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Archive for June 10th, 2020

National Guardsmen struggle with their role in controlling protests

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Daniel Lippman reports in Politico:

Pvt. Si’Kenya Lynch, a member of the D.C. National Guard, was on duty at Lafayette Square near the White House last Monday when U.S. Park Police cleared the area of protesters ahead of President Donald Trump’s now-infamous photo op.

Lynch said she supports the protests, and that her brother was among the demonstrators on the other side of the line, adding that “he coughed a lot” due to the tear gas fired into the crowd.

“I was happy to see him out there … to walk for me when I couldn’t,” she said, adding that if she hadn’t been activated as a citizen-soldier, she would have been among the protesters “to support the people, and I wanted to support what was right.”

POLITICO spoke to 10 National Guardsmen who have taken part in the protest response across the country since the killing of George Floyd while in police custody. Many Guardsmen said they felt uncomfortable with the way they were used to handle the unrest because demonstrators lumped them in with the police. They felt that while they swore an oath to uphold the Constitution, their presence at times intimidated Americans from expressing their opinions and even escalated the tension.

And in the case of Guardsmen involved in the Lafayette incident, some felt used.

“As a military officer, what I saw was more or less really f—ed up,” said one D.C. Guardsman who was deployed to Lafayette Square last Monday and who, like some others, spoke on condition of anonymity to speak freely. The official line from the White House that the protesters had turned violent, he said, is false.

“The crowd was loud but peaceful, and at no point did I feel in danger, and I was standing right there in the front of the line,” he said. “A lot of us are still struggling to process this, but in a lot of ways, I believe I saw civil rights being violated in order for a photo op.

“I’m here to support and defend the Constitution of the United States and what I just saw goes against my oath and to see everyone try to cover up what really happened,” the Guardsman continued. “What I saw was just absolutely wrong.”

Lafayette Square

Since the protest on Lafayette Square last Monday, much of the public’s attention has been focused on the decision to clear the area so Trump, flanked by advisers, could pose for photos in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church holding a bible.

In the days following, the debate shifted to whether the police used tear gas to break up the protests. The White House insisted they didn’t, yet a spokesperson for the park police later acknowledged to Vox that it was a mistake to be that definitive, since tear gas is an umbrella term covering a number of chemical irritants.

One of the Guardsmen at the scene said the White House isn’t being truthful.

“I’ve been tear gassed before. I was there the night before when we got tear gassed, there was tear gas there” on Monday evening, he said. He added that he and some of his soldiers felt the effects of the tear gas from their colleagues because they didn’t have masks on.

In a statement, Capt. Chelsi Johnson, a spokesperson for the D.C. National Guard, responded to accounts of Guardsmen who had been accidentally affected by tear gas.

“They were instructed to put their gas masks on if/when they were ordered to or they noticed the police were putting theirs on. Every Guardsman was issued a gas mask,” she said. The U.S. Park Police has acknowledged firing pepper balls into the crowd, which is also a chemical irritant.

While the Park Police cleared out the protesters, some Guardsmen said they felt they were there to actually prevent the police from beating up protesters, instead of the other way around.

“I felt that we were more protecting the people from the police,” said D.C. Guardsman Spec. Isaiah Lynch, who’s unrelated to Si’Kenya Lynch.

In a statement to POLITICO, Maj. Gen. William Walker, commander of the D.C. National Guard, stressed that during the unrest, the Guard’s priority is to protect citizens’ right to peaceful protest.

“Providing that assistance and security to the people of Washington, D.C., is an honor for every D.C. National Guard member and not a tool for theatrics,” he said.

This event and others have taken a toll on some Guardsmen.

“We have a lot of National Guardsmen who are struggling with this, because unlike in combat when you have an enemy, these are our neighbors, our friends, our family,” the first Guard officer said.

The officer said he even told Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, just before the Park Police moved in that the protests had been peaceful that day, a sentiment that was shared by three other Guardsmen who were there.

Rep. Max Rose (D-N.Y.), a Guardsman who was activated for the coronavirus pandemic but not the unrest, said using the National Guard during a peaceful protest for deterrence value “is not really the correct way” of employing the forces, which should instead be used as partners with local law enforcement and as a deescalating force.

Torrie Osterholm, the D.C. National Guard’s director of psychological health, said in an interview that many Guardsmen have reached out to her in the past week to express the pain and confusion they struggled with during and after the mission, both for what they witnessed and how the protesters reacted.

One Guardsman told her, “ . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 June 2020 at 3:13 pm

The Regency And Its Offensive Smells

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Somehow I don’t think about the stench of cities past. James Hobson offers an extract from his book Dark Days of Georgian Britain: Rethinking the Regency.

The late Georgian period was full of offensive smells that followed your around, and people did not just always ‘put up with it’. They knew, that wherever there was ‘effluvia’ [Effluvium – an unpleasant or harmful odour or discharge], there were dangers; not always danger of death, but of illness and diseases. Before the germ theory of the later part of the century, people believed that bad smells – ‘miasma’ – were the major cause of illness, and they were not far wrong despite not fully understanding the science.

Where did effluvia come from? There were two main origins – manufacturing with chemicals and organic decomposition – and one aggravating factor for both; all of the people of Georgian Britain lived much nearer to decomposition that we do today, the poor particularly so.

Decomposition can be put in two broad categories – dunghills and cesspits. Cesspits were avoided by all, except those who earned a living digging them out. In July 1810, a freakish accident showed the dangers of effluvia. James Brooks and his work mates were digging out a latrine in Woolwich. It belonged to the Master Attendant at the Dockyard; and the work, as always was done at night – it was 11pm. James and his colleagues had literally created their own graves; they had already dug out ten buckets of hardened and dried excrement, enough space for James to fall into the hole. A ladder was procured, which only made it possible for his loyal colleagues to climb down and be suffocated by the smell themselves. Hugh Jenkins climbed in and died quickly; Isaac Pitcher followed in order to help, not knowing that Jenkins was dead. In all five men died over a two hour period, two of them more or less instantly and the others within the hour.

The Royal Cornwell Gazette was helpful but fatalistic – What could be done for people like colour grinders, feather dressers, wool-carders, gilders and night men – who were ‘doomed’ to follow such dangerous professions? The answer was a face mask, covered the nose, soaked with potash, or acetate of lead. The newspaper nearly, but not quite intimated that it may have been partly their own fault for not having them.

The Scots Magazine of June 1817 crossed that line. It complained that typhus was spreading in Edinburgh New Town because the poor slum dwellers were dirty and their streets were full of dunghills containing sources of effluvia- rotting vegetable matter, dead animals and excrement that did not make it into a latrine because they did not have one. The magazine knew that dunghills were not the direct cause of the disease, because it also killed people in the ventilated and well aired parts of town as well, but was happy with the idea that the death was caused by the demoralised habits of the poor.

Sewers caused noxious smells, and lack of sewers did the same. In April 1812, a visitor to Cheltenham advised the town to invest in a sewer pipe as the poor were now overcrowded into basement dwellings that filled with excrement during floods. A year earlier,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 June 2020 at 2:29 pm

Posted in Daily life

Police attacks on protestors are rooted in a violent ideology of reactionary grievance

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Ryan Devereaux writes in The Intercept:

THE SUN WAS HIGH as the protesters filled Grand Army Plaza. In normal times, it’s easy to forget that the gateway to Brooklyn’s largest park was once a battleground in the fight for American independence, or that its iconic “Soldiers and Sailors Arch” is a monument to those lost in the war to end slavery. But with a global pandemic having taken more than 100,000 American lives in a matter of months, more than 40 million others out of work, and protests against police violence sweeping the U.S., recent days have been far from normal, and as demonstrators took their places on Sunday, the plaza’s place in history felt unusually present.

Kenyatta Reid, a Brooklyn native, was among those gathered at the foot of the arch. Reid and her husband had come to the protest with their three young children, ages 11, 8, and 2. It was the family’s second day in the streets, joining the nationwide wave of demonstrations following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin. The previous night, near the Brooklyn Bridge, Reid and her family had watched as New York City police officers in riot gear beat and pepper-sprayed protesters. “That got really scary for the kids,” Reid told me. Still, her children woke up the next morning asking to go out again — they had even made their own signs. “Am I next?” her son’s read.

As an African American mother raising three kids in the United States in 2020, Reid said the conditions that sparked the protests are the subject of daily parental education, a process of “letting them know that they’re worthy, and the problem is other people, not them.” When asked if they would keep coming out, Reid did not hesitate. “This is their lives,” she said. “You have to.”

Hundreds of miles away, in Cincinnati, reaction to the protests was taking a different shape. While demonstrators were gathering in Brooklyn, a group of Hamilton County sheriff’s deputies dressed in tactical gear and body armor, many of them carrying rifles, hoisted a pro-police flag outside of their office. Ubiquitous in some parts of the country, the flag replaces the red of a traditional American flag with black. The banner incorporates a blue band to symbolize the “thin blue line” that some police officers believe they represent: society’s well-armed firewall, protecting an otherwise defenseless public from the forces of evil.

Sheriff Jim Neil later said that the flag replacement was only temporary, after an image of his deputies’ informal ceremony went viral. The office’s American flag had been lost to vandals, the sheriff tweeted, and the current one was meant to honor an officer whose helmet was struck with a bullet the previous night. “The flag has been removed and we will replace it with the American Flag in the morning,” Neil wrote.

Though minor in comparison to the acts of physical violence and outpourings of grief seen across the country, the episode in Cincinnati was significant. The “thin blue line” flag is the known symbol of a social, cultural, and political movement that is inextricably linked to the country’s current unrest. The flag is the centerpiece in a world of merchandise and policing philosophy, all built around the idea that the police are an embattled tribe of warriors, maligned and reviled by a nation that fails to appreciate their unique importance. The blue line is a reminder that much of the policing community sees itself as separate from the rest of society — and as the nation has witnessed in recent days, in video after shocking video, this well-armed population, imbued with the power to deprive citizens of life and liberty, does not take kindly to those who challenge its authority.

“What we’re talking about here is a worldview that says that police are the only force capable of holding society together,” Alex Vitale, a professor of sociology at Brooklyn College and author of “The End of Policing,” told me. The view turns on the notion that “without the constant threat of violent coercive intervention, society will unravel into a war of all against all,” he explained. Seen through this lens, “authoritarian solutions are not just necessary, they’re almost preferable.”

In the wake of Floyd’s killing, with protests in every state in the union and U.S. security forces at every level called to respond, the country is now witnessing what years of militarized conditioning, training, and culture have wrought: a nationwide protest movement running up against a nationwide police riot.

In New York City, where at least 2,500 people have been arrested in the past week, local officials have imposed an 8 p.m. curfew, which the New York Police Department has used as a pretext to arrest individuals whom it would otherwise have no justification to take into custody. In an emerging pattern that civil rights attorneys have documented in multiple boroughs throughout the city, a number of those individuals have been taken to local station houses where NYPD intelligence officers and FBI agents have interrogated them about their political beliefs, including their views on fascism. Word of the interrogations came just days after Attorney General William Barr released a statement describing the leaderless anti-fascist movement known as antifa as a domestic terrorist organization and announced that the federal government’s 56 Joint Terrorism Task Forces had been activated in a nationwide manhunt for “criminal organizers and instigators.”

In Washington, D.C., heavily armed tactical units took up positions in the nation’s capital, wearing no official insignia. Self-styled groups of mostly white men carrying military-grade weapons were also in the streets, and local police were spotted posing for photos with bat-wielding vigilantes. Far-right, white power groups seized on the unrest to accelerate the country toward a long-desired race war: In Las Vegas, three right-wing extremists with military experience, adherents to the so-called boogaloo movement, were arrested on terrorism charges for allegedly plotting attacks in Nevada.

Michael German, a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice and former FBI agent specializing in domestic terrorism investigations, said the government’s actions in the past week reflect entrenched, longstanding problems in American policing. From a legal and logistical standpoint, Barr’s statement regarding antifa was “toothless,” German said: “It’s a way of signaling to Trump supporters, both in law enforcement and out, that this is the enemy.”

Time and again, American law enforcement’s response to dissent has followed a pattern, German explained, with police cracking down on movements for racial, social, and environmental justice, while giving violent white nationalists who beat people in the street a free pass. “We already see that there is this dynamic where the police officers view people who protest police violence as enemies they can use further violence against,” he said. “Particularly in protests, it’s not just that the police want to arrest somebody who’s a problem,” German said. “They want to mete out punishment.”

Blue Lines Take Aim at Black Lives

Although the idea of the “thin blue line” has been around for decades, its branding and merchandising evolution began as effort to raise money for the families of slain police officers. The flag itself was created six years ago, when the U.S. was gripped with police brutality protests that gave rise to the Black Lives Matter movement. As those demands for justice picked up momentum, a countermovement, Blue Lives Matter, rose up under the newly created banner. In an article for Harper’s magazine, author Jeff Sharlet details how a white 19-year-old college student named Andrew Jacob came up with the idea for the flag. “The black above represents citizens,” Jacob, founder of the company Thin Blue Line USA, explained. “The black below represents criminals.”

The flag’s creation coincided with the December 2014 killing of two NYPD officers, Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, in Brooklyn. The officers’ deaths sparked a rebellion among New York City cops against Mayor Bill de Blasio. It was a turning point for the recently elected mayor, who had capitalized on demands for police accountability in his run for office. While de Blasio has become a symbol of abject failure in the eyes of nearly all NYPD accountability advocates, the department’s powerful union has continued to publicly batter and berate the mayor on a daily basis in the years since the killings, and recently doxxed his daughter following her arrest while protesting in Manhattan.

The flag’s emergence in 2014 was but one element in a larger ecosystem of police propaganda. Like the weapons, vehicles, and training that flow from the military to police departments across the country, the Blue Lives Matter movement embraces imagery and ideology drawn from U.S. wars abroad.

The same month that the officers in Brooklyn were gunned down, Clint Eastwood’s film “American Sniper” hit theaters. The film, which swiftly became the highest-grossing war movie of all time, told the story of Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL who, in addition to becoming a hero to many, once boasted about conducting dozens of extrajudicial killings on the streets of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Though Kyle was already well known following the publication of his bestselling autobiography, the Hollywood blockbuster rocketed the sniper to conservative superstardom.

On the battlefields of Iraq, the calling card of Kyle’s platoon was an image of a skull worn by the comic book character known as the Punisher. In the Marvel series, Frank Castle, aka the Punisher, is a Marine veteran of the Vietnam War who murders people in a self-declared war on crime. In his book, Kyle, who was shot and killed by a fellow veteran in 2013, described his unit’s love for the character and his symbolic skull. “We spray-painted it on our Hummers and body armor, and our helmets and all our guns,” he wrote. “We spray-painted it on every building or wall we could. We wanted people to know, We’re here and we want to fuck with you. It was our version of psyops. You see us? We’re the people kicking your ass. Fear us. Because we will kill you, motherfucker. You are bad. We are badder. We are bad-ass.

Police officers across the country have developed a similar infatuation for the Punisher’s skull, plastering the vigilante killer’s symbol on T-shirts, squad cars, and other gear. In Milwaukee, a gang of officers adopted “the Punishers” as their namesake and tattooed the character’s logo on their skin. The artists and writers behind the Punisher comics have pushed back on law enforcement’s embrace, describing it as a total misreading of the character. Co-creator Gerry Conway has likened law enforcement’s use of the logo to placing a Confederate flag on a government building. “He is a criminal,” Conway has said. “If an officer of the law, representing the justice system, puts a criminal’s symbol on his police car, or shares challenge coins honoring a criminal, he or she is making a very ill-advised statement about their understanding of the law.”

The violent and militaristic view of policing reflected in the Punisher’s popularity is also present in the training officers receive. In “American Sniper,” the film’s star, Bradley Cooper, delivers a speech to his sons at the kitchen table, explaining that there are three types of people in the world: sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. The wolves seek to prey on the sheep, and it’s up to the sheepdogs — a smaller yet critical population — to protect them. The lesson is drawn directly from the teachings of Lt. Dave Grossman, a former West Point psychology professor and self-proclaimed expert on killing who teaches courses for police departments and federal law enforcement agencies across the country. Grossman’s first book, “On Killing,” was at one point required reading for FBI cadets.

In his classes, Grossman sometimes tells attendees that police officers have told him that their first killing led to the best sex of their lives, and says that with the proper training, taking a human life is “just not that big of a deal.” In 2014, Jeronimo Yanez, a Minnesota police officer, attended one of Grossman’s “Bulletproof Warrior” classes, administered by Grossman’s business partner. Two years later, Yanez pulled over Philando Castile, a black 32-year-old father, in a traffic stop. Castile informed the officer that he was in possession of a licensed firearm. Yanez grew increasingly agitated and shot him five times. Castile died in the driver’s seat, with his girlfriend and 4-year-old daughter in the vehicle. Yanez was acquitted of all charges in the trial that followed.

In the aftermath of the killing, which prompted waves of protests, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey banned the warrior policing courses. Lt. Bob Kroll, president of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, bristled at the decision, calling Grossman’s trainings “excellent.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

And see also A Brooklyn Man Was Arrested For Violating Curfew. The FBI Interrogated Him About His Political Beliefs. That seems ominous to me.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 June 2020 at 1:16 pm

Restructuring the police

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The woman who spoke at the end of the video impressed me, and I think she should be heard.

I want to emphasize his point — it’s not about individual cops (among whom are both good and bad individuals), it’s about the system and structure. Camden NJ totally replaced its police department with a new structure of law enforcement, social services, medical help, and so on. About 100 members of their former police department were hired for the new structure. Their city is now more peaceful and less violent and the crime rate is half what it was. When a city no longer has the sort of hostile, armed, militarized, authoritarian occupying force that is common to many cities (Minneapolis, LA, Chicago, NYC, and on and on), then things get better. As the Germans found when they occupied Paris, people really don’t like a hostile, armed, militarized, authoritarian occupying force. When it happens, it triggers adverse reactions.

I’m just so tired of having people respond, when one points out the many videos of cops brutalizing and mistreating people, saying, “Well, there are good cops, too.” Of course there are. But it’s not about individual cops. It’s about the structure and system. Reform can never succeed if it’s approached by trying to fire bad cops (who are protected not only by the police union and its political clout, but also by the silence (and thus tacit support) of their fellow officers. The only way out is to replace police departments with altogether new organizational structures using a new set of approaches.

And many police agree that their mission has become clouded and contradictory and the good among them would doubtless welcome a clarifying and constructive restructuring. For example, armed cops in schools? Armed cops dealing with the mentally ill? Armed copies trying to help people with drug/alcohol dependency? It’s as if the police department has become a bin in which all sorts of social problems are dropped to be processed (as with a food processor).

The irony of the looting and destruction is that looting and destruction is the essence of private equity takeovers: take over the company, do a bust-out, looting it into bankruptcy (cf. Toys R Us), then move on to the next. Thus this Onion story.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 June 2020 at 1:06 pm

Maximizing benefits of Duolingo’s spaced repetition in language learning

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Anki explains well how two tactics maximize learning: active recall and spaced repetition. Quoting from that page:

Active recall

‘Active recall testing’ means being asked a question and trying to remember the answer. This is in contrast to ‘passive study’, where we read, watch or listen to something without pausing to consider if we know the answer. Research has shown that active recall testing is far more effective at building strong memories than passive study. There are two reasons for this:

  • The act of recalling something ‘strengthens’ the memory, increasing the chances we’ll be able to remember it again.
  • When we’re unable to answer a question, it tells us we need to return to the material to review or relearn it.

You have probably encountered active recall testing in your school years without even realizing it. When good teachers give you a series of questions to answer after reading an article, or make you take weekly progress-check tests, they are not doing it simply to see if you understood the material or not. By testing you, they are increasing the chances you will be able to remember the material in the future.

Spaced repetition

The ‘spacing effect’ was reported by a German psychologist in 1885. He observed that we tend to remember things more effectively if we spread reviews out over time, instead of studying multiple times in one session. Since the 1930s there have been a number of proposals for utilizing the spacing effect to improve learning, in what has come to be called ‘spaced repetition’.

Duolingo uses both active recall and spaced repetition

Duolingo structures its courses as a “tree” of skills, each skill shown as a disk with an icon. A skill has 5 levels, and after 5 levels the skill is completed (though you can do additional practice sessions if you want).

Each level comprises four to six lessons, typically six. Formerly, I would start a new skill and complete all five levels, then move to the next skill.

I finally realized that approach is bad because it undermines spaced repetition, which (along with active recall) truly solidifies learning. Active recall is built into every lesson of Duolingo, and Duolingo is also structured for spaced repetition. One obvious example of Duoling’s use of spaced repetition is how a mastered skill will occasionally, over time, be displayed as “broken,” to be fixed by completing a practice session.

The approach I had been using was counter to the idea of spaced repetition.

A better approach

The skills are displayed in rows on a language tree. When I finish a skill, I start a new available skill (a skill icon in color rather than grayed) by completing the first level in it. I keep 6-8 skills active, which amounts to skills in 3 or 4 rows (and perhaps not all skills in the rows are active because I haven’t started them).

I work sequentially through the skills I am currently working on, one level in each skill. That number seems to be about right: I return to the oldest open skill within a reasonable period of time to reinforce what I had learned earlier.

I work through the entire current set of 6-8 uncompleted skills (i.e., skills below level 5), completing one level in each skill before I repeat any skill. I don’t start a new skill until I complete one of the currently active skills.

The result is spaced repetition: I complete a skill level and move on to the next skill, returning later. Now that I’m doing it, I see that the levels seem to constructed with this approach in mind. My former approach amounted to cramming (as the night before a test), and that is not effective for long-term retention. Spaced repetition over time is.

I imagine most Duolinguists know this already, but I just figured it out and wanted to share it.

Update: Yep, this very approach was described in the Duolingo blog. Wish I had seen that post earlier. (Someone just sent me the link.)

Written by LeisureGuy

10 June 2020 at 12:14 pm

So smooth: J.M. Fraser does it again, ably assisted by Edwin Jagger

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Fraser and Jagger make a good team. I was moved to use the shaving cream from my recent focus on lathers. J.M. Fraser’s lather has always seemed to me particularly efficacious, and as a bonus it is inexpensive. The 1-pound tub shown cost me $15 when I got it. (A 1-pound tub lasts a long time even when you’re not using it occasionally, and (as you’ve doubtless observed) I don’t really plow through any of my shaving soaps or creams.) Today it costs $19, and it’s a great bargain. I think some readers have tried it, and I’d be interested to read their comments, given the YMMV nature of shaving.

And the Edwin Jagger razor is a boon companion. I rate the design of the EJ razor head (which I suppose we can no longer call the “new” design) as excellent. The only shortcoming is choice of materials: though EJ’s chrome plating is excellent it cannot provide the tensile strength to cope with how the Zamak threaded stud on the cap can be gradually weakened by overtightening and eventually break under a slight shock. To avoid this problem, tighten your EJ razor just enough so that the head doesn’t loosen as you shave: snug, but not tight. The grip of Thor should not be used. (Tomorrow I’ll discuss a workaround.)

And, so long as we are pointing out weaknesses, I’ll note that the fragrance of J.M. Fraser, though clean and pleasant, lacks the intensity and complexity of more fragrance-oriented shaving soaps and creams. Fraser’s scent is more utilitarian. But the lather! In a class by itself in terms of efficacy.

My Rod Neep brush seemed to relish the lather as well — I think this morning I may have loaded a bit longer than usual, with the result that the lather was exceptionally creamy and thick.

After the shave a splash of Stetson Sierra, a fine aftershave, finished the job. That provided the fragrance hit that’s a part of a good shave.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 June 2020 at 10:52 am

Posted in Shaving

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