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627 - Holy Rock! Gibraltar, the Mother of All Territorial Disputes
Just our luck… the only part of the UK with tight border controls. The picture on the front page of Private Eye shows a long line of cars queueing to get into Gibraltar from Spain. Other images on the cover of the August edition of Britain's leading satirical magazine poke fun of Labour leader Ed Milliband and Prime Minister David Cameron, all under the headline: It's the silly season! Spain begs to differ. It is deadly serious about Gibraltar, and the tightened controls at the border this summer, causing traffic jams up to 7 hours long, served as proof of her determination.
Gibraltar - just another silly-season story, or a dispute only a few incidents away from real conflict?
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's center-right cabinet was protesting what it sees as the illegal dumping, in July, of 50 concrete blocks in disputed waters off the British possession. Gibraltar claims the artificial reef would encourage sea life; Spain says it will tear up Spanish fishing nets. Gibraltar says Spanish fishing boats should use hooks instead of nets. And Spain says the blocks are outside the area it recognises as Gibraltar's territorial waters anyway. And so on. But Rajoy's ultimate goal remains the same as that of every Spanish government since 1713, when the Treaty of Utrecht confirmed in perpetuity Britain's dominion over the Rock: its return to Spain.
Frustrated by the failure of several sieges and blockades, that desire has come to define Spanishness itself: "There cannot be a Spaniard worthy of the name, who can write, without blushing, that Gibraltar is not part of Spain", said Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz, president in exile of the Spanish Republic (1940-'45).
So while the Gibraltarian standoff was quickly reduced to a silly-season headline in the rest of the world, on the ground it took on the air of a serious spat just one or two accidents away from full-blown conflict. Madrid's go-slow border checks - officially to combat tobacco smuggling - may soon be replaced by a €50 border levy. On top of that, Spain may close its airspace for direct flights to the British overseas territory.
Dotted lines demarcate British claims, the orange zone inside Gibraltar's port denotes the area of British sovereignty recognised by Spain.
In retaliation, Britain sent HMS Westminster on a 'scheduled visit' to Gib, and requested the European Union to examine the legitimacy of Spain's tightened border controls. The prospect of EU monitors on a fact-finding mission to a 300-year-old dispute between two member states adds to the atmosphere of Operettenkrieg  surrounding the conflict, as does the diminutive size of the territory in dispute .
To the Spanish and British governments both, the sabre-rattling over Gibraltar provided a distracting burst of patriotism, directing attention away from the Bárcenas bribery scandal and a severe case of midterm blues, respectively. But the standoff was more than a recurrent serpiente de verano . Gibraltar is Spain's oldest unhealed war wound, a symbol of its dysfunctional relationship with Britain, and a disheartening lesson in the persistence of territorial grievances.
Geology predestined Gibraltar to greatness. Half the territory is taken up by the Rock of Gibraltar, a 1,400-foot-high, cave-riddled limestone monolith that is the only landmark for miles in either direction along the coast. Those caves have yielded 28,000-year-old Neanderthal bones, the youngest known finds; perhaps this natural fortress is where humanity's other species, decimated by the onslaught of Homo sapiens, came to die. From the top of the Rock, you can see - and if the wind blows north, smell and hear - Morocco, only 14 miles across the Strait of Gibraltar. Sitting at the crossroads of the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, and Africa and Europe, this tiny peninsula acts as a geopolitical safety catch.
To the Romans, who called it Mons Calpe, it was one of the Pillars of Hercules, marking the edge of the world. Its present name derives from Tariq bin Ziyad, the Muslim general who took the Rock in 711 AD as a prelude to his conquest of the Iberian peninsula. The other Pillar of Hercules, on the African side of the Strait, was renamed Jabal Musa after Tariq's commander Musa bin Nusayr. Both pillars are on the Spanish coat of arms , but in a liminal torment that is Sisyphean rather than Herculean, the southern rock also eludes Spanish control: it is situated just west of the Spanish exclave of Ceuta, Madrid's own geopolitical safety pin, across from Gibraltar.
Local history, and the region's overlapping territorial claims, are riddled with such doublets. Recalling the onomastic quarrel over whether to call the body of water that separates Persia from Arabia the Persian or the Arab Gulf, the disputed waters to the west of the Rock to Anglophones are the Bay of Gibraltar, and in Spanish the Bahía de Algeciras, after the Spanish city on the opposite side of the bay . And yet the comarca  surrounding the peninsula is still called Campo de Gibraltar. In fact, the town of San Roque, refounded by Spanish exiles from Gibraltar after the British takeover, retains the official city records of Spanish Gibraltar, flies a flag that is identical to British Gibraltar's (save for the addition of a Spanish crown), and to this day maintains that it is 'Gibraltar-in-exile'. San Roque, the name of which coincidentally translates as 'Saint Rock', is the original refugee camp as political weapon, designed to keep the resentment over the dispossession alive even centuries after the fact.
All of which might seem a bit pointless in light of the more benign invasions and counterinvasions between the former sworn enemies. There was a time when a state of war between Spain and England seemed natural, inevitable: two naval powers vying for supremacy in America, one the guardian of Catholic orthodoxy - Spanish Inquisition, anyone? - the other the champion of the Protestant cause. The great legacy of that rivalry is the as yet surviving demarcation of the New World in Anglo and Latino halves. Both countries are former empires now, however, and the only Armada sailing up the Thames these days are the droves of of Spanish jobseekers fleeing 57% youth unemployment at home. Spain meanwhile is home to over 500,000 British ex-pats, enjoying the fabulous supplies of sun, sea and sangria that the Costas have to offer.
But as the corrosive power of the economic downturn continues to eat away at the cohesive powers of the European Union, many in Spain increasingly resent the wealthier norteños in their midst as a cause of inequality rather than a solution. Higher taxes are driving many back home, to Britain, Germany and elsewhere. It is no coincidence that one of the measures the Rajoy government announced over the Gibraltar row was the investigation by Spanish tax authorities of the properties owned by Gibraltarians in Spain, or that Foreign Minister José Garcia-Margallo hinted at the possibility of new laws that would force the Gibraltar-based online gaming industry to have its servers in Spain, making them liable to Spanish taxes. "The party is over", Garcia-Margallo said, referring to what he considers the all too conciliatory stance towards Gibraltar of the previous Spanish government.
An overview of British encroachment along the Gibraltar peninsula. Hence the Spanish refusal to consider the current demarcation as a definitive border.
From his hardline perspective, it is obvious that Britain has systematically abused periods of turmoil to extend the reach of its colony. The 1713 treaty only gave the British dominion over the town, castle, port and forts of Gibraltar. In 1938, while Spain was in the throes of civil war, they built an airport in a neutral zone on the isthmus on land they claim de facto belongs to Gibraltar, due to long-standing occupation. That neutral zone is now divided by a fence, which the Spanish refuse to acknowledge as the border. A similar conflict over the extent of Gibraltar's territorial waters in bay is the root cause of the tensions that led to Gibraltar's creation of an artificial reef - more a demarcation of territory than a gesture of fish-friendliness.
Ultimately though, and in spite of protestations to the contrary and all the red, white and blue bunting in the world, the fate of Gibraltar lies with Spain. Geographically and numerically, it is the obvious candidate for control over the peninsula. Unfortunately, there are more similarities between Gibraltar and the Falklands than between the Lincoln and Kennedy assassinations. Argentina and Spain both keep repeating how historically unjust, how geographically illogical and how politically untenable the British presence on their shores is. Neither is focusing its irredentist energies on their obvious target: the British subjects occupying their stolen lands. In both cases, their numbers are so few that the goodwill - not to mention the intermarriage - created by unrestricted access would tilt public opinion, slowly but surely, away from distant Britain, and towards integration with their next-door neighbour.
It seems so obvious a solution that there must be ulterior motives for the continued harassment of fellow EU citizens. How's that scandal going, Mr. Prime Minister? Oh, and yes: you've made it to the end of a piece about Gibraltar that doesn't mention a single Barbary macaque .
The Private Eye front page taken from the magazine's cover archive. For a good overview of the background to the current conflict, see this post on the blog La Vida Alcalaína, also the source of the map of the disputed waters. Map of the peninsula found here at Wikimedia Commons.
 Literally 'operetta war'. According to Duden, Germany's authoritative dictionary, Operetten- is often used in German as a prefix to denote someone or something rather pompous and self-important, yet not taken very seriously. See also: Operettenfußball, Operettenkönig. ↩
 At 2.6 square miles, Gibraltar is about 11 times the size of the Mall in Washington DC, or just over twice the size of the City of London. ↩
 Summer snake, as the Spanish would call a silly season story. ↩
 Emblazoned with the motto Plus ultra - There is more beyond. ↩
 Algeciras is of course the Spanish spelling of the Arabic al Jazeera. ↩
 A Spanish administrative division comparable to a county. ↩
 Except, of course, that one. Darn. ↩
Scientists are using bioelectronic medicine to treat inflammatory diseases, an approach that capitalizes on the ancient "hardwiring" of the nervous system.
- Bioelectronic medicine is an emerging field that focuses on manipulating the nervous system to treat diseases.
- Clinical studies show that using electronic devices to stimulate the vagus nerve is effective at treating inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.
- Although it's not yet approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, vagus nerve stimulation may also prove effective at treating other diseases like cancer, diabetes and depression.
The nervous system’s ancient reflexes<p>You accidentally place your hand on a hot stove. Almost instantaneously, your hand withdraws.</p><p>What triggered your hand to move? The answer is <em>not</em> that you consciously decided the stove was hot and you should move your hand. Rather, it was a reflex: Skin receptors on your hand sent nerve impulses to the spinal cord, which ultimately sent back motor neurons that caused your hand to move away. This all occurred before your "conscious brain" realized what happened.</p><p>Similarly, the nervous system has reflexes that protect individual cells in the body.</p><p>"The nervous system evolved because we need to respond to stimuli in the environment," said Dr. Tracey. "Neural signals don't come from the brain down first. Instead, when something happens in the environment, our peripheral nervous system senses it and sends a signal to the central nervous system, which comprises the brain and spinal cord. And then the nervous system responds to correct the problem."</p><p>So, what if scientists could "hack" into the nervous system, manipulating the electrical activity in the nervous system to control molecular processes and produce desirable outcomes? That's the chief goal of bioelectronic medicine.</p><p>"There are billions of neurons in the body that interact with almost every cell in the body, and at each of those nerve endings, molecular signals control molecular mechanisms that can be defined and mapped, and potentially put under control," Dr. Tracey said in a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AJH9KsMKi5M" target="_blank">TED Talk</a>.</p><p>"Many of these mechanisms are also involved in important diseases, like cancer, Alzheimer's, diabetes, hypertension and shock. It's very plausible that finding neural signals to control those mechanisms will hold promises for devices replacing some of today's medication for those diseases."</p><p>How can scientists hack the nervous system? For years, researchers in the field of bioelectronic medicine have zeroed in on the longest cranial nerve in the body: the vagus nerve.</p>
The vagus nerve<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTYyOTM5OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NTIwNzk0NX0.UCy-3UNpomb3DQZMhyOw_SQG4ThwACXW_rMnc9mLAe8/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C0%2C0%2C0&height=700" id="09add" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f38dbfbbfe470ad85a3b023dd5083557" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1245" data-height="700" />
Electrical signals, seen here in a synapse, travel along the vagus nerve to trigger an inflammatory response.
Credit: Adobe Stock via solvod<p>The vagus nerve ("vagus" meaning "wandering" in Latin) comprises two nerve branches that stretch from the brainstem down to the chest and abdomen, where nerve fibers connect to organs. Electrical signals constantly travel up and down the vagus nerve, facilitating communication between the brain and other parts of the body.</p><p>One aspect of this back-and-forth communication is inflammation. When the immune system detects injury or attack, it automatically triggers an inflammatory response, which helps heal injuries and fend off invaders. But when not deployed properly, inflammation can become excessive, exacerbating the original problem and potentially contributing to diseases.</p><p>In 2002, Dr. Tracey and his colleagues discovered that the nervous system plays a key role in monitoring and modifying inflammation. This occurs through a process called the <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/nature01321" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">inflammatory reflex</a>. In simple terms, it works like this: When the nervous system detects inflammatory stimuli, it reflexively (and subconsciously) deploys electrical signals through the vagus nerve that trigger anti-inflammatory molecular processes.</p><p>In rodent experiments, Dr. Tracey and his colleagues observed that electrical signals traveling through the vagus nerve control TNF, a protein that, in excess, causes inflammation. These electrical signals travel through the vagus nerve to the spleen. There, electrical signals are converted to chemical signals, triggering a molecular process that ultimately makes TNF, which exacerbates conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.</p><p>The incredible chain reaction of the inflammatory reflex was observed by Dr. Tracey and his colleagues in greater detail through rodent experiments. When inflammatory stimuli are detected, the nervous system sends electrical signals that travel through the vagus nerve to the spleen. There, the electrical signals are converted to chemical signals, which trigger the spleen to create a white blood cell called a T cell, which then creates a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. The acetylcholine interacts with macrophages, which are a specific type of white blood cell that creates TNF, a protein that, in excess, causes inflammation. At that point, the acetylcholine triggers the macrophages to stop overproducing TNF – or inflammation.</p><p>Experiments showed that when a specific part of the body is inflamed, specific fibers within the vagus nerve start firing. Dr. Tracey and his colleagues were able to map these relationships. More importantly, they were able to stimulate specific parts of the vagus nerve to "shut off" inflammation.</p><p>What's more, clinical trials show that vagus nerve stimulation not only "shuts off" inflammation, but also triggers the production of cells that promote healing.</p><p>"In animal experiments, we understand how this works," Dr. Tracey said. "And now we have clinical trials showing that the human response is what's predicted by the lab experiments. Many scientific thresholds have been crossed in the clinic and the lab. We're literally at the point of regulatory steps and stages, and then marketing and distribution before this idea takes off."<br></p>
The future of bioelectronic medicine<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTYxMDYxMy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNjQwOTExNH0.uBY1TnEs_kv9Dal7zmA_i9L7T0wnIuf9gGtdRXcNNxo/img.jpg?width=980" id="8b5b2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c005e615e5f23c2817483862354d2cc4" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="2000" data-height="1125" />
Vagus nerve stimulation can already treat Crohn's disease and other inflammatory diseases. In the future, it may also be used to treat cancer, diabetes, and depression.
Credit: Adobe Stock via Maridav<p>Vagus nerve stimulation is currently awaiting approval by the US Food and Drug Administration, but so far, it's proven safe and effective in clinical trials on humans. Dr. Tracey said vagus nerve stimulation could become a common treatment for a wide range of diseases, including cancer, Alzheimer's, diabetes, hypertension, shock, depression and diabetes.</p><p>"To the extent that inflammation is the problem in the disease, then stopping inflammation or suppressing the inflammation with vagus nerve stimulation or bioelectronic approaches will be beneficial and therapeutic," he said.</p><p>Receiving vagus nerve stimulation would require having an electronic device, about the size of lima bean, surgically implanted in your neck during a 30-minute procedure. A couple of weeks later, you'd visit, say, your rheumatologist, who would activate the device and determine the right dosage. The stimulation would take a few minutes each day, and it'd likely be unnoticeable.</p><p>But the most revolutionary aspect of bioelectronic medicine, according to Dr. Tracey, is that approaches like vagus nerve stimulation wouldn't come with harmful and potentially deadly side effects, as many pharmaceutical drugs currently do.</p><p>"A device on a nerve is not going to have systemic side effects on the body like taking a steroid does," Dr. Tracey said. "It's a powerful concept that, frankly, scientists are quite accepting of—it's actually quite amazing. But the idea of adopting this into practice is going to take another 10 or 20 years, because it's hard for physicians, who've spent their lives writing prescriptions for pills or injections, that a computer chip can replace the drug."</p><p>But patients could also play a role in advancing bioelectronic medicine.</p><p>"There's a huge demand in this patient cohort for something better than they're taking now," Dr. Tracey said. "Patients don't want to take a drug with a black-box warning, costs $100,000 a year and works half the time."</p><p>Michael Dowling, president and CEO of Northwell Health, elaborated:</p><p>"Why would patients pursue a drug regimen when they could opt for a few electronic pulses? Is it possible that treatments like this, pulses through electronic devices, could replace some drugs in the coming years as preferred treatments? Tracey believes it is, and that is perhaps why the pharmaceutical industry closely follows his work."</p><p>Over the long term, bioelectronic approaches are unlikely to completely replace pharmaceutical drugs, but they could replace many, or at least be used as supplemental treatments.</p><p>Dr. Tracey is optimistic about the future of the field.</p><p>"It's going to spawn a huge new industry that will rival the pharmaceutical industry in the next 50 years," he said. "This is no longer just a startup industry. [...] It's going to be very interesting to see the explosive growth that's going to occur."</p>
Japan looks to replace China as the primary source of critical metals
- Enough rare earth minerals have been found off Japan to last centuries
- Rare earths are important materials for green technology, as well as medicine and manufacturing
- Where would we be without all of our rare-earth magnets?
What are the rare earth elements?<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA2MTM0Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzODExMjMyMn0.owchAgxSBwji5IofgwKtueKSbHNyjPfT7hTJrHpTi98/img.jpg?width=980" id="fd315" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="d8ed70e3d0b67b9cbe78414ffd02c43e" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
(julie deshaies/Shutterstock)<p>The rare earth metals can be mostly found in the second row from the bottom in the Table of Elements. According to the <a href="http://www.rareearthtechalliance.com/What-are-Rare-Earths" target="_blank"><u>Rare Earth Technology Alliance</u></a>, due to the "unique magnetic, luminescent, and electrochemical properties, these elements help make many technologies perform with reduced weight, reduced emissions, and energy consumption; or give them greater efficiency, performance, miniaturization, speed, durability, and thermal stability."</p><p>In order of atomic number, the rare earths are:</p> <ul> <li>Scandium or Sc (21) — This is used in TVs and energy-saving lamps.</li> <li>Yttrium or Y (39) — Yttrium is important in the medical world, used in cancer drugs, rheumatoid arthritis medications, and surgical supplies. It's also used in superconductors and lasers.</li> <li>Lanthanum or La (57) — Lanthanum finds use in camera/telescope lenses, special optical glasses, and infrared absorbing glass.</li> <li>Cerium or Ce (58) — Cerium is found in catalytic converters, and is used for precision glass-polishing. It's also found in alloys, magnets, electrodes, and carbon-arc lighting. </li> <li>Praseodymium or Pr (59) — This is used in magnets and high-strength metals.</li> <li>Neodymium or Nd (60) — Many of the magnets around you have neodymium in them: speakers and headphones, microphones, computer storage, and magnets in your car. It's also found in high-powered industrial and military lasers. The mineral is especially important for green tech. Each <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mining-toyota/as-hybrid-cars-gobble-rare-metals-shortage-looms-idUSTRE57U02B20090831" target="_blank"><u>Prius</u></a> motor, for example, requires 2.2 lbs of neodymium, and its battery another 22-33 lbs. <a href="https://pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2011/5036/sir2011-5036.pdf" target="_blank"><u>Wind turbine batteries</u></a> require 450 lbs of neodymium per watt. </li> <li>Promethium or Pm (61) — This is used in pacemakers, watches, and research.</li> <li>Samarium or Sm (62) — This mineral is used in magnets in addition to intravenous cancer radiation treatments and nuclear reactor control rods.</li> <li>Europium or Eu (63) — Europium is used in color displays and compact fluorescent light bulbs.</li> <li>Gadolinium or Gd (64) — It's important for nuclear reactor shielding, cancer radiation treatments, as well as x-ray and bone-density diagnostic equipment.</li> <li>Terbium or Tb (65) — Terbium has similar uses to Europium, though it's also soft and thus possesses unique shaping capabilities .</li> <li>Dysprosium or Dy (66) — This is added to other rare-earth magnets to help them work at high temperatures. It's used for computer storage, in nuclear reactors, and in energy-efficient vehicles.</li> <li>Holmium or Ho (67) — Holmium is used in nuclear control rods, microwaves, and magnetic flux concentrators.</li> <li>Erbium or Er (68) — This is used in fiber-optic communication networks and lasers.</li> <li>Thulium or Tm (69) — Thulium is another laser rare earth.</li> <li>Ytterbium or Yb (70) — This mineral is used in cancer treatments, in stainless steel, and in seismic detection devices.</li> <li>Lutetium or Lu (71) — Lutetium can target certain cancers, and is used in petroleum refining and positron emission tomography.</li></ul>
Where Japan found is rare earths<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTA2MTM0OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTA0NzUxNn0.N3t_iKf6lnnoJ6yVUtl8-wNZICEG2ZxyPzm9ZdE99ks/img.jpg?width=980" id="021b7" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="d9dd843fde547a0b69f8798aca18a706" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Minimatori Torishima Island
(Chief Master Sergeant Don Sutherland, U.S. Air Force)<p>Japan located the rare earths about 1,850 kilometers off the shore of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minami-Tori-shima" target="_blank"><u>Minamitori Island</u></a>. Engineers located the minerals in 10-meter-deep cores taken from sea floor sediment. Mapping the cores revealed and area of approximately 2,500 square kilometers containing rare earths.</p><p>Japan's engineers estimate there's 16 million tons of rare earths down there. That's <a href="https://minerals.usgs.gov/minerals/pubs/historical-statistics/ds140-raree.xlsx" target="_blank"><u>five times</u></a> the amount of the rare earth elements ever mined since 1900. According to <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com.au/rare-earth-minerals-found-in-japan-2018-4?r=US&IR=T" target="_blank"><u>Business Insider</u></a>, there's "enough yttrium to meet the global demand for 780 years, dysprosium for 730 years, europium for 620 years, and terbium for 420 years."</p><p>The bad news, of course, is that Japan has to figure out how to extract the minerals from 6-12 feet under the seabed four miles beneath the ocean surface — that's the <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-23948-5" target="_blank"><u>next step</u></a> for the country's engineers. The good news is that the location sits squarely within Japan's Exclusive Economic Zone, so their rights to the lucrative discovery will be undisputed.</p>
A physicist creates an AI algorithm that predicts natural events and may prove the simulation hypothesis.
- Princeton physicist Hong Qin creates an AI algorithm that can predict planetary orbits.
- The scientist partially based his work on the hypothesis which believes reality is a simulation.
- The algorithm is being adapted to predict behavior of plasma and can be used on other natural phenomena.
Physicist Hong Qin with images of planetary orbits and computer code.
Credit: Elle Starkman
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