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Sep 4

Black-chinned hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri) Hawks Act as Unwitting Muscle for Hummingbirds | Science | Smithsonian "My enemy's enemy is my friend" might be a cynical policy when it comes to government foreign relations, but it seems to work at least some of the time when it comes to genes (or maybe memes). It has long been recognised by ornithologists that the nests of black-chinned hummingbirds in Arizona, USA, tend to be clustered around the nests of goshawks and Cooper's hawks, but the reason for this were not previously understood, and was maybe even somewhat counter-intuitive. Now a team of researchers from Ecuador, Canada and the USA made detailed observations of the movements of hummingbirds, jays and hawks in the Chiricahua Mountains during three breeding seasons and have shown there is indeed a close correlation between the sighting of hummingbirds' nests and the presence of these hawks. They have also shown there is a close correlation between the foraging behaviour of jays, the main nest predators on hummingbirds, and a prey species of these hawks, and the presence of these same hawks, more than a third of their foraging behaviour being conditioned by it. Not surprisingly, therefore, there was a statistically significantly greater success rate for hummingbirds which nested close to hawk nests - an example of typical Darwinian natural selection. Mexican jay (Aphelocoma ultramarina) Regrettably, despite my subscription to Science, the journal Science Advances is not accessible to me, so I only have the above link to go by and don't have the specific details of this paper, not even the abstract. I think all the abstracts (at the very least) of scientific papers should be open access! Mapping the flight patterns of foraging jays showed that when they were in the vicinity of hawks, they tended to fly up and over the territory to avoid the typical dive-bomb attacks of hawks. This created a virtual jay-free cone around the hawk nests and this is where the hummingbirds were most likely to be found. So what we have here is a pattern of hummingbird behaviour which has evolved in the presence of both hawks and jays and a good example of how behaviour in an ecosystem is interdependent on the behaviour of other species. It's an example of how either genetically-moderated or learned (i.e., memetic) behaviour evolves in response to the environment in which the species finds itself. I'd love to hear how an Intelligent (sic) Design creationists explains this one. Did this 'intelligent' designer really design hawks to eat jays just so hummingbirds would cluster around hawks to prevent their nests being robbed by jays? If so, where on Earth did this notion of intelligence come from? 'via Blog this' Commission from ads will be donated to charities such as moderate centre-left groups, humanist, humanitarian and wildlife protection and welfare organisations. If you've enjoyed my blog please show your appreciation by giving to a great cause - Oxfam Be Humankind. Feed the world.

Sep 4

Phil Torres wrote an excellent book, The End: What Science and Religion Tell Us about the Apocalypse. It's coming out on National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day (December 7th). This is a perfect publication date given the doomsday scenarios Phil writes about.I wrote a blurb for it, as did a very impressive number of others. I said: “This one-of-a-kind-book provides an accessible yet expert education into several global doomsday threats, both secular and religious, both real and possible. Highly enlightening and very highly recommended!” Phil also commented here at DC on ending the Philosophy of Religion (PoR) sub-discipline. So I'm making it the quote of the day. While he thinks philosophy is important, especially the philosophy of science (and I agree), he says this:As for philosophy of religion, I think such classes could be replaced by Epistemology 101, which would help establish that faith is a quite unacceptable excuse for accepting propositions about what the world is like and how it ought to be. LINKHa! Get it? Epistemology 101. Phil combines insight with ridicule brilliantly and forcefully. Now we can expect pushback from philosophers of religion who have a vested interest in their profession, especially self-taught college students and grads whose only proficiency in the believer/nonbeliever debates is in that field, like Jeff Lowder. But I see no way they can reasonable dispute Torres.

Sep 4

Guppies. Ideal subject to study evolution.Change in environment can lead to rapid evolution -- ScienceDaily Many things in science are counter-intuitive, which is the basic reason we use control groups and other methods designed to remove bias, and also why we don't simply do science by thinking about things in the belief that we can work out the answers by intuition. Human intuition is not the powerful tool that people who dispute science on the basis of personal incredulity, often backed by profound ignorance of the subject, like to imagine. Take, for instance, this nice little example, admittedly only one study which may not be generally representative, which shows that genetic response to radical environmental change can be the opposite of what is intuitively expected at least initially. Kimberly Hughes, Professor of Biological Science at Florida State University, and colleagues took wild guppies from a stream which had predatory cichlids and placed them in predator-free streams. Guppies are small fish which reproduce rapidly, producing about three generations a year, so any genetic responses to environmental change should be detectable within a few years. What they found was perhaps surprising. Genes can respond to environmental change in one of two ways: By changing their activity level - termed gene plasticity. By evolutionary change where variants conveying an advantage over and above other variants in the new environment, increase in the population. (Normal Darwinian evolution, genetic drift, etc.) The team found that gene plasticity, as measured by changes in 135 genes sequenced from brain tissue, changed in ways which ran counter to what would intuitively be expected. The changes were in genes concerned with internal functions such as metabolism, immune responses and development. However, these early changes were then reversed later by evolutionary changes, suggesting the plastic changes in the 'wrong' direction had caused the genes to evolve more rapidly than they otherwise would. This runs counter to the intuitive expectation that plastic and evolutionary change should both be in the same direction. Phenotypic plasticity is the capacity for an individual genotype to produce different phenotypes in response to environmental variation. Most traits are plastic, but the degree to which plasticity is adaptive or non-adaptive depends on whether environmentally induced phenotypes are closer or further away from the local optimum. Existing theories make conflicting predictions about whether plasticity constrains or facilitates adaptive evolution. Debate persists because few empirical studies have tested the relationship between initial plasticity and subsequent adaptive evolution in natural populations. Here we show that the direction of plasticity in gene expression is generally opposite to the direction of adaptive evolution. We experimentally transplanted Trinidadian guppies (Poecilia reticulata) adapted to living with cichlid predators to cichlid-free streams, and tested for evolutionary divergence in brain gene expression patterns after three to four generations. We find 135 transcripts that evolved parallel changes in expression within the replicated introduction populations. These changes are in the same direction exhibited in a native cichlid-free population, suggesting rapid adaptive evolution. We find 89% of these transcripts exhibited non-adaptive plastic changes in expression when the source population was reared in the absence of predators, as they are in the opposite direction to the evolved changes. By contrast, the remaining transcripts exhibiting adaptive plasticity show reduced population divergence. Furthermore, the most plastic transcripts in the source population evolved reduced plasticity in the introduction populations, suggesting strong selection against non-adaptive plasticity. These results support models predicting that adaptive plasticity constrains evolution6, 7, 8, whereas non-adaptive plasticity potentiates evolution by increasing the strength of directional selection The role of non-adaptive plasticity in evolution has received relatively little attention; however, our results suggest that it may be an important mechanism that predicts evolutionary responses to new environments.* Cameron K. Ghalambor, Kim L. Hoke, Emily W. Ruell, Eva K. Fischer, David N. Reznick, Kimberly A. Hughes. Non-adaptive plasticity potentiates rapid adaptive evolution of gene expression in nature. Nature, 2015; DOI: 10.1038/nature15256 *Copyright © 2015, Rights Managed by Nature Publishing Group. Reproduced under licence #3700911233397 Of course, this doesn't mean that there is some sort of pre-selection of genes to be evolved later, and some preparatory planning stage going on here - so creationists and ID proponents should calm down and not get over-excited. What it means is that drift in gene activity, if that drift runs counter to the environmental change, results in those randomly selected genes evolving more quickly. It can all be explained by science with no resort to magic. But it does have implications for other situations where environmental change causes evolutionary change, such as the response of cancers to chemotherapy, the response of food plants to climate change and the response of pathogens to antibiotics, etc. 'via Blog this' Commission from ads will be donated to charities such as moderate centre-left groups, humanist, humanitarian and wildlife protection and welfare organisations. If you've enjoyed my blog please show your appreciation by giving to a great cause - Oxfam Be Humankind. Feed the world.

Sep 4

I told myself that I wouldn't comment on the whole Kim Davis thing, that other and better voices had already said what needed to be said.

Sep 4

Christian Examiner60-year-old 'Big Mountain Jesus' saved from militant atheistsChristian ExaminerThe monument, raised by the Knights of Columbus in 1954 on Montana land with a permit from the U.S. Forest Service, stood undisturbed at the top of Big Mountain until 2012, when FFRF sued because it did not want to atheists to be subject to religious

Sep 4

Christian Examiner60-year-old 'Big Mountain Jesus' saved from militant atheist groupChristian ExaminerThe monument, raised by the Knights of Columbus in 1954 on Montana land with a permit from the U.S. Forest Service, stood undisturbed at the top of Big Mountain until 2012, when FFRF sued because it did not want to atheists to be subject to religious

Sep 4

ChristianTodayPastor asks atheist critics of Georgia school football team's mass baptism ...ChristianTodayThe pastor of the First Baptist Church in Villa Rica, Georgia, has responded to a group of atheists who denounced the mass baptism of the football coach and players of the Villa Rica High School, asking: "When did it become illegal to bow your head and ...Atheists Boiling Mad Over Football Field BaptismsCharisma NewsMass Baptism? A Video This Church Uploaded to YouTube Has a Public School ...TheBlaze.comWhat a Football Coach and His Players Did With a Bucket of Water Has Sparked a ...IJ Reviewall 216 news articles

Sep 3

Cromwell's victim Durham Palace Green remains were Scottish prisoners - BBC News One of the claims Christians like to make is that the morals they get from their god through their religion are: Superior to non-Christians. Eternal, objective and unchanging - the so-called fixed 'moral compass'. Of course, this claim of moral superiority needs to be rationalised when Christians, as happens very frequently and often conspicuously, behave in ways which no decent person would regard as moral, and then blame their god or the Bible for their behaviour. Cue now the 'no true Scotsman' fallacy where the Christians behaving badly are designated as 'not true Christians' because 'true Christians' don't behave like that. In this way the false universal claim that Christians have superior morals because they were given them by the one true god through the one true religion is protected by simply excluding anyone who doesn't meet that 'universal' truth. Now, not many people would argue that Oliver Cromwell was not a true Christian. He was a 'born again' fundamentalist Presbyterian from the same fundamentalist Puritan Protestant cultural tradition that gave rise to the 'Pilgrim Fathers' who founded the USA (see Boston's Bigots). Cromwell is generally credited with ensuring the independence of the English (and later the UK) House of Commons from the monarchy and subjecting the monarch to the will of Parliament when he led the Parliamentary forces that eventually overthrew Charles I, the Catholic Stuart King of England and Scotland, and cut the King's head off. The driving motive for this was not a concern for democracy and the principle of government of the people, by the people for the people but the fact that the reigning monarch at the time was a Catholic and so high on Cromwell's demonology, Presbyterianism coming straight from the teaching of the fanatical Protestant John Calvin via the equally fanatical John Knox. No sooner had Cromwell established the supremacy of Parliament than he launched a military coup d'etat, suspended Parliament and granted himself the dictatorial powers that he had supposedly fought against in the English Civil War, and England entered a period of Puritan, puritanical fundamentalist Christianity which it sought to export to its neighbours - Ireland and Scotland - and woe betide anyone who challenged his autocratic rule. Cromwell had no doubt at all that his god had chosen him to govern England, Scotland and Ireland and he enforced his god's 'will' with enthusiasm, dispatching anyone who dared to stand against him to what he presumed would be his god's final judgement. Tens of thousands were so dispatched not in the name of democracy but in the name of fundamentalist, puritanical Christianity and government by theocrats. So to the news item above, which reports on the discovery of a mass grave near to Durham Cathedral which archaeologists and historians have concluded that these were the bodies of hapless Scottish prisoners captured at the Battle of Dunbar. Presbyterianism had made huge inroads into formerly Catholic Scotland, particularly in the Lowlands although there was a still strong Catholic following in the Highlands and Islands. But the Presbyterian-dominated Scottish parliament began to be alarmed by the actions of their former allies in England and, in a bid for independence (there had not been a formal Act of Union at this time) proclaimed Charles I's son King Charles II Scotland. Charles II for his part put aside his Anglican and Catholic sympathies and sign the Solemn League and Covenant of 1643. Cromwell's forces moved against Scotland coming up against a newly-formed, disorganised and unprepared Scottish army at Dunbar. Sir Thomas Fairfax, a major figure in the Civil War, resigned as commander of the Army rather than move against his Protestant 'brethren' and former allies in Scotland so Cromwell took personal command of the campaign. Cromwell at Dunbar - Andrew Carrick GowSource: Wikipedia The Battle of Dunbar was a disaster for the Scots. Cromwell, never one to minimise the number of those he's managed to kill, boasted that 3,000 Scots died. Other estimates but the figure at 800-1,000. Cromwell also boasted that they had chased the fleeing Scots for eight miles, 'executing' those caught. In all, Cromwell claimed that 10,000 prisoners had been taken. These weren't the hated Catholics that Cromwell had gleefully murdered throughout Ireland; these were fellow Presbyterians and former allies of Cromwell who were fighting for a Presbyterian government which merely disagreed with Cromwell about how their god wanted their respective countries to be governed. For this mortal sin, however many prisoners were taken on that day, only some 3,000 survived the forced march south to Durham where, conveniently, Cromwell had shut down the Cathedral for not being Puritan enough. The surviving prisoners were herded into the cold building and left to die of disease, the cold, and starvation. The rest being summarily executed. These were the sons, lovers, brothers and husbands of ordinary people who were treated this way not because they had the wrong religion or were themselves murdering criminals but simply because they had opposed Cromwell's self-abrogated 'God-given' right to rule by decree and diktat. Their bodies were unceremoniously thrown into mass graves where they remained until recently discovered. In his post-battle report to the Speaker of the English Parliament, Cromwell described the victory as "...one of the most signal mercies God hath done for England and His people..." (Source: Wikipedia - Battle of Dunbar) And this, in 1650, less than 400 years ago, is how good fundamentalist, puritan Christians, carrying out what they assumed was their god's will and acting in full accord with the fixed, eternal and objective morals handed down to them by this god in his holy book, the Bible, treated people who held slightly different opinions to themselves. And no doubt, Oliver Cromwell and his fanatical Christian supporters would have dismissed the Scottish prisoners as 'no true Scotsmen Christians. And no doubt too Christians today will be dismissing Cromwell and his allies as 'not true Christians'. But why do we see this today as repugnant and morally reprehensible? It can't be because this god has written a new holy book and handed down a revised set of fixed, eternal and unchanging morals. It's because the brutally uncivilised barbarity of fundamentalist Christianity is becoming increasingly irrelevant and allowing the basic underlying humanism, innate to our species, evolved in our human and pre-human cultures over millions of years, and fundamental to a civilised society, is re-emerging and replacing the Bronze-Age brutality which subverted and repressed it for nearly 2000 years. 'via Blog this' Commission from ads will be donated to charities such as moderate centre-left groups, humanist, humanitarian and wildlife protection and welfare organisations. If you've enjoyed my blog please show your appreciation by giving to a great cause - Oxfam Be Humankind. Feed the world.

Sep 3

The Christian TimesAtheist Group Requests 'No God' Monument for Arkansas CapitolThe Christian TimesAn atheist group in Arkansas is requesting that a nonbeliever statue be erected at the state capitol grounds after lawmakers voted to approve a Ten Commandments statue. The Freedom From Religion Foundation recently sent a letter to Arkansas Gov.Government speech, individual speech, & public religionPatheos (blog)all 30 news articles

Sep 3

Catholic OnlineAtheist group attacks Christian football coachCatholic OnlineThe atheist group reports, "At a gala event in the Butts-Mehre football complex in July of 2014, Richt helped bring in big money for the FCA. The gala featured a silent auction with UGA memorabilia, including an 'authentic Todd Gurley home red jersey.'"

Sep 3

LINK. Full text below: Read more »

Sep 3

Once again, the fervently religious of our world have shown themselves capable of following the Red Queen's dictum of holding several contradictory thoughts in their heads at once.

Sep 2

Christian ExaminerAtheist China cracks down on religion, human rights dialogues with U.S. stallChristian ExaminerHuman rights lawyer Wang Yu talks during an interview with Reuters in Beijing in this March 1, 2014 photo. China's state media last month accused Wang, the country's most prominent female human rights lawyer, of "blabbering about the rule of law and

Sep 2

I had previously posted this on my Facebook wall but not here. Enjoy.

Sep 2

In a move that is raising hackles amongst rationalists and skeptics, the UK College of Policing has stated in its official policy guidelines statement that police "should not rule out" using advice from psychics in solving crimes."High-profile missing person investigations nearly always attract the interest of psychics and others, such as witches and clairvoyants, stating that they possess extrasensory perception," the document states.

Sep 1

A Christian vs. an Atheist: On God and GovernmentPatheos (blog)This is part 14 of my “Think! Of God and Government” debate series with Christian author Andrew Murtagh. Read my latest post and Andrew's reply. Hi Andrew -. I always like it when people come to our debates and tell us afterward that neither of us was ...

Sep 1

The GuardianBangladesh police charge 'Islamist militants' over atheist's murderThe GuardianBangladeshi activists take part in a protest over the murder of Niloy Chakrabarti in Dhaka last month. Police claim that a banned Islamist group, Ansarullah Bangla Team, is behind a spate of murders of atheist bloggers. Photograph: Suvra Kanti Das/Zuma

Sep 1

In today's episode of You've Got Mail, I recently got an email that poses an interesting question.

Sep 1

Raw StoryConservative Christians point fingers at atheists to cover growing corruption ...Raw StoryWhen Bill O'Reilly recently tried to pin America's spree of mass shootings on atheism rather than guns or mental illness, he hoped to tap a specific set of beliefs that are common among Bible believers— that morality derives from religion; that Born ...and more

Aug 31

When Peer Review Lets You Down: A YEC Quote Problem – Naturalis Historia After a few days wrestling with the book publishing process and discovering the joys of book promotion, it's time I got back to blogging. This time, we have a wonderful example of how professional creationists lie to their followers and to anyone else they can reach, and how they depend on their marks' ignorance to get away with it. Normally, the ICR confines its misrepresentations and disinformation to science, especially the sciences which most threaten the Bible literalism they espouse and the literal interpretation of Genesis they try to sell to their followers; evolutionary biology, geology and archaeology, so it's unusual to see them quite blatantly misrepresenting not just the Bible but the Jesus they purport to follow. Yet here we have them saying something that is not only untrue but verifiably untrue; verifiably so by reading the very Bible they present as the source of all truth. Jesus only quoted Genesis once in some 34 quotes attributed to him in the Bible (counting repeated accounts in different Gospels as a single quote). It takes real creativity with maths to make 1/34 even close to half. In fact, it would be more accurate to say that, according to the Bible, Jesus hardly paid any heed to Genesis and barely referred to it. But the implications of that truth are too much for the ICR to contemplate. In an interesting analysis of how this graphic came to be produced, and where the (unattributed) wording of the claim came from, 'Natural Historian' shows that it was taken from a creationist book, Creation Basics & Beyond: An In-Depth Look at Science, Origins, and Evolution, published by the ICR and written by ICR staffers, including Jason Lisle, PhD. (a physicist) and James J. S. Johnson, J.D., Th.D. (a theologian). In chapter 9 we learn: If you have ever read any one of the gospels, you are undoubtedly familiar with the fact that Jesus often quoted the Old Testament Scriptures. He would often respond to His critics with “it is written” and “have you not read,” followed by a relevant scriptural quotation (e.g., Matthew 4:4; 12:3). But it sometimes surprises people to learn how much Jesus quoted from the book of Genesis. In fact, Jesus quoted from Genesis about as much as all the other books of the Old Testament combined. Roughly half of Christ’s references to Scripture were quotation from Genesis. He obviously understood the importance of origins to Christian doctrines. And this, despite the claim made in the introduction to the book: Although this book is written primarily for non-experts, it was written and reviewed by experts. This helps ensure that the book is as accurate and up to date as is humanly possible. Every contributing author is a researcher/speaker/writer in full-time apologetics ministry at the Institute for Creation Research. The writers include five Ph.D. scientists (two in biology, one in physics, one in astrophysics, one in geology), a medical doctor/professional engineer, two science writers with master’s degrees in science, and two writers with doctorates in theology. So what are we to make of this? Is the claim by ICR that the book was reviewed by experts false and part of the deception; is it true, but the 'experts' were incompetent, or is it true and the deception was deliberate? Perhaps it's understandable for a physicist to not have bothered with the Bible and simple to have assumed that Jesus agreed with him... but a theologian? How on Earth does a theologian arrive at the conclusion that 'roughly half' of the 34 quotes by Jesus referenced Genesis when only one of them did? Either he's not much of a theologian or he's a liar (have I missed anything there?) This attempt, deliberate or accidental, to mislead people about what Jesus said might seem a little strange at first, until we remember that the ICR is not primarily concerned with promoting Jesus but with discrediting science as part of the Discovery Institute's politically-motivated Wedge Strategy. The aim is not to convert people to a belief in Jesus but to harness the political power of those who already do so in support of an extreme right-wing political agenda. Members of the ICR, anyone who writes for them, and all employees are required to take an annual oath that they will never publish anything that isn't in full accord with a literal interpretation of Genesis. Part of this oath deal with the 'Tenets of Biblical Creationism': TENETS OF BIBLICAL CREATIONISM The Creator of the universe is a triune God -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is only one eternal and transcendent God, the source of all being and meaning, and He exists in three Persons, each of whom participated in the work of creation. The Bible, consisting of the thirty-nine canonical books of the Old Testament and the twenty-seven canonical books of the New Testament, is the divinely-inspired revelation of the Creator to man. Its unique, plenary, verbal inspiration guarantees that these writings, as originally and miraculously given, are infallible and completely authoritative on all matters with which they deal, free from error of any sort, scientific and historical as well as moral and theological. All things in the universe were created and made by God in the six literal days of creation week described in Genesis 1:1-2:3, and confirmed in Exodus 20:8-11. The creation record is factual, historical, and perspicuous; thus all theories of origins or development which involve evolution in any form are false. All things which now exist are sustained and ordered by God's providential care. However, a part of the spiritual creation, Satan and his angels, rebelled against God after the creation and are attempting to thwart His divine purposes in creation. The first human beings, Adam and Eve, were specially created by God, and all other men and women are their descendants. In Adam, mankind was instructed to exercise "dominion" over all other created organisms, and over the earth itself (an implicit commission for true science, technology, commerce, fine art, and education) but the temptation by Satan and the entrance of sin brought God's curse on that dominion and on mankind, culminating in death and separation from God as the natural and proper consequence. The Biblical record of primeval earth history in Genesis 1-11 is fully historical and perspicuous, including the creation and fall of man, the curse on the creation and its subjection to the bondage of decay, the promised Redeemer, the worldwide cataclysmic deluge in the days of Noah, the post-diluvian renewal of man's commission to subdue the earth (now augmented by the institution of human government) and the origin of nations and languages at the tower of Babel. The alienation of man from his Creator because of sin can only be remedied by the Creator Himself, who became man in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, through miraculous conception and virgin birth. In Christ were indissolubly united perfect sinless humanity and full deity, so that His substitutionary death is the only necessary and sufficient price of man's redemption. That the redemption was completely efficacious is assured by His bodily resurrection from the dead and ascension into heaven; the resurrection of Christ is thus the focal point of history, assuring the consummation of God's purpose in creation. The final restoration of creation's perfection is yet future, but individuals can immediately be restored to fellowship with their Creator, on the basis of His redemptive work on their behalf, receiving forgiveness and eternal life solely through personal trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, accepting Him not only as estranged Creator but also as reconciling Redeemer and coming King. Those who reject Him, however, or who neglect to believe on Him, thereby continue in their state of rebellion and must ultimately be consigned to the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels. Source: HolySmoke So, the important thing is to get people to believe in Genesis. Falsely claiming Jesus supports you is entirely consistent with the ICR Creationists' Oath and the aims and objectives of the Discovery Institute's and ICR's Wedge Strategy. This works on the majority of their target marks simply because few of them read the Bible, depending almost entirely on what others tell them the Bible says, or even just assuming that it agrees with them. And who is going to doubt the honesty and integrity of those devout Christians at the ICR? Look! It says here that Jesus agrees with us! Wow! How right are we? What do those insane, pinko liberal scientists know!? They even vote Democrat! The 'experts' who 'reviewed' the book from which that lie was taken were merely keeping their oath. For the ICR, peer-review means checking to ensure it conforms to their oath and supports their political objective. It has nothing to do with factual accuracy. And know their target market well. 'via Blog this' Commission from ads will be donated to charities such as moderate centre-left groups, humanist, humanitarian and wildlife protection and welfare organisations. If you've enjoyed my blog please show your appreciation by giving to a great cause - Oxfam Be Humankind. Feed the world.

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