Quotulatiousness

February 13, 2014

Flooding in Britain – call for the Witchfinder Floodfinder General!

Filed under: Britain, Environment, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:13

Rob Lyons asks who is to blame for the current flooding in Britain. The answer may be … nobody:

Floods in the UK are getting worse. There’s not much we can do it about it. It’s caused by climate change, which in turn is caused by human beings. It’s payback time.

There you go. In one paragraph, I’ve saved you having to read British newspapers or watch British TV news for the next few days. Of course, the recent flooding is a nightmare for those affected. It’s also a dream for lazy TV news editors who want to plonk their reporters in front of some interesting backdrop offering trite statements about a human-interest story. But the discussion about the causes of the floods and whether we can – or should – do anything about them is rather more worrying than TV’s dumbed-down ‘news values’.

[...]

A briefing published by the UK Met Office earlier this month highlights just how unusual the weather is at present. ‘Although no individual storm can be regarded as exceptional, the clustering and persistence of the storms is highly unusual. December and January were exceptionally wet. For England and Wales this was one of, if not the most, exceptional periods of winter rainfall in at least 248 years. The two-month total (December + January) of 372.2mm for the south-east and central southern England region is the wettest any two-month period in the series from 1910.’ It’s the conveyor belt of stormy weather, rather than any particular individual event, which is causing the problems. The ground is already soaked and rivers are already high; further rainfall has nowhere to go but out on to the flood plains.

However, a quick look at the Met Office briefing shows that while rainfall in southern England in January was very exceptional, it is hard to glean any particular overall pattern – other than that rainfall is very variable.

January rainfall, southern England, 1910-2014. Source: Met Office

January rainfall, southern England, 1910-2014. Source: Met Office

Indeed, just two years ago, Britain was in drought. Consecutive winters of below-average rainfall had left water companies enforcing restrictions on supply. Then the heavens opened, and it seems to have barely stopped raining since. So how on earth did the head of the Met Office, Dame Julia Slingo, conclude that while there was ‘no definitive answer’ to what caused the storms, ‘all the evidence suggests there is a link to climate change’? Indeed, Slingo is not alone in her assessment. The prime minister, David Cameron, said in January that he ‘suspected’ climate change was behind the floods. Labour leader Ed Miliband declared that climate change was sure to bring ‘more flooding, more storms’. Yet less than a year ago, scientists were assuring us that climate change would lead to more droughts in the future in the UK.

August 29, 2013

British parliament defeats government motion on Syria

Filed under: Britain, Middle East, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 16:42

Twitter just lit up with the news that Prime Minister David Cameron’s motion to allow military action against Syria has been soundly defeated in parliament. The reported voting line was 272 in favour and 285 against. This was not a confidence motion — the government will not be forced to resign over this vote, but it’s a strong slap in the face to Clegg and Cameron.


August 24, 2013

It’s still August … media struggles to fill gaps between the ads

Filed under: Cancon, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:16

In Maclean’s, Emily Senger goes after the biggest issue facing Canada today:

On Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s annual tours of the North, like the one he undertook this week, photographers know to be quick with their cameras whenever Harper mounts an ATV or gets down on the ground to fire a .303 Lee Enfield rifle. Whatever the photo opportunity, though, one thing is constant — the big, blaring CANADA brand frequently emblazoned across his chest or back.

The patriotic clothing line, from the Bay’s Olympic Collection, has become a staple for Harper at events where his go-to sport jacket and open-collar shirt are still too formal. During his 2011 election campaign, Harper wore the jacket for many a stump speech and to photo-ops, sporting it as he posed with preschoolers and bowled with seniors.

Apparently it’s now a big problem that the Prime Minister happens to like wearing a certain line of clothing. We’re back to our media’s sense of shame about anyone showing the slightest pride about Canada (see their collective whingeing about our Olympic teams, for example).

Then we’re treated to a quick review of how “proper” political leaders dress:

We don’t see U.S. President Barack Obama wearing a jacket emblazoned with a screaming bald eagle against a backdrop of stars and stripes (though, we wish he would). Instead, The U.S. president is known to clip a stars-and-stripes pin to his suit lapel. Likewise, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron keeps his sartorial patriotism subtle, and has been spotted wearing Union Jack cufflinks.

See, rustic Canadians? Real leaders of real countries don’t need to advertise! You’re such yokels!

August 1, 2013

Stereotypes of pornography consumers

Filed under: Britain, Media, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 13:05

James Delingpole had far too much fun writing this column:

You may be aware that David Cameron — as part of a secret, Lynton Crosby-inspired operation codenamed Suck Up Shamelessly To The Embittered Authoritarian Killjoy Harpies At Mumsnet — has decreed that as from next year the default option when you sign a contract with your new internet provider will be ‘No porn in this household, thank you. I think it’s a disgrace.’

Superficially (and does this coalition ever think any other way?) I can see this makes a lot of sense. After all, what do a growing national debt, falling living standards, rising inflation, skyrocketing energy prices, out-of-control immigration, Weimar-style money-printing, a burgeoning new housing bubble, a failed health service and a collapsing infrastructure matter when you’ve got the most important problem of our times, so to speak, in hand, viz. blokes sneaking a quick one off the wrist while their missus has popped down to Waitrose to stock up on Mabel Pearman’s Burford Brown eggs, Isigny Ste Mere unsalted butter and that Duchy Originals cider on special offer at just £1.45 a bottle?

According to James, nowadays women are about as likely to go looking for pornography on the internet as men are:

But according to some of my techie friends, this isn’t the case at all. They’re the ones who have to clear up all the viruses which you accidentally invited into your computer along when you were trying to Google the weather and mistakenly typed in ‘Romanian donkey babes xxx hardcore’ instead.

Here’s what one of them has to say: ‘The very worst I came across was a shared houseful of young ladies. It took over eight hours to do just the first pass with the antivirus software. That pass removed over 58,000 pieces of malware and spyware, and just under 2,000 viruses. It took all the next day to finish cleaning their computer. I told them it was the worst case of an infected computer I had ever come across, and one asked how it had happened for it to be so bad. Easy I said. Porn sites. They all went bright red and then the hilarity ensued, as the finger pointing started.’

[...]

I realise, of course, that there are still plenty of puritans out there who feel differently. To them I quote first Thomas Sowell: ‘What is ominous is the ease with which some people go from saying that they don’t like something to saying that the government should forbid it. When you go down that road, don’t expect freedom to survive very long.’ And second, Pastor Niemoller: ‘First they came for the wankers…’.

July 24, 2013

Anti-porn UK MP gets hacked, threatens reporter who publicized the hack

Filed under: Britain, Liberty, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:13

Apparently British Conservative MP Claire Perry doesn’t know a lot about the way the internet works, despite being described as an “architect” for David Cameron’s proposed porn blocker:

UK MP Claire Perry hacked

Claire Perry is the UK Tory MP who architected David Cameron’s idiotic national porno firewall plan. Her website was hacked and defaced with pornographic gross-out/shock images. When Guido Fawkes, a reporter and blogger, wrote about it on his website, Perry took to Twitter to accuse him of “sponsoring” the hack, and publicly announced that she would be speaking to his editor at the Sun (Fawkes has a column with the tabloid) to punish him for writing about her embarrassment.

Perry is so technologically illiterate that she can’t tell the difference between writing about someone hacking your website and hacking itself. No wonder she’s credulous enough to believe the magic-beans-peddlers who promise her that they’ll keep porn off the British Internet — a feat that neither the Chinese nor the Iranian governments have managed.

May 3, 2013

A “bunch of fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists” finished second in UK by-election, gain seats in local elections

Filed under: Britain, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:44

The initial reports from the UK’s local elections yesterday were certainly encouraging for the UK Independence Party:

Britain’s populist United Kingdom Independence Party made sweeping gains in local elections and finished second in a parliamentary by-election, according to results announced Friday, shaking mainstream political parties, consolidating its position as an emerging political force and claiming a “sea change” in national life.

Once scorned by Prime Minister David Cameron as “a bunch of fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists,” the party, which wants Britain to leave the European Union and strictly control immigration, gained about a quarter of the vote in a series of elections in different areas of the country on Thursday, according to an initial count. The outcome represented the party’s fourth electoral advance in six months.

“We have been abused by everybody, the entire establishment,” Nigel Farage, the Independence Party leader, told the BBC, “and now they are shocked and stunned that we are getting over 25 percent of the vote everywhere we stand across the country. This is a real sea change in British politics.”

A government minister, Kenneth Clarke, had also dismissed party members as “clowns,” prompting Mr. Farage, in a string of TV and radio interviews, to parry with, “Send in the clowns.”

April 30, 2013

Tory (and media) fear of UKIP can be gauged by the level of abuse directed at them

Filed under: Britain, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:24

Patrick Hayes on the vitriol being sent UKIP’s way by the Conservatives and by the mainstream media:

Nutters. Nutcases. Loonies. Morons. Crackpots. Cuckoos. Oddballs. Fruitflies. Fruitloops. Fruitcakes. When it comes to slang used to suggest that members of the right-wing libertarian UK Independence Party (UKIP) are mentally ill, mainstream politicians and the media have lobbed the entire urban dictionary at them.

UKIP’s latest diagnosis came at the weekend from polo-necked Conservative minister Ken Clarke. In light of the upcoming local elections, Clarke dismissed UKIP as a ‘collection of clowns’, full of ‘waifs and strays’ not sufficiently ‘sensible’ to become local councillors. His comments echoed UK prime minister David Cameron’s oft-quoted remarks from 2006 when he dismissed UKIP as a bunch of ‘fruit cakes and loonies and closet racists’. Cameron has refused to retract these comments, adding earlier this year that he still thought UKIP was full of ‘pretty odd people’.

Almost since its launch in 1993, politicians have chosen to paint UKIP as the successor to the Monster Raving Loony Party, full of — as Michael Howard, Cameron’s predecessor as Tory leader, put it — ‘cranks, gadflies and extremists’. The message is clear: on no account should UKIP be taken seriously as a political force. It deserves only ridicule. After all, how could any party that calls for the abolition of the smoking ban, or for the UK to leave the EU, be considered to be of sound mind? If you support UKIP, you need your head examined.

April 15, 2013

Why UKIP has been drawing support away from the Conservatives

Filed under: Britain, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:59

In the Telegraph, Ed West explains some of the reasons for UKIP’s rise in support at the expense of David Cameron’s Tories:

Across the North of England, Ukip is able to appeal to a wide range of socially conservative people who hate the Tories as the people who destroyed their towns and yet are voting for Thatcher’s heir.

The key to David Cameron’s failure, in 2010 and since, has been the pursuit of the centre ground. The key to Ukip’s success is their understanding that there’s no such thing, and that on a range of issues — health, transport and jobs — the public are more Left-wing than the powers that be, and on several others — crime, Europe and immigration — they’re considerably more Right-wing. Whether Ukip’s economic policies would help working-class people is open to debate, although restricting unskilled immigration would help.

The cornerstone of Ukip’s support is the subject of mass immigration, which is not only an unpopular process in itself, but tends to create a code of dishonesty and cant in the political class, further driving them apart from the public. It is an issue inescapably tied up with the European Union, and Ukip has successfully (so far) negotiated a middle course close to the centre of public opinion; most people do not share the political elites’ talk about “Britain’s diversity is its strength”, but neither do they dislike immigrants or wish to support the politics of hate. They just don’t want their country changed beyond recognition, and don’t see why they should be condemned for this.

None of this would matter, of course, if people had particular confidence that one of the major parties knew what they were doing with the economy. As it is, Labour got us into this mess, while having George Osborne in charge rather feels like being on an aeroplane where the company owner’s 12-year-old son has insisted on being the pilot. I hope he knows what he’s doing, but I’m prepared to let someone else have a go.

February 8, 2013

Telegraph runs “Shock, horror!” story about UK government’s wine budget

Filed under: Britain, Government, Media, Wine — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:12

I’m a minarchist: I’m in favour of much smaller, less intrusive government. Even saying that, I can’t find it in my heart to get upset about this “shocking” revelation:

Ministers fail to balance books at £3million wine cellar
Ministers and guests have got through 5,000 bottles of alcohol worth more than £55,000 in the last year, report into the Government’s wine cellar has revealed.

[. . .]

The latest annual report into the Government’s wine cellar has revealed that ministers, officials and their guests got through nearly 5,000 bottles of alcohol worth more than £55,000 in the last year.

In total, the cellar holds 38,000 bottles costing £857,000 when bought, but are now valued on the open market at £2,953,000.

Some of the taxpayer-funded bottles are sold in shops for more than £1,000 each.

Guests at Government events drank 23 bottles of the 1982 Chateau Margaux Bordeaux, which sells for up to £1,100 a bottle.

Five thousand bottles? That’s all? David Cameron’s cabinet consists of 22 senior ministers. I assume there are junior ministers or parliamentary assistants for most of those ministers, so let’s call it 50 men and women who are entertaining on government business and would be drawing from the official wine cellar. Even if each of them only entertains one other person at each event, that’s roughly two bottles of wine per minister per week.

The Queen drinks more than that by herself!

And the eye-popping number of £857,000? That works out to less than £23 per bottle. And we’re told that some of the bottles could sell on the open market for £1,100 a bottle. But based on the figures, there can’t be very many of those ultra-expensive bottles, can there?

I fail to see a scandal here…

September 24, 2012

Warren Ellis: the fun in politics is gone, gone, gone

Filed under: Britain, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:29

In his weekly column at Vice, Warren Ellis finds it in his flinty heart to mourn the passing of fun in politics:

There has long been a notion abroad that positions of authority should be given to the best-qualified people who don’t want them, as the job of “ruler”, like “censor”, does not necessarily attract the best kind of human being. That would, of course, kill the inherent black comedy in politics-watching. The creatures who fight and kick and bite for the right to fuck with our lives tend to be grotesques, and serve as warnings. Warnings we never heed, of course, because we end up voting something in from that shallow pool of eels every time.

But, every now and then, there comes a period where that pool gets drained, and we find ourselves dealing with the dregs.

I actually find myself weirdly nostalgic for the authentic monsters of politics. Even the sly, hollow hustling of Tony Blair would be preferable to the callow bafflement of Nick Clegg, the unnaturally shiny forehead and beta-male posturing of David Cameron, and the… well, whatever Ed Miliband is. There’s Vince Cable, whom lots of people seem to like the idea of, but his presence, unfortunately, is that of Gravedigger #2 in one of the less successful Hammer Horror films.

Over the water, Mitt Romney doesn’t even have the facility to be slippery. He just staggers down the corridor of ideology like a cheap drunk, bumping into the walls. And President Obama isn’t even a tragic hero in the mode of Jimmy Carter, who struggled mightily (with himself, as much as anything else) and fell before the eerie charm of Ronald Reagan. I can admire the man’s intellect and general beliefs (or “values”, which is the season’s buzzword) while recognising that his main mode of operation is as a chilly functionary unwilling to take the big fights all the way.

August 24, 2012

It’s an odd sort of “austerity” that increases government spending

Filed under: Britain, Economics, Government — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:27

Everyone knows that Britain’s current economic woes are because of the government’s harsh austerity measures, right?

The argument over ‘the cuts’ has now become wholly detached from reality. Listen to any BBC debate and you’ll find the debate presented along these lines: ‘The Coalition, aiming to eliminate the deficit by 2015, has cut spending; this has had the effect of reassuring the markets and preventing a Greek-style meltdown but, on the other hand, it has impeded growth, and so reduced the tax-take, which has meant that the deficit now won’t be abolished until at least 2017. Some people believe that we need to focus on growth, not austerity. They are calling for Plan B’.

Every assumption contained in that summary is false. Net government expenditure is higher now than it was three years ago. Such deficit reduction as there has been has come largely through tax rises rather than spending cuts. The reason that government borrowing costs are low is not because of the imagined austerity programme, but because the Bank of England has magicked up nearly £400 billion through quantitative easing, given it to banks and told them to buy government debt with it. Growth and austerity are not antonyms: it was debt-fuelled growth caused the disaster in the first place. As for Plan B, no one has yet tried Plan A: spending less.

July 14, 2012

Flood policy and personal responsibility

Filed under: Britain, Environment, Government — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:03

James Delingpole on the British government’s latest announcements on flood policy:

Yesterday it was reported that the Coalition had decided we should all be liable for the cost of flood damage, regardless of where we live. This puzzled me, as the Coalition’s decisions so often do. The only way it would make any kind of sense would be if you believed a) flooding is a new and unnatural phenomenon resulting directly from late 20th century Man Made Climate Change or b) that everyone is now so stupid they cannot be trusted to act in their own best interests and that it is therefore government’s job to hold their hands and wipe their bottoms for them from cradle to grave.

To discount a) you only have to go somewhere like the River Severn, just below Worcester Cathedral, and look at the flood marks on the wall. Many of the most dramatic inundations happened in years long before “man made global warming” was even a sinister glint in Al Gore’s eye. This isn’t to say that the cost of flood damage hasn’t risen to unprecedented levels these last few decades. But that has more to do with our insane practice of allowing property developments to be built on flood plains, together with our unfortunate habit of paving and tarmacking everything (such as the front gardens we would once have kept as front gardens) which means that in times of high rainfall floodwater is likely to accumulate in drains more rapidly. Plus, of course, we’re all richer — so there’s more expensive property for flooding to damage.

But it’s the b) aspect I find more worrying because of the way it rides roughshod over the most basic principles of free market economics. Can we really assume that when anybody buys a house by a river — or near a floodplain — they don’t do so in the full knowledge that flood-risk is one of the prices they pay for their pleasing waterside ambience? The very idea is a nonsense. Buyers, being rational, will factor this into their calculations: “OK, so it will be great for fishing and swimming and boating. But getting insurance will be a bugger and we’d better not keep anything too precious on the ground floor.” These complexities will be reflected by the market. While the value of the property may be enhanced by its attractive location, it will simultaneously be decreased by its flood-damage potential.

June 21, 2012

Addressing society’s hypocrisy on drugs

Filed under: Britain, Health, Law, Politics — Tags: , , , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:13

There’s apparently a call in Britain for the police to be given discretionary powers in certain cases where they could push civil rather than criminal penalties for drug offences. A better solution would be to fix the massive disconnect between the law and reality:

‘Ease drug penalties on the young,” a government adviser has urged. And of course, Professor Les Iversen, chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, is absolutely right. After all, if every young man who had dabbled with drugs had felt the fullest penalty of the law, then David Cameron would not be prime minister nor Barack Obama US president.

But in my view, Les Iversen doesn’t go nearly far enough. He talks of police being granted the discretion as to whether to press for civil rather than criminal penalties in certain drugs cases. This, however, is a fudge that doesn’t address the real issue. If our drugs laws are antiquated, expensive, inconsistent, socially damaging, draconian and counterproductive — and they are — then the solution is not to give the police more leeway to turn a blind eye. The solution is to change the laws.

[. . .]

What’s the thing I’m scared of most about my children and drugs? Not the drugs themselves, that’s for sure. The way we class drugs bears almost no relation to their relative degrees of harmfulness, as Professor David Nutt, the former government drugs adviser and Cambridge-educated neuropsychopharmacologist, made himself extremely unpopular by explaining. Alcohol and tobacco, Nutt infamously pointed out, are more dangerous than LSD; Ecstasy is safer than horse riding.

No, what worries me far more about my kids and drugs is the grubby illegality of that culture: the fact that whoever supplies them will, by definition, come from the criminal underworld; the fact that, there being no consumer protection or quality control, their drugs could be cut with any quantity of rubbish; the fact that they risk being imprisoned and having their futures blighted for the essentially victimless crime of seeking an altered state.

There are some authoritarian types, I know, who reading this will say: “And serve them bloody right!” It was a similar warped mentality that, at the height of Prohibition, led the US government to poison the nation’s supply of industrial alcohol (used to make moonshine) with a contaminant called Formula No 5. As Christopher Snowdon notes in his book The Art of Suppression, this resulted in as many as 10,000 needless deaths.

May 12, 2012

What’s in a name? Just centuries of military tradition

Filed under: Britain, Bureaucracy, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:33

The military bureaucrats and their civilian masters are well on the way to stamping out all those awfully old-fashioned names and symbols of the Scottish highland regiments:

Senior Downing Street sources said David Cameron is not yet at the stage of overruling Philip Hammond, his Defence Secretary, over his proposal to replace iconic names like the Black Watch with battalion numbers.

But they were keen to emphasise that no final decision has been made and the Prime Minister is aware of the potential political damage to the campaign to prevent Scotland separating from the UK.

[. . .]

Fury has been mounting since the Defence Secretary told the Daily Telegraph earlier this week that the “ancient cap badges have largely gone” and some traditional regimental names are now just “attached in brackets”.

Under Mr Hammond’s proposals, the Black Watch, 3rd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland (3 SCOTS), would become just 3 SCOTS and the Argyll and Sutherland Highlands would be names 5 SCOTS.

[. . .]

The former Labour Government faced a fierce backlash when the battalions were amalgamated in 2005 to form the Royal Regiment of Scotland, but they were promised they could keep their historic names.

Jeff Duncan, who managed the Save Scotland’s Army Regiments campaign, said yesterday it had restarted and nearly 1,500 had signed up in only 48 hours using the social networking site Facebook.

May 10, 2012

British aircraft carriers to be equipped with F-35B in policy reversal

Filed under: Britain, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:30

The two Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers being built for the Royal Navy were originally to be equipped with F-35B model which can operate in VTOL mode (like the Harriers used on HMS Ark Royal up to her retirement). This was deemed to be too expensive, so the British government ordered the carriers to be retro-fitted with catapults and conventional landing equipment so the RN could use the (relatively) cheaper F-35C.

The plan has now been revised back to the original:

The Ministry of Defence is to abandon plans to buy the preferred fighter for the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carriers, in an embarrassing U-turn for David Cameron.

The prime minister personally endorsed the decision to equip the over-budget carriers with “cats and traps” so they could catapult and recover a version of the F-35 joint strike fighter (JSF) from their decks.

But the cost of converting the carriers has already reached £2bn, and the JSF model Downing Street wanted has been beset by delays and technical problems.

The aircraft will now not be ready until 2023 at the earliest, forcing the government to revert to Labour’s original plans to buy the less capable jump jet model.

Philip Hammond, the defence secretary, is due to make an announcement in the Commons on Thursday explaining the about-face, which was approved by the National Security Council on Tuesday.

It should be no surprise at all that Lewis Page is ready to call this decision idiotic (and he’s almost certainly right):

It’s well known that the F-35B will cost a lot more to buy and more to run than the F-35C catapult version: and it’s also well known that the main cost of aircraft carriers is not the ships but the planes. So, right out of the gate, we can see that this is a foolish decision.

In fact it’s a lot worse than it seems, as the contest in real life was not between the F-35B and the F-35C: it was between the F-35B and — for the immediate future — one or another cheap, powerful, modern carrier jet already in service. This would most most likely have been the F-18 Hornet as used by the US Navy and many other air forces around the globe, but possibly the French Rafale instead of or alongside Hornets.

In fact the UK will not be able to afford either the F-35B or the F-35C in any large numbers any time soon. Both planes are, after all, brand new supersonic stealth aircraft — only the second make of supersonic stealth aircraft ever built, in fact, and the first ever which can land on ships. They are brand new, bleeding edge kit and will cost accordingly. Both planes are still in flight test at the moment, in fact, and the F-35 programme as a whole has suffered serious cost and time overruns. This has led to delays to US orders, which have in turn pushed up costs for other early purchasers. Production is still at a low rate only.

Thus, if the Royal Navy had managed to get its hands on a catapult carrier, it would have been compelled (very happily!) to buy or lease an interim carrier jet to tide it over until a reasonable number of F-35Cs could be bought for a reasonable price — probably at some point in the 2020s. There would be no need for a full force of F-35Cs any sooner than the 2030s, by which point they would be affordable and there might be a real need for their stealth and other advanced capabilities.

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