We need to talk about this

Hi there, welcome to this website and blog. I am the person who wrote “We need to talk about this”. I’ve finally (March 2018) wrapped up the much improved new edition. And yes, all images are high-resolution now and the TOC is correct too.

In this book, I discuss matters of life and death, such as abortion, designer babies and euthanasia, all within the context of the new eugenics.

This counts as “bioethics”, a challenging combination of ethics, law, philosophy (which is the basis of law) as well as science & technology and policy. It includes human rights issues such as discrimination and questions regarding the rights of animals. Rights generally come at the cost of duties, namely for starters the duty to respect the rights of other beings. Without duties, there can be no rights.

“We need to talk about this” is globally available in print and as Kindle version from Amazon, from Britain to Japan. It will also soon be available as e-book from various other online retailers across the world.

Because the topic is vitally important, I wrote the first version in a big hurry and published it in early 2017.

Then I revised it thoroughly and expanded it. There is now also a chapter on euthanasia, for example, with a discussion about the Groningen Protocol.

 

 

Illness and the social self (upcoming Uehiro lectures)

The annual Uehiro lectures will take place in Oxford next week. This year, they are by Richard Holton, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge. Their topic interests me because I feel strongly that we need to start looking differently at various forms of illnesses.

Not everything that looks broken is broken. Not everyone who appears ill is ill. And illness has a tendency to take over our lives and define who we are. In some cases, that may be fitting but in many (most?) others, it is not.

This year’s lecture series focuses on the theme “Illness and the social self”. I would have loved to attend, but am out of the country at the moment.

Who we are depends in part on the social world in which we live. In these lectures I look at some consequences for three mental health problems, broadly construed: dementia, addiction, and psychosomatic illness.

Lecture 1 takes place on Monday 21 May:

“Dementia & The Social Scaffold Of Memory
Loss of memory is a central feature of dementia. On a Lockean picture of personal identity, as memory is lost, so is the person. But the initial effect of dementia is not the simple destruction of memory. Many memories can be recognized with suitable prompting and scaffolding, something that thoughtful family and friends will naturally offer. This suggests a problem of access. More radically, if memory itself is a constructive process, it suggests a problem of missing resources for construction – resources which can be provided by others. This applies equally to procedural memories—to the practical skills likewise threatened by dementia. This leads us away from a narrowly Lockean approach: the power to recognize a memory, or exercise a skill, may be as important as the power to recall; and contributions from others may be as important as those from the subject.”

Lecture 2 will be held on Tuesday 22 May:

“Addiction, Desire, And The Polluted Environment
Much recent work on addiction has stressed the importance of cues for the triggering of desire. These cues are frequently social. We have a plausible theory of this triggering at the neurophysiological level. But what are the ethical implications? One concerns the authority of desire: maximizing the satisfaction of desires no longer looks like a obvious goal of social policy once we understand the dependence of desires on cues. A second concerns an addict’s responsibility in the face of cues. I suggest that the provision of cues can be thought of as akin to pollution, for which the polluter may bear the primary responsibility. I spell out some of the political implications and ask whether there are good grounds for extending the argument to the cues involved in obesity.”

Wednesday offers an unrelated presentation titled “Sleep softly: Ethics, Schubert and the value of dying well”, an interdiscplinary collaboration on music, mortality and ethics.

Lecture 3 on the annual Uehiro lecture series is scheduled for Thursday 24 May, on the topic of illness and attitude:

“Many illnesses have been thought—controversially—to have a psychosomatic component. How should we understand this? Sometimes a contrast is made between organic illness and mental illness: psychosomatic illnesses are the latter masquerading as the former. But if the mental is physical, and hence organic, this will not help. An alternative approach distinguishes between symptoms that are influenced by the patient’s attitudes, and those that are not; psychosomatic illnesses are marked by the former. Does this make the class too wide? Suppose I aggravate a bad back by refusing to exercise, falsely expecting the exercise to be dangerous. My symptoms are influenced by my attitude: are they therefore psychosomatic? I suggest that there is no sharp cut-off. I examine the role of attitudes in various illnesses, including addiction, focussing on the ways that social factors affect the relevant attitudes. I ask whether recognition of a continuum might help lessen the stigma that psychosomatic illness has tended to attract, and suggest other ways that treatment might be more attuned to these issues.”

You can book online: here.

Dealing with empathy

Humans occur along vast ranges of characteristics and one of those ranges is the scale that has empaths and extreme altruists on one end and probably psychopaths on the other. They all have their pluses and minuses. Nothing is bad or good. Everything is both. There is good in bad and bad in good. Good and bad can’t even exist independently. They are expressed relative to each other, after all.

Do you know where on this spectrum you are? You may say “yes” instantly. Are you sure?

Throughout my life, various friends and relatives have pegged me as the “typical” clinical/cold/unemotional scientist. Some perceived me as dorky and unable to understand other people’s emotions. The caricature of the emotionally limited high-IQ, eh, geek, dork, what have you. (That is not me. My IQ is good but not excessively high.)

By the way, it is certainly not my intention to offend anyone. Read on, please.

Empaths feel your pain

In reality, I am very close to the other end of empathy (perhaps closer to the sensitive cellist or flautist).

I am not a full-blown empath, but I am highly empathic.

It depends on the circumstances, but I soak up other people’s emotions like a sponge. When I do, it can be very hard to tell for me that what I am feeling is not my own emotion, but someone else’s.

Shielding myself or at least, verifying that what I am feeling is my own feeling and not someone else’s is important.

It is one of the reasons why I live on my own. I love working at places like Costa Coffee and Starbucks. Then I get a balanced mix of input, I suppose. But in other situations, I have to remain very aware of what I am feeling and why. Particularly, when I am upset, I have to ask myself “Is this feeling mine or is it someone else’s”?

I seem to serve as an antenna and/or amplifier for other people’s negative emotions at times. Their pain. Their stress. A lightning rod that deflects them.

In practice, it may serve to get people talking about what is bothering them, I suspect, enabling some kind of breakthrough. It is very interesting as well as empowering for me to acknowledge this much more than I used to and start working with this more.

To “hard” scientists, such as physicists, this may all sound like hogwash, though behavioral scientists can come up with explanations for some experiences I have had. But not all, I reckon.

Here is an example.

  • I remember a Saturday morning on which I was getting increasingly antsy and jittery. The feeling disappeared after I called someone who had left a voice mail the day before. It was from someone who didn’t know me, but who urgently needed someone to do something for her and she had been awaiting my call very anxiously. I had been picking up on her feelings. To make it even more fascinating, this person had found me because she had called someone else who was in India at the time. She had been given my contact details. But the person who was in India didn’t know her either and has no idea how this particular woman got my phone number. Behavioral scientists may say that the nervousness was mine as the call was on my to-do list, I suppose.

I also remember a time when I was driving to the city of Maastricht with one of my sisters. At some point, we stopped talking because every time one of us said something, the other person had been thinking it. That example is slightly different, but it is probably the same principle.I suppose that behavioral scientists can explain this too.

But what about the following examples?

One Saturday morning in Florida, I was feeling very sad and played Ravel’s Pavane on my record player. I was volunteering that morning and when I got to the seabird rehab place, the person I was assisting that day turned out to be devastated as she had just needed to put her cat to sleep. I remember her crying in my arms. I had not known that the cat was doing that badly. And the cat’s nickname was Princess… (infanta?)

When I left Florida, the same person treated me to a lunch. Thearo our utter amazement, they played Ravel’s Pavane during our lunch at the restaurant. I had not gotten around to letting her hear the music.

A few years later, it happened that I felt both sad and a strong urge to call this person, by then, an ocean removed from where I was living. Turned out that another cherished animal (anipal) had passed away.

There have been other instances.

I used to dismiss all the esoteric talk about “energies” as fantasy, but now I think that I was wrong.

Is it all a matter of how our bodies work, as a series of chemical reactions, hence essentially a complex of electric circuits that generate their own teeny tiny magnetic fields, I once wondered? Are some people tuned in much more to these fields than others?

From a “hard” scientific perspective, it may sound like hogwash, but near-death experiences are no longer dismissed as hogwash either (at least, not by everyone) and we’re also now acknowledging that many other animal species have emotions and cognitive abilities not unlike our own.

It’s amazing how challenging it can be to live your life well, when other people keep telling you something about you that isn’t actually true. You can’t address something of which you are not aware. Now that I realize how sensitive I am to other people’s feelings, I can deal with it much better and even use it make them feel better without it draining me. I can use it as a healing power. But maybe more importantly, I can use it to make my life easier and experience less friction and hurt.

Fascinating!

Time for a rethink?

There is no such thing as a dumb animal. Okay, with the possible exception of that one bee who currently keeps flying into my kitchen, again and again and again. But he always finds his way out again. Hm. Then maybe even this bee isn’t really that dumb… I haven’t figured out yet what smell on my windowsill could be attracting him. Or her.

Individual chapters of “We need to talk about this” available as e-book soon

I’ve decided to make individual chapters of my book available too, some at no charge, as it occurred to me that some people may only want to read the chapter on euthanasia, for example.

(That’s Chapter 8. I discuss the Groningen Protocol, and mention the Charlie Gard case as well as the Ashya King case.)

I think that when you purchase an e-book, being able to purchase an individual chapter only is a really handy option to have. It doesn’t work the same way for the paperback version.  

The separate chapters should be accessible soon through various major online retailers soon.

A tale of inequalities (and colonialism?)

The Elephanta Suite, by Paul Theroux. The clickable image on the right and the above link take you to the Kindle version and to used print versions as cheap as 0.01 on Amazon.

It includes, among other things, a tale of inequalities (and colonialism).

Hardback This link and the clickable image on the left take you to the hardcover version.

Happen to have an older copy of “We need to talk about this”?

If you have one of the early “author copies” of the 2018 version of the paperback of my book (with low-res illustrations, errors in the Table of Contents and a few minor flaws such as typos), feel free to get in touch with me for an up-to-date version of the e-book.

The same goes if you have the 2017 version (with the uranium-blue baby holding a diploma scroll and wearing a graduate hat on the front cover).

You can use the contact form at the bottom of this post.

(A note for Amazon: Dear Amazon, I am the writer of this book as well as the creator of the cover, so I own the copyright.)

 

Update on the Brexpat case

See this post

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Public transport accessibility

Once you start thinking about how many of the impairments of physically non-mainstream people are created by society, you notice it increasingly frequently.

 

Why, for instance, isn’t it much easier to roll onto a train than it currently is in most cases?

(For blind, deaf, and deaf-blind people, more could be done as well, but that kind of research, into wearable technology that connects with the already present station networks, is underway.)

About a week ago, someone tweeted about a very positive experience with Eurostar. Others reported similar experiences. But it still involves complicated activities that simply shouldn’t be necessary.

In my home country, it’s no better. If you’re in a wheelchair, you can get the required assistance that enables you to travel by train, but I think that you actually have to book it in advance. So, while the rest of us simply hop on the train to the next town if we suddenly feel like attending a theatre performance or concert of any kind, anyone who uses a wheelchair is probably forced to jump through multiple hoops first and then realizes he or she won’t be able to get to the event in time.

(At this point, I am not aware of any transport-related research in my home country that focuses on accessibility, but I have not concluded my little investigation yet and still need to make some phone calls as well.)

Why don’t trains come with automatically extending ramps that lower onto the platform?

In the rare cases that the platform is higher than the train floor, they should not extend, of course, but that can be accomplished either sensor-based or programmed.

Someone on Twitter (Sven Slootweg: thanks!) helpfully made a drawing for me:

Well, here is one possible answer as to why no innovation is taking place, for the case of Britain:

https://www.standard.co.uk/business/business-focus-why-your-boxfresh-train-is-being-replaced-by-a-brand-new-model-a3766501.html

I also ran into some other news, though, and sent the message below to the Spanish manufacturer of those new trains. I am looking forward to hearing back from them.

Hello,

I saw that you are constructing new trains for Britain (here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-42937218).

As you probably know, 10 to 20% of any population is considered “disabled” but many physical impairments are actually caused by hindrances created by society.

By 2050, there are expected to be nearly one billion urban dwellers who are “disabled”. How are you taking them into account in your new designs? Do your trains have automatic extending hinging ramps that lower onto the platform so that anyone in a wheelchair can easily roll on and roll off and make use of public transport just as easily as anybody else?

I am neither disabled nor looking after someone who is disabled. I am merely becoming increasingly aware of how biased society is toward mainstream people.

I look forward to your reply. Thank you.

Kind regards,

Angelina Souren

There is no way that they can ignore such a large proportion of the human population, and I can imagine that increasing accessibility, also for parents with small children, would also improve punctuality.

As someone else commented or hinted at (a blog post for which I currently don’t have the link at hand), such automatic ramps would likely also be very handy for freight trains.

For more on the topic, see for instance this article in The Guardian:
https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/feb/14/what-disability-accessible-city-look-like

The challenges of publishing a book

Well, of course, after I thought I had weeded out all the typos, added a reference that I was sure I had already added, and tweaked the new cover for the print version sufficiently, I still found a missing space, and one or two missing words in the proof. That’s how it goes!

Anyway, it’s available from Amazon now, both as print and as Kindle version. Other online retailers will follow soon.

In my book, I mention that I have worked with hot concentrated strong acids. Well, one day, I stupidly managed a get a drop of acid onto my jeans. (Yes, I was wearing a lab coat.) I still have the jeans! I’ve meanwhile covered the hole.

In the book, I also mention my mother who passed away in 1975, when I was 14. Advanced metastasised breast cancer. What I didn’t mention was that she was misdiagnosed not once but twice. The first time probably cost her her life. “Just a milk gland.” The second time put her through an immense amount of unnecessary pain. (She was sent to physical therapy, but the problem was caused by metastases in her bones.)

I also nearly lost my youngest sister after a misdiagnosis, but it was a very common one. She had appendicitis, but it was mistaken for a bladder problem.

Writing this book was so hard, it plunged me into a bad depression at some point. Not because of personal stuff, but because reading up on eugenics is a depressing activity. Not very cheerful. The tone of the book is not one of overall depression, however.

 

 

UK police liability becoming a real thing

The Supreme Court, in Robinson v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police [2018] UKSC 4, has declared that if “a third party such as a pedestrian is injured as a result of a negligent arrest on the street by a police officer, the police are liable in negligence where that injury was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the police’s actions.”

Read more, here:
http://www.ukpolicelawblog.com/index.php/9-blog/163-an-assault-on-hill-police-liability-in-negligence-narrowed

It’s always annoyed me immensely that British police could almost never be held accountable for anything they did. It’s a recipe for carelessness, almost literally, when duty of care does not apply.

So I am pleased to see that a little bit more liability is finally appearing.

(I used to have an interesting in policing and the law a few years ago but local police officers weren’t very fond of that, I was made to understand, and I decided to drop it.)

No wonder Rees Mogg wants Brexit

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See also this post: https://angelinasouren.com/2018/01/31/the-illegality-of-british-government-actions/

Update for Brits abroad (within the EU)

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See this earlier post (and various newspapers in the UK and the Netherlands):
https://angelinasouren.com/2018/01/17/british-and-residing-in-the-rest-of-the-eu/

James O’Shaughnessy has done it again

Who he is, you ask? UK Government Health Minister.

Last year in October, he said, as reported by the Evening Standard, that the “British taxpayer” funds the NHS, which suggests that foreigners in the UK do not pay taxes. That could have been plain sloppy. Unfortunately, the Standard did not correct him.

https://www.standard.co.uk/news/health/migrants-and-visitors-to-uk-charged-upfront-for-nhs-treatment-under-new-government-rules-a3665591.html

But now he’s done it again.

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/feb/05/annual-charge-paid-by-migrants-for-using-the-nhs-to-double?

Remember, this is a UK government minister. When I was living in the US, a colleague remarked to me that I was spared all the hassle, in early April in the run up to the tax return deadline. He thought I didn’t have to submit a tax return, thought I didn’t pay taxes in the US. To hear a colleague say something like that is one thing, but to hear a UK government minister suggest something like that is quite another.

In view of the major troubles the NHS is in, I have to see this as extreme sneakiness within the light of the UK government’s “hostile climate creation”. This is how bullshit ideas get planted into the minds of many Brits, by their own government. Despicable!

Because now it’s the fault of, “them”, the migrants, that the NHS is in trouble. Sick!

(EU citizens alone have contributed 20 BILLION pounds to the UK in the past ten years. Net! See https://www.ft.com/content/c49043a8-6447-11e4-b219-00144feabdc0?segmentid=acee4131-99c2-09d3-a635-873e61754ec6)

Don’t get me wrong. I am not overlooking that the surcharge is only for non-EU citizens (although you have to ask why non-EU people who pay the same level of taxes as EU citizens – and for example include the nurses and doctors who help keep the NHS afloat – have this surcharge and EU citizens don’t).

What I am protesting against is the sneaky way in which the UK government apparently operates in its hostile climate creation for migrants, now trying to put the blame for the troubles with the NHS on the shoulders of migrants and at the same time suggesting that foreigners don’t pay taxes in the UK. I’d be angry about that too, if I were a Brit and believed what my own government is trying to make me believe.

There is no way a UK government minister could be this dense and have done this by mistake. (Is there, James?)

(Others and I confronted him on Twitter, and I am sure that those others got the same response as I did. None at all!)

October 2017:

February 2018:

 

So, what does this video below mean? Anything at all or is it just the usual hogwash? Because these are empty words that aren’t currently backed by practice. As the man in charge of the NHS, he can say that passing on patient data to the Home Office has to stop, now. He doesn’t. So it’s just the usual empty BULLSHIT. Meaningless hogwash.

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We need to reconsider our view of other species, urgently.

Read this story: https://www.thedodo.com/on-the-farm/starving-pig-shared-food-with-his-friends

Two pigs were rescued, one had piglets and was well and the other one was very thin. Rescuers were puzzled. Turned out that the latter had been giving most of the food he had to the other pig. To help the other pig survive.

We need to reconsider our views regarding other species, urgently.

Personally, I have seen small parrots stand up for cats.

How on earth did we “developed” humans manage to think for so long that other species have no cognitive abilities? No capacity for emotions? Mind-boggling. The more developed we become, the less wisdom we humans seem to have?

Traditional scientists have to stop being so damn pig-headed about this. To see the obvious does not make you stupid, silly or dimwitted.

Sad

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Landlords no longer rent homes to EU citizens and EU citizens can no longer easily find work either. Many are being forced underground, into being exploited. And foreigners are no longer very welcome at foodbanks either.

And this remains, too.

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There is no way in hell I’ll visit a British hospital while this stays in place. That’s essentially the only protest available to me.

I am seriously worried about all these hostile measures. It all seems too much like those days when people became required to wear a star on their sleeves and that’s creepy.

But there is this, too – plenty of Brits do protest against what the Conservative government is doing – and like the previous time when tens of thousands of people marched in London. the German news (Tagesschau) reports on it, but the BBC does not. The previous time, they marched past the BBC’s offices… Probably today as well.

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And once again, the UK government has gone back on two promises it recently made to EU citizens in the UK. It keeps doing that, and as a result, it is impossible to know whether the UK government considers you to be here “legally” or “illegally”, and as a foreigner, anyone can get arrested and placed in detention indefinitely. Indefinitely!

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Citizens’ rights and reality

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The illegality of British government actions

A pattern is starting to emerge. The British government does not display a lot of respect for the law.

At least one judge has commented that the government is wasting the tax payers’ money as well as judicial capacity.

The pattern shows unequivocally that the British government goes after the most vulnerable in British society and seeks to protect the wealthiest in society.

Apparently, the Lord Chancellor has the task of ensuring the government’s compliance with the rule of law. As of the beginning of this year, that is David Gauke, appointed by HM the Queen on advice of the Prime Minister. So the Prime Minister recommends who gets to monitor the legality of her own government’s actions? Hmm.

His predecessors were Chris Grayling (2012-2015), Michael Gove (2015-2016), Elizabeth Truss (2016-2017) and David Lidington (2017-2018). All Conservatives.

Liberty

I just ran into the case of KW, a 52-year-old woman who suffered a brain haemorrhage during an operation at age 34. A complicated matter. Am still reading and mulling it all.

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2014/45.html

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2015/1054.html

http://www.mentalcapacitylawandpolicy.org.uk/js-mill-strikes-back-mostyn-j-takes-on-the-supreme-court/

http://www.marilynstowe.co.uk/2015/10/22/when-a-judge-disagrees-with-precedent/

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/high-court-judge-removed-from-second-case-this-year-over-his-passionate-view-of-the-law-a6705001.html

Filthy EU migrants contributed over 20 billion pounds to Britain in past decade

UCL study finds EU migrants to Britain contribute big time in taxes:
https://www.ft.com/content/c49043a8-6447-11e4-b219-00144feabdc0?segmentid=acee4131-99c2-09d3-a635-873e61754ec6

The idea that EU migrants would come to Britain for benefits is utterly preposterous. Sorry, I can’t make this any prettier than it already is! Yay!

I’ll leave it at that and will resume my bioethics focus in my posts (am currently tackling the matter of wrongful life cases, which needed more depth in my book, and then I’ll be largely done).

I think it is impossible anyway to convince people who firmly believe that migrants are all “filthy thieves” of the fact that we’re not. It’s not about the truth, it is about what they need to believe for themselves to keep their world whole, somehow. It probably has to do with the inequality that  the British government imposes on them.

But guess what, we contribute a lot more than mere money, too. We are all from nations with much greater equality than Britain, for example. (Yes, all other 27 nations in the EU have greater equality.) Our insights and experiences help make Britain a better place for everyone.

Dutch in the UK

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Two responses from Brits:

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Brachycephalic dogs

These are essentially fashion accessories. That the dogs are live animals who are bred to look cute and that this means that they have trouble breathing does not matter to anyone who sees a dog as a fashion accessory – or a faithful adoring admirer – but it should.

There are other side effects, such as frequent skin infections.

https://www.bva.co.uk/news-campaigns-and-policy/policy/companion-animals/brachycephalic-dogs/

Decapitation is not hilarious

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France lends Britain the Bayeux tapestry (from 196 BC) on show and this (see below) is how The Sun and its cartoonist respond. (I can’t help but wonder if the way we Europeans in Britain feel about this is more or less how Muslims feel about some cartoons about their culture and religion. )

https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/5366747/brexit-inspired-bayeux-tapestry/

And nobody in my home country can believe that what is going in Britain is really happening. After all, it is going on in a neighbouring country that is only separated from the Netherlands by a sea, not an ocean.

“Surely Dutch people are treated with normal human respect in Britain. Maybe people from the middle east aren’t, yeah, but Dutch people, or French people, nah, they have nothing to worry about.” That must be their reasoning, more or less. (No, it it not okay to deny people from the middle east their lives either.)

Complaining to IPSO (Independent Press Standards Organisation) will be useless as its clause about discrimination does not include nationality, culture or even political orientation. (Britons who want to remain in the EU will feel affected by this too.)

Have filed a complaint. This is what it says:

 

If you read that “revised tapestry”,  you can’t help getting the sense that British paranoia is getting completely out of hand. When I was still living in Amsterdam, 15 years ago, I bought the book “When Cultures Collide” by Richard Lewis (British). The image below shows a passage in that book:

Where on earth does this crazy paranoia come from? A British woman once told me it was all related to when the Vikings invaded Britain. Really?

But that’s the only explanation I’ve heard, so far.

Human rights and Britain

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