Yet another weird SF fan

I'm a mathematician, a libertarian, and a science-fiction fan. Common sense? What's that?

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Small Sample Watch
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The Former Four Horsemen of the Ablogalypse:
Someone who used to be sane (formerly War)
Someone who used to be serious (formerly Plague)
Rally 'round the President (formerly Famine)
Dr. Yes (formerly Death)

Interesting weblogs:
Back Off Government!
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Debunkers Discussion Forum
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Dr. Boli’s Celebrated Magazine.
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Other interesting web sites:
Aspies For Freedom
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Day By Day
Dihydrogen Monoxide - DHMO Homepage
Jewish Pro-Life Foundation
Libertarians for Life
The Mad Revisionist
Piled Higher and Deeper
Science, Pseudoscience, and Irrationalism
Sustainability of Human Progress

Yet another weird SF fan

Monday, May 31, 2010

A Brief Note on “Unarmed”

As far as I can tell, in LeftWorld there are no weapons other than guns and nukes. Everything else is harmless.

President Obama Is in the Wrong Profession

According to Roger's Rules, Obama has the three cardinal virtues of a Perl programmer: laziness, impatience, and hubris.

Charles Johnson Is Still Sane

Film at eleven

I wasn't sure for a while.

Is It Always Illegal to Board a Ship in “International Waters”?

According to Glen Greenwald:

It hardly seemed possible for Israel -- after its brutal devastation of Gaza and its ongoing blockade -- to engage in more heinous and repugnant crimes.  But by attacking a flotilla in international waters carrying humanitarian aid, and slaughtering at least 10 people, Israel has managed to do exactly that.  If Israel's goal were to provoke as much disgust and contempt for it as possible, it's hard to imagine how it could be doing a better job.

The claim that there's something illegal about boarding ships in “international waters” appears to be the centerpiece of the current outrage. On the contrary, in another context:
Drug smugglers who ship tons of cocaine in on handmade subs are about to get the U.S. Coast Guard treatment. Because of a loophole in U.S. maritime law, the orange navy can't stop unflagged ships in international waters, meaning that these little subs and semisubmersibles can float legally right up to our waters. But new legislation OK'd this week in the House and set for consideration in the Senate will let federal authorities stop unflagged vessels in international waters. It's an antiterrorism and antidrug issue that came to Washington's attention when handmade drug subs loaded with 12 tons of coke started showing up.
If anything, the drug smugglers have a better case.

Voting Republican Is Not the Answer

Some of them really are fascists (seen via Instapundit):

A Michigan lawmaker wants to license reporters to ensure they’re credible and vet them for “good moral character.”  

Senator Bruce Patterson is introducing legislation that will regulate reporters much like the state does with hairdressers, auto mechanics and plumbers. Patterson, who also practices constitutional law, says that the general public is being overwhelmed by an increasing number of media outlets--traditional, online and citizen generated--and an even greater amount misinformation.

(Yes, he is a Republican.)

The problem with this law is not that it's intrusive; it is voluntary (for now). The problem is that it puts the fence posts in place for worse regulations tomorrow. In the absence of such regulations, anybody trying to start censorship will have to hire censors; they will have to deal with people claiming to be censors who are leaking information; and they will have to deal with the fact that most policeman will refuse to get involved in book burning unless they're already used to demanding identification papers from journalists.

Remember the most useful question to ask when considering a proposed government activity: Would I trust my worst enemy with the power?

A Sound Bite for the Oil Spill

One of the biggest reasons the recent oil spill is so intractable is that it's in deep water. If we could drill more oil wells in shallow water, we would need fewer in deep water.

So if you were getting tired of using nukes to bash environmentalists …

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Science to the “Emerging Diseases” Doomsters

Phphphphtttt!!!!. We just got a cure for bleeping Ebola, the nastiest “emerging disease.” Take that doomsters!

A warning: This was published in The Lancet, so it might be dubious.

My earlier comments on “emerging disease” nonsense can be found here.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Brek Kek Kek Kek Kek Kek Kek Kek Koax Koax

The latest news from Greece is a plague of frogs.

Either amphibians are protesting budget cuts or Moses will soon appear announcing “Let my deficits go!”

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Center for Science in the Public Interest Has Not Gotten the Memo

They're still complaining about saturated fat even despite the news that it's almost harmless.

I'd celebrate with a pastrami sandwich but I can't afford the sodium.

Maybe sodium will turn out to be harmless next week …

Sunday, May 23, 2010

If Nina Easton Is Associated with Bank of America …

If Nina Easton is associated with Bank of America, then I'm associated with Serge Brin and the Nazis were associated with the transportation deregulation of the 1970s (it was pushed through with help of a Senator who was the son of a Nazi sympathizer).

Not at All Terrible

According to Fox News, a terrorist leader blew himself up:

A man whom the U.S. described as a key figure in Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula accidentally blew himself up, U.S. military officials told Fox News.

The officials say Nayif Al-Qahtani was "messing with a bomb" when it went off. U.S. officials had been watching him, but Fox News' sources insist the U.S. had nothing to do with his death.

In a related story, in the article “Build Your Own A-Bomb And Wake Up The Neighborhood” by George W. Harper (in the April 1979 issue of Analog), we find:
Terrorists who blow up only themselves are merely amusing and not at all terrible.

Addendum: A blurb at Fark was far more succinct:

Darwin Akbar

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Root Cause of Terrorist Activity

The root cause of terrorist activity is the belief that the victim will back down. For example, I'm sure nearly everybody in the blogosphere has heard of the attempt to intimidate Greg Baer of Bank of America. You can find the reason they thought they could get results in the following paragraph:

Of course, HuffPost readers responding to the coverage assumed that Baer was an evil former Bush official. He's not. A lifelong Democrat, Baer worked for the Clinton Treasury Department, and his wife, Shirley Sagawa, author of the book The American Way to Change and a former adviser to Hillary Clinton, is a prominent national service advocate.

The union terrorists figured that all he needed was a nudge.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Nukes vs. Oil Spills

There's another connection between nukes and oil spills besides preventing future spills. Nuking the Gulf oil spill (seen via Brothers Judd) might close up the well fast and prevent any more leaks.

As an added bonus, it will cause the brains of environmentalists to explode.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Vicar of Bray Steps in It

Charles Johnson, the Vicar of Bray (he's supported Clinton and Bush and Obama and might someday make excuses for the Jindal administration), demonstrates his lack of comprehension of libertarianism:

Paul’s position that he wouldn’t have voted for the Civil Rights Act is a principled stance. And that principle can be succinctly stated: property rights take precedence over human rights.

Property rights are human rights.

If property rights aren't human rights, whose rights are they? I don't think they're animal rights or vegetable rights…

In any case, property comes from human labor which comes from human bodies. Why do you think Ayn Rand called redistributionists “cannibals”?

But wait, there's more:

And this is far from Rand Paul’s only extreme view. He’s also an anti-abortion fanatic, a supporter of the absolutist Human Life Amendment which will deny women abortions under all circumstances. How does he square this with libertarianism?

I've dealt with this before. Under present law, pregnant women have the legal power of life and death over their fetuses. That makes them very local governments. It is consistent for someone to want to restrict governments and to restrict abortion.

In case you're wondering how I can reconcile this with fetuses apparently violating the expansive view of property rights above, I also agree with the Lockean proviso, which holds that the expansive view of property rights does not necessarily apply to natural monopolies.

It Takes a Big Man to Admit He's Wrong

I used to think organic foods were identical to conventional foods. I was wrong:

Analysis of the wheat found the conventionally-grown seeds to have an average 10 per cent higher protein content than the organic seeds. Other differences between the samples (e.g. in mycotoxin levels, grain size, energy content or pesticide residues) could not explain the preferences shown by the birds.


Dr McKenzie explained: "Conventionally-grown crops tend to contain significantly higher levels of protein than those grown organically due to the application of inorganic nitrogen fertilisers in conventional farming systems.

"This makes our findings potentially applicable across many food types and suggests the issues surrounding organic food are not as cut and dried as some might think."

I used to think immigration would have no effect on crime rates. I was wrong:

Wadsworth’s research suggests that, controlling for a variety of other factors, growth in the new immigrant population was responsible, on average, for 9.3 percent of the decline in homicide rates, and that growth in total immigration was, on average, responsible for 22.2 percent of the decrease in robbery rates.

Exactly why growth in immigration is accompanying decreases in violent crime is hard to determine with city-level data. Some have suggested that immigrant communities are often characterized by extended family networks, lower levels of divorce, and cultural and religious beliefs that facilitate community integration.

Wadsworth notes that “criminologists have long known that these factors provide buffers against crime.”

It takes a big man to admit he's wrong and I'm a big man (at least from side to side).

In Honor of “Everybody Draw Mohamed Day”


ASCII Mohamed.

There are more ASCII Mohammeds here.

There might, of course, be some blowback. Soon artists will be portraying Moses with horns!

Wait a moment

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

This May Sound Strange Coming from Me

Is it possible that we over-invested in nuclear power plants in the 1960s and early 1970s? Just because we would eventually need to build them doesn't mean we had to build them then … especially when we hadn't finished coming up with designs.

It's possible that those nukes we did build kept fossil-fuel prices artificially low in the 1980s and 1990s. That, in turn, discouraged building more nukes and also contributed to a climate in which the capitalists who would have otherwise insisted on building them were reluctant to press for them.

Maybe it's just as well we had a no-nukes movement. If it weren't for them, there might have been a speculative bubble in nuclear reactors in the late 1970s. The long-predicted oil shortage combined with the actual increase in oil prices (in hindsight we can see that that was a monetary phenomenon but it didn't look like one at the time) would have encouraged an attitude of “there's no way to lose money with nukes” followed by a chain of really spectacular bankruptcies a few years later. (We had one or two anyway, but there would have been far more.)

Besides, the no-nukes movement makes it possible to answer liberals pointing to creationists. We can match them fool for fool.

While I'm at it, I've noticed that science fiction's biggest prediction failures have tended to be in areas backed by central planning. Nuclear power, space travel, artificial intelligence, large-scale urban planning, brainwashing (this applies to dystopian predictions too), …

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Alternative Conservatism

I have criticized the theory that history always moves left in earlier blog posts. On the other hand, I must admit many of the opinions believed in by most conservatives nowadays used to be limited to leftists. I recently realized that I've heard the same argument (yesterday's leftists were sometimes right, therefore today's leftists are always right) in another field. I am referring to the claim that yesterday's dissenters from what was thought to be scientific orthodoxy were sometimes right, therefore today's dissenters from scientific orthodoxy are always right.

Tim Minchin, in his well-known poem Storm had a response to that:

And try as hard as I like,
A small crack appears
In my diplomacy-dike.
“By definition”, I begin
“Alternative Medicine”, I continue
“Has either not been proved to work,
Or been proved not to work.
You know what they call “alternative medicine”
That’s been proved to work?

We can paraphrase that as follows: By definition, “Alternative Conservatism” has either not been proved to work, or been proved not to work. You know what they call “alternative conservatism” that’s been proved to work? Conservatism.

Or, to make the above clearer: By definition, “Liberalism” has either not been proved to work, or been proved not to work. You know what they call “liberalism” that’s been proved to work? Conservatism.

Maybe we should start calling liberalism “alternative conservatism.”

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Thomas Franks Touches Reality and Runs Away

Thomas Frank is starting to show a nodding acquaintance with reality:

It would be nice if we could blame all this on Republican administrations and be done with it. But it isn't so simple. Goldman Sachs, to name one protagonist in a recent version of the story, has always had prominent friends in both parties. It was the Clinton administration, with its scheme to "reinvent government," that made consensus wisdom out of the idea that markets should be the model for the state; it was the big thinkers of Democratic centrism who shunned adversarial regulatory strategies in favor of a more "entrepreneurial" approach.

The phenomenon I am describing is familiar to the point of nausea. The economists have a technical term for it, "regulatory capture." Our Gilded Age ancestors were fairly obsessed with it.

He then takes leave of his senses:

But today's consensus commentators, steeped as they are in the orthodoxy of markets, tend to regard the notion of regulatory capture as a conspiracy theory.

Saaay what? The term “regulatory capture” (and its near synonym “rent seeking”) are familiar enough to us wingnuts that I've used them to rate think tanks and berate self-congratulatory environmentalists.

I suspect Thomas Frank's excuse for regulatory capture (it's all the centrists' fault!) is an example of a phenomenon I mentioned a few years ago:

A few years ago, I posted that fundamentalism makes it easier to for a religious tradition to backtrack and give up mistakes. I just realized that the ideology of opposing profits fulfills a similar role in secular leftist ideologies. Any regulation or government program will make some people rich. If a government program formerly admired by the left turns out to be a mistake, opposition to profit makes it possible to blame everything on “the rich” and backtrack without admitting that yesterday's leftists were mistaken.

Combine Them

Instapundit is having trouble making a decision:

IF YOU COULD HAVE JUST ONE BOOK TO EXPLAIN YOURSELF, what would it be? I haven’t written mine yet, but — oh, you mean a book by someone else. Tough call between The Road to Serfdom and The Singularity is Near.

I recommend a combination: Marooned in Realtime by Vernor Vinge.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Where Are the Food Ideas of Yesteryear?

In the 1980s, I used to work with someone who tried convincing me that eating nuts was bad for my heart because of the fat content. I think I can give him a Bronx cheer nowadays.

Why Keeping Military Recruiters out of Harvard Was a Bad Idea

According to Thucydides:

The Nation that makes a great distinction between its scholars and its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools.

“I Am Not a Complainer!” He Complained

“I am not trying to suppress free speech so just shut up!

In other words:

In September and October 2007, Warman sent two letters to Mark Fournier and Connie Wilkins-Fournier, proprietors of the right-wing Canadian forum/website, The letters accused Fournier and Wilkins-Fournier of libel, stated Warman's "intention to commence an action for libel against [them]," and requested a complete retraction. The letters claimed that posts written by the Fourniers and forum participants were libelous in that they accused Warman of engaging in censorship, stifling free speech, and being a "professional complainer," among other things.
The good news is he lost.

I'm reminded of of a news item in Common Knowledge edited by Robert E. Ornstein (a collection of weird news from the late 1960s and early 1970s):

The Criminal Council of the District Court of Zagreb has ordered the destruction of an issue of Glas Koncila published by the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Zagreb.

The district public prosecutor said that articles published in the October 22 issue of the paper called for disobedience to the constitution and laws of Yugoslavia and Croatia, and carried false statements about alleged absence of the freedom of the press in Yugoslavia.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Seen on a Bumper Sticker


Come to think of it, vegetarians are supposed to be very tender…hearted.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Legalize the Immigrants; Deport the Principal

In case you're wondering if I will defend the high-school students who were sent home for wearing American flag shirts on Cinco de Mayo (I will) and if that means I've changed my mind on open borders (I haven't) all I have to say is: Legalize the immigrants; deport the principal.

Without the nutty administrators, the immigrants are harmless. Without the immigrants, the administrators will be nuts about something else.

The only problem with deporting administrators is that we might not have an extradition treaty with Cloud Cuckoo Land.

The Seesaw of Fat

Before the era when Enlightened Opinion was anti-fat (with my earlier comments here), it was pro-fat:

The decline started back in 1926 when the U.S. Department of Agriculture began grading beef. Like the rest of the country, steak had undergone a big change in the preceding decades. It was being churned out of factories like the famous Chicago and Kansas City stockyards and being distributed throughout the country. Hotels, restaurants and butcher shops were buying beef sight unseen. Some was good, and some wasn't. So the government stepped in to make things right. It introduced its famous quality grades: Prime, Choice and Good.

How did the USDA separate the good beef from the bad? There was one thing everyone from ranchers and cowboys to butchers and USDA graders could agree on: fatter cattle tasted better than lean ones, so long as they weren't too old. So that's what they looked for: plump, well-fed cattle. They looked for fat on the ribs called feathering, and fat on the flank called frosting. If there was a great deal of that fat, the beef achieved the highest grade, Prime.

So… First, the government was pro-fat (to protect consumers against the scourge of lean beef) and then it was anti-fat (to protect consumers against capitalists responding to the earlier regulations) and now the pendulum is swinging to the fat end again (to protect the consumers against last decade's government)…

By the way, is it my imagination or does each regulation match what richer people are doing? At one time only the rich could afford high-fat (especially high-saturated-fat) foods. The regulations reflected that. Then when McDonald's made saturated fat affordable and Haagen-Dasz made desert look like a luxury item, carbohydrates turned good. Now that the expensive desert craze seems to have run its course, we see an anti-carbohydrate movement.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

My Favorite Example of How the World Doesn't Make Sense

… is that there are environmentalists in Manhattan. You would think anybody who wants a “low-impact” lifestyle would live somewhere else.

It is a bit unfortunate that there aren't more anti-environmentalists in Manhattan. If there were more of them, we would see angry New Yorkers demanding to have DDT unrestricted.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Three Facts about Nuclear Energy

The uranium and thorium in the top four microns of the Earth's crust “would satisfy the whole world's needs for a year.”

Each uranium or thorium atom will emit 40 MeV of radiation by the time it decays to lead. If it's fissioned, the fission products will emit half of that.

The opposition is already up and running so we have arguments to refute them. (Some people consider this to be a bug.) Once solar power starts producing the emissions the activist class is most afraid of (profits), they'll come up with a new set of objections to solar and it will take decades for us to refute them.

Sign Wanted


In New York, We Know about Immigrants

The above came from a post a few days ago. In case you were wondering if it was badly timed owing to the recent idiot bomb in Times Square, I thought I'd mention that the person who first noticed the bomb and sought help is an immigrant:

Aliou Niasse, a street vendor selling framed photographs of New York, said that he was the first to spot the car containing the bomb, which pulled up right in front of his cart on the corner of 45th street and Broadway next to the Marriott hotel.

“I didn’t see the car pull up or notice the driver because I was busy with customers. But when I looked up I saw that smoke appeared to be coming from the car. This would have been around 6.30pm.

“I thought I should call 911, but my English is not very good and I had no credit left on my phone, so I walked over to Lance, who has the T-shirt stall next to mine, and told him. He said we shouldn’t call 911. Immediately he alerted a police officer near by,” said Mr Niasse, who is originally from Senegal and who has been a vendor in Times Square for about eight years.

I won't more than mention that Faisal Shahzad, the main suspect, is the sort of allegedly-skilled immigrant that advocates of partly-open borders say we should want whereas Aliou Niasse, the whistle-blower, is an unskilled immigrant that we're not supposed to want (until we hire them off the books, of course).

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Scientific American Versus Scientific American

The latest Scientific American contains an editorial advocating the regulation of advertisements of “unhealthy” foods. For some reason, they don't notice that the same issue contains a refutation of the editorial, an article pointing how the “official wisdom” (carbohydrates good, fats bad), which would presumably be the basis of the regulations, of the past few decades made less healthy foods more popular.

But, of course, this time it's different.

By the way, will the people who gave the bad advice a few decades ago apologize? On the other hand, I recall a guide for diabetics of that era apologizing about the high-fat recipes in an earlier edition. Maybe apologies will make someone sound even sillier a few decades from now.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Now We Know Creationism Is Idiotic

There's a petition backing it.

According to my earlier comment on petitions:

One of the most annoying habits of environmentalists is organizing a “consensus” (this usually involves telling the eminent scientists signing some petition that it means something completely different from what's reported in the media) and then claiming anyone disagreeing is going against “the scientific community.” It started with nuclear test ban activism, and then continued with anti-SDI petitions, pro-biodiversity petitions, and, most recently, global warming hysteria (which somehow does not emphasize nuclear energy).

I have noticed this kind of collective thinking is much rarer when there is enough real evidence behind a theory—even when the theory has been politicized. We hardly ever hear of pro-evolution petitions and never hear of petitions against cigarette smoking or lead gasoline additives. (Lead can cause brain damage and exposure to lead is positively correlated with voting for Democrats.)

I have a theory that when scientists sign petitions instead of stating their beliefs individually, it is because they are trying to hide behind each other. If the petition turns out to be nonsense, they can blame somebody else.

In any case, we must always be suspicious of anything defended on the basis of “they say” instead of “it is.” I have some to the conclusion that the best test of whether someone is citing real science or PC bullsh!t is whether they cite collective ideas. If an idea is defended by petition, we must be suspicious of it.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Almost Right, Part III

This is looking like a series.

The cartoon A Concise History of Black-White Relations in the US is almost right.

All that's needed is a third party (post-slavery immigrants) to climb a ladder to the platform and then be told by the guy who climbed on the back of the slave to give the ex-slave a hand up or else be considered a racist.

If you want to be nasty, you could have a fourth party (post-civil-right-law immigrants) climb up by ladder while the ex-slave is waiting to be helped.

This Can Be Done Privately

According to Stewart Baker of the Volokh Conspiracy:

New York has been spending hundreds of millions of dollars on street cameras. The lower Manhattan camera project was expected to cost $90 million and to network 3,000 cameras. That’s $30,000 per camera. The project is being expanded to midtown at a similar cost.

Despite all this funding, though, we don’t have pictures of the wannabe bomber. That’s probably because NYC hasn’t finished installing the midtown system.

But there’s another problem; 3,000 cameras aren’t really enough to take pictures all across lower Manhattan, if what you want is a record of everything that happens for later investigation. Inevitably, there are lots of blind spots in the system, at the same time that it costs an arm and a leg for each camera, which creates an incentive not to put cameras in low-risk areas.

On the other hand, MSNBC reports:

Police investigating a failed car bomb left in Times Square have videotape of a possible suspect shedding clothing in an alley and putting it in a bag, Commissioner Raymond Kelly said Sunday.

The surveillance video shows a white man in his 40s taking off one shirt, revealing another underneath.

Kelly said officers were on their way to a Pennsylvania town to talk to a tourist who also might have recorded the suspect on his video camera.

It looks like we don't need a vast expansion of government. Even the surveillance video could have been taken by a privately-owned camera.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Almost Right, Part II

The following quote from Bill Maher at Dispatches from the Culture Wars is almost right:

"Every asshole who ever chanted 'Drill baby drill' should have to report to the Gulf coast today for cleanup duty."
It should be:
"Every idiot who ever chanted 'No nukes' should have to report to the Gulf coast today for cleanup duty."
There. That's better.

There is the minor problem that they'd only get in the way…

Almost Right

The If housepets were libertarians cartoon (seen via Pharyngula) was almost right.

All that's needed is to substitute other domestic animals (ones about to be sheered, milked, or slaughtered) for the housepets.

Coals to Newcastle

The following suggestion appeared at Fourth Checkraise:

I have to admit that when I first saw the news reports about the protests and outrage, my immediate thought was to modestly propose that instead of jailing and deporting the illegal immigrants they catch, Arizona should offer them a small stipend and a one-way bus ticket to, say, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland (either one), New York or any other more enlightened cities that so far haven't enjoyed the kotkinian wealth of immigration in the Arizonian levels.
According to a 2003 estimate (the current census isn't up yet), California and New York are the top two states in terms of the percent of foreign born whereas Arizona is No. 9.

In New York, we know about immigrants.

In a related story, Fourth Checkraise is back.

So Where's the Tobacco?

According to Desmogblog (seen via the blogosphere's Secret Service), Michelle Malkin used to be a tobacco shill.

When I looked at the article, I saw no mention of tobacco at all. You might claim she was indirectly supporting The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition, a tobacco front group. On the other hand, that looks like an attempt by tobacco people to surround themselves with real but untrendy science the same way that Hezbollah surrounds its bases with apolitical Lebanese.

The good news is that the Sound Science Award (formerly given by The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition) is now given by an anti-tobacco group.

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