The Pakistani Institute for magical Studies is housed in a series of lodges on a nondescript hillside in Neelam Valley. Long ago, during a yearly study trip to Harappa, a group of students stumbled upon a pocket of lingering ancient dark magic. Upon their return, amulets had to be placed around the perimeter of campus to ward off any malevolent forces that may have bound itself to the students. Despite the prevalence of black magic in the country, the school has strayed from it in its studies, and professors often scoff at practitioners who offer their services in exchange for money. Bouts of stomach sickness are common amongst first years due to overconsumption of Qizilbash Quality Confectionary’s cauldron cakes which parents typically include in care packages. The school nurse resorted to storing jars of stomachache tonic in each residence to prevent overcrowding in the infirmary. Due to the rich amount of folklore in each of the provinces, students often gather at dusk on sunny days and host rounds of singing and storytelling in fields of tall grass. There is one area in particular that has been frequented so often that voices of past storytellers can still be heard.

Village People: Cruisin’
Released: September 25, 1978

In 1979, one Chicago DJ’s personal crusade/PR campaign came to a head with a ridiculous stunt at Comiskey Park, the destruction of thousands of disco records at halftime. Predictably, the event turned into a debacle—people overcrowded the park, rushed the field, the police were called, the baseball game was cancelled. It’s surreal now to imagine over 50,000 people gathering in violent protest because of a music genre, and it may be one of the only instances of such a thing being sparked purely by music itself outside of the classical concert riots of the past. No one took stock of the records carried in to be destroyed that night but you can be certain that a large percentage of the discs that lay shattered and smoldering in the grass were those by Village People, a group arguably as much the public face of disco at the time as John Travolta and the Bee Gee’s, though far more emblematic of everything that was so despised about it.

Village People were essentially a boy band, constructed by French composer Jacques Morali and producer Henri Belolo. Morali’s first break had been the the Ritchie Family’s 1975 hit disco version of “Aquarela do Brasil.” The song’s success brought Morali and Belolo from Paris to New York, and into the gay clubs that were quietly driving the genre. Disco had already been incubating for years in New York’s underground nightlife of tiny clubs and private parties, a cultural safe space for queers and people of color, a more honest, diverse and urban revision of hippie utopianism, powered by Latin music, soul, funk and psychedelia. Morali was young and passionate and Belolo was a shrewd businessman. Together, they saw huge opportunity in the gay men of the city who spent their nights living and breathing disco. Their next project would be a group designed specifically to appeal to that audience, dressed in the campy masculine garb one could spot any night in Greenwich Village.

Village People’s 1977 debut was co-written and sung entirely by Victor Willis, a Broadway performer who’d been part of the original cast of The Wiz. The album produced a minor hit and Morali was soon forced to throw together an actual group for performances, supposedly putting out an ad for “macho types” with mustaches and eventually settling in 1978 on a set of characters and performers: a cop (Willis), a Native American (Felipe Rose), a sailor (Alex Briley), a construction worker (David Hodo), a cowboy (Randy Jones) and a biker (Glenn Hughes). Though there were a number of straight men in Village People and Morali’s behind the scenes crew, the music and the group’s style practically codified an entire range of stereotypes. Odes are sung to Key West, San Francisco (a city of freedom where “every gesture has a meaning”) and Fire Island (“Don’t go in the bushes / Someone might grab you”) Institutions like the Navy and the YMCA become settings for the promise of barely concealed gay escapades. Occasionally, songs even rise above winking innuendo, like Macho Man’s surprisingly frank anthem “I Am What I Am,” which proclaims that “love is not a sin” and “people have the right to live with who they please.”

Cruisin’ is the group’s most successful album, reaching number 3 on the US charts, and it’s title is perhaps their most ridiculous insertion of gay life into mainstream culture, generally passing over the heads of straight audiences as a driving reference until William Friedkin’s controversial film Cruising made the term’s meaning clear two years later. The album opens with their biggest hit, “Y.M.C.A.,” an infamous homage to the international chain of gyms and community centers. It’s a standard, simple tune, and a shameless retread of their first hit, “San Francisco (You’ve Got Me),” driven by a pulsing beat and a melodramatic horn section answering every lyric. “Y.M.C.A.” bids “young men” to visit the Y, where “you can hang out with all the boys.” While songs like “Y.M.C.A.” and “In the Navy” read immediately as gay subversion, there is also a layer of sincerity in their promotion of American institutions. The straight Victor Willis has cited his own love of and reliance on the YMCA as a black youth, and Morali and Belolo were immigrants who saw successful lives in the U.S. as the ultimate dream. They were, after all, responsible for Patrick Juvet’s comically patriotic hit “I Love America.”

Of course, “Y.M.C.A.” is still packed with innuendo. Village People’s point of view is that of a kind of modern, all-American gay man. The joyously bobbing “I’m a Cruiser” makes cruising sound like a triumphant expression of freedom: “When I feel like having myself a fling / I just go out and I do my own thing / If the right person should pass by my way / I do not wait to make myself a play.” “The Women,” one of the album’s more soul-tinged songs, salutes “the women who know they are women,” sounding at first like a sudden feint towards heterosexuality, until the group begins listing “Judy, Marilyn, Donna, Diana…” Despite all this, Cruisin’ is—believe it or not—somewhat less provocative overall than the group’s first two albums. Tracks like Willis’s rambling personal anthem “Hot Cop” and the goofy “My Roommate” sound downright innocent.

Ultimately, the key to Village People’s sound is as much Broadway as disco. Willis’s theater background turns every song into an excerpt from a big budget musical soundtrack, lead vocals stridently addressing the listener as if from a stage, the rest of the group undergirding every point with chants and bellowed harmonies. It is a formula that becomes tiresome in repetition and it severs Village People’s music from disco’s smooth, soulful Motown sensibilities, creating something a lot harder to take seriously. Cruisin’ does close with one startling, uncharacteristically personal song. “Up’s & Down’s” has that typically insistent theater delivery but its lyrics are something else, a despairing account of pill addiction, almost certainly the work of Willis, who would spend the next three decades battling drug addiction. It’s a strange note to end on, its inappropriately happy atmosphere punctured repeatedly by chilling stabs of laser beam synth.

By the time Village People became a national phenomenon, disco had already been dragged uptown and into the mainstream, Studio 54 and Saturday Night Fever carefully scrubbing away the queerness and replacing it with a white, upper-class sheen. For a couple of years, disco was truly everywhere. Producers and artists like Rick Dees scored one-off hits with ridiculous gimmicks and “discofied” versions of classical pieces and traditional songs (remember Morali and Belolo’s “Brazil”). Familiar artists jumped on the trend, from Cher to Kiss, Rod Stewart to the Rolling Stones. Disco product flooded the market and the sound spread from New York to every town in America. The culture went from something special and unique to something snobbishly exclusive, and then to something so common that it became boring. By the end of 1979, disco was rapidly disappearing from the charts and clubs, and labels were folding left and right. Village People’s label, Casablanca Records, would be closed by PolyGram in 1986 after years of declining sales.

At the time of Disco Demolition, the narrative that the disco backlash was motivated by racism or heterosexism was only promoted by a minority of critics like Robert Christgau and Rolling Stone’s Dave Marsh, but in the three decades since that night it has become somewhat canonical. Many who took part in the backlash refute these claims. They point out, not unreasonably, that disco’s public face was largely white, straight and corporate, that the genre’s legendarily diverse underground was unknown to most of the nation. Disco was also more a producer’s genre than anything else, a fact that challenged the 60s generation’s deeply ingrained reverence to the authentic, singer-songwriter ideal.

Village People were specifically accused of exploiting gay audiences to sell records, a claim that had some merit. While the general creative mastermind behind the group (Morali) was gay, most of his collaborators were not, and it’s doubtful the executives at Casablanca were particularly interested in advancing gay rights. Still, for punks and liberal rockers afraid of being lumped in with the drunk working class teens of Demolition Night, the exploitation angle might have been a helpful way of reconciling their innate disgust with their progressive politics. If you’re cool with Lou Reed and New York Dolls, you couldn’t be a homophobe, right? But there’s great condescension in that—a gay person or a black person can only escape mockery if they’re willing to embrace overwhelmingly white or straight cultural signifiers. Maybe disco was frightening because it was a world where sexual and racial minorities didn’t have to make concessions to be cool, a space that wasn’t inherently welcoming to straight white men, no matter how liberal they were.

Village People—as much of a pandering, commercial gimmick as they honestly were—make most of those modern day refutations from disco backlashers seem even more like revisionism. There was nothing particularly coy about the group’s expressions of homosexuality, and that’s what really made them, and disco itself, dangerous. Disco was felt, if not openly acknowledged, as a radical incursion of queerness and blackness into an America that was still a decade from the death of Martin Luther King, still deeply uncomfortable with the idea that gay people even existed.

For queer people, the dancefloor has long seemed like a place where one can be redefined, where one can escape and disassemble straight conventions. This was an idea born alongside disco and it’s utopian visions, and from disco’s charred grave here in Chicago, something else bloomed unexpectedly. While underground disco continued to flourish in New York at mythic clubs like the Paradise Garage, the Midwest saw clubs and record stores close, radio stations switch formats. Gay and black communities still hungry for dance music began to form local movements that combined disco with a wide range of influences and innovative electronic sounds. Chicago’s house scene and Detroit’s techno scene, forged in the vacuum left by disco’s sudden departure, spread around the world and became the bases for the next quarter century of electronic music.

Where do Village People fit into this tangled history? They were definitely kitsch, amusing but musically uninspiring, a few inches of subversion above Disco Duck. An artifact of disco’s zenith and the gay rights movement’s first uncertain steps into pop culture, not much more. But think of it this way: without all the bitterness and rage they and their ilk inspired, the shattered records and shouted slurs, disco perhaps would have become exactly what so many critics smugly believed it would be, a depthless trend that would burn and fizzle, leaving no significant mark behind. The suppression of dance music back into the underground by the public allowed it to grow immeasurably. In the end, disco had to die to live forever, and we can give at least some thanks to Village People for helping to kill it.

Bizarrely enough, a few nights ago I had a dream about this patient dormitory at Norwich State Hospital, an early-20th-century cottage-plan asylum in Preston, CT.  Knowing I had a photograph of it lying about somewhere, I finally found it this morning with my morning coffee - but the search for it made me recognize the need to seriously organize and catalogue my work from hundreds of abandoned building trips.  In any case, this is a good example of what a dormitory might have looked like once overcrowding became a dominant problem in the asylum system - the the notable exception of the lack of patient beds in the middle of the room; there surely would have been another half-dozen.

Print available here.

Vegan: You’re against animal cruelty, right?

Person: Of course.

Vegan: If it was happening right in front of you, you would be horrified by it? You would try to stop it?

Person: I love animals.

How is it rational to say that because it’s happening miles away, behind closed doors, it makes it okay? Aren’t we the ‘smart’ ones? The ones with the vast ability to research our choices and their consequences?

A lot of people are against animal cruelty. So why do they support it? Is it so hard to wrap your head around that just because everybody else is doing it doesn’t make it right? That our system could be flawed?

You know it’s happening. Not right in front of you, no. And apparently that makes all the difference. As long as nobody brings it up we never have to face this contradiction. Sure we could look into it ourselves but we never will. As long as it’s not in our backyard anything goes, our morals have parameters around them. I wonder how wide they go? Fifty feet? Ten feet? five feet? Is it not just a matter of being out of sight but also a matter of it requiring walking or moving?

Is what we we believe in so shallow?

We are intelligent, we are taught to fight for what we believe, or at least you would think, by the stream of stories representing such, and yet we cannot see the contradiction in standing for something and standing against it at the same time? All it takes is lack of visibility, not lack of knowledge, no, we have that. I would think most people have heard of what a vegetarian means, the same people who post pictures of cute piglets and yawning kittens, so what isn’t clicking? How can you claim to love and admire and find so cuuuttteee and so adorableee and hahaha- how can you claim to love those you’re hurting?

Action Required

A customer in Shreveport, LA saw and documented parakeets stuffed in a travel size tank at her local Petsmart. This sort of containment and overcrowding for any amount of time is neglectful, improper and dangerous. Birds need adequate space, and proper air flow. Overcrowding is extremely stressful and can result in injuries. An inexperienced and borderline abusive worker hitting the tank no doubt would terrify these birds, who are likely young, scared and not used to humans. 

Please contact Petsmart to complain. Please reblog, and signal boost. 

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Petsmart Corporate



I’m sure that it’s true that adding 10% more workers to London and letting them live like factory hens would make London’s corporations more profitable. Londoners may even acquire more tablet computers and smart phones. Yet our lives would be worse! Already the definition of a kitchen in a flat in Hackney is a line of cupboards down the side of the living room. Just how many times can they divide up these beautiful old houses into smaller and smaller boxes?

The mistake that these economists make is to become totally business centric. Their analysis stops at the profits of business and they fail to follow the process through to ensure that it benefits the population as a whole.

It is notable that the venerable economists who wrote the letter to Mr. Osbourne uttered not a squeak about the corporate profits which are being  filched away overseas to avoid paying tax as was reported in the same edition of the FT. Surely that too is “deeply damaging to the competitiveness of our science and research sectors and the wider economy”.


Overcrowding: John B. Calhoun’s Rodent Experiments
Population density and social pathology in rodents and humans:

In a 1962 edition of Scientific American, the ecologist John B Calhoun presented the results of a macabre series of experiments conducted at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).1He had placed several rats in a laboratory in a converted barn where – protected from disease and predation and supplied with food, water and bedding – they bred rapidly. The one thing they were lacking was space, a fact that became increasingly problematic as what he liked to describe as his “rat city” and “rodent utopia” teemed with animals. Unwanted social contact occurred with increasing frequency, leading to increased stress and aggression. Following the work of the physiologist, Hans Selye, it seemed that the adrenal system offered the standard binary solution: fight or flight.2 But in the sealed enclosure, flight was impossible. Violence quickly spiralled out of control. Cannibalism and infanticide followed. Males became hypersexual, pansexual and, an increasing proportion, homosexual. Calhoun called this vortex “a behavioural sink”. Their numbers fell into terminal decline and the population tailed off to extinction. At the experiments’ end, the only animals still alive had survived at an immense psychological cost: asexual and utterly withdrawn, they clustered in a vacant huddled mass. Even when reintroduced to normal rodent communities, these “socially autistic” animals remained isolated until death. In the words of one of Calhoun’s collaborators, rodent “utopia” had descended into “hell”.Calhoun’s experiments with rats and mice proved extremely influential. His findings resonated with a variety of concerns, including population growth, environmental degradation and urban violence.

Population density and social pathology (Comments by Calhoun):

The consequences of the behavioral pathology we observed were most apparent among the females. Many were unable to carry pregnancy to full term or to survive delivery of their litters if they did. An even greater number, after successfully giving birth, fell short in their maternal functions. Among the males the behavior disturbances ranged from sexual deviation to cannibalism and from frenetic overactivity to a pathological withdrawal from which individuals would emerge to eat, drink and move about only when other members of the community were asleep. The social organization of the animals showed equal disruption. Each of the experimental populations divided itself into several groups, in each of which the sex ratios were drastically modified. One group might consist of six or seven females and one male, whereas another would have 20 males and only 10 females.

Continued: Death Squared: The Explosive Growth and Demise of a Mouse Population

The conclusions drawn from this experiment were that when all available space is taken and all social roles filled, competition and the stresses experienced by the individuals will result in a total breakdown in complex social behaviours, ultimately resulting in the demise of the population.

This isn’t to say the world’s landmass is (or will be) over crowded, but the fate of these rodent populations may be used as a metaphor of the potentially devastating consequences for crowded urban cities:

Related: The City Life - Africa’s Urban Poor Are Becoming Obese

“No small part of this ugly barbarization has been due to sheer physical congestion: a diagnosis now partly confirmed with scientific experiments with rats – for when they are placed in equally congested quarters, they exhibit the same symptoms of stress, alienation, hostility, sexual perversion, parental incompetence, and rabid violence that we now find in the Megalopolis.”—Lewis Mumford 1968

SCOTUS rules CA prisons unconstitutionally overcrowded

"Incompatible with the concept of human dignity": So said Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the 5-4 Supreme Court majority that ruled California’s state prison system is so overcrowded that they say it violates constitutional rights (the level of health services available to inmates who sorely need them has been a relevant issue of late). As such, the ruling may force the state to release nearly 40,000 prisoners. “The release of prisoners in large numbers … is a matter of undoubted, grave concern, yet so too is the continuing injury and harm resulting from these serious constitutional violations,” said Kennedy. source

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Children in an Urban World - Part 4 of 5

Economic shocks also wreak havoc on the urban poor, who spend 50–80 per cent of their income on food. (Left) boys sleep on a moored boat in Dhaka. They live on the streets, often working all night. Cities are beacons of opportunity and culture, but they also host hundreds of millions of children growing up in scarcity and deprivation. UNICEF advocates for nurturing cities for all – starting with children.

Bangladesh, 2006 ©UNICEF/Noorani

To learn more, please visit: http://www.unicef.org/sowc2012/

Better ways to end prison overcrowding than just releasing inmates

Last month, for the first time the United States Supreme Court ordered a state government to tackle America’s shameful prison overcrowding. Unless it builds new prisons – highly unlikely given its fiscal straits – California may be forced to release up to 33,000 prisoners by 2013.

This is good news. These people do not belong in prison. They are casualties of the war on drugs and measures like the state’s 1994 “three strikes” initiative, which have filled the state’s prisons with thousands of non-violent offenders at staggering financial and human cost. Many are struggling with mental illness.

California reflects the national pattern. The US contains 5 percent of the world’s population, yet houses a quarter of its prison inmates – well over 2 million people. Among all US states, California has the 17th highest incarceration rate with 616 per 100,000 adults in prison. This is higher than any other country in the world and more than five times the rate in communist China.

But before we start celebrating the high court’s prison decision in Brown v. Plata, we should ask: What kind of people will be released, and where will they go?

The great majority will be semi-functional older people, many of whom have lived in institutions for decades. Most will lack families who can care for them or community support systems. In this economy, they will probably be devoid of marketable skills. Most will not qualify for Social Security retirement or disability benefits. They will probably have no savings. And they will descend on California’s cities, many of which also face severe fiscal problems. Many of these ex-prisoners will probably be desperate.

Look what happened to mental hospitals

The instructive historical parallel is the de-institutionalization of America’s mental hospitals during the fiscal crises of the 1970s and 80s, following the development of psychotropic medications for treating symptoms of chronic mental illness. Thousands of people with schizophrenia and other mental illnesses who had been institutionalized for decades were released by the courts. They no longer met the standard for forcible incarceration: They were neither dangerous nor in need of custodial treatment.

But then, as now, courts were pushing against the open doors of fiscally strapped state legislatures. Politicians were happy to shut down wings of hospitals, and in some cases entire facilities.

What they did not do was pass the savings on to the fiscally strapped cities to cope with the new populations that descended on them. The result was that large numbers of people with mental illnesses and or who were socially fragile were discharged from hospitals but lacked appropriate psychiatric and social work follow-up. Many stopped taking their medications. Struggling with mental illness, living in poverty, frequently homeless, and without family support, they often engaged in socially unacceptable behavior.

Many became alcoholics, drug addicts, and sometimes criminals. Disappearing public psychiatric care meant that they often wound up in jails and prisons, contributing to the staggering numbers that prompted the Brown v. Plata litigation. Correctional facilities sometimes became the only places to house mentally disturbed people who acted out in public. The Los Angeles County Jail garnered the nickname “the largest public mental hospital in America.”

Released prisoners will stress cities and services

One predictable result of Brown v. Plata will be that similarly unfortunate people, lacking family support or other resources, will once again be dumped into America’s struggling cities. Many who do not start out in a state of desperation may be broken by challenges they cannot meet. Many will be driven back into crime. What will happen to this tidal wave of humanity?

It threatens to become a tsunami if prison-overcrowding lawsuits succeed in state after state in the wake of Brown v. Plata. The dispiriting truth about America’s fiscal federalism is that it is nobody’s job to care.

But necessity might become the mother of invention once California’s voters and politicians learn that released prisoners who are tracked back into the prison system will bring a real price tag with them. California, with one of the nation’s highest recidivism rates, is behind the curve. Nearly 58 percent of Californians released from prison are re-incarcerated within 3 years, compared with a national average of about 43 percent.

Time to find cheaper, human alternatives to prison

There are much cheaper and more humane alternatives to incarceration. Communities around the country have developed ways to reduce the antisocial behavior that so easily sends people back to prison. In 2002, Project Renewal, a New York City-based nonprofit, collaborated with New York’s mental health and parole supervision agencies to launch the Parole Support and Treatment Program.

The program helps transition ex-offenders with serious mental illnesses to community living by combining transitional housing, work with specially trained parole officers, and readily accessible services – including peer counselors who serve as positive role models.

One forthcoming study finds that participation in the program cuts the odds of re-arrest by 44 percent. It costs about $23,000 annually per participant, less than half the $52,000 annual price tag for incarcerating an adult in New York State prison and a fraction of the $240,000 per patient per year cost at Central New York Psychiatric Center. And for those who transition successfully, the cost to the state goes away entirely.

This is still a relatively small program. No one knows how scalable it – and programs like it – will be. But the Supreme Court’s decision means the time to find out has arrived.

MP actually touches on the population taboo!

I’ve had a bit of a radio week for some reason.  It seems to have been on a lot.  And thank goodness it was…..especially in a week where the 7 billion population figure has been in the news.

Yesterday I was listening to Any Questions on BBC Radio 4.  One of the questions put to the panel concerned a recent suggestion by one of those thinktank things that elderly people in large houses should be forced out of them and into smaller accommodation, in order to make way for larger families who can’t find anywhere big enough to live.

Of course, it didn’t actually say that elderly people should be forced to leave their homes.  That was just the hysterical knee-jerk interpretation by the wider media after the story was given considerable air time by the BBC.

The ‘Intergenerational Foundation’, in its Hoarding on Housing report said that 25 million bedrooms are empty in England’s homes.  The document, based on English Housing Survey figures, found that 51.5% of over-65s live in homes with two or more bedrooms that they do not need, and half of single households where the owner is aged over 60 have three spare bedrooms or more.

The document went on to conclude that more than a third of homes are “under-occupied,” up from a fifth in 1971. These are classed as households with at least two bedrooms more than they require.  The co-author of the report, Matthew Griffiths said

"It is perfectly understandable that retired people cling to their home long after it has outlived its usefulness as a place to bring up a family in.  But there are profound social consequences of their actions which are now causing real problems in a country where new house-building is almost non-existent."

The report has caused considerable controversy and debate and it wasn’t surprising therefore, that the following question was put to this week’s panel:

'Would the panel be prepared to downsize in order to make way for larger families, either for the benefit of their own families or to free up space for larger families?'

Labour MP Emily Thornberry was one of those who responded.  What she said caught my attention, so I went back on iplayer and noted it down: 

"We have a number of problems which all collide in this report.  We are a very overcrowded nation, we have some beautiful countryside and we don’t want to build on it.  However we do need to be able to house everybody.

We need to look again at the patterns of behaviour we do have.  It used to be that you’d bring up children, would stay in a large house, you wouldn’t necessarily live for a very long amount of time.

We do need to look at, again….and I hope that I will be when I’m 65….. looking at what I need.  Not only when I’m 65 but when I’m 85.  And in those circumstances I would need to look again at what would be ‘no steps, flat area’, and (then I) would be able to free up space for other families’.

Yes she stopped short of saying that family sizes are perhaps too big or that the population needs to maintain a stable level so that adequate provision can be made for all our citizens……but she did surprise me by choosing not to chant the futile, tired old head-in-the-sand mantra about building more housing.  Instead she alluded to the fact that we’ve reached an impasse where we know we are overcrowded and therefore need more housing, but crucially we’re beginning to realise that it’s not a problem we can build our way out of, we can’t keep nibbling away at the countryside in order to do it.

What impressed me even more however was that she suggested that it’s us, we the people, who are ultimately responsible for our own actions.  The inference was that we all need to acknowledge the impasse and that we may need to change the way we think and the way we live, whether we like it or not.  It’s not the same society it once was.  The rules are changing and we can’t defiantly expect that our lives can go on in the same manner we’ve grown accustomed to.  As she herself said, we need to change our patterns of behaviour if we are to adjust.

I’m not going to comment on Intergenerational Foundation’s report itself as that’s by the by really, but we certainly do need more reports like it, bonkers or otherwise.  We need more hysteria-inducing papers coming from out of nowhere for the simple fact that they do get media attention and get the question of population out of the shadows, into the light and stop it being taboo.

If we don’t talk about these things, we’re just sticking our heads in the sand.

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