Monthly Archives: May 2011

What Prof. Ross Garnaut Has To Say About The Carbon Price

And The Charcoal On The Wall Says…

Pleiades sent me this link today. Professor Ross Garnaut had a few words to say about the way the big end of town is conducting itself in the carbon pricing debate.

Garnaut takes particular aim at BCA chairman Graham Bradley, Bluescope Steel chairman Graeme Kraehe and AWU boss Paul Howes, as well as BHP Billiton chairman Jac Nasser. He accuses them of elevating the cause of narrow business interests over the national interest.

He is also nauseated by the claims of the mining industry and its “hue and cry” against a market-based carbon price. He notes that the huge amount of money flowing into the country for the mining boom is displacing investment, and jobs, elsewhere in the country – a situation that is rarely appreciated in public debate. He accuses Bluescope and the AWU, who have been among the loudest opponents, of using the carbon price as a “scapegoat  …to duck the consequences of the resources boom.”

He reserves special condemnation for the BCA, the peak business lobby group, which has been riven by internal dissent over a carbon price, including from many members who do not accept the science of climate change. Just this week the BCA has recommended a starting carbon price of just $10 a tonne, and asked that most emissions-intensive industries be shielded completely from the carbon price – a proposal that has since been echoed by the Australian Industry Group.

Garnaut recalls the BCA’s rejection of a consumption tax at Bob Hawke’s National Taxation Summit in 1985 – the first “big outing” for the then newly formed council. “What emerged that day in Parliament House was a lesson in how vested interests can make the perfect the enemy of the good. In overreaching for an ideal outcome for themselves if not for the community, the business Council destroyed a central pillar of tax reform for two decades. They shot themselves squarely in the foot, with the country as collateral damage.”

Now, Garnaut says, the BCA has “returned to old type” in discussions about climate change policy. He recalls an anecdote about a visit to China by BCA chairman Graham Bradley in April this year, with a delegation led by the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. “During high-level discussions with senior government and business leaders, Mr Bradley said that the Business Council would not support any carbon tax that would ‘discourage investment’ in Australia. And there should be no carbon tax on natural gas,” Garnaut writes.

But Garnaut says this approach has no logic. “There can be no carbon pricing without structural change. Structural change removes some jobs and discourages some investment. It is not logical to be in favour of a market-based mechanism for reducing emissions, as the (BCA) professes to be, and simultaneously be against a carbon price that discourages any investment. It would be as illogical as favouring productivity-raising reform but being against any policy change that discourages any investment.”

So take that, Business Council of Australia! There’s more in that link, so do have a read.

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The Charcoal Writing Is On The Wall

Cate Blanchett stumped for the cause of a carbon price and got a ripping from the Murdoch press. What followed was an admission by Dick Smith that he agreed with Blanchett but was too ‘gutless’ to front up for his beliefs for he feared exactly the sort of treatment Blanchett was receiving from the Murdoch press. Dick Smith even pointed to Murdoch’s own words about climate change and implored the employer of these institutional climate change deniers. to come back and set them straight. Barnaby Joyce charged that Blanchett was unfit to comment as she was rich. Adam Bandt pointed out that so was Gina Rinehart and that it didn’t stop her from campaigning for her own personal gain. Blanchett at least is campaigning for the common good – an important distinction.

Since then it’s been a bit of a free for all.

The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, did not overplay Blanchett’s involvement, saying she was as entitled as anybody else to have her voice heard on the issue.
Mr Abbott dismissed her as a celebrity who was out of touch. ”You do not give special weight to celebrities,” he said. ”You do not give special weight to people who live half the year in Hollywood where there is no carbon tax.”

That last bit is a bit (pardon the pun) rich. It points to a deeply undemocratic vein in Tony Abbott’s political outlook but I won’t go into that too much. Barnaby Joyce’s denunciations too reveal a largely patriarchal anxiety wherein he is acutely aware that the beauty bias runs against him. If he had to stump up next to Cate Blanchett, he can’t win because she is far better looking, better known and liked.

Still, it’s this patriarchal libertarian leave-me-alone-to-do-as-I-will entitlement of bloke-ishness that seems to glavanise around the political end of the carbon price debate; and it’s the school-marmish restraint of women like Julia Gillard and Cate Blanchett who are arguiing strongly for restraint of carbon emissions and a means of setting price point to discourage excessive emissions. No wonder the barbecue-loving blokes are going flipper and tongs at Cate Blanchett, ad hominem.

Well this is not about Cate Blanchett’s right to side with the Carbon Price. It’s about where the debate will ultimately go, and should go.

The Carbon Price debate is going to crash over the line with a lot of screaming rhetoric, but in the end the big end of town knows it needs to be done, and that if the discussions go past 1 July, it will be the Greens who will control the debate in the Upper House. This would suggest that it is incumbent upon the Coalition to represent the big end of town and secure the best deal they can out of the wounded Labor party before they both get taken hostage by the Greens – but no, it’s Tony Abbott at the helm.

It’s not just me saying it.

Abbott’s whole “big new tax” campaign shuns acknowledgment of the real point, as does his alleged alternative strategy of paying farmers to bury carbon. It has worked in scaring voters and perhaps raised the hopes of a few gullible cockies, but it’s also created investment uncertainty and is contributing to wobbly consumer confidence.
Keep shouting that the Government is taking Australia down the drain, that our macro economic policy is a total failure, and some people will be silly enough to believe it. The mindless simplification of budget policy into “surplus good, deficit bad” has been effectively debunked by Ross Gittins but don’t expect most of the media to understand it.

But the ructions of the past week within the Liberal Party might indicate the very people who gave Abbott the job somewhat by default (remember that Joe Hockey didn’t stand) are beginning to realise there are limits to Total Opposition. More pragmatically, they know Labor is so on the nose, the Liberal Party can afford to be seen to have some principles again.

Labor presently thinks Tony Abbott is the best thing going for it. If they can implement their Malaysian boat people solution, their (rather simplistic) hope is that a very mild carbon tax then proves to be a non-issue upon implementation, leaving Abbott as the attack dog without a bone to worry.

Tony Abbott and his climate-change denying cohorts are an embarrassment.

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I’m Uncomfortable With That

Applauding David Hicks

The thing I found most disturbing this week was the the report that David Hicks received a standing applause from his audience at the Sydney Writers Festival.If there ever was a report that lowered my estimation of the people who go to the Sydney Writers Festival, this might have been it.

David Hicks is a divisive figure, and I can understand full well that his incarceration was so monstrously unreasonable by any legal definition, and yet I don’t understand how that translates into an standing applause. I’ve had people explain to me that it is the deep anti-American feelings being expressed by people of conscience – but I struggle to understand why that conscience isn’t equally for those who passed in the 9/11 attacks. And if they did feel it, then maybe the enthusiasm for the cause that once was David Hicks might be tempered a little.

I found I was not alone in my misgivings.

For those who have an interest in the facts rather than a self-serving rewrite of history, a quick reprise of Hicks’s past is in order.

His latter day effort to portray himself as some sort of harmless, hapless dilettante is belied by letters written in his own hand. In these missives he talks of undergoing weapons training that included “anti-aircraft and anti-tank rockets, rapid-fire heavy and light machineguns, pistols, AK47s, mines and explosives”. His words, not mine.
Hicks’s hamfisted dishonesty is on full display when his autobiography presents a bowdlerised version of a foray to the front line between India and Pakistan. Hicks travelled to Kashmir courtesy of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba. In his book, he declares: “We did not fire upon Indian soldiers or any other people. We only participated in the symbolic exchange of fire.”

But in a letter written in August 2000, Hicks described his Kashmiri experience in more robust terms. “I got to fire hundreds of bullets,” he crowed. “Most Muslim countries impose hanging for civilians arming themselves for conflict. There are not many countries in the world where a tourist, according to his visa, can go to stay with the army and shoot across the border at its enemy, legally.”

During his festival appearance at the weekend, Hicks claimed the first time he ever heard the name al-Qaeda was “from the lips of an interrogator in Guantanamo Bay”. But once again, he is busted by those pesky notes he penned to his family.

In a May 2001 missive he wrote: ”By the way I have met Osama bin Laden 20 times now, lovely brother, everything for the cause of Islam. The only reason the West calls him the most wanted Muslim is because he’s got the money to take action.”

And of course, Hicks’s epistolary boastfulness comports with the view held by the Australian intelligence community. During Senate estimates hearings in May 2002, the former ASIO director Dennis Richardson said that “certainly Mr Hicks has received extensive al-Qaeda training”.

A day after, Lapkin’s piece was countered by Mary Kostakidis.

In the Herald yesterday, Ted Lapkin from the Institute of Public Affairs, persisted with the Howard government’s demonisation of Hicks with no regard for history, facts or the rule of law.

He mentioned Hicks’s letters, which were written more than 10 years ago. Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group with whom he travelled to Kashmir, was years away from being declared a terrorist organisation. It was supported by the Pakistani military, which provided standard military training, using facilities once used to train the mujahideen (whom the West supported). It also was responsible for dealing with the needs of refugees from the conflict with India, running orphanages and schools.

The plight of the Kashmiri people in that conflict was such that a NATO representative called for the West to help in whatever way we could. You and I may not respond to that call but Hicks naively did, embarking on a course of events with which he was completely unequipped to deal.

Lapkin and others also quote selectively from Hicks’s letters. In them Hicks refers to the Taliban as bloodthirsty idiots. There is no reference to terrorist training or any training aimed at hurting civilians. There is not one mention of al-Qaeda. Hicks was present in a crowd listening to Osama bin Laden speak, but he does not understand Arabic and took his information from the Pakistani newspaper Dawn. Its editorial line was that bin Laden had become a scapegoat – he was seen as a hero.

He continues to be seen as a hero by many millions around the world, but not by Hicks.

I was a news junky so I remember things very well. Mr. Lapkin has the facts right and it is Mary Kostakidis who is deliberately twisting them. He is not selectively quoting things out of context; they are exactly as were reported at the time from the media including SBS for which Mary Kostakidis used to read the news. It is Ms Kostakidis who is retroactively trying to rewrite the reportage and how it was presented, and more importantly what it meant; which is to say, if anybody is indulging in some Orwellian history-doctoring, it is Ms. Kostakidis with her insidious little opinion piece.

This much we know: David Hicks saw the 9/11 attacks on TV as they happened, and instead of going to work like every other person the next day, he chose to go to Afghanistan. And we can give his motives a thousand excuses and characterise it in any which way, but I remember 9/11 and the next day following. Anybody who thought they had to go to Afghanistan to fight alongside the Taliban, had what was coming to them.

Yes, Camp X-Ray at G’itmo was a terrifying legal construct and yes, we all felt it was horrible how the Howard Government left David Hicks out there to rot; but in the end when we look at the very root cause of how he got there in the first place, you have to accept he put himself – foolishly, as he now admits (but what other way can you characterise it?) – right into the maelstrom to be picked up and tossed anywhere. Almost all the sensible people of the world went about doing their every day business. The point about David Hicks is that even if he weren’t guilty of the terrorist charges that he pleaded guilty to, he is still a scum bucket for going there in the first place.

I do think David Hicks had an unfairly long and hard time in Guantanamo Bay, but had he watched ‘A Few Good Men’ and watched ‘Born on the Fourth of July’ before going off to fight against the US Marines, he might have had a better idea of who he was squaring up against. And if indeed he watched the Twin Towers come down, and had any amount of imagination he couldn’t have expected the US Marines to be merciful upon their enemies. Nothing in his ordeal could be described as surprising. He signed up for it, it was all in the brochure, so to speak.

I know it seems unfair to kick him around even today, but honestly, he’s the one who wrote the book, and is giving talks at the Sydney Writers Festival and lying about how he got there. But that is all one thing to the side. What I can’t abide is the crowd who accept his claptrap and stand up and applaud. I know there’s a healthy vein of anti-American sentiment in the Australian cultural set, but this is idiotic.

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Is China Working Properly?

China As Depression Candidate

Pleiades sent in this interesting read today… If you thought China was going to be the economic engine that pulls the world out of the post-GFC slump, then you might not want to read this contrarian article here.

In a recent interview with Kathryn Welling at welling@weeden, he argues that the Chinese economy at present bears an uncanny resemblance to the US economy in 1929, just before the onset of the Great Depression.

He points to eight key similarities – the massive disparity of wealth, income and education; the rapid industrialisation and displacement of labour; opaque and misleading economic and financial data; a massive build-up of leverage across the “rising” class; bubbles in both residential real estate and fixed asset/infrastructure development; an accelerating and uncontrolled growth in disintermediated credit; the expected transfer of economic growth to domestic demand; and, finally, an accelerating price/wage spiral.

At present, he says, China has lost control of its economy. “Essentially, in its own zeal to placate its masses with rapid growth, China has created a tide of inflation that threatens it with widespread social unrest. But if it crushes speculation and clamps down on credit, it risks a deflationary collapse that would also threaten social harmony. The upshot is that China no longer controls its own destiny. The free markets do.“

That last bit is actually quite ominous because if there’s anything to be said about Free Markets, is that they tend not to be on the lookout for mid to long term ramifications; they’re in it for increasingly shorter hauls.

if China should fail, and at some point it will, then there will be repercussions the likes of which will impact Australia severely, for if Australia got through the GFC lightly thanks to a variety of factors, the main one was how connected it was to China. Should China falter, then all those un-cashed chips will be there to be cashed in, so to speak.

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Kick The Frog

A New Game In Town

The flurry of media reports surrounding both Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s situation and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s separation have been bordering on the absurd. Here’s Paul Sheehan’s idotic take for instance where he likens the two men and then goes to say that trial by media is just because these men are powerful men. Having read  it, what I want to know is how he keeps his job when he writes such idiotic rubbish, but the world is as it is and we must take it as we find it. I find myself in a world where Paul Sheehan gets paid handsomely to write idiocies in our broadsheet.

Yet he is not alone in conflating and judging both men as equivalents.

But in any event, the arrest of Strauss-Kahn in New York City for allegedly trying to rape a hotel maid has ignited a fierce debate over sex, law, power and privilege. And it is only just beginning. The night of Strauss-Kahn’s arraignment, former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger admitted that the reason his wife Maria Shriver walked out earlier this year was the discovery that he had fathered a child more than a decade ago with a former member of the household staff. The two cases are far apart: only one man was hauled off to jail. But both suggest an abuse of power and a betrayal of trust. And both involve men whose long-standing reputations for behaving badly toward women did not derail their rise to power. Which raises the question: How can it be, in this ostensibly enlightened age, when men and women live and work as peers and are schooled regularly in what conduct is acceptable and what is actionable, that anyone with so little judgment, so little honor, could rise to such heights?

Umm, I know it’s Time magazine, once the bastion of WASP America, but this kind of moralism is a bit much. The marital infidelities of a movie star are not surprising. The fact that he subsequently became Governor of California notwithstanding, it actually is a long bow to stretch to stick Arnie’s peccadilloes with Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s alleged sexual assault. For a start, Arnie’s affair was between consensual adults, not an assault. Arnie is not accused of a crime, he’s been outed as an adulterer with a love child. Comparing the two men is a complete category error and conflating the two only muddies the waters.

The article then goes on to compare Dominique Strauss Kahn to Tiger Woods and Charlie Sheen, but again, you have to wonder if these comparisons are chalk and cheese no matter how chalky one of the cheeses might be; and if so then any argument built on such comparisons are really not valid in any way shape or form.

If it isn’t a free swipe at Arnie, then it seems the free hacks are aimed at French culture over at Time, which is having a field day with this stuff.

Even the well connected had qualms about confronting Strauss-Kahn. A regional Socialist Party official stepped up on Monday to say that her daughter had come under sexual attack during a 2002 interview with Strauss-Kahn. The official, Anne Mansouret, repeated the allegations made by her daughter Tristane Banon during a 2007 TV program about how a well-known politician [Strauss-Kahn’s name was bleeped out] tried to overpower her with a sexual embrace. What took so long for Mansouret to back up her daughter and name Strauss-Kahn? She told French TV that she had dissuaded her daughter from filing charges because Strauss-Kahn was en route to greatness — and derailing the ascent of a fellow Socialist Party official would be bad form. She also said that because Strauss-Kahn’s second wife was Banon’s godmother, blowing the whistle on the alleged attacker would create rifts within Mansouret’s circle of family, friends and intimates.

Worse still, the French are racists, apparently:

The case in New York City reflects another dimension of the problem in France. “If I try transposing the situation in New York on Sunday to France, I just can’t do it,” says Diallo. “Not only because the woman is black and apparently an immigrant. But also because she’s a housekeeper. Perhaps even more than her race, her station in society would probably prevent authorities [in France] from taking her accusations against a rich and powerful man seriously. Racism is on the rise here again, but class discrimination has never gone away.”

I find that hard to believe – And I’ve been likened to a dog by a French girl in my time. (As in “dating you would be like dating a different species, like a dog or something”.) I still don’t buy this bullshit they’re selling about the French being worse racists than Americans. Then there’s this piece of idiotica:

As Strauss-Kahn’s case moves forward in New York, the particular form of French “exceptionalism” that holds that men will be men and women will be women and no amount of political correctness can — or should — temper their natural desires will be on trial too. Like it or not, Strauss-Kahn and his supporters now have to play by our rules. These don’t stem from prudishness or Puritanism. They’re based on respect, on updated understandings of male-female power relations and on a desire to change the nasty little systems of complicity that have long kept them flowing in one direction.

That piece implies the arrest shut up France who have different sexual mores to America, but they can’t hide behind those mores because Strauss-Kahn is being accused of a sexual crime. The triumphalism is a bit rich too. Nobody in their right mind supports sexual assault in a civil society unless one is a devout follower of the Marquis de Sade – and such a human being is more likely to be in a French jail than being a commentator in the French press supporting Strauss-Kahn. Get a grip, lady. This is not some turning point in some war against French sexual mores. The mind boggles.

Really, no matter how heinous they paint his crime, I just can’t bring myself to judge French culture pertaining to sexuality, gender and race on the basis of the arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn. I sure as hell wouldn’t judge American culture on say, J. Edgar Hoover. No sane person would leap to such generalisations, but here it is in black and white in Time magazine no less. And it’s written by people – wankers, even – who probably still enjoy a visit to Paris and make out it’s really romantic to walk down the Champs-Élysees or something.

On a more genial note, the funniest entry perhaps was Schumpeter in The Economist, complaining about the French intellectuals and their weird abstruse Post-Modern rhetoric rallying to the defense of Strauss-Kahn:

BHL is a mere amateur compared with Luis de Miranda, a novelist. According to Anthony Daniels, Mr de Miranda penned a piece for Libération under the title “a philosophical hero”. Taking DSK’s guilt for granted (which we should certainly not do), the author says that “we bet that in his depths Dominique Strauss-Kahn is joyful. Perhaps he doesn’t admit it to himself yet. But behaving thus at this point in his biography could only have been voluntary. I add that it is heroic.”

Why heroic? Because DSK engaged in a supreme act of self-sacrifice, apparently: “If the cleaning woman has been attacked, the woman worker had violence done to her, then we are touching on the sublime, in the Kantian sense…A political suicide rather than the death of an automaton or the possibility of a reign unleashed.”

I particularly liked the use of the phrase “in the Kantian sense”.

Don’t we all?

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What Will They Do Without Him?

Bill Hunter Is Sick

Apparently he has cancer.

Family and friends have gathered around Australian acting legend Bill Hunter, who is gravely ill in a Melbourne hospice.
Hunter’s manager Mark Morrissey confirmed this morning that his 71-year-old client’s health had deteriorated since he was admitted to the Kew hospice two days ago.
“Sadly, he has cancer, and it’s inoperable,” he said.

I know the standard joke for years has been that he’s the bloke in EVERY Australian film, from ‘Gallipoli’ to ‘Muriel’s Wedding’. What will the Australian film industry do when he’s gone? Can they make any credibly ‘Australian’ film without this man? Screen Australia will be unable to approve any projects!

I jest. But it is profoundly sad news that he’s so gravely ill.

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Censorship Blues – 13/May/2011

How About Arguments Based On Intellectual Merit?

Where does one start with the idiotic submission by Bravehearts to the Senate?

ONE of Australia’s most prominent child protection advocate, Bravehearts, has weighed into the art censorship debate, calling for the Classification Board to be overhauled and for matters of ”artistic merit” and expert evidence to be scrapped when deciding if art is pornography.

Bravehearts’s submission to a Senate inquiry into the film and literature classification scheme was one of several submissions highly critical of the board for allegedly sanctioning the exhibition of photographs of children that would otherwise be illegal, and for failing to halt the proliferation of images that demean women and pressure young girls to act in sexual ways.

Other community and Christian groups wanted the board’s power increased so it could censor outdoor advertising, which is at present self-regulated by an industry body, the Advertising Standards Bureau.

The executive director of Bravehearts, Hetty Johnston, an outspoken critic of the work of the photographer Bill Henson, called for NSW employment laws that ban taking photographs of naked and semi-naked children to be replicated across Australia and said such photos should be refused classification by the board.

”How is it that it was illegal to take the photos but not illegal to exhibit them?” she said, referring to photographs Henson took of a naked 12-year-old girl that were exhibited at a Sydney art gallery in 2008, sparking a ferocious debate about pornography and art.

That sound you hear in the distance is me grinding my teeth. I don’t exactly do art with nude teens in them, so it’s not a problem that sits in front of me, but I have written songs about an Orangutan sex slave prostitute and Josef Fritzl so I can see this sort of thing being a problem for my work as well. It may very well take Frank Zappa recordings off record shelves.

The problem is threefold.

The first problem is that the censorship board can’t be the board that decides if there is artistic merit or not. neither can it proceed with the notion that there is no such thing as artistic merit. Asking for it to discard notions of artistic merit and place judgments based strictly on whether there is a minor depicted in the nude or not, is grossly censorious and has terrible ramifications for ALL freedom of expression. It places too much under the blanket of a taboo, just in case there’s a pervert out there who gets aroused by art. Nobody would be able to discuss anything in fiction or art, because sure as hell it won’t stop at fears of paedophilia.

The second problem is that of defining pornography when removing the framework of art. In any age of history in age of differing societal standards is that it’s strictly in the eye of the beholder. It’s up to the beholder to decide how they respond to an image or an object. By Johnson’s logic, it’s only acceptable art if one doesn’t get sexually aroused. I don’t think that is going to work as a definition of art. And this has a corollary:

Let’s consider for a moment the humble rock melon. Most people on the planet don’t conceive of a rock melon as a sexualised object. Some people who use them as sexual aids for purposes of masturbation might consider otherwise. By Hetty Johnson’s logic, it would become illegal to display melons in shops because somebody might get aroused.

Similarly, if there are in this world bestial perverts and they were likely to be aroused by sheep, then why should there by all those naked sheep allowed to roam our countryside available to the person? How does Hetty Johnson suggest we enforce this issue? Putting diapers on all sheep in Australia? It’s clearly an idiotic position to take on what things are in the public view.

The third problem is that should it be possible to enforce censorship without notions of artistic merit, then where would such a revision stop? The naked cherubs in Renaissance paintings? The statue of David by Michelangelo and Donatello? David was a teen when he slew Goliath by biblical accounts, so by Johnson’s logic any statue of David should not be in public view, lest some pervert get aroused. Well, there happens to be a replica in a shopping centre on the Goldcoast, and it’s been there for years. She is really arguing that we shouldn’t consider the artistic merits of a Michelangelo, or Donatello, just focus on the exposed genitals.

Artistic merit of works is like the presumption of innocence in criminal trials. Without it, you’re going to have totalitarian repression of expression. If Hetty Johnson doesn’t understand this, it’s probably because she is happier with embracing fascism than actually trying to help kids from paedophilia. Picking on the arts is stupid.There’s no correlation between what artists do and child porn. Likening the two to one another is insidious. The fact that she can only see controversy and no artistic merit in Bill Henson’s work is not a failing in Bill Henson or his work or for that matter the Classification Board, it’s actually her problem and it rests squarely with her. She should seek help from a psychiatrist instead of wasting the Senate’s time.

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