For the love of libraries

Library of Parliament Roof

If you, like me, love libraries (that's my pic, left, of the roof of my favourite room on the Hill: The Library of Parliament) and books, I encourage you to take 20 minutes or so and read through an essay by Robert Darnton, the director of the Harvard University Library, in which he provides a fascinating insight into the economic crises of research libraries (I had no idea journal subscriptions could cost that much!) but also finds some hope in our digital future. Some passages from that essay that caught my eye:

  • Harvard's libraries, you may be interested to know,  include “the largest library of Chinese works outside of China (with the exception of the Library of Congress) and more Ukrainian titles than exist in Ukraine.”
  • “People often talk about printed books as if they were extinct. I have been invited to so many conferences on “The Death of the Book” that I suspect it is very much alive. In fact, more printed books are produced each year than the year before. Soon there will be a million new titles published worldwide each year.”
  • “The codex—a book with pages that you turn rather than a scroll that you read by unrolling—is one of the greatest inventions of all time. It has served well for two thousand years, and it is not about to become extinct. In fact, it may be that the new technology used in print-on-demand will breathe new life into the codex—and I say this with due respect to the Kindle, the iPad, and all the rest.”
  • In Darnton's piece, I discovered DASH – Harvard's open-access repository of scholarly work published by its faculty. What a great idea. Check it out.
  • “How many professors in chemistry can give you even a ballpark estimate of the cost of a year’s subscription to Tetrahedron (currently $39,082)? Who in medical schools has the foggiest notion of the price of The Journal of Comparative Neurology ($27,465)? What physicist can come up with a reasonable guess about the average price of a journal in physics ($3,368), and who in the humanities can compare that with the average price of a journal in language and literature ($275) or philosophy and religion ($300)? …In 2009, Elsevier, the giant publisher of scholarly journals [and publisher of the just-cited Tetrahedron – Akin] based in the Netherlands, made a $1.1 billion profit in its publishing division, yet 2009 was a disastrous year for library budgets. Harvard’s seventy-three libraries cut their expenditures by more than 10 percent, and other libraries suffered even greater reductions, but the journal publishers were not impressed. Many of them raised their prices by 5 percent and sometimes more. This year, the publishers of the several Nature journals announced that they were increasing the cost of subscriptions for libraries in the University of California by 400 percent. Profit margins of journal publishers in the fields of science, technology, and medicine recently ran to 30–40 percent; yet those publishers add very little value to the research process, and most of the research is ultimately funded by American taxpayers through the National Institutes of Health and other organizations.”
  • Inevitably, research libraries must deal with issues of copyright and some important cases on that issue are before some U.S. courts. “But the most important issue looming over the legal debate is one of public policy. Do we want to settle copyright questions by private litigation? And do we want to commercialize access to knowledge?”
  • Darnton's big objective is to build some momentum to establish a National Digital Library in the U.S., “a digital library composed of virtually all the books in our greatest research libraries available free of charge to the entire citizenry, in fact, to everyone in the world … In December 2009 President Nicolas Sarkozy of France announced that he would make €750 million available for digitizing the French cultural “patrimony.” The National Library of the Netherlands aims to digitize within ten years every Dutch book, newspaper, and periodical produced from 1470 to the present. National libraries in Japan, Australia, Norway, and Finland are digitizing virtually all of their holdings; and Europeana, an effort to coordinate digital collections on an international scale, will have made over ten million objects—from libraries, archives, museums, and audiovisual holdings—freely accessible online by the end of 2010.” I have posted on this before: Notwithstanding some of the excellent initiatives of Library and Archives Canada, is there not something Canada could also explore in this regard?
  • “Estimates of the cost of digitizing one page vary enormously, from ten cents (the figure cited by Brewster Kahle, who has digitized over a million books for the Internet Archive) to ten dollars, depending on the technology and the required quality.
  • “Would a Digital Public Library of America solve all the other problems—the inflation of journal prices, the economics of scholarly publishing, the unbalanced budgets of libraries, and the barriers to the careers of young scholars? No. Instead, it would open the way to a general transformation of the landscape in what we now call the information society. Rather than better business plans (not that they don’t matter), we need a new ecology, one based on the public good instead of private gain. This may not be a satisfactory conclusion. It’s not an answer to the problem of sustainability. It’s an appeal to change the system.”

Once again: Do click through to read all of Darnton's essay.

My picks for the year's top MPs

Today across our chain, I single out eight MPs I thought were among the most impressive in 2010. You can read the column to find out what I liked about Jack Layton, Chris Warkentin, Ted Menzies, Peter Julian, Siobhan Coady, Claude Bachand, Bob Rae, and Thierry St.-Cyr

Unfortunately, I don't get assigned enough newsprint to include more names on that list. Fortunately, that's what the limitless space on a blog is for! So take that column, if you wouldn't mind, and consider this the second half of the piece:

  • James Rajotte – As I was canvassing a few dozen MPs and other politicos yesterday, Rajotte was the most frequent Conservative MP to be mentioned as “most impressive”. Said one MP “James Rajotte is the best MP in any party not in cabinet and has been since 2006. There is likely not a person in Parliament or that reports on it that wouldn't approve of him being promoted.” Agreed.
  • Candice Hoeppner – This Manitoba Conservative MP ended up at the centre of the long-gun registry storm as the sponsor of the private member's bill that would have killed the registry. The PMO — and many of her caucus colleagues — were impressed by the way she handled herself through that fractious debate. The buzz in Ottawa is that she will get serious consideration from Prime Minister Stephen Harper to be promoted from the backbenches to become Minister of State for the Status of Women, a portfolio currently held by Rona Ambrose in addition to her duties as public works minister.
  • Michelle Simson and Scott Andrews: These two Liberal MPs decided not to wait for an all-party committee to let the Auditor General have a peek at the MP's expenses. They published their expenses on their own Web site, a popular move with voters and with the press but their common sense approach to this issue made some MPs nervous: Why aren't others doing what Simson and Andrews are doing?
  • Dean Del Mastro – A very popular MP with his Conservative colleagues but seen by those on opposition benches as too much of a blind partisan. Still, this Peterborough, Ont. has made a name for himself on Parliament Hill and does, in fact, know when to check his partisan stripes at the door. His pet issue: Getting governments behind a high-speed rail network in the Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto corridor.
  • Mark Holland – Says one MP “He has been a solid performer in the House and the PM gets really bothered every time he asks a question in the House.” I don't know if he's bothering the PM but he definitely gets under the skin of more than a few on the Tory side (Gary Goodyear, I'm lookin' at you).
  • Ed Holder – Voters in the Ontario riding of London West first elected Holder in 2008. And though he's not flashy, he's become popular among all sides for his careful and patient committee work. He's also impossible not to like. His two favourite passions: Fine cigars and single-malt scotch. Ain't nuthin' wrong with that.
  • Michael Chong – Many say he ought to run for Speaker unless he finds way back into Harper's good graces and can get back into cabinet. (He ran afoul of Harper for quitting cabinet on principle in 2006 over the “Quebec as a nation within a united Canada” motion.) In the news this year for attempts to bring some civility to the House of Commons and reform Question Period.
  • Joe Comartin – The veteran NDP MP from Windsor, Ont. was thought to be the leading candidate to challenge Peter Milliken for the job of Speaker of the House of Commons, an indication he has broad support from all sides. Comartin, a former criminal lawyer, is one smart cookie and won admirerers in 2010 for his work on palliative and compassionate care.
  • Greg Rickford – Conservative MP from northwestern Ontario seems to be able to get the PM to come to his riding whenever he wants And the Tories are happy to help Rickford who is leading Conservative organization efforts in a part of the province that has historically picked nothing but Liberal or Conservative candidates. A smart young player who might be tapped for something bigger somewhere down the road.
  • Martha Hall Findlay – Whether by design or accident, this former Liberal leadership candidate has not been in the spotlight as much in the last year as she was in her first couple of years in Parliament. But she's bright, works hard on the files assigned her — she's got international trade right now — and, like most MPs on this list, has a good sense to know when it's right to turn up the partisan rhetoric and when it makes sense to turn it down to get stuff done.
  • Megan Leslie – NDP MP from Halifax admired for her integrity.
  • Don Davies – NDP MP from Vancouver admired for his candour and honesty.
  • Bruce Stanton – Conservative MP that one opposition MP says is the most “decent” among the Tory backbenches.

And, finally a quick, some other MPs that caught my attention in a good way in 2010 and were also recommended by their peers when I asked around earlier this week for a list of the year's top performers: Conservatives: Scott Armstrong, Peter Braid, Ed Fast, Mike Lake, Kevin Sorenson Liberals: Brian Murphy, Mike Savage, Rob Oliphant, Lise Zarak, Alexandra Mendes, Dominic Leblanc, Glen Pearson, Kirsty Duncan, David McGuinty, Mark Eyking, Jean-Claude D'Amours. From the Bloc: Luc Malo; Nicole Demers From the NDP : David Christopherson, Wayne Marsden, Glenn Thibeault, Pat Martin, Nathan Cullen, Paul Dewar, Jack Harris

Michael Ignatieff: The QMI Interview


Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff conducted a round of year-end interviews with various media organizations at the end of last week. Today, we run a feature across our chain (left) based on our interview with him. Here's an edited version (by me) of the transcript  of that interview, which took place in Stornoway, his official Ottawa residence, on Dec. 16. (I have paraphrased my questions)

Q: Has the country shifted? Is Liberalism dead?

“I don’t think so. The key enduring fact is that broad base of the Canadian middle class, the middle class family, depends as much as it ever did for its standard of living on health service you can rely on, public pensions, public help for post-secondary education and child care. Liberalism has always understood that. The engine room of the Canadian economy, the engine room of this society depends on having what you’d call public goods. Health care, pensions, education. And that’s as relevant as ever.

That broad base of the middle class has to be reassured that government can deliver that kind of granite under their feet without crushing them with taxes. When they feel that they’re paying more and getting less in terms of just grinding – when that granite under their feet feels like it’s cracking and when it feels like it’s costing more and they’re getting less, then you get Rob Ford. You get a movement …

Liberals have always understood – the reason the Liberal Party’s been so successful politically, is we’ve understood, that’s what we’re in politics to do, to create that ground under people’s feet and to do it in a way that doesn’t crush people with high taxes. And that’s been the bargain and that’s why we were the governing party for so long. You look across the western world, that’s what keeps liberal kinds of parties in business, that basic thing.

And we just have to do a really good job telling Canadians that’s what we’re here to do. And I think it’s true that sometimes we’ve strayed from message. I think sometimes we’ve chased after other priorities. I think sometimes we’ve allowed ourselves to be driven by other people’s ideologies but if you come right back to the wheelhouse where we are, it’s we’re the party of the broad-based middle-class family. And for me, this is not decline.jpgan abstraction. I’ve fought two elections in a place called Etobicoke. And that middle class family I know well. They voted for me twice. They live in three-bedroom brick bungalows built in the sixties and seventies. They’ve got a car in the garage but they don’t have three. They want to send their kids to post-secondary (school). They want to be sure they’ve got a retirement they can count on. That’s the engine room not only of our party but also of the Canadian economy. We just have to say to them over and over again: We know what you’re going through and we’re with you the whole way and they don’t want big government, they don’t want fancy government, they don’t want expensive government, they don’t want wasteful government but their standard of living absolutely depends on healthcare, pensions .. and we have to deliver for them.

And I think the weakness for the Conservatives, their message … The thing about the Conservative Party is its fundamentally a message of protest. It fundamentally says let’s get government off your back and cut your taxes. And it’s credible only so long as government doesn’t deliver up to the promise. But if you have government that delivers responsible moderate down-the-middle  of the pike programs that create that granite under people’s feet, then the protest just looks kind of cranky, right? Harper loves power but he doesn’t like government. Harper doesn’t believe what I believe. Harper doesn’t believe that the ground of that middle class standard of living is those public goods. Basically what he’s said to the Canadian public for four years is: ‘government can’t do very much for you. All we can do is cut your taxes and that’s it.’ And we’re saying, no, no, there is a better choice. We can deliver those services in a responsible way without increasing your tax burden. We can do it.

He’s the guy with the $56 billion deficit, not us. Mulroney was the guy with the $43 billion deficit, not us. So we don’t have to walk around proving to the middle class we can do this. We’ve proved it twice. And we will prove it again.

I then followed up on his reference to Rob Ford, the new mayor of Toronot. Don't have the full transcription handy. But you can read the story I wrote based on this section of the interview or you can listen to the tape. [MP3]

Q: What about the West? Does Naheed Nenshi’s victory there suggest that small-l liberalism at least might be taking root?

“I think medium-term – I won’t pretend short-term – Western Canada is looking a lot like places where the Liberal Party has traditionally brought on huge amounts of support. Everybody can see it. I can see it Edmonton. I can see it Calgary. Hey, we just won a seat west of [Lake] Superior so I’m feeling … well, one swallow doesn’t make a spring, … but we’ve made some progress. And anyone who goes to Edmonton right now knows that there is a very proud municipal community that is steaming mad at the Harper government because Rona Ambrose and the Conseratives took them for granted, green-lighted an Expo bid and then cut ‘em off at the pass. And you can only get away with that kind of nonsense if you think own the whole board, if you don’t care what they think.

So what’s the net of that? I think there are possibilities for us in Western Canada but I’m not in dreamland. We’ve got a lot of work to do.

These messages out West are important. We want to say, you deserve better than this. You deserve someone who doesn’t take you for granted. I’ve said to this party since I became leader, I don’t believe in a red state/blue state kind of thing and we’ve gotta get out there [though] it’ll take a while.

Q. What about Quebec?

“I think what we have to say is really simple: We have to say, you Quebecers are fed up with Stephen Harper. This government does not respond to your values. This government does not understand you. If you want to get rid of Stephen Harper, you’ve got to vote for the Liberals. If you vote Duceppe, you will get Harper. If you vote Layton, you will get Harper. If you vote Elizabeth May, you will get Harper. The target is not actually the Bloc, the target is actually Stephen Harper. Stephen Harper is unpopular in Quebec. Stephen Harper’s gamble in Quebec has not succeeded. But if you keep voting for Gilles Duceppe you will get four more years of a government that doesn’t understand you. You’ve now got a chance to vote to get a federal government in Ottawa that respects a women’s right to choose; must preserve the gun registry; wants to preserve the long-form census; actually believes in regional economic development; actually believes in action on climate change with the provinces. You line it up, we’re in the right place. Christ knows we’ve got a lot of work to do. But I do know that’s what you want to say. And I want to see, finally, if you’re out on the ground in Quebec, in small towns, municipal officials come up to you on the quiet all the time and say, we’ve voted for those guys for 18 years. What the hell did they do for my community? If I’ve heard that once I’ve heard it a hundred times. Well, sooner or later, that begins to translate into votes.

Q: In 2009 “Mr. Harper, your time is up” was a mistake. 2010 seemed relatively gaffe-free. Was there anything you regret?

You don’t go through a day without making a mistake. It’s not the mistakes that you make, it’s recoveries you make that really count in this game. I actually don’t think there’s some glaring error that I went through this year.

I think we can truthfully say there wasn’t a poltical party in this country that worked harder than we did in 2010. I just really think – when you look at the prorogation rallies, the Montreal conference, the summer tour, Open Mikes, enormous amount of policy work – which is all below the water line but you will see in the new year – I feel very good about that. It’s the ensemble of just a lot of hard work. I think we maintained the unity of the party and the unity of caucus and that, in the Liberal Party, is …[smiles]. So there’s a lot.

Q. What's the secret to caucus unity and discipline?

They want to win. It’s just that simple. The key thing is what’s in them. And they want to win. They don’t like being in opposition. We’re a party that’s governed the country. We’re not like the Bloc or the NDP who think this is dying and going to heaven. We think this is purgatory and we want to get back to the business of governing the country and we know the only way we can do that is if we’re united.”








This morning's Conservative Talking Points: About those new senators…

Conservative MPs got the following INFO-ALERT in their e-mail inboxes this morning from party HQ:

Welcoming Two New Senators

On Monday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the appointments of Larry Smith and Don Meredith to the Senate of Canada. Yesterday, Larry Smith announced that he will seek the nomination as the Conservative candidate in the riding of Lac Saint Louis. If nominated, he will resign his Senate seat to run in the next general election.

Contrary to media speculation, the Prime Minister will not be naming any Senators to Cabinet.

Please use the following lines when speaking to media:

  • We are pleased to welcome Larry Smith and Don Meredith to the Conservative caucus.
  • Larry Smith and Don Meredith are well-regarded and visible figures in their communities who will bring a wealth of experience in business, philanthropy, sport and community initiatives to their new roles.
  • Senator Smith and Senator Meredith are strong supporters of our government's Senate reform agenda.
  • Their skills and experience will be invaluable as our Government works to pass legislation that is important to the well-being, safety and security of Canadians.

The U.S. federal government shocking lack of financial reporting credility

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) plays a similiar role for the federal government in Washington that the Office of the Auditor General plays here in Ottawa. Here, in our parliamentary system, I think it's safe to say that a minority government would almost certainly fall (and a majority government might even be deserted by some of its MPs) if the A-G ever delivered the scathing indictment that the GAO delivered today after trying to audit the 2010 consolidated financial statements of the U.S. federal government:

In its press release about its audit, there is no sugar-coating from the GAO. Indeed, its first paragraph ought to be enough to bring most governments down:

“The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) cannot render an opinion on the 2010 consolidated financial statements of the federal government, because of widespread material internal control weaknesses, significant uncertainties, and other limitations.” (my emphasis)

That's just unbelievable. Even more unbelieveable: The press release I have from GAO was released at 3:10 pm today and, at 8 pm, I can find just one news story about this. Apparently that's because this is an annual event — so everyone shrugs their shoulders and carries on.  Isn't this kind of a core thing reporters report about if they cover federal politics? Attention Americans: Your auditor cannot audit trillions of dollars worth of tax collection and spending because your federal government's books are an absolute mess — again!!!

The main obstacles to a GAO opinion were: (1) serious financial management problems at the Department of Defense (DOD) that made its financial statements unauditable, (2) the federal government's inability to adequately account for and reconcile intragovernmental activity and balances between federal agencies, and (3) the federal government's ineffective process for preparing the consolidated financial statements.

In addition GAO was unable to render an opinion on the 2010 Statement of Social Insurance because of significant uncertainties, primarily related to the achievement of projected reductions in Medicare cost growth. The consolidated financial statements discuss these uncertainties, which relate to reductions in physician payment rates and to productivity improvements, and provide an illustrative alternative projection to illustrate the uncertainties.

[The GAO also found] material weaknesses involving an estimated $125.4 billion in improper payments, information security across government, and tax collection activities. He noted that three major agencies-DOD, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Labor-did not get clean opinions. Nineteen of 24 major agencies did get clean opinions on all their statements.

Screenwriter Jim Henshaw on Heritage Minister Moore's review of arts funding

Jim Henshaw has been in and around the Canadian stage and TV scene for nearly four decades, first as an actor and most recently as a producer, screenwriter, and playwright. I don't know for sure but, given his long association with Canada's performing arts, I'm going to bet that some production he was associated with somewhere along the way was put up with some help from a government arts grant. That's probably all the context you need for this interesting post Henshaw put up at his blog yesterday. It starts like this …

One of the dead horses regularly whipped on this blog concerns the disconnect between artistic or commercial achievement in Canada and the awarding of successive government grants.

For reasons that I've never been fully able to understand, there are organizations and individuals resident here who, despite repeated failure at either finding or entertaining an audience and with nothing but red ink on their balance sheets, still somehow manage to be handed additional tax-payer funded millions to once more fail or disappoint with their next attempt …

Click on to see how it finishes


The Hill Times lists its "most influential" on Parliament Hill

The Hill Times is the weekly newspaper dedicated to Parliament Hill news and politics and, once a year, publishes a list of “Most Influential” types on the Hill. I made the list this year — thank you, Hill Times types — but I should note that, while it's nice to be on a list like this, a previous Hill Times “most influential” list did omit my friend Kevin Newman who was only a) anchoring the most-watched national newscast in the country at the time and b) was the anchor of the only national newscast to be broadcast from the nation's capital. This “most influential” has also in the past omitted Don Martin. He's on this year's list as host of CTV's “Power Play” but missed it one year as the columnist for the National Post and Calgary Herald. And, so far as the media goes, I think you'd have to put Evan Solomon, host of CBC's “Power and Politics” on the list. Still, that's the fun part of about these kind of lists — arguing about who you agree with and who you don't.

Prelude to an election? Tories launch attack ads over so-called iPod tax

The federal Conservative Party of Canada this afternoon said it will soon pay to air a series of radio ads in which it attacks the opposition “coalition” for what the Tories say is their support for an “iPod Tax” of up to $75.

Some in Ottawa have suggested that when the Conservative Party, which has more money than it can likely spend during an election campaign, starts to burn off a bit of the cash overflowing in its vaults with some pre-writ attack advertising, we may take that as part of the 'softening up' bombast that could very likely come just before some kind of election call. Now, I do not detect a hint of prevarication among Tories when they tell me they are not planning to engineer their own defeat in the new year. You, dear reader, are certainly entitled to call me naive and/or you simply may not trust anything a Conservative tells you. Fair enough. But this ad could also be a pre-emptive strike from the Tories in case any opposition parties were getting any funny ideas.

And, in any event, as I mentioned, the Tories have tons of cash to burn so what the heck …

But if there is to be some pre-election posturing, I think it a fair role for reporters to play a “reality check” role on the propaganda that is likely to come out from all quarters and so, in that spirit, let me note the following:

  • The Tories say evidence of an opposition coalition can be found in a motion passed by the House of Commons Heritage Committee to explore the idea of levy on iPods and MP3 players. True enough: All Liberal, Bloc, and NDP members voted in favour of that but so did the Conservative MP who chairs the committee: Gary Schellenberger, your coalition membership card is in the mail! [Read more about that vote, with the link to the minutes of the meeting where the vote was held here]
  • By coincidence, on the same day the Tories released the iPod tax attack ad,  the Liberal Party of Canada released its official response to C-32, the copyright bill that would contain any new fees consumers would pay to artists. In a release outlining its response, Liberal MP Marc Garneau is, it seems to me, unequivocal about the so called iPod tax: “The Liberal Party does not support the iPod levy.  It is not sustainable in a world of changing technology, and is unpopular with consumers. Canadians are already using multipurpose media devices to listen to music, like Blackberries, iPhones, iPads and computer livestreaming, on which the levy would not apply.”

VIDEO: Julian Fantino's first day walking his House of Commons beat

Julian Fantino, the new Conservative MP for Vaughan, Ont. is, I think it's fair to say, a polarizing figure. His supporters love his take-no-prisoners, tough-on-crime persona. His detractors say he's an authoritarian with little regard for the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Either way, the former police chief now has a new beat in the House of Commons. Wednesday was his first day there and, like all MPs who arrive in the House in-between elections, he was introduced to the House by his party's leader, Stephen Harper, and his regional minister, Jim Flaherty. MPs from all parties gave him a welcoming standing ovation (as they do for all new MPs) and then it was down to the business of being a partisan, in which Fantino was assigned to deliver one of the lob-ball questions that the government gets during every Question Period session. You can watch all the action, as filmed by House of Commons TV here:

A1 leads: Army fights storm; Ralph Klein's illness; no eggs for you!

Army fights storm; Ralph Klein's illness; no eggs for you!; Get an audio summary of what's topping the front pages of papers across the country by clicking on the link below.


London Free Press Storm

You can also get these audio summaries automatically every day via podcast from iTunes or via an RSS feed by subscribing to my AudioBoo stream. Both the iTunes link and the RSS link are at my profile at

Among today's top stories:

  • The London Free Press has full coverage of the Southwestern Ontario whiteout.
  • The Calgary Sun and Edmonton Sun have the same top story: Ralph Klein’s health. Friends of the former Alberta premier say he is fighting a serious uncurable respiratory disease called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
  • The Ottawa Sun’s top story: Police sources tell the Sun that, though police three suspects in custory in connection with the murder of a 16-year-old in a downtown neighbourhood last week, the triggerman  is still on the loose.
  • The Toronto Sun’s top story: Scrap the car tax! The call has gone out to pack Toronto city council chambers for a vote on a controversial vehicle registration fee.
  • The Winnipeg Sun’s top story is the latest on the drive to build a new football stadium in the city. Some city councillors reacted to Mayor Sam Katz’s ultimatum to get going on the deal that they won’t vote with a gun to their heads.
  • Le Journal de Montreal’s top story is about a Quebec egg farmer who, for 10 years, has been donating eggs to local charities. Now she’s being told to cut it out by an industry regulatory group backed up by the provincial government.

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