Uncommon Sense

February 2, 2023

An Atheist Is . . .

Filed under: Culture,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 12:11 pm
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I keep seeing this construction in a great many posts: “Atheism is the one-word answer, ‘No,’ to the question ‘Do you believe in any gods?’ Nothing else.”

Uh, actually I beg to differ. I am an atheist because I am unconvinced. This is possibly due to being a scientist and, for example, we scientists believe that all scientific findings are considered provisional because we do not know what data the future will bring.

If someone were to ask me “Do you believe in any gods?” I would have to answer, “Well, no, not so far.”

Theists seem to think there is a default argument on the table somewhere, placed there by their god. They keep asking why do I “reject their god.” I haven’t rejected their god because their god has not approached me or communicated with me in any way. If it had I would be leaning toward believing in its existence (or seeking psychiatric care).

What I have rejected, in each and every case, is theist’s arguments for the existence of their god(s). And, I have not heard from all of the world’s theists so I can’t claim that there isn’t an argument that might convince me. Actually I think the probability of this occurring is vanishingly small because what those theists are trying to prove is the existence of a supernatural being and no one has ever brought forth valid evidence of the existence of a supernatural being or even a supernatural event. Ever.

So, theists, it is not your god I disbelieve . . . it is you I disbelieve. Your god hasn’t failed to convince me, even though you claim it could, it is you who has failed to convince me. Your god probably supports this conclusion because it seems to blame all failures on people like you, rather that claiming any responsibility for itself.

January 30, 2023

Philosophical Confusions

Note I was tempted to write a “Confusions say . . .” joke but I did not. S

I ran across a quote from one of my favorite books (from my past, I hardly remember it now, many thousands of books later). Here it is:

Shunryu Suzuki wrote in his book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, “In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s, there are few.”

This statement was in support of the cultivation of a beginner’s mind and I think it is, in fact, a turning away from enlightenment rather than a turning toward it. Allow me to explain.

Anyone who has spent serious time with the very young has experienced their massive creativity. They see animals in clouds, they see imaginary friends/animals, etc. And having “beginner’s minds” they distract themselves repeatedly: “Look a horsey!” “Can I have a cookie?” “They are trying to steal my toys!”

Yes, those with beginner’s minds see a great many “possibilities” but most are off task and distractions rather than being helpful. A similar miscomprehension notes how children seem to learn faster/more. Even if they do, and I doubt it, they are learning to tie their shoes and turn off the lights when leaving a room, not more complicated tasks.

Experts face another set of problems entire. Possessing a great deal of knowledge, experts also see a great many possibilities, most of which are on task, and because of their experience, they usually gravitate to a train of thinking that is likely to be successful, giving the appearance that they see only a few possibilities. I used to teach my students that they will recognize their own mastery of topics when they gravitate to lines of thinking that result in correct answers (and this requires practice, practice, practice, the same that is required to reach Carnegie Hall).

A recent study of recall addressed why it appeared that old people took longer to recall things than young people. The researchers could think of no physical reason why this might be so. So they did a study and their only conclusion was that in all likelihood, old people took longer to recall facts because they had much larger stores of facts in long-term memory to sift through. This is like the expert’s minds seeing “fewer possibilities” miscomprehension, which is a false conclusion based upon a natural tendency to gravitate toward things that will work.

Turning back to my point that cultivating a mind like a beginner is not a step forward but a step back. Beginners are gullible, beginners are less discerning, etc. This is why religions target the young for their proselytizing. We should instead be studying how this “inclination to pursue lines of thought that will be successful” works.

The trap for experts has always been that that tendency can block off more novel approaches to problems. The well used channels of thoughts become ruts that are nor easily escaped. This is why Einstein extolled being able to think as a child would, with wonder and awe, but he was not recommending a steady diet of such thinking.

All of these may be moot points as our society seems to be turning away from experts and returning to a simpler societal “beginner’s mind,” more easily gulled by those who desire to manipulate us.

Note For those of you confused by the reference to Carnegie Hall, it comes from an old joke. It goes like this: Someone asked a cabbie “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” and the cabbie pondered a bit and replied “Practice, practice, practice.”

January 26, 2023

It’s a Miracle!

This question recently came up on Quora.com, the question and answer site: “If God didn’t exist, how do atheists explain that water freezes at exactly 0°C and boil at 100°C? Seems like a proof of intelligent design. It’s a miracle!”

There should be a Dunning-Kruger Award for questions like this, but alas, there is not.

Obviously this person doesn’t know the history or logic behind thermometer design, so maybe you would like to know this too.

The alcohol thermometer (the kind with the red liquid in them) was invented in 1709 and the mercury thermometer (the ones with mercury in them) in 1714 by the same man: Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit (1686-1736). In 1724 Fahrenheit introduced the scale he invented, which we have appropriately called the Fahrenheit Scale. This is the one commonly used in the U.S. and almost nowhere else. (The Euros often brag about how they do not use the Fahrenheit Scale, preferring to use a metric scale, but they use the Celsius Scale commonly and that is not part of the Metric System, So there!)

The scale at which pure water (at sea level air pressure) freezes at exactly 0°C and boils at exactly 100°C was invented by Anders Celsius of Sweden in 1742 and which we rightfully called the Celsius Scale. Well, not quite. Celsius actually set the boiling point at 0 and the freezing point at 100 because he was measuring “coolth” not warmth. It was his colleague, the botanist Carl Linnaeus (aka Carolus Linnaeus), who turned the numbers around. (If it was a miracle, the devil made him make it upside down first!)

Fun Facts Fahrenheit picked the rather strange numbers for the two temperatures used as references (32°F for freezing and 212°F for boiling temperatures of pure water) because he wanted the temperature of the human body to come out at 100°F. (He used a slurry of ice and a solution of ammonium chloride (aka Sal Ammoniac, which sounds like a character in West Side Story) for his zero point as he felt no lower temperature would be encountered. In other words that was the coldest mix he could create.) He thought this would make the lives of nurses taking body temperatures easier. Not only was his measurement of human body temperature off but we then fixated on an internal body temperature of 98.6°F as being “normal.” Many people still believe this erroneous fact. In reality “normal” body temperature can fall within a wide range, from 97°F to 99°F and varies daily! It’s usually lower in the morning and goes up during the day. It peaks in the late afternoon or evening, sometimes by as much as 1 or 2 degrees over the morning temperature.

The myth of the “normal” 98.6°F standard dates to the mid-1800s. German doctor Carl Wunderlich measured the armpit temperatures of about 25,000 people and came up with an average of 98.6°F. Newer research suggests that the number has since gone down. In a recent review, scientists looked at temperature records from three periods between 1860 and 2017. The average oral temperature slowly fell by about 1 degree to 97.5°F. My pet theory is based on what people would a nineteenth century doctor have to test, probably sick people, who would be expected to have elevated temperatures. So the average temperature didn’t drop, we just get a better selection of “normal” people to test.

January 18, 2023

Sometimes a Blurb is Enough: There’s a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem by Wayne W. Dyer

Note The author died in 2015, but the book was published in 2003.

And here is the Blurb (from Amazon.com):

National Bestseller
In this inspiring book, bestselling author Wayne Dyer draws from various spiritual traditions to help us unplug from the material world and awaken to the divine with.
With his trademark wit, wisdom, and humor, bestselling author Wayne Dyer offers compelling testimony on the power of love, harmony, and service. When confronted with a problem, be it ill health, financial worries, or relationship difficulties, we often depend on intellect to solve it. In this radical book, Dyer shows us that there is an omnipotent spiritual force at our fingertips that contains the solution to our problems.

The first part of the book provides the essential foundation for spiritual problem solving, drawing from the wisdom of Patanjali, a Yogi mystic; the second half is organized around the prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi, whose legacy is one of love, harmony, and service. Each chapter contains specific practical applications for applying the teachings of these wise men to everyday problems, including affirmations, writing exercises, and guided meditations.

Profound and thought provoking, yet filled with pragmatic advice, There’s a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem is a book about self-awareness and tapping the healing energy within all of us. As Dyer writes, “Thinking is the source of problems. Your heart holds the answer to solving them.

“Thinking is the source of problems. Your heart holds the answer to solving them,” . . . yeah, right. Apparently these are not income tax problems.

How can anyone suggest that there is a spiritual solution to “Every Problem” and not sound like a flim-flam man, a charlatan, a faux guru, a . . . well, you get the idea.

In the blurb accompanying the Kindle version it states “Wayne breaks down the phrase into its three key words: problem, spiritual, and solution.” Well, that makes the process completely transparent, now, doesn’t it. Once you have identified a problem and declared a solution, you just pry open a space between the two and insert your imaginings.

No, I will not be reading this book and am appalled it is ranked on Amazon.com as #543 in Spiritual Self-Help (Books) and even more appalled it is ranked #2106 in Personal Transformation Self Help (no spirituality involved) and . . . National Bestseller! OMG!

January 15, 2023

In God We Trust is Bunk!

Filed under: Culture,History,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:44 am
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Many conservative Christians crow about the Ten Commandments and phrases such as “In God We Trust,” our national motto since 1956 (yes, 1956, it was part of our efforts to fight godless communism). But is that latter phrase even true?

Not hardly.

People who trust solely in God, die young.

  • If the Buffalo Bills player whose heart stopped on the field a week ago Monday had trusted solely in God, instead of the training staff, he would he dead and buried at this point.
  • If all of the COVID suffers had trusted solely in God, many more would have died. Ventilators seemed vastly more helpful.
  • If that phrase had any merit, why do Republicans want school teachers armed and also want gun sales to be free and easy, along with “open carry” laws?
  • If we did actually trust in God, why do we spend billions of dollars a year on buy weapons for our military, instead of providing healthcare and other services to those needing them?
  • Why are people investing in the stock markets, rather than trusting God to care for them?
  • If we really trusted in God, no one would buy insurance of any kind.
  • If we really trusted in God, why do we teach our children to “put something away for a rainy day.”

I could go on and on but I do not want to bore you. Add to the list above as you wish. I vote that we bring back the former motto: E Pluribus Unum. At least that motto had some merit and a message that needs be repeated: Out of Many, One. According to the Supreme Court our history and traditions should trump all legal precedents. Well E Pluribus Unum was historically and traditionally our motto; I presume they want it back also.

January 14, 2023

Economic Growth Hinges On Cheap Energy

Filed under: Culture,Economics,Reason,Social Commentary — Steve Ruis @ 9:08 am
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I was reading an article on renewable energy sources and I ran across “Economic growth hinges on cheap energy.” I assume this is an economic truism, one of the many that seriously need to be questioned, so . . . I proceed.

Is Economic Growth Necessary? In our recent history, the human population has grown at an ever increasing rate (see graph).

At the right side of the graph we have demonstrated exponential growth characteristics and it is a mathematical truism that a system of finite resources cannot support exponential growth for very long.

It should be obvious, if there are more people there are increased demands for food, shelter, energy and other commodities. So, a call for “economic growth” is supported by population growth.

Is Population Growth Necessary? The first statistic I saw in school for the population of the U.S. was 140 million people. That stat was clearly out-of-date as are all data in school textbooks, but the current population of the U.S. is 332,403,650 (actually a projection for what the population was to be (and now was) on January 1st of this year. So, the US population has doubled in that time and is expected to double again in the next 75 years. The population doubling time is slowing but not fast enough to save us from economic and political collapse scenarios.

Imagine if the number of cars made in the U.S. this last year were made to serve that lower population of my youth. We would have car lots full of cars that couldn’t be and wouldn’t be sold. Our economic output is linked to our population.

At some point, the population of the U.S. must stop expanding. What will happen then? The answer is we do not know but there is what economists call a “natural experiment” running right now: Japan. Japan’s population has been shrinking since 2010, when the population peaked at 128.5 million. The United Nations currently projects that Japan’s population will fall below 100 million around 2050, but the faster-than-expected decline in fertility may mean that Japan reaches that threshold ahead of schedule.

The effects of this transition to some new future population mix is that older Japanese are a greater segment of the population than ever before, with fewer people of working age to support government efforts to provide for the elderly. You can imagine or research more of the problems they are dealing with. Our problem is they haven’t yet come out of their population decline and stabilized, so the “natural experiment” in reducing a country’s population is not yet complete.

So, clearly, continued exponential growth of a country’s population leads to ruin, and seeking a lower population level for the future is fraught with uncertainty.

So, Again Is Economic Growth Necessary? The only answer is maybe yes, maybe no.

Consider the scenario in which a “cheap energy revolution” occurs. This may be something as obvious as an electrical energy storage solution, thus making solar and wind energies more practical (they are already cheaper than fossil fuel generated electricity) or maybe a re-envisioned nuclear power plant, like a thorium reactor or even a fusion energy reactor becomes feasible. And then energy would be cheap, really cheap. If economic growth is only limited by energy costs, we might be in really trouble. The first rule of dealing with runaway freight trains is to stop feeding them fuel. Stoking more fuel in would make our problems worse, not better.

Right now, it may be true that “Economic Growth Hinges On Cheap Energy” but if energy actually became really cheap, another commodity would become the determinant of economic growth. Cars can’t be made without steel and other raw materials. Foods need land to be grown on, and water to make them grow. Meat animals depend upon crops, like we do, even if grass fed.

And if we maintain our commitment to the capitalism we seem addicted to, economic growth is cooked into the system. No politician will get anywhere without a commitment to “growing the economy.”

But, what if for each one percent of population growth we became one percent more efficient in creating and distributing food and energy. Our electric grid is a Frankenstein’s monster of a twentieth century creation that is near collapse. A better system would waste much less and therefore require less energy fed into it. There are people who say we cannot afford to do this. They are stupid in the extreme. Business people know that equipment upgrades are always based upon increases in future returns. An upgraded electric grid would pay for itself in short order.

We also waste a lot of food, a lot. There are savings galore to be had in our food production facilities. But anyone who thinks we can solve our problems through efficiency mongering is fooling themselves.

What we need are fewer human beings. China tried to solve its population problem and now has a near zero population growth rate, so we might learn something from them. And, Japan is doing its thing.

It seems that we need to be doing . . . everything to increase the efficiencies of our economies but our primary focus needs to be on limiting and rolling back human populations.

Of course, our billionaires are looking to colonize Mars. Maybe we should spook them (The IRS is coming for your wealth! Boo!) and get them to all relocate. They cannot take their wealth with them, so we will have that to use more sensibly once they are gone.

January 12, 2023

A Complete Misunderstanding of Religion

In a post on Medium.com, an author who calls himself “B,” stated the following:

Religion Viewed from a purely rational (mental) perspective religion makes no sense. In fact it is full of self-contradicting claims. This view however leads to a complete misunderstanding of religion, downplaying its role in human existence. Viewed through a Mythic lens though, it provides a moral compass and hope in a incomprehensibly complex world cursed with a dismal outlook for its participants.

The part I wish to address is the latter half, namely “This view however leads to a complete misunderstanding of religion, downplaying its role in human existence. Viewed through a Mythic lens though, it provides a moral compass and hope in a incomprehensibly complex world cursed with a dismal outlook for its participants.”

I have heard this argument numerous times before. And I will comment focused on Christianity as that is the religion I know the most about.

This “moral compass” referred to here has some aspect of truth to it in that religions address ethical issues as part of their regular programming. If that is considered against an alternative in which there were no discussion of ethical issues, it might be considered a positive thing. But if you look at the raising of children, we harp on ethical issues that have nothing to do with religion. Children are taught to share food and toys, clean up after themselves, and how to live “a balanced life” of work, play, and learning. Children are taught to not hit or bite other children or abuse pets, and much more, of course. This is done primarily by parents and by kindergarten and grade school teachers. Children are not threatened with Hellfire for their errors of judgment (actually some are and that is child abuse in my book), and none of the usual adult Christian “sticks” (of carrots and sticks fame) are employed either.

If one searches the Holy Bible for ethical/moral lessons one finds truly profound lessons and absolute horror stories (parents killing their own children to “honor” their god, fathers offering up his daughters to be raped by a crowd to protect “angels,” etc.). At best it is a moral wash. At worst it is a field manual for controlling populations by elites.

As to the latter half of my focus, “hope in a incomprehensibly complex world cursed with a dismal outlook for its participants” as an atheist I have never found life to be a dismal prospect. And complex? Who cares? When I need to travel by city trains, the system is incredibly complex. But I can consult the Internet which simplifies it for me and helps me navigate that system. There are many other complex systems embedded in a large modern city, like Chicago where I live, but I pay no heed to those that do not affect me now. So “incomprehensibly complex”? Taken as a whole, yes, broken down into manageable bits, no. Most people seem to navigate life’s complexities with some aplomb. And, yes, I know that a great many people live precarious lives, where life and death decisions get made daily. And their religions protect them how? Actually their religion may make them a target of spiritual warriors from other religions.

As to hope, uh, does he mean hope for a life unending? That promise is clearly a false hope. Ask yourself, if someone claims you can live forever, but then tells you that you need to die first, isn’t there a bit of a sniff of a scam? Especially when, after your death, you are not resurrected as an immortal being your “Earthly remains” are placed in the ground to rot. Of what help to anyone are false hopes? I consider them cruel and inhumane. And false hopes have real consequences. The promise, hope, of never-ending life, encourages people to devalue their lives as they know them, instead longing for the “hereafter.” Whether one lives forever, after dying, or not, wasting the life one has yearning for the afterlife is a major mistake, especially when the living conditions of the “afterlife” aren’t explicitly stated.

A “complete misunderstanding of religion”? I don’t think so. If religion provides ambiguous moral/ethical lessons, and false hopes, I can’t imagine finding better alternatives cannot easily be found. For example, if we were to invest as much energy in studying philosophy as we invest in our religions, we would be much better off.

January 1, 2023

The Big Three (Questions)

Filed under: Culture,Philosophy,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 12:33 pm
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Well, it is Sunday, so . . .

In a recent post Bryan Keith Dalton referred to the big three questions his childhood religion focused upon, namely: 1. Where did we come from?, 2. Why are we here?, and 3. Where are we headed?

I can’t imagine any ordinary person coming up with these questions as they are either unanswerable or nonsensical. But . . . allow me to comment upon each of them.

Where did we come from? I assume “we” here refers to the human race and not to just an individual or small group of individuals, because this is asked for an entire religion, which turns out is universalist in nature. My answer is “Who cares?” How would this knowledge affect us in one way or an other? I acknowledge that I have a family history that stretches back to Revolutionary War times (on my mother’s side), but I am singularly uninterested in that history, and on the off occasions when I do dabble, it is only because of idle curiosity.

I tend to think this is a loaded question, designed to prepare the listener for some cockamamie creation story, because it is so irrelevant to living our lives otherwise.

Where are we headed? I skipped ahead to #3 here because it is much like #1, that is “Who cares?” as a best answer. Since we are currently locked down to this planet and this planet will be circling the Sun for millions of years to comes, the only answer that makes any sense is “Going around in circles, so not going anywhere.” Again, a question designed to prime the listener to some ridiculous claim of some great destiny for the human race. Poppycock.

Why are we here? This question, like the other two, is designed to prepare the listener for something, this being less benign than the other two. This is the “purpose” question and as I have written before, anyone who claims they know the purpose of your life is a con man, so grab your purse or wallet and back away from the questioner.

Anyone claiming that your life has a purpose is also claiming that that purpose was formed by someone or something else. This is a form of control in the extreme (only slaves allow others to impress purposes upon them). People who have been fed a load of crap about them having a great purpose or destiny are being programmed to act out that prescription. This assertion feeds our desire to feel “special” to others, and for some people the more the merrier. I personally am “special” to my life partner, maybe my child, and my other close relatives, and just maybe a few colleagues. That’s it. I have no great ambitions to become special to a larger group of people and the people I observe who are (politicians, gurus, religionists, etc.) are at best needy.

So, the Big Three Questions are clearly “deepities” in that they sound profound, but are more than mundane and worse, contain hidden agendas.

TL/DR Version
1. Where did we come from? Answer: Who cares?

2. Why are we here? Answer: Only slaves allow others to impress purposes on them.

3. Where are we headed? Answer: Who cares? Probably around in circles (one per day, and one bigger one per year).

December 30, 2022

Getting Stressed Over Stress

The stresses of modern life are being touted at a high volume right now, including using terms like megastresses and permastress.

It is the case that one can talk oneself into an emotional state that is quite unnecessary based upon circumstances and this is one of those cases.

I am not trying to diminish people’s struggles with long COVID or unemployment or not having decent healthcare services available. All of those stresses are real. But politicians have been running the Fear Machine on overdrive for years now. For example, are you worried about the immigrants seeking asylum on the Texas border? If you are and you don’t live in Texas, you are being manipulated. Texas’s neighbor state New Mexico has a high population of Hispanics next to their border and the flow of people across the border is quite high, typically dominated by Americans going to Mexico to shop or to get cheaper dentistry, etc. They all seem to get along there in New Mexico and across the border in Mexico.

Gosh, do you think that the politicians in Texas are using the asylum seekers as grist for their Fear Machines to grind?

What other stressors do you focus upon? Cryptocurrency? Well, fools and their money are soon parted, so just ignore them. How about Antifa gangs? Again, made up nonsense from Fox “News,” in fact anything you hear on Fox “News” can be considered a false flag operation. Are you worried about your children being taught Critical Race Theory? If you are you should take them out of law school as that is the only place that theory is taught. Are you worried about LGBQ (whatever) folks recruiting your children? Relax, they don’t do that. Are you worried that teaching real American history will lead your kids to “Hate America”? If so, you would rather have patriotism based upon lies than upon truth and have you considered what happens when your children find out they were lied to? (My sister is still pissed that our parents didn’t tell her that Santa Claus was made up, and she is 80 years old now.)

There are stresses associated with modern life. In fact, a life without any stress may be unhealthy, but you do not need a load of bullpucky in the form of bullshit stressors added to your load. Ask yourself “How does this affect me?” in order to figure out what your response needs be. If you are worried about the war being waged upon Ukraine, maybe donations to the International Red Cross for Ukraine are in order. Maybe a letter to your Senator or Congressman stating support for relief being sent to Ukraine is your response. But sitting in front of your TV at night and wringing your hands does no one any good, especially you.

December 27, 2022

Why Do Lefties Have The Sweetest Swings?

Filed under: Reason,Sports — Steve Ruis @ 11:10 am
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The above question was asked on an Major League Baseball blog. The author then went about writing a very long article, missing the key point. He even went into things that had nothing to do with the quality of a swing, such as left-handed batters stand closer to first base, and therefore more likely to “beat out” weak grounders for hits. That might explain lefties having higher batting averages but not why their swings are so beautiful.

Do you want to know the real reason? (As if I know all, but . . .)

The answer is simple. The majority of MLB pitchers are right-handed. Since the majority of batters are also right-handed, the aspect faced by those hitters is a baseball coming at them over their left shoulders, as it were. It is just scarier facing a pitcher of the same handedness as you. (I think back to Don Drysdale, for instance, who deliberately threw “side-arm” to accentuate the fear.)

In baseball “lore” the pinch hitter you need is best of the opposite hand, if you have one. Your relief pitcher is best who is the same handedness as the upcoming batters. Managers set up their lineups with L–R–L–R– . . . batters so that other teams can’t take advantage of a heavy left- or right-handed lineup by throwing a same handed pitcher against them, even for short relief stints.

So, the advantage? The left-handed batter facing a right-handed pitcher doesn’t experience the same fear (of being hit by a pitch) and the ball’s placements draws their swings toward the plate, not falling away as the fear causes. They also can see the ball easier because they don’t have to turn their heads as far.

Since lefties face right-handed pitchers more often, they get used to swinging at their pitches. Righties don’t get all that much benefit from facing left-handed pitchers because there are many fewer left-handed pitchers and they experience more right-handers and thus their swings are constructed with “the fear” built in. The frequency of seeing those pitches, pitches that pull the batter in toward the plate determines the sweetness of the swing.

Facing  pitchers of the opposite handedness draws swings down and through the plate. Facing pitchers of the same handedness dissuades swings moving toward the plate through the fear of getting hit and encourage swinging away from the plate, even so far as “bailing out.”

It is merely a matter of angles and numbers.

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