Archive for June, 2008

I somehow missed this neat little nugget of Wimbledon information from a few days ago:

June 27 (Bloomberg) — Alla Kudryavtseva of Russia took delight in dumping former champion Maria Sharapova and her outfit out of Wimbledon yesterday.

“It’s very pleasant to beat Maria,” said Kudryavtseva. “Why? Well, I don’t like her outfit.”

Sharapova’s outfit, a white tuxedo-styled jacket and shorts by her sponsor Nike Inc., attracted as many questions at her first-round post-match press conference as her on-court performance. Kudryavtseva, who wore a white skirt and tank top, said her Federation Cup teammate’s attire “was one of the motivations to beat her.”

“It’s a little too much of everything,” she said.

I completely agree. This is sport we’re talking about. Not a fashion show! And that goes for Roger Federer too with those ridiculous tuxedo shorts.

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Hmmm, Obama is supposedly the elitist but John and Cindy McCain have hundreds of thousands of dollars in credit card debt. One of their children has $10-50k in credit card debt. These people truly have nothing in common with everyday Americans and are clearly not financially responsible.

In an interesting peek into John McCain’s personal finances, it turns out that John and Cindy McCain — in spite of their personal wealth — are carrying well over $100,000 in credit card debt.

The Hill took a look at the latest Senate financial disclosure forms and found that a joint card held by the two has between $10,000 and $15,000 in charges, while a card that is solely in Cindy’s name has between $100,000 and $250,000 in debt. Another card for a dependent child has between $15,000 and $50,000 in charges.

Via Talking Points Memo.

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Police on Sunday were investigating vandals’ spray-painting of dozens of city vehicles here, some with disparaging messages about the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama.

Authorities think the vandalism to about 60 vehicles, estimated at $10,000 in damage, was done Saturday afternoon, police spokeswoman Sgt. Barbara Jones said.

The vehicles were parked across from City Hall and investigators said culprits tagged messages including “Obama smokes crack” and a racial epithet.

They even left business cards on the vehicles that disparage both the Illinois senator and his rival, Republican John McCain. The cards voice support for Sen. Hillary Clinton, Obama’s former opponent.

Well that’s completely brilliant. I’m sure all of those people who got their cars damaged are now going to vote for McCain because that’s completely logical. That’s about as smart as taking your jihad training VHS tape to Circuit City to get transfered to DVD. I suspect the Hillary cards were put there to throw the scent off Republicans. I have a hard time believing that Hillary supporters would go out and tag cars.

Update: Then again, where was Bill Clinton on June 28th?

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When watching a Pixar movie like WALL E, you can’t help but think how grateful you are that it is Pixar at the wheel and not Disney. I realize Pixar is owned by Disney, but as a completely uninformed outside observer I distinguish the two.

WALL E starts surprisingly bleak and its commentary can be brutal. Humans no longer inhabit Earth and it is just one large garbage pile. The big box store and the idea of big is what has doomed the Earth, and humans have fled. When we do see humans in space, they are fat and completely distant from one another, attached to their computers without ever looking up to see what is around them. You would think with such depictions that the film would be a depressing lecture on society, but WALL E is much more optimistic than that. It’s beautiful, heartbreaking and hopeful all at the same time. Humanity is not as bad as it appears.

How can a social message exist among entertainment? It’s something that I don’t think Disney could accomplish. The commentary would be less critical. There would be the desire not to offend big box stores. The cockroach friend of WALL E would probably sing and dance instead of just being a silent companion. We wouldn’t have heard the line “stay the course” as an indicator of bad leadership. Even the voices would be performed by famous Hollywood actors. WALL E doesn’t do that.

And that brings me to my last pleasant surprise about the movie. I stayed for the ending credits and noticed that the actor who played EVE was a theatre friend from college, Elissa Knight. I’m so happy to see that she has carved out a career for herself. As EVE, she’s brilliant. I loved this film.

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This building built in 1971 would seem to have a very out-of-date style. Who knows though, it may come back into fashion. It’s surprisingly good office space. Those diamond shaped windows make for some very good light.

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From The Huffingtonpost:

As a rule, Republicans appreciate the value in defining the Democratic presidential nominee, and the GOP is usually pretty good at it. In 2000, Al Gore, they said, was an “exaggerator.” This was not only effective, thanks to a quick embrace by the media, it was also part of a narrative — when Gore takes credit for some of the successes of the ’90s, don’t believe him because he exaggerates

In 2004, John Kerry, they said was a “flip-flopper.” This, too, was relatively effective, and was once again parroted by the media. The narrative here was equally clear — in the first post-9/11 election, in a time of war, we don’t want someone who’s inconsistent.

Four years later, the effort to define Barack Obama is proving to be more difficult for Republican attack dogs. The GOP keeps experimenting with new memes, but not only are they not sticking, some even contradict each other.

It’s true the GOP are great at branding. If the GOP is the Bud of marketing, then the Democrats are the Coors (the Coors founder famously didn’t believe in marketing.) I marvel at the fact that I’ve heard repeated the nonsense that somehow Barack Obama is an elitist but George Bush, John McCain and even Hillary Clinton are everyday ordinary folks. It’s powerful stuff.

What’s really interesting is that John Kerry and John McCain are virtually the same person. They are both war heroes from rich and established families and both of their second wives are rich heiresses. But you rarely hear the jabs about John McCain’s wealth that we heard about Kerry. And certainly John McCain is the biggest flip-flopper of them all.

Marketing is key to the Bush Administration. Time and time again we have heard them describe their failures as being image problems only. Rumsfeld regretted calling the war the War on Terror as if it was called anything else it would have been a success. George Bush recently said:

Bush “admitted to the Times that his gun-slinging rhetoric made the world believe that he was a ‘guy really anxious for war’ in Iraq. He said that his aim now was to leave his successor a legacy of international diplomacy for tackling Iran. Phrases such as ‘bring them on’ or ‘dead or alive’ [in reference to Osama bin Laden,] he said, ‘indicated to people that I was, you know, not a man of peace.’

So why is the GOP having a hard time branding Obama? I have two suggestions to add to the mix. Americans are weary of the Republicans right now and almost everything they say lacks credibility. It’s a case of the boy crying wolf too much. People are suspicious of their attacks knowing that the alternative they offer is bleaker. Fear was a decider in the 2004 election. People may feel duped that they voted out of fear and got something far worse in return. We have nothing to fear but fear itself. Second, the Republicans are sounding increasingly like whiners. What America desperately wants right now is a positive message to put forth and the Republicans are coming up short.

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This came up at trivia last night. Still as great a song as ever.

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The Last Polar Bear: Facing the Truth of a Warming World is an exhibition at the Burke Museum in Seattle of Steven Kazlowski‘s amazing photography.

The polar bear — a charismatic icon in the struggle against climate change — faces a precarious future along with other ice dependent species as its Arctic habitat rapidly continues to melt away. With camera in hand, wildlife photographer Steven Kazlowski has dedicated over eight years of work to bring to life the immediate reality of this most pressing environmental crisis — the devastation of the Arctic ecosystem through global warming.

Organized by the Burke Museum and Braided River/The Mountaineers Books, The Last Polar Bear: Facing the Truth of a Warming World will present approximately 40 large-format color photographs by Kazlowski and document the polar bear in its Arctic coastal habitat from Hershel Island in Canada to Point Hope, Alaska.

I can’t help think of the safety of the photographer looking at this photo. The exhibition runs until December 31, 2008.

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I get sad when I think about all the great things of the past that are dying out. Like dancing. Can the formation dancing of Britney Spears or Justin Timberlake really ever compare with Fred Astaire?

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Personally I have more respect for athletes that dress like serious athletes. You can see more fashions here.

Via Huffingtonpost.

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It’s nice to know Marat Safin still has it in him.

One of the things I like about Safin is that he is always entertaining to listen to. He’s blunt, honest and at times self-effacing.

“I had to take my opportunities as he was under pressure fighting for the world number one spot so he has to win matches. From me no-one expects anything.”

Safin later admitted that he already booked himself on a flight to Moscow on Wednesday evening but he must now prepare himself for a third-round match against Italian Andreas Seppi.

“I hadn’t looked at the draw because I saw I had Djokovic in the second round, but now I will have to check. The way I am playing right now I can go far but it must be step by step,” added the Russian.

He also has the coolest name in sports.

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Upon meeting me for the first time, it’s fairly regular for a person to tell me how much they like Thai food since I am part Thai. I understand it, after all that may be the only connection a person has to Thailand. Better that then mentioning a sex show you saw in Thailand (sadly that happened to me.) Another is “oh, you’re Taiwanese” (happened!). So I guess it’s really understandable that our President, the guy who rubbed the shoulders of a female head of state, would say the following to Gloria Macapagal Arroyo President of the Philippines:

Madam President, it is a pleasure to welcome you back to the Oval Office. We have just had a very constructive dialogue. First, I want to tell you how proud I am to be the President of a nation that — in which there’s a lot of Philippine-Americans. They love America and they love their heritage. And I reminded the President that I am reminded of the great talent of the — of our Philippine-Americans when I eat dinner at the White House. And the chef is a great person and a really good cook, by the way, Madam President.

Actually, it is kind of embarrassing isn’t it?

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A friend knowing that I play pub trivia not once but two times a week asked me if I wanted to go to Purr to play trivia. Purr is a very trendy gay/lesbian bar with very good music. For those interested, Purr’s quiz takes place on Sundays at 8:00. There is no charge to play.

Purr is definitely unique among quizzes in Seattle. The four rounds of questions were almost exclusively about things you could in one way or another connect with gay or lesbian pop culture. The first round was Will and Grace, the second Rainbow (subtitled Colors of the Wind), the third Stacked (literature), and the final bonus round had three questions with the themes lesbians, divas, and musicals. The rules are unbelievably complex, but they include wagering points for the bonus round and a distinction between “given” points and “earned” points. A nice added touch is that the quiz master plays music in between the rounds that has a loose connection with the themes. For instance the Will and Grace theme music and Cindy Lauper’s True Colors.

For Colors of the Wind, we had the question: This group had the song “Hammer and Nail” on their album Nomads, Indians and Saints. I was surprised to hear what I thought was the lesbian team (they cheered when someone said the word lesbian so I’m just guessing) ask for a repeat of that question. Surely you should have your card revoked if you’re a lesbian team and you need a repeat on an Indigo Girls question. I’m just saying.

For the final bonus round, my friend and I were 10 points behind the leader – oh did I mention there were only 3 teams? Anyway, for the bonus round the deciding question in the category diva was: which diva is credited for launching the careers of Katey Sagal and Melissa Manchester. As the leading team did not know the answer Bette Midler, my humble team of two ended up winning. The prize: two tickets on the Seattle Pride Cruise next week for the Gay Pride Festival.

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A friend alerted me to this rail line which was just completed in 2006. The pictures are absolutely stunning and its construction is clearly a modern marvel.

There were and are many technical difficulties for such a railway. About half of the second section was built on barely permanent permafrost. In the summer, the uppermost layer thaws, and the ground becomes muddy. Chinese engineers dealt with this problem by building elevated tracks with foundations sunk deep into the ground, building hollow concrete pipes beneath the tracks to keep the rail bed frozen, and using metal sun shades.[11] Similar to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System portions of the track are also passively cooled with ammonia based heat exchangers.

The air in Tibet is much thinner, having 35% to 40% less oxygen than at sea level. Special passenger carriages are used, and several oxygen factories were built along the railway. At this altitude in these latitudes, water in toilets must be heated to prevent freezing. The Chinese government claimed that no construction worker died during the construction due to altitude sickness related diseases. [12] The railway passes the Kunlun Mountains, an earthquake zone. A magnitude 8.1 earthquake struck in 2001. Dozens of earthquake monitors have been installed along the railway.

Photos via chinapage.com.

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Oh the joys of Amtrak in America. Amtrak is the company which manages U.S. rail travel. It’s completely underfunded and never gets any of the lobby money that air travel companies get. Trips on Amtrak are often costlier and are exponentially longer than car trips. Take for instance a drive from Seattle to Portland which can take about 3 hours. The same trip on an Amtrak train can take an average of 5 hours and sometimes more.

My husband and I have decided to take a car-less vacation for our summer. Our decision came about because it just doesn’t feel like a proper vacation if your destination is too close to you, and we chose Glacier National Park in Montana because it is directly on the Amtrak Empire Builder rail line (unlike Yellowstone.) I’ve never done extensive rail travel in America and this would give me the opportunity to see some lovely countryside as well as going to what is considered a beautiful National Park in a state I have never been to.

You would think that the expense and hassle of plane travel and the contemporary fear of a terrorism would drive people to re-embrace rail travel in this country. You would think wrong, but what has started a surge in rail travel is the price of gas. Here’s an article about how Amtrak is having difficulty accommodating all of their new customers.

Record prices for gasoline and jet fuel should be good news for Amtrak, as travelers look for alternatives to cut the cost of driving and flying.

And they are good news, up to a point.

Amtrak set records in May, both for the number of passengers it carried and for ticket revenues — all the more remarkable because May is not usually a strong travel month.

But the railroad and its suppliers have shrunk so much, largely because of financial constraints, that they would have difficulty growing quickly to meet the demand.

Many long-distance trains are already sold out for some days this summer.

The whole article is a very good read for anyone interested in learning the history of how Amtrak operates in this country.

The following details perhaps explain why rail travel has yet to really take off in America.

The journey from Seattle to East Glacier Park Montana is 16 hours long. A flight from Seattle to Kalispell Montana is roughly 2 hours long. Of course add extra time for getting to and from the airport, and certainly the nice thing about taking the train is that we will be dropped off right at the entrance to the park.

The price for two tickets to and from Seattle to East Glacier Park Montana is $302.40. Because the journey is 16 hours, we are also purchasing what is called a roomette. The roomette isn’t a room, but it is two seats next to a window that can be reclined into a sleeping position. Meals are also included. To get a roomette you can add to the return journey $484.00 making the total cost of the journey $786.00.

A return trip by Horizon air from Seattle to Kalispell is $534.00. Once again, you’ll need to add some expense to getting to and from Kalispell, but as of right now you’re comparing a $786 rail journey with a $534 plane journey. So as you can see it is more expensive to travel by train and more time consuming.

We decided to go ahead and go for it. Maybe it’ll be a blast and we’ll never know unless we give it a shot. Our trip is in August.

But going back to the joys of rail travel in America… Within 5 minutes of purchasing our Amtrak tickets online, we got a call from our credit card company’s fraud department. We just noticed you charged a large amount to Amtrak, they said. We wanted to make sure that someone hasn’t stolen your card and is using it, they said. You’ve got to be kidding me, I’m thinking. Is rail travel so rare in America that it is considered a fraud warning if you purchase a ticket? Perhaps our credit card company just couldn’t believe that anyone in their right mind would spend over $200 more to travel by rail for a journey that will take 8 times as long as it would than by plane.

Picture courtesy of BritainByRail.

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Here’s a sad article about humans feeding bears that are then killed because they got too comfortable around humans. How sad and unnecessary.

Oregon officials say they’ve killed two more bears who got used to humans and their food.

Wildlife officials say someone near Fort Hoskins Historic Park started feeding bears last winter.

Then, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife says, the bears started damaging buildings as they looked for food. One pressed its face against the window of a home, and park users were sometimes startled by bears who were getting used to humans.

The department says one bear was shot Wednesday near a home after it showed no fear of humans and couldn’t be run off by gunfire.

Another bear was trapped and killed Thursday.

Wildlife officials regularly warn people not to feed bears and to guard against bears getting into food waste in garbage bins.

I have a friend who is a marine biologist who recently saw the film Saving Luna at SIFF. The movie is surprisingly not about people “saving” the orca whale who is featured in the film, but rather the length of the film is taken up with shots of people playing with this whale. The whale was later killed by a boat rudder.

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I greatly enjoyed reading this article that highlights Sherman Alexie’s testimony for the Seattle vs. The Sonics trial going on right now at a courthouse in Seattle. I’ll try to best sum up the situation before quoting Alexie. Alexie is a Native American writer perhaps most famous for his novel Smoke Signals which was turned into a movie in 1998. He is a great story teller who has written extensively about his love for Seattle’s basketball team the Sonics. Alexie has said the Sonics are his connection to his deceased father since watching basketball was one of the few things they used to do together.

The Sonics have been bought by Oklahoma City investors who would like to move the team to Oklahoma City. Because Alexie is a high profile fan, he was asked by the city of Seattle to testify at a trial to decide the fate of whether or not the Sonics can reneg on the lease on their stadium.

Alexie has been writing a Sonics Death Watch column which I also recommend even if you don’t like basketball. His a gifted story teller which makes almost anything he writes no matter what the subject manner be amusing and endearing.

Here are some quotes from Jim Moore’s column in the Seattle PI:

“The great thing about basketball, they’re barely wearing any clothes,” Alexie said.

It’s the only sport where you can get close to the players, Alexie said. He gushed about the Cleveland Cavaliers’ superstar, saying: “A hundred years from now, people will be talking about LeBron James as they talk about Hercules now.”

Alexie hopes the Sonics are forced to honor their KeyArena lease because he wants “two more years of the Greek gods.”

And if the Sonics leave? “That would be like telling Seattle they’ve only got me as a writer instead of Shakespeare,” he said.

“There are a lot more black people in KeyArena than pretty much any other mainstream event in Seattle,” he said. “In a city where black people are not necessarily celebrated, in professional basketball it is.”

He thinks if the team moves, it will only get worse because “you won’t be able to sign free agents in Oklahoma City.” But he will still follow the Sonics and still hope that Earl Watson plays ahead of Luke Ridnour, and if there is a divorce, he thinks Seattle should get shared custody of Watson.

“It’s love long distance,” Alexie said, “but love long distance fades.”

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Why on earth does Seattle International Film Festival need to survey what race I am? Argghhhh!

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In honor of Euro 2008, here’s a rather appropriate commercial from Euro 2004.

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One has to give credit to the BBC for the juxtaposition of this photo and headline. The article is here.

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According to Dave Barry the heavy artillary for winning an argument:

Compare your opponent to Adolf Hitler.

For when your opponent is obviously right and you are spectacularly wrong. Bring Hitler up subtly. Say: “That sounds suspiciously like something Adolf Hitler might say” or “You certainly do remind me of Adolf Hitler.”

This may be bad advice for sports commentators.

If blogs did not exist, I guarantee you 99% fewer folks would have read Jemele Hill’s Saturday ESPN column, which argued that cheering “for the Celtics is like saying Hitler was a victim. It’s like hoping Gorbachev would get to the blinking red button before Reagan.”

Hill’s statement — which ESPN quickly edited out of the article — can best be classified as incoherent and stupid. Incoherent, because both analogies display a poor understanding of history (anyone who cares know that it doesn’t matter who pushes the nuclear button first). Stupid, because jokes about Nazis or nuclear holocausts are usually ill-advised.

Bad columnists fall prey to homerism all the time, and Hill is no exception. But it doesn’t take a history degree to figure out that sloppy writing and sensitive issues are a horrible combination. If a columnist can’t see that, they’re probably not worth your time.

Yeah, no kidding.

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This cartoon by David Horsey reminded me of the Alaska Airlines commercials from the 80’s.

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I loathe checking the box that asks me to identify what race I am. There are two reasons. Number one is that usually none of the categories fit. I am not 100% white nor am I 100% Asian. Even if I were 100% Asian, I don’t think I’d feel comfortable checking a box that lumped me along with Pacific Islander. Not that I have anything against Pacific Islanders, but it highlights the ludicrousness of the classification system.

The second reason is that I am weary of racial statistics that pit one group against another. I read a few years ago that Asian women make more money on average than Caucasian women. I’m not sure I see the point of the study except to make white women resent Asian women. But perhaps I am being a malcontent.

A lot of people are asking about racial identification because Barack Obama who is both black (African) and white is running for president, so I thought I’d offer my own thoughts about the subject.

How do I identify myself? It depends who’s asking or where I am. I have lived most of my life in America. One of my parents is white. I went to schools that were always primarily white. I work primarily among whites. Given all of the above, most of my friends are white. My husband is white. Most television shows on TV are about whites. Most films are about whites. It would be truly remarkable if I didn’t identify as white because I am surrounded by whiteness. Oh, and I don’t speak Thai because my mom never spoke Thai with us.

But one thing keeps me from identifying myself as white: how others perceive me. Going to school as a kid, other people saw me as different. My name for one wasn’t like anyone else’s and it was a struggle getting people to pronounce it correctly. And I don’t look white. Ever since I was a kid people have asked me what my “heritage” is. You get to start to expect the question when you meet new people. So it was outside forces that made me feel Asian and not what was within.

As a kid I wanted to be thought of as “normal,” because in childhood it can be difficult being different. As you grow older, being different is what you cling to and what makes you special. So I started to make references to whites as if they were different from me. As I’ve grown older, I have really understood how very American I am. I may look partially Asian (at least in America), but I’m all American. I visited Thailand and witnessed a culture completely not my own.

The great thing about identifying as multi-racial is that you get to play both sides of the coin when you see fit. I can easily walk around an Asian store, restaurant or even Japan and I seem to fit in. I can eat blazingly hot chilies and make fun of the white guy sitting next to me whose face is getting red. I can go to a flea market and bargain with a vendor and not be embarrassed by it. I can express that white people just don’t understand blah blah blah. Everyone likes to feel special. But the truth is I am an American and culturally speaking I am very white. I am not oppressed. I do not have an accent. I have been widely accepted for who I am.

But just so we’re clear: I don’t like StuffWhitePeopleLike.

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This is why I do pub trivia twice a week. How else would I learn about things like Bill Cosby’s cover of The Beatles Sgt. Pepper?

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About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

*Note: Online it’s hard to see Icarus. Look to the lower right near the ship.

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