Later On

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

Archive for October 13th, 2020

Violence against women: It’s a men’s issue

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This talk is worth watching. You can find a transcript (along with the video) on the TED site. Here’s the video by itself.

Written by Leisureguy

13 October 2020 at 8:42 pm

Posted in Daily life

Good batch of Greens

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As is usual, it turned out to be a rather large batch, but extremely tasty. Since I make it up as I go along, much as I’ve lived my life, I sometimes forget some ingredient(s) and must return and update, so if you’re thinking of trying this, you might want to return in a day or two to see whether the “recipe” has changed.

I used my extremely useful All-Clad 6-qt pot. It has a wide diameter that helps with the sautéing. This is the type now called d3, which I recommend. The Wife was look for a pan and was hesitating between the All-Clad d3 and d5 3-qt saucepans. The d5 is smaller diameter and a little taller, and it has a helper handle, which the d3 lacks. The presence of the helper handle was immediately evident when she found a d5 3-qt pan in a store and tried to lift it. It’s noticeably heavier than the d3. I’m sticking with d3.

Saanich red Russian garlic

The first step, always, is to get the garlic ready so it can rest. I used my garlic mandoline to slice up a head of local garlic (see photo). Thee cloves are enormous but very easily peeled — the peel is like a shell that can be fairly easily popped off. This variety of garlic is not so pungent as Gilroy (California) garlic, and perhaps is a bit sweeter.

I sliced all the cloves and put them in a bowl to rest. It was a one-cup bowl and it was pretty full.

With the garlic resting, I put about into the pot about:

1.5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

I then added (as I sliced it):

1 ginormous leek, including the green part and leaves
the green part and top leaves of two other leeks (I had roasted the white part in 1″ sections).
2 jalapeño peppers, chopped small (with core and seeds).
4 good-sized turmeric roots, chopped small (I don’t bother peeling them)

I used this knife, which goes through leeks like a hot knife through butter. It’s also a good size when you’re chopping a bunch of greens — I’m not one to go leaf by leaf with kale, for example: cut the entire bunch crossways and then make 2-3 cuts the length of bunch. The jalapeños I quarter lengthwise and the slice across into small pieces.

Once leek, peppers, and turmeric had been added to the pot, I turned the burner to a low medium heat and started them cooking.

While they cooked, I got out a large bowl to hold the greens as I chopped them.

1 big bunch curly-leaf green kale (the stalks chopped small and added to leeks immediately)
1 bunch rapini
about 8 -10 large crimini mushrooms cut into good-sized chunks
two lemons, relatively thin-skinned, ends removed, cut into slabs and then diced
about 2-3 tablespoons ground black pepper (for the turmeric)

The mushrooms I halve vertically, then put flat side down and cut into thick slices. Each slab of lemon (I stack slabs of similar size) gets 6 cuts: 3 equally spaced in one direction, then turn to right angles and 3 more spaced cuts.

At this point in my prep the leeks etc. had cooked down — I was giving it an occasional stir with my cherrywood spatula — so I added some of the contents of the bowl along with:

1 can Ro-Tel original tomatoes and green chilis
a good amount (1/3 cup approx) apple cider vinegar (I like Bragg’s)
a similar amount of Shaoxing wine (or sherry)
about 2 tablespoons Red Boat fish sauce
about 1 cup pitted kalamata olives
about 2 tablespoons Herbes de Provence
had I thought of it, 1 tablespoon Wright’s liquid smoke

I simmered all that for 15 minutes, gave it a good stir, then simmered 15 minutes more.

I served it mixed with some cooked lentils and cooked intact whole-grain kamut. It was extremely tasty and satisfying.

Written by Leisureguy

13 October 2020 at 8:16 pm

Intriguing tree and fruit

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Written by Leisureguy

13 October 2020 at 6:10 pm

Shakespeare’s greatest villain: Hamlet

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Catherine Butler of Cardiff University writes in the Conversation:

Who is Shakespeare’s greatest villain? Richard III? Iago? Macbeth? They all have a claim to the title; however, the correct answer is Hamlet.

Hamlet not only behaves villainously throughout his eponymous play, but has somehow persuaded generations of audiences and critics that he is actually its hero. That is what takes his villainy to the next level.

Look at the roll call of Hamlet’s crimes.

First he kills Polonius – chief counsellor to the King and the father of Laertes and Ophelia. Hamlet skewers him when he discovers him eavesdropping from behind a tapestry. Polonius may be an “intruding fool,” as Hamlet dismissively calls him on discovering his body; but Hamlet is in no position to feel superior, having “intruded” on Claudius’s private meditations in just the previous scene. Double standards are, however, a hallmark of this play.

To make his treatment of Polonius worse, once dead, Hamlet drags his corpse through the court, hiding it from his loved ones and leaving it to decay and rot without proper burial.

Such disrespect of Polonius in death, however, is no different from how the prince treated him in life. Using his rank, Hamlet continuously insults Polonious, ridiculing him for his age, calling him names and refusing to talk to him directly at times. Hamlet does so knowing Polonius can not answer back. Punching down is Hamlet’s usual style with social inferiors: Rosencrantz, Guildenstern and Osric all experience similar treatment.

The most egregious crime is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 October 2020 at 4:07 pm

Posted in Books

Cognition all the way down

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The authors of this article in Aeon are:

Michael Levin is the Vannevar Bush chair and Distinguished Professor of biology at Tufts University in Massachusetts, where he directs the Allen Discovery Center and the Tufts Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology.

Daniel C Dennett is the Austin B Fletcher professor of philosophy and co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University. He is the author of more than a dozen books, the latest of which is From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds (2017). He lives in Massachusetts.

Their article begins:

Biologists like to think of themselves as properly scientific behaviourists, explaining and predicting the ways that proteins, organelles, cells, plants, animals, and whole biota behave under various conditions, thanks to the smaller parts of which they are composed. They identify causal mechanisms that reliably execute various functions such as copying DNA, attacking antigens, photosynthesising, discerning temperature gradients, capturing prey, finding their way back to their nests and so forth, but they don’t think that this acknowledgment of functions implicates them in any discredited teleology or imputation of reasons and purposes or understanding to the cells and other parts of the mechanisms they investigate.

But when cognitive science turned its back on behaviourism more than 50 years ago and began dealing with signals and internal maps, goals and expectations, beliefs and desires, biologists were torn. All right, they conceded, people and some animals have minds; their brains are physical minds – not mysterious dualistic minds – processing information and guiding purposeful behaviour; animals without brains, such as sea squirts, don’t have minds, nor do plants or fungi or microbes. They resisted introducing intentional idioms into their theoretical work, except as useful metaphors when teaching or explaining to lay audiences. Genes weren’t really selfish, antibodies weren’t really seeking, cells weren’t really figuring out where they were. These little biological mechanisms weren’t really agents with agendas, even though thinking of them as if they were often led to insights.

We think that this commendable scientific caution has gone too far, putting biologists into a straitjacket that prevents them from exploring the most promising hypotheses, just as behaviourism prevented psychologists from seeing how their subjects’ measurable behaviour could be interpreted as effects of hopes, beliefs, plans, fears, intentions, distractions, and so forth. The witty philosopher Sidney Morgenbesser once asked B F Skinner: ‘You think we shouldn’t anthropomorphise people?’– and we’re saying that biologists should chill out and see the virtues of anthropomorphising all sorts of living things. After all, isn’t biology really a kind of reverse engineering of all the parts and processes of living things? Ever since the cybernetics advances of the 1940s and ’50s, engineers have had a robust, practical science of mechanisms with purpose and goal-directedness – without mysticism. We suggest that biologists catch up.

Now, we agree that attributing purpose to objects profligately is a mistake; Isaac Newton’s laws are great for predicting the path of a ball placed at the top of a hill, but they’re useless for understanding what a mouse at the top of a hill will do. So, the other way to make a mistake is to fail to attribute goal-directedness to a system that has it; this kind of teleophobia significantly holds back the ability to predict and control complex systems because it prevents discovery of their most efficient internal controls or pressure points. We reject a simplistic essentialism where humans have ‘real’ goals, and everything else has only metaphorical ‘as if’ goals. Recent advances in basal cognition and related sciences are showing us how to move past this kind of all-or-nothing thinking about the human animal – naturalising human capacities and swapping a naive binary distinction for a continuum of how much agency any system has.

Thanks to Charles Darwin, biology doesn’t ever have to invoke an ‘intelligent designer’ who created all those mechanisms. Evolution by natural selection has done – and is still doing – all that refining and focusing and differentiating work. We’re all just physical mechanisms made of physical mechanisms obeying the laws of physics and chemistry. But there is a profound difference between the ingenious mechanisms designed by human intelligent designers – clocks and motors and computers, for instance – and the mechanisms designed and assembled by natural selection. A simple fantasy will allow us to pinpoint it.

Imagine ordering a remote-controlled model car, and it arrives in a big box that says ‘Some assembly required’ on the back. When you open the box, you find hundreds of different parts, none labelled, and no instruction booklet to help you put the pieces together. A daunting task confronts you, not mainly a problem of the nimbleness or strength of your fingers. Its difficulty lies in not knowing what goes where. A carefully written instruction manual, with diagrams and labels on all the parts would be of great value, of course, but only because you could see the diagrams and read the instructions and labels. If you were sent the Russian instruction manual, it would be almost useless if you didn’t know how to read Russian. (You’d also have to know how to attach Tab A to slot B, and thread nut 17 onto bolt 95.)

But then you spot a slip of paper that instructs you to put all the parts into a large kettle of water on the stove, heat the water to a low boil, and stir. You do this, and to your amazement the parts begin to join together into small and then larger assemblies, with tabs finding their slots, bolts finding their holes, and nuts spinning onto those bolts, all propelled by the random roiling of the boiling water. In a few hours, your model car is assembled and, when you dry it off, it runs smoothly. A preposterous fantasy, of course, but it echoes the ‘miracle’ of life that takes a DNA parts list and instruction book and, without any intelligent assembler’s help, composes a new organism with millions of moving parts, all correctly attached to each other.

We already have a brilliant and detailed account of how the list of ingredients – the genes for proteins – gets read and executed, thanks to those remarkable machines, the ribosomes, the chaperonins and others, and we’re making great progress on how the DNA also provides assembly instructions. Won’t this bottom-up research path, which has been so successful, eventually reveal the details of all the processes that do the work in the imaginary pot of hot water? Is this really a problem?

We think it is. The great progress has been mainly on drilling down to the molecular level, but the higher levels are actually not that well-off. We are still pretty poor at controlling anatomical structure or knowing how to get it back on track in cancer – this is why we don’t have a real regenerative medicine yet. We know how to specify individual cell fates from stem cells, but we’re still far from being able to make complex organs on demand. The few . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 October 2020 at 3:30 pm

Posted in Evolution, Science

RIP Stanley Crouch (1945–2020), great jazz and cultural critic

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A great loss, with a remembrance by Paul Berman in Tablet magazine:

In 1993, at one of the periodic highpoints of Black-Jewish acrimony, Delacorte Press commissioned me to put together a reader on Black-and-Jewish themes, and I right away went to Stanley Crouch to ask him to contribute an essay. He gave it some thought and concluded that, between his journalism and his book projects and everything else he had going, he was too busy to take it on.

But meanwhile he and I fell into a rambling conversation, which was an old habit of ours from many years of laboring shoulder to shoulder at the Village Voice. And, as had happened many times, the talk wandered from present-day circumstances into the past and thence to our literary and intellectual heroes among the older writers. We got onto Ralph Ellison, about whom Stanley spoke often, always with reverence, and Irving Howe, who figured among my own heroes.

Stanley drew a significant portion of his own concept of how to be Black in America from Ralph Ellison, and how to be a writer and thinker (and the rest of his concept from Ellison’s comrade-in-arms, Albert Murray). And I drew a number of parallel inspirations from Irving Howe. Stanley, though, was less than keen on Howe. He tolerated Howe sufficiently to have contributed an essay to Howe’s magazine, Dissent, back in 1987, on Malcolm X. The opening sentence was aggressively blunt and vivid, in a fine display of the Stanley Crouch panache: “When compared to men like Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King, Malcolm X seems no more than a thorned bud standing in the shadow of sequoias.” But it may be that, in Stanley’s eyes, Irving Howe was likewise a thorned bud.

That was because, back in 1963, Howe and Ellison had conducted a magazine debate, and, after 30 years, some of the digs and counterdigs in that debate had not entirely faded away. It was a debate about the place of politics in literature in general, and about its place in the literature of Black America in particular. Howe took the view that politics are appropriate in the novel, and angry protests against oppression are unavoidable for the Black writers of America. He granted that politics is coarsening, which makes for a tension between art and social protest.

He admired Richard Wright and the volcanic tremors of social bitterness in Native Son and Black Boy. He held James Baldwin in awe—“one of the two or three greatest essayists this country has ever produced”—but he expressed reservations about some of the early essays, in which Baldwin criticized Wright. He admired Ralph Ellison. But he considered that Ellison’s Invisible Man lacked the sharp edge of Wright’s anger. And he shook his head in disapproval at Ellison’s enthusiasm for the wider American culture—the American enthusiasm that Ellison and Saul Bellow, the author of The Adventures of Augie March, seemed to share.

And Ellison responded in a fury. Ellison considered that Howe understood nothing of the Black writer’s situation in America. Ellison explained that, if he had an oppressor, it was Irving Howe, who was telling him what to do—Irving Howe, who wanted to consign Black writers to the crudest of themes, in conformity to his own left-wing ideological predisposition. Ellison wrote: “My reply to your essay is in itself a small though necessary action in the Negro struggle for freedom.” And why did Howe speak in the voice of a guilt-stricken white, anyway, as if he were the descendant of slave owners, when Howe was, after all, Jewish—and the Jews “have enough troubles of their own,” as is well known to the Negroes? The authentic self was Ellison’s principle.

The whole thing took a personal turn, such that, by the end, Ellison introduced his concluding remarks by writing, “Dear Irving.” And both writers displayed satisfaction with what they had written. Howe reprinted his opening essay, “Black Boys and Native Sons,” in his essay collection, A World More Attractive, with its title drawn from Trotsky. And Ellison reprinted his reply, “The World and the Jug,” in his own collection, Shadow and Act—which lifted the debate upward from the lower plains of throwaway magazines to the loftier zones of bookshelf immortality.

Stanley Crouch, 30 years later, stood with Ellison, not just as a matter of personal loyalty. Ellison’s responses to Howe amounted to a personal manifesto, and the manifesto had endless meanings for Stanley himself. My own view was mixed. I recognized the legitimacy and power of Ellison’s argument, which is to say that, if I looked closely at the debate, Howe seemed to me to have been unjust to Ellison. Then again, I considered that Ellison had turned Howe’s argument into a cartoon, which was likewise unjust—an observation made very astutely by the critic Darryl Lorenzo Wellington in Dissent some years ago. Really the whole debate was an American reprise of the Russian literary quarrels of the 19th century, with Howe in the role of Chernyshevsky and Ellison in the role of Dostoevsky—a debate that Dostoevsky is deemed to have won, from a classic literary standpoint. But was Chernyshevsky wrong to insist on speaking about social conditions?

II.

So Stanley and I were not of the same mind. Still, our conversation led to an inspiration for my Blacks-and-Jews anthology. Cynthia Ozick had written an essay on the friction between Blacks and Jews in which she took a close look at the Ellison-Howe quarrel. She came down on Ellison’s side. Ellison’s knife jab at Howe for failing to take into consideration his own Jewishness was particularly to her taste. I wrote to her and asked if I could reprint her essay in the anthology. We got on the phone. I invited her to write a postscript, too, if she had anything further to say. She was voluble, she did have more to say, and she agreed to do it.

And I went back to Stanley with an alternative idea. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 October 2020 at 3:08 pm

Posted in Art, Books, Jazz

Robert Lighthizer Blew Up 60 Years of Trade Policy. Nobody Knows What Happens Next.

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Lydia dePillis reports in ProPublica:

On a spring day in 2017, Robert Lighthizer walked through the doors of the office of the United States Trade Representative to introduce himself to the career staff who had shepherded American trade policy for a generation. After a chaotic few months awaiting Lighthizer’s confirmation, officials were eager for stability; Lighthizer offered deep expertise in a cabinet full of government neophytes. As a Washington operative with years of experience in international trade, he seemed like the best appointment they were likely to get under the circumstances.

There was, nonetheless, considerable apprehension among the few hundred USTR staff gathered in the auditorium. President Donald Trump had built his campaign on scathing criticism of the treaties the people in the room had forged over years of hard work. “Free trade can be wonderful if you have smart people,” Trump had said, the very first time he rode down the escalator in Trump Tower to announce his candidacy. “But we have people that are stupid.”

Lighthizer offered a conciliatory tone at that first meeting — acknowledging, one official said, “that he would have a different approach that some of us might disagree with, but that he would be open to hearing our views.’’ Remembered another: “He set out the broad goals of righting the wrongs that had been visited upon us but also tried to be reassuring and respectful of staff capabilities.”

Over the next 3½ years, Lighthizer did listen to the staff he inherited. But this child of the Rust Belt, whose views were honed through years of fighting unfair practices by America’s trading partners, made it clear he shared Trump’s critique of U.S. trade policy in substance, if not tone.

Lighthizer set out on an audacious plan to rebalance American trade relationships around the world, levying sweeping tariffs, hamstringing international institutions, pulling out of agreements and threatening to ditch even more. His boss, a self-styled dealmaker, loved the tactics. Lighthizer delivered what Trump demanded and did it without claiming credit — preserving his post while other White House personnel came and went.

With the election just a few weeks away, it’s worth taking stock of how this signature element of the Trump agenda has worked out. This story is based on interviews with dozens of current and former career staff at USTR, their counterparts in other countries, and interest groups — most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to preserve relationships with the Trump administration. Lighthhizer himself declined to be interviewed, as did most of his former top deputies.

The picture that emerges is complex. Even critics of the administration said that Lighthizer had a point when he argued that the gentler tactics of his predecessors had not been effective. And they acknowledge that the once-obscure USTR is more powerful than it’s ever been, its mission reoriented from easing corporate investment barriers overseas to erecting hurdles that might force those companies to keep jobs in America after decades of manufacturing decline.

Along the way, Lighthizer has bent the rules of the international trading system and thrown businesses into turmoil as they race to comply with changes to import costs. He’s ruptured international relationships, maintained tariffs on $350 billion worth of imports, and constructed a series of piecemeal and delicate agreements with trading partners that are as good as the next president’s dedication to enforcing them.

So far, the promised benefits of this upheaval are hard to see. The gap between American imports and exports of goods is as big as it’s ever been, while manufacturing output and job growth flatlined in 2019. To the extent that manufacturers have pulled out of China, they’ve shifted to countries like Vietnam and Mexico, rather than set up factories in the U.S. And Lighthizer has failed to achieve his most ambitious goals, as a tempestuous president’s abrupt twists and turns sabotaged the patient, insistent approach on which his trade representative had built his reputation.

In their defense, turning the ship of global trade may take more than one four-year term. Lighthizer’s stated goal is to return to a world in which everyone plays by the same rules, without the need for punitive barriers, and it’s possible he could get there with time.

But it doesn’t look likely. Lori Wallach, who runs the Global Trade Watch arm of the liberal watchdog group Public Citizen gives . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 October 2020 at 12:59 pm

Face mask FAQs

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Catherine Clase, physician, epidemiologist, associate professor, McMaster University; and Edouard Fu, MD/PhD Candidate in Clinical Epidemiology, Leiden University; and Juan Jesus Carrero, Professor of Epidemiology, Karolinska Institute write in the Conversation:

Face masks reduce the spread of viruses passed on from respiratory secretions. While cloth masks are imperfect, widespread use of an imperfect mask has the potential to make a big difference in transmission of the virus.

We started reading the research on cloth masks and face coverings at the start of the pandemic, looking for ways to protect our vulnerable dialysis patients and our dialysis staff. We found a total of 25 studies, advocated for mask use and summarized our findings in a peer-reviewed publication. We also created an evidence-based, plain-language website (www.clothmasks.ca) to help people navigate this area.

Although mask use has been widely adopted, many people still have questions about them.

I see spaces in the cloth. How can it stop particles?

The virus that causes COVID-19 is about 0.1 micrometer in diameter. (A micrometer (µm) is one one-thousandth of a millimeter.) The holes in woven cloth are visible to the naked eye and may be five to 200 micrometers in diameter. It is counter-intuitive that cloth can be useful in this setting — it’s been compared to putting up a chain-link fence to stop mosquitoes. However, that analogy is wrong in many ways.

According to aerosol science, whenever liquid hangs in air it is technically an aerosol, but other disciplines use the word “droplet” to mean a coarse particle five micrometers or larger, and reserve “aerosol” for fine particles smaller than five micrometers in effective diameter.

When we breathe, talk, eat, cough, sneeze or sing, we emit particles across a range of sizes, both coarse and fine, and the virus is in those particles. Even though there are gaps between the threads in cloth, the threads are usually wider than the gaps.

Also, at this microscopic level, the thread has thickness, or depth, so the gap is more a tunnel than a window. Microfilaments from broken or irregular threads project into the gap. The particle is not like a mosquito, which can redirect itself to avoid obstacles. A particle with momentum will run into a fibre, even though the air stream is diverted around it, like a ball hitting a wall — this is called impaction.

But at the microscopic level, there are two additional processes in play. Particles also fall out of the air — called sedimentation. Some particles are moving randomly and this random motion brings them into contact with fibres — called diffusion. Finally, cloth can be used in multiple layers, adding a second and third gauntlet for the particle to run before it reaches the other side.

The point is not that some particles may penetrate the cloth, but that some are blocked.

What are the best materials for cloth face masks?

Based on our summary of 25 different studieswoven cotton, at least 100 threads per inch; flannel, either cotton or poly-cotton blend, at least 90 threads per inch; tea towel material; and heavy, good quality, cotton T-shirt material all performed well. This recommendation is based on the published data available, which doesn’t cover all possible mask materials: we didn’t find a lot of information on synthetic materials, for example, so we don’t know how they compare.

Every study that looked at layering found that it made a difference, so we recommend that masks be made of at least two layers; three or four may be even better. We found evidence for multiple layers of the same fabrics and for sandwiches of different materials. We did not find good evidence of useful levels of filtration for disposable filters, like coffee filters, so we suggest not using them.

For example, a two-layer T-shirt mask with a sewn edge — which prevents stretching — prevented 79 per cent of mouth bacteria reaching the environment during coughing. In the same experiment, a modern disposable medical mask performed in the same range at 85 per cent.

Two studies of surgical masks from the 1960s and 1970s . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 October 2020 at 11:34 am

A 400 relative and a razor that delivers an eponymous result

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This G.B. Kent BK-4 seems somewhat related to the most recent two brushes (the same genus, perhaps, though not the same species), with the extended handle of the other razors squished shorter to produce the wasp-waist design we see, and the top-of-handle/base-of-knot portion grown more assertive and spherical.

This knot is quite fluffy and soft and provides a very light touch on the face — the brush to use if you’re sunburned — but it gets the job done quite well. Catie’s Bubbles is/are good soap, and Le Piment de la Vie is good all round: lather and fragrance.

My Baby Smooth delivered its usual excellent shave. I do love this razor. I sent one to my son, and perhaps the three grandsons should in time get their own copies. Three passes, total comfort, and the aforementioned eponymous finish.

A splash of Booster Oriental Spice to carry forwrd the fragrance theme, and the day begins, overcast and somewhat rainy.

Written by Leisureguy

13 October 2020 at 11:17 am

Posted in Shaving

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