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Insectopedia – Hugh Raffles



Hugh Raffles

Genre: Nature

Price: $1.99

Publish Date: March 23, 2010

Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Seller: Penguin Random House LLC

A New York Times Notable Book A stunningly original exploration of the ties that bind us to the beautiful, ancient, astoundingly accomplished, largely unknown, and unfathomably different species with whom we share the world.   For as long as humans have existed, insects have been our constant companions. Yet we hardly know them, not even the ones we’re closest to: those that eat our food, share our beds, and live in our homes. Organizing his book alphabetically, Hugh Raffles weaves together brief vignettes, meditations, and extended essays, taking the reader on a mesmerizing exploration of history and science, anthropology and travel, economics, philosophy, and popular culture. Insectopedia shows us how insects have triggered our obsessions, stirred our passions, and beguiled our imaginations.

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Insectopedia – Hugh Raffles

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Space at the Speed of Light – Dr. Becky Smethurst


Space at the Speed of Light

The History of 14 Billion Years for People Short on Time

Dr. Becky Smethurst

Genre: Astronomy

Price: $9.99

Publish Date: June 2, 2020

Publisher: Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony/Rodale

Seller: Penguin Random House LLC

From the big bang to black holes, this fast-paced illustrated tour of time and space for the astro-curious unlocks the science of the stars to reveal fascinating theories, surprising discoveries, and ongoing mysteries in modern astronomy and astrophysics. Before the big bang, time, space, and matter didn't exist. In the 14 billion years since, scientists have pointed their telescopes upward, peering outward in space and backward in time, developing and refining theories to explain the weird and wonderful phenomena they observed. Through these observations, we now understand concepts like the size of the universe (still expanding), the distance to the next-nearest star from earth (Alpha Centauri, 26 trillion miles) and what drives the formation of elements (nuclear fusion), planets and galaxies (gravity), and black holes (gravitational collapse). But are these cosmological questions definitively answered or is there more to discover? Oxford University astrophysicist and popular YouTube personality Dr. Becky Smethurst presents everything you need to know about the universe in ten accessible and engagingly illustrated lessons. In Space at the Speed of Light: The History of 14 Billion Years for People Short on Time , she guides you through fundamental questions, both answered and unanswered, posed by space scientists. Why does gravity matter? How do we know the big bang happened? What is dark matter? Do aliens exist? Why is the sky dark at night? If you have ever looked up at night and wondered how it all works, you will find answers–and many more questions–in this pocket-sized tour of the universe!

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Space at the Speed of Light – Dr. Becky Smethurst

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Joe Biden has a podcast, and there’s an episode on climate change

The public rarely gets access to the real Joe Biden. His team keeps the gaffe-prone 77-year-old on a tight leash on the campaign trail. That strategy has paid off handsomely; the former vice president is now the presumptive Democratic nominee for president. But there is a way to get access to the inner workings of Uncle Joe’s brain, and it doesn’t require sneaking past the Secret Service.

Biden has taken a tip from the entire male population of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and started his own podcast. It’s called Here’s the Deal — possibly the most on-brand title of a podcast in the history of the genre.

So far, the former vice president has recorded six episodes with folks like Senator Amy Klubochar (Biden’s former primary rival) and Gretchen Whitmer, the governor of Michigan. But the latest episode of Here’s the Deal, released on Earth Day, is worth listening to in particular because it sheds light on how Biden is thinking about climate change, an issue that he’s been previously accused of underestimating by both climate activists and scientists. In this week’s episode, Biden remotely interviews Washington governor and former climate candidate Jay Inslee from the confines of his basement in Delaware.

The 20-minute conversation touches on a number of issues that are front-of-mind for many Democratic voters right now: the potential of wind and solar energy to outpace fossil fuels, the nation’s progress on electric vehicles and other green technologies, and the notion that progress on climate and economic growth actually go hand in hand. They also talk about the connection between the coronavirus pandemic and the looming climate crisis. About halfway through the conversation, Biden asks Inslee whether he thinks there’s an opportunity for the U.S. to implement a climate plan as the country gets back on its feet. The question indicates that Biden is thinking along the same lines as a number of green groups that have released proposals for how the U.S. could implement a green stimulus in the coming months (including a team of former Inslee staffers).

Biden’s posture toward Inslee throughout the conversation is almost deferential. Biden makes a point of saying that he has reached out to Inslee for his input in the past and aims to continue doing so. “I hope I can keep bothering you on the telephone,” he said to Inslee, who graciously agrees.

That attitude is in keeping with other overtures Biden has recently made to the progressive climate movement. Earlier this week, Biden scored his first environmental endorsement from the League of Conservation voters, an environmental group that funds climate-friendly Democrats. In response, Biden said expanding his $1.7 trillion climate change plan “will be one of my key objectives” in the coming months and that he knows the issue “resonates” with young voters. That openness to beefing up his climate platform may have played a role in the endorsements that followed: first from a group of more than 50 scientists and climate experts, then from longtime climate hawk Al Gore and Inslee himself.

Inslee plugs his endorsement again on the podcast. “I can’t wait to have an optimist back in the White House,” he tells Biden. The whole thing sounds like a voicemail two of your grandparents left you — wholesome, if a bit rambly. Except in this case one of the grandparents is gearing up for what may be the most consequential election of our lifetimes. “Wash your hands,” Inslee, sounding concerned, tells Biden toward the end of the episode. “I did!” Biden assures him.

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Joe Biden has a podcast, and there’s an episode on climate change

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On the Wing – Alan Tennant


On the Wing

To the Edge of the Earth with the Peregrine Falcon

Alan Tennant

Genre: Nature

Price: $1.99

Publish Date: September 7, 2004

Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Seller: Penguin Random House LLC

In this extraordinary journey, Alan Tennant recounts his attempt to track the transcontinental migration of the majestic peregrine falcon — an investigation no one before him had ever taken to such lengths. From the windswept flats of the Texas barrier islands to the Artic and then south again into the Caribbean, On the Wing provides a hilariously picaresque and bumpy flight.

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On the Wing – Alan Tennant

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This team of former campaign staffers has a plan to save the economy — and the planet

Jay Inslee, the Democratic governor of Washington state, distinguished himself as a presidential candidate last year by making climate change the foundational building block of his platform. Inslee has been out of the 2020 race for almost eight months now, but his green legacy and his team of climate wonks are still thriving.

On Wednesday, several key members of the governor’s presidential climate team, the crew that helped Inslee pump out hundreds of pages of policy proposals in a matter of months last year, announced that they’re forming a nonprofit called Evergreen to shape Democratic climate politics in the coronavirus era. Evergreen kicked things off by unveiling a green stimulus plan dubbed the Evergreen Action Plan that revamps Inslee’s proposals for the unique, pandemic-ravaged moment we’re in.

Evergreen’s bigger aim is to build out a platform that can be used by presumptive nominee Joe Biden and Democrats in Congress to keep climate policy on the front burner in the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis. Evergreen already sent its 85-page action plan to Biden’s team, in addition to the offices of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and the House and Senate climate crisis committees.

“This is a critical juncture for climate policy, especially as Congress is debating stimulus,” Jared Leopold, formerly senior communications advisor for Inslee and a member of the new initiative, told Grist. “It’s clear that the next president and Congress will have to revitalize the economy coming out of this health and economic crisis, and we think building a clean energy economy that’s oriented around the future is one of the best ways to put people to work and to address the climate crisis that can’t wait any longer.”

The plan was written by former Inslee campaign staffers Sam Ricketts, Bracken Hendricks, and Maggie Thomas (who joined Elizabeth Warren’s team after Inslee dropped out). Inslee himself is not directly affiliated with the new group, but his fingerprints are all over its proposals.

The plan contains a 12-part roadmap to revitalize the economy and address the climate crisis simultaneously and breathes new life into many of Inslee’s greatest hits from his campaign. The plan is even more comprehensive than Inslee’s campaign proposals, which were already borderline encyclopedic. It includes a regulatory strategy to transition the U.S. off of fossil fuels and onto renewable energy, a blueprint for mobilizing global climate action beyond what’s called for in the Paris Agreement, and a proposal to establish a climate conservation corps, which would put young Americans to work on sustainability solutions at home and abroad.

The Evergreen Action Plan also contains some ideas that didn’t make it into Inslee’s campaign proposals. For example, Ricketts, Hendricks, and Thomas make a case for the establishment of a White House Office of Climate Mobilization, similar to the World War II-era Office of War Mobilization, that would work with existing White House offices to enforce the president’s climate agenda across the entire federal government. Warren’s influence is evident in the plan, too. Her Blue New Deal proposal, aimed at protecting oceans and the flora and fauna living in them from climate change, has its own subsection.

Back in the Before Times, when more than 20 Democratic candidates were running for president, support for the Green New Deal was the de facto litmus test for whether a candidate was serious about climate change or not. Now, times have changed. The country is facing a historic recession, and economic recovery is the name of the game. But that doesn’t mean that the public’s appetite for climate policy has changed.

Democrats tried to attach climate conditions to the federal government’s airline bailouts in the recent coronavirus relief package, but President Trump and Senate Republicans blocked those efforts. Democrats might have more success incorporating climate policy into future economic stimulus legislation if the Senate or presidency flips blue in November. The question then is, will a President Biden seek to make incremental progress on climate change as the economy recovers, or will he go all in on the kind of sweeping green stimulus bill outlined in the Evergreen Action Plan?

“We feel good about the momentum behind this issue, and we think it’s an issue that can galvanize supporters around the country,” Leopold said. “I think it’s a smart issue for any candidate to lean into.”

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This team of former campaign staffers has a plan to save the economy — and the planet

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Wisdom – Stephen S. Hall



Stephen S. Hall

Genre: Life Sciences

Price: $2.99

Publish Date: March 9, 2010

Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Seller: Penguin Random House LLC

We all recognize wisdom, but defining it is more elusive. In this fascinating journey from philosophy to science, Stephen S. Hall gives us a penetrating history of wisdom, from its sudden emergence in the fifth century B.C. to its modern manifestations in education, politics, and the workplace. Hall’s bracing exploration of the science of wisdom allows us to see this ancient virtue with fresh eyes, yet also makes clear that despite modern science’s most powerful efforts, wisdom continues to elude easy understanding.

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Wisdom – Stephen S. Hall

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At least the coronavirus stimulus package isn’t bailing out the oil industry

After more than a week of squabbling over what should go into the third coronavirus relief package, the White House and Senate leaders reached a compromise on Tuesday night. And while no climate-friendly provisions made it into the $2 trillion stimulus bill, it wasn’t necessarily bad news for the planet either.

In the days leading up to this near-final bill, much of the debate centered around Democrats’ attempts to include certain green provisions, like support for the struggling renewable energy industry, and a requirement that a bailout for airlines be contingent on emission reduction promises.

The fight broke down into a sandbox tussle on Monday when Mitch McConnell accused Democrats of delaying relief for hospitals and struggling Americans in their pursuit of the Green New Deal, while Democrats argued that if the government was going to bail out the oil industry by purchasing $3 billion of oil for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, why not help other hurting energy industries, too? The clash seems to have ended in a draw, as neither the oil bailout nor any clean energy or emissions reduction measures are in the most recent version of the bill. The only thing that stuck was $32 billion for the airline industry — no strings attached.

In the midst of the negotiations, a coalition of scientists, academics, and advocates from the environment, justice, and labor movements penned a letter to Congress with their own “menu of solutions” to make the stimulus a win-win for the economy and the environment.

The letter criticizes the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the stimulus package signed by President Obama during the Great Recession, for centering companies over workers, and it offers almost 100 policy interventions to improve on that model. If you’re someone who thought the Green New Deal sounded nice but weren’t sure what it meant in practice, I encourage you to check this letter out. The proposals are highly specific and cover everything from creating jobs to reducing emissions to shoring up communities that are vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

The ideas range from the familiar, like creating green jobs in clean energy, construction, the food system, transportation, and manufacturing, to the creative, like expanding funding for the National Endowment for the Arts to support out-of-work artists and makers. There are layers of proposals within each of the umbrellas I just mentioned, like providing direct funding to transit authorities to help them through the slowdown, changing zoning regulations to promote dense development, providing no-interest loans for local governments to build parks, supporting indigenous farming practices and protecting native seeds, and ending fossil fuel subsidies and directing those funds to help workers transition to new jobs.

The letter’s authors aren’t the only ones thinking about how the country could bounce back from coronavirus while getting ahead on climate change. Grist staff spoke with seven experts with more ideas for a green stimulus. While most called for short-term measures similar to the ones Democratic senators fought for, in the long term many wanted to see major investments in clean energy infrastructure with a focus on hiring from and serving under-resourced communities and communities of color.

Even though the $2 trillion stimulus that Congress is voting on this week is void of consideration for the planet, experts are saying it will probably only get us through the next few months. That means many of these ideas could still come into play in future legislation.

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At least the coronavirus stimulus package isn’t bailing out the oil industry

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Living Terrors – Michael T. Osterholm Phd., M.P.H. & John Schwartz


Living Terrors

What America Needs to Know to Survive the Coming Bioterrorist Catastrophe

Michael T. Osterholm Phd., M.P.H. & John Schwartz

Genre: Science & Nature

Price: $4.99

Publish Date: September 12, 2000

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group

Seller: Penguin Random House LLC

America is one killer organism away from a living nightmare that threatens all we hold dear…. A deadly cloud of powdered anthrax spores settles unnoticed over a crowded football stadium…. A school cafeteria lunch is infected with a drug-resistant strain of E. coli…. Thousands in a bustling shopping mall inhale a lethal mist of smallpox, turning each individual into a highly infectious agent of suffering and death…. Dr. Michael Osterholm knows all too well the horrifying scenarios he describes. In this eye-opening account, the nation’s leading expert on bioterrorism sounds a wake-up call to the terrifying threat of biological attack — and America’s startling lack of preparedness. He demonstrates the havoc these silent killers can wreak, exposes the startling ease with which they can be deployed, and asks probing questions about America’s ability to respond to such attacks. Are most doctors and emergency rooms able to diagnose correctly and treat anthrax, smallpox, and other potential tools in the bioterrorist’s arsenal? Is the government developing the appropriate vaccines and treatments? The answers are here in riveting detail — what America has and hasn’t done to prevent the coming bioterrorist catastrophe. Impeccably researched, grippingly told, Living Terrors presents the unsettling truth about the magnitude of the threat. And more important, it presents the ultimate insider’s prescription for change: what we must do as a nation to secure our freedom, our future, our lives.

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Living Terrors – Michael T. Osterholm Phd., M.P.H. & John Schwartz

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Revolution or steady progress? The Bernie-Biden climate split

Is it better to take on climate change with bold, revolutionary action, or compromise and tinkering?

In practice, it’s usually both. You can organize protests, and support the incremental art-of-the-possible tweaks that city and state officials work to pass. But in the contest to nominate the Democratic candidate for the White House, this question has been an either-or proposition. The race has narrowed to Senators Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, who represent opposite sides of this divide (or at least their supporters do). You’re bound to see this populist versus insider split when they face off in debate Sunday.

Sanders promises big, Green New Deal-style changes, counting on a popular uprising to transform political reality. Biden, though also a supporter of the Green New Deal, offers more modest changes within the existing political framework. Which is a better bet?

In the middle of our national flame-throwing fest about how to get things done, we could learn a lot from a little-noticed debate from last year that serves as the perfect proxy for this question. This wasn’t your typical chest-pounding debate, in fact it was sort of the opposite: A disagreement offering so much clarity that, no matter your position, it’s certain to shift your thinking at least a little bit.

It started in March last year, when Jerry Taylor, president of the Niskanen Center, pleaded in “An Open Letter to Green New Dealers” for a more Biden-esque approach. (Taylor is a former CATO Institute climate-change skeptic who changed his mind as he reviewed the evidence).

Leah Stokes, a professor of political science at the University of California at Santa Barbara (and a newly minted member of the Grist 50) fired back with an epic thread of tweets, making the Bernie-esque case that elected officials would need a social movement, a push from the people, to get anything done.

The two met in person last September and hashed it out at a conference organized by the Breakthrough Institute, an environmental think tank. You can watch the whole debate yourself.

But if you’re trying to limit your screen time, here are some of the highlights:

Taylor warned Stokes against fighting the impossible fight. He anticipated that a political window would open to pass climate legislation in 2021, which Democrats could miss if they become focused on the Green New Deal. There’s good reason to think something that big would fail: The Democratic Congress couldn’t even pass a resolution to support it in principle.

“In other words, if there was a Republican rapture experience, and they all disappeared and all we had were Democrats in the House, it still wouldn’t pass,” Taylor said.

It turned out that Stokes agreed with this: “A lot of your critiques, Jerry, really speak to the inside Congress game. And I think you are spot on on that.” But she argued that if there’s going to be any hope of passing legislation big enough to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions, we should be looking outside of Washington for leadership. “If you look at the Earth Day movement, the founding of the EPA, the Clean Air Act, a lot of the landmark legislation that we still rely on today actually came out of a big public outpouring of people in the streets,” she said.

The problem with Stokes’s line of thinking, Taylor responded, is that climate action is polarized along political lines. Republicans such as climate-change denying Senator James Inhofe are the ones blocking legislation, he said, not the politicians influenced by climate strike-leader Greta Thunberg. “I don’t care how many people Greta puts in New York, it’s not changing James Inhofe’s mind, nor is it changing the votes of most Republicans.”

But the fact that activists, like those from the Sunrise Movement, are banging down the doors of Congress and holding strikes is creating space even for right wingers to offer their own version of policy, Stokes said. “If you are being asked by journalists all the time, like, “What’s your climate plan?” and the Republicans have no answer, they have to come up with something.”

There’s much more to be gleaned from the debate (you really should watch it, these two are so funny and smart) Witness Taylor ripping the GOP (“First of all, you have to speak their language: Russian”) and Stokes self-mockingly professing her passion for energy research (“I just want to spend a lot of money because I love the government, bad habit”).

It’s important to recognize that a lot has changed in the last 4 months. When I recently asked Taylor for an update, he pointed out that the Green New Deal is no longer sucking all the air out of the room, so the door is open for politicians to push for other measures in Congress. Democrats are working on bills like the Clean Future Act which, he said, is less a Green New Deal and more a copy of California’s state climate policy rejiggered for national scale.

Taylor also had words of praise for the activists he had once been so worried about. “What Sunrise has done,” he said, “is to elevate climate change to the near-top of the progressive agenda. And that counts for something. It may count for a lot, actually.”

Which is one of the key points Stokes was making in their debate. Taylor shifted his stance as he realized the facts had changed. As for Stokes, she noted that this primary season is a referendum on whether activists like the Sunrise Movement can lead a surge in new voters to support something like the Green New Deal. That hasn’t happened. “I think we are seeing the limits of that,” she conceded. Both Taylor and Stokes have moved closer to each other.

But Stokes stuck to her guns on one point: She sees a role for a social movement around climate change. “I think that climate change is the unity issue for the Democratic Party. And it’s a huge wedge issue: It has a lot of support among independents and young Republicans.”

A smart candidate would run on a climate-focused surge of spending, promising good union jobs and clean air, Stokes said: “That would be a winner in November.”


Revolution or steady progress? The Bernie-Biden climate split

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It’s official: Federal judge shuts down the largest oil refinery on the East Coast

A federal judge finally confirmed the Chapter 11 bankruptcy plan of Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) on Thursday. The plan includes the sale of PES’s 1,300-acre refinery complex to a real estate company — putting an end to the largest oil refining operation on the East Coast.

A month earlier, dozens of Philadelphia-based climate activists made a trek to New York City to protest outside the building where a closed-door auction to sell the refinery site was being held. The activists hoped to prevent the site from being sold to a bidder with plans to keep the site running as a refinery. The following week, their wish seemed to have come true: Hilco Redevelopment Partners, a Chicago-based real estate company with a track record of turning defunct fossil fuel infrastructure into logistics centers, was the selected winner. For a moment, the future of the site looked bright. All that was left was approval from the bankruptcy court.

But the other bidders didn’t give up so easily. Industrial Realty Group (IRG), which had made a higher bid than Hilco, teamed up with Phil Rinaldi, the former chief executive of PES, to try to get the results of the auction voided so that IRG could continue running the site as a refinery. With the support of union leaders representing former refinery workers, Rinaldi urged the White House to get involved, arguing that more than a thousand jobs and national security interests were at stake. Peter Navarro, the assistant to President Trump for trade and manufacturing policy, openly backed IRG’s plan, telling the Philadelphia Inquirer, “We’d love to see that remain as a refinery.”

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kevin Gross had a tough decision to make. Last week, the Delaware judge delayed the confirmation hearing to give stakeholders more time to object to the plan. But on Thursday, he officially signed off on the plan. “I’m very much satisfied that the sale to Hilco is the highest bid and sale,” Judge Gross said. “Clearly is in the best interest of the community as well, given the risks that were attended to the prior operations with the refinery, and a refinery frankly that had numerous and repeated problems over the years.”

As a result of yesterday’s hearing, Hilco is now set to buy the plot of land for $252 million, $12 million more than what was initially agreed upon. The final bankruptcy plan also includes $5 million in severance for laid-off refinery workers, as part of a larger settlement for all the refinery’s unsecured creditors. In addition, the plan will also pay PES executives as much as $20 million in bonuses on top of the millions of dollars in bonuses paid to them right after the refinery exploded last June.

Since the explosion, Philly Thrive — the grassroots environmental justice group that organized the protest of the auction — ramped up its efforts to organize and rally against the refinery for threatening public health. The group held several protests in front of the refinery, hosted call banks, wrote testimonies, and occupied government-owned buildings. Meanwhile, a report released last week found that the PES refinery, which processed 335,000 barrels of crude oil each day, released the highest levels of cancer-causing benzene pollution of any refinery in the country.

“Some people can’t afford to get up and move,” South Philadelphia resident Carol White, who lives about a mile away from the refinery and is also a member of Philly Thrive, told Grist after the June explosion. “There are older people living here inhaling fumes, newborn babies, kids under five, and ultimately, it’s impacted people of color.”

Philly Thrive’s months-long fight to end the refinery — along with its years-long fight to breathe clean air — have paid off. The PES refinery will now be permanently shut down and most likely be redeveloped as a mixed-use property. But the group said it’s not an end to the fight, and it looks forward to working with Hilco in determining the future of the land.

“Thrive members are already seeing and planning for the next fight ahead of us, including holding Hilco to a process of involving the public around redevelopment, taking on measures to get whatever justice we can around the benzene emissions, and also linking up with efforts around a Green New Deal,” Philly Thrive organizer Alexa Ross told Grist. “This is not the end of the fight.”


It’s official: Federal judge shuts down the largest oil refinery on the East Coast

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