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Response To A Reader On ‘Radical Chic’ And A Link to Banksy’s ‘Dismaland’

As to the quote from Louis Menand’s piece on Joan Didion entitled: ‘Out Of Bethlehem:’

‘After the Old Sacramento moment, Didion came to see the whole pioneer mystique as bogus from the start. The cultivation of California was not the act of rugged pioneers, she decided. It was the act of the federal government, which built the dams and the weirs and the railroads that made the state economically exploitable, public money spent on behalf of private business. Didion called it “the subsidized monopolization” of the state.’

Of course, there’s some truth in this.  The U.S. Federal Government is a huge landowner and manager of public lands and natural resources across the West, sometimes overseeing competition between private firms and contractors to create the infrastructure (roads, aqueducts, bridges, especially), that has made some of civilized life possible.

But yes, it is the work of pioneers, settlers, and farmers, too.  It’s the work of businesses, employees, voluntary contracts and sometimes exploitation, working apart from the government. Sometimes, it really does come down to survival; new roads built out of necessity, common purpose and ingenuity.

The overall view of ‘economically exploitable’ masses of ‘People’ is a definite turn Left, though, as is the idea that an economy can be centrally planned successfully in the first place (it’s all rigged man…’they’ hate us individuals or ‘the People,’ so it’s either control or be controlled).

Rugged individualism is very common the West, but more Leftward ‘radical chic’ collectivism and solidarity-seeking tend to thrive in California and the coastal cities.

My argument would be this:  By Menand’s account, Joan Didion as a writer seemed to drift away from one of the California families earning success through its virtues, ambition and hard work, bringing benefit to many more than themselves.  I can’t speak to their character.

Frankly, it’s not uncommon for writers to engage in such drift either, especially solipsistic ones, while always seeking some context or meaning in which to frame their lives.

Thus, passing through the 60’s and growing up in California, having gone to Berkeley, and wandering around amidst some pretty sad, desperate people drawn to the Bay Area, Didion may well have been shaped along more radical and Leftward lines.

But, aside from such ideas, by all means, if you like Didion’s stuff, read it.


On that note: Banksy, the mildly talented, ironic/iconic graffiti artist tries to shock you awake to how the world really is.

It’s not Disneyland, it’s ‘Dismaland.

Get it?


I admit I find Disney theme parks to be rather sentimental recreations of nature, civilization, and storybook themes.  There’s a lot of kitsch in them thar walls.

Clearly, though, many people love them.  They provide families with a place to go and spend time with their kids, and provide the kids a safe place to explore.

They’re a business, operating for profit.  I get it, but I don’t really care.

I can understand that a Frenchman, living in the shadow of Euro Disney, consuming a local wheel of perfectly aged cheese might have a different set of concerns, and perhaps some valid concerns, but I still don’t care that much.


So, why ‘ironically’ target Disney, copying their model of people paying to wander through rather sentimental recreations of nature, civilization and storybook themes?

Artists often want your attention, usually to have shaped your imagination in a slightly different way, or to make see the world anew by creating something beautiful enough that your reasons can’t justify your aesthetic pleasure.

So, ironically, and with politics infused, Banksy has deigned to get your attention by making something shockingly modern and urgent, globally just and socially conscious enough to direct your attention to the world as it really is.

Deep man, deep.

Surely, while highlighting the problems artists have always had with money and patronage, Banksy has no commitment to post-Enlightenment ideas that offer rather sentimental recreations of nature, civilization and storybook themes…still haunting the landscape like so many abandoned theme parks that few people care to visit.

What a sad use of the imagination and relatively little in the way of artistic technique to back it up.

Related On This Site:  Jay Z And Marina Abramovic Via Twitter: A Pop-Rap Art Marketing Performaganza

They designed a city in the heart of Brazil that really doesn’t work for people: Brasilia: A Planned City

No thanks to living in planned communities upon someone else’s overall vision.: Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?Repost-Via Reason: ‘Salvador Allende’s Cybersocialist Command Center’From Grist.Org Via The New Republic Via The A & L Daily: ‘Getting Past “Ruin Porn” In Detroit’… some people don’t want you to have the economic freedom to live in the suburbs: From Foreign Policy: ‘Urban Legends, Why Suburbs, Not Cities, Are The Answer’

A structure in the desert…not even a city Update On LACMA, Michael Heizer And The ‘Levitated Mass’-Modern Art And The Public;..where is modernism headed? Via Youtube: Justin, The Horse That Could Paint

Denis Dutton suggested art could head towards Darwin (and may offer new direction from the troubles of the modern art aimlessness and shallow depth…the money and the fame) Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

From The Hoover Institution: ‘Nature Fakery’

Full piece here.

Our author points out two myths underlying the environmental movement. The topic is hot given the influence of the Greens on our politics at the moment:

‘The Noble Savage is that inhabitant of a simpler world whose life harmonizes with his natural surroundings. He does not need government or law, for he has no private property, and hence no desire for wealth or status, nor for their byproducts, crime and war. His existence is peaceful, free from conflict and strife. He takes from nature only what he needs, and needs only what he takes’

On this site see Roger Sandall in Australia: ….Roger Sandall At The New Criterion Via The A & L Daily: ‘Aboriginal Sin’Roger Sandall At The American Interest: ‘Tribal Realism’

Also, our author argues:

‘The myth of the Golden Age, which the West has inherited from Ancient Greece, is another idealization of the lost simplicity of living in a complex society. This myth imagines a time before cities and technology, when humans lived intimately with a benevolent nature that provided for their needs and for lives of leisure, health, and happiness, free as they were from the unnatural desires and appetites created by civilization’

As posted on this site previously:

I would offer that there are many to whom environmentalism serves as a kind of religion.  On this view, man has fallen away from Nature, and built civilized society atop it through harmful, unsustainable means.  He must atone, and get back in harmony with Nature, as he has alienated himself from his once graceful state (tribal? romantically primitive? collectively just? equal and fair? healthy?  ”spiritually aware?” morally good?).

Related On This Site:  Did Jared Diamond get attacked for not being romantic enough…or just for potential hubris?:  Was he acting as a journalist in Papua New-Guinea?:  From The Chronicle Of Higher Education: Jared Diamond’s Lawsuit

Instead of global green governance, what about a World Leviathan…food for thought, and a little frightening: At Bloggingheads Steven Pinker Discusses War And Thomas Hobbes

Ronald Bailey At Reason: ‘Delusional in Durban’A Few Links On Environmentalism And LibertyFrom George Monbiot: ‘How Freedom Became Tyranny’…people who argue the earth is warming sure don’t live like it:From The American Spectator: ‘Environmentalism and the Leisure Class’

The Brain I Possibly Am, Moral Relativism And A Few Red And Green Links

Roger Scruton At The New Atlantis: ‘My Brain And I‘ Interesting take:

‘Yet the real problem for cognitive science is not the problem of consciousness. Indeed, I am not sure that it is even a problem. Consciousness is a feature that we share with the higher animals, and I see it as an “emergent” feature, which is in place just as soon as behavior and the functional relations that govern it reach a certain level of complexity. The real problem, as I see it, is self-consciousness — the first-person awareness that distinguishes us from the other animals, and which enables us to identify ourselves, and to attribute mental predicates to ourselves, in the first-person case — the very same predicates that others attribute to us in the second- and third-person case.’

============== Larry Arnhart At Darwinian Conservatism is skeptical of the Nietzchean influence: ‘Prinz’s Deceptive Silence in His Arguments for Emotivism and Cultural Relativism:’

‘In Beyond Human Nature, Jesse Prinz argues for emotivism and cultural relativism in his account of human morality.  In doing this, he employs the rhetorical technique of deceptive silence.  What I mean by this is that in presenting the research relevant to his topic, he picks out those findings that seem to support his arguments, while passing over in silence those findings that contradict his arguments.  For example, he sets up a stark debate between Kantian rationalism and Humean emotivism in explaining the basis of human morality; and he argues that empirical research supports emotivism by showing that moral judgment is purely emotional and not rational at all (293-95).  This is deceptive in two respects. ‘

===================== I can’t speak to Britain’s Green Party, but neither can anyone else apparently.  Via David Thompson: ‘Incredibly Awkward Interview With Natalie Bennett.’ A train-wreck on the air with a lot of coughing… If some Britons aren’t engaged in the magical and doomsday cult thinking of back to nature utopianism, they’re apparently channeling that magical thinking into the Green Party political platform of free houses and money-tree utopianism. Good to know. From Nigel Warburton’s Site: A Definition of Humanism?…A Debate: Would We Better Off Without Religion?…Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?Roger Scruton At The WSJ: ‘Memo To Hawking: There’s Still Room For God’ A Brief Review of Jesse Prinz’s ‘The Emotional Construction Of Morals’Red Impulses Gone Green-Tim Worstall At The Adam Smith Institute On George Monbiot

Which Lens Are You Using? Some Links

David Hockney ‘On Secret Knowledge: On Rediscovering The Lost Secrets Of The Old Masters’:


Optical devices were likely common practice more than is commonly known these days, way before the camera, the television etc.

As previously posted:

Just as optics revolutionized the sciences and the boundaries of human knowledge, from Galileo to Newton and onwards, Tim Jenison wonders if optics may have revolutionized the arts as well.

‘But still, exactly how did Vermeer do it? One day, in the bathtub, Jenison had a eureka moment: a mirror. If the lens focused its image onto a small, angled mirror, and the mirror was placed just between the painter’s eye and the canvas, by glancing back and forth he could copy that bit of image until the color and tone precisely matched the reflected bit of reality.’

Good Vermeer page here for a refresher on the Dutch master.

Penn & Teller helped make a documentary which has gotten good reviews, entitled ‘Tim’s Vermeer.

They discuss the project and Tim’s theory below (perhaps only the Girl With The Pearl Earring knows for sure if the painter used such a technique):


Interesting quotation from Quora, on Richard Feynman’s discussion of light in ‘QED: The Strange Theory Of Light And Matter’:

‘Mirrors and pools of water work pretty much the same way. Light interacts with electrons on the surface. Under the laws of quantum mechanics, each photon interacts with ALL of the electrons on the surface, and the net result is the sum of all possible pathways. If the surface is perfectly smooth, then most of the pathways cancel each other out, except for the one where the angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection. ‘

Click through for the illustrations to help explain Feynman’s theory, which fascinated me when I first came across it; much as I understand of it.

Have you ever seen sunlight reflecting off a body of water from a few thousand feet up in a plane?  A rainbow in a puddle with some oil in it?  A laser reflecting off a smooth surface like a mirror?

Related On This Site: In The Mail: Vivian Maier

Goya, that modern, had to make a living from the royal family: Goya’s ColossusGoya’s Fight With CudgelsGoethe’s Color Theory: Artists And ThinkersNASA Composite Image Of The Earth At Night…Beauty?Garrett Mattingly On Machiavelli-The Prince: Political Science Or Political Satire?

Repost-From The NY Times: Schlieren

From Gizmodo: ‘The Eerie Ruins Of 11 Abandoned Hotels’

Click through (just one photo apiece)

When I was about nineteen, or twenty, there was a farmhouse nearby that had been sitting vacant for a few years, ready to be demolished.  It had been lived-in and seemed decently kept for most of my life, and was still sitting there in my mind, where I had left it, but that was a different farmhouse, one I’d been in only briefly.

The farmhouse I entered, one spring day, with the thrill of trespass, boarded-up and shuttered, was in shockingly bad shape: I remember sunken floors in most of the rooms and wallpaper peeling off most of the walls.  A great bloom of mold traced a crack in one bulging wall, in particular, where the spring melt was still re-freezing and tearing things apart at night.  There were broken windows in every room, where I remember a few birds, beating their wings in and out.

There was a lot of silence. After just a few years, things had fallen apart in an unsettling, pretty unforgiving way.

Maybe that’s why I’m linking to these things.

As posted previously:

-Photographer Ben Marcin has a series called ‘Last House Standing.’ Solitary row-homes…the only ones left on the block.

-From Popular Mechanics, ‘Creepy Abandoned Military Sites From Around the World.

-Hippies in an old nuclear missile silo!:


-Check out Buzludzha, the abandoned communist monument in Bulgaria’s Balkan mountains, which still draws up to 50,000 Bulgarian Socialists for a yearly pilgrimage.  Human Planet’s Timothy Allen visited the structure in the snow and took some haunting photos.  You will think you’ve stepped into a Bond film and one of Blofeld’s modernist lairs, but with somewhat Eastern Orthodox tile frescos of Lenin and Marx gazing out at you, abandoned to time, the elements and to nature.

-Click here to experience ‘The Gobbler.

‘If you’re ever wondering what the War Room of “Dr. Strangelove” would look like if the movie had been directed by Prince, here you go.’



When I was younger
it was plain to me
I must make something of myself.
Older now
I walk back streets
admiring the houses
of the very poor:
roof out of line with sides
the yards cluttered
with old chicken wire, ashes,
furniture gone wrong;
the fences and outhouses
built of barrel staves
and parts of boxes, all,
if I am fortunate,
smeared a bluish green
that properly weathered
pleases me best of all colors.

No one
will believe this
of vast import to the nation

William Carlos Williams

They designed a city in the heart of Brazil that really doesn’t work for people: Brasilia: A Planned City

No thanks to living in planned communities upon someone else’s overall vision.: Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?Repost-Via Reason: ‘Salvador Allende’s Cybersocialist Command Center’From Grist.Org Via The New Republic Via The A & L Daily: ‘Getting Past “Ruin Porn” In Detroit’

A structure in the desert…not even a city Update On LACMA, Michael Heizer And The ‘Levitated Mass’-Modern Art And The Public;..where is modernism headed? Via Youtube: Justin, The Horse That Could Paint

Interview With Vladimir Nabokov In The Paris Review

Interview here.

A little bit about politics and also the politics amidst fellow writers and critics:

‘…when in doubt, I always follow the simple method of choosing that line of conduct which may be the most displeasing to the Reds and the Russells.’


‘Who’s in, who’s out, and where are the snows of yesteryear. All very amusing. I am a little sorry to be left out. Nobody can decide if I am a middle-aged American writer or an old Russian writer—or an ageless international freak.’

On his professional collection of butterflies:

‘The pleasures and rewards of literary inspiration are nothing beside the rapture of discovering a new organ under the microscope or an undescribed species on a mountainside in Iran or Peru. It is not improbable that had there been no revolution in Russia, I would have devoted myself entirely to lepidopterology and never written any novels at all.’

Via Youtube: An interviewer, Nabokov and Lionel Trilling discuss ‘Lolita:’

Some Links: Dealing With Ebola, The Scottish Enlightenment & Feminism

From The New Yorker: ‘The Ebola Wars’

Pretty much a straight-up account of how the virus is spreading and some of the people encountering it.

But, this being the New Yorker, ebola coverage is also geting political, as it’s clearly the other side making it political, not many folks at the New Yorker.


Many reactions to the market are moral ones, from the anti-corporate, romantically primitive, ideological collectivists on the Left to the biblically inclined, revelatory faithful who clearly see in the teachings of Jesus Christ reasons to doubt:

And Larry Arnhart looks at a Straussian: ‘Joseph Cropsey’s Straussian Attack On Adam Smith:’

‘Thus, Smith showed how the opulence and liberty of a commercial society would provide philosophers like Hume and himself with the intellectual commerce, the individual liberty, and the leisured independence necessary for living a philosophic life with their friends.  Cropsey ignores all of this because it contradicts his argument that there is no place for the intellectual virtues of philosophy in Smith’s commercial society.’

Worth a read.


From an emailer: Revisiting Martha Nussbaum’s paper on Judith Butler: ‘The Professor Of Parody

‘These developments owe much to the recent prominence of French postmodernist thought. Many young feminists, whatever their concrete affiliations with this or that French thinker, have been influenced by the extremely French idea that the intellectual does politics by speaking seditiously, and that this is a significant type of political action. Many have also derived from the writings of Michel Foucault (rightly or wrongly) the fatalistic idea that we are prisoners of an all-enveloping structure of power, and that real-life reform movements usually end up serving power in new and insidious ways. Such feminists therefore find comfort in the idea that the subversive use of words is still available to feminist intellectuals. Deprived of the hope of larger or more lasting changes, we can still perform our resistance by the reworking of verbal categories, and thus, at the margins, of the selves who are constituted by them.’

Perhaps way too much in the weeds for many regular readers, but there’s real work done in the piece.  Have a go, oppressor.

Related On This Site: Cathy Young At Minding The Campus: ‘The Brown Case: Does It Still Look Like Rape?…The Personal Ain’t Political-Holding The Line Against Rape Ideologues-Conor Friedersdorf On George Will

Christina Hoff Sommers (wikipedia) is trying to replacing gender feminism with equity feminism. She also wrote The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men.

Are You Man Enough? Nussbaum v. MansfieldFrom The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’

Defending Eliot Spitzer…as a man who ought to be free of prostitution laws…but didn’t he prosecute others with those same laws?: Repost: Martha Nussbaum On Eliot Spitzer At The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A very Harvard affair: The Spelke/Pinker debate-The Science Of Gender And Science

Repost-Revisting Larry Summers: What Did He Say Again?

From’Federal Government Mandates Unconstitutional Speech Codes At Colleges And Universities Nationwide’

Greg Lukianoff At FIRE.Org: ‘Emily Bazelon And The Danger Of Bringing “Anti-Bullying” Laws To Campus’

Repost-From Edge: ‘Dennett On Wieseltier V. Pinker In The New Republic’

Full piece here.

There’s a bit of an intellectual turf war going on in the Western world.  I suppose it’s been going on for a while.  Here are some recent public skirmishes:

-Steven Pinker, Harvard experimental psychologist and cognitive scientist wrote a piece in the New Republic, entitled: ‘Science Is Not Your Enemy

-Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of the New Republic since the 60’s, responded at The New Republic:  ‘No, Science Doesn’t Have All The Answers.

-Ross Douthat, conservative Catholic columnist at the Times jumped in the fray: ‘The Scientism Of Steve Pinker’ 

-Jerry Coyne, evolutionary biologist, responded to Douthat.

-Wieseltier jumped back in with: ‘Crimes Against Humanities: Now science wants to invade the humanities.  Don’t let it happen.

-Now Daniel Dennett, philosopher, cognitive scientist, one of the New Atheists and Boston-based secularist responds to Wieseltier:

‘Pomposity can be amusing, but pomposity sitting like an oversized hat on top of fear is hilarious. Wieseltier is afraid that the humanities are being overrun by thinkers from outside, who dare to tackle their precious problems—or “problematics” to use the, um, technical term favored by many in the humanities. He is right to be afraid. It is true that there is a crowd of often overconfident scientists impatiently addressing the big questions with scant appreciation of the subtleties unearthed by philosophers and others in the humanities, but the way to deal constructively with this awkward influx is to join forces and educate them, not declare them out of bounds.’

Got all that?

Why does Wieseltier have his dukes up?

Is the intelligent design debate the right one to have?  Whence the humanities?

Terry Eagleton, British Marxist and professor in the humanities, is debating Roger Scruton in the video below, a conservative British philosopher focusing on aesthetics and the humanities, with a lot of German idealist influence:

Will Marxism & continental philosophy, become further guiding lights for the humanities here in America, as we find much more so in Britain?

Aren’t we already thick in the postmodern weeds?


Related On This Site: Maybe if you’re defending the current conservative position, you don’t want to bring up the ‘aristocratic radical’ : Repost-Dinesh D’Souza And Daniel Dennett at Tufts University: Nietzsche’s Prophesy.. 

Art, iconography, art education, culture, feminism as well as 60’s cultural revolution radicalism and deeply Catholic impulses?:Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was SuccessfulUpdate And Repost-

A return to Straussian neo-classicism?:  From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’Harvey Mansfield At Defining Ideas: ‘Democracy Without Politics?’

Neo-neo conservatism, new atheism and post socialism for the ’68ers? Via Youtube: Christopher Hitchens On Faith And Virtue

Stanley Fish At The NY Times Blog: ‘The Last Professors: The Corporate Professors And The Fate Of The Humanities’From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’,,

Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To Judgment

From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘The Evolution of Mind and Mathematics: Dehaene Versus Plantinga and Nagel’

From Edward Feser: ‘Nagel And His Critics Part IV’

John Gray Reviews Jonathan Haidt’s New Book At The New Republic: ‘The Knowns And The Unknowns’

Steven Pinker somewhat focused on the idea of freedom from violence, which tends to be libertarian. Yet, he’s also skeptical of the more liberal human rights and also religious natural rights. What about a World Leviathan?: At Bloggingheads Steven Pinker Discusses War And Thomas HobbesFrom Reason.TV Via YouTube: ‘Steven Pinker on The Decline of Violence & “The Better Angels of Our Nature”‘Simon Blackburn Reviews Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial Of Human Nature” Via the University Of Cambridge Philosophy Department

Morality in the emotions? Jesse Prinz argues that neuroscience and the cognitive sciences should move back toward British empiricism and David Hume…yet…with a defense of multiculturalism and Nietzsche thrown in:  Another Note On Jesse Prinz’s “Constructive Sentimentalism”From Bloggingheads: Tamar Szabo Gendler On Philosophy and Cognitive Science

From The Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy Entry On Eliminative Materialism

Repost-Dinesh D’Souza And Daniel Dennett at Tufts University: Nietzsche’s Prophesy

Evolutionary psychology and moral thinking: Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’

More On That Oso Landslide

From The Landslide blog:

In reviewing seismic data with two distinct events, it’s not clear if a top portion slipped first, causing the bottom to give, or vice versa:

Our author:

‘To my untrained eye the initial seismic event shows a slow increase in energy release rather than an abrupt peak.  Note also that the second event appears to be much smaller than the first.  Thus, in this interpretation, the initial failure was, I think, a small, slow failure in the lower slope that destabilised the upper block of the Oso landslide, which slid onto the mass below.’

From King5 news, names, photos and a brief remembrance of those who lost their lives. R.I.P.

Death From Above-Good Reads From An Emailer-The 1993 Galeras Eruption

The Galeras volcano is in Colombia, and on a fateful day in 1993, it caught many scientists and tourists milling around its crater-rim by surprise with a little mini-eruption. I, too, remember reading the horrific accounts:

“I heard this huge boom, and then rocks the size of televisions started falling around us,” recalled Dr. Andrew McFarlane, a geologist at Florida International University who had got beyond the crater. Dr. McFarlane suffered a broken foot, bruises on his legs and badly burned hands from climbing over burning rocks.

Dr. Williams, fleeing the crater’s rim, pounded by flying rocks, ran as far as he could down the volcanic slope before his broken legs gave way. He took shelter from the weakening eruption behind large rocks. After an hour, a second volcanic blast hurled aloft new boulders that he successfully dodged.’

Dr. Stanley Williams led the party that day, and wrote a book entitled ‘Surviving Galeras‘ in its wake about continuing to press-on despite the tragedy.  Excerpt from his book here.  Fascinating reading.

Our emailer points out that a Victoria Bruce charged Williams with a high degree of hubris in her book ‘No Apparent Danger.’ More here.  There’s some drama involved.

Remarkably, like the predictability of extreme weather events, understanding of what helps cause volcanic eruptions is getting much better due to the work of vulcanologists everywhere.


*As a side note…I remember standing across from the Mt. St Helens crater at the Johnston Ridge Observatory, witnessing the scope of destruction some 30 years on, feeling a sense of awe, fascination, a desire for more knowledge, mixed with fear and continuing thoughts at my own sudden smallness and cosmic insignificance when measured against such forces. It can be humbling.


***My uncle tells a story about passing north on I-5 over the Toutle River bridge some days afterwards, and seeing a horse carcass, upright and stuck in the volcanic mud and ash-flow that flowed down from the mountain.

That image has stuck with me.

I found a few Flickr photos of debris in that area.


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