Wednesday, September 29, 2010


... is OK. She is reportedly awake and attempting to explore, as lively as one can hope for anyone right out of surgery. As anticipated, she will stay one night at the vet and come home tomorrow. Thanks to all of you who sent good wishes.

Reason #15,151 Why I Am No Longer A Democrat

This time, it's Sen. Mary Landrieu (D?-La):
Louisiana's Democratic senator has put a hold on the nomination of Jacob Lew to be the new director of the President's Office of Management and Budget, even though Lew sailed through committee on a 22-1 vote, is supremely qualified for the post (he held it under Bill Clinton), and we're in the midst of ongoing economic and fiscal crises. To her (sorta) credit, Mary Landrieu has been very upfront about why she's holding him up: The oil state senator wants the Obama Administration to end the moratorium on deepwater drilling. Period.
And so this time around it's environmental blackmail: "allow more Deepwater Horizon disasters, or I won't let you..." ...nominate an OMB director? As I said before: the Senate rules need to be changed, now, while Dems have the power to change them. But I'm not holding my breath.

One Nation Under Surveillance, Part 10934

Via Seth Schoen of CommonDreams, we find a NYT article by Charlie Savage:

U.S. Tries to Make It Easier to Wiretap the Internet

Published: September 27, 2010

WASHINGTON — Federal law enforcement and national security officials are preparing to seek sweeping new regulations for the Internet, arguing that their ability to wiretap criminal and terrorism suspects is “going dark” as people increasingly communicate online instead of by telephone.

Essentially, officials want Congress to require all services that enable communications — including encrypted e-mail transmitters like BlackBerry, social networking Web sites like Facebook and software that allows direct “peer to peer” messaging like Skype — to be technically capable of complying if served with a wiretap order.

The mandate would include being able to intercept and unscramble encrypted messages.

The bill, which the Obama administration plans to submit to lawmakers next year, raises fresh questions about how to balance security needs with protecting privacy and fostering innovation. And because security services around the world face the same problem, it could set an example that is copied globally. 


Oh, yeah; that's gonna work. Deep in the second page of the article we find this little jewel, which I believe reflects reality:
Even with such a law, some gaps could remain. It is not clear how it could compel compliance by overseas services that do no domestic business, or from a “freeware” application developed by volunteers. 
Foreign businesses with no US interests probably operate under foreign law. And as for the rest... never, ever underestimate the ability of developers of freeware.

This law will be circumvented by criminals and terrorists before the digital ink is dry on the legal web sites. But the NSA or FBI or whatever 3-letter agency will have a peek at your letters to your paramour, or track your political activity as if it were subversive. And let's face it: that's the real reason They are pushing for this law.

Hotel As Magnifying Glass, Guests As Ants

Jonathan Turley warns us: If you stay at The Vdara in Las Vegas, you'd better not lounge around the pool:

Death Ray: Hotel Design Blamed For Burning Guests in Pool
This could make for an interesting torts lawsuit. A new hotel, The Vdara, is a modern glass structure with a curved design. The striking architectural design has one other novel feature: a “death ray” that cooks people in the pool.

Guests have been complaining that the curvature of the building produces a “death ray” that literally melts plastic and causes severe burns in the pool area. ...

A reporter from the Las Vegas Review-Journal found that the design produced a fry zone of roughly 10-feet by 15-feet that increased the temperature by 20 degrees during certain periods. ...

So guests engaging in, say, high-level business negotiations can go straight from the pressure cooker of modern business to the solar oven of current hotel design. I suppose the best any of us can hope for in these troubled times is not to get burned.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Worth Reading

Robert Reich tells us that The Super Rich Get Richer, Everyone Else Gets Poorer, and the Democrats Punt. No kidding.

FDL's Phoenix Woman insists that it is futile to use "game theory" or "change theory" in politics, that when individual Dems do so, they inevitably lose elections. I have two objections to this thesis: one, what she describes is not game theory; two, the main way Dems are assuring a loss in this election is by alienating their base, deliberately, unabashedly and with no apology.

Paul Krugman tells us this isn't structural unemployment, it's unemployment deliberately allowed to fester for the financial advantage of business owners:
So what you need to know is that there is no evidence whatsoever to back these claims. We aren’t suffering from a shortage of needed skills; we’re suffering from a lack of policy resolve. As I said, structural unemployment isn’t a real problem, it’s an excuse — a reason not to act on America’s problems at a time when action is desperately needed.
(There's also a repeated slide-over box advertising a Douthat column; I didn't have the stomach to read it.) (Quote added after initial posting.)

A private company, L.S.S.I., is taking over public libraries. Some people are as unhappy about that as I am; there is no way a for-profit business can provide diversity of resources, imperviousness to book-burners, and resistance to the notion of cutting costs... hence cutting services and book purchases... for the sake of profit. A private corporation has one and only one obligation, and that's to its stockholders, not to the public. A library has one and only one obligation, and that is to the general public. But I'll bet good money it will be proposed in Houston sooner or later. When someone does propose it, I plan to be present at the City Council meeting, ready to use my well-practiced librarian's SHHHHHH!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Little Lily Little No More

Lily has a major appointment with the vet this Tuesday morning. And not a moment too soon: right on schedule, yesterday and today she began caterwauling. The pic on the left shows Lily the day she came to live with us. See upstream for what she looks like now. How quickly they grow up!
UPDATE: this morning (Tuesday), Lily escaped from Stella and was out of sight for just long enough to have eaten or drunk something. So her surgery is postponed until tomorrow.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Pentagon Buys Out, Destroys Book, Alleging Security Violations


Washington (CNN) -- The Department of Defense recently purchased and destroyed thousands of copies of an Army Reserve officer's memoir in an effort to safeguard state secrets, a spokeswoman said Saturday.

"DoD decided to purchase copies of the first printing because they contained information which could cause damage to national security," Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. April Cunningham said.

In a statement to CNN, Cunningham said defense officials observed the September 20 destruction of about 9,500 copies of Army Reserve Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer's new memoir "Operation Dark Heart."

Shaffer says he was notified Friday about the Pentagon's purchase.

"The whole premise smacks of retaliation," Shaffer told CNN on Saturday. "Someone buying 10,000 books to suppress a story in this digital age is ludicrous."

I wonder who the document embarrassed, and why it was allowed to go so far before being stopped... if "stopped" is the right word for such an almost certainly ineffective procedure. Shaffer is right about the digital age:

At least one seller on the online auction site eBay claiming to have a first-edition printing is selling it for an asking price of nearly $2,000.  ...

Here's a sample of the redacted book:

One of the book's first lines reads, "Here I was in Afghanistan (redaction) My job: to run the Defense Intelligence Agency's operations out of (redaction) the hub for U.S. operations in country."

In chapter 15, titled "Tipping Point," 21 lines within the first two pages are blacked out.
But it's all OK, because DoD is reimbursing the publisher. Right.

Aside: back in 2003, I wrote a rather decent piece of doggerel titled "(Redacted)" ...

USAF Major Challenges Her DADT Discharge, Wins, Is Reinstated

Read about it at TPM. The basis for her reinstatement? Violation of her substantive due process rights under the Fifth Amendment. The key paragraphs, from Rachel Slajda at TPM:


"The application of 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' to Major Margaret Witt does not significantly further the government's interest in promoting military readiness, unit morale and cohesion," he wrote in his ruling. "Her discharge from the Air Force Reserves violated her substantive due process rights under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. She should be restored to her position as a Flight Nurse with the 446th AES as soon as is practicable, subject to meeting applicable regulations touching upon qualifications necessary for continued service."

He also said that her discharge hurt her unit.

"The evidence before the Court is that Major Margaret Witt was an exemplary officer. She was an effective leader, a caring mentor, a skilled clinician, and an integral member of an effective team. Her loss within the squadron resulted in a diminution of the unit's ability to carry out its mission," Leighton wrote. "Good flight nurses are hard to find."

Congratulations to Major Witt; may she be the first of many. Yes, there are additional legal hurdles to be cleared, and no, the judge did not rule on all such cases, just this one... but it's a start.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Lily Stands Up For What's Right

... or maybe just for a squirrel in the back yard:

She has grown a bit, hasn't she!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Sharron Angle Mocks Mandated Insurance Coverage Of Autism

Please view this Democratic campaign video of GOP Senate candidate Sharron Angle:

How could anyone who has ever encountered a victim of autism even consider voting for such a wretch? Does she think the families of GOPers are never themselves afflicted with it?

Of course no insurance company should sell policies that explicitly omit coverage of diseases that are expensive to treat; the possibility of those diseases is exactly what sells insurance in the first place. Oh, wait...

Under the new health care reform law, we will all be required... that's required, not encouraged... to purchase private medical insurance. Why should the insurance industry not be forced, in turn, to cover every legitimate illness? and why should Sharron Angle not be made to hide her face in shame for advocating mistreating autism victims in yet another way?

(H/T John Aravosis of AMERICAblog.)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Dysfunctional Senate Blocks Repeal Of Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell

Read about it here. Or, if you're female, perhaps here, as lesbians have been affected more than gay men.

Face it: the rules of the Senate need to change. One party... the GOP... has decided that its political advantage lies with breaking the government, thwarting majority rule and filibustering every bill. And it's gone on long enough that Democrats will do it too when they regain minority power. (Ahem.)

Between 13,000 and 14,000 service members have been discharged under DADT. Horror stories of people discharged after being outed by third parties with a grudge... or worse yet, by commanding officers searching through the private papers of service members contrary to the "don't ask" part of the law. Thats 13 or 14 thousand lives ruined.

And all the bullshit about "unit cohesion" is belied by the fact that in almost all Western democracies, gay and lesbian soldiers are a non-issue.

But simply put, if we are going to restore anything even resembling democracy, Senate rules must change. Not even allowing Senate debate on the issue is downright criminal, as surely as searching a soldier's personal papers.

Early Voting Info, A Bit Early

The County Clerk and the Voter Registrar of Harris County are both Republicans, so they make their web sites as difficult as possible to use. Voting just isn't their "thang," I suppose... Republicans usually do better with lower turnout, and may go to some lengths to bring about such a low turnout. Such information as is available is on a separate web site, (note the .org ... it's NOT a government site), 
and early voting locations are... get this... in a .pdf file,
for which you must have a PDF reader. Are public library computers supplied with such? I don't know. Anyway, there are about three dozen locations in Harris County, and any Harris County voter may vote early at any of them. You may register to vote for about another month. At the polls, either bring your voter certificate or know your precinct number and bring some sort of ID, say, a valid Texas driver's license or a utility bill with your home address on it. DO NOT LET THEM TELL YOU THAT YOU MUST HAVE YOUR VOTER CERTIFICATE WITH YOU TO VOTE! Remember what I said about voting not being their "thang"?

Here are the available early voting times at any location:
  • October 18th - October 22nd: 8:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
  • October 23rd:7:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m.
  • October 24th: 1:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.
  • October 25th - October 29th: 7:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m.
Election Day is Tuesday, November 2, and POLLING PLACE LOCATIONS HAVE NOT BEEN POSTED YET (confirmed at Scott Hochberg's web site, always a valuable resource of voting info). It's late September, and voting locations for Election Day have not been posted yet. Gee, who could be responsible for that? perhaps someone who doesn't want you to vote? In any case, be prepared for some confusion, and don't just go to the last place you voted in Harris County... you might find a hot-dog stand or some such. I'll post a link to Election Day polling locations as soon as I have one. Me? I intend to attempt to vote early. It's not always easy for a cripple, but as they keep telling us, one must sacrifice...

Appendix: a non-.pdf list of Harris County voter locations, extracted from the .pdf at Harris Votes (and it was a painful extraction):

Inside Loop 610

1. Main Office:    
Harris County Administration Bldg.
1001 Preston, 1st Floor, 77002
2. Moody Park:    
Moody Park Community Center
3725 Fulton, 77009
3. Kashmere:    
Kashmere Multi-Service Center
4802 Lockwood Dr., 77026
4. Downtown-East:   
Ripley House
4410 Navigation Blvd., 77011
5. Southeast Houston:
H.C.C.S. Southeast College, Learning Hub
6815 Rustic, 77087
6. Palm Center:    
Justice of the Peace/Constable Entry
5300 Griggs Road, 77021
7. Astrodome Area:    
Fiesta Mart, Inc.
8130 Kirby Drive, 77054
8. Neartown:    
Metropolitan Mutli-Service Center
1475 W. Gray, 77019   

Outside Loop 610

9. Northeast Houston:
Northeast Multi-Service Center
9720 Spaulding, 77016
10. Galena Park:    
Galena Park Branch Library
1500 Keene Street, Galena Park, 77547
11. Hobby Area:   
I.B.E.W. Hall #66
4345 Allen Genoa Road, Pasadena, 77504
12. Sunnyside:         
Sunnyside Multi-Purpose Center
4605 Wilmington, 77051
13. S. Houston Area:
Townwood Park
3403 Simsbrook, 77045
14. SW. Houston:    
Bayland Park Community Center
6400 Bissonnet (near Hillcroft), 77074
15. Near West Side:
Tracy Gee Community Center
3599 Westcenter Drive, 77042
(One block East of Sam Houston Tollway)
16. Spring Branch:
Trini Mendenhall Sosa Comm. Center
1414 Wirt Road, 77055
17. Acres Homes:    
Acres Homes Multi-Service Center
6719 W. Montgomery Road, 77091
18. North:    
Hardy Senior Center
11901 West Hardy Road, 77076
Outside Beltway 8

19. Humble:    
Octavia Fields Branch Library
1503 South Houston Ave., Humble, 77338
20. * Kingwood:   
Kingwood Branch Library
4400 Bens View Lane, Kingwood, 77345
21. Wallisville Road:   
North Channel Branch Library
15741 Wallisville Road, 77049
22. Baytown:        
Baytown Community Center
2407 Market Street, Baytown, 77520
23. Pasadena:        
Harris County Courthouse Annex #25
7330 Spencer Highway, Pasadena, 77505
24. Clear Lake:    
Freeman Branch Library
16616 Diana Lane, 77062
25. Alief:    
Henington-Alief Regional Library
7979 South Kirkwood, 77072
26. West Houston:   
Lac Hong Square
6628 Wilcrest Dr., 77072
27. Far W. Houston:
Nottingham Park
926 Country Place Dr., 77079
28. Far West/Katy:    
Franz Road Storefront
19818 Franz Road, Katy, 77449
29. Bear Creek:    
Bear Creek Park Community Center
3055 Bear Creek Dr. at Patterson Rd., 77084
30. Jersey Village:    
City of Jersey Village-City Hall
16327 Lakeview Drive, Jersey Village, 77040
31. Tomball:    
Tomball Public Works Building
501 B James St., Tomball, 77375
32. Cypress Creek:    
Champion Forest Baptist Church
Multi-Purpose Building   
4840 Strack Road, 77069
33. Far North:        
Ponderosa Fire Station No. 1
17061 Rolling Creek Drive, 77090
34. Cypress:       
Cypress Top Park
26026 Hempstead Highway, Cypress, 77429
35. George Bush Park:
Glen Cheek Education Building
16002 Westheimer Parkway, 77082
36. Lone Star College:
University Park - Visitors Center
20515 State Hwy 249, 77070
37. Crosby:         
Crosby ISD Administration Building
706 Runneburg Road, Crosby, 77532
* Indicates Change in Location
Go vote... remember, it's a citizen's obligation, however distasteful it may be in a given year.

Once Again, Robert Reich Gets It Right, This Time On Taxes

Who deserves a tax cut more: the top 2 percent -- whose wages and benefits are higher than ever, and among whose ranks are the CEOs and Wall Street mavens whose antics have sliced jobs and wages and nearly destroyed the American economy -- or the rest of us?

Not a bad issue for Democrats to run on this fall, or in 2012.

Republicans are hell bent on demanding an extension of the Bush tax cut for their patrons at the top, or else they'll pull the plug on tax cuts for the middle class. This is a gift for the Democrats.

Reich goes on to point out two things: first, why this is sound economics... the wealthy, unlike ordinary middle- and lower-class folk and others who depend on a job for a living, don't tend to spend the money they obtain from tax cuts, and hence do not contribute to the much-needed stimulus... and second, why Democrats must do this right now, not after Election Day. That should be obvious: it'll never happen after elections. But so many Dems are claiming extenuating circumstances in their own re-election races in conservative districts that they could well vote with the GOP to sustain the Bush tax cuts for the obscenely wealthy.

As to the voting public, according to a Pew survey, their former belief that they're going to be rich someday is changing (.pdf) ...

The survey also finds that the recession has led to a new frugality in Americans‘ spending and borrowing habits; a diminished set of expectations about their retirements and their children‘s future; and a concern that it will take several years, at a minimum, for their family finances and house values to recover.
... but possibly there's still a vestige of that "things are gonna get better" mentality, that sense that their wealth will increase with time despite the economic downturn:

Not all survey findings are bleak. More than six-in-ten (62%) Americans believe that their personal finances will improve in the coming year, and a small but growing minority (15%) now says the national economy is in good shape.
So Americans continue to vote for pols who promise them pie in the sky in the sweet bye 'n' bye... who in turn support retaining tax cuts for the wealthy. If only voters were more pessimistic...

Monday, September 20, 2010

'Lost To The Normal Labor Market'

David Dayen of FDL points us to a paper by Arjun Jayadev and Mike Konczal of the Roosevelt Institute (.pdf), who conclude:
• Although the unemployment number remains high it
isn’t a full picture of the terrible situation in the labor
market. The population that is out of the labor force and
no longer trying to find a job is steadily increasing, and
the normal mechanisms for those people to reenter
employment have collapsed.
• Starting at the beginning of 2009 it is now more likely
that someone who is unemployed will drop out of the
labor force than find a job. This is a new problem for
our economy, as this hasn’t happened as far back as data
can be found (1967). These workers need targeted
intervention before they become completely lost to the
normal labor market. 
• Underemployment, or those employed working part-
time for economic reasons, has increase greatly, often
more than doubling. This is across all analyzed sectors
and occupations and is negatively correlated with
capacity underutilization. The underemployed have the
skills to work the jobs they have and their incentives
aren’t distorted by unemployment insurance - they point
to a story of a lack of aggregate demand.
Been there; experienced that...

A crafter of code whose skills are out of date (1½ years in my case, unless you count some of my recent efforts to acquire new skills) might as well not even look for a job.  If you are close to retirement age (in my case, I'm in that neverland between the earliest allowed retirement age at which one can collect Social Security and the age at which I would have liked to retire if my health had held out and if employment had continued to be available) and/or have health problems, employers have even less interest in you. In other words, when it comes to finding work, some of us can just forget it.

And then we have some economic think-tanks saying the recession is over,  speaking technically, ignoring the fact that the recovery is nearly jobless.

I am anything but excited about applying to retire, and especially unexcited about applying for disability when my disability would not necessarily degrade the quality of my work, if I could drive enough to get to a contract and take three or four unpaid breaks of, say, 30 minutes each during the day. But no rational executive in America would employ such a person, given the current state of unemployment and underemployment.

And no one in Congress or the Obama administration seems to give a good damn.

I hope each and every one of them breaks a leg, or depends on a spouse who suddenly has a stroke, or some such. I would not hope anything so mean-spirited for them if any of them cared in the least what happens to ordinary folks in dire circumstances... but I'm not holding my breath awaiting their epiphany.

The Pro-Rape Party

Rachel Maddow points out that five (5) Republican Senate candidates are not only anti-choice... no surprise there... but have explicitly and publicly removed the classic qualifying clause that abortion is allowed in cases of rape or incest:

(NOTE: The session on reproductive rights starts around 4 or 5 minutes into the clip, notwithstanding MSNBC's bookmark almost 6 minutes in.)

The five Republican candidates (no, I won't give them links) are

  • Ken Buck (R-Colorado)
  • Sharron Angle (R-Nevada)
  • Rand Paul (R-Kentucky)
  • Joe Miller (R-Alaska)
  • Christine O'Donnell (R-Delaware)
and Maddow presents a video clip of each candidate stating his or her opposition to abortion even in cases of rape or incest.

I've predicted this for a long time in personal conversations with friends: the Republican Party has gone far beyond being conservative, now taking into its fold large numbers of radicals and running some of them for office. Should we be scared? We'll have to see how this election goes.

A candidate who wants to force a rape victim to bear the child of her rapist is nothing less than cruel, and a party that fields such candidates is downright evil.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Greenwald Comments On Obama's Criticism Of Liberals


One sample, a quote from Obama at a DNC $30,000-a-plate fundraiser:

Democrats, just congenitally, tend to get -- to see the glass as half empty. (Laughter.) If we get an historic health care bill passed -- oh, well, the public option wasn't there.  If you get the financial reform bill passed -- then, well, I don't know about this particular derivatives rule, I'm not sure that I'm satisfied with that. And gosh, we haven't yet brought about world peace and -- (laughter.) I thought that was going to happen quicker. (Laughter.) You know who you are. (Laughter.) We have had the most productive, progressive legislative session in at least a generation.

Aren't you grateful that the current president is not a Republican? Oh, wait...

Linux Support Not Without Shortcomings

Living in the Linux/UNIX world has its challenges...
  • Yesterday I happened to notice a warning on a page at the Ubuntu Linux web site about Adobe Flash Player. The version that has been in the field for a long time turned out to have a security flaw, and everyone was urged to replace the player on their system right away. For Stella, on Windows Vista, that was two replacements, one for IE and one for Firefox. For me, on Lucid Lynx (yes, that is the project name for Ubuntu Linux 10.04), it was just one replacement, but as with so many things in Linux, the instructions resulted in a long session at a Terminal (Windows users: think "command prompt").

    There was just one problem: the instructions were wrong. In Firefox 3.6, the Adobe Flash plugin has its own folder, /usr/lib/adobe-flashplugin. If you put it in the default plugins folder, it doesn't work. It's a good thing I like to explore and tinker with things; I can't imagine that a typical Firefox user would have found this.

  • Today I accepted an Ubuntu update, including a replacement kernel and some other stuff. After applying the update, there was no sound. Indeed, there was no sound card visible through utilities. For me, no sound = no fun. :-(

    A few days ago, I manually replaced the sound driver with the latest ALSA version, 1.0.23 ... I don't remember why I decided to do this, but it was good experience in learning to build a driver, and it worked pretty much as advertised. But today's update from Ubuntu forcibly replaced my newer-version sound card driver with the older version 1.0.21, which is part of the current release for Lucid Lynx. When the driver is version-incompatible with all the other sound software, there's no sound. No sound = no fun. :-(

    On the community support site for Ubuntu was a sound troubleshooting page. It was formidable, several dozen steps long. Fortunately, one of the diagnostics it ran (again in a long Terminal session) showed me the out-of-sync driver version number. I repeated the build process for the driver, and sound reappeared. Sound = fun! :-)

Some people suggest, and I sympathize with them, that Windows and Mac systems should be replaced in public schools, libraries, etc. with Linux, because Linux is free of cost, has comparable features, and is high-quality, generally reliable software. But if a user community decides to do that, they'd better have a Linux wizard on-staff or at least readily available. The online help available, both from Linux vendors and from the technical community, is very good, but there are occasionally things that go wrong that no one but an experienced person can solve.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Constitution Day

Until I installed the Lightning calendar extension in Mozilla Thunderbird (the lack of such was always Thunderbird's major shortcoming compared to Outlook), I didn't even know there was such thing as Constitution Day. And when I first saw the term, I mistook it for Constipation Day, a day for congressional Republicans who can't ever pass anything.

Exactly one month is a long time for me to be away from the blog, but I haven't seen much in that month to encourage me about the state of our nation and the propensity of our elected officials to engage in righteous behavior rather than simply paying back their sponsors... never ordinary citizens... with legislation made-to-order for the wealthy and the powerful. We're still on the highway to hell.

As for the Constitution, whose day is today, I understand most universities will soon be teaching it in an Ancient History course...

Civil liberties appear to be ancient history in the Obama administration as surely as they were under the rule of Bush. In case you missed anything, here is a summary of Executive branch illegal detentions in the war on Terra, and here is a search form of votes by Congress on major civil liberties, civil rights and human rights bills. It doesn't look good.

You'd think I'd resume blogging on a Friday with a picture of a cat. Well, maybe I will later this evening, or maybe not. Suffice it to say that Lily is now almost as big as Esther, and is not one smidgen less aggressive as a tween than she was as a little kitten. Wear gloves if you plan to handle her!

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