Tuesday, July 22, 2014 

It's so fucking funny.

Supposedly, the older you get, the more right-wing you become.  It's strange then that at least when it comes to foreign policy, the more I age, the more to the left I shift.  Perhaps it's because the propaganda accompanying those shilling for war becomes ever more egregious; maybe it's because those selling leaden death are about as plausible as a pig dressed as a chicken; or it could be that as my anger on much else has dimmed, and boy has it dimmed, if anything it still hasn't peaked when civilians are massacred by the "most moral" army on the planet, supported and backed to the hilt by our own wannabe bombers.

We must start though with the shooting down of flight MH17.  Here is the worst example imaginable of what happens when you give heavy weaponry to amateurs, or as could be the case, when professionals are made to answer to dilettantes.  As soon as the news emerged a civilian plane had came down in the area where the eastern Ukrainian rebels have been pushed back to it was apparent what had happened.  Regardless of how the Donetsk People's Republic fighters got their hands on a Buk, whether supplied directly by Russia or captured from the Ukrainians, they couldn't have kept fighting this long without the tacit, barely disguised support of Putin.  He bears a heavy responsibility for the tragedy, and the fact he either refused or failed to pressure the rebels into allowing immediate access to the crash site so investigators could carry out their work speaks of the inhumanity of the Russian president.

This said, there is little many in the west like more than the certainty of past battles.  To hear some commentators and politicians over the last few days you could be forgiven for imagining the Russians themselves had carried out the most heinous, despicable atrocity of recent times.  The strike on MH17 apparently occurred in a vacuum, few of the reports setting out how the Ukrainians had carried out air strikes in the area before last Thursday, at least one missile destroying a house and killing those inside.  Nor have there been such shootings down in the past, it would seem, neither the Korean flight brought down by the Soviets in 1983 or indeed the USS Vincennes incident of 1988 being recalled.

Those quite rightly demanding justice and the handing over of those responsible might well reflect on the punishment given to the US navy crew whom unintentionally killed 290 civilians on Iran Air Flight 655: they received their medals, while the captain got the Legion of Merit.  Few have considered the irony either of the media traipsing all over what would normally be a crime scene, access carefully controlled so as not to lose evidence or contaminate the area.  Indeed, if the scene had been quickly handed over to investigators, it's possible the bodies of the victims could have stayed where they landed just as long if not longer than they did; that was certainly the case with Lockerbie.

Watching last Friday's session at the United Nations Security Council was an instruction in how diplomacy does and doesn't work.  The anger of US ambassador Samantha Power was palpable, her words at times mawkish.  "We now all know the letter I stands for infant," she said.  It doesn't of course when it comes to Gaza, where instead it must stand for irrelevant.  If the same politicians who have barely been able to contain their contempt and rage at Russia over MH17 directed even a tenth of that feeling at Israel, the pressure would have almost certainly already told on Netanyahu.

Israel instead is held to different standards, always has been, always will be.  "No one understands Israel but Israel," as the Israeli prime minister apparently told John Kerry.  It's the story taken up by apologists, as well as those who don't bother to sugar the pill.  When we highlight the disparity in the number of casualties between the two sides, the context is we want more Israelis to be killed to even things up.  It's also extremely distasteful to share pictures of dead children, because doing so "devalues the currency of shared humanity", while if we do it for the Palestinians, we should also do it for the children of every other conflict or disaster.  God forbid that we see the victims of a war where one side has rudimentary rockets and rifles and the other has tanks and the finest weaponry the west can supply.

If it wasn't apparently designed to infuriate, the IDF Twitter account could be taken for satire.  We're told the ground invasion is to destroy the tunnels Hamas hides its missiles in, but they conceal them in every civilian building too.  Israel is threatened by Hamas fighters using the tunnels to attack settlements just outside the Strip, despite them being obliterated the moment they step out of them, yet when Hamas kills Israeli soldiers inside Gaza they're still terrorists, rather than resisting an invading force.  The media can't repeat enough the great lengths the IDF goes to avoid civilian casualties, despite multiple incidents every day that suggest at best either lack of care or at worst a complete indifference, yet similar statements from Hamas never make the cut.  When civilians don't leave despite being warned to flee, they're either human shields or Hamas wouldn't let them go.  That nowhere in Gaza is safe doesn't matter.  Hamas is responsible.

We've heard it all before, and no doubt we'll hear it again.  One thing we do seem to have been spared this time is the Palestinians don't feel pain such is their martyrdom ideation line, perhaps because the grieving for those killed has been there for all to see.  So too we've seen more reports from the "Sderot cinema" or other vantage points where an extreme, tiny minority of Israelis go to watch the carnage being wreaked on Gaza, cheering it on, just as vengeful and filled with hate as we're so often informed Palestinian children are brought up to be.  Whether they really approve of the horrific consequences on the ground, when 19 children were killed in a single strike, apparently just as guilty as the solitary target, we can't know.  They surely however demand justice just as much as the infants on board the MH17 did.

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Monday, July 21, 2014 

Complicit in the lies of a serial offender.


Regular readers will know it takes a lot to stagger me.  Cynicism comes easily, because it is so easy.  Think the worst, and then you won't be let down come the inevitable.  There are no heroes only humans, and we are flawed flesh and bone, all with our own prejudices, failings and traits.

Sometimes though you still can't help but be blown away by just how unbelievably stupid supposedly intelligent people are.  In fact, in this instance stupid doesn't cover it.  The only word that even comes close to accurately describing the Crown Prosecution Service's original decision to prosecute Tulisa Contostavlos is fuckwitted.  A lawyer earning no doubt good money looked at the "investigation" carried out by this blog's favourite journalist, hopefully soon to be ex-journalist Mazher Mahmood, and felt, yeah, this isn't the most obvious example I've ever seen of entrapment, and told the CPS there was a realistic chance of conviction.  The CPS then reviewed his decision, and went along with it.  Then the judge, despite the defence making what has to be one of the most compelling applications for the case to be thrown out on the grounds Mahmood is a lying sack of shit, allowed it to proceed.

Only for Alistair McCreath to days later discharge the jury and find Contostavlos and her friend, Michael Coombs, who had already admitted supplying the cocaine after Mahmood asked Contostavlos to get some for him, not guilty.  Why?  Because Mahmood it seems put pressure on his driver, Alan Smith, to change his statement, having first told the police Contostavlos had spoken of her opposition to drugs as a family member was an addict as the pair talked in his car.  At the legal arguments pre-trial Mahmood denied he spoke to the Smith at all, only for Contostavlos's QC, Jeremy Dein, to winkle the truth out of Mahmood under cross-examination last week.  He had indeed discussed the statement with Smith, he just didn't have anything to do with him altering it.

Even now I can't begin to get my head round how Mahmood's latest and clearly for him most disastrous entrapping of a celebrity got to the point of being put before a jury.  Back in June last year the People, whether through speaking to Contostavlos and/or her management or a disgruntled source at the Sun wrote up an almost completely accurate blow-by-blow account of how the former X-Factor judge was enticed by Mahmood, although it didn't explicitly state her arrest and the "hoax" were connected.  They flew her to Las Vegas (either in first class or by private jet, according to whether you believe Mahmood or the People), telling her she was going to star in a Slumdog Millionaire-type film as a "bad girl" making the journey from London to India, possibly alongside Leonardo DiCaprio.  As in previous stings, Contostavlos was plied with alcohol, her defence going so far as to say her drink was spiked on one occasion, before Mahmood then sprang the trap.  Desperate to get the part, having been told Keira Knightley was also being considered for the role, she arranged for Coombs to supply Mahmood with his requested "white sweets".

Regardless of what you think about subterfuge by journalists, and the PCC code makes clear it can only be justified in the public interest, the person in this instance commissioning a crime is the hack, not the celebrity.  Not only that, unlike in other instances where those involved step back at the last minute, the evidence their target is willing to go along with their request acquired, Mahmood's drug stings have nearly always involved the actual supply of the banned substance.  By accepting such a level of skulduggery was permissible, despite the relatively slight nature of the offences committed, both the police and the CPS became complicit in Mahmood's abuse of power, not to forget lies.  Nor is this anything like the first time they've been embarrassed by Mahmood's mendacity and the Murdoch tabloid stable's hyperbolics: the Victoria Beckham "kidnap plot" trial collapsed after it emerged the key witness had been paid, while the "red mercury" case ended with all the defendants acquitted.

Indeed, yet again the court system gave in to Mahmood's bullshit, the myth of the man as tabloid investigator extraordinaire.  He gave his evidence from behind a screen, to both protect him from enemies and so as not to give away his identity to those he might yet seek to stitch up.  No matter that his visage has been available online for years now, or that, err, his victims know all too well what he looks like.  Also irrelevant is just how petty and cliche the drug dealer expose is; it's one thing to try and show corruption in sport, although Mahmood failed to do even that with John Higgins, it's another to get a pop star to show they know someone who can get drugs.  I mean, who knew they got up to such things?  It's not as though most of us have acquaintances whom dabble in illicit substances, and if tempted in the same way as Contostavlos was could just as easily find ourselves helping out a new VIP friend, clearly we're meant to regard this as a terrible indictment of the morals of our heroes.  What will the kids who look up to her think?  Nor do certain sections of the media encourage ambition and aspiration whatever the cost, oh no.

As well as being suspended by the Sun, Mahmood now faces the possibility of a perjury charge, another former News of the Screws hack accused of lying under oath.  This entire affair also gives the lie to the idea Leveson changed anything: still a Murdoch paper was prepared to do whatever it took just to catch out a jumped-up celeb.  How delicious then that someone like Tulisa (and admittedly her legal team) should be the one to finally pin the fake sheikh down.  This time, surely, there can be no way back for Mazher Mahmood.

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Friday, July 18, 2014 

Judge yr'self.

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A pound of flesh.


Three branches of the Entez family, around 60 people, were sheltering in a house in Zeitoun when it was struck by an artillery shell shortly after 8.45pm. Three of the family were killed – Abed Ali, 24, Mohamed Ibrahim, 13, and Mohamed Salem, two – and four injured. Three of the exterior walls were destroyed in the blast.

In the wreckage of the home on Friday morning, Salem Entez, 29, Mohamed Salem's father, approached the Guardian with a plastic bag, which he opened to revealed pieces of flesh he was collecting for burial. "This is my son," he said.

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Thursday, July 17, 2014 

The differentation of fools.

It begins.  Still 10 months away from the election and the two constituent parts of the coalition are starting their differentiation strategies.  Apparently we're meant to believe it was pure coincidence Danny Alexander penned an article for the Mirror detailing how deeply iniquitous the bedroom tax, sorry the spare room subsidy is just after Cameron launches his biggest reshuffle of the parliament and news "leaks" out about how the Tories intend to engineer a "legal car-crash with a built in time delay" with the European Court of Human Rights.  The Tories are feigning shock at the duplicity of the Lib Dems at the same time as Nick Clegg claims to have been left "blindsided" by the very much anticipated sacking/retirement of the ministers opposed to leaving the ECHR.  If it wasn't all so obvious you'd be forgiven for deeming it cynical.

What certainly is cynical is the Liberal Democrats only now deciding the bedroom tax doesn't work, can't work and is extraordinarily unfair even by the coalition's benefit reform standards.  It was the report this week (PDF) that truly opened our eyes they say, ignoring the assessment by the Department for Work and Pensions carried out beforehand which predicted exactly the outcome we've arrived at.  This can only be explained in one of three ways: either they didn't read the assessment, they didn't believe it, or they just didn't care either way.  The Conservatives for their part say not once had the Lib Dem leadership raised concerns with them over the policy, and on this occasion it's difficult not to believe them.

After all, this is the same Nick Clegg who gave a speech back in December 2012 claiming that the welfare system was in danger of becoming unaffordable, in only one of many remarks Iain Duncan Smith or David Cameron could just as easily have made.  The only thing that's changed between now and then is, unlike most of the rest of the welfare reforms, the bedroom tax has become unpopular as a direct result of people knowing friends or relatives affected by it.  When there are no suitable alternative properties for someone to downsize to, as the government knew there wouldn't be, the policy was always going to result in flagrant injustice.

While the Tories have been in the vanguard of attempting to portray all those claiming benefits (with the possible exception of child benefit) as scroungers, both of the other main parties have been happy to go along with it, not prepared to fight against the increasingly pernicious narrative pushed by both the tabloids and broadcast media (although the Lib Dems should be given some credit for opposing the Tories on limiting housing benefit to the over 25s).  Labour eventually realised so many of those who couldn't be easily dismissed as dole scum were being affected they could oppose it without the Tories and the tabloids tearing them to pieces.  Now the Lib Dems, despite having voted against Labour's attempts to alter the legislation as recently as February, have moved on the most obvious policy they can quickly say they were never convinced of in the first place.

It's precisely the kind of politics that only increases cynicism, rather than as the Lib Dems clearly believe might persuade a few former supporters to return home.  It's also one thing for the Tories to move to do something they've threatened for quite some time, regardless of the politics involved; it's another for the Lib Dems to row back on a policy that would have never passed in the first place but for them.  Just as every previous attempt by the Lib Dems to make amends for broken promises has been rebuffed, so too will this latest desperate gambit be.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014 

You will be buried in the same box as a killer.

Back in the good old days of the Cold War, the estimated time between the warning a Soviet ICBM was heading towards your area and the actual strike itself was four minutes, although most think even that was a tad optimistic.  It certainly didn't leave long to get to anywhere that might be safer, unless say you lived within running distance of an underground station and weren't knocked over and trampled to death by all the others with the same idea.

Fortunately, our good friends the Americans remain the only people to have decided to go nuclear.  Less fortunately for the Palestinians, the latest humanitarian gesture on the part of the IDF is to fire a "warning" missile at houses they intend to destroy, not just leaving it to chance the occupants will answer the phone.  Caught on film is one house getting a "knock on the roof", then being struck by the following, far more destructive projectile.  The time between the warning and the attack? Four minutes.

We shouldn't feel sorry though for the owner and his family, or indeed any others living in the building as multiple families usually do in the crowded Gaza strip.  The owner's sons are apparently Hamas members, therefore completely justifying the razing of his house.  Moreover, as the Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said, since Hamas rejected the terms of the proposed Egyptian ceasefire everything that happens in Gaza from now on is solely their responsibility.

Not that it wasn't already.  A hospital struck by an Israeli missile was clearly a Hamas hospital, while the 55 UN installations either damaged or destroyed (since June 1st) were UN/Hamas installations.  The water supply infrastructure the UN warns is in danger of collapse due to the damage inflicted on it is a Hamas water supply.  How can it not be when Hamas members use it? The four cousins between the ages of 9 and 11 killed by an Israeli shell today were on a Hamas beach, inside a Hamas fishing shed, and it was witnessed by Hamas journalists who treated the survivors.  All 47 of the children killed so far have been Hamas children, still terrorists, just smaller.

Israel doesn't just have the right to defend itself, it has a responsibility to do so. The Palestinians by contrast don't just have the right to die, they have a responsibility to.  Hamas might rule the Gaza strip, and they might be responsible for everything that happens there, but they don't have the right to defend their territory, to resist.  Their use of rockets is a war crime, as they are too indiscriminate to properly target anything or anyone that could be considered as legitimate, not that there is anywhere in Israel that could be considered a legitimate military target anyway.

To step back from rocking the snark for just a second, Hamas was far too hasty in dismissing the Egyptian ceasefire proposal.  You can understand why they did; it only offered further talks rather anything substantive.  When we've been here twice before, Israel making promises to loosen the siege of Gaza that have subsequently come to nothing, it's not a surprise Hamas wants something this time they can hold the Israelis to.  In both previous examples it was also Israel rather than Hamas that broke the fragile peace.  Nonetheless, when the option is on the table to halt the suffering of the people Hamas claims to represent, to not at least give it a chance is close to unconscionable.

True, it's far easier to sell a ceasefire when the number of casualties on your side is 1, rather than 200 as it was yesterday for the Palestinians and there's little to show for it.  It doesn't however absolve Hamas of continuing with a policy which failed in the past and is going to again this time.  Israel has no intention of lifting the siege of Gaza, nor does Egypt under Sisi have any intention of making life easier for a movement that grew out of the Muslim Brotherhood.  The only way of putting Israel under pressure over the Palestinians is to threaten and if necessary introduce boycotts, just as John Kerry warned Netanyahu were on the horizon if he continued to refuse to countenance even the slightest gestures needed to keep the talks with Fatah on track.  Netanyahu's response was to "wag his finger" at the US secretary of state.  Responsibility, as we've seen, is something only the Palestinians fail to exercise.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014 

All you need is Gove.

Government reshuffles are always over-analysed and often pointless affairs, especially in terms of what it means for the departments ministers are being shuttled between. You can take the view that moving someone from say their position as culture secretary, one of the more undemanding jobs, to being plunged in at education is damn stupid considering the level of expertise we should expect of those given the role, or you could instead reason that as the civil service does the bulk of the work anyway, given the outline by the minister, it doesn't really make much odds.

What certainly is cretinous in this instance is having a major reshuffle this late into a parliament.  While David Cameron has at least refused the Blair tendency to move everyone around every poxy year, the only reason our dear PM is getting rid of so many on the liberal wing of the Tories while at the same time promoting as many loyal women as he can is for party political and presentational reasons respectively.  It's certainly not because Nicky Morgan will be a better education secretary than Michael Gove, although it's difficult to imagine how anyone barring a resurrected King Herod could be any worse, it's down to how Cameron has judged Gove to have become too much of an electoral liability in his current job.  Therefore he's absolutely the right man to be the "face" of the Conservatives in the media (is this right? Ed.).

No, me neither.  Gove's demotion will undoubtedly be presented by his allies in the media as the ultimate example of someone being a victim of their own success.  Sadly, there's also more than an element of truth in it.  Compare Gove's ramming through of the expansion of academies and setting up of free schools to Iain Duncan Smith's catastrophic attempt to introduce universal credit, and judged purely on that basis it's bewildering how the latter is still in his job.  Unlike IDS though, who has merely got into scrapes with George Osborne over whether or not he's a bit thick, Gove managed to piss everyone off at some point.  Not all his own work, with some of it being the responsibility of his just as combative former SpAd Dominic Cummings, most recently seen describing Dave as a "sphinx without a riddle", it's now time to take the battle to the other parties rather than your colleagues.  Hence Gove, although bruised, is apparently content to become chief whip and chief TV/radio mug.  Why those who didn't like him as education secretary will suddenly discover him to be charming and persuasive in his new role isn't clear, but it must all be part of Lynton Crosby's grand plan.

Also integral to Crosby's barnacle-shedding scheme is trying to end the impression Dave has a problem with women.  Rather than, err, change the policies women disproportionately oppose, far better is to promote a few more women to defend them, a ploy guaranteed to work just as well.  Apart from Morgan, also getting an office of state is Liz Truss, taking over as environment secretary from right-winger Owen Paterson, which predictably and despite all the other changes has still elicited moans from the headbangers.  Truss you might recall was the minister pushing for the ratio of young children an adult could look after safely to be increased, only for it to run into opposition from that other coalition, Mumsnet and Nick Clegg.  Esther McVey, once of GMTV, stays in her job but gets to attend cabinet, while Penny Mordaunt is rewarded for appearing on Splash! by becoming the first coastal communities minister.  Any suggestion the introduction of yet another ministerial post is designed to further reduce rebelling is cynicism of the lowest order.  Best to gloss over the rise of Priti Patel, lest I start to feel the urge to repeatedly slam my head against the wall.

Out then went a whole bunch of older white men, much to the discomfort of those older white men in charge of the country's newspapers.  Describing Ken Clarke as middle-aged as the Mail's front page did is also a bit of a stretch, although you have to remember Paul Dacre is determined to see off any attempt to retire him as the paper's editor, and he's 9 years Clarke's junior.  More pertinent is Clarke, Dominic Grieve, Damian Green, David Willetts and Alan Duncan have all gone, all of whom were dovish on Europe or liberal in outlook generally.  Along with Gove, the new foreign secretary Philip Hammond said he would vote to leave an unreformed EU, while the loss of Clarke, Grieve and Green suggests, as anticipated, the Tory manifesto will propose leaving the European Convention on Human Rights altogether.

The Conservatives seem convinced it will be the messengers as much as the message that will make the difference in 10 months' time.  Long-term economic plan; Miliband weird and not prime ministerial; and look at how completely normal and representative your fun, go-getting Tories now are.  It ignores how the Tories failed to win in 2010 on a centre-right but not right-wing manifesto, as the fresh-faced alternative to the disastrous tenure of the son of the Manse.  Regardless of the polls occasionally showing a Tory lead or the difference being within the margin of error, there's still nothing to suggest as yet they can win the election outright.  If this reshuffle was one of the first steps in an effort to alter that, the party seems set again on deluding itself.

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Monday, July 14, 2014 

An attack of morbidity.

Track-marked amoeba lands craft.  Cartwheel of scratches.  Dress the tapeworm as pet.

A few weeks back a friend (thanks as always, mate) and I paid a visit to Highgate cemetery.  Yes, Karl Marx, obviously, but it wasn't just his tomb I wanted to see.  It might seem more than a little creepy in these post-Savile times, having an interest in graveyards; all the same, they are always fascinating, humbling, evocative, beguiling places, and Highgate is one of the finest of its kind.

More than anything else, in death we are all equal.  In Highgate East the hulking monstrosity of Marx's cenotaph, paid for and constructed by the (Stalinist) Communist Party of Great Britain in the 50s, sits almost directly opposite the plain, minimalistic by contrast headstones of Chris Harman and Paul Foot, both members of the SWP, and both of whom died before its current troubles.  Foot's epitaph is a quotation from Shelley, while Harman's is from Brecht; Marx's, naturally, quotes himself.  At Marx's original resting place lies a slab noting the moving of his and his wife's remains.  It's riven by cracks, which if you were so inclined you could take either as a reflection on his legacy or what he might have thought of the cultish monument erected 70 years after his death.

Away from the "names", one headstone more than any other has stayed with me.  On it were the names of two children, who died the same day, at ages I think 5 and 7.  While there's a life beneath every plot, a history of someone who came into existence and then as we all must went out of it, behind this particular grave there had to have been a story more tragic than most.  Whether they died in an accident or something more sinister there was no indication, as there shouldn't be.  In creating a memorial to someone the emphasis ought always to be not on how they died, but how they lived.  Or, if they were taken too soon, how they could have lived.

Today I visited a cemetery closer to home, one I had been to not so long ago to celebrate a life, just not to see this particular grave.  As I searched for it, not remembering where it was, I looked at hundreds of headstones, dedications to husbands, wives, sons, daughters, all regretfully departed, all much loved, all people I didn't know.  Yet I found myself tearing up, reminded of how fleeting this experience we call being alive is, of the cruelty when it is snatched away, of the pain caused by parting regardless of the time spent together.  The babies who expired within hours or even minutes of taking their first breath of air, if indeed they ever did.  The children who never reached adulthood.  The former partners, in death reunited.  The murder victim, justice finally achieved for her last year.

Having been severely depressed, not to mention disposed to ruminating on such things, I've probably thought about dying more than I care to relate.  Except, not really.  As I sat before my brother's headstone, talking to him, paying my respects to someone I never knew, never could have known, crying my eyes out, as I'm doing again now, it hit me that all the images my mind has conjured up have been but the most wretched facsimile of what my actual death would be like.  Not for me personally, as I'm unimportant, as I've always been.  I don't hold to the bullshit we are all unique, beautiful creatures line when we are most certainly not.  However, to the people that matter, who really matter, you are exactly that, like it or not, despite it often not seeming that way.

Life makes no sense.  For years I've tried to quantify exactly why it is I feel the way I do, whether there's anything I could have done to change my path, how it is I ended up here.  Should I just be happy to have lived the way I have?  Can I be?  You tell yourself how extraordinarily lucky you are, by historical standards, by quality of life standards, by being born in a western democracy no matter how many things there are wrong with it, and yet it still feels hollow.  I think of what is I thought I wanted, how simple, how pitiful it is.  Then I look at the alternative solution I've lusted after more than anything, anyone else, how encompassing it is, how it seems to offer release.

But at what cost?

Fell asleep.  Dearly loved.  Sadly missed.  We'll meet again.  Our darling Rich.

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