7/31-8/6/17…

Monday, Monday…

And on this cheerful but not unrealistic note…http://kunstler.com/clusterfuck-nation/narratives-not-truths/

My neighborhood has been overbuilt, over-promoted and overcrowded. The Bloomberg legacy at its most intense. Yesterday we drove to Fairway, stopping at Red Hook Lobster Pound (highest recommendation) for a bite. Amazing how quiet it became once we turned off on Van Brunt. This from an ad agency exec who’s moving his business from DUMBO to Red Hook: “As much as we like Dumbo, it’s starting to feel a little hectic,” he said. “What we like about Red Hook is that it’s got a very neighborhood kind of feel, and it feels like it does move at its own pace.”   I’m not moving because I like my apartment and at 81, I’ll go no more a-roving.

https://aeon.co/essays/how-did-usury-stop-being-a-sin-and-become-respectable-finance A question I’ve been asking myself for thirty years.

Naked Capitalism pointed me to this. It is absolutely essential reading, at least for anyone the least bit curious about why the world and life have turned out the way they have. https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/10/how-democrats-killed-their-populist-soul/504710/  I can add a bit of a coda. In 1977, the Carter crowd came to Washington; I was then dating a lovely lady from the District who knew most of these people. They were just ever so smart,  ever so full of themselves, and so concentrated on the higher things – namely foreign policy and economic theory – that they had little time for the workaday world of business and getting and spending and the way things work. At the same time, and Stoller would have served himself well to have mentioned this, a Fifth Column was being organized, thanks to a memorandum addressed to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce by a smart Richmond lawyer (later a Supreme Court justice) named Lewis Powell that argued that it was time for business to take back the nation. This set in train a sequence of events, manipulations and policies that would ultimately lead through Goldwater to Reagan, and thence to Clinton and the mess we’re in now.

Today’s NYT  Arts has an article on a LA painter called Mark Grotjahn, for whose work the usual suspects (M-J Kravis, Tom Hill, Geffen, Marron, Cohen and I’m sure the Broads own a few) are falling all over each other to drop millions. From what I can see online, the work is pleasant enough, although highly derivative. The artist has been compared to De Kooning and Rothko; neither comparison works for me, but stuff like this needs a legend to support the pricing, which in Grotjahn’s case (the following is from the Gagosian website) has to be made of pure horseshit.   “While at first glance, Mark Grotjahn’s oeuvre appears bound purely to aesthetic in modernist discourse, references to nature and movement abound. His butterfly motif, one of several recurring references to the natural world, has yielded extensive permutations in both painting and drawing. The ongoing Butterfly series foregrounds modes of perspectival investigation, such as dual and multiple vanishing points— techniques used since the Renaissance to create the illusion of depth and volume on a two-dimensional surface.    These iconic compositions of complex, skewed angles and radiant, tonal color allude to the multiple narratives coursing through the history of modernist painting, from the utopian vision of Russian Constructivism to the hallucinatory images of Op Art. The elegance of Grotjahn’s work is frequently tempered by visible scuffs and markings that attest to the contingencies of process in his otherwise highly controlled compositions.”

This is our guy Nik, superintendent of our building. Because the WSJ works behind a firewall, I’m posting the whole article:

By Michael M. Phillips
July 31, 2017 11:51 a.m. ET

BROOKLYN—On any given day, building superintendent Besnik Sokoli might be in the boiler room working on the furnace.

Or he might be in the boiler room working on his skiing.

Mr. Sokoli, a war refugee and super of five apartment buildings in the hip Dumbo neighborhood between the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges, entered his first serious ski race six months ago, when he was 35. Now he’s making a long-shot bid for the 2018 Winter Olympics.

After work each day, Mr. Sokoli sets aside his walkie-talkie and tool belt, slips on a weighted vest, dons a mask to mimic high-altitude oxygen deprivation, and climbs onto a secondhand ski simulator braced between a broken cooling unit and a tub of snow-white paint. Then he spends 45 minutes swiveling from side to side, imitating a run down a slalom course.

Says Mr. Sokoli: “It doesn’t get any more Brooklyn than this.”

Mr. Sokoli’s natural athletic ability and preternatural competitive drive are surprising world-class skiers, who won’t rule out the possibility he will earn a spot competing for his native Kosovo in PyeongChang, South Korea, in February. He finished near the top in a series of East Coast races this winter and is currently racing in international events in South Africa, Chile and Argentina to try to earn Olympic-qualifying ratings.

“It’s preposterous—but intriguing as all hell,” says University of Connecticut ski coach Bruce Diamond, who finished behind Mr. Sokoli at a race this winter. “If anybody can pull it off, I’m starting to think it’s Nik.”

Mr. Sokoli’s quest calls to mind other unlikely Olympians of lore: the Jamaican bobsled team that caught the public’s imagination at the 1988 Calgary games, and Michael “Eddie the Eagle” Edwards, who took up ski jumping in part because Britain had no other Olympic athletes in the event.

Mr. Sokoli raced at the Booster Strap Summer Fun Nationals at Mt. Hood, Oregon, in July.
Mr. Sokoli raced at the Booster Strap Summer Fun Nationals at Mt. Hood, Oregon, in July. PHOTO: JAKE NICOL/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Mr. Sokoli was born in Kosovo in 1981, when it was still part of Yugoslavia. He skied as a child, but not seriously. Sometimes he would grass-ski on pieces of plastic his dad cut from milk crates.

Boxing was his sport. Compact and powerful—today he crams 190 pounds into his 5-foot-7 frame—Mr. Sokoli fought his way to the finals of the Pristina city championships at 14. Before the bout, he proudly told his dad that at least he would get silver.

His father, he says, slapped him and yanked him from the tournament for displaying an insufficient desire to win. Mr. Sokoli sees the episode as a valuable lesson. “I’m not going to go to the Olympics to experience it and have fun,” he says. “I’m going to push as hard as I can to do way better than I think I can.”

By the time Mr. Sokoli reached his late teens, Yugoslavia had splintered, and Pristina, Kosovo’s capital, was racked by street fighting between ethnic Albanians and Serbs. Mr. Sokoli, an Albanian, survived being shot in the face once and stabbed in the back twice. His father sanitized the knife wound with beer and cauterized it with a match, he recalls.

Years earlier, Mr. Sokoli’s father had saved a Serb from drowning; now the same man offered to get 17-year-old Besnik to safety. The escape was harrowing, with Besnik carrying a pistol to pass as a Serbian militiaman.

Mr. Sokoli crossed into Montenegro, Albania and finally Macedonia. He found his parents there; they had been ousted from their home at gunpoint after Besnik’s flight. The three resettled in Arizona when he was 18. He arrived with English learned watching “Beverly Hills, 90210”; now barely a trace remains of his Kosovar origins under his thick New York accent.

In 2006 he met Brooklyn-born Flutura Qosaj through AlbanianPersonals.com and moved to New York. Now the couple, their three young children and Mr. Sokoli’s mother share a two-bedroom apartment that comes with his job.

For fun, he sparred at Brooklyn’s storied Gleason’s Gym.

“Whenever he boxes or plays, he does it to the fullest extent until he wins,” says Mrs. Sokoli, an office manager. In one neighborhood basketball game, Mr. Sokoli refused to quit despite a broken bone piercing the skin on his hand.

The Sokolis bought a small house in the Poconos so their children could grow up skiing. On a lark, Mr. Sokoli entered a giant-slalom race in January on Belleayre Mountain. N.Y. He won, and was hooked.

A third place at Bear Creek Mountain Resort. A first place at Shawnee Mountain Ski Area. Each time, he attracted a throng of curious racers.

“We saw him coming down pretty fast, and we noticed that he didn’t have a perfect technique, but he had huge potential,” says French skier Tristan Mollet, who coaches at Shawnee and finished behind Mr. Sokoli.
Soon Mr. Sokoli was hitting races every weekend and some weekdays, bolting from the city after 10 hours at work. Two months into his skiing career, he returned home late from a race and sat with his wife at the cramped kitchen table. “How serious is this?” she asked.

“I’m taking this to the Olympics,” Mr. Sokoli replied.

He jotted down his estimate of how much he would have to spend: $17,000. “This is the point where people turn and say, ‘Forget it,’ and give up on their dreams,” Mr. Sokoli said.

Mrs. Sokoli reached for the paper. “The last thing I want for you,” she told her husband, “is to be 80 years old, sitting on the couch watching the Winter Olympics and wondering if I could have made it.”

At season’s end, Mr. Sokoli was ranked No. 1 in New York state in giant slalom among Nastar racers, and 151st in the country. Nastar is a program that allows skiers to compare themselves with U.S. national team pacesetters.

In the spring, Mr. Sokoli discovered he could qualify for the Olympics only by entering races that allotted International Ski Federation, or FIS, points. Competitors begin with 990 points, and reduce that number the better they perform. Mr. Sokoli needs to reach around 130 points by January to race in South Korea.

He called the Kosovo Ski Federation, which cheerfully added him to the small national team and endorsed his entry into Olympic-qualifying races. If he makes it, the federation promises a racing suit, a helmet and a hat and jacket for the opening ceremony. Maybe some skis.

“Unfortunately we don’t really have much equipment to give him,” says Selim Maloku, secretary-general of the Federata Skitare e Kosoves. “Our state isn’t going well economically.”

The Sokolis maxed out their credit cards, and in April Mr. Sokoli traveled to Norway for his first qualifying race. As usual, he drew a crowd.

“There was one guy on bad skis and bad ski boots,” recalls Austrian-born Simon Breitfuss, the sole skier on the Bolivian men’s team. “His [gear] was like a tourist’s, not for racing.”

Mr. Breitfuss and his father, his coach, were on a budget, too, and were sleeping in their car. Mr. Sokoli invited them to bunk in the house he had rented.

Canadian Johnny Davidson, coach of the Norwegian national team, spotted Mr. Sokoli in the lodge. His first thought: “This guy looks really old.” Every man on the Norwegian team had started skiing before the age of 4; one of them lent Mr. Sokoli skis that met FIS standards.

Mr. Sokoli finished last in both slalom and giant slalom. But he finished; about a third of the racers didn’t make it through the slushy course without falling or missing a gate.

He arrived in Norway with 990 points in giant slalom; he left with 375.5.

Mr. Sokoli returned to Brooklyn, to patrolling the halls, straightening carpet tiles and picking up stray wads of paper. He acquired another credit card, ordered top-notch Austrian skis and left for his races in the southern hemisphere. On Friday, in his first slalom race in South Africa, he finished 44th out of 56 entrants and slashed his FIS points to 258.74.

Says Mrs. Sokoli: “One-hundred percent he believes he’s making it to the Olympics.”

Four topless girls on the roof across Water St. and my binoculars are packed away!

8/1

This all makes sense. Michael Jensen of Harvard Business School who published the 1980s paper that advocated that the main if not the sole function of management is “to maximize shareholder value”, a notion that gained immediate widespread currency (no pun!) to the point of becoming an eternal truth,  will in my opinion be judged by history to have been more destructive to capitalism than Marx ever dreamed of. http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/08/shareholder-value-killing-innovation.html 

No comment necessary. As gilded a lily as I’ve seen. http://www.marketwatch.com/story/this-1-number-sums-up-why-that-foxconn-deal-is-over-the-top-bad-for-wisconsin-2017-07-28

 

8/2

I think I wrote about this a while back. Nice to see Bloomberg catch up, as in: “Americans still tend to own slightly more than one vehicle apiece, but they are keeping those vehicles longer. The average car or truck on U.S. roads today was made in 2005. They’re still on the road because, well, they’re still on the road. Vehicles made in the past 15 to 20 years are vastly more reliable than their predecessors. The U.S. auto industry is in a pickle, in part, because it did too good of a job.” https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-08-02/the-real-reason-car-sales-are-falling

This (WSJ by Philip Delves Broughton) from a new book (Steven Clifford, The CEO Pay Machine) on the pitfalls implicit in present-day theories of CEO compensation (WSJ has a paywall so I’m quoting a bit of text): “Mr. Clifford blames the emergence of the CEO pay machine on three people: Michael Jensen, Milton Rock and Bill Clinton. Mr. Jensen is the Harvard Business School professor who argued that the single best measure for managerial performance is a company’s stock price. He wrote that the CEO’s main job is to maximize shareholder value, and the way to ensure that the CEO does that is to give him shares so he acts more like a “value-maximizing entrepreneur” than a bureaucrat. It turns out, though, that stock awards and bonuses often don’t align the interests of managers and shareholders; they encourage short-term boosts to earnings rather than investing for long-term growth.”

Worried about biased “impeccable” journalism? A MUST read: http://www.politico.com/story/2017/08/01/trump-wall-street-journal-interview-full-transcript-241214

I find this fascinating: http://www.businessinsider.com/uber-and-lyft-mangle-car-rental-taxi-sectors-2017-7?nr_email_referer=1&utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_content=BISelect&pt=385758&ct=Sailthru_BI_Newsletters&mt=8&utm_campaign=BI%20Select%20%28Tuesday%20Thursday%29%202017-08-01&utm_term=Business%20Insider%20Select%20-%20Engaged%2C%20Active%2C%20Passive%2C%20Disengaged

Amen. https://news.artnet.com/art-world/philippe-de-montebello-on-the-met-and-acquavella-1037348

My pal Robert M. Rubin says what a lot of us are thinking: https://news.artnet.com/art-world/rubin-letter-koons-gift-paris-posioned-chalice-1038512?utm_content=from_&utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Combined%20newsletter%20for%208%2F2%2F17&utm_term=artnet%20News%20Daily%20Newsletter%20USE

I think I’m going to buy this book – if only as a vote in favor of its point of view. There’s a large part of me that’s old-fashioned, officer-class conservatism (gleaned from my father; having been an undergraduate father at 20, I was spared military service): officers look out for their men; always investigate the bathwater to see whether there might be a baby in it. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/paloma/daily-202/2017/08/02/daily-202-jeff-flake-delivers-the-most-courageous-conservative-rebuttal-of-trumpism-yet/59812c9b30fb045fdaef10a8/?utm_term=.541309994a84&wpisrc=nl_most&wpmm=1

8/3

Double Amen-no, make that a triple! https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-08-02/bust-up-america-s-monopolies-before-they-do-more-harm?utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&utm_term=170802&utm_campaign=sharetheview If you don’t think this is a problem, compare your most recent cable bill to last year’s. Price inflation is rampant. And that raises the question: what idiot, and when, decided to exclude food, fuel and housing from the Cost of Living indices?

Listening to various talking heads and blatherskites, starting with Trump, talking about how immigration affects jobs for otherwise hard-working Americans keeps reminding me of what someone I know with a business out in Carriage Trade Central, aka “dud Hamptons,” tells me: despite the existence of a large African-American community, with – presumably – large numbers of possible employees, he could not keep his business running without immigrants. Pay isn’t the issue; it’s willingness to work, for whatever reasons. Then there’s a lot of yada yada about “the mobility factor,” with these indices being at postwar lows. Since we know what drives someone from Guatemala or Jalisco to El Norte, with all its risks and uncertainties, is the feeling that the possibility of something is better than than the certainty of zero (the same gamble that is taken by poor people who buy lottery tickets despite the fearsome odds), why shouldn’t this be impelling people to migrate from Detroit or South Bronx projects, say, to Colorado or Omaha? Part of the answer must be human nature. A reluctance to uproot oneself, to leave behind a community, such as it may be, that is at least familiar if nothing else. But there must also be other reasons. Much can be attributed, I suspect, to the war being waged against America’s underprivileged, disadvantaged and outright poor by its wealthier and better-connected and their stooges in Federal, state and local government, a conflict that takes fewer and fewer prisoners with each passing month. I must say, if you were brought up and educated the way I was, it is shaming and disheartening to watch this, and be helpless to stop it (nothing I’ve ever written, writing being my only weapon in the cause of civil and economic decency, has ever made a damn bit of difference!).

The more I read, react and worry about the way we live and hate now, the more it seems to me that the abrasive social interface (can’t think of a better word) called “disrespect” is at the root of many of the problems, whether in its real or its imagined manifestations. Certainly it’s behind the more egregious stuff happening on campuses. Or take something like this (don’t worry – I don’t ever  look at Fox News, I picked this up on Dealbreaker): http://www.foxnews.com/food-drink/2017/08/02/chick-fil-patrons-trash-restaurant-after-heated-exchange-with-staff.html?utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=54928246&_hsenc=p2ANqtz–h5ZiHsUep7gQekk4p0db-K5D4xzjX3FRP_6XUSf91_T-wAAE616yKqoUn5fRfi9L7X9stRc_fgN–ILUNbP-mV2nEvw&_hsmi=54928246 Now when I read something like this, I don’t need to look at the accompanying video (although I will, to confirm my reaction) to know the ethnicity of the offenders. Daily exposure, observation, close reading of the newspapers and certain websites have congealed into an inner algorithm that produces a response and expectation that I suppose I should be ashamed of, that could probably be called “racial bias” or somesuch, except that – goddamnit! – time after time after time after time, my “prejudice” just seems to fit the facts of the matter. To me, it’s all about the perpetrators. Whether the victims – always charged with one or another form of “disrespect” – are of color or not seems to me to be beside the point. Whether they’ve reacted to the circumstances that provoke violent physical or verbal “anti-disrespectism” in the way any normal human being might, or because they’re simply doing their job (I’m not talking about obvious police aggression), the victims cannot and should not be blamed. Take this incident, on the Dallas subway: http://www.nbcdfw.com/news/local/Man-Attacked-on-DART-Train-Left-Motionless-on-Platform-Sunday-437937873.html Here, the victim was African-American. And something he says in the embedded video about how it pains him that “my brothers and sisters have such anger” strikes a chord. Nothing breeds anger more, I would expect (I don’t really know, having been in this position only relatively), than to be poor in the midst of plenty. If this anger ever takes into account what the wealthy of this country have done to earn their riches, if they ever understand what the Wall Street rich really do (the immortal question asked of Tom Wolfe’s Sherman McCoy by his son) to get paid all that money, then we really may get the fire this time.

https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/jul/28/is-the-world-really-better-than-ever-the-new-optimists Really?

Trump is a liar, a coward and a blowhard. Gen. Kelly, apparently, is none of these. He lost a son in Afghanistan while “the president” he now serves (sic) begged off service with a bone spur (bullshit!) Should be interesting.

8/4

Brutal day out there! Here’s an appropriate eye-opener: https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/08/austerity-one-country-case-britain.html The following is what I call getting it right: “There was a time when the Tory party reflected the interests of British business, of those firms and industries that were productive.But as their importance has declined, the hedge fund managers, asset strippers, bankers and property developers have taken their place. The fiscal policies that have been followed have favoured the extractive and destructive activities of the unproductive rich.”

The Way We Cheat Now: http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2017/08/03/lawbreakers-just-really-lucky-mass-has-more-repeat-lottery-winners-than-any-other-state/UD2CzeJHJl5lO8R2WXftBN/story.html?event=event12

Let’s just see how this works. May be another instance of what my late stepmother described the oli business as: “All good news and no money.” http://gothamist.com/2017/08/04/community_land_trust.php?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Daily%20Gothamist%20Daily%20Winter%20Storm%20Warning%20In%20Effect%20As%20NYC%20May%20See%206-12%20Of%20Snow%20Possibly%20More&utm_content=Daily%20Gothamist%20Daily%20Winter%20Storm%20Warning%20In%20Effect%20As%20NYC%20May%20See%206-12%20Of%20Snow%20Possibly%20More+CID_d78d0a09e255ecc7c4a6bc18297dd075&utm_source=CM&utm_term=NYC%20Just%20Made%20Its%20Biggest%20Commitment%20Ever%20To%20A%20Radical%20Affordable%20Housing%20Model

As they used to say, “Wogs begin at Calais.” https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-08-04/neymar-and-why-government-money-is-ruining-soccer  Makes me think of Paul Erdman’s The Crash of ’79, which ends with a bombing raid destroying the Saudi oil fields. Probably not a bad idea, considering that Saudi oil production can be replaced from other sources.  

No comment needed: https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2017/08/wolf-richter-banks-hurt-real-economy-fdics-hoenig-senate.html

8/5

As someone whose favorite subject has been history in various forms, I’m always interested in the way it was and how we got from there to here. This is a long piece, but very fluently written and moderately argued. I recommend it: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/aug/04/how-britain-fell-out-of-love-with-the-free-market?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=The+Long+Read+-+Collections+2017&utm_term=238075&subid=23770632&CMP=longread_collection

I quit! http://www.thedailybeast.com/20-year-old-kidnapped-british-model-rescued-from-deep-web-auction?via=newsletter&source=Weekend

8/6

Our last Sunday in 5C – after 17 years. The furniture shifts down the hall to 5E on Tuesday and on Thursday and Friday, the library I have lovingly and carefully built up over 60 years gets boxed en route to a new and I think productive second life at Brooklyn College. My golf library is going to The Bridge in honor of its founder Robert M. Rubin, as a token of the high, essential regard in which I hold our friendship.

This morning brings news of the death of Egbert Haverkamp-Begemann, a real and respected friend and a great scholar of Dutch and Flemish art who for thirty years oversaw the immense scholarly labors that resulted in the 15-volume scholarly catalogue of the Robert Lehman Collection. On Sundays, we always play church music. As a token of my affection and admiration for Egbert, I’ve put on the very moving Requiem Mass by Antoine Brumel (1460-1512).

I find myself worrying the question of race in America, of racialism and postracialism, of black social pathology (whenever I read of some really awful act of violence, often homicidal, I instinctively murmur “Please, God, don’t let the perp be black” – but 8-9 times out of 10 the perp is – more fodder for the troglodytes). This makes a bunch of good points: https://thebaffler.com/salvos/race-to-bottom-crenshaw Here are a number of excellent points with which to start: “Where Obama solemnly obeyed every command that issued from America’s meritocratic superego, Trump has slithered directly into the Oval Office from the heart of our white business civilization’s political id. Where Obama extolled bipartisan reason, Trump stokes social-media resentments; where Obama pursued chimerical “grand bargains” with the GOP Congress and its private-sector retainers, Trump claims to embody the sharp-eyed “art of the deal”—i.e., the art of presiding over a gamed system in which he’s always assured to take the other contracting party for a ride.”  A point I made in the MS of my novel, but which people close to me insisted that I take out, is that Obama was every bien-pensant white person’s ideal black man.

An interesting review written almost 25 years ago. Louis A. was a friend And a character in his own stories! https://www.newcriterion.com/issues/1994/12/stingless-wasp

Amen. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/book-party/wp/2017/08/03/sorry-but-i-dont-care-how-you-felt-on-election-night-not-anymore/?utm_term=.3826c50c4b02&wpisrc=nl_most&wpmm=1 Please note that practically all the writers most effulgent in their self-worshipful grief are people no one has ever heard of. Probably for good reason. This is one aspect of media viralism that repels me: the ability to find nonentities who will say what they’re asked to, if only for that momentary lightning flash of limelight. Here’s a list of the writers etc. quoted in the cited piece. How many have you heard of? “…novelist Meredith Russo,. novelist Mira Jacob, writer Nicole Chung, Stanford University scholar Jeff Chang, Pulitzer winner Junot Diaz (included in the interest of fairness) and editor Carolina De Robertis, writer Parnaz Foroutan, Egyptian feminist Mona Eltahawy, Poet Mohja Kahf , Princeton University lecturer Boris Fishman, Satyen K. Bordoloi, a Mumbai filmmaker,   journalist Andrés Miguel Rondón, Turkish political scientist N. Turkuler Isiksel, Hungarian author Miklós Haraszti, business professor Luigi Zingales (another name known to me – approvingly), novelist and “Radical Hope” contributor Luis Alberto Urrea, scholar Bernard Avishai (also a recognized name), clinical psychologist Ava Siegler, Slate’s Dan Kois (to paraphrase Lady Bracknell, “Nowadays, writing for Slate is no guarantee of respectability”),   UCLA historian Robin D.G. Kelley, filmmaker John Ziegler, novelist Katie Kitamura (sounds like someone I may have heard of)”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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