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On this site you'll find posts and pages from recent years. The site began as part of my public law practice after leaving Parliament in 2005. Accordingly it records my opinions, not necessarily those of Franks & Ogilvie of which I am a principal, or any client, or the National Party for which I contested the Wellington Central electorate in November 2008.

From the Wellington Writers’ Walk:

“It’s true you can’t live here by chance, you have to do and be, not simply watch or even describe. This is the city of action,the world headquarters of the verb”

– Lauris Edmond, from The Active Voice

Give us space, light, sun, distant sea and hills – not dismal bush

  • December 11th, 2018

For bouquets and brickbats, here are the notes for today’s soap-box commentary on Jim Mora’s RNZ Panel

I love trees. I’ve planted hundreds – to feed birds and bees. I’ve got over a thousand hectares from which stock has been excluded, regenerating native bush. But tree worshippers need to be called out.

A couple of weeks ago I re-rode the Queen Charlotte Track. Mile after mile of what was last time a glorious ride on top of a world of water views and hills, are now dreary aisles of manuka, kanuka, five finger, and ake ake. Sure, there are picnic stops with quality tables, and look out points, but much of the trip is now enclosed in dismal and (when we rode it) dripping vegetation. Increasingly the pressing trees form a dense canopy. So in those sections spirits can’t be lifted by  a bright sky  with clouds skudding overhead.

It is the same in the Makara MTB Park. Once you could feel you were riding in the sky. You shook off all feelings of the city, of walls, of being enclosed, soon after you climbed out of the valley floor. Now only the newest tracks are open above and below. And every scar with dwarf vegetation, every slip is jammed with young forest trees, all carefully planted in protective sleeves. In 10 years there will be kilometer after kilometer where only the gradient, and probably the riders’ GPS devices will tell them they are on magnificent hills, and not in a canyon.

Are Councillors too scared to question this obsessive community tree planting. Or is it only me who finds the encroaching forest depressing, blocking  light, sun and most of all the wonderful views. Many of Wellington’s tracks must feel sinister to women anxious about safety. Seemingly impenetrable walls of green and brown keep hidden everything more than a couple of metres off the track.  And that same vegetation keeps the tracks damp.

Of course in midsummer the tracks are delightfully cool. But then those who have seen townships burn in Australia must wonder how much will be left of some of our suburbs if we get a drought then fire and high winds. In Australia – they say to keep inflammable trees at least 30m clear from houses. Clearly fear of fire has had no impact on this attempt to turn Wellington back to an imagined pre-European state.  But why has this drive to turn us into a forest not riled people who do not want  gloomy winter paths, streets, houses. Is the slipperiness immaterial?

We are not forest animals. We are clearing dwellers. Maori usefully burned much land long before European pasture animals arrived. Even after they’d run through the usable moa they burned forest to get bracken hills for food. I have every sympathy with them. The film the Piano showed what is wrong with trying to live cheerfully in evergreen forest.

I’m sorry that it will probably take a catastrophic fire to reign in the tree nuts, and restore some balance and voice to people who want light and air and views – or at least to have deciduous trees that give light and air in the gloomy days of winter.

 

What Our Ex-Mormon PM Should Bring Us From Her Heritage

  • November 29th, 2018

 This post is an edited contribution from L Prosser who knew our Prime Minister in her Mormon days

A little over a year ago, Jacinda Ardern became New Zealand’s first ex-Mormon Prime Minister. She has said she left the church (in her 20s) because of its stance on homosexuality. Whatever one thinks of the Mormon Church’s views on sex or the metaphysical, it’s a shame that Ms Ardern has not lead us into paying more attention to how America’s majority-Mormon state (Utah) governs itself. I hope her failure to lead on welfare policy is not because she’s been anxious to deny her heritage. Her party – which once claimed its welfare policy was just Christianity in Action – needs to reform its creation. As originators, Labour are best placed politically to deliver genuine reform.

But why look to her Mormon heritage? Why not? The PM is clearly comfortable with  state sponsorship of religion – last month she gifted $1.9m  to Ratana. Her Ministers happily hand out large sums to repair favoured churches.

Utah is a model for cost-effective government that leverages rather than crowds out civil society. And its social outcomes should be the envy of progressives everywhere. Utah pioneers created their state in a desert no one else wanted. The state now has the highest birth rate in the USA, and the lowest child poverty

31% of the Utah population of around 3 million identify as irreligious, only a little below the US average, and only 40% of Salt Lake City’s people are LDS church members (62% across the state). But they have the USA’s highest proportion of ‘very religious’ people (55%).

Fewer people live below the poverty line in Salt Lake City than in any other major US city. Utah’s capital also boasts the highest levels of upward social mobility anywhere in the US. It has achieved this in spite of miserly public spending, being outspent by almost every other state.

One important reason for its success is that Utah’s government doesn’t seek to displace civil society, but rather relies on it. Welfare programmes are staffed by volunteers, and people in need are referred to other members of the community who might be able to assist. Utah’s bureaucrats focus on ensuring that community resources are engaged to support their efforts. This stands in stark contrast to the left’s complaints that philanthropy undermines democracy and threatens the welfare state. A journalist meeting with officials in Utah noted that they were surprisingly cheerful and, uniquely in her experience, didn’t complain of a lack of resources.

Because Utah’s poor are supported by their community, welfare spending is discerning in a way that would be profoundly offensive to the progressive left. Needy Utahans shop for food not with food stamps, but often with ‘Bishop’s orders’ spelling out an individualised list of items approved by the bishop handling each case. These orders are tailored to meet needs, not wants – Utah’s welfare system clearly states in intention to “sustain human life, not lifestyle”. This support is delivered alongside a firm push for the recipient to return to self-reliance, and they are expected to work in exchange for the support they receive. Welfare is not a career choice in Utah, unlike in other parts of the US or indeed New Zealand where Ardern’s government seems determined to make escaping welfare dependency ever harder.

Shane Jones’ determination that his mokopuna should get off their couches to plant trees has gone nowhere. Labour ideology has won, and Northland will get more immigrants so the whanau can stay on their couches.

Another feature of Utah is its high marriage rate. More children in Utah are raised by married parents than anywhere else in the US. Research by economist Raj Chetty reinforces older work by Sawhill and Haskins showing that one of the best predictors of high upward social mobility is a high marriage rate. Moreover, children from single-parent households do better in the long term if raised in communities with higher proportions of two-parent households. It appears that stable families produce a positive externality for the wider community. The mechanism for this is unclear, but it seems plausible that growing up in a community of stable families provides children from broken homes with access to more positive role models than had they grown up in a community in which broken families are the norm.

Ardern, meanwhile, leads a new government one of whose first stated intentions was to make it easier for fathers to take no responsibility for their children. Moreover, Ardern is committed to ensuring that the children of those deadbeat dads will be locked into schools in which everyone they meet will come from a similar background. Labour and the Greens signal their commitment to equality by demanding ever greater education expenditure, yet Utah’s high levels of social mobility are achieved despite its spending less per student on education than any other state in the US. This fits with academic research failing to find any significant effect from school funding on kids’ outcomes.

The key advantage of attending an elite school is mixing with other kids whose parents could afford to send them to an elite school. Utah’s schools appear to be uncommonly good at mixing kids from upper and lower classes. Evidence suggests this supports social mobility by building networks between classes. Whatever Ardern may seek to signal through spending,  she leads a government committed to school zoning, which locks poor children into schools with other poor kids, and which is implacably hostile to charter schools that might allow kids to mix outside their own communities.

Despite Ardern’s stated reasons for leaving the Mormon Church, Salt Lake City has a surprising strong gay community, which has worked with church leaders to achieve a compromise that supports coexistence without either group apparently feeling the need to de-platform the other.

Rejecting beliefs one has inherited from one’s parents can be a sign of thoughtfulness and intelligence. It reflects well on Ardern that she was willing to stand on principle, if that is what she did, to leave the church in which she was raised. It would reflect still better on her if she was willing to learn from what Mormons have got right, to  refine the political dogma which appears to have replaced her religion.

Enough is now known of human suffering from value-free-dependency, and the subsidization of incapable feral parenting, to make welfare reform a duty of the left. They claim welfare as their territory. Just as the  Roman Church is now being held liable for how its agents actually behaved, instead of being allowed to hide behind their claimed purposes, so too the Left my some day have to acknowledge the human wreckage from responsibility-free welfare. The Left has repudiated its founders’ determination that  generous care would not extend to people who did not deserve it. They expected it to be confined to people who would not abuse it, and they were aware of the risk that respect for others would be lost, along with self respect, if welfare became a bludger’s right.

Jacinda Ardern is uniquely placed to force the Left to look at what has actually happened to those worthy intentions.

If you don’t follow Michael Reddell, you’re dumb

  • October 4th, 2018

Using ‘dumb’ in its schoolyard sense – meaning stupid or ignorant.

I was asked at lunch today how I came across the things I read to fill the gap that used to be filled by newspapers  and local public affairs radio and TV. At the end of this message I provide some of the links that fill the gap for me. But still there is a hunger for non-childish local commentary.

Michael Reddell’s blog – Croaking Cassandra, is a must read for any Wellingtonian who needs penetration of Wellington economic newspeak. Michael is a former senior Reserve Bank economist. But he does not confine himself to dry economics. His recent posts on ludicrous Reserve Bank spirituality are masterpieces. He  measures Treasury and selected official agencies against similar traditional standards of intellectual discipline.

Some readers were lost as he tested their patience with too much grievance against a previous Governor of the Reserve Bank. That obsession was to me a small price to pay for diligence and passion on other matters. Some trading bank senior economists have pithy observations, but they all have to worry about offending the regulators. Mostly Michael’s target agencies and shibboleths are in economic regulation, but Michael ranges wider.

He has almost single-handedly made it academically respectable to question the economic value of our extraordinary immigration explosion. With scores of carefully considered posts, including a 10 part analysis early in 2017, he has been one of the few establishment intellectuals willing to risk being labelled with the standard establishment silencing allegation of “racist”. His courteous challenge to blind faith in “diversity” or multi-culturalism has simply not been taken up. It seems that few dare engage on his economic logic.

More recently he has been willing to explore the risks of Chinese subversion. Of course potential treachery from establishment figures beholden to (or in fear of) overseas patrons or masters is a mainstream fear, justified by human experience over and over again. Our colonial forebears gained their colonial power and wealth by suborning the elites of the peoples subjugated more often than with military violence.

The Chinese subversion risk has been thoroughly explored in Australia. There is obvious disquiet in government circles among our allies, with a focus on New Zealand. It has been covered sporadically (and with some bravery given official disfavour) by RNZ and Matt Nippert for the NZ Herald and by Newsroom. But our political establishment has closed ranks to squelch the debate. During last year’s election the Minister in charge of the SIS even trotted out the racism slur against New Zealand’s foremost academic with expertise on the topic.  In any normal time or country that should have resulted in a nationwide debate over whether he could be trusted with power or responsibility to protect our secrets and our loyal agents.

In today’s blog post Michael expresses the widely shared but forbidden suspicion that many of our teachers are pretty stupid and closed minded. He observes that they now openly despise and ignore the legally required secular political neutrality of public education. His post today raises for me the question – for how long will parents tolerate being legally compelled to leave their children at the mercy of smug teacher bigots. `

So – after that unsolicited endorsement of Michael’s blog, below are links to some of the services and sites that most often detain me.

I find Blendle more manageable than Medium in the digest market. Having to pay per article means I ration my time better when following links to fascinating articles.

I usually access arcane stuff in my magpie hours thru Twitter. Arts and Letters daily is still running and Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok with Marginal Revolution link to lots of things worth knowing.

For fun today look at the two links I’ve bullet pointed – re the Sokal affair which Helen Pluckrose and her co-conspirators have just “squared”.

https://aeon.co/

https://launch.blendle.com/

https://medium.com/

https://twitter.com/QuilletteM

https://twitter.com/DegenRolf?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor

https://www.amazon.com/Rolf-Degen/e/B001K1NBP4

 

Must be all that toxic masculinity

  • September 11th, 2018

Nelson College’s advertorial on Stuff is best in class. It is interesting, informative, and it serves the school’s interests.

It also illustrates the importance of freedom to advertise. It conveys information that is highly “out of step” with recent elite consensus hostility to gender specific institutions. I doubt that I would have known the information if they had not paid to have it published.

It appears to indicate that concentrated masculinity (single sex educati0n) may work well for boys. And similar results have been reported for girls at girls schools. So why is “diversity” one of the faiths that must not be questioned?

Has the free speech tide turned again?

  • August 9th, 2018

Let us give thanks for Massey University’s sacrifice.  It has devalued its brand and revealed laughing stock leadership quality (Chancellor Ahie and the cringing Council members who have failed to respond to their earned ridicule). But it has managed to stir resistance to the “hate speech” movement from a range of people. Without this incident too many might have continued to wait for others to defend the four freedoms until too late.

Three outstanding contributions appeared in my internet feed today. I will not excerpt any of them because they are all easy reads, and all worth clicking, though the last is to me the most significant.

Former Canterbury Law School Dean Chris Gallavin who is now a senior figure at Massey has published a dignified reminder of the virtues/necessity of debate for a university. I hope he does not pay dearly for it.

Pol Sci Prof Bryce Edwards has published on Newsroom a well considered reflection on the outcome of the controversy so far. And he is not sitting on the fence.

But for me the most welcome sign of resistance is in The Standard.

The NZ left has broadly capitulated to identitarians. Dialectic has become an exchange of allegations about discovered totem words and symbols which indicate relative degrees of Wokeness.  Once an author has been categorised  “analysis” thereafter is essentially collective ad hominem assertion. Logic is immaterial. What matters is how closely an argument hews to the Woke line of the day.

But today,  “Advantage” has published a powerful reminder of what New Zealand and the left owe to decades of adherence by NZ establishments to free speech principles,  despite abhoring radicals.

I assume many on the left know who writes as “Advantage”. Will the neo-clericals of the left now mount a furious Inquisition to hunt down this sinful heretic?

There is a long way to go before the four freedoms are safe from their enemies. The National Government’s Harmful Digital Communications  Act 2015 was reckless with civil rights. It was either a cunning early fired round toward the death of free speech, or terribly bad drafting.

The Human Rights Commission and Minister Little are reported to be plotting a “hate speech” regime. But the long memory and crisp writing of Advantage from the left is a significant step. He or she may help left aligned New Zealanders to regain their courage, to withstand the neo-clerics who are stealing their movement.

 

Massey University breaks the law

  • August 7th, 2018

David Farrar has a superb response to Massey University’s authoritarian breach of a student group’s right to assemble peaceably, to hear from (and appraise), and to associate with whoever they choose. The ban happens to be by an inferior university apparently aiming to cement its inferiority internationally into the minds of all but a few post-modernists. That is a shame for the graduates who have to rely on its qualifications.  It is also a shame for New Zealand.

Michael Reddell backgrounds the issues  with his usual penetration.

The move might have been dismissed as the aberration of a Vice Chancellor who had already displayed her analytical limits, but she appears to have been supported by her colleagues. Rather risky for them when the ban is aimed at one of New Zealand’s rare public intellectuals with genuine international credibility. Dr Brash gained international renown as Governor of the Reserve Bank when it was considered the best central bank in the world. Few of our intellectuals have actually successfully run major institutions.

Massey does not have a Law Faculty. But presumably they still spend hundreds of thousands on lawyers. Have they persuaded themselves that s 161 of the Education Act 1989 is trumped by reciting a health and safety mantra?

The Free Speech Coalition’s next job seems likely to be to ask a court to tell us about the mystery safety-above-all provision that it appears Auckland Council and Massey University believe in.

But Massey has another obstacle. Have its Council or lawyers turned their minds to an unusually specific section in the Human Rights Act?  No section of that Act is more specific than section 57’s application to educational institutions. Read the relevant sections for yourself (emphasis mine).

57 Educational establishments

(1) It shall be unlawful for an educational establishment, or the authority responsible for the control of an educational establishment, or any person concerned in the management of an educational establishment or in teaching at an educational establishment,—

(a) to refuse or fail to admit a person as a pupil or student; or

(b) to admit a person as a pupil or a student on less favourable terms and conditions than would otherwise be made available; or

(c) to deny or restrict access to any benefits or services provided by the establishment; or

(d) to exclude a person as a pupil or a student or subject him or her to any other detriment,—

by reason of any of the prohibited grounds of discrimination.

(2) In this section, educational establishment includes an establishment offering any form of training or instruction and an educational establishment under the control of an organisation or association referred to in section 40.

21 Prohibited grounds of discrimination

(1) For the purposes of this Act, the prohibited grounds of discrimination are:

………

(j)   political opinion, which includes the lack of a particular political opinion or any political opinion:

Among David Farrar’s suggested actions to defend our fundamental freedoms is the conversion of the Free Speech Coalition into a permanent action agency. Steps are in hand to do that.

The last few weeks have shown us the need. The existing database of principled people who donated to the Free Speech Coalition opportunity can be the foundation of an organisation committed to protecting genuine civil liberties.

New Zealand once had its own vigorous and principled version of the ACLU – a beacon of freedoms that distinguished the US from most other nations. As a liberal establishment body it  nevertheless defended the fundamental freedoms of people it deplored – precisely because that best demonstrated the need for utterly consistent principles.

The ACLU was often unpopular with majorities. It defended people who caused offence, people on the margins, people hated by main stream opinion leaders. They included atheists objecting to school prayers, raunchy novelists, and deliberately offensive artists determined to rub the faces of others in what they claimed was “gritty reality”. The ACLU drew the same line as our current law – they would not defend violent coercive “expression”. But in landmark law cases they defended freedom of speech and assembly against political abuses of authority over people who wanted to play sport with apartheid era South Africans, communists, nazi sympathisers, union leaders, socialists and even the Ku Klux Klan.

Our equivalent organisation split four decades ago over that need for consistency. During the anti-Springbok tour years the limbs withered into irrelevance because they were too divided to stand up for principle. The current remnant organisation is too scared of being branded by association with politically incorrect exercisers of fundamental freedoms, to be relevant in public debate.

Our Human Rights Commission was expected to do for us, what in the US was done by the ACLU and NAACP and the now discredited SPLC.

Instead the HRC has become a bad joke – lacking the intellectual capacity, or integrity (it is never clear which) to lead and inform public debate. At least lately they’ve given us the compensating  amusement of seeing how they do fill their time – tormenting each other with complaints of offensive behaviour internally.

Time to step up Free Speech Coalition. If you’ve been watching and scarcely believing where your media and country are heading – Massey University shows that the risk is here, and not just to fringe Canadians.

A fair account of the expropriation effort at Hawea

  • July 27th, 2018

What a pleasure to come across this informative report on what’s going on with Matt Lauer and Hunter Valley station. Makes me ashamed of the years of subs that indirectly funded  the opportunists of the Federated Mountain Council.

Thanks David Williams and Newsroom for exemplary journalism.

Auckland freedom of speech court case will get world attention

  • July 22nd, 2018

The court hearing on 30 July of the Free Speech Coalition’s application to reverse Mayor Goff’s ban on “divisive” speakers in Auckland’s public halls will get world-wide interest. The application is supported by the top US civil liberties law professor, who was the president of the American Civil Liberties Union for more than 16 years.

Mayors who’ve decided they are above the law get international attention for their cities. Most of us heard of Toronto’s cocaine-using Mayor and of Red Ken Livingstone, former Lord Mayor of London who fawned on anti-semitic and homophobic Islamic clerics. Duterte, the the Philippines President who urges his police to murder suspects, came to notoriety as Mayor of Davao.

They say all attention is good attention, for a politician. But what happens to a city that wants to be all about “diversity” but has a mayor who insists that speakers in “his” meeting venues promote only “unity”. World-wide mockery of Auckland’s pretensions to sophistication may be on the way.

The Free Speech Coalition’s challenge to the Diversity Mayor who hates diversity of opinion has caught the attention of Nadine Strossen. She has just published with Oxford University Press a definitive book on so called “Hate Speech”.?HATE: Why We Should Resist it With Free Speech, Not Censorship.?Her Wikipedia entry says she “has been called one of the most influential business leaders, women, or lawyers in National Law Journal and Vanity Fair.”

The ACLU she led is at the heart of the US liberal establishment. Wikipedia says its annual budget is over US$100m. Prof Strossen’s support may direct international derision to the Councillors who have been too scared to stand up for the fundamental right of Aucklanders to attend meetings where people might say things that offend Councillors.

Current positions of the ACLU include: opposing the death penalty; supporting same-sex marriage and the right of LGBT people to adopt; supporting birth control and abortion rights; eliminating discrimination against women, minorities, and LGBT people; supporting the rights of prisoners and opposing torture; and opposing government preference for religion over non-religion, or for particular faiths over others

Here is the email I received two days ago:

Dear Free Speech Coalition New Zealand,

I am sending this to the Members who signed the July 17 letter to Auckland Mayor Phil Goff, and also to the three attorneys whose names were on the July 18 Statement of Claim, which I read yesterday with concern about the government’s censorship, but enthusiasm about your resistance.

I am so grateful for your staunch support of neutral principles of freedom of speech and due process, which I am convinced are essential not only for individual liberty and democracy, but also for meaningful equality and dignity, as well as societal harmony. I have staunchly defended these principles for many years, and am more convinced than ever that censorship of hated and even hateful ideas, no matter how well intended, will do more harm than good for all of these vital goals.

I say ‘more convinced than ever’ in light of the research and analysis I have done recently, including about the experiences in many countries, which are reflected in my new book that Oxford University Press published in the US in May and in the UK last month: “HATE: Why We Should Resist It with Free Speech, Not Censorship.” Although it describes US law on point, it makes the anti-censorship case based on universal principles as well as strategic/practical/policy concerns; it also quotes many human rights advocates and other experts from around the world who also support the non-censorial approach to “the idea that we hate”. In a future edition, I will be delighted to add quotes from your impressive group!

All best wishes in your important efforts.

Yours truly, Nadine

Nadine Strossen

John Marshall Harlan II Professor of Law, New York Law School

Immediate Past President, American Civil Liberties Union (1991-2008)

Author of HATE: Why We Should Resist it With Free Speech, Not Censorship (Oxford University Press, May 2018); https://www.amazon.com/HATE-Should-Resist-Censorship-Inalienable/dp/0190859121

“Hope is more the consequence of action than its cause.You have two choices in this life: you can be a fatalistic spectator, or you can engage and produce hope.” David Cole, ACLU Legal Director (paraphrasing Harvard Professors Roberto Unger and Cornel West)

 

Minister Lees-Galloway shows Rule of Law in action

  • July 20th, 2018

The Minister of Immigration has issued an exemplary statement explaining why in a free society he can not like some people and their views, but not try to ban them from New Zealand.

He’s granted 10 day work visas to Molyneux and Southern, the two controversial Canadian speakers banned by the Mayor of Auckland from public meeting halls in “his” city.

The statement is also a great example of the Rule of Law in action:

a) it shows a Minister applying and working under the law;

b) it shows how the law protects unpopular views and the right of people to express them;

c) it protects the rights of people in New Zealand who:

  • want to hear these speakers and make up their own minds whether they are repugnant;
  • want to see and hear them unfiltered by the distortions of social media;
  • want to question or challenge them in person, where others can see and hear, and where they can’t block the questioner;
  • don’t want politicians to decide who and what they can hear.

c) it shows how the law protects the Minister from unfair and dangerous pressure to abuse power to exclude political speech that is unwelcome to the establishment.

But most clearly it shows the Mayor what he should be doing.

Theodore Dalrymple profiles a notable NZ murderer

  • July 11th, 2018

Theodore Dalrymple in City Journal concentrates on a New Zealand born murderer in his reflection on the evolution in our criminal justice system, discerned from a quiet evening’s reading of Notable British Trials.

He observes that for roughly 200 years, trial transcripts were popular, if not the favorite, reading material in the English-speaking world?especially in Britain. He describes them “as complete an inventory of human depravity as has ever been assembled.”

John Donald Merrett’s brilliant defense counsel, Craigie Aitchison got a Scottish jury to declare the charge of murder “not proven” after Merrett shot his mother in the head when she discovered he had been forging cheques on her account.

Dalrymple quotes from Aitchison’s final address to the jury: ?I will say only this to you, as one who has been much and intimately in contact with him in these last few days. . . . Send him out from the Court-room this afternoon a free man with a clean bill, and, as far as I can judge, he will never dishonour your verdict.?

Twenty eight years later Merrett killed his estranged and fearful wife, and his mother-in-law, after a life of typically psychopathic financial crime, indifference to danger ( he became a war hero, including to the men he lead) and risk taking with others’ money.

Not the first or the last time that brilliant counsel have fallen for the evil genius of psychopathic criminal clients.

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