Born to Be Mild

Posted in Phlogiston, Rock 'n' Roll at 2:24 pm by George Smith

Today’s venereal wart-like curiosity: A ridiculous article at Playboy on the US military’s ‘Battle Bands.’

“These days, martial music also means Marshall stacks,” writes a Playboy hagiographer. “That’s right, soldiers rock — officially.”

Hmmm, not by the evidence presented, lil’ pardner.

What listeners and viewers do witness: The same kind of stuff bar bands have peddled in every ‘burgh and hamlet in the US for the last thirty years. It’s milder by loads, since one should presumably not hear swearing or see women take off their tops when in video repping a service arm to the public. Or throw cups of beer and bottles of whiskey in a power drunk fit.

Caveat emptor: Most people won’t be able to stand more than thirty seconds of the linked videos.

Ready for the Motel 6 ballroom on Friday night. Good mix on the horns, though.

The Greenwood Hill HH&L Bingo Hall Show Band in action.

If you’re going to sing a pomp metal song entitled “Locked & Loaded,” shouldn’t it sound like you’re about to, er, take the warpath and kill someone?

Apparently not, think Max Impact. Insufficiently aggressive, zoomies.

Joan Jett did not make them sweat. This is just plain wrong.

Bad metalcore, by the Marines. But at least they’re mean-sounding and suitably warlike, much like your averagely bad civilian metalcore band.

Van Halen guitar soloist. An evergreen timewaster, here, as inevitable as the rising sun.

However, the undisputed King of Born to Be Mild rock is Mike Huckabee. So, perhaps, the ‘Battle Bands’ are in good company. And, indisputably, there is no evil in playing rock ‘n’ roll for the baby-stroller crowd.

Oriignally, tipped by Danger Room.


Hear DD: Background Briefing Tomorrow

Posted in Cyberterrorism, War On Terror at 1:47 pm by George Smith

Your host will be a guest on Ian Masters’ ‘Background Briefing’ on KPFK, 90.7 FM in Los Angeles, tomorrow morning at 11:40 PST. Logically, it will be to discuss and place in historical context the Obama administration’s cybersecurity initiative.

You can stream it on the web here or pick it up as a download at ianmasters.org here.

And here’s a piece, pre-Obama administration, again illustrating the point that any claim, no matter how extreme or unspupported, can take the stage in talks about cyberattacks on the US.


Same Old Story: Improve Cybersecurity

Posted in Cyberterrorism, War On Terror at 10:52 am by George Smith

“President Obama announced a sweeping new initiative to beef up the nation’s defenses against attacks on the nation’s increasingly important computer networks, including a plan to put a cyber-security chief in the White House,” reported USA Today, along with many others.

“Cyber-space is real and so are the risks that come with it,” President Obama told the nation.

It was familiar.

Over the past decade, a great many US government officials have uttered similarly pleasing sounds. Obama administration officials and advisors are no different. For an earful and eyeful from the current line-up, view the Whitehouse’s entirely unremarkable video on the subject.

“The national dialogue on cybersecurity must begin today,” states the Obama administration’s recent cyberspace policy review.

“People cannot value security without first understanding how much is at risk. Therefore the Federal government should initiate a national public awareness and education campaign informed by previous successful campaigns.”

These are statements which sound good, but only superficially. Instead, they tend to really insult the intelligence of anyone who has followed US government campaigns to educate the public over risks from cyberspace in the past eight years.

Fundamentally, the US government’s ‘education’ on the issue has always boiled down to employing a small army of officials, as well as experts from the private sector, to convey dire messages: The country is so dependent on the networks, it can be turned off like a switch by a variety of enemies who choose to attack through cyberspace. The enemies can be nations we don’t like, teenagers, disgruntled insiders, organized crime, or just crazy people.

The famous meme on turning the country off like a floor lamp was originally called “electronic Pearl Harbor,” later modified to “digital Pearl Harbor.” An authoritative collection of government outreach educational statements on the threat from cyberspace in the press, collected from 1994-2000, can be read here.

A more recent sighting of government officials, often anonymously, educating the public on the dangers of not defending the nation’s infrastructure in cyberspace is here — on cyberspies from China said to be installing software boobytraps in important systems. And a critical summary of ten common red-herrings used to ‘educate’ the public on the issue over the past could years is here in “10 easy steps to writing the scariest cyberwarfare article ever.”

“I’ve written on computer security hysteria for twenty years and I can tell you this: the U.S. federal bureaucracy has never produced a good economic figure for computer security damages,” wrote one of this author’s colleagues, Rob Rosenberger on his Vmyths computer security and opinion site, in February. “It’s all about hype, not accuracy.”

Rosenberger was addressing the claims of various government officials on the scope of damage the country was thought to be suffering from cyberattacks. He was comparing the statements from Dennis Blair, the Director of National Intelligence, on the threat of cybercrime in 2009, with those from Richard Clarke, the country’s cybersecurity czar in 2002.

“Okay, so now along comes Barack Obama with his ‘open’ government,” continues Rosenberger. “[Dennis Blair] all but admits the entire U.S. intelligence community lacks data concerning one of the five most important threats America now faces … [it] can do nothing more than quote wild dollar values spouted by two companies — one of them not even involved in economic assessments.”

The problem is not that there hasn’t been a discussion with the American public on cybersecurity. There has. And it’s been entirely monochromatic, larded with scenarios, claims and frightful rumors meant to incite action, and allied with experts chosen from companies in the private sector who always stand to gain richly from further spending on cybersecurity. Danger, danger! We’re losing billions of dollars a year! China or someone other nation will turn off the water and power!

Empirically, this manner of nonsense — which has been shoveled for years — has been a turn-off, the exact opposite of what the Obama administration wants. Many people when confronted with stories about lurking cyber disasters, ignore them. They already have too much experience with removing, or getting someone else to remove, spyware and viruses from their home computer. And while they are probably aware that malicious knocks on the firewall running on their Internet-connected PCs occur every few minutes, they are somewhat less concerned about menaces said to be threatening the day-to-day economic health and safety of the nation.

So when Barack Obama reverts to citing figures on dollar losses due to cyberspace, these repeat a general practice of fudging. And when he stated today that in other countries, “cyberattacks have plunged entire cities into darkness,” he is repeating unconfirmed rumors.

It is not the best start.

At Sitrep.

Follow-up: News article at Popular Science.


The Poor Man’s Jimi Hendrix — sold out!

Posted in Rock 'n' Roll at 8:48 am by George Smith

Sold out at CD Baby, but promised to be ‘back in stock soon,’ the Anthony Aquarius Mystery’s debut record, Nocturnal Visit — now discovered fresh at the ago of four, is a certified hoot, easily eclipsing the Albert Schroeder Experience’s debut from a couple years ago.

A mix of Velvet Jones lover man guitar and vocal soul, it has the bona fide Sixties sound. Although it might have been tricky getting the radio to play “She’s All Sheep” — my personal favorite, and “Love Bathed Experience.”

“Anthony Aquarius has had an amazing career and journey of life,” reads the blurb. “He has played from coast to coast, recorded in Switzerland, played the ‘Chiterlin Circuit.’

A somewhat baffling but charming video set to an Anthony Aquarius original is here.

See also yesterday.


Your Telephone, the Booby Trap

Posted in Predator State at 4:26 pm by George Smith

One daily feature of life in a country that’s a corporate predator state is the takeover of technology meant to make life easier by businesses which view it as a tool for robbery.

At DD’s abode in Pasadena, we have the daily robocall(s). Sometimes there are two or three a day, most often one, all varying examples of fraudulent offers and illegality, all aimed at tapping your credit card, getting into your bank account, or making off with something else so as to steal from you.

There’s the give us your vital statistics because we’ll help you refinance your upside-down home loan call. (One just came in, masquerading as the government, while I was updating this post!)

And the give us the keys to your temple so we can get you out of the credit card debt you’re in arears on. Nothing that surprising. Isn’t it every American’s civil right to hear it?

But the best one has been: You’ve just won a new television, and bunches of new equipment to be delivered today, plus an account with the satellite Dish Network and an already-paid-for trip to DisneyWorld. Say or promise anything, just to get you to divulge a credit card number.

According to yesterday’s Los Angeles Times: “The despised robocall companies that send out illegal recorded calls nationwide to try and get people to buy car warranties or apply for credit cards are among the most secretive operations outside the CIA.”

“Employees are told they can be fired just for mentioning the name of their employer.”

(DD made a cynical joke the other day about the need when searching for a job to convince your potential employer you’ll break the law for the firm.)

Sadly, there are many people, apparently normal, who will work for firms they know to be obviously engaged in lawbreaking. It’s just part of the social contract in a country that’s a corporate predator state. It’s acceptable to work for a criminal organization, if that’s what it takes.

However, according to the Times, one employee’s declaration in a Federal Trade Commission case against a robocall firm has broken open some of the practices. What’s remarkable and dismaying is that more employees don’t squeal, giving some weight to the idea that when the chips are down in a bad economy, quite a few will take jobs they know rip off their fellows, desperately trying to make some career of it. The whistle-blower is the outlier. Paradoxically, one wagers that due to the mass action and indiscriminate nature of the robocalling industry, some cubicle workers must be engaged in calling their own homes: “I’ll get a commission if we get Grandma on the line. The closer can shwick her out of a credit card or social security number, maybe both. She has Alzheimer’s.”

And to think poor Soupy Sales was once drummed off the air long ago by the FTC for asking kids to sneak into their parents’ bedrooms, collect all the paper with green faces on it, and send it to him. That was just a joke!

Anyway, the company in question in this story is named Transcontinental Warranties, Inc. and it’s based in Florida.

“A declaration from a former employee describes how he was supposed to go through hundreds of calls in a shift, trying to sell autoservice warranties which the FTC said typically cost $2,000 to $3,000 … ‘Transcontinental’s company motto was Hang Up, Next’, said Mark Israel, who worked the evening shift with about thirty other employees … [Israel’s] description of the calls mirrored those received by angry people nationwide, the FTC said, who complained to government agencies and consumer organizations … all recorded sales calls are illegal with the exception of those that go to people with whom there’s an established business relationship.”

If you don’t have the name of the firm calling you, the newspaper writes — rather obviously, it’s tough to get anything done about it.

“On May 14, the US District Court in Chicago, where the FTC investigation into recorded telemarketing calls was based, imposed a restraining order on Transcontinental, freezing its assets and putting a reciever in charge of the company,” reported the Times. Another hearing was set for this week.

In any case, this has apparently had no effect here in Pasadena. And almost everyplace else.

“But recorded calls have not stopped,” writes the newspaper. “Alison Southwick, spokeswoman for the Council of Better Business Bureaus, got one at work last week … ‘I just got a call that my satellite dish is going to be delivered … and I get a free vacation.'”

At Disney, don’t forget.

Update: The Dish Network was sued by the FTC over robocalls. In the corporate predator state, however, this is of little consequence. Fifteen minutes ago DD received yet another fraud robocall advising me of all the free Dish Network stuff which had allegedly been delivered and installed at my home.

During the 1980’s there were large, sustained budget cuts at the FTC. Despite some increases in recent years, the number of full-time employees at the FTC today is only up to 1987 levels, and well below the 1980 level. The FTC is thus smaller today than it has been historically, despite its success at consumer protection and the unprecedented new tasks that face it.Funding the FTC, February 2007.

Obama budget would boost FTC funding five percent, claims Forbes.

Next week: Your TV, the Booby Trap

The Poor Man’s Jimi Hendrix

Posted in Rock 'n' Roll at 1:10 pm by George Smith

Traditionally, semi-famous to obscure Jimi Hendrix impersonators/tribute artists have been almost exclusively white guys. Empirically, this is because virtually the sole audience for this type of thing — and it’s almost always primarily a live experience — is white people who live in places where there aren’t many, if any, black people.

Please don’t throw shoes at the presumed tartoor. I grew up in southeastern Pennsyltucky and having seen a lot of this, that’s just the way it was.

So it’s truly a novelty’s novelty when the Los Angeles Times profiles someone completely different, here, a person who breaks the stranglehold on the genre, Anthony Aquarius of Silver Lake. Aquarius tries to look as much like Hendrix as possible and plays for many people on the sidewalk in Hollywood, a number of them not even white or from rural Republican America. As a busking version of Jimi he’s not bad, particularly broadcast through the modern marvel of a small digital battery-powered rock and roll travel amp.

“I’ve probably played ‘Hey Joe’ more times than Hendrix played it,” he tells the newspaper, which would seem beyond dispute.

Most recently, DD noted a typically white Hendrix tribute act, the Albert Schroeder Experience.

At the time, it was written:

Wouldn’t you buy a CD of four white guys doing a tribute to the Jimi Hendrix Experience for $1.25? If you like hard rock like me, you wouldn’t hesitate one moment. White guys doing Jimi Hendrix tributes are a necessary part of the lawn furniture in the great backyard of heavy rock. And I know if you’re taking this seriously, and I am sure that you are, you also probably have a copy of a Randy Hansen vinyl record, or one by Frank Marino, as proof. However, even Mahogany Rush isn’t as keen a name as The Albert Schroeder Experience, or the Stoney Curtis Band, which I bought last year.

Randy Hansen, who also made records simply redoing Hendrix material, is found here.

But the guy who was thought to have traded most famously on the Hendrix impersonation was Frank Marino of Mahogany Rush. This was an article of faith in the early rock press, which spread it. Of this, Marino commented:

“The most often heard story is that I took an overdose and woke up from a coma in the hospital and somehow became the spirit of Hendrix, or that I met this spirit and it entered me, endowing me with this amazing ability to play a guitar and magically know everything about it … They never ask me the truth and when I told them, they wouldn’t listen. The short truth about it is that I learned how to play guitar while recuperating from my trip. The guitar became a soothing help for me because of my great fear of letting my mind wander back into the trip if I wasn’t occupied and besides it was the only thing in the hospital relaxation room. I never even thought about the guitar before since I played the drums quite well anyway. I had this trip while Hendrix was still alive and began to play his music because it matched perfectly to what I was going through at the time.”

Marino’s first three albums — Maxoom, Child of the Novelty and Strange Universe — traded heavily on the psychedelic trippiness of Hendrix. In the early Seventies. And without the catchiness in the tunes.

That may sound like a dig, but if you’ve read the blog since its inception you know DD really likes stuff like that. Sometimes, tunes just get in the way of the enjoyment.

Another obvious imitator is Stoney Curtis and his Acid Blues Experience. Don’t throw a rod here, either. I like the one Stoney Curtis CD in my possession.

And there was also the Sterling Cooke Force, an act from Tamaqua, PA, near DD’s birthplace. They seemed to be more appreciated in Europe, for a year or two.

“Hey, that sounds like Hendrix, only not as good,” insist Philistines.

If you’re Googling this at some future date and you think that I’ve overlooked your favorite Hendrix impersonator or that you yourself are a cruelly unappreciated Hendrix impersonator, I beg forgiveness. I didn’t mean to do it. My abilities are not such that I can keep and maintain an international registry on the matter.

Yes, yes — Robin Trower. Trower charted big time in the US with Bridge of Sighs in 1974. An excellent album, it doesn’t really match anything in the Hendrix catalog, delivering its own unique flavor of billowing and lugubrious, heavily electric blues rock.

Terry Brooks

The outlier: Eddie Hazel.

Reader beware: The Los Angeles Times web edition hosts the interview with Anthony Aquarius. Initially, DD read it in the hard copy. The Times website will hang some browsers, even on high speed connections. In some ways, the newspaper site almost qualifies as malicious. One is certain editors don’t view it this way. However, the Times is such an intentional bandwidth hog in its desperate attempt to keep visitors on-site and squeeze money from the web, its designers do many things they shouldn’t.


Chemical Attack on Afghan Girls School

Posted in War On Terror at 5:57 pm by George Smith

“[90 Afghan school girls were] rushed to hospital yesterday unconscious and vomiting, possibly victims of a gas poisoning attack on their school in Mahmud Raqi village,” reported a news wire a few days ago.

“[One girl] described the gas smelling like a chemical known locally as Mallatin, which farmers sometimes spread on fields to poison foraging birds. The provincial police chief, Matiullah Safi, said none of the students, teachers or support staff had seen anything suspicious. ‘It looks like something was sprayed in the school but so far no one has been arrested,’ he said. ‘There’s no proof, at the moment, that this was an attack.’

“But the alleged poisoning comes just days after girls at a school in nearby Charikar, on the road north of Kabul, complained of similar symptoms.”

Read more at Armchair Generalist.

“Terrorist groups who are intent on using ‘CBR hazards’ don’t want to go to states with WMD programs and pay for weapons (too complicated and public), and they lack the expertise and patience to develop military warfare agents (not everyone can match Aum Shinrikyo),” writes Jason. “But what they can do is avail themselves of local industrial chemicals and radiological materials that, while not a mass casualty threat, can harm and terrify small groups of people.”


No More Myths from the GWOT, Daddy, Please!

Posted in Bioterrorism, Crazy Weapons, Phlogiston, War On Terror at 4:51 pm by George Smith

“The Al Qaeda videotape shows a small white dog tied up inside a glass cage,” writes famous reporter Peter Bergen today for the New Republic.

“A milky gas slowly filters in. An Arab man with an Egyptian accent says: ‘Start counting the time.’ Nervous, the dog starts barking and then moaning. After flailing about for some minutes, it succumbs to the poisonous gas and stops moving.

“This experiment almost certainly occurred at the Derunta training camp near the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad, conducted by an Egyptian with the nom de jihad of ‘Abu Khabab.’ In the late 1990s, under the direction of Al Qaeda’s number two, Ayman Al Zawahiri, Abu Khabab set up the terrorist group’s WMD research program, which was given the innocuous codename ‘Yogurt.’ Abu Khabab taught hundreds of militants how to deploy poisonous chemicals, such as ricin and cyanide gas. The Egyptian WMD expert also explored the possible uses of radioactive materials, writing in a 2001 memo to his superiors, ‘As you instructed us you will find attached a summary of the discharges from a traditional nuclear reactor, among which are radioactive elements that could be used for military operations.’ In the memo, Abu Khabab asked if it were possible to get more information about the matter ‘from our Pakistani friends who have great experience in this sphere.’ This was likely a reference to the retired Pakistani senior nuclear scientists who were meeting then with Osama bin Laden.”

All of this sensational material, a lead-in for Bergen’s discussion of the US’s Predator drone assassination campaign in Afghanistan and Pakistan. For it to have value in this story, one must buy into the idea that in erasing ‘Abu Khabab,’ a Predator drone strike eliminated an al Qaeda capability in chemical and biological weapons. Instead of just offing some odious nobody.

But readers have learned that when it comes to the war on terror, and what the enemy is said to be able to do, much is exaggerated, the product of gossip passed on or published by someone else, or simply made up out of whole cloth by unreliable or anonymous sources working their own agendas.

Indeed, many will remember videotape of a small dog being gassed in a room, recovered during the invasion of Afghanistan. Played hundreds of times during news shows, you would have had to be living without power and water in the hills of North Carolina to have missed it.

However, since then, al Qaeda has shown zero capability in the area of chemical and biological weapons. What has been shown, again and again by DD on the web, is that they have had aspirations and lots of rubbish documents, all amounting to nothing. If ‘Abu Khabab’ had been training “hundreds of militants how to deploy poisonous chemicals, such as ricin and cyanide gas,” he was the world’s worst ‘teacher,’ an unmitigated failure and fool.

For examples of jihadist ‘capabilities’ and ‘documents’ on deploying poisonous chemicals see here and here and here on dirty bombs and here on even more poisons. And for a discussion of al Qaeda’s somewhat less-than-successful stabs at making a cyanide gas bomb, see here. And, since Bergen mentioned ricin, don’t forget all the evidence from the London ricin case, here.


‘Abu Khabab,’ the alleged chemical weapons expert, has been peddled for awhile now.

In a longer form at the SITREP blog.

Locals Stymie Bioterror Defense Lab

Posted in Bioterrorism, War On Terror at 2:47 am by George Smith

“[A $198 million biodefense] lab complex stands completed between an apartment building and a flower market [in Roxbury]” reported the Los Angeles Times on the frontpage today. “But state and federal lawsuits by anxious residents backed by skeptical scientists, have blocked the opening [of the Boston-based lab] until late next year at the earliest,” reported the LA Times on its frontpage today.

“The battle marks the first major setback in the vast growth since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks of labs authorized to research the world’s most dangerous diseases.”

That big daily newspapers are finally getting around to acknowledging that a problem may exist with such an expansion — and that reasonable people are actively opposing it — is a remarkable change from the state of affairs two years ago.

What the Los Angeles Times does not yet understand (and, perhaps by extension, its reporter — Bob Drogin) or is unwilling to say, is that the most logical problem associated with such labs are not those mentioned most prominently in the article: that anthrax or Ebola will escape into the local community or that “hot strains in the labs may attract terrorists…”

The problem is one that has already been demonstrated twice: reliability and the nature of the enemy from within.

There have been only two malicious events associated with biological agents during the war on terror. Both came from within the US. And both were associated with labs working within the bioterror defense infrastructure.

The obvious stand-out is the story of the anthrax mailer, Bruce Ivins, working from the heart of the biodefense industry at Fort Detrick in Maryland where he was the caretaker of the gold standard in anthrax spore cultures and privy to the inner details of the investigation which would eventually drive him to commit suicide.

The other case involved simple greed from the US cosmetic surgery industry. In this little-publicized instance, two scam artists commissioned a research laboratory called List, located in Campbell, CA, to make purified botulinum toxin. That lab was part of the US government’s select agent control regime, one designed to oversee the production of materials thought to be of practical use to terrorists.

Purified botulinum toxin was sold without due diligence and then used by the scam artists to make money through de-wrinkling treatments, undercutting the price of treatments using Botox, the only botulinum toxin drug — made by Allergan — licensed for use on patients in this country.

That story is told here in “Dr. Frankenstein’s cure for aging.”

The scam would have worked if four people had not come down with such severe cases of botulism they required long-term hospitalization. If not for care on life-support, they would have died, making the death toll from misuse of American-made botulinum toxin, one less than the anthraxer’s — who used American-made anthrax. And so it stands to reason that putting more and more people in positions where they are working on, or responsible for, the most dangerous biological agents increases risk to the American public, even if that risk is not precisely measurable. And, if recent history is to serve as an example, such risk is demonstrably real and not to be pooh-poohed.

“Critics of the labs cite the 2001 anthrax attacks as proof that gates and guards cannot stop an insider who aims to do harm,” continues Drogin.

What the Los Angeles Times story does show is there is not a natural enthusiasm among all citizens for yet another bioterror defense laboratory, once they understand all the ramifications of it. They may also instinctively understand that Biodefense Research Corp/University USA is also not much of big-time employer for everybody, like General Motors or Ford in Michigan in their heyday. And so their economic value to any community is not yet proven to be significant.


A Most Catastrophic Nomination


Powell Star Tortured to Death

Posted in Predator State, War On Terror at 8:15 pm by George Smith

“A former CIA high-value detainee, who provided bogus information that was cited by the Bush administration in the run-up to the Iraq war, has died in a Libyan prison, an apparent suicide, according to a Libyan newspaper,” reported the WaPo a day or two ago.

“A researcher for Human Rights Watch, who met Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi at the Abu Salim prison in Tripoli late last month, said a contact in Libya had confirmed the death … Libi was captured fleeing Afghanistan in late 2001, and he vanished into the secret detention system run by the Bush administration. He became the unnamed source, according to Senate investigators, behind Bush administration claims in 2002 and 2003 that Iraq had provided training in chemical and biological weapons to al-Qaeda operatives.”

From DD blog, a couple weeks ago:

“[There were two men] pressured into a handy confessions which connected with the London ricin poison ring.

In Colin Powell’s slide purporting to show terror networks connected to al Qaeda in Iraq, a central spot is reserved for [one] called Detained Al-Qaida Operative. This was Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi.

“The US Senate’s Select Report on Intelligence in Iraq revealed in 2006 that the CIA informed al-Libi that he would be handed over to a foreign government if he didn’t talk. ‘[Al-Libi] decided he would fabricate any information the interrogators wanted in order to gain better treatment and avoid being handed over to [a foreign government.]’

“Nevertheless, according to the Senate report, al-Libi was also put in the hands of the foreign government. He was threatened with torture and then beaten up for fifteen minutes, after which he made up stories about al Qaida connections with Iraq, and nuclear and biological weapons programs.”

Al-Libi was held by the CIA at least as late as 2004. At one point he was apparently returned to Libya. “I wouldn’t bet big money that he was a suicide, as Libya doesn’t treat political detainees very well,” opines Ken Silverstein at Harper’s.

“It’s so fortunate for us Americans that Uncle Dick authorized the use of torture to get all the data he could out of those Islamic terrorists,” writes Jason at Armchair Generalist.

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