The Latest

Here are photos of what Al Qaeda did yesterday in Saudi Arabia. If CNN will air photos of abuse in Abu Ghraib they need to publish these.

I’m tired of issuing warnings along with my links to graphic photos. Most of us do need to see this. I’ll be in the Middle East myself in two weeks, and unless you’re my mother this is no time for a whitewash.

To Hell with the Republican Party

Dear Andrew Sullivan,

I see you’ve decided not to support the re-election of the president. Well, good for you then.

For a while there I was a v-e-r-y reluctant Bush supporter because the Democrats refused to take the Terror War seriously and picked a worm in the primary. Now I’m back in the undecided swing-voter camp for most of the same reasons you are. I don’t know who I’ll vote for. But I’m sure I’ll hate myself in the morning no matter which way I go.

I see there’s an Andrew Sullivan hate-fest going on over at Lucianne Goldberg’s Web site. I read the first half of the comments in that thread and didn’t see a single person sticking up for you. It’s nothing but accusations of “fag,” “traitor,” liberal,” “anti-American,” and so on ad nauseum.

Look. I went through the same thing on the other side. For a while I thought I was a dissident hawkish liberal. But there are only so many times a person can be told he or she is a heretic before walking out of the ever-shrinking “big” tent with their sleeping bag and gear to set up camp somewhere else.

Political parties are cruel to people who think. The more partisan members are bigots. They hate people in the other political party, and they hate you if you don’t follow orders. If you’re going to talk about principles you might as well be writing in Martian for those who will jump at a moment’s notice to stay on the right side of the party line.

Quit. Just walk away from the Republican Party. They are not your comrades as you can plainly see. Don’t bother calling yourself a conservative anymore. Publicly declare yourself an Independent and a Centrist. Don’t let anyone call you anything else. Oh, but they’ll try. Ann Coulter will call you a traitor and a leftist. Michael Moore will say you’re an imperial neocon cabalist. Who cares what they think? They’re slapstick buffoons, not your peers.

Your conservative friends who are worth their body weight in water will still be there for you. Your subscription to The Weekly Standard will still arrive in the mail. Your boyfriend will still love you. Your neighbors will still wave hello. Your favorite bartender will still smile when he sees you pull up a stool. Your Web site will still be one of the most popular blogs in the world. Don’t be afraid to lose readers. Some of us have learned a lot from your work, and we are not going anywhere.

The Democrats will no longer have me. That’s fine because now I am free. If the Republicans no longer want you, we in the middle will welcome you. Come on in. The water’s fine. It’s only cold for a second.

Someone Will Be Fired

In general I’d rather write about the good news in Iraq than the bad since the media likes to pretend it’s all bad. I’m sorry to tell you I have no good news for today.

Iraqis are furious. The CPA’s approval rating is 11 percent. It’s going to get worse before it gets better, so I suggest you brace for it.

Here is Christopher Hitchens in Slate:

The graphic videos and photographs that have so far been shown only to Congress are, I have been persuaded by someone who has seen them, not likely to remain secret for very long. And, if you wonder why formerly gung-ho rightist congressmen like James Inhofe (“I’m outraged more by the outrage”) have gone so quiet, it is because they have seen the stuff and you have not. There will probably be a slight difficulty about showing these scenes in prime time, but they will emerge, never fear. We may have to start using blunt words like murder and rape to describe what we see.

Here are my gut-level predictions for which I admittedly have no evidence. Donald Rumsfeld will “resign” in order “to spend more time with his family” when this footage comes out.


Bush will be fired in November.

Al-Sadr Becomes Pat Robertson

The insurgency of Moqtada al-Sadr, Iraq’s fundamentalist fanatic-in-chief, is toast.

NAJAF, Iraq (Reuters) – Radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr sent his fighters home on Wednesday in what may mark the end of a 10-week revolt against U.S.-led forces that once engulfed southern Iraq and Shi’ite Islam’s holiest shrines.

With the formal end of U.S.-led occupation just two weeks away, Sadr issued a statement from his base in Najaf calling on his Mehdi Army militiamen to go home.

He’s damn lucky he’s breathing.

So it looks like he’s decided to become a “mainstream” Religious Right figure now. He’ll be Iraq’s Pat Robertson instead of Iraq’s Ayatollah Khomeini, unless he just can’t resist the temptation to bring the gun back into politics, in which case he won’t be just toast he’ll be burnt toast. If he’s smart he’ll get a TV show where he can rail against Godless heathens, raise money for kooky causes, and call it good.

I suppose this development is fine and all, but there’s a danger here. It could have been al-Sadr’s plan all along to throw a gigantic fit to get in on the action. Other marginalized wingnuts might decide to follow his example and see if it works for them. I don’t expect they’ll be happy with the results if they try.

European Earthquake

Elections in both Britain and Germany all but annihilated the political status quo.

The British Labour party came in a humiliating third place, which according to Andrew Sullivan is the worst showing at the polls of the party in power in British history ever. The right-wing Tories came out ahead of both Labour and the Independence Party, but even so it’s their worst performance since 1832.

Germany’s small-s Socialists were badly beaten in the worst landslide against them in postwar history.

I don’t follow European politics closely enough to know what actually caused this. But I can see one thing that seemed to have nothing to do with it: Iraq. Blair favored the war and was creamed. Schroeder didn’t and was hammered. Perhaps there’s a wave of anti-incumbency sweeping Europe. Maybe Europe is swinging to the right. Then again, we’re only looking at two countries here. There may be no trend at all.

If this is a part of a trend, at this point I’d put my money on an anti-EU reaction. From the BBC:

Elsewhere in Europe governing parties in Germany, France and Poland are suffering big losses.

As in the UK, Eurosceptic groups are enjoying their best result at the polls.


Celebrating his victory, Mr Kilroy-Silk said: “Now we know why the British public are fed up with the old parties. They are fed up with being talked to in that simplistic manner.

“They want their country back from Brussels and we are going to get it back for them.”

I’ve been skeptical about the EU for a while. I love the idea, especially for the sake of Eastern Europeans who could really use a leg up. Integration with the rest of Europe seemed to do wonders for Ireland and Spain and could do the same again for those left behind in the east. But the EU is a ham-fisted overly-centralized anti-democratic behemoth. I wouldn’t design it that way if I were in charge, and even though a European union makes a great deal of sense considering Europe’s tendency to chew off its own leg, I might vote against the current drift of the thing if I lived there, too.

America: Not So Polarized After All

The conventional wisdom – which isn’t half as wise as conventional wisdom thinks it is – says Americans are more politically polarized than ever, at least since the days of the Civil War. Left-wing Bush-haters compare the president to Adolf Hitler while the more obnoxious partisans on the right denounce the Democratic Party as a near-treasonous de-facto ally of Osama bin Laden. The leftovers of the 1960s culture war are warmed up again and again in the microwave, as if we hadn’t yet had enough of it all twelve years ago when Pat Buchanan railed against the liberal side at the 1992 Republican convention in Houston.

(And let me tell you something, folks. The vast majority of people in my generation think the culture war is idiotic. It’s just not relevant to people who are 30 years old. The whole “values” debate is an eye-rolling intra-Boomer squabble spawned from, apparently, Woodstock or something. I don’t know a single person my age, other than myself, who has ever used the phrase “culture war” in a sentence. And politics comes up a lot in my circle. The culture war is old. It’s older than we are. Knock if off, already.)

We keep hearing about the Red States versus the Blue States, as if it means something important. Oh sure, there’s something to it. No doubt California is a different place from Oklahoma. But it seems so overblown to me. My own state of Oregon was only declared “blue” after first being lumped in with the red. Al Gore squeaked past George W. Bush from behind in 2000 by a minuscule percentage only as the last votes were counted. I live in a seriously blue neighborhood in a heavily blue city. But my state is only half blue. It’s actually purple. Or checkered. Or striped. Or something.

Anyway, John Tierney in The New York Times cites the work of several political scientists and says the whole polarization concept is a load of fatuous nonsense. It’s the polical elites (who apparently include activists, intellectuals, pundits (ahem), and apparatchiks) in both parties who are polarized. Meanwhile, most Americans are in basic agreement about most things.

[D]o Americans really despise the beliefs of half of their fellow citizens?


To some scholars, the answer is no. They say that our basic differences have actually been shrinking over the past two decades, and that the polarized nation is largely a myth created by people inside the Beltway talking to each another or, more precisely, shouting at each other.

These academics say it’s not the voters but the political elite of both parties who have become more narrow-minded and polarized. As Norma Desmond might put it: We’re still big. It’s the parties that got smaller.


“If the two presidential candidates this year were John McCain and Joe Lieberman, you’d see a lot more crossover and less polarization,” said Professor Fiorina, mentioning the moderate Republican and Democratic senators. He is the co-author, along with Samuel J. Abrams of Harvard and Jeremy C. Pope of Stanford, of the forthcoming book, “Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized America.”

“The bulk of the American citizenry is somewhat in the position of the unfortunate citizens of some third-world countries who try to stay out of the cross-fire while Maoist guerrillas and right-wing death squads shoot at each other,” the book concludes. “Reports of a culture war are mostly wishful thinking and useful fund-raising strategies on the part of culture-war guerrillas, abetted by a media driven by the need to make the dull and everyday appear exciting and unprecedented.” [Emphasis added.]

Maoist guerillas and right-wing death squads, eh? Odd metaphorical choices for writers who say we aren’t really even polarized in the first place. But I get (I think) what they’re saying. It gets easier every day to find political hacks who describe their opponents using just such language. If it’s true that we’re mostly centrists, whichever party knocks this off first could mop the floor with the other.

Tourism in Ottawa

So it looks like I may have to fly 3,000 miles to Ottawa, Canada two weeks from now to run a 20-minute errand. (Yes, I’m serious. Long story. Don’t ask. Just understand that the Libyan tourism-visa bureaucracy is something to behold. And thank goodness airfare to that city is cheap at the moment.)

Anyway, I’ll have two days while I’m in town. I’ve been to Victoria and Vancouver many times, Montreal and Quebec City once each, but never to Ottawa. Does anyone live there or know the city well enough for some recommendations? (Please use the comments.)

I’ll be staying downtown, of course. What I really want to know is…which part of town has the best eye-candy? I like old buildings and walking around the quaint pre-automobile parts of cities – when such places exist, that is. Also, anything with a French theme is good. I know my own Anglo culture pretty well already.

I’ll post pictures.

NYC Photo Ban

New York City is considering whether or not to ban photography in and around the subway for security reasons. The New York Times reports hundreds of photographers rode the subway all at the same time and started snapping away in protest.

At a protest by photographers, you see things like a guy taking pictures of a guy taking pictures of a few more guys taking pictures of one another.

There was such a protest yesterday, but it might take hundreds of pages to describe it, given all the pictures that were taken, each one worth at least a thousand words.


“The point is really to make everyday people wake up and realize that photographers are not terrorists,” said Joe Anastasio, who organized the event. “In the last few years, photographers near anything vaguely important have been getting harassed.”

Mr. Anastasio went on to tell the story of a friend who took his wife’s picture near the Whitestone Bridge, only to be called in for questioning by the police. He told another of a man caught snapping pictures at a Metro-North station who was interrogated for nearly two hours by authorities at the scene.

“The paranoia,” he said, “has gone a little too far.”

You should expect these kinds of rules in places like Libya. Ghaddafi is the hated boss of a military police state, so he has plenty to be afraid of. So does New York City after 9/11 for different reasons, not the least of which is that Mayor “Nurse” Bloomberg needs to protect the city while Ghaddafi needs to protect his ass. But the salient difference is that New York is an open liberal city and Tripoli isn’t.

Rudy Giuliani found a mix of liberal Republicanism that most New Yorkers thought worked pretty well, but Bloomberg – even though he was a Democrat until he entered the mayoral race – can’t seem to figure out how it’s done.

Here’s a clue for Mr. Bloomberg: Popular tough leaders don’t act like hectoring school principals – especially not in a freewheeling place like New York – nor do they get nicknames like “Nurse.” (No offense intended to the fine nursing profession.) Try being more of a leader and less of a boss and see how that works for a while.

In fairness to the mayor, this is not his idea. It comes from the NYPD. But Bloomberg is in charge more than anyone, and he’s been “a picknose control freak,” as Christopher Hitchens put it, ever since he took office. He has more power to turn this around than anyone else.

UPDATE: Jason Holliston, a friend of mine who is a small-l libertarian, makes a good point that I didn’t expect to see from someone with his point of view.

New Column

My new Tech Central Station column is up: The Berkeley Intifada?

My Up and Coming Internet Nirvana

One of my local alt-weeklies Willamette Week tells us why if you’re a tech geek (or a blogger who makes his living as a telecommuting writer who relies on constant Internet access) there are some serious bennies to living in a thirdwave-anarcho-libertarian-semipinko-antiestablishmentarian place like Portland: Free wi-fi for everyone, baby. And it doesn’t look to me like there’s jack the big corporate boys can do about it, though that won’t stop ‘em from trying.

And I don’t mean it’s going to be some “free” taxpayer-funded government-run deal, I mean it in the sense that it’s free to listen to the radio if you already own a radio. That kinda free.

Sign me up!

Actually, I don’t have to sign up, all I have to do is wait. Excellent.

Anti-Semitism Watch (Updated)

Here is a picture of a modern skinhead.


Okay, maybe the guy isn’t technically a skinhead. He might have hair under that hat.

Why is it that when anti-war protests make the news, people like him are almost always edited out? This isn’t a photo from the media, it’s from an LGF reader who goes by the handle Zombie.

I’m selective about which photos I choose to publish, just as newspapers are. In a sense I do what they do, only the opposite. I don’t include photos of the nice church people who show up to protest.

The difference is I don’t pretend the nice church people don’t exist. Besides, this is an opinion site with no claim whatever to being comprehesive or objective. I’m not trying to keep a record of everything here. That’s more than a one-man job.

Also, I don’t feel the need to mention the nice people at protests because I don’t have that much to say to or about them except when I’m arguing about foreign policy generally. Plenty of nice people attend peace rallies, I know that very well. I think they’re a bit naïve, but they mean well. They’re decent people. And because they’re decent and well-meaning people I’d like to see them kick the guy in the picture out of their parade. I bet they would do just that if he put a sheet over his head, and he might as well.

PS – I don’t attend “pro-war” rallies. If I did and I saw a guy with a sign that said “Smash Muslim States,” I’d call him out on it. And if that guy wasn’t being challenged by the rest of those in attendance, that would be the last time I hung around that crowd. I’m not asking anyone to do anything I wouldn’t do myself.

UPDATE: Oberon in the comments points to a comment on this Indymedia post.

These are lies.

I am an anti-war leftist fed up with the anti-semitism in the anti-war movement. I had the sign “pro-israel, pro-palestine, pro-peace.” I marched with SF Voice for Israel (NOT with Protest Warriors, who I deplore).

I was there until 3pm. Nobody on our side started shit. There were people from the pro-palestinian side shoving us, coming into our space and shouting “I hope they push you fucking assholes into the sea!”


Smash The Jewish State IS RACIST.

I am AGAINST the occupation. But there WERE anti-semetic signs at the protest and that’s why SF Voice For Israel exists. MANY people on the SF Voice for Israel side were fellow leftists who feel alienated by the anti-war movement because nobody speaks out against the anti-semitism within.


That’s what I’m looking for. Too bad this person is in the minority among the activists, but I’m glad at least someone inside that group is getting fed up with this crap.

Need a Reagan Fix?

The news right now is all-Reagan-all-the-time. I was going to write more about him, but why ape the media? It’s time for me to move on. If you do want your Reagan fix, though, here’s an intense personal reaction by my friend Karrie Higgins who didn’t like Reagan at all but still feels sad at his passing.

Now it’s time for me to change the channel.

The Film-Watching Habits of Josef Stalin

Josef Stalin’s personal papers were recently made available to the public. It’s already well-known that Uncle Joe loved the movies, even those made in the decadent bourgeois West. Now the Daily Telegraph tells us Stalin sent hit squads out to assasinate John Wayne, and Kruschev (softie that he was) rescinded the order.

They poked around in his papers and found all sorts of details about his film-watching habits and the “advice” he liked to give to the people who made them.

As if often the case with Stalin, the small and subtle details are somehow the most interesting and revealing. The guy was about as funny as Hitler (ie, not much) but there’s some real black comedy here.

“What will Comrade Bolshakov show us today?” Stalin would ask. His terrified cinema minister, Ivan Bolshakov, had to gauge Stalin’s mood. If it was good, Bolshakov could risk a new Soviet movie.


At a typical movie night with Stalin, when the showing was over, he would often ask: “Where have we seen that actor before?” He frequently asked actors who were playing him in films over for dinner: once he asked the best “Stalin”, “How will you play Stalin?” “As the people see him,” replied the clever actor. “The right answer,” said Stalin, presenting him with a bottle of brandy.


Bolshakov once authorised a movie for national release without asking Stalin, who was on holiday. At the next showing, Stalin asked him: “On whose authority did you release the movie?”

Bolshakov froze: “I consulted and decided.” “You consulted and decided, you decided and consulted,” intoned Stalin. “You decided.” He then left the room in a doomladen silence. Eventually, his head popped round the door: “You decided right.”


None the less, all the time, this homicidal movie-buff insisted on pretending that he was merely giving “advice” to his filmmakers. “You’re a free man,” he liked to say. “You don’t have to listen to me. This is just a suggestion from an ordinary viewer. Take it or leave it.” Of course, they always took it.

See the wonderful Australian film Children of the Revolution if you’re up for two hours of this sort of thing.

UPDATE: Gary Farber collected some Maoist movie reviews.

A Liberal Empire?

I hate the word empire when used to describe the United States. If the US is an empire, it sure is empire-lite. We are not expanding the borders. It’s hard to have colonies when you don’t have any colonists. Aside from Iraq for the next three and a half weeks, we do not administer foreign countries.

But if someone wants to use the e-word to describe America, I’ll let them get away with it as long as they define it in a way that describes the world as it really is.

British historian Niall Ferguson is one of only two people I know of (the other is Robert D. Kaplan) who can talk about an “American Empire” in such a way that doesn’t make me dismiss them as paranoid fantasists. And like Robert Kaplan, Ferguson says America’s empire is both liberal and good.

Frank Bures interviewed him for the Atlantic Monthly. I want to excerpt this at length because I think it’s the single most important issue Americans need to work out.

You say America is an empire, but an empire with no administrators, no settlers, no direct rule, and with no imperialists. What kind of Empire is that?

It’s an empire that has all the functions of military empire, if you like. It has the capacity to project itself in terms of force over vast geographical distances. It’s an empire that is remarkably adept at spreading its culture globally. In that sense, it’s an empire with almost unrivaled military and cultural power. But when it comes to what might be called imperial governance, it is an empire which, precisely because it doesn’t recognize its own existence, consistently underperforms.

This term you use, “liberal empire,” seems sort of oxymoronic. Can you explain the contradiction?

Well, it certainly didn’t seem oxymoronic a hundred years ago when there were self-proclaimed liberal imperialists in Britain, liberals who saw the British Empire as a means of spreading liberal values in terms of free markets, the rule of law, and ultimately representative government. There was an important and influential faction within the Liberal Party who saw empire as an instrument for globalizing the British liberal model.

Globalizing Britain?

To these people, globalizing the British model was synonymous with globalizing liberalism. They looked around and said, Well, not many people have our combination of institutions. What we need to do is plant the seed of this system in as many places as we can and make the world suitably Anglicized. It’s only a contradiction in terms if you define “liberal” in a rather early-twenty-first-century American way, meaning that you like to hug trees, or you have a fit if somebody fires a gun in anger. My sense of liberal is the classical sense. Liberalism stands for creating the institutions of political, economic, and social freedom. And it’s very obvious that in a dozen or more countries in the world, there is absolutely no chance of those institutions developing autonomously. These countries are either so under tyranny, or so completely anarchic, that it’s never going to happen.

So far so good.

Foreign intervention is an awfully dicey business, though. I may seem gung-ho about intervening abroad now, but I wasn’t always and I don’t regret it.

Take, for example, Guatemala. It would be a whitewash to say in the early 1980s General Efrain Rios Montt ruled that country with an iron fist. Rios Montt was a bloodthirsty monster. Augusto Pinochet ruled Chile as a Swedish social democrat by comparison.

Last year Randy Paul published a graph of the number of killings per year during the Guatemalan civil war, and the death toll spiked exponentially when Rios Montt was in power.

It wasn’t an accident, nor was it the fault of the guerillas. Rios Montt waged a “scorched earth” campaign in the countryside to utterly annihilate places where he thought guerillas were hiding. (And that’s to say nothing of the rampaging White Hand and ESA death squads.) If that man were in charge of the American campaign in Iraq he would have carpet bombed or even nuked Fallujah.

He still casts his shadow over Guatemala. I was there last November when he was running for president. His own political party held power. His face was plastered on billboards all over the countryside. Violent mobs of his supporters had recently convulsed Guatemala City. White hands in the clenched fascist fist were painted on cliff faces. Thank heaven he lost.

Ronald Reagan supported this creep in the early 1980s and called him a “a man of great personal integrity” who got “a bum rap on human rights.”

This is not a snapshot of the American empire at its most liberal or finest.

Now let’s get back to Mr. Ferguson.

One of your arguments is that for an empire to be successful, it has to pay dividends to both ruler and ruled. What dividends were paid to countries like Nicaragua under Somoza, or Guatemala under the generals, or Iran under the Shah, or other countries that could be considered colonies of the American Empire?

I think the truth of the matter is, not much. One of the problems with America’s Central American adventures, along with its Caribbean adventures, was precisely that they failed to establish very obvious collaborative frameworks, other than with military elites. Those frameworks that they did establish quickly morphed into dictatorships when the Americans held a traditional election and went home. And I think that does help explain the very, very dismal showing of America’s Central American policy. The irony that the country that has performed best in the region is the one where the Americans never went—Costa Rica—speaks for itself. I mean, the Monroe Doctrine and the Roosevelt Corollary turned out to be a recipe for chronic instability in Central America. You have to feel that the British would have done it better. But the United states from a very early stage staked out a monopoly position south of the Rio Grande—with wholeheartedly dismal results, I’m afraid. I think that reflects the fact that the model of empire that the United States has followed has been defective. It was almost as defective in the days of Theodore Roosevelt as it is today.

So what if the goal, then, is first and foremost to just get rid of the governments that are unfriendly, and there’s not much thought given to what happens after that?

Well, I think that became the model when the Cold War set in. Indeed, it had been the model even before the Cold War, in the days of Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt—the “Our Son of a Bitch” model. And when you look at what happened in countries from Chile to Iran, I think it’s obvious that the cost of that approach probably outweighed the benefits. The legitimacy of American foreign policy suffered serious long-term damage because support was given rather uncritically to some pretty lousy regimes. Indirect rule through petty dictators has the defect that you really have a problem controlling the bastards that you are notionally sponsoring.

Mr. Ferguson gets it. Because he’s in favor of a liberal American “empire” and because he understands what went wrong in Latin America, I just ordered his book Colossus from Amazon. He may be one of the very few people who can write at length about our “imperialism” past, present, and future without making me cringe.

The Death of Ronald Reagan (Updated)

Ronald Reagan is dead.

I am not a member of his fan club.

I’ve said plenty of things about him that I don’t regret, but I would choose not to say them in front of his family or in public on the day that he died.

I did not and do not hate him, though. Hatred is such an utterly wasted emotion, especially in politics.

There are things to admire about the man no matter what your political leanings. He gave real hope to millions of suffering people when he spoke these words at Brandenberg Gate in West Berlin.

General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

I’ve felt sorry for Reagan for years. He was one of the two most powerful men in the world, and during his final years he couldn’t remember what he had done. To be so successful in life and then to have the entire experience cruelly erased is just another form of dying.

I don’t want the man’s picture on my money or his head on Mt. Rushmore. But he did some good in this world and for that I thank him.

Kindest regards and best wishes for his family.

UPDATE: Matt Welch:

And so it was that when the old fella said “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” I laughed at his blustery naivete, as I did whenever he uttered the phrase “Evil Empire.” Needless to say, I was wrong about that, and he was right, and I’m still ashamed about it.

Yes, I can say the same and I should have. He was right and I was wrong. Thing is, I knew he was right when he said it. Of course I knew the Soviet Union was an evil thing. I never went through a communist or socialist phase, I was just afraid he was egging them on. What I didn’t understand, because I was just a kid, was that most people who lived in the Soviet Union agreed with him. I’m sure I’m wrong about some things now and I’ll be wrong again in the future. But I’m not making that mistake again.


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