December 2011 Archives

This infographic about Millennials (age ~18-29) is encouraging to me! This excerpt shows why Millennials won't be taking my job:

millenials.jpg

Hmmm... which sounds more productive: "Technology use & work ethic" or "Technology use & music / pop culture"?

Also good for me, entering the job market during a recession (as Millennials are doing) hurts your long-term career prospects:

Sociologists have shown that being born in a recession dampens your earnings throughout your lifetime, simply because the first jobs you get are the ones that define much of your success in later life. Almost all the wage increases that you'll get arrive before you're 40. Thus, if you enter the workforce and struggle to find a job, you'll be consistently hobbled by a lack of experience and tenure.

So will Millennials continue voting Democrat for the rest of their lives now that they've cut their teeth on Obama? Or will they -- gasp -- grow up as they age? My guess is the latter. Comparing the work ethic of a 30-something generation that is having children to the work ethic of the 20-something generation is kind of absurd. Didn't people use to say that Generation X was full of no-good stoner grunge-rock layabouts?

So maybe I should be worried after all!

Ok, so I like Ron Paul and I'm glad he's in Congress, but you've got to admit he's a little crazy. However he's not so crazy that he actually thinks he can win the Presidency, as his investment portfolio reveals.

Here at Total Return, we've looked at hundreds of the annual financial-disclosure forms in which the members of Congress reveal their assets and trades - and we've never seen a more unorthodox portfolio than Ron Paul's. ...

At our request, William Bernstein, an investment manager at Efficient Portfolio Advisors in Eastford, Conn., reviewed Rep. Paul's portfolio as set out in the annual disclosure statement. Mr. Bernstein says he has never seen such an extreme bet on economic catastrophe. "This portfolio is a half-step away from a cellar-full of canned goods and nine-millimeter rounds," he says.

How would Ron Paul invest if he thought he would win? I don't know, but he would save the economy from the doomsday scenario he has prepared for, right? Or maybe he knows that his investments will be bad if he wins, and they're just a hedge against the off-chance that he won't be our next President.

I'll admit, I counted Rick Perry out after his big "oops" debate flub... but these two endorsements are pretty compelling. First, from Ace of Spades:

First, biographical and character details. Much of the More Informed cohort of the party seems to be giving these factors short shrift. I would suggest to such folks that a certain type of candidate tends to prevail in elections, and that type of candidate tends to have a positive narrative in biographical and characterological traits.

Rick Perry did not marry his high school sweetheart. He married his grade school sweetheart. He has never been divorced as as far as I know there haven't been any rocky patches in his relationship.

Those who discount the importance of that, especially to women voters, are making an error, I think. ...

The media and liberals (but I repeat myself) will attack Perry, predictably, as stupid, but there is a strong rebuttal to such a claim: If he can't perform the duties of Chief Executive, then how is he's been successfully performing the duties of Chief Executive?

America, and especially the Republican party, has long favored elevating governors to the presidency. Governors are, after all, the presidents of single states. They have nearly the exact same duties and functions (including even maintaining and controlling the state national guards). They have similar executive powers and set the agendas for their respective legislatures. In the case of border states such as Texas, they even require some foreign policy making duties.

No job in the world really prepares someone for the Presidency. But one job, more than any other, comes fairly close to doings so.

So Rick Perry cannot handle high executive office?

Then how is it he's been doing just that for 11 years? ...

I remember that, by the third debate, people were complaining that they were sick of hearing about Texas producing 45% of all jobs created in America the last two years, and sick of hearing that Texas has created one million jobs while America has lost two million plus in the last ten years.

I understand that High Information voters, who knew this before Rick Perry announced it, might be "sick" of hearing about it.

But the fact of the matter is: That should have been said more, not less.

Very good points.

Next, from Mike Flynn:

Supporters of Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney have to face one inconvenient truth; they both failed when given the chance to govern. Gingrich rode an historic GOP wave into the Speakership in 1994 only to be ousted by his fellow Republicans just four years later. It was one of the more spectacular flame-outs in political history. Hastert and Pelosi lost the Speaker's gavel when the voters rejected them and their parties. Newt lost his when his GOP colleagues rejected him. He was given an unprecedented opportunity to reform entitlements and reverse our nation's fiscal rot and...he blinked. His subsequent "consulting" for Freddie Mac, support for the largest expansion of entitlements since LBJ, an individual health insurance mandate and TARP, among other things, only further disqualifies him. I'm not at all certain that he has the core conservative convictions or beliefs that could withstand the daily dramas of the Presidency.

Mitt Romney only served one-term as Governor of Massachusetts because he wasn't going to win reelection. Keep in mind that Romney's term followed twelve years of GOP rule on Beacon Hill. Massachusetts voters were in something of a habit, since 1990, of voting for Republicans for Governor. That streak ended with Mitt. And, there were fewer Republican state legislators when he left office than when he entered it. ...

There is also a fundamental political problem with either a Gingrich or Romney nomination. The GOP wouldn't be able to campaign against the Wall Street bailouts nor the individual health mandate. They both supported these at one time or another. Does the party really want to remove those arrows from its quiver? Those two issues are a large reason why 60+% of Independents align themselves with the GOP now. I know people joke that the GOP is the "stupid party", but really? They really don't want to make those arguments against Obama? Aren't these two issues the defining issues of the upcoming election? ...

Perry has clearly been a good Governor. He has not, however, been a great candidate. His early campaign was too Texas-centric. We all know about his debate performances. He has positions I disagree with. And his campaign has made some steps I also disagree with. But, I believe he could be a great President. He understand the limits of government, the power of the private sector to create prosperity and the dangers government policies pose to that. And, I believe he understands these principles in a more fundamental way than the other candidates.

Read the whole things to get all the arguments for Perry. These endorsements changed my mind to the extend that they've put Perry back on the map for me.

Just because proportions and probabilities are measured with the same units (percentages) does not mean that they're equivalent or convertible. A proportion is a measurement representing the size of a subset relative to its whole. A probability is a measurement of the likelihood that a given event will occur. If you flip a coin ten times and get four heads (proportion = 40%) that doesn't mean that the probability that the next flip will be a head is also 40%, or 60%, or any other percent.

I say all that to point out the shoddy analysis of a recent Associated Press poll about President Obama by Ken Thomas and Jennifer Agiesta. The key offense is here:

Entering 2012, President Barack Obama's re-election prospects are essentially a 50-50 proposition, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll. It found that most Americans say the president deserves to be voted out of office even though they have concerns about the Republican alternatives. ...

The poll found Americans were evenly divided over whether they expect Obama to be re-elected next year.

For the first time, the poll found that a majority of adults, 52 percent, said Obama should be voted out of office while 43 percent said he deserves another term.

1. There's a huge difference between (a) "Americans say the president deserves to be voted out of office" and (b) "Americans were evenly divided over whether they expect Obama to be re-elected". (A) is a question about what should happen, in the mind of the individual being polled, while (b) is a question about what the person believes will happen based on the votes of millions of people. For example, it's very possible to think that Obama should win re-election but will not.

2. 52 percent to 43 percent is not "evenly divided" by any stretch of the imagination. If there is any 50/50 data in the poll that the "evenly divided" is referring to the authors never mention it. A 52%-43% election would be an historic landslide for the victor. (In 2008, Obama beat John McCain 52.9% to 45.7% in the "popular vote", a seven-point spread.)

3. If 52% of people really think that Obama should not be re-elected and 43% think he should be, that doesn't mean that Obama has a 52% probability of losing the election and a 43% probability of winning. If the poll response accurately represents the view of the people who show up to vote, then Obama has a 100% probability of losing the election. If Obama gets 50% of the votes minus one, and his opponent gets 50% plus one, Obama will 100% lose.

4. Journalists really need to understand statistics before they "analyze" them.

"Fact checks" are the journalistic equivalent of the cheating spouse who promises that this time they're really telling you the truth.

Mark Hemingway illustrates how the "Fact Check"-style column is generally just thinly veiled opinion that completely distorts the meaning of the word "fact".

But it seems the most outspoken fans of media fact-checking operations come from within the media themselves. "Has anyone else noticed that the Associated Press has been doing some strong fact-checking work lately, aggressively debunking all kinds of nonsense, in an authoritative way, without any of the usual he-said-she-said crap that often mars political reporting?" Washington Post blogger Greg Sargent wrote last year.

Sargent was conducting a fawning interview with the AP's Washington bureau chief Ron Fournier about the outlet's fact-checking operation. "The AP, for instance, definitively knocked down claims that [Supreme Court Justice] Elena Kagan is an 'ivory tower peacenik,'‚ÄČ" Sargent wrote.

Not surprisingly, Fournier agreed with Sargent. "What we tend to forget in journalism is that we got in the business to check facts," Fournier says. "Not just to tell people what Obama said and what Gingrich said. It is groundless to say that Kagan is antimilitary. So why not call it groundless? This is badly needed when people are being flooded with information."

Sargent and Fournier's ouroboros of self-congratulation inadvertently revealed a problem: When it comes to fact checking, the media seem oblivious to the distinction between verifying facts and passing judgment on opinions they personally find disagreeable.

The blogosphere hasn't taken "fact check" columns serious for a long time... or ever. Personally, I find the whole practice to be absurdly desperate on the part of the mainstream media. People used to listen to them and just assume they were hearing facts all the time. Now the media has to create specially-labeled "fact check" zones to let us know where the facts are (supposedly) kept amidst all the leftist clap-trap.

The reason "he-said-she-said crap" is part of most news stories is that most people give their opinions, and the reporter isn't supposed to inject himself into matters of opinion. The readers are supposed to decide which opinion-giver they find most reliable. When the readers don't line up behind the "right" opinions, the journalists get upset.

North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il is dead. Pray that the inevitable instability creates an opportunity for North Koreans to claim their God-given freedom and throw off the horrible tyranny that has been strangling them for so many decades.

It would be great for us to stop the violence in Syria, but America needs big vision humanitarianism.

The most moral foreign policy is the one that is grounded in a serious, long-term strategic view of where the world is headed, what the principal dangers are, and how the United States can preserve and develop its own strength and prosperity so as to do what needs to be done on the international scene.

In Syria that means helping grease the skids for Assad, more because it weakens and isolates Iran and undermines Hezbollah than because Butcher Assad is a vicious and bloodthirsty tyrant. A moment could come in which military intervention with the right partners and under the right circumstances would make sense, but it looks as if Assad's growing weakness will spare us from having to make that decision. Preventing a US-Iranian war is a humane and appropriate goal for our foreign policy, and driving the mullahs away from the Mediterranean could help get that done.

In other places a humane and moral foreign policy means doing different things. It means maintaining civil and open relationships with governments in China and Saudi Arabia, for example, despite our instinctive moral distaste for much that those governments do. The moral vigilantes call this hypocrisy, but this kind of behavior is a necessary part of making life better for people all over the world, including Americans.

The best-looking option right now doesn't always produce the best long-term results. This is painful to acknowledge when thousands of innocent people are being slaughtered by vicious murderers.

The Chinese village of Wukan is in open rebellion against the Communist government.

For the first time on record, the Chinese Communist party has lost all control, with the population of 20,000 in this southern fishing village now in open revolt.

The last of Wukan's dozen party officials fled on Monday after thousands of people blocked armed police from retaking the village, standing firm against tear gas and water cannons.

Since then, the police have retreated to a roadblock, some three miles away, in order to prevent food and water from entering, and villagers from leaving. Wukan's fishing fleet, its main source of income, has also been stopped from leaving harbour.

The plan appears to be to lay siege to Wukan and choke a rebellion which began three months ago when an angry mob, incensed at having the village's land sold off, rampaged through the streets and overturned cars.

It sounds like the government has blockaded the village. Cutting off food and water from civilians is an atrocity that the international community should condemn.

Could this rebellion spread, or have the Communists contained it? Now that the news is on the internet, it's hard to see how the government can prevent the spread of the news to the rest of China. Revolt by the rural masses is the most direct and imminent threat to China's economic growth, and I don't expect the government to handle it with a light touch.

Yes, Time Magazine (they still exist?) has finally gotten around to recognizing the impact of the Tea Party!

In each place, discontent that had been simmering for years got turned up to a boil. There were foreshadowings. In the U.S., the Obama campaign was in part a feel-good protest movement that galvanized young people, and then its shocking success and the Wall Street bailout produced an angry and shockingly successful populist protest movement in the Tea Party, which has far outlasted its expected shelf life. In 2009, after the regime in Tehran denied the antiregime election results, millions of Iranians, especially young ones, protested for weeks. The Web and social media were key tactical tools in all three instances. But they seemed at the time to be one-offs, not prefaces to an epochal turn of history's wheel.

Wait a minute. Obama's campaign was a "feel-good protest" and the Tea Partiers were just "angry"? Well, at least they were "populist" I guess. However, despite having "far outlasted its expected shelf life" the Tea Party is a "one-off". Oh well.

It'll be very interesting to see which of these various movements have the longest-lasting beneficial effects. I'm guessing that the "Arab Spring" protests will leave us with a bunch of radical Islamist governments, and the Obama "protest" will leave us with a zillion dollars of debt.

Never talk to the police without a lawyer.

An innocent man has told of a five-month nightmare which 'destroyed my life' after being wrongly accused of being a serial sex attacker.

William Giraldo was threatened with deportation and thrown in the notorious Rikers Island prison in New York when he was mistaken for the 'Brooklyn Groper'.

He was picked out of a lineup, arraigned on his wedding day and spent a month in jail until DNA evidence cleared him.

Police thought Mr Giraldo was responsible for not only that crime but three other incidents and circulated his picture to the media.

Mr Giraldo handed himself in to clear his name - but got caught up in his own personal hell.

Thinking it would be over quickly, he did not call a lawyer and to his surprise was taken to the special victims unit, which deals with sex crimes, where detectives spent hours questioning him.

Mr Giraldo told the New York Daily News: 'I don't have anything to hide, so why not go over there and clear my name. I told them I have nothing do to with this.

'Detectives were telling me to confess to something I didn't do, saying it would be easier for me, they would reduce my sentence.'

Never talk to the police without a lawyer, even if you're completely innocent or "not a suspect".

More videos on wht not to talk to the police, many including tips from law enforcement officers and legal experts.

(HT: The Agitator.)

Teacher crush creativity because the qualities that make a person creative also make them hard to handle in a classroom.

One of the most consistent findings in educational studies of creativity has been that teachers dislike personality traits associated with creativity. Research has indicated that teachers prefer traits that seem to run counter to creativity, such as conformity and unquestioning acceptance of authority (e.g., Bachtold, 1974; Cropley, 1992; Dettmer, 1981; Getzels & Jackson, 1962; Torrance, 1963). The reason for teachers' preferences is quite clear creative people tend to have traits that some have referred to as obnoxious (Torrance, 1963). Torrance (1963) described creative people as not having the time to be courteous, as refusing to take no for an answer, and as being negativistic and critical of others. Other characteristics, although not deserving the label obnoxious, nonetheless may not be those most highly valued in the classroom.

From Creativity: Asset or Burden in the Classroom?, a good review paper. What the paper shows is that the characteristics that teachers use to describe their favorite student correlate negatively with the characteristics associated with creativity. In addition, although teachers say that they like creative students, teachers also say creative students are "sincere, responsible, good-natured and reliable." In other words, the teachers don't know what creative students are actually like. (FYI, the research design would have been stronger if the researchers had actually tested the students for creativity.) As a result, schooling has a negative effect on creativity.

Like Alex Tabarrok, I don't really blame teachers... it's hard to control a class full of children. The thing I take away as a parent is that I need to make sure not to enforce the rules so strictly that I stunt my daughter's growth even when she's not at school.

Erik Klemetti points out something obvious but frequently ignored by movies: you won't sink if you fall into lava.

Molten lava is nothing like water. Sure, everyone thinks that liquid rock (magma) is going to behave like any other liquid (e.g., water), but there are some key physical properties that tell us it just isn't the case. Let's compare!
  • Water has a density of 1000 kg/m3 and a viscosity of 0.00089 Pa*s.
  • Lava has a density of 3100 kg/m3 and a viscosity of 100-1000 Pa*s.

Pa*s is the SI unit for viscosity -- some people might be familiar with other viscosity measures like poise. Viscosity is, more or less, the resistance to flow, so if you throw something in a liquid, a low viscosity liquid (like water) will "get out the way" and you'll sink faster relative to a high viscosity liquid (like cold corn syrup). The density of the liquid will also play a role in how quickly you might sink based on your own density. So, when we're looking at water versus lava, lava is ~3.1 times the density and between ~100,000 to 1,100,000 times the viscosity. They are very different!

You could probably walk on lava, except for the horrible burning. Even still, you could amble on your ever-shrinking legs.

I'm sure the #OCCUPY people will love President Obama's elitist perspective on his children:

Our kids are going to be fine. And I always tell Malia and Sasha, look, you guys, I don't worry about you -- I mean, I worry the way parents worry -- but they're on a path that is going to be successful, even if the country as a whole is not successful. But that's not our vision of America. I don't want an America where my kids are living behind walls and gates, and can't feel a part of a country that is giving everybody a shot.

1. Of course the President's kids are on a path to be wealthy and famous -- their father is the President of the United States! Without President Bill Clinton, do you really think Chelsea Clinton would have gone to Stanford and Columbia, or serve on two boards of directors, or be a "special correspondent" for NBC News? Do you think Hillary Clinton would have been elected Senator from New York or appointed as Secretary of State? Duh, no. Ex-presidents use their power and fame to make tons of money and share their prestige with their family members.

2. How could "the country as a whole" not be successful? Isn't Obama President of it? If Obama and his family will be fine regardless, does that mean he doesn't have any "skin the game" as he is fond of saying?

3. Whether America as a whole is "successful" or not, I predict that Obama and his family will continue to live behind walls and gates long after his term as president ends.

4. The last sentence doesn't really make any sense. Why wouldn't his kids feel a part of a country that is giving everybody a shot? Does Obama "feel a part" of America now? Or is he worried that his kids won't because they'll be so wealthy and famous? Is Obama poised to renounce America if it doesn't meet his standards for "giving everybody a shot"?

(HT: James Taranto.)

Blago sentenced to 14 years in prison.

U.S. District Judge James Zagel handed down the sentence on Wednesday, shortly after Blagojevich made a plea for leniency, following his conviction on 18 corruption counts. ...

At his retrial earlier this year, Blagojevich, 54, was convicted of 17 charges, including allegations he tried to sell or trade an appointment to the U.S. Senate seat once held by President Barack Obama.

Blagojevich is a crook, but I stand by my earlier arguments that non-violet criminals should not be imprisoned.

Perhaps interpretation of the 8th Amendment has eliminated so many other potential punishments that we're forced to use imprisonment for everything, but this need not remain the case. For example, public floggings have a long history of use in every part of the world, and could be performed under proper medical supervision such that no permanent injury would be inflicted. Non-violent offenders could also be subject to terms of indentured servitude, and could thus contribute to society during their punishment.

Prison is extremely expensive, and it is very hard for prisoners to re-enter society after they have served their terms. We could save a lot of money and enhance justice by implementing other forms of punishment.

I feel like we could get rid of nickels as well, and maybe even dimes. Who even uses coins anymore? Only the old people in front of me at the grocery store, and we'd all like to see that end. Maybe one of the presidential candidates would like to mention the issue?

(HT: Kim Krawiec and Alex Tabarrok.)

Amazon has cult movies on sale!

I have a zillion legos, but no sugru. Guess I need to get some.

(HT: Lifehacker.)

In 2002 Malcolm Gladwell wrote a profile of Nassim Nicholas Taleb (one of my favorite philosophers, if I can categorize him that way). The profile includes this description of how humans view risk, and I think it's important to digest it so that you can evaluate your own risk biases and how they affect your life.

What Empirica has done is to invert the traditional psychology of investing. You and I, if we invest conventionally in the market, have a fairly large chance of making a small amount of money in a given day from dividends or interest or the general upward trend of the market. We have almost no chance of making a large amount of money in one day, and there is a very small, but real, possibility that if the market collapses we could blow up. We accept that distribution of risks because, for fundamental reasons, it feels right. In the book that Pallop was reading by Kahneman and Tversky, for example, there is a description of a simple experiment, where a group of people were told to imagine that they had three hundred dollars. They were then given a choice between (a) receiving another hundred dollars or (b) tossing a coin, where if they won they got two hundred dollars and if they lost they got nothing. Most of us, it turns out, prefer (a) to (b). But then Kahneman and Tversky did a second experiment. They told people to imagine that they had five hundred dollars, and then asked them if they would rather (c) give up a hundred dollars or (d) toss a coin and pay two hundred dollars if they lost and nothing at all if they won. Most of us now prefer (d) to (c). What is interesting about those four choices is that, from a probabilistic standpoint, they are identical. They all yield an expected outcome of four hundred dollars. Nonetheless, we have strong preferences among them. Why? Because we're more willing to gamble when it comes to losses, but are risk averse when it comes to our gains. That's why we like small daily winnings in the stock market, even if that requires that we risk losing everything in a crash.

At Empirica, by contrast, every day brings a small but real possibility that they'll make a huge amount of money in a day; no chance that they'll blow up; and a very large possibility that they'll lose a small amount of money. All those dollar, and fifty-cent, and nickel options that Empirica has accumulated, few of which will ever be used, soon begin to add up. By looking at a particular column on the computer screens showing Empirica's positions, anyone at the firm can tell you precisely how much money Empirica has lost or made so far that day. At 11:30 A.M., for instance, they had recovered just twenty-eight percent of the money they had spent that day on options. By 12:30, they had recovered forty per cent, meaning that the day was not yet half over and Empirica was already in the red to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars. The day before that, it had made back eighty-five per cent of its money; the day before that, forty-eight per cent; the day before that, sixty-five per cent; and the day before that also sixty-five per cent; and, in fact-with a few notable exceptions, like the few days when the market reopened after September 11th -- Empirica has done nothing but lose money since last April. "We cannot blow up, we can only bleed to death," Taleb says, and bleeding to death, absorbing the pain of steady losses, is precisely what human beings are hardwired to avoid. "Say you've got a guy who is long on Russian bonds," Savery says. "He's making money every day. One day, lightning strikes and he loses five times what he made. Still, on three hundred and sixty-four out of three hundred and sixty-five days he was very happily making money. It's much harder to be the other guy, the guy losing money three hundred and sixty-four days out of three hundred and sixty-five, because you start questioning yourself. Am I ever going to make it back? Am I really right? What if it takes ten years? Will I even be sane ten years from now?" What the normal trader gets from his daily winnings is feedback, the pleasing illusion of progress. At Empirica, there is no feedback. "It's like you're playing the piano for ten years and you still can't play chopsticks," Spitznagel say, "and the only thing you have to keep you going is the belief that one day you'll wake up and play like Rachmaninoff."

Just what the topic says: 100 Incredible Views Out Of Airplane Windows.

Hard to pick a favorite, so here's my home town: Los Angeles.

los angeles aerial.jpg

(HT: RD.)

Ok, so you're not quite three years old yet, but I'm doing research on where you should go to pre-school and how to get you into the gifted program. I went to school for a bazillion years. School is good... right? Well, learning stuff is good. School is one way to do that, but not the only way. As your father, I insist that you learn things that will make you productive and happy. That might include going to college, but it doesn't have to. I think that going to college will be the default option for you, but if you can convince me that you've got another plan for learning, growing, and being productive then I will gladly support it.

As inspiration, see the following two blog posts.

OilPrice has an insightful look into the logistics of supplying the American forces in Afghanistan with fuel and the effects of the recent friendly-fire incident on the AfPak border.

On 27 November Interior Minister Rehman Malik, addressing journalists at the Ministry of the Interior's National Crisis Management Cell, after strongly condemning the NATO attack on Pakistani forces, stated that the resupply routes for NATO via Pakistan have been stopped "permanently," adding that the decisions of the Defense Cabinet Committee (DCC) on the NATO forces attack inside Pakistan would be implemented in letter and spirit, stressing that "The decisions of the DCC are final and would be implemented."

The major issue at stake here for ISAF and U.S. forces is fuel, all of which must be brought in from abroad at high cost. In October 2009 Pentagon officials testified before the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee that the "Fully Burdened Cost of Fuel" (FBCF) translates to about $400 per gallon by the time it arrives at a remote Forward Operating Base (FOB) in Afghanistan. Last year, the FBCF reached $800 in some FOBs following supply route bombings in Pakistan, while others have claimed the FBCF may be as high as $1,000 per gallon in some remote locations. For many remote locations, fuel supplies can only be provided by air - one of the most expensive ways being in helicopter fuel bladders.

We can't operate in Afghanistan without cooperation from Pakistan. Once we're done in Afghanistan we won't need to be so nice to our "friends" in Pakistan. Not that I blame them for being angry at about the 24 Pakistani border guards we killed with an airstrike.

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