BREAKING: Are we humans even conscious?


Ruminations on two fact-checks:
Are we the self-ballyhooed "human beings" even conscious at all?

The overwrought question popped into our heads in the wake of our perusal of a pair of fact-checks. The first such presentation—it's actually a fact-check of a previous fact-check!—appears in a letter to the editor in today's Washington Post.

You can see that letter at this link. It appears under this heading: "Geppetto has a lot of work ahead of him."

The writer is complaining about this perfectly valid Washington Post Fact Checker report, in which Glenn Kessler gave a Democratic congressman two Pinocchios for a highly misleading, selective statement about the effects of Donald J. Trump's tax cut.

Kessler's fact-check included lots of information. The letter writer, who disapproves of the Trump tax cut, voices all sorts of complaints about the measure without addressing the specific claim under review in Kessler's piece.

The letter ends with this piffle:
LETTER TO THE WASHINGTON POST (12/15/18): In addition, lowering corporate taxes, curtailing the alternative minimum tax and reducing estate taxes produced major additional benefits for the upper tier of taxpayers. In both the short run and over the years, these extra dollars help the upper-tier taxpayers accumulate more of the country’s income-producing assets, widening the economic divide between the top tiers and the rest of us. Cicilline’s percentages might be overstated, but they are much closer to reality than the fiction that the tax plan benefits us all equally.

Three Pinocchios for the Fact Checker.
"Three Pinocchios for the Fact Checker!" How brave, how stirring, how bold!

Admittedly, the writer's conclusion will stir the partisan soul. Unfortunately, as he closes his letter, the writer acknowledges the accuracy of Kessler's assessment—the congressman's claim was overstated—and he attacks a straw-man "fiction," one Kessler never advanced.

So we humans tend to reason, especially at times like these. The letter is massively underfed work. We're not sure why the Post would have chosen to publish it.

In fairness, that letter is an amateur effort. Earlier, though, we'd perused Linda Qiu's latest attempt at a fact-check, in today's New York Times.

Qiu is the Times' official fact-checker. We've often been puzzled by her work. Today, she starts like this:

Kellyanne Conway: “Christopher, in April of 2018, Donald J. Trump, the president, and everybody else were told about the payments.”

Chris Cuomo, CNN anchor: “He knew about it from its inception. He came up with the plan.”

Ms. Conway: “No, no, no, hold on. You’re saying incontrovertible based on the testimony of people who are trying to get a better deal and a lighter sentence for themselves. Be fair here. Don’t call incontrovertible because you imbue credibility on individuals——”

Mr. Cuomo: “I have a tape of him discussing what to do with Michael Cohen.”

—in an interview with CNN on Thursday

Strange. Qiu presents a range of statements by two different people, then states her verdict:


Qiu's verdict gave tribal subscribers a thrill. But which of the various statements by Cuomo and Conway has been judged to be false?

Oddly, Qiu's initial presentation doesn't make that basic point clear. We have to stumble ahead in her presentation if we want to try to puzzle that out.

Which of those several statements was false? Qiu's presentation starts like this:
QIU (continuing directly): Mr. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyer, pleaded guilty in August to breaking campaign finance laws when he arranged payments to two women during the 2016 presidential campaign to keep them from talking about affairs they said they had with Mr. Trump.

Ms. Conway is a counselor to Mr. Trump. Her suggestion that the president did not know about these payments until this year is not credible, given the audio recording, news reports and statements from Mr. Trump’s current lawyer...
Qiu's presentation wanders on from there. Presumably, though, the statement which has been declared "false" is Conway's "suggestion that the president did not know about these payments until this year."

(Please note: In Qiu's presentation, the verdict has perhaps been bumped down a bit. The statement, which is now a "suggestion," has gone from "false" to "not credible.")

We hate to undermine tribal pleasure of the type the New York Times tends to provide. That said, we went back and looked at the transcript of the full exchange between Cuomo and Conway, and Qiu's account of what Conway was "suggesting" at that point strikes us as inaccurate.

That said, this sort of thing goes on all the time when Qiu attempts to do fact-checks.

We've often been amazed to think that the New York Times can't find a more skillful fact-checker than the remarkably youthful Qiu. In the larger sense, this calls attention to the remarkably limited role played by such entities as accuracy and logic when we modern "great apes" stage our attempts at debate.

At present, the mainstream press is on a stampede. In this latest manifestation, they're chasing a generally guilty party. But it's a stampede all the same.

In the current stampede, they've taken to insisting that we the people need to know who the various candidates may have sex with ten years earlier before we can pick a president. The sheer insanity of this idea only adds to the zeal with which the cable and corporate apes will rise up to advance it.

The children are staging a highly peculiar stampede. This raises the basic question we've been asking this year:

Aristotle is widely said to have said that we're "the rational animal." Professor Harari, who has called us "great apes," has said that our species runs on gossip and fiction.

Which of these two vaunted figures is perhaps more nearly correct? More and more, when we follow the press, we get a certain feeling, gestalt- or paradigm-wise:

We get the feeling we're secretly watching gaggles of well-dressed, pre-rational apes. But then, it's all anthropology now, as we charismatically told you back at the start of the year.

The younger the better: Qiu graduated from the University of Chicago in 2014. In a rational world, it would be amazing to think that the New York Times couldn't find a more skillful fact-checker.

That would be in a rational world. In our world—it's a Hamptons-based world—it isn't surprising at all.


  1. Somerby disagrees with Qiu so she is the incompetent fact checker who does not belong at the NY Times. It cannot be that Somerby's interpretation is ever wrong.

    Somerby says: "We have to stumble ahead in her presentation if we want to try to puzzle that out."

    He complains because her thought processes are not his. He has to read on to find out some piece of information he is impatient to know. Her organization of her paragraph is not the way he would write it, so she is puzzling and wrong, unskillful.

    In a rational world, people like Somerby would understand that our minds do not all work alike, that some of us place different priority on different facts and thus might state them in a different order. Somerby has no patience with those who are not him. Especially when they are youngish and female. But she is the one out of step; it cannot be him.

    Phooey. Somerby is being an ass again today. And what ever happened to his concern about Yemen? Not a word about those children today. Don't they suffer on weekends?

  2. "At present, the mainstream press is on a stampede. In this latest manifestation, they're chasing a generally guilty party. But it's a stampede all the same."

    What is a stampede? Dictionary says: "a sudden panicked rush of a number of horses, cattle, or other animals". In this case, apes?

    Stampedes have no direction, no goal. You cannot have a stampede in pursuit of a guilty person because the panic causes a blind flight from something, not toward anything.

    Somerby thinks that the wrongdoing is that everyone is agreed, going in the same direction, joining in the pursuit. That's because the people being pursued in this situation are guilty and there are a lot of people who agree about that. There is also no sense of panic in the pursuit of these guys. There is an inexorable progress toward an inevitable end, much as a predator stalks an oblivious prey. But in this case, the panic belongs to Trump and his associates, who are getting the message that their goose is truly cooked.

    So, Somerby's metaphor is wrong, as is his criticism of the people who are supporting due process and waiting for justice. Justice that Somerby dismisses.

    And once again Somerby is on the side of Trump, defending him and his minions from the consequences of their actions. Why? What is wrong with him? No so-called liberal or progressive would be making noises like this, aping conservative talking points on a supposedly liberal blog.

  3. Ach, the WaPo's fact check is a long way from "perfectly accurate". It starts right out of the gate with these BS Republican talking points.

    "In 2018, most U.S. taxpayers can expect some kind of tax cut, according to just about every analysis. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center found that initially more than 80 percent of taxpayers would get a tax cut, with less than 5 percent getting a tax increase.

    Since the wealthy pay most of the income taxes, they end up with most of the tax cuts. (The top 1 percent in 2014 earned 20 percent of adjusted gross income ..."

    "80% of taxpayers would get a tax cut"

    pardon my French, but so the fudge what? The bottom 2 quintiles get 6.2% of the benefits of the tax cut. An average of $60 for the bottom quintile and $380 for the second quintile.

    Consider my reduction ad absurdum tax cut proposal.
    1. create a 9% tax cut for the first $100 of income
    2. eliminate all income taxes for income over $400,000

    NOW. Note these "facts"
    1. 100% of tax payers get a tax cut
    2. the rich pay more taxes so naturally they get more money from the tax cut.

    Also make sure you advertise the "average tax cut" that people will get.

    Never mind the fact that for every taxpayer making less than $400,000 a year their tax cut is $1 (or less)

    It is so easy to design a tax cut plan that does NOT give most of its benefits to the rich, that even a janitor could do it (full disclosure, this particular janitor has a BA in math and an MA in economics). Consider this choice.

    Plan R - cuts the top tax rates
    Plan J - does NOT cut the top rates

    Well gollee, plan J does NOT give huge tax breaks to the rich. Republican politicians will always choose the first plan, pretend that plan J does not exist and that it is just an accident, an unintended consequence that their plan just happens to give most of its benefits to the rich.

    Thankfully, the media is here to help.

  4. Reason is the slave to passion.

  5. Another pointless missing the forest for the trees post by Bob. There's nothing more mainstream than right wing hate radio being given access to 3000 radio stations for 30 years to spread irrationally. It would be an example of irrational tunnel vision to ignore such a massive part of the national media discourse, yet Bob has done exactly that for his entire 20 years of blogging.

    1. Bob? The Nytimes has ignored right wing hate radio for decades when they are not fluffing Hannity in profiles. Maddow ignores it when she is not fluffing Fox news. All the networks have ignored right wing hate radio the whole time. Bob? When has the mainstream media taken them to task? Bob said years ago, rightly, that if the mainstream media had their shit together what Hannity says and does on a daily basis would be front page news. You're way, way off man. Mainstream media has ignored right wing hate radio. In a rational world, the mainstream papers and news shows would be on their ass every day and they are definitely NOT!

      Bob? Who gives a shit about Bob on a shitty blog no one reads?


      Whatever! For many years, we have been asking, begging, pleading for this kind of front-page reporting. We have said it again and again:

      When major figures spread misinformation on a widespread basis, that behavior is news in itself. It should be reported as such.

      Back in the day, we were talking about figures like Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh. Farhi writes about Candidate Trump and his crackpot muse, Alex Jones. But this is a very important type of front-page news report. Major newspapers like the Post should do more of this type of reporting—and it should be done on those papers' front pages.

      Snap out of it numbnutz.

    3. His "entire 20 years of blogging" huh?

    4. @11:50
      Somerby was referring to Trump as the “major figure” in your quote from a 2015 blog post. And, did you even read the post you quoted from? When Somerby says “back in the day we talked about Hannity and Limbaugh”, he is referring to a conversation he and Farhi had, not his own blogging. Did you just search for “Hannity” in Somerby’s search bar and copy and paste from the first thing that showed up?

    5. Jesus, are you that daft? Another commenter who can't read? All you all the same person?

      "When Somerby says “back in the day we talked about Hannity and Limbaugh”, he is referring to a conversation he and Farhi had, not his own blogging." Are you that daft? What is your basis for claiming that? Really, are you that daft? You are all the same commenter with a different name? Whoever you are, you can't even read. Why can't you read?

      Was he referring to "a conversation he and Farhi had, not his own blogging" when he blogged this.

      MONDAY, OCTOBER 21, 2013

      For the past fifteen years, we have screamed, yelled, hollered and screeched about a bone-simple point: when broadcasters disinform millions of people, that act qualifies as news. Such incidents should be reported as news on the front page of major newspapers.

      But total bullroar is constantly broadcast on Hannity’s program. It ought to qualify as news when voters get disinformed in such ways.

      In recent decades, newspapers like the New York Times have agreed to look away from this ongoing train wreck. Liberal journalists have agreed to accept this timorous conduct from the cowardly Times.

      You said Somerby "ignores such a massive part of the national media discourse" and you were wrong. That post was not referring to a conversation he and Farhi had, are you stupid, or stoned or in 5th grade? What is your problem?

      Here's more:

      As we have noted for the past decade, many major mainstream news orgs run in fear from the dissembling of powerful players like Rush and Sean. For major mainstream players, life is far more pleasant when they don’t call attention to Rush and Sean’s misconduct.

      In recent weeks and months, Glenn Kessler, the Post’s official Fact-Checker, has been turning into a rather unbalanced scolder of Obama and Clinton. That said, how many times has Kessler ever corrected the many misstatements of Hannity?

      Is that "ignoring such a massive part of the national media discourse" or is he referring to a private conversation with Paul Farhi? What is the matter with you? Are you toked out on herb or what? Why is it you can't read or think?

      We just aren’t a very smart bunch

      FRIDAY, AUGUST 26, 2016

      Meanwhile, our big mainstream legacy news orgs have persistently failed to challenge the conduct of such partisan players and orgs. Misinformation and deliberate confusion are routinely ignored—ignored and permitted to stand.

      For the last ten years, we've been begging our big mainstream orgs to accept a basic principle: When
      or misinform millions of people, that is in itself a news event, a news event which should be addressed in front page news reporting.

      FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 17, 2010

      "Hannity serves the interests of wealth and power." "The other side has highly skilled leadership working to serve plutocratic interests."

      FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 1, 2002

      Did Gore “bring Willie Horton to the American people?” As usual, Hannity was lying, once again. Meanwhile, Alan Colmes again sat silently by as his partner slandered Gore, misled his viewers, and dragged our discourse through the mud where Hannity’s kind has always been happiest. What does it mean? What does it mean when the world’s most important democracy conducts its public discourse this way?

      Readers, is it any wonder that Dissembling Sean simply lied in your face last night? He knew that Alan would stand quietly by—as all but Morton did two years ago.Bradley, of course, knew what Hannity knows—that no one in the press corps would even say Boo if he spun out a false, approved tale.

      Gloucon X, Greg, et al the commenters here are retarded!

    6. Gloucon, you're fucking idiot! Have a nice Sunday dumbfuck.

    7. Bob " has ignored right wing hate radio that for his entire 20 years of blogging."?

    8. He's written about Sean and Rush hundreds of times. What is your response? Hannity said those things on his TV show right? Not his radio show therefore your idiotic point is valid? You're a dumbfuck.

    9. @7:11 et al:
      Just because Somerby mentions “Hannity” doesn’t mean he is necessarily critiquing him. The examples you cite do make a passing critical remark about Hannity, but they are critiques of the mainstream media for not critiquing Hannity. Somerby himself isn’t really critiquing him so much.

      Somerby’s very motto is ‘musings on the mainstream "press corps"’ and he does not consider Hannity et al to be part of the “mainstream.”

      Somerby is obsessed with Maddow, MSNBC, CNN, the Post and the Times, to the exclusion of almost any other news outlets, your copying and pasting from a couple of his posts notwithstanding.

    10. Is there a lack of apparatchiks, in the liberal propaganda machine, working day and night to vilify Sean Hannity? What is your point, dembot, really?

    11. The commenters above pretend that Somerby has criticized Hannity as much as mainstream outlets. That isn’t true, because that ISN’T THE PURPOSE OF HIS BLOG. How stupid can they be to think that that was a rebuttal to the original commenter?

    12. "because that ISN’T THE PURPOSE OF HIS BLOG"

      That's true.

      Well, perhaps the commenters above were trying to refute what they perceive as an accusation that Bob is somehow sympathising with Hannity? Otherwise, how would you explain the commenters above being so agitated?

    13. You may need to check your reading comprehension. The original commenter doesn’t accuse Somerby of sympathizing with Hannity; he/she laments that Somerby *ignores* figures like Hannity. And that is a critique of Bob’s almost single-minded focus on mainstream media.

    14. Sure, I'll check my reading comprehension, dembot. Right after you explain to me what the phrase "what they perceive as" means to you.

    15. "Somerby’s very motto is ‘musings on the mainstream "press corps"’ and he does not consider Hannity et al to be part of the “mainstream.”

      neither does the New York Times or Washington Post or MSNBC etc etc. That's precisely his point. If hannity and right-wing radio are mainstream, why are their machinations and propaganda not front page news? That's the question. The original commenter claimed that Somerby ignored them for 20 years which is completely false. He has, hundreds of times, pointed out that mainstream media should be talking about their propaganda. they don't. He's pointed out this hundreds of times. It's a completely valid point.

      I agree with the commenters above. There is a incredible lack of reading comprehension on the part of these critics here.

      It may just be one person who is either a satirist portraying themselves as a bone dumb idiot or it is really someone who isn't that smart and can't read.

      But they are personally offended that he doesn't criticize both sides equally. They said it over and over again. They dislike just having the liberal side criticized. Which is another flaw of reasoning and logic on their part.

    16. @12:49
      It isn’t a matter of being “personally offended.” That is an assumption that you know the original commenter’s frame of mind. He/she is saying that Somerby has perhaps missed some important elements in his critique. It’s a valid criticism, given that Somerby principally lays the blame for Gore’s loss on the mainstream media, for example, without really taking other factors into account. It is a theory that can legitimately be critiqued, but Somerby defenders don’t seem to want to have that debate. It isn’t about disliking the liberal side criticized. It’s about a proper holistic view of the problem.

    17. @12:47
      Gee, I’m not a mind reader, so why did those commenters construe (or pretend to construe) the original commenter as Somerby “sympathizing with Hannity.”?

      Stupidity? Disingenuousness? Ask them.

    18. "so why did those commenters construe (or pretend to construe) the original commenter as Somerby “sympathizing with Hannity.”?"

      Perhaps because the mantra 'Somerby is not "critiquing" Hannity' implies, to a reasonable person, that Somerby is being accused of sympathizing with Hannity.

      Otherwise, why even mention Hannity? Somerby is not "critiquing" Jeffrey St. Clair (for example) either. So what? Where's the outrage?

    19. "He/she is saying that Somerby has perhaps missed some important elements in his critique",, he or she said nothing of the sort. They said Bob ignored right wing hate radio for his entire 20 years of blogging. A total falsehood.

      "It’s a valid criticism, given that Somerby principally lays the blame for Gore’s loss on the mainstream media, for example, without really taking other factors into account"

      They said that right wing hate radio was mainstream media. What is in the water that you dumb fucks can't even read?

      No one of these illiterate Gloucon morons have ever made a coherent theory about these other factors of which you speak. he/they/you/it are too dumb to even read. For some reason. It's weird. They just lay out petulant incoherencies.

      It's too bad. I would have the debate.

      I would love it if someone would show me the mainstream media were not the principal media element that took Gore and Howard Dean etc down.

      Can you make that argument? In a media perpespective, the mainstream media was not the principal factor for Gore's loss?

      Yes seriously doubt that?!?

      I also agree with Somerby that if they had taken right wing radio propaganda and falsehoods seriously and reported them accurately, we would be living in a much different world.

    20. "I would love it if someone would show me the mainstream media were not the principal media element that took Gore and Howard Dean etc down."

      I have made that argument here before. Gore had many other problems besides the media ridicule. For example, he appointed Joe Lieberman as his running mate and many dems didn't like Lieberman. He deliberately disassociated himself from Bill & Hillary instead of support them and running on Clinton's record. That gave him a prudish air that was furthered by Tipper's unfortunate war on rock music, which alienated young people and those with 1st amendment interests. Gore/Tipper were no match for Frank Zappa. Then there were some scandals related to fund-raising and involvement of foreign countries in his campaign finance. George Bush lied about his positions in order to look more similar to Gore leading some to believe there wasn't much difference between them. He had lots of problems.

    21. What is the holistic argument? What is the legitimate critique?

      Somerby principally lays the blame for Gore’s loss on the mainstream media without really taking other factors into account?

      We all know there are other factors. If the other factors are right wing radio - Bob has asked that the mainstream media report about them and they have not.

      Does principally laying the blame for Gore’s loss on the mainstream media without really taking right wing radio into account lessen the critique he makes on mainstream media? Is an obsesstion with Maddow, MSNBC, CNN, the Post and the Times, to the exclusion of almost any other news outlets, mean he is wrong about what he says Maddow, MSNBC, CNN, the Post and the Times have done?

      How would the inclusion of "missed important elements" change the critique of Maddow, MSNBC, CNN, the Post and the Times?

    22. For the last two years on a nearly daily basis, Bob has reported breathlessly from Maddow's transcripts which he has thoroughly raked through for the slightest error or exaggeration. I haven't seen the same done to Rush, Hannity, Glenn Beck, or Michael Savage, etc. Why not? By any measure, they all have or had a bigger audience than Maddow. They all have made more money than she has. And there is no doubt that they all represent the pinnacle of the dreaded tribalism he whines about so incessantly. Bob, at least try to be more fair and balanced.

  6. “In fairness, that letter is an amateur effort.”

    Well, duh. Then why spend half a post on it? We thought this blog was about the professional
    media, not writers of letters to the Post.

  7. “But which of the various statements by Cuomo and Conway has been judged to be false? “

    Yes, it’s certainly hard to tell what Qiu could possibly mean here, or whether she was referring to Conway or Cuomo in a piece with title “Kellyanne Conway’s Inaccurate Claims About Michael Cohen’s Hush-Money Payments”

    And with the subtitle “Ms. Conway, a counselor to President Trump, falsely claimed that he did not know about payments to two women until this year, and misleadingly suggested the arrangement occurred in August 2015.”

    Then Somerby goes on to say “we went back and looked at the transcript of the full exchange between Cuomo and Conway, and Qiu's account of what Conway was "suggesting" at that point strikes us as inaccurate. “, without sharing with us, his hapless readers, where the inaccuracy was that struck him.

    He just takes the shot and judges us humans as apes and ends it. Weak.

  8. "We've often been amazed to think that the New York Times can't find a more skillful fact-checker"

    The kind of creature that reads this goebbelsian rag is a long-decayed zombie.

    Zombies got no brains. They don't need any "skillful fact-checker" (whatever the hell that is). All they need is a loud pleasing sound.

  9. Hey Bob? You'll never read this, since you let freaks and weird fortune tellers run amok in the comments here. Stop pissing your pants about every stupid thing someone somewhere says about stupid shit. Your take is inevitably: "We liberals are to blame!" and that's why you suck so badly. Seriously, you're awful. I consider you a right wing blogger at this point.

    1. Are you also Gloucon and Greg et al? All the same guy? Ya'll can't read? Why is that? It's strange. He never has said "We liberals are to blame!". "I consider you a right wing blogger at this point." That's because you are a dumbfuck that can't read.

    2. Your defense of Somerby is quite civil...not. But more importantly, I don’t think it’s entirely clear from having read Somerby for a long time what his politics are. He says “we liberals” and includes himself in that, but who knows? He doesn’t advocate liberal policy in general, so it’s a little hard to tell. Is it ultimately that important? Probably not. But I tend to be skeptical of people’s self-characterizations, and it may matter if he is representing himself as something to his readers that he is not. But I don’t claim to know for sure.

      He has had some very harsh words about liberals:
      “We’re lazy and dumb and our morals are bad. There’s little reason for people to like us. Presumably, nobody does.”

      Perhaps that shows that he is liberal. Perhaps not.

      I do know that his defenders are often quite nasty and uncivil.

    3. Bob most certainly is a liberal, just not entirely a zombie, yet.

      You will reply, obviously, that "thinking liberal" is an oxymoron, but if you live long enough, you'll occasionally observe some freakish occurrences in nature. Perhaps this is one of them...

    4. There are liberals, and then there are “liberals” and then there are “progressives” and “Democrats”, and Somerby isn’t necessarily clear which one he is referring to. It matters in disputes among the “left” such as the Bernie/Hillary rift, with one side or the other claiming the mantle of “true liberal.”

      It’s only important in the sense that his ambiguity leads to potential confusion amongst his readers.

      And there is actually no way of assessing his true politics. His blog is not an adequate indication of any such thing.

    5. You don't have to assess his politics to figure out whether he is liberal or not. You can judge by the words he posts every day. Most often, he repeats a paraphrased version of right wing talking points on whatever is the current controversy. He regularly carries water for the right. That's all we need to know about him.

    6. "It’s only important in the sense that his ambiguity leads to potential confusion amongst his readers"

      Speak for yourself.

  10. "He regularly carries water for the right. *That's all we need to know about him.*"

    Wow, I hate to liken to Mao, but that's spoken like a true dembot.

    1. Emphasis added. That's all we need to know about determine whether he is liberal or not.

      Fixed that for me.

  11. Somerby has no consistent political ideology because his support is determined by who has been nice to him; he likes whoever likes him.

    Gore is a major focus here because he was Gore's roommate back in the day. He defended Roseanne because he knew her and liked her. If he were friends with Stormy, he would be defending her now, instead of attacking her. Hillary apparently never gave him the time of day...or he didn't like the way Bill & Hillary treated Gore when he was VP.

    Don't look for any more sophisticated thinking than that. If he had liked his Godel professor, he wouldn't be knocking him now.

    1. I love dembot psychoanalysis. Would you enlighten us about his Oedipus complex, please.

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