[x]Blackmoor Vituperative

Monday, 2018-04-02

Pleasant places to retire

Filed under: Fine Living,Retirement — bblackmoor @ 12:54

Pondering “pleasant” places to retire, and stumbled across Kelly Norton’s “most ‘pleasant’ days in a year” post. Rather surprised that southern Louisiana rates as highly as it does, by this criteria. Saddened, but not surprised, that New Hampshire rates so low. I wish I could enter my own criteria. I don’t mind precipitation, for example.

Southern Louisiana does look pretty good, except during the summer, when it’s uninhabitable. And of course southern California is a climatological paradise, but I don’t want to move back to California. Portland, OR is in the ballpark of Charlottesville, VA, but their “pleasant days” are spread evenly from May to October, while ours peak pretty sharply in May and September.

Susan suggested we might become migratory, traveling between North and South as the season change. Maintaining two residences seems like such a massive waste of resources, though.

Cuenca, Ecuador keeps looking attractive. Real estate and the cost of living are both affordable. … Or maybe not. Realistically, it’s unlikely we will move away from the USA.

Friday, 2018-03-23

Sugar Coated (2015)

Filed under: Food,Society — bblackmoor @ 15:23

Watching a documentary about sugar, called “Sugar Coated” (2015). Briefly, obesity has doubled in the past 30 years, and diabetes has tripled, and it’s because sugar is in literally everything and we eat way too much of it. We eat twice as much processed food, and at least twice as much sugar, as we did 30 years ago. And make no mistake: our sugar consumption 30 years ago was enormous, compared to 30 years before that. It was already far too much sugar.

The people who made the video keep saying that this is a controversial issue.

How is this controversial? It’s obvious. Look at the ingredients in spaghetti sauce, hot dogs, barbecue sauce, ketchup, cereal, pizza sauce, even bread. Bread! Have you seen the cereal aisle at the grocery store? It’s literally boxes of candy. Grocery stores have become candy stores — and that’s not even touching on actual candy and cakes, of which we consume vast quantities.

We are a stupid, stupid species.

This is worth watching, too.

Thursday, 2018-03-22

You are what you do

Filed under: Firearms,Politics,Society — bblackmoor @ 10:32

You are what you do, not what you say you’ll do.

For example, if you are vocal in your defense of the Second Amendment as a bulwark against tyranny, but you also voted for, and continue to support, a vulgar habitual liar who has expressed nothing but contempt for the US Constitution and the limits of his legitimate authority, it is clear what you do when confronted with tyranny, and you did it without using a firearm: you support it. You even buy the hat.

Friday, 2018-03-16

So about those first and second Amendments to the U.S. Constitution…

Filed under: Civil Rights,Philosophy,Politics,Society — bblackmoor @ 10:21

At the risk of pouring gasoline on a bonfire, I think we have erred by making the Constitution part of our national religion. People shout out the numbers of Amendments like they are magic spells to ward off evil.

The Constitution is not holy text carved into tablets by a god. The rules our government operates under were written by people who thought they were a good idea at the time, just like all of our other laws. And just like all of our other laws, what people actually intended is subject to debate, how they will be implemented is subject to the discretion of later generations, and they can and should be changed when later generations decide that’s a good idea at the time.

It wasn’t that long ago that oral sex was illegal in Virginia. Just because someone wrote it down and people voted on it, doesn’t necessarily make it wise or right or even reasonable.

They’re just rules. Rules can be changed.

Wednesday, 2018-02-28

Dragons can be killed

Filed under: Art,Books,Philosophy,Society — bblackmoor @ 16:20

I ran across this quote today (not for the first time). It occurs to me that our fairy tales might have changed, but the lesson is still the same.

“Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon. Exactly what the fairy tale does is this: it accustoms him for a series of clear pictures to the idea that these limitless terrors had a limit, that these shapeless enemies have enemies in the knights of God, that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear.”
— G.K. Chesterton, Tremendous Trifles (1909), XVII: “The Red Angel”

Sweet Halloween Dreams (begemott)

P.S. This is often mis-quoted as something like, “Fairy tales do not tell children that dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children that dragons can be killed.” It’s succinct, and it’s true, but that’s not the quotation. I care about things like that. You might not.

Monday, 2018-01-22

Celebrate your oddities

Filed under: Entertainment,Fine Living — bblackmoor @ 15:22

I’m not a fan of professional football, myself, but there’s room enough in the world for people to like what they like. Physical performance is a form of art; beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It would be hypocritical of me to criticize someone for what they find fun, don’t you think?

If you are having a good time and not hurting anyone, more power to you.

celebrate your oddities, your work, your sexuality
celebrate your urges, celebrate humanity,
celebrate your fetishes, my message is clear,
there’s no such thing as normal: everybody’s weird

Tuesday, 2018-01-16

The case against home automation

Filed under: Fine Living,Technology — bblackmoor @ 11:04

I have said (and will continue to say) that if a machine can do a task as well and as inexpensively as a human, it should. No one wants to wash clothes by hand, and no one should have to perform drudgery just to give them a job to do.

However, I was an early adopter of home automation. I had voice-activated indoor and outdoor lights in the 1990s, for example. I eventually realized that most of the time, it’s easier to use a button.

I see little use for these voice-activated Google/Amazon gadgets. In the time it takes to turn down the TV or music and speak clearly, I could have typed in “Ewan Macgregor birthday” and found out how old he is. If you have hands and a phone, you don’t need a Google Echo, or whatever. You certainly don’t need one that smiles at you. They’re the current generation’s version of those countertop gadgets that collected dust back in the late 1980s/early 1990s (quesadilla makers, sandwich fryers, etc.). Useless frippery.

Saturday, 2018-01-13

We have gotten the whole “shithole countries” thing wrong

Filed under: Philosophy,Society — bblackmoor @ 12:12

“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”

— President Donald Trump, 2018-01-11

A lot of people have become irate at the phrase “shithole countries”, and responded, in effect, that it’s racist because there are no “shithole countries”.

I think they are wrong, or at least half wrong. Put down the pitchfork, give me a moment, and allow me to explain.

There are places in the world where the ground is so hard and dry, where life is so difficult, where the rule of law is so fragile that hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands of people flee those places and try to find somewhere else, anywhere else, to live. I myself have used the phrase “third world hellhole” to describe such places. It’s not a condemnation of the people who flee — it’s an acknowledgement of the horrors they are fleeing from.

Some of the people who flee those places seek to come to the United States (rather than any of the kinder, saner countries). They walk, ride, or float on rafts for days or weeks or even months to escape the horrors behind them and seek a place to live where they can find food, shelter, and peace. A rather famous poem by Emma Lazarus calls such people “wretched refuse”.

So here’s the thing. Read the quote from President Trump again. What part of that makes you angry? If it’s the phrase “shithole countries”, I think you are missing the point of what makes that comment so horrifying, so inhumane, and so fundamentally anti-American.

“No, no, that’s part of it!” I can almost hear you say. Yeah. Sure it is. Which is why the phrase “shithole countries” is all anyone is talking about, rather than the Republicans’ racist quest for “immigration reform”. We’ve become a society that cares more about vocabulary than intent or outcome.

Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Tuesday, 2017-12-26

Humans live too long

Filed under: History,Philosophy — bblackmoor @ 13:48

I think a large part of what’s wrong with the world is that humans live too long. In 14th century England, most people were married by 16, dead by 50, and every so often you’d have a plague that killed a huge chunk of the population. Yet even then, they’d already hunted boars and wolves to extinction by the mid-1300s.

Friday, 2017-12-01

Philosophies Of Punishment

Filed under: Philosophy,Society — bblackmoor @ 10:19

Demands for the punishment of wrongdoers have been in the news and in my social media newsfeeds quite a bit recently. With that in mind, I thought it might be helpful if people gave some thought to what “punishment” means, and what we hope to accomplish by it. The following summary is from Punishment: A Comparative Historical Perspective, by Terance Miethe and Hong Lu.

Philosophies Of Punishment

Punishment serves numerous social-control functions, but it is usually justified on the principles of retribution, incapacitation, deterrence, rehabilitation, and/or restoration. The specific principles that underlie these dominant philosophies for punishment are summarized below.


One of the oldest and most basic justifications for punishment involves the principles of revenge and retribution. This equation of punishment with the gravity of the offense is embedded in the Judeo–Christian tradition in the Mosaic laws of the Old Testament that emphasize the idea of “an eye for an eye.” Neither constrained by questions of offender culpability nor directed at preventing future wrongdoing, offenders under a retributive philosophy simply get what they deserve. Punishment is justified on its own grounds, a general principle that has remained popular throughout Western history in both law and widespread public beliefs about how justice should be dispensed in democratic societies.

The classical retributive principle of “let the punishment fit the crime” was the primary basis for criminal sentencing practices in much of Western Europe in the nineteenth century. This principle of punishment was subsequently modified in neoclassical thought to recognize that some offenders who commit similar offenses may be less blameworthy or culpable due to factors outside of their control (e.g., diminished capacity, mental disease or defect, immaturity). Under this revised retributive theory of just deserts, punishment should fit primarily the moral gravity of the crime and, to a lesser extent, the characteristics of the offender.

A current example of retributive principles being used as the basis for punishment involves mandatory sentencing policies and sentencing guidelines systems in the United States. Mandatory sentences dictate uniform sanctions for persons who commit particular types of offenses (e.g., enhanced penalties for crimes committed with firearms), whereas determinate sentencing guidelines prescribe specific punishments based on the severity of the criminal offense and the extensiveness of the offender’s prior criminal record. Consistent with a retributive philosophy, punishment under these sentencing systems focuses primarily on the seriousness and characteristics of the criminal act rather than the offender.

Although retribution is often linked to criminal sanctions, it is equally applicable to other types of legal sanctions and informal sanctions. For example, civil litigation that is based on the principle of strict liability is similar to retributive philosophy in that compensatory and punitive damages focus on the gravity of the prohibited act rather than characteristics of the offender. Lethal and nonlethal sanctions that derive from blood feuds between rival families, range wars in agrarian communities, terrorist attacks on civilian and government targets, and acts of “street justice” by vigilante groups and other extrajudicial bodies are often fueled by the twin motives of revenge and retribution. Various economic punishments and sanctions that restrict business practices (e.g., asset forfeitures, injunctions, product boycotts, worker strikes and slowdowns, revocation of licenses, decertification of programs, cease-and-desist orders, denial of benefits) may be justified on various utilitarian grounds like protecting society or deterring wrongdoing, but they may ultimately reflect the widespread belief in letting the punishment fit the crime.

Retribution as a penal philosophy has been criticized on several fronts when it is actually applied in practice. First, strict retributive sanctions based solely on the nature of the offense (e.g., mandatory sentences for drug trafficking, the use of firearms in the commission of crimes) are often criticized as being overly rigid, especially in societies that recognize degrees of individual culpability and blameworthiness. Second, the principle of lex talionis (i.e., the “eye for an eye” dictum that punishment should correspond in degree and kind to the offense) has limited applicability. For example, how do you sanction in kind acts of drunkenness, drug abuse, adultery, prostitution, and/or traffic violations like speeding? Third, the assumption of proportionality of punishments (i.e., that punishment should be commensurate or proportional to the moral gravity of the offense) is untenable in most pluralistic societies because there is often widespread public disagreement on the severity of particular offenses. Under these conditions, a retributive sentencing system that espouses proportional sanctions would be based on the erroneous assumption that there is public consensus in the rankings of the moral gravity of particular types of crime.

Even with these criticisms, however, the retributive principle of lex talionis and proportionality of sanctions remains a dominant justification of punishment in most Western cultures. Retribution under a Judeo–Christian religious tradition offers a divine justification for strict sanctions and it clearly fits popular notions of justice (e.g., “he got what was coming to him”). The dictum of “let the punishment fit the crime” also has some appeal as a principled, proportional, and commensurate form of societal revenge for various types of misconduct.


A primary utilitarian purpose for punishment involves various actions designed to decrease the physical capacity of a person to commit criminal or deviant acts. This principle of incapacitation focuses on the elimination of individuals’ opportunity for crime and deviance through different types of physical restraints on their actions. The conditions of confinement may be so deplorable that they reduce the offender’s subsequent desire to engage in misconduct, but such a deterrent effect is not a necessary component of incapacitation in its pure and earliest form. In other words, a night in the “drunk tank,” confinement in the military stockade, or the “grounding” of a wayward adolescent are often considered useful incapacitative strategies even when these practices do not lead to subsequent reform in one’s behavior.

A plethora of devices, techniques, and structures have been used throughout history as means for incapacitation. The early tribal practices of banishment to the wilderness, the English system of “transportation” of convicts to other colonies in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the exile of citizens in ancient Greek society, and political exile in more modern times are examples of incapacitative sanctions because they involve the physical removal of persons from their former communities, thereby restricting their physical opportunity for misconduct in the original setting. The stocks and pillory in English history and Colonial America were devices used for both public ridicule and incapacitation. Other types of incapacitating hardware are as diverse as electronic shackles for monitoring offenders in open spaces, Breathalysers that prevent drunk drivers from starting their cars, “kiddie harnesses” to restrict the movement of young children in public places, and chastity belts for limiting sexual promiscuity.

The function of incapacitation may also be served by other types of legal and extralegal restrictions on one’s behavior. Other legal forms of incapacitation involving civil or administrative decrees include court-ordered injunctions, federal boycotts and restraint-of-trade agreements, restraining orders in domestic violence cases, cease-and-desist orders, revocations of licenses, foreclosures, and the passage of certification requirements to perform particular tasks (e.g., college degree requirements for teaching, passing medical board and bar exams for practicing medicine or law). Many of these actions are economic sanctions in that they carry financial consequences for those involved, but these civil and administrative rules can also be seen as incapacitative in that they place physical restrictions on one’s possible actions. Ostracism, the spreading of adverse publicity, “lumping” (i.e., doing nothing and not responding to one’s inquiries), and censorship are some of the extralegal and informal means of physically restricting one’s behavioral opportunities.

The most widely known type of incapacitation involves some form of incarceration, or what others have termed “penal bondage.” Aside from their incapacitative effect on restricting immediate criminal opportunities, penal bondage of criminals, vagrants, debtors, social misfits, and other disadvantaged groups across time periods and geographical contexts has often included a component of forced labor (e.g., public works projects, forced servitude in military campaigns) as a condition of confinement.

Physical structures for incapacitation may have different purposes or functions besides the physical restraint of the body. These places of confinement are described across time and space in context-specific terms like dungeons, towers, workhouses, gulags, jails, prisons, labor camps, “readjustment” centers, correctional or treatment facilities, cottages, sanitariums, and mental institutions. The specific language used for descriptive purposes also signifies their functions beyond physical incapacitation.

During the last half century, several new forms of incapacitation have emerged. For example, shock incarceration programs involve short-term incarceration of juvenile offenders to show them the pains of imprisonment and scare them into a future life of conformity. Work release programs and placement in halfway houses are temporary incapacitation programs designed to maintain community ties and ease the adjustment from prison to conventional life. Another variant of incapacitation, intensive-supervision probation (ISP), leaves adjudicated criminals in their community but under the watchful eye of probation officers or other legal authorities.

The recent model of selective incapacitation in the United States is designed to target criminal offenders thought to have the greatest probability of repeat offending and place greater restraints on the nature and conditions of confinement for these “high-risk” offenders. Although research suggests that a small pool of people commits the predominant share of violent and property crime, efforts to successfully predict these high-risk offenders suffer from numerous ethical and practical problems, including high rates of both “false positives” (i.e., falsely labeling someone as a high-risk offender) and “false negatives” (i.e., releasing high-risk offenders because they were erroneously characterized as low-risk).

Contrary to early historical patterns of incapacitation that emphasized the reduction of the physical opportunity for crime and deviance, modern versions of this philosophy are more “forward-looking” in terms of focusing on the utility of punishments for changing offenders’ criminal motivations once they are no longer physically restrained from committing deviance. In this way, incapacitation is united with other utilitarian philosophies for punishment. Different types of incapacitative sanctions may serve as the initial framework for establishing successful programs of deterrence and rehabilitation.


The doctrine of deterrence asks a fundamental question about the relationship between sanctions and human behavior: Are legal and extralegal sanctions effective in reducing deviance and achieving conformity? Punishment is said to have a deterrent effect when the fear or actual imposition of punishment leads to conformity. The deterrent value of punishments is directly linked to the characteristics of those punishments. Specifically, punishments have the greatest potential for deterring misconduct when they are severe, certain, and swift in their application. Punishments are also widely assumed to be most effective for instrumental conduct (i.e., deliberate actions directed at the achievement of some explicit goal) and for potential offenders who have low commitment to deviance as a livelihood (e.g., the person is not a professional criminal).

Deterrence is based on a rational conception of human behavior in which individuals freely choose between alternative courses of action to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. From this classical perspective on crime and punishment, criminal solutions to problems become an unattractive option when the costs of this conduct exceed its expected benefit. Swift, certain, and severe sanctions are costs that are assumed to impede the likelihood of engaging in deviant behavior. From a deterrence standpoint, any type of punishment (e.g., monetary, informal, incapacitative, corporal) has a potential deterrent effect as long as it is perceived as a severe, certain, and swift sanction.

The research literature on the effectiveness of criminal punishments outlines the four major types of deterrence, which include the following:

  • Specific deterrence involves the effectiveness of punishment on that particular individual’s future behavior. Recidivism rates (e.g., rates of repeat offending among prior offenders) are often used to measure the specific deterrent value of punishments.
  • General deterrence asks whether the punishment of particular offenders deters other people from committing deviance. A comparison of crime rates over time or across jurisdictions is typically used to ascertain the general deterrent value of punishment.
  • Marginal deterrence focuses on the relative effectiveness of different types of punishments as either general or specific deterrents. For example, if recidivism rates for drunk drivers are higher for those who receive monetary fines than those who received jail time, jail time would be rated higher in its marginal deterrent value as a specific deterrent for drunk driving. Similarly, debates about capital punishment often focus on the marginal deterrent value of life imprisonment compared to the death penalty as a general deterrent for murder.
  • Partial deterrence refers to situations in which the threat of sanction has some deterrent value even when the sanction threats do not lead to law-abiding behavior. For example, if a thief picked or “lifted” someone’s wallet rather than robbing them at gunpoint (because the thief was fearful of the more serious penalty for committing an armed robbery), the thief would be treated as a “successful” case of partial deterrence. Similarly, tougher fines for speeding passed in a jurisdiction would serve as a partial deterrent under these two conditions: (1) the average motorist under the new law exceeded the speed limit by 5 miles an hour and (2) the average motorist under the old law exceeded the speed limit by 10 miles an hour. The average motorist is still exceeding the speed limit but he or she nonetheless is driving slower.

When the philosophy of deterrence is used in the context of penal reform, it is often as a justification for increasing the severity of sanctions, particularly in Western developed countries. Legislative responses to terrorist attacks, drug trafficking, child abductions, and violent crimes on school property have been directed primarily at increasing the severity and/or duration of punishments (e.g., being a drug “kingpin” and participation in lethal terrorist attacks are now capital crimes under U.S. federal law). Although these greater punitive measures may serve to pacify widespread public demands to “get tough” on crime, the specific and general deterrent effect of such efforts is probably limited without attention to the other necessary conditions for effective deterrence (i.e., high certainty and high celerity of punishments).

Empirical efforts to assess the effectiveness of deterrence are limited by several basic factors. First, persons may abide by laws or desist in deviant behavior for a variety of reasons other than the looming threat or fear of legal sanctions. Some of these nondeterrence constraints on behavior include one’s moral/ethical principles, religious beliefs, physical inability to commit the deviant act, and lack of opportunity. Second, neither swift nor certain punishment exists in most legal systems in the contemporary world. The majority of criminal offenses are typically unknown to the legal authorities and, even among the known offenses, only a small proportion result in an arrest and conviction. The typical criminal penalty and civil suits are often imposed or resolved months, if not years, after the initial violation. Third, the severity of punishment actually received by offenders is often far less than mandated by law, due to the operation of such factors as plea bargaining, charge reductions, jury nullifications, executive clemency and pardons, and “good time” provisions. Under these conditions, it is unsurprising that the deterrent effect of criminal and civil sanctions has not been clearly demonstrated across a variety of contexts.


Although it may seem contradictory or at least somewhat odd to assert that we punish for the treatment and reform of offenders, this basic principle underlies the rehabilitation purpose of punishment. The ultimate goal of rehabilitation is to restore a convicted offender to a constructive place in society through some combination of treatment, education, and training. The salience of rehabilitation as a punishment philosophy is indicated by the contemporary jargon of “correctional facilities,” “reformatories,” and “therapeutic community” now used to describe jails, prisons, and other institutions of incapacitation.

The link between places of incapacitation and reform is established throughout much of written history. The earliest forms of penal confinement in dungeons, towers, caves, and other dark and dreary places were largely incapacitative in their primary function, but some degree of moral and spiritual enlightenment was expected of those condemned to long periods of solitary confinement. This idea of restraint to reform is evident within the context of religious penance in Judeo–Christian practices in Western Europe and the British colonies in North America and elsewhere. It is also manifested in U.S. history in the early development of reformatories and penitentiaries. These large-scale incarceration structures punished misguided youth and criminals by isolating them so they could reflect on their deviant actions, repent, and subsequently reform their behavior. Confinement and reflection for spiritual reform are also of central importance in the religious principles found in Hinduism and Buddhism.

In contrast to retribution that emphasizes uniform punishments based on the gravity of the misconduct, rehabilitation focuses on the particular characteristics of individual offenders that require treatment and intervention. This individualized treatment approach is logically consistent with indeterminate sentencing structures that give judges enormous discretion to tailor punishments for the greatest good to the individual offender and provide parole boards with equally high discretion to release or retain offenders for future treatment. Through the application of current theories of human behavior and the latest therapeutic techniques for behavioral modification, rehabilitation experienced growing acceptance in many countries throughout much of the twentieth century.

Even though “correctional” institutions continue to espouse the benefits of rehabilitation and specific treatment programs (e.g., drug treatment, anger management, job training), support for rehabilitation in the United States was dealt a major blow in the mid-1970s with publication of a report that concluded that rehabilitation efforts had no appreciable effect on recidivism. National fiscal restraints, declines in correctional budgets for program development, high public outcry for more severe and longer prison sentences, and a growing crime-control political ideology that focuses on suppression of criminal behavior rather than its early prevention are current conditions in Western societies that are largely antithetical to the ideas of treatment and rehabilitation.


One of the most recent goals of punishment derives from the principles of restoration. As an alternative to other punishment philosophies (e.g., retribution, incapacitation, rehabilitation), restorative justice fundamentally challenges our way of thinking about crime and justice. The global victims’ rights movement is a relatively new phenomenon, but, the general roots of restorative justice can be traced back to the early legal systems of Western Europe, ancient Hebrew justice, and precolonial African societies.

Restorative justice literally involves the process of returning to their previous condition all parties involved in or affected by the original misconduct, including victims, offenders, the community, and even possibly the government. Under this punishment philosophy, the offender takes full responsibility for the wrongdoing and initiates restitution to the victim. The victim and offender are brought together to develop a mutually beneficial program that helps the victim in the recovery process and provides the offender a means of reducing their risks of re-offending.

The theory of reintegrative shaming developed by John Braithwaite is based on the principles of restorative justice. Offenders take personal responsibility for their actions and condemnation is focused on the deviant act, rather than the offender, and its impact on the victim and the community. Both the offender and the community need to be reintegrated as a result of the harm caused by the criminal behavior. Community mediation groups, neighborhood councils, local support groups, and victim–offender conferences are the primary means of achieving these restorative efforts.

The principles of restorative justice have been applied to the study of both criminal and civil sanctions. For example, the institutionalized practice of “written apology” and “letter of forgiveness” in the Japanese criminal justice system is designed to express remorse and make restitution. By accepting the apology, the victim forgives the offender. In all cases of restorative justice, the goal is to restore both the individual parties and their community’s sense of wholeness.

(Miethe, T. D., & Lu, H. (2005). Punishment: a comparative historical perspective. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.)

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