Morning Music: Tin Man

Holiday - AmericaI’ll admit: this is an embarrassing one. My parents both loved the song “Tin Man” by America. As I remember it, they thought that it was profound: “Oz never did give nothing to the Tin Man that he didn’t already have.” Even at ten years old, I thought that was lame. I mean, I’d seen the movie. That’s the whole point. The whole point is that the Tin Man who doesn’t have a heart is the most emotional and caring of the characters. The Cowardly Lion is the bravest when it comes down to it. And the Straw Man is the smartest.

Years later, my friend Will and I got into America. And the “Tin Man” album, Holiday, is one of the more listenable of their albums. But it was a transition thing. I know their first ten albums forward and backward. And never has so much care and attention be wasted on such dreck. It’s not all bad. It has its moments. And the guys were clearly all talented. But there is no substance. And Dewey Bunnell, who wrote “Tin Man” and “A Horse With No Name” and many other “word collage” songs almost seems like he could have developed into a fine songwriter if he hadn’t found success so easy with gibberish.

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Anniversary Post: Treasury Department

United States Department of the TreasuryOn this day in 1789, the United States Department of the Treasury was formed. It’s the agency that prints money. But even more important, the IRS is part of Treasury. I’m constantly amazed at the conservative anger at the IRS. Unless you simply don’t believe we should have a government, we need a tax collector. This goes along with something that I publish later today about conservatives really not thinking things through. It’s kind of like starry-eyed liberals thinking we could have no military and everything would be just fine. (I believe we have a military that 5-10 times the size of what we need, but I still think we need one.)

Even more ridiculous is the common belief that we could get rid of the IRS if we instituted a “flat tax.” To begin with, a flat tax is meaningless. Looking up how much in taxes you owe after doing your taxes is the easiest part of it. The hard part is dealing with all the deductions and such. And that is the stuff that is in there because of the rich. I have a great idea for simplifying the tax code: let’s make all deductions standard — no itemization. How about that rich people?! Would you go along with that? Because I’ll tell you something: that would make filing your taxes easy. It would also make paying them harder, but if the issue is not money but convenience, the rich ought to be all over my proposal. But they aren’t.

The point of the flat tax is the point of all so called tax reform: to shift the burden of taxes from the rich to the poor. But regardless of what you do, there still needs to be a tax collector. And this has been true for thousands of years! People don’t pay taxes voluntarily and they never have. So let’s just cut the nonsense. The IRS isn’t evil — in fact, by the historic standards of tax collectors, it’s quite reasonable. In fact, dealing with the IRS is a breeze compared to dealing with the California Department of Revenue. But if people have a better idea, I’d love to hear it. Because here’s a secret: none of us like paying our taxes. But the smarter people understand that living in a civilized society requires paying taxes.

Happy birthday Treasure Department!

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What Voters Care About Ain’t Aligned With GOP

Jonathan ChaitEvery time I have to go out of town, caring for Frankly Curious becomes a hectic mess. I really like having real people with real money wanting my attention, but I do miss being totally in charge of my time. So you will forgive me if I make this one really short. But I found the most amazing table over on a Jonathan Chait article, Donald Trump Is Going to Lose Because He Is Crazy. But don’t worry, this is not a post about Trump. In fact, I have to admit that I’m getting really tired of other bloggers of my persuasion and popularity focusing so much on him.

This table shows where the American people are on two issues: immigration and Social Security (SS). It shows what I’ve long maintained: Democratic and Republican voters are all pretty liberal when it comes to the economy. But let’s look at the table, which I have recreated because the one that Chait provides is almost unreadable.

Increase SS Maintain SS Decrease SS
Large Immigration Decrease 13.0% 8.1% 1.4%
Small Immigration Decrease 11.0% 8.0% 1.0%
Maintain Immigration 20.0% 20.0% 2.4%
Small Immigration Increase 4.4% 4.7% 0.8%
Large Immigration Increase 2.1% 1.8% 0.6%

So what the people want is for immigration to stay where it is or to be decreased — in many cases by a lot. This is the opposite of what the elites want. They want a lot more immigration. In general, that’s good for the economy. But it is also good (at least in the short term) for keeping wages down. And then on Social Security, we have a majority that wants to see it raised. Only 6.2% want to see Social Security cut, yet every Republican presidential candidate other than Trump wants to cut it (generally by raising the retirement age).

Here is Chait’s overview of what’s going on, which I think is exactly right:

Both parties contain ranges of opinions within them. And both are run by elites who have more socially liberal and economically conservative views than their own voters. (There are plenty of anti-abortion, anti-immigration, anti-same-sex-marriage Democrats not represented by their leaders.) But the tension between base and elite runs deeper in the Republican Party. Conservative leaders tend to care very little about conservative social policy, or even disagree with it altogether. Conservatives care a great deal about cutting the top tax rate, deregulating the financial industry, and, ideally, reducing spending on social insurance — proposals that have virtually no authentic following among the rank and file.

My question is why the voters don’t wake up. I understand why Democrats don’t: what are they going to do? The Democrats offer the best deal. But if the Republican voters would abandon their party, we could have a real choice on the economic issues that everyone cares the most about. But instead, we have every major Republican contender (sans Trump, of course) — from Jeb Bush to Scott Walker to Ben Carson — calling for cuts in Social Security. They are all united against immigration, but decreasing it doesn’t even get a majority. Social Security is the big issue and the Republican establishment hates it.

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Don’t Cry for the McDonald’s Franchisee

Jeff SprossShould McDonald’s franchise owners view themselves as natural allies with the workers against the corporate mothership, rather than labor’s adversaries?

Arturs Kalnins — a professor at Cornell University who specializes in franchises and small businesses — doesn’t think you could take things that far. “In general, McDonald’s franchisees are doing very well for themselves,” he said, pointing out that after all labor and operating costs are accounted for, including all the franchise fees, owners are still netting around $100,000 per individual store annually. (McDonald’s US franchisees took in an estimated $1.6 billion in profits in 2012, which works out to well over $110,000 per restaurant.) Most franchise owners are also managers, which means they get paid a manager’s salary out of general operating costs as well. Throw in the fact that many franchise owners boast multiple restaurants, and you can be looking at an annual income of $1 million or more, Kalnins said.

Kalnins continued that he “wouldn’t doubt” franchise owners feel they’re on thin ice, financially. “But I don’t think that’s an objective reality. These are very comfortable, well-to-do people.”

By all accounts, McDonald’s has cracked down on its franchisees in recent years. It controls most of the prices on the menu, and between that and its hefty operating demands, it’s squeezing franchisees so that the way to make the business model successful is to pay the workers less. Dissatisfaction amongst McDonald’s franchise owners is reportedly at an all-time high, so they clearly feel they’re under fire.

But then you have to ask: under fire compared to whom? The average American worker, or other small business owners pulling down $100,000-plus a year?

—Jeff Spross
How McDonald’s Puts the Squeeze on Both Franchise Owners and Workers

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All GOP Candidates Are Jokes So Why Not Trump?

Chris ChristiePaul Krugman wrote a really good article yesterday, A Heckuva Job. That’s a reference to George W Bush’s Katrina, which is, of course, Katrina. But Krugman is making a larger point. He’s saying that all these nationally known Republican who have been said to be so great never were. In the case of Bush, the mainstream media allowed him to present himself as a strong and capable leader. Katrina ended that. But the fact was that he was never a strong and capable leader. He was just an idiot who the power elite let be president because they knew that he would cut important regulations and lower their taxes.

I’ve been talking about this for a long time. It really annoys me when people talk about the “deep bench” that the Republicans have for president. This is contrasted with the Democratic bench that is supposedly just Hillary Clinton. The Democratic side of this argument has always been nonsense. First, of course, there is Bernie Sanders who is an exceptional retail politician. The only question I have about him is the label of “socialist,” and I am thinking more and more that it no longer matters. But then there are Lincoln Chafee, Martin O’Malley, and Jim Webb — all of whom are at least as good and qualified as any of the Republican contenders. They just aren’t as well known, and who cares about that? It’s only due to the fact that the mainstream media will make a superstar out of any Republican who doesn’t sound completely insane.

What’s more, there are dozens of major Democratic candidates who would be running if Hillary Clinton weren’t running. The Democratic Party always has a deep bench because the Democratic Party takes politics and governing seriously. The Republican Party thinks that politics and (especially) governing are a joke — jobs that anyone can do. And that’s the point. The mainstream media has made all these Republican fools into major figures so now it can say, “Look at all the major Republican figures that are running for president!”

Over two years ago, I wrote, Josh Barro Phenomenon. In it, I attacked Barro for justifying Chris Christie’s killing of the New Jersey to New York City ARC tunnel. My point was that Barro was just performing apologetics: he was going to justify what Christie wanted to do regardless. Barro got very angry and wrote that it was the stupidest thing he had read that day. But my point was that politicians can always find a reason to justify what they want to do for other (publicly unpalatable) reasons. Well, now we know that Christie’s decision was a total catastrophe. What does Barro have to say now? Nothing as far as I can find.

The point is that Christie was a great conservative hero for doing something that was clearly wrong. But he was “tough” and he “saving money” and Josh Barro and lots of other reporters were there to cheer him on. What Christie was really doing was killing a much needed public infrastructure project so that he could paper over the hole in his state budget and not raise taxes. But at the time, Josh Barro was there to push the Christie propaganda that it was all about cost-effectiveness.

Krugman’s primary point is that no one in the Republican establishment should complain that many base voters prefer Donald Trump. And that’s exactly right. As I say all the time, where Trump’s policies deviate substantially from the Republican Party, they are better. Trump can’t be called a fool in the context of the Republican presidential nomination, because they are all fools.

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Conservative Jerks Don’t Want Fair Society Because They’d Do Much Worse

Obama Toilet

Last weekend, I was at a birthday party for an in-law of an in-law. I’ve been at them many times before. They have a great place and they put on great parties. And I am invited, largely because I make some dynamite side dishes. It is basically on a farm and it has its own bar. I bring my own beer, however, because they never have what I consider acceptable beer. The image above is from the bathroom of this private bar. I don’t present it because it is unusual. It is quite common, and I mean that in many ways.

The thing is, the people who own the place are quire comfortable. Both husband and wife have good, high paying jobs, even though I don’t think either of them have college degrees. I assume together, they bring home about a quarter million a year. They both work in professions that are highly regulated by the government. I mean that not in the “they just can’t get ahead” sense. I mean it in the “these are professions that are highly lucrative because of government interference” sense. They both have expensive hobbies, which they not only have no trouble affording, but they aren’t so exhausted from their jobs as to be unable to do them.

I’m not saying they are bad people, because they aren’t — at all. And they are good neighbors. They are the kind of people who help out their friends and neighbors. But they are representative of what I think of as the last gasp of the American middle class. They are the very last generation who have been able to live the American dream without being enormously lucky or skilled. And every time I go to one of their parties, I see a bunch of people who are just the same. Each and every one of them is convinced that they did, in fact, build that.

So sure: piss on Obama. Of course, why not piss on Bush when he was in office? I went to parties at their place when Bush was in office, but I didn’t see any George W Bush urinal targets at that time. No, it’s just the Democrats who have to be peed on, even though it is overwhelmingly the Republicans who are responsible for making the world enormously worse for people just like them who showed the bad judgement of being born just ten years later. But the sticker didn’t make me angry — just sad. What foolish people.

Before seeing this splendid example of urinal art, I overheard two in-laws discussing Donald Trump. They agreed that they liked Trump, because he was telling it like it is. I said nothing. I wanted to say, “I think Trump is the best Republican candidate out there.” That’s what I actually think. I like the fact that Trump wants to protect Social Security and Medicare. And I like that he is skeptical of trade deals. But I knew these guys weren’t talking about that. In fact, I knew these guys didn’t have a clue as to what Trump thinks about these matters.

It became all the more clear when they started badmouthing Mexicans. That was really interesting, because we were on this little farm. My in-law isn’t a farmer. He grows grapes, but it is more accurate to say that he has other people grow grapes for him. And that very morning, there had been a crew of Mexicans picking the grapes — getting poorly paid for it, no doubt. But these two guys talking get paid really well and don’t work that hard. But they were sharing their contempt for how hard these Mexicans worked who made perhaps one-fifth as much with no benefits whatsoever.

Conservatives love to talk about future generations and what we need to do for them. But these two conservatives don’t give a damn about future generations. They don’t even have a clue how well they have it. They can pass off the fact that younger people are struggling as the result of them not working hard enough. But I knew all of these people when they were young, and if anything they even bigger slackers and drug users.

They are right to want to urinate on pictures of Barack Obama. Despite all of his deficiencies, Obama really does want a more fair society. And in a more fair society, these jerks would be doing far worse.

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Morning Music: Bobby Goldsboro

Honey - Bobby GoldsboroMy mother was very sentimental. I doubtless get it from her. And there is probably no better example of this is Bobby Goldsboro’s recording of “Honey.” The song was written by Bobby Russell (who also wrote another hit, “Little Green Apples”). There is much to admire in the composition. The use of a tree to show the passage of time is really compelling. It does tend to infantilize the title character, but it does render her with much more depth than most songs — then or now.

When I listen to it now, I’m struck by the third verse (or second half of the second verse). He comes home in the middle of the day and finds her crying needlessly. I think there are two ways to take that. First, it could be that she has learned that she is dying and doesn’t tell him. Or it could be that she suffers from depression and that she eventually took her own life. Regardless, that part of the song makes it far more interesting.

It flips things. Because suddenly, it is the singer who is silly — who doesn’t see reality. He saw her “young and heart; kind of dumb and kind of smart” because that’s all that he was capable of seeing. She was much more. But I doubt very much that my mother would have approved of that take on the song:

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Anniversary Post: Le Voyage dans la Lune

Le Voyage dans la LuneOn this day in 1902, Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon) was first released. If I weren’t really pressed for time, I probably wouldn’t talk about it. I’m not a big fan of Georges Méliès. I certainly think he was a great and important filmmaker. But he was making films during that period where they were mostly just stage plays shot in a master. He was more interesting in terms of his art direction and, of course, his use of magic and “trick” effects.

My problem with the film is that it’s been over-exposed. It seems like one of the only silent films that pretty much any jerk can name. And it is, ultimately, not very interesting to watch. It would be another five years before film started to be interesting as an art form. But still, I’m sure it was spectacular for the audiences of 1902.

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The Shocking True Story of Twin Chickens

Baby ChickensIn the film Chicken Run, the two rats, Nick and Fetcher, make a deal with Rocky for all his eggs, only later learning that they’ve been conned because, “It’s a lady thing, apparently.” But at one point, Nick asks how the egg is coming, and Rocky says, “This is a double yolker.” That got me thinking. It isn’t that I’m unaware of double and even triple yolk eggs. I really like chickens and I used to care of a clutch of chickens. But my experience with a multiple volk was in the context of a frying pan. Rocky’s comment made me think, “What would happen if the eggs had been fertilized and allowed to hatch?

I guess I should point out something that may come as a bit of a surprise to many people. That white thing we call an egg is not, in fact, an egg. The egg is the inside. It is released into the chicken’s oviduct. Once there, the shell is created around it. Well, on occasion, a chicken will release two (or more) eggs into the oviduct and they will end up inside a single shell. These would be fraternal, not identical, twins. I’m not sure identical twins would be possible with chickens.

My big question is whether twin chickens survive in nature. As it is, there is very little room inside the shell for even a single chick. On the other hand, double yolk shells are larger than normal shells. Check out this picture of one double and two single yolk eggs from Fresh Eggs Daily:

Double Yolk Egg Comparison

Not surprisingly, hens occasionally become egg bound. This is more or less what it sounds like: the egg shell gets stuck in the hen’s oviduct. Egg size isn’t the only reason for this. It happens to very young hens, obese hens, those with too little calcium or too much protein. Check the link above if you want more information. Lisa Steele, the woman behind Fresh Eggs Daily, has all the information — and helping a chicken from this fatal problem is actually a lot less complicated than you would think.

Anyway, getting back to those multiple yolk egg shells, they are much more common among hens who are just starting their laying careers, and those who are at the end of them. But in Asia, hens are bred to produce multiple yolk eggs because they are seen as a kind of delicacy. I’m not sure how nice that is to the chickens, but regardless, much worse is done to chickens in this country.

My sister pointed me to two videos of hatching twin chickens. They were created six years ago by a woman (Rebecca Bowers?) under the account needmorechickens. Sadly, these are the only two videos she’s ever posted. The first video shows her carefully hatching a pair of twins. It is amazing, delicate work. And even though it is over ten minutes long, it’s almost impossible to stop watching. Or maybe it is just because I like chickens so much. Here it is:

The second video, Chapter 2, shows the chicks a few hours later, dry and fluffy, walking around. She then hatches a second set of twins. One of them was dead. It apparently had been for a while, because it hadn’t developed eyes. That’s sad, but according to the video, all three of the ones that survived were doing great. So at least with the help of caring humans, twin chickens can survive birth, which is awesome!


The main picture above is cropped to HDTV size from Fresh Eggs Daily, which is a fantastic site for all things chicken. If this article made you more interested in chickens, you should go over there and learn from someone who really knows what she’s talking about.

Update

In a private email, Lisa Steele said that “a double yolked egg can hatch on its own, but rarely do both chicks make it because there’s just not enough room inside the shell for both to develop correctly, but it can happen.” So we have our answer. But it is clearly best if you have your very own shell!

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Even Paul Bibeau Can’t Find Humor in Palin-Trump

Paul BibeauAbove is where I’d put the video of Sarah Palin interviewing Donald Trump on that weird irregular bin TV news network, and then I’d make fun of it. I’ve made fun of Palin and Trump in the past, and I will completely do so again.

But I found I couldn’t watch it. I saw five seconds of that garbage and just turned it off. I thought I had a strong stomach for idiot celebrity sociopaths — It’s my gig, right? — but they got to me. God, those people…

They’re awful. I don’t have a joke to follow that up. No. They are just really awful. We should really all be on board with how terrible they are. The fact that we aren’t is disturbing.

What the hell is wrong with this country? What the fuck is happening out there in Cleetusland?

—Paul Bibeau
This Is The Post Where I’d Be Mocking The Palin-Trump Interview

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Stupid Conservative Scorecards

Liberty ScoreI was writing about an article on Breitbart, Iran Deal Likely to Pass, Says Senator Who Made it Impossible. This refers to Bob Corker. The brainiacs at Breitbart apparently think there was some way for Congress to have set thing up so that they could just kill the Iran nuclear deal by not voting for it. The whole point of the deal was to sidestep Congress, because everyone knows that the Republicans there wouldn’t approve of anything other than starting another pointless war, allowing the poor to starve to death, or giving more money to the rich. So their contention that Bob Corker screwed everything up is just dumb.

But I noticed on the article, that Bob Corker has a “liberty score” of just 51%. After the mention of any politician, Breitbart sticks in the score so you can know who the “good guys” are. But it’s interesting that it is a thing and not just some kind of advertising. The scores come from a group called Conservative Review. So on their Bob Corker page, they give him a grade of “F.” This is roughly the same score that most Republicans get. Mitch McConnell and Orrin Hatch (who was once considered uber-conservative) get exact the same grade (F) and almost exactly the same score. John McCain gets a score of 43%. Lamar Alexander gets 24%.

The only people who get high scores are very special kinds of extremists. Rand Paul gets 93%. Ted Cruz gets 96%. And Mike Lee gets 100%. It’s just ridiculous. And the thing is that none of these guys disagree in any substantive way. It’s like the NRA scores. If you are extremely pro-gun like my Representative Mike Thompson, you get a C- from them. That’s because it isn’t just about policy; it’s about fealty to the cause. It’s about taking votes that don’t make sense to anyone just to show that they own you. So it doesn’t matter if it is the NRA or the Conservative Review.

This is what the conservative movement is about in this country. They decide to set up scoring so that only those politicians who actively want to prostrate themselves to these movements look good. Even Marco Rubio gets only 80% from the Conservative Review. And the truth is that a lot of people (this is especially true with NRA members), just look at the scores and base their votes on them. As is usually the case, when a Democrat and a Republican are running against each other, the Democrat has views about guns that are more in keeping with the NRA member. But they don’t look at the issues; they just look at the score. It’s like people who buy The New Rolling Stone Record Guide and decide to like all the 5-star rated albums. Turn off your mind and let the “experts” tell you how to vote.

I don’t see this on the Democratic side. I know there are liberals groups who score candidates. But first, it is almost always on a specific topic. And second, no one on the left goes around quoting such nonsense. And this, I would say, is part of what’s wrong with the Republican Party. They’ve set up so many partisan groups that do nothing but this kind of thing that they’ve ended up with a party that can’t legislate. Anyone who actually does the work of politics would get a single digit score from Conservative Review. As it is, such a towering figure in the art of making the Senate useless, Mitch McConnell, only manages to get a 52% score — and a grade of F.

Even by the standards of dying empires, this is madness. We should really just admit it: the Republican Party is treasonous. It wants to destroy the country. It isn’t that the individual members want this. But it has set up institutions that serve no purpose but to hurt the country. And I’m afraid that all the reformacons in the world won’t be able to fix it.

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GOP Cries Foul When Democrats Use Filibuster

Bob CorkerAfter all the posturing and faux concern, it looks like the Iran nuclear deal is going to happen. Politico reported, White House Pushes for Iran Filibuster. It had looked like the anti-deal bill was going to fly through Congress and Obama would have to veto it. And at times, it looked like he mightn’t even be able to sustain the veto. But now it is looking like the Democrats may have the votes for a filibuster in the Senate so that it won’t even come to a veto. This would be a good thing, because we really don’t need this deal to look like something so fragile that a simple change of presidents will kill it.

(There is something to think about in that regard, however. Imagine if it does come down to a veto and there is a Republican president on 20 January 2017 and he does as most of them say they will: kill the deal. This is not going to change anything regarding our other P5+1 partners. So the one thing that the US can do that will make Iran most likely to get a nuclear weapon is for some nimrod like Scott Walker to talk tough and destroy the deal. But of course, the Republican attacks on the deal have nothing to do with Iran getting a nuclear weapon.)

Jonathan Chait noted something loony and quite frankly, hilarious, in that same Politico article, Republican Senator Discovers Minority Can “Filibuster,” Is Outraged. Said Republican in Bob Corker, who is not, you know, new to the Senate. He was part of the gang in the early days of Obama’s presidency who filibustered everything short of the least controversial post office names. When he found out that Harry Reid was trying to build a filibuster, Corker said, “Are you kidding me?”

Chait went into some depth about how Corker doesn’t seem to even understand what a filibuster is. Corker is saying that it will be used to stop the Senate from talking about it. But it is the opposite. The filibuster keeps debate going and stops the Senate from voting on it. As Chait put it, “Every senator who wants the chance to read their canned talking points on the Senate floor while the other senators ignore them will have the chance to do so either way.” I can’t say if Corker is ignorant or disingenuous, but I wouldn’t be surprised that it is the former. Among Republicans, it seems to be the case that anything that allows them to “win” is acceptable. Believing in norms requires understanding the purpose of them. You go a long way to destroying them by not understanding their purpose.

I’m not a believer in the filibuster because it is totally out of hand and has been for a long time. But I’m not against the idea of the filibuster. There was a time when the filibuster was only used to stop things that Senators really hated. Sure, the bigots filibustered the 1964 Civil Rights Act. But they didn’t filibuster everything else just because they disagreed. I think the Iran nuclear deal is an issue that is important enough for people on both sides to filibuster. (The way things are, there is no point to the anti-deal side filibustering; but if things were different, I would be against them, but I would admit that the issue rose to the level of filibuster importance.)

So what we have here is a case where Republicans filibustered executive branch nominees who would later be approved unanimously. And that was something that Bob Corker was fully supportive of. But the moment the same tactic is used against him, he’s outraged. That, my friends, is the very height of the maturity of the Republican Party.

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