Saturday 8 August 2009

not a blog V

Up, Down.

Guy de Maupassant - Boule de Suif.

The transition will be difficult to achieve as nowhere within existing economic and political frameworks are the limits to when growth will be curtailed being set. It is possible that the irrational insistence on endless growth as a non negotiable axiom, by a large proportion of the world’s population, may in fact be akin to the similarly irrational belief, by a similarly large proportion of the world’s population, that a supernatural being controls our existence and destiny. Bob Lloyd.

Thomas PynchonThomas PynchonThomas PynchonSuaad Hagi MohamudSuaad Hagi MohamudSuaad Hagi MohamudIna & Keith Wood

1. The recession is over, Leah McLaren, Saturday Aug 08 2009.
2. Hard-boiled or highbrow?, Randy Boyagoda, Saturday Aug 08 2009.
3. The endangered literary 'recluse', Brian Joseph Davis, Friday Aug 07 2009.
     3a. YouTube Trailer, Thomas Pynchon.
     3b. YouTube The Simpsons, Thomas Pynchon.
     3c. YouTube National Book Award 1973.
4. The psychology of climate change, Anne-Marie Tobin, Friday Aug 07 2009.
     4a. Psychology and Global Climate Change: Addressing a Multi-faceted Phenomenon and Set of Challenges, preliminary report.
     4b. The Commons revisited: the Tragedy continues, Bob Lloyd, 2007.
     4c. The Growth Delusion: why we don’t want to believe in Peak Oil and Climate Change, Bob Lloyd, October 2008.
     4c. Alan Burke Blog.
5. APA PRESS RELEASE, August 5 2009.
6. Valid political demonstration, Neale Adams, August 8 2009.

The recession is over, Leah McLaren, Saturday Aug 08 2009.

But please stop being so cheerful. I'm in recovery here

The recession is all but over. The Bank of Canada said so last week. Time to pop the champagne and celebrate! No wait, that's not right. Time to go to bed and lie very still. Apparently we're on the mend – or will be come September, when the economy is expected to stop contracting. But the recovery is going to be incredibly long and painful.

Lately, the state of the global economy has become more baffling than ever. Ever the cool cucumber, Barack Obama conceded this week he's “guardedly optimistic,” while his top advisers were more positive, telling CBS news, “six months ago, when the President took office, we were talking about whether recession would become depression. Today we are talking about when recession is going to end.”

In Canada, everyone's talking “looming recovery,” but all this upbeat commentary is making me nervous. I took a personality test online recently and found out that, unlike President Obama, I am a “constructive pessimist,” which means I like to think of all the things that could go wrong before I try to make things right. Constructive pessimism is kind of like guarded optimism, but more neurotic. Sort of like the difference between Dali Lama and Larry David. Both seem like solid guys, but which one is closer to grasping the dark intricacies of human existence? Hint: Your answer determines your personality type.

I've always subscribed to the Jewish baby shower theory of life (i.e. never throw the party until after the baby is born, what are you, an idiot or something?) and the same goes for the national economic outlook. You don't need an economist to tell you that counting chickens before they hatch is a bad idea.

As if to prove this theory, I recently had a bad egg from a batch I'd bought only two days before. True, I was hoping for a cheese omelette, not a chicken, but you get my drift – just because the authorities (be it the Bank of Canada or Loblaws) tell you everything's okay, doesn't mean they're necessarily correct. Why not play it safe and expect the worst? That way you're never disappointed in the long run.

From a constructively pessimistic point of view, the emerging optimism is basically asking for it. The manufacturing sector is still in the toilet, North American household wealth is down by the trillions and my friends who've lost their jobs haven't yet found new ones. As an editorial in The Guardian business section recently put it, “If these are the green shoots, the weeds must really be something.”

Apparently the recovery will likely involve further job losses, uncertain consumer confidence and a sluggish economy for years to come. Call me crazy, but that sounds a lot like what we used to call a slump.

Personally, I prefer some of the more lugubrious terms favoured by the British press, including my favourite (and arguably the most accurate), “the great decline.”

The financial definition of recovery refers to the point where the economy stops shrinking and starts growing again – which sounds optimistic, right?

But such upbeat language doesn't mean a whole heck of a lot for people like my friend Charlotte, who abruptly lost her job in finance last December. At her small boutique firm, two thirds of the staff were laid off in a single day. Since then she's had no luck finding a new job.

Recently she went to her bank branch to see about extending a line of credit. The teller, who didn't know about her situation, actually tried to sell her on taking out a mortgage.

“She told me now that the economy was looking up, I should really consider it. I just looked at her like, ‘Are you insane?'” she said.

Charlotte's going to keep on renting and continue her job hunt. For people like her, the term “recovery” is more Alcoholics Anonymous than economic. The champagne's been drunk and the bender's over. Will we ever raise a toast again? Of course, but this time it'll be Perrier. We're in recovery, after all. Are you having fun yet?

Hard-boiled or highbrow?, Randy Boyagoda, Saturday Aug 08 2009.

Thomas Pynchon's new book is part genre novel, part literary romp. How readers react to it will depend on what they're looking for

* Inherent Vice, by Thomas Pynchon, Penguin Press, 369 pages, $35.

I have two theories about the possible origins of Thomas Pynchon's new novel, Inherent Vice.

Theory one: It's a postmodern genre work that ironizes the very conventions of detective fiction that it follows, while at the same time articulating and satirizing the excesses of violence, drug use, sloth and sex that typify late-20th-century American culture. Stretching, bending and self-reflexively interrogating the stretchy, bendy, interrogative textures of detective fiction, the novel, this first theory proposes, is an exercise in, say, epistemological entropy and/or consumptive consumption.

Theory two: It's an idea Pynchon came up with late one night after watching The Big Lebowski and Fletch. Having returned home from his latest midnight-bag-of-burning-dog-poop gag on Dick Cheney's front stoop (Cheney and Pynchon are, according to a recent Wikipedia entry, next-door neighbours living in converted missile silos in the western suburbs of Undisclosed Location, America), this theory goes, Pynchon caught this double feature about the often very funny intersection of hapless hippie-dippie druggie dudedom and hard-boiled L.A. mayhem and mystery and thought it looked like something fun to try writing himself.

For years now, Pynchon's books have provoked reactions that, generally, correspond to these two theories: Either you're convinced that he's a literary genius and you're willing to write a doctoral dissertation to prove it, or you're convinced that he's a literary wing nut and you're amazed that people keep reading his books.

Inherent Vice, which is set in California at the tailpipe end of the sixties, will probably confirm the positions in both camps. It will also, I think, initially attract some readers of highbrow crime and detective fiction looking for a book to enjoy between the next Elmore Leonard or Michael Connelly effort, or before rereading another Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett classic.

These readers will, no doubt, be more flummoxed than others, because it's the very nature of a genre novel that it keeps its promises, fulfilling certain pleasures of expectation and discovery, including standard types of characters and standard kinds of premises and challenging but satisfying denouements.

From its opening pages, Pynchon's novel seems set to offer at least some variation of such fulfillments. The story begins with Larry (Doc) Sportello, private eye, receiving an unexpected visitor, his sexy heartbreaker of an ex-girlfriend, Shasta Fay Hepworth, who comes to him in need of help: Her current lover, construction magnate Mickey Wolfmann, is in some kind of dark trouble, and Shasta knows that it's people close to him, inspired by jealousy, greed and lust, doing the scheming. And because she knows this much but doesn't know what to do about it, Shasta's in trouble too, and turns to her ex.

“Need your help, Doc,” she admits, before reminding him, “You never did let me down.” What's a hardened man with a soft, bruised spot for an old flame to do?

And so we're off, in two familiar if divergent directions at the same time. One direction is into the territory of hard-boiled detective fiction. Doc, thinking he's only trying to figure out what's happened to Mickey Wolfmann while protecting Shasta (who quickly also goes missing), uncovers a sprawling, complex web of lies, intrigue and double-crossing that smudges the dividing line between good and bad, innocent and guilty, help and betrayal, cop and criminal, friend and enemy, do-gooder and fall guy.

Meanwhile, players, motives and mysteries proliferate, as do opportunities for the embittered hero to give up on his investigation, to give in and join the bad guys he's investigating, and, climactically, to give over his life for having done his job too well and discovered more than he should have.

Were Inherent Vice only a straight take on detective fiction along these lines, dominated by sharp-edged dialogue and cynical reflections and the kind of suspenseful, fast-paced writing that brilliantly figures in a sequence late in the novel, when Doc has to shoot his way out of a bad situation gone really bad, it would make for fine and fun reading, even if, for fans of such books, altogether familiar.

But remember, we're also in Pynchon territory: Instead of just skillfully trafficking in the stuff of detective fiction, he overloads his novel with the absurdities and convolutions that feature throughout his work – most immediately evident in the character names, which include, among such many others, Bigfoot Bjornsen, Sauncho Smilax, Puck Beaverton, Leonard J. Loosemeat, Vincent Indelicato, Fritz Drybeam, Adrian Prussia, a girl named Japonica and a pair of FBI agents named Flatweed and Borderline.

It's likewise evident in his capacities as an incisive, very funny satirist of American life, which inspire items such as a mechanic's garage called the Resurrection of the Body; a paranoid man's trying to make a case for the significance of the Charlie Manson trial going on just as Americans are fighting “Charlie” in Vietnam; and a detailed description of a Gilligan's Island made-for-TV-movie where the castaways meet Godzilla, which Doc mostly sleeps through, only to wake up “the next morning to Henry Kissinger on the Today show going, ‘Vell, den, ve chould chust bombp dem, shouldn't ve?'”

Pynchon devotees glory in this kind of stuff; others, I think, tend to weigh its brilliance and enjoyments against the difficulties and plain weirdness that accompany it. Of course, if you discover that you're continually making such measurements instead of just reading a book, that tells you something less than promising about your fortitude as a reader, or, more damning, about the book itself. Inherent Vice is significantly shorter and less demanding than other recent Pynchon novels, if ultimately less compelling as well. Having weighed things out, unless I'd get some extra letters behind my last name for the effort, I think I'd watch Fletch twice before reading it a second time.

Randy Boyagoda is a professor of English at Ryerson University and author of Governor of the Northern Province, a novel.

The endangered literary 'recluse', Brian Joseph Davis, Friday Aug 07 2009.

Thomas Pynchon and J.D. Salinger have always shunned the media, but they're a dying breed. No author today who hopes to sell a book can play the same game

My belief,” Thomas Pynchon told CNN in a phone interview in 1997, “is that ‘recluse' is a code word generated by journalists ... meaning, ‘doesn't like to talk to reporters.'”

At the time the un-photographed author was angrily responding to CNN's attempts to capture footage of him but Pynchon has, in truth, enjoyed, toyed with, and wholly incorporated into his identity, the sobriquet of “recluse.” With the publication this month of Inherent Vice, his seventh novel over a 46-year-span, it's time to reflect on what being a literary recluse means and whether we're seeing the last of a kind.

The “media-shy recluse” was, as Pynchon noted, an invention of the media. To suggest that a refusal to publicize one's image is an illness akin to agoraphobia is the mark of a paranoid, fractured culture that Pynchon himself has so often brilliantly written about. What's amazing about Pynchon is how little it took to turn him into a walking myth. While he has been generous with blurbs for authors, published criticism in various magazines, and even wrote an essay for The Daily Show over the years, Pynchon has also refused traditional public appearances and other promotional boilerplate. That this alone has led to speculations about his “true” identity, from the ironic (he's actually J.D. Salinger), to the absurd (he was the Unabomber) obviously tickles the hell out Pynchon's funny bone, as evidenced by his cameo on The Simpsons.

The long wait of 17 years between his breakout novel Gravity's Rainbow and 1990's Vineland did provide fertile ground for these myths to sprout, but at least Pynchon has come back with a relatively steady stream of work. Then there's Salinger, who hasn't published a new work since 1965.

This year, a lawsuit to stop a Swedish author from publishing a sequel to TheCatcher in the Rye brought Salinger back to the spotlight he has tried to avoid the last four decades. By all accounts terrible, J.D. California's 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye was squashed by Salinger's lawyers and is not available for sale in the United States. Lucky them.

Unlike Pynchon, Salinger is ham-handed at acting the recluse. Attacking what amounted to fan fiction and giving it a momentary allure of samizdat is only the latest in a long line of injudicious moves for a man ostensibly wishing to be left alone. In the 1990s he also sued to stop the exhibition of an Iranian film adaptation of Franny and Zooey and sued to stop publication of his letters to other writers. I'm not interested in Salinger's work enough to engage in full armchair psychoanalysis, but I will say that the most noticeable difference between Pynchon and him is that Salinger did partake of the spotlight in his early career while Pynchon never has. (Even in 1973, a vaudeville comedian was sent in Pynchon's stead to accept the National Book Award for Gravity's Rainbow.)

Despite his reputation, Salinger seems to stumble back into the public eye an awful lot but without the onus and risk of continuing to publish.

Sometimes a writer labelled as recluse does come out of Upper Westside hiding. Harper Lee, author of To Kill A Mocking Bird, has recently braved the public for presidents, honorary degrees, and, of course, O Magazine. Lee is no Boo Radley, yet she has not published a book since her first. In the intervening 49 years, To Kill a Mockingbird has become so entrenched in adolescent reading that high schools have no doubt built the foundations of new wings using old frayed copies of the novel.

Lee's absence has also inspired its own myths. The most enduring one is that the novel was written, or heavily rewritten, by Lee's childhood friend Truman Capote. Several years ago letters from Capote surfaced that some scholars suggest put the matter to rest: Harper Lee wrote her novel. But the implication that Capote himself was the source of the rumour gives the notion a persistent, if suspiciously boozy, sliver of plausibility for those who believe that not being able to write another book is an admission of guilt, if not an outright social defect.

None of these writers are recluses in the true meaning of the term. None of them have had to sign up for Meals On Wheels; they simply have different ways of being public figures. This hasn't stopped the reading public from swimming in a collective fantasy about the reclusive genius: an artist so caught up in the act of creation the work is impossible to finish, like a Spruce Goose made of text. Also note there aren't enough recluses to go around, given recent attempts at inventing these figures from whole cloth, an endeavour that usually ends in disaster.

All this points to an endangerment of the species caused not least of which by the fact that young authors these days can't afford to miss a single damn phone call, much less a camera crew. With the idea of the media wanting to profile literary writers becoming itself an anachronism, will we ever again have authors whose stature – and contracts – allow for decades long hiatus? Since one can now lose a good portion of Facebook friends by just taking a week off from oversharing, probably not.

It was nice not knowing you, literary recluses.

Brian Joseph Davis is an artist and writer living in Toronto. He co-founded and is a regular contributor to the Globe Books site blog, In Other Words.

The psychology of climate change, Anne-Marie Tobin, Friday Aug 07 2009.

New report from APA explains reluctance to act on climate change warnings, offers advice

Toronto — Psychology has important contributions to make in understanding the causes and consequences of climate change, and how people respond by “going green” or ignoring the threat, says a task force report released Friday.

The report, which took about a year to compile and was unveiled at a conference of the American Psychological Association, urges the profession to play a greater role in limiting the effects of climate change, or global changes in temperature and precipitation.

Janet Swim, a psychology professor at Pennsylvania State University and chair of the task force, said we need to look at the reasons people aren't acting to understand how to get them to act.

“People are worried about this; they're afraid of it. And how do people deal with fear? Some people deal with fear by denying it. Some people deal with fear by engaging, doing social activism – and so that's a good way to do it,” she said in an interview before presenting the hefty 200-plus-page report.

“Some people deal with fear by being obsessed with it, and that's not good.”

The lone member of the study group from Canada, Robert Gifford of the University of Victoria, rhymed off a number of reasons for inaction, including the fact that when there's a little bit of uncertainty, people tend to hesitate or not act.

“The climate scientists who have any integrity always have a little bit of a confidence interval around the temperature rise or the timeline, and so this uncertainty leads to sort of inaction by people saying, ‘Well, I guess I'm not sure if it's really going to happen right now,' ” explained Mr. Gifford, a professor of psychology and environmental studies.

As well, those who deny that climate change is occurring exploit this little bit of uncertainty and say, “Well, they don't even know what they're talking about,” he noted.

Inaction is also due to people thinking that their individual efforts won't make a difference, akin to the reasoning of those who don't bother to vote, he said.

Still others might have conflicting goals and aspirations, and efforts to slow global warming get trumped by “other things that are more salient in their lives – their health, their children, their housing, their mortgage, their job.”

Some people, he explained, don't want to do what they're told by an authority. Others make a token effort, by recycling, for example, and think they're already doing their part.

There's also a sense of social comparison, he said.

“If I ride my bike to work and other people don't, is it fair? It's not equitable that I should make a sacrifice when my colleagues are not. Or why should I put solar panels on my house and spend money if nobody else is going to do it?”

Psychologists can collaborate with climate scientists in helping educators and decision-makers understand some of these perceptions and psychological barriers, Ms. Swim said.

“How do people respond to risk and assess risk? Maybe people think about it as a risk for somebody else, somewhere else, in the future – so other countries, perhaps, in 2050 or 2100,” she said.

“People are focused on the now, and not later. We need to be thinking about the later now ... there's a lot of information about risk perception and how people discount the future for the present.”

She suggested getting together with other people to make a difference, whether it's by joining an activist group or your own friends.

“There are so many barriers to what we do ... some structural barriers, some of them are social barriers, so you have to find like-minded individuals to help you,” Ms. Swim said.

Mr. Gifford said climate scientists aren't really experts in communication and messaging in the way that psychologists are.

“One of the messages about climate change that's out now is framed in terms of sacrifice – we're all going to have to cut back, we're all going to have to do this. This is not very effective,” he said.

“What's better is a campaign that focuses on the positive: You can make a difference, you can be a neighbourhood hero, you can be one of the leaders in improving the world.”

Mr. Gifford said he believes that British Columbians, especially, are cognizant of climate change, due to the problem with pine beetles.

“Everybody who lives in the Interior clearly understands that this is related to warmer winters so that the pine beetles are not being killed so that vast swaths of the Interior of the province's pine forests are being killed.”

Those who want to make a difference to climate change should learn as much as they can about behaviour changes that would have the most impact, for instance in areas such as diet, energy use and driving less to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

He suggested setting goals and sharing them with someone, like a spouse or significant other.

“Monitor each other, help each other along when your motivation flags.”

The task force itself led by example.

Ms. Swim said they had a budget that would have enabled participants from as far away as Australia to fly to Washington, D.C., or wherever, for meetings.

“We actually decided to do this by electronics (conference calls) so we wouldn't have anybody flying around. That was our first decision,” she said.

“Focus beyond the self ... focus on the benefits of the future, even though there's a cost now,” she advised. “Focus on the collective good.”

APA PRESS RELEASE, August 5 2009.

Contact: Audrey Hamilton
(202) 336-5706 until Aug. 5
(416) 585-3800 – Aug. 5–9


Report Urges Psychologists to Play Larger Role in Limiting Climate Change Effects

TORONTO—While most Americans think climate change is an important issue, they don't see it as an immediate threat, so getting people to "go green" requires policymakers, scientists and marketers to look at psychological barriers to change and what leads people to action, according to a task force of the American Psychological Association.

Scientific evidence shows the main influences of climate change are behavioral – population growth and energy consumption. "What is unique about current global climate change is the role of human behavior," said task force chair Janet Swim, PhD, of Pennsylvania State University. "We must look at the reasons people are not acting in order to understand how to get people to act."

APA's Task Force on the Interface Between Psychology and Global Climate Change examined decades of psychological research and practice that have been specifically applied and tested in the arena of climate change, such as environmental and conservation psychology and research on natural and technological disasters. The task force presented its findings at APA's 117th Annual Convention in Toronto in a report that was accepted by the association's governing Council of Representatives.

The task force's report offers a detailed look at the connection between psychology and global climate change and makes policy recommendations for psychological science.

It cites a national Pew Research Center poll in which 75 percent to 80 percent of respondents said that climate change is an important issue. But respondents ranked it last in a list of 20 compelling issues, such as the economy or terrorism. Despite warnings from scientists and environmental experts that limiting the effects of climate change means humans need to make some severe changes now, people don't feel a sense of urgency. The task force said numerous psychological barriers are to blame, including:
Uncertainty – Research has shown that uncertainty over climate change reduces the frequency of "green" behavior.

Mistrust – Evidence shows that most people don't believe the risk messages of scientists or government officials.

Denial – A substantial minority of people believe climate change is not occurring or that human activity has little or nothing to do with it, according to various polls.

Undervaluing Risks – A study of more than 3,000 people in 18 countries showed that many people believe environmental conditions will worsen in 25 years. While this may be true, this thinking could lead people to believe that changes can be made later.

Lack of Control – People believe their actions would be too small to make a difference and choose to do nothing.

Habit – Ingrained behaviors are extremely resistant to permanent change while others change slowly. Habit is the most important obstacle to pro-environment behavior, according to the report.
The task force highlighted some ways that psychology is already working to limit these barriers. For example, people are more likely to use energy-efficient appliances if they are provided with immediate energy-use feedback. Devices that show people how much energy and money they're conserving can yield energy savings of 5 percent to 12 percent, according to research. "Behavioral feedback links the cost of energy use more closely to behavior by showing the costs immediately or daily rather than in an electric bill that comes a month later," said Swim.

Also, some studies have looked at whether financial incentives can spur people to weatherize their houses. The research has shown that combined strong financial incentives, attention to customer convenience and quality assurance and strong social marketing led to weatherization of 20 percent or more of eligible homes in a community in the first year of a program. The results were far more powerful than achieved by another program that offered just financial incentives.

The task force identified other areas where psychology can help limit the effects of climate change, such as developing environmental regulations, economic incentives, better energy-efficient technology and communication methods.

"Many of the shortcomings of policies based on only a single intervention type, such as technology, economic incentives or regulation, may be overcome if policy implementers make better use of psychological knowledge," the task force wrote in the report.

The task force also urged psychologists to continue to expand that knowledge. Environmental psychology emerged as a sub-discipline in the early 20th century but didn't really gain momentum until the 1980s, according to the report. But the task force said studying and influencing climate change should not be left to a sub-discipline; many different types of psychologists can provide an understanding of how people of different ages respond to climate change. "The expertise found in a variety of fields of psychology can help find solutions to many climate change problems right now," Swim said. "For example, experts in community and business psychology can address the behavioral changes necessary as businesses and nonprofits adapt to a changing environment."

Invited Address: "Report of the APA Task Force on Psychology and Global Climate Change," Janet Swim, PhD, Pennsylvania State University, Session: 2305, 3:00–3:50 PM, Friday, Aug. 7, Metro Toronto Convention Centre, North Building – Level 200, Meeting Room 201 E.

Discussion: "APA Task Force on Psychology and Global Climate Change—Perspectives of Task Force Members," Susan D. Clayton, PhD, College of Wooster, Thomas J. Doherty, PsyD, Lewis and Clark College, Robert Gifford, PhD, University of Victoria, George Howard, PhD, University of Notre Dame, Janet K. Swim, Pennsylvania State University, Session: 2352, 4:00–4:50 PM, Friday, Aug. 7, Metro Toronto Convention Centre, North Building – Level 100, Meeting Room 103B

Members of the APA Task Force on the Interface Between Psychology and Global Climate Change:

Chair: Janet K. Swim, PhD, Pennsylvania State University
Susan Clayton, PhD, College of Wooster
Thomas Doherty, PsyD, Lewis and Clark College
Robert Gifford, PhD, University of Victoria
George Howard, PhD, University of Notre Dame
Joseph Reser, PhD, Griffith University
Paul Stern, PhD, National Academies of Science
Elke Weber, PhD, Columbia University

Full text of the APA task force report is also available from the APA Public Affairs Office.

The American Psychological Association, in Washington, D.C., is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world’s largest association of psychologists. APA’s membership includes more than 150,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting health, education and human welfare.

Valid political demonstration, Neale Adams, August 8 2009.

Vancouver's police chief, Jim Chu, and his department have a great deal of common sense and are to be praised, not pilloried, over the way they've handled Critical Mass over the years.

Our police force recognizes -- even if The Sun's editorial board and some letter writers don't -- that the police's job is to maintain public safety and order. It's not to shield people from every little disruption of their hectic rushing-about and certainly not to put down political demonstrations.

That's what the monthly ride by cyclists is: a statement that, as a society, we devote far too many resources to the automobile and too often neglect more appropriate, healthy and enjoyable modes of transportation, such as the bicycle. Critical Mass passes by. In a free country, we are patient for a few minutes and let people speak or demonstrate their opinion.

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