Saturday, February 16

Ignorance is bliss, lets blow up libraries!

I wrote an essay on the educational levels in Saudi Arabia but in that there was mention of a World Bank study on the educational levels in the Arab world generally. Education is generally the only way to get out of the mire of poverty and fundamentalism, but then, here we go, instead of improving knowledge, these foul animals and pond life go about blowing up libraries. Truly cannibals, they eat their own young and more importantly, they are eating their own future. Infidels? Welcome to Gaza.

Read and Weep

Militants bomb Gaza YMCA library

YMCA staff inspect the damage done to their library (15 February 2008) Gunmen have attacked the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) in Gaza City and blown up its library, burning thousands of books, its director says.

Eissa Saba said 14 men overpowered the centre's two security guards before placing bombs in the library and main office. The latter did not explode.

The guards said the gunmen had asked them why they worked for "infidels".

Gaza, which is controlled by the Islamist group Hamas, is home to 3,500 Christians, mostly Greek Orthodox.

A number of Christian and other institutions regarded by Muslim extremists as un-Islamic have been targeted by armed gangs over the past two years in the coastal territory, the BBC's Katya Adler in Jerusalem says.

So far no-one has claimed responsibility for the attack, which has been condemned by all the main Palestinian factions.

Hamas, which ousted the rival Fatah movement from the territory in June, has said it is looking into Friday's incident.

The YMCA in Gaza City is a social institution open to Palestinians from all communities.

Friday, February 15

Photo Essay: Me Mum's cooking!

Ok, I am going to get into so many types of trouble for this essay. Lets see, my wife is going to get upset because I am praising my mum's cooking, my stomach's going to get upset because I will be cramping at the thought, my shirt will be upset with the drool, the vegetarians will be upset with the non-vegetarian food being cooked and so on and so forth. But, hey, it was GOOOOOOOD food. And when its grandkids wanting specific food, grandma went all overboard.

My mum's amazing, she has retired now, but she just retired as a full professor of geography, she acts on the stage, film and radio and has awards for them, she paints and sculpts, she was a very good classical dancer before the knees gave way, wonderful singer, she has got awards for her language skills and contributions to Hindi, Sanskrit, Urdu and Bengali, she is busy gallivanting around the world (every year or so, she takes off to go around the world somewhere, her recent trip was to Egypt!), she cooks divinely. Oh!, she can ride, hunt and shoot.

She taught me how to skin and dress a rabbit and a pigeon! :). She is very well read and collects Ganesh figurines (a photo essay on that is forthcoming). She did the interior decoration as well as the architecting of our (and several other houses!), she knits the most amazing jumpers and even sewed my shirts and trousers when we used to be a bit tight for money. Very impressive, is me mum. And this year, if everything works out fine, we will write a book together. But that's jumping the gun, here are some of her culinary masterpieces.

So this is the jelly as little grand-daughter requested and I loved it, just look at that HUGE mouth and HUGE eyes.
And these are the prawns being prepared.
 
Golda Chingri (King Prawn Curry!)
 
Pulao Rice and plain rice.
Pineapple and Cherry Cake on the left, chocolate and loads of other stuff including rum and fruit Christmas cake on the right
Didu made a tiny chocolate cake just for me.
 
Baked fish, this is just yummy mummy for my tummy!

   
Roast Chicken, gosh, the entire house was permeated with absolutely divine aroma's all day long while this was cooking. The gravy at the bottom for those who wanted some stuff to go with the roti's. 
  
Three types of fish curry.
  
Boiled vegetables and she also made her own special mayonnaise. Yummy if absolutely terrible for my spreading waistline!.
This is one of my favorite breakfast dishes, sattu (made out of gram flour, i like it with some lemon, lots of jaggery and eat away!)
 
Cauliflower dry curry, perfect for travels or with roti's.
  
the traditional style of making tea, dump everything (tea leaves, water, sugar, cow juice) into a pan and bring to a ruthless boil, strain and serve.
Here's one of the full spread
And then there is my dad, the proud owner of 18 degrees in engineering, total absent minded professor. He spent 6.5 minutes trying to figure out why on earth the microwave wasnt working despite him peering all over and pressing every button (and some lettering as well). His nod to cooking is restricted to "warming".Then he finally figured out that it needs to be plugged in. Once that little problem was solved, then the 2 samosa's were warmed up and little Diya could eat them. He was so pleased and proud with his performance that we all had to admit that his "cooking" was magnitudes better than Mum's.
 
Full slide-show here.
 
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Americans and reading!

This was so amusing that it was sad! I quote:

Walking home to her Upper East Side apartment, she said, overwhelmed and confused, she stopped at a bar. As she sipped her bloody mary, she quietly listened to two men, neatly dressed in suits. For a second she thought they were going to compare that day's horrifying attack to the Japanese bombing in 1941 that blew America into World War II: "This is just like Pearl Harbor," one of the men said. The other asked, "What is Pearl Harbor?" "That was when the Vietnamese dropped bombs in a harbor, and it started the Vietnam War," the first man replied. At that moment, Ms. Jacoby said, "I decided to write this book."

Ms. Jacoby doesn't expect to revolutionize the nation's educational system or cause millions of Americans to switch off "American Idol" and pick up Schopenhauer. But she would like to start a conversation about why the United States seems particularly vulnerable to such a virulent strain of anti-intellectualism. After all, "the empire of infotainment doesn't stop at the American border," she said, yet students in many other countries consistently outperform American students in science, math and reading on comparative tests.



All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Thursday, February 14

More fundamentalism around Valentine's Day!

While I personally hate the pap around valentine's day, this day seems to get all those dried up, puranitical old wrinklies into a knot. Whether its the Fundo's in India or in Saudi Arabia, it all get them going!, what's wrong with you buggers? I wonder if these two fundo's groups know how they resemble each other? lol, how amusing, to plonk these two groups in one island and watch them spontaneously self combust in disgust and hate.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Jewish Heritage in India

I found this to be very interesting, and thanks to Aditi Bhadhuri who sent it into me! :). Some quotes:

Next to Hinduism, Judaism or Jewish religion claims the oldest history in India, as, per traditions, the first Jewish immigrants to India landed in Kodungaloor- Kerala 2000 years ago, fleeing from the second burning of the Jewish shrines in Palestine by the Romans. The third-century Bishop of Caesaria, Eusebius, writes of an Aramaic copy of the Gospel of St. Matthew which had been seen in India a hundred years before him!. The earliest settlements may even have dated from King Solomon's time, since such luxury items as ivory, peacocks and linen were imported from India during his reign.It was only in India, that the Jews, otherwise persecuted all over the world, lived for millennia in freedom and dignity, bathed in the affection of their Hindu brethren. India was the most hospitable of homes, to the Jewish nation from six distinct communities who fled to India: the ancient Cochin Jews from Palestine,, the once-forgotten Bene Israel settled in Maharashtra for the last 2000 years, Persian speaking Jews from Afghanistan and Iran who were the courtiers of the Mughal Empire, Portuguese Marranos from the Portugal of sixteenth and seventeenth centuries,, the commercially and industrially prominent Baghdadis from Baghdad, the scattered Ashkenazim( refugees from Nazi Germany), and today's tribal Jews of the far northeast, whom Israel has accepted in 1995 as a Lost tribe of Israel, dating from 800 B.C.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Wednesday, February 13

How should heavy-duty trucks be taxed?

ScienceDirect - Journal of Urban Economics : How should heavy-duty trucks be taxed�

This is an interesting paper. Heavy Duty Trucks have a special relationship to roads, pollution, transport, economics, taxation, and the like. In all cases, their impacts are way beyond what you would normally consider for a transport unit (as normally considered, such as a car!), so that is why you have differential taxation on trucks, mainly using road taxes. But this paper develops a framework for taxes on fuel. Quite an interesting one, but I am afraid the political courage to impose taxes on fuel would simply not be there.

This paper develops and implements an analytical framework for estimating optimal taxes on the fuel use and mileage of heavy-duty trucks in the United States, accounting for external costs from congestion, accidents, pavement damage, noise, energy security, and local and global pollution. The analysis allows for endogenous fuel economy, increased auto travel in response to reduced truck congestion, and distinguishes driving by truck type and region. We estimate the optimal (second-best) diesel fuel tax at $1.12 per gallon and implementing it increases welfare by $1.34 billion per annum. Optimizing over both fuel and mileage taxes, and differentiating mileage taxes by vehicle type and region, yields progressively higher welfare gains. The most efficient tax structure involves a diesel fuel tax of 69 cents per gallon and charges on trucks that vary between 7 and 33 cents per mile; implementing this tax structure yields estimated welfare gains of $2.06 billion.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Fatwa for an abused woman, hit the shit right back!

Way to go! Read and giggle. Apparently he is getting quite a lot of flak for this! I quote:

The ayatollah has a simple piece of advice for any Muslim woman being abused by her husband: Hit him back.
"A woman can respond to physical violence inflicted on her by a man with counter- violence as a self-defense measure," Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, Lebanon's senior-most Shiite cleric, wrote in a fatwa late last year that shocked conservative Muslims around the world.

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Female Circumcision is an Islamic Ritual??

I was shown this post about FGM, but I was curious about one bit which says this:

“The two deputies have also accused the Awqaf Ministry of violation of the constitution and law. MB Deputy Askar said that this title was in conflict with the consensus of the fiqh experts [Islamic jurisprudents] that female circumcision was one of Islam's rites”

Here’s the original article

And here’s google’s translation of the same:

Now, I am curious, this was the first time I heard that FGM is an Islamic ritual? Is this true? Surely they cannot claim such a thing without having some basis in theology? This obviously will make the eradication of this practice much more difficult.

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Sea of Garbage

Watch and worry a

bout the planet!

sea-of-garbage-2.jpg

 

Israeli Lobby Declares War on Gandhi..

its curious that the author of this piece seems to have missed the point where Gandhi suggests that the Jewish community go en-masse to their grave, which they did. His argument, that that non-violent step would shame Herr Hitler. Unfortunately, non-violence as a political or even religious mechanism only works when you have liberals on the other side, something which Gandhi himself said.

Also, the author seems to confuse between the Israel the country and the Jewish Nation. The Jewish Nation's future has been bleak for the past 2000 years, perhaps that could explain some much needed context but otherwise, I very much doubt that the author got it.

Personally speaking, any modern country established on the basis of religion holds the seeds of its own destruction in itself, so not only Israel, but also countries such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and and and are all heading for massive changes if not destruction. Also see my previous note.

Read and wonder!

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College graduates and high school dropouts in USA

Educated in America: College graduates and high school dropouts vox - Research-based policy analysis and commentary from leading economists

This is a very interesting if a very troubling situation. If the gap is increasing, the underclass of society is increasing as well.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

You need to be culturally attuned to make curry?

This was the most bizarre thing I read. Why on earth do you need Bangladeshi workers to prepare curry? Its a classic pump and dump cooking operation, where pre-prepared spices are used. In my local Sri Lankan restaurant, they have Eastern European cooks and waitresses, and I havent seen any problems.

Best said the government assumed vacancies would be filled by east Europeans but he said such workers had "no cultural sensitivity towards or understanding of the curry industry".

So its wrong for non bangladeshi's to cook curries, but its ok for non-bangladeshi's to eat them?


He added: "For many low-income families the only chance they have of eating out is to go for a curry."

Bollocks!

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Subsidies for Pilgrimages? What a crock!

The big blow-up in the UK about the Archbishop talking about Sharia Law has not died down at all. And with due reason! It is because that kind of commentary goes deep into all what we know and love about secular life. So instead of standing up for liberalism, reformation, enlightenment and all the modern aspects of life, the Archbishop actually gave credence to the fact that there are some backward people out there who still want their lives to be governed by some medieval laws written and administered by old wrinkly beards. Oh!, I forgot he is one as well, so it makes perfect sense for him to agree, no? (and before you complain, I am also an old wrinkly beard)

But guess what? On the other side of the world, India actually provides and gives subsidies to Muslims who go on Hajj (See here, here, here and here). Can you actually imagine doing that? I mean, if I went to Gordon Brown and said, I am a Jedi and I want a subsidy to go visit Alpha Centauri as my light sabre needs a fix, and, oh!, by the way, I also want to do a pilgrimage to where Jabba the Hutt was martyred and I also want to do a swing by Tatooine to worship Princess Leah 's statue and burn ox meat offerings at her feet. Would be kind of weird and I might get locked up for strange behaviour and the moronic thing is, all the Muslim grand poo bah's have clearly said that going on Hajj under subsidy is not very much kosher (if you excuse the pun), because you would then be violating the strictures which ask you to perform the pilgrimage only if you can afford it!!

To top it all off, there is another idiocy from the Chief Minister who has decided to get on this same bandwagon by offering subsidies to Christians who want to visit holy places in Israel. Can you imagine? I cannot! This is bizarre! So what if my holy place is Rome? How about that? What about my holy place being Lourdes? Can I go to France, Mr. Chief Minister? Hey, one of my holy places is on this lovely island in Hawaii. How about a holy place in Ethiopia? No? Why only Israel?

Will this be extended to the Jews? Oh! God no! Of course now, that would be a Zionist plot, no? What about me as a Pastafarian? I want a subsidy to visit Bologna in Italy, which is where the great flying spaghetti monster lives and I want to go worship him.

For those who talk about giving security to pilgrimages in India, next time you complain about a state wanting to protect its citizens on its own land, we will withdraw police protection to your mosques, temples and churches. Deal? If you do not understand the difference between providing security on a state's own land and providing subsidy to individuals to go gallivant around foreign countries, then I suggest you go check it out. A State HAS to provide security. A state does not have to provide subsidies. If there is a terrorist attack in Mecca and the government has to subsidise Air India to go pick up the pilgrims, absolutely, no problems, that is the state's job. If the ship or plane carrying Hajj passengers is threatened by terrorists, then an IAF plane can and will be tasked to protect it. But to explicitly give subsidies for you to carry out your own private religious tasks?? No Sir.

While you are at it, get out of the temple administration business and give it over to a transparent public board run by the people who belong to that faith. It is none of the government's business to worry about how the temples are run. Let us at least try to be secular, shall we?

So what does Wal Mart do to the local labour market when it opens?

Pretty much straight forward, I would have said when I read this paper. But the challenge is to consider whether all relative factors are considered? Would you say that there is such a high inefficiency (40%!!!) in local labour markets that a Wal Mart worker is equal to 1.4 local workers? I can understand that country level retail earnings will drop but will they ship in better workers? Of course not, so the productivity difference is evidenced by better computers, better supply chains, better purchasing, etc. etc.

Very curious results.

We estimate the effects of Wal-Mart stores on county-level retail employment and earnings, accounting for endogeneity of the
location and timing of Wal-Mart openings that most likely biases the evidence against finding adverse effects of Wal-Mart stores.
We address the endogeneity problem using a natural instrumental variables approach that arises from the geographic and time
pattern of the opening of Wal-Mart stores, which slowly spread out from the first stores in Arkansas. The employment results
indicate that a Wal-Mart store opening reduces county-level retail employment by about 150 workers, implying that each Wal-Mart
worker replaces approximately 1.4 retail workers. This represents a 2.7 percent reduction in average retail employment. The payroll
results indicate that Wal-Mart store openings lead to declines in county-level retail earnings of about $1.4 million, or 1.5 percent.
Of course, these effects occurred against a backdrop of rising retail employment, and only imply lower retail employment growth
than would have occurred absent the effects of Wal-Mart.

Hilarious story about a conference visit!

This was absolutely hilarious!

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Tuesday, February 12

What a shame:@ Mullah accidently blows up self, sons

See here: (i will avoid making jokes about draining the gene pool...)


A LANDMINE blew up in the home of a religious cleric in southern Afghanistan, killing the mullah, two of his sons and two other men who had been preparing an attack, police said today.
The group was likely associated with the Taliban, he said. The extremist militants are particular active in Helmand province, where they are said to be tied up with opium and heroin traffickers.
Taliban suicide and roadside bombings are generally aimed at Afghan and international soldiers but kill more civilians.



All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Perhaps one of the biggest bribe taker ever?

If you draw a ratio between the illegal earnings through bribery and the usual legal earnings through salaries and sales, then i guess this man will be the top of the scale who took $145 million in bribes while his monthly salary was $100.

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

On a smoggy day, you cannot see China

This was gobsmacking! That's smog, that dirty greyish cloud over very large parts of china is smog!

Satellite image showing polluted air covering southeastern China

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

A South African take on the Ant and the Grasshopper!

Remember this post? Now read this. I Quote:

The ant works hard in the withering heat all summer long, building his house and laying up supplies for the winter. The grasshopper thinks he's a fool and laughs and dances and plays the summer away.

Come winter, the shivering grasshopper calls a press conference and demands to know why the ant should be allowed to be warm and well fed while others are cold and starving.

The Media show up to provide pictures of the shivering grasshopper next to a video of the ant in his comfortable home with a table filled with food.

The world is stunned by the sharp contrast. How can this be, that in a country of such wealth, this poor grasshopper is allowed to suffer so? The ANC stages a demonstration in front of the ant's house where the news stations film the group singing "We shall overcome" and "mshimi wami" . The ANC then has the group kneel down to pray to God for the grasshopper's sake.

The liberals proclaim that the ant has gotten rich off the back of the grasshopper, and call for an immediate tax hike on the ant to make him pay his "fair share."

Finally, the ANC drafts the "Black Economic Equity and Anti-Grasshopper Act" retroactive to the beginning of the summer. The ant is fined for failing to hire a proportionate number of green bugs -- and, having nothing left to pay his retroactive taxes -- his home is confiscated by the government.

The story ends as we see the grasshopper finishing up the last bits of the ant's food while the government house he is in (which just happens to be the ant's old house) crumbles around him because he doesn't maintain it.

The ant has disappeared in the snow. The grasshopper is found dead in a drug related incident and the house, now abandoned, is taken over by a gang of spiders who terrorize the once peaceful neighborhood.



All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Berlin hardens trade stance with Iran

Berlin seems to be turning up the heat on Iran. See here. I quote:

Germany is cracking down on business with Iran far more systematically than suspected, unpublished figures from the economics ministry showed on Monday.
The new data show a dramatic drop in export credit guarantees granted to German exporters doing business with Iran last year, and a steady drop in exports to the country since 2005.

Iran was only Germany’s 40th biggest export market in 2006, according to figures from the Federal Statistical Office, with exports to the country totalling €4.15bn. The Islamic Republic is Germany’s 75th biggest source of imports . But Germany has been the biggest exporter to the country for the past 30 years. Iranian experts think China could have taken its place last year.

Curious, what exactly is Germany exporting to Iran which costs that much? Remeber Germany has had some dealings with both Iraq and Iranian attempts to build a bomb!

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

India court in moustache notice

How dare they!, I am going to support the poor man!

India's Supreme Court has issued a notice to a state-run airline asking it to explain why an air steward was sacked for wearing a big moustache. ....
"How can somebody be removed from a job because of the size of his moustache?" the Supreme Court bench comprising Justice HK Sema and Justice Markanday Katju asked on Monday.

EXACTLY! says the beadyman twirling his mustache!

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Inbreeding - some more thoughts

The first time I heard about this was in Saudi Arabia, when a colleague's wife, who is a midwife talked about it. My colleague works in an international bank and has worked in many countries around the world and his wife, being a midwife, also worked. So when she said that 4 out of 10 babies born in Saudi Arabia are genetically challenged, I fell out of bed.

Then I was reminded of this again when the furore over this Pakistani origin Brits broke out in the UK. I quote:

Mrs Cryer raised the issue two years ago after research showed that British Pakistanis were 13 times more likely to have children with disorders than the general population.
Speaking on the Radio 4 Today programme, Mrs Cryer said: "The vast majority of marriages in the Muslim community in Bradford, 80 per cent, are trans-continental. The vast majority of those are to cousins. Many of those do result in either infant mortality or in recessive disorders."
Asked if the problem was recognised in the British Pakistani community, she said: "They are in denial at the moment. But I am hoping that now we have broken the silence leaders will start to have a debate about it and perhaps even give advice and say: 'Look, you can carry on marrying your cousins but there is a price to pay.'
"The price to pay is often in either babies being born dead, babies being born very early and babies being born with very severe genetically-transmitted disorders. This is a blight on that community but particularly on specific families." In one family she knew, all three daughters had to have liver transplants. "One girl has had, I think, four liver transplants to the point where she's so worn down by all of this the poor girl is having to receive psychiatric help as well. No one wants to wish that sort of thing on their children."


I then went and looked for the references and found it in an abstract.

First-cousin marriage may be a significant risk factor for specific types of congenital heart disease in a consanguineous population. Inbreeding studies suggest an autosomal recessive component in the cause of some congenital heart defects. We studied a large sample of patients with structural congenital heart defects (CHD) identified through the Congenital Heart Disease Registry at King Faisal Specialist Hospital in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. After exclusions of chromosome abnormalities and non-participation, data were collected on 891 consecutive patients who were registered between January and August, 1998. Data on first- cousin consanguinity and type of CHD diagnosis were collected. A z test of proportions was used to determine the association between consanguinity and subtypes of CHD. Data indicate that the proportion of first cousins in the CHD sample is higher than the proportion in the general population, supporting a hypothesis of autosomal recessive gene involvement in congenital heart disease. When subgroups of CHD were analyzed, first-cousin consanguinity was significantly associated with ventricular septal defect (VSD), atrial septal defect (ASD), atrioventricular septal defect (AVSD), pulmonary stenosis (PS), and pulmonary atresia (PA). There was no relationship between consanguinity and tetralogy of Fallot (TOF), tricuspid atresia (TA), aortic stenosis (AS), co-arctation of the aorta (CoA), and patent ductus arteriosus (PDA). Thus, in a population with a high degree of inbreeding, consanguinity may exacerbate underlying genetic risk factors, particularly in the offspring of first cousins. There may be a recessive component in the causation of some cardiac defects.

My gut feel is that its cultural and the fact that women are in purdah. So the families only get together and external people dont. So when you are having cousins spending time together, its but natural to have cousin marriages. Complicated, not sure if I know the full answer but this surely is avoidable given the advances in genetic engineering?

All this to be taken with a grain of piquant salt!!!

Photo Essay: Encounters of the Green Kind

I like gardening and on a recent vacation, took quite a lot of photo's of flowers, gardens and the like. But totally blaming Dee for making me conscious of the fact that I have been shamefully negligent in writing about flowers, I decided to put together some photo's which I found interesting in Lucknow.

These photographs are from all over the city, but mostly from in and around my in-law's place. I am also totally ignorant about the names of the flowers, but operating on the assumption that you dont have to know the name of the breed to love your doggie or the name of the train driver to enjoy the train ride, I am blissfully (ignorance is bliss?) going to plonk some photo's here. So not much commentary here, I am afraid.

Enjoy.

The colours were brilliant when observed closely, and velvety in texture.
 
This flower looked so lonely and childish, but still brave, pushing up!
The familar marigold flower. Did you guys eat the hearts of these flowers? we used to. Pretty yummy with a dash of salt and chilly powder.
 
These two pictures of the same flower, one on the left which shows the deep rich colour in the middle of the flower, while the one on the right shows the proud stamen. Now one wonders how they would get pollinated if the pollen buds were so far away from the honey bits at the bottom.
two colours of rhododendrons. I like the orange bits. Reminds me a bit of the flame of the forest tree.
Jack and the beanstalk? lovely tall creepers going up the wall. The two on the left are very thick and growing rapidly, while the one on the right is still a kid.
 
Some trees around the house. Very nicely maintained, I must admit. 
 

  

 
some shrubs and potted plants.



Very bright flowers.
The above two are from the Residency Gardens.
 







The set of 9 above are from the Chota Imambara gardens.  There is a bee on one of the flowers as well.
 

Here's the night garden at home.

If you wanted to see all the photo's in a bigger resolution in a slideshow, then please click here.

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