with them can feel free to reach out. There are plenty.”

Rebecca Katz, a longtime Democratic consultant, also said she’d be happy to work with the challengers. “The people who can’t understand the party is stronger because we have Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley in Congress should not be in the business of choosing who can run for Congress,” she said.

Alex Rojas, the head of Justice Democrats, the bane of the DCCC, is backing a primary challenge to incumbent Henry Cuellar in Texas, while looking for other candidates across the country. “Make no mistake — they are sending a signal that they are more afraid of Ayanna Pressley and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez winning primary challenges than Henry Cuellar who votes with Trump nearly 70 percent of the time,” she said.

For both parties, . . .

Continue reading.

I find this repulsive.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 March 2019 at 10:41 am

Texas Republicans Dismiss Research as They Move to Further Defund Planned Parenthood

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I find it common for Republicans to ignore research in favor of sticking with their already-established beliefs and biases. From a newsletter sent out by the Texas Observer:

For years, Texas lawmakers have prioritized defunding Planned Parenthood and boosting anti-abortion organizations over ensuring access to care. The results have been stark: Tens of thousands of poor Texans lost access to care, more than 80 family planning clinics closed and the state scrambled to create a replacement network of providers that its own data shows hasn’t been able to fill in the gap. Yet Republican state senators flatly denied these impacts this week while offering support for a new bill that further limits funds for Planned Parenthood. Instead, some GOP members of the Senate Committee on State Affairs said that the state’s women’s health network is more robust than ever, and data showing otherwise is simply “not accurate.” Meanwhile, it’s estimated that less than a quarter of women in Texas who need publicly funded contraception are getting those services.

Sophie Novack reports in the Texas Observer:

Reproductive health advocates have long pointed to Texas as a cautionary tale of what happens when lawmakers prioritize defunding Planned Parenthood and boosting anti-abortion organizations over ensuring access to care. In 2011, Texas lawmakers slashed the family planning budget by two-thirds. Two years later, they kicked Planned Parenthood out of the state’s women’s health program. The results have been stark: Tens of thousands of poor Texans lost access to care, more than 80 family planning clinics closed and the state scrambled to create a replacement network of providers that its own data shows hasn’t been able to fill inthe gap.

Yet Republican state senators flatly denied these impacts on Monday while offering support for a new bill that further limits funds for Planned Parenthood. Instead, some GOP members of the Senate Committee on State Affairs said that the state’s women’s health network is more robust than ever, and data showing otherwise is simply “not accurate.”

“This Legislature has invested more money in women’s health to provide more services to more women than we ever have in the history of this state, and we have more providers than we ever had,” said state Senator Jane Nelson, a Flower Mound Republican who has served as the upper chamber’s top budget writer for the last three sessions. That “it’s not flowing through an organization that some people would prefer is their problem,” she said of cutting funds to Planned Parenthood. “My problem — our problem — is making sure women get the appropriate health care that they need. And we are doing that.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 March 2019 at 10:28 am

Meet Q, The Electronic Assistant That Challenges Binary Gender

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Rae Alexandra writes for KQED:

For the last couple of years, the smart devices we’re increasingly leaving in charge of our lives have given us pause on a number of occasions. Like when Alexa started laughing at people for no reason in the middle of the night, or when Siri just flat out ignored us for days, or when the world figured out that Google Home can both fart and swear like a sailor. Then there’s Cortana, who seems hell-bent on scuppering gaming sessions.

What we ponder a little bit less is why all of our electronic assistants have feminine voices by default. There are a number of theories around this; research suggests people just expect all administrative assistants to be female, and there’s also the suggestion that feminine voices will make this major tech influx seem less threatening. Either way, when the voices we bark demands at all day sound like women, it can’t help but double down on traditional gender stereotypes that have no place in technology this futuristic.

Enter Q, the first gender-neutral electronic assistant, and a breath of fresh air in a world which is increasingly less and less interested in a strict gender binary. Q is “neither male nor female,” and has been “created for a future where we are no longer defined by gender.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s another video at the link that explains how the voice was developed.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 March 2019 at 10:20 am

“How True Crime Helped Me Deal With a Real-Life Monster”

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Rae Alexandra writes at KQED:

A few years ago, after 17 years of friendship, a man I adored and thought I knew very well was sentenced to three decades in prison for charges related to pedophilia. His case included acts on children so young, I hadn’t realized prior to his arrest that such crimes even existed.

Due to there being a mountain of video evidence (he had recorded himself), he admitted his guilt on the first day of his trial, and it was over almost before it had begun. Selfishly, I felt relieved that none of us would have to hear the minutiae of everything he’d done, but, reeling and in a state of shock, I decided to read the judge’s sentencing remarks online. I thought they might provide some catharsis. Instead, even the cursory details wound up making me physically sick. The vomiting went on for days until my parents finally summoned me home. I don’t recall any other point in my adult life where I needed to be next to my mother so badly.

In the days and weeks that followed, there were long phone conversations with friends, as everyone tried to process the hows and the whens and the whys. At one point, my sister, in another country and not privy to the same news coverage, called me, convinced that he had been set up and somehow tricked into pleading guilty. “What must they have done to him?” she asked, audibly distressed. It was a testament to how good he had been at pretending to be someone else.

After a while, you have to stop talking about it. The need to move on becomes palpable. You don’t want to keep loudly dissecting the details in case it prevents other people from healing. So about a month in, still unable to reconcile the person I knew with the person in prison, and tired of going around in mental circles, I made the decision to tell myself he was dead. Doing so allowed me to mourn the friend I had lost—the person I thought he was, the inside jokes we shared, the teenage history—and put the whole thing behind me.

Except it’s not really that easy. I was never actually convinced that the root cause of his criminality was a sexual attraction to children. He did not fit the classic profile of a pedophile at all. He was outgoing with other adults, had a lot of friends and a steady stream of age-appropriate girlfriends, and was fiercely protective of his nieces and nephews. Compounding matters was the fact that it was a high-profile case; now and again, new stories about him would emerge. One summer, at a wedding, a stranger made a joke about him, unaware that I had known him. To this day, when people find out where I’m from, some of them ask if I ever met him in a manner that suggests he’s halfway to becoming an urban myth.

The longer I tried to ignore it, the more my need to figure out why he did what he did increased. So I started researching in earnest. Books about psychopathy and psychology and mental illness. Checklists of various personality disorders to see which one made the most sense. I read papers written by criminal psychologists and, at one point, even consulted with one directly because she’d had a lot of experience treating pedophiles. There were breadcrumbs and clues, but a clear answer evaded me.

Then a colleague gave me a gift: The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule. Not only had Rule been good friends with Ted Bundy, she’d also been working in the police department during the manhunt to find him, so she wrote about it all in agonizing detail. Rule’s predicament was comfortingly familiar, and the way she described Bundy sounded a lot like my friend—charming, handsome, intelligent, vain, never lacking in female attention. The book was far and away the most helpful thing I had read so far. So I kept going.

Next, I chose Somebody’s Husband, Somebody’s Son: The Story of the Yorkshire Ripper by Gordon Burn, because it focused not only on Peter Sutcliffe’s crimes but the relationships he had maintained with his family and friends too. Those closest to Sutcliffe suspected nothing at all, even as he murdered 13 women, right under their noses.

After that came Killing For Company about Dennis Nilsen, a mild-mannered civil servant who murdered, dissected and disposed of at least 12 men while living in the heart of London. I had a hard time putting Brian Masters’ book down and plowed through it in a matter of days. One of the final chapters offered me a real turning point. In it, Masters breaks down, in great detail, the personality traits of serial killers—and my friend had almost all of them, down to bizarrely specific details. I stayed up all night with a highlighter. Later on, someone quietly confessed that he believed our friend would have “definitely” killed someone if he hadn’t been caught when he was. When I agreed and told him about the details in Killing For Company, he looked relieved that someone else shared this theory.

In recent months, I have had three separate people ask me why the media I consume is so dark in subject matter. It didn’t use to be. Now, every other book I read is about serial killers (my current choice is Fatal Vision, about Dr. Jeffrey McDonald who was imprisoned in 1979 for slaughtering his wife and children). When I watch TV and movies, I am mostly focused on true crime documentaries or dramatizations. (Lifetime’s Monster in My Family is a current favorite, thanks to the series’ process of putting the families of criminals in the same room as those of victims, allowing connections to take place). When I run out of episodes to stream, I find myself listening to the Casefile podcast.

The only time I have any objection to consuming true crime anything these days is when lines of decency get crossed. Allowing extended interviews with killers to air, for example—as The Ted Bundy Tapes and The Menendez Murders: Erik Tells All recently did—is, to me, both an affront to victims and a reward to killers. I don’t want . . .

Continue reading.

There are monsters in our midst.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 March 2019 at 9:59 am

2-band Prince vs. 3-band Prince with Dapper Doc

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I mentioned in yesterday’s shave, when I used the WSP Prince at the left, a two-band brush, that the brush seemed rather too resilient—perhaps it’s the density of the knot and/or the stiffness of the hair, but the brush seemed almost to poke at, rather than brush, my face. But I recalled really liking the Prince, and so I tried the other, which as you’ll note is a three-band  brush—light, dark, light.

The difference is astonishing. The three-band brush is extremely comfortable and I think does a better lathering job, but I do like brushes that tend fluffy rather than stiff, so I might be attributing virtues simply because I like the brush.

I did go to the WSP website, and I note these two-band brushes, labeled “high-density.” They also label the current Prince as “high-density,” however, and it clearly has three bands. So perhaps it’s simply a difference in the hair. At any rate, the three-band version is the one I prefer, and it made a wonderful CK-6 lather from Phoenix Artisan’s Dapper Doc’s Old-Time Lilac & Fig shaving soap.

I did adjust the Rockwell Model T: 4 for the first pass, 3 for the second and third passes. The result as an extremely smooth (and comfortable shave). A splash of Dapper Doc’s aftershave, and the weekend is launched.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 March 2019 at 9:53 am

Posted in Shaving

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