Archives For religion

evolution marketing / darwin fish design

Alarmed by the growing number of atheists among the current generation of young adults, one organization of Christians decided to sit some down for an interview to learn why they became atheists, drew conclusions, summed them up, and respectfully posted them online. Unlike many other faith groups, they legitimately wanted to understand what atheists thought and why, and what prompted their de-conversions. Problem is that they didn’t want to understand if all those atheists they interviewed had a point when discussing the improbability of an omniscient deity in their lives, ruling the universe from afar, yet being involved in the fate of every living thing. They were running a focus group to see what it would take to put those atheists back in the pews in a classic example of listening but not hearing. In their worldview, the inability of a pastor to prove that their faith is based on facts rather than tradition is the failure of a pastor since the infallibility of the religion is assumed as an unquestionable given.

The tone of the summary is almost clinical, like a psychiatrist surveying his patients and dutifully describing their pathologies to be analyzed by others. And while listing the reasons why atheists leave churches or never enter one, the piece recited a mantra declaring that Christianity is hard to understand, difficult to live up to, and teaches us to engage with the real world. As if a belief that an omniscient, omnipotent being incarnated as his own son to forgive humans for what he declared to be sins through self-sacrifice is as scientifically well proven as the structure of DNA. This is why this so-called "interfatih dialogue" is a bad idea for atheists. They’re not participants with a voice who get to express their views in a debate. They’re either patients to be studied for the future, or potential new believers yet to be swayed as far as the faithful are concerned. Yes, they might act like the nicest people in the world, but they’re not listening to you. They’re looking at you like a biologist looks at a dolphin and wondering how to teach you to do a trick…

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fsm street art

Or at least it is according to Pat Robertson, who now seems to be just trying to see how many pathologically dumb things he can say without losing his viewership. On an episode of his hour long routine of begging for money and pontificating through Bible thumping, a viewer called with a very valid and legitimate question. In the days of yore, there were many tales of people rising from the dead or being miraculously cured of their ailments. Today, these cases are as rare as winning the lottery, and for many, there’s a perfectly logical explanation. What gives? Well, if you were awake in history and science classes, you probably have a few good ideas and they more than likely revolve around things like germ theory and scientific research. Since declaring when patients are dead before the days of EEG was inexact to put it mildly, having a doctor say that a patient has expired only for that patient to wake up a day later was entirely plausible.

Now imagine yourself seeing someone in a coma being pronounced dead by a very esteemed doctor, put his or her body in storage as a funeral is being organized, then hear moaning and groaning as the "corpse" comes to and tries to figure out what’s going on. Surely you’ll run from the mortuary screaming about zombies or miracles, depending on how the person awakens. So yes, back when we couldn’t tell a coma from clinical death, relatively regular resurrections were indeed possible. Same goes for miraculous cures from diseases. Before germ theory and many modern tools, it would be very possible for doctors to diagnose a patient as terminally ill while it just so happens that the patient is just going to be miserable for a while to make a full recovery. And yes, this sort of misdiagnosis happens today, explaining a great deal of supposedly divine interventions. Aggressive cancers turn out to be benign or even self-terminating tumors and the person facing a death sentence rejoices that God heard her prayers and let her live.

But to hear Robertson tell it, it’s not medical mistakes that account for resurrections in the past but fervent belief. Because doctors have better tools, more training, and are far more accurate, they’ve lost their belief and those who trust in empirical facts are doomed to living out whatever diagnosis they were given. His evidence? In Africa, where misdiagnosis is rampant and medical care is often very poor, the same sort of miracles the modern world no longer sees happen on a regular basis because African fundamentalists just believe what the pastors tell them. You know, exactly like in the West about 140 or so years ago. It’s amazing that as science kept on giving all of us longer lives, more accurate diagnostic methods, and cures and treatments for many once fatal illnesses, the Bible thumpers urge us to abandon what’s been proven to work and find our solace in ignorance. Hey, if we don’t know that a miraculously arisen person was very much alive and simply misdiagnosed, it’s a genuine work of the supernatural, right? No. Not at all.

Certainly it’s nice to hear that a deity will pause his infinite plans and change the universe if you think about it hard enough, which is why so many fundamentalists want us to "let go and simply believe in God’s work," but they’re really tuning out of modern life and asking us to do the same to preserve their own selfish sense of comfort. The world is scary and being convinced that you will either be shielded from it by an omnipotent entity, or have said deity make sure you never get overwhelmed (see the good old, "God only gives us what we can endure" platitude), is an easier way to go through life. An uncaring, vast universe will dwarf you with scale, and kill you off by a random chance, caring nothing about your hopes and your dreams, and it’s the concept that an inherently chaotic, pseudo-stable cosmos where they’re not special that sends fundamentalists into hysterics. And so, they look for miracles and either rationalize away scientific explanations or pretend that there are none so they can hold on to what they think are signs of God. Even if the sign of God they cite is just a botched diagnosis or a random doctor’s incompetence…

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god fossil

Hello, The Week? Yes, this is 2009 speaking. Listen, could you give me back your New Atheism bashing from one of your recent articles? It’s sort of my thing. Sure, it’s all fine and dandy for a writer to criticize repetitive The God Blank books because we get it, religion has issues. And it’s fine to point out that Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens are tough acts to follow anyway. But did we really have to venture into the old, recycled demands that atheists lament the loss of their faiths and mourn the concept of God by quoting random secularists and atheists who said something about how losing one’s religion can be painful to start a flame war in the comments? Come on, I mean some of this commentary is so old, one wonders if it had to be taken from a museum and dusted off before being used, not to mention the fallacious premise that the lack of a conviction in an afterlife, ordinarily a placebo for our conscious minds able to understand a concept as odd and terrifying as death, should somehow reduce us to amoral, depressed nihilists.

After all, how arrogant is it to assume that just because there’s no deity to reward you or eternal life after this one that you’re now free to throw yourself a life-long pity party and act like an emo teen who overdosed on goth poetry? You have a responsibility to others to help make this world at least a little better than you found it, though as an atheist, you’ll have to do it without prayers and expectations that the creator of the entire universe will pause its grand plans to come down and help you. There’s also the problem that atheists can’t simply declare "because God says so and I follow God," and consider it a weighty rebuttal to a criticism or supporting evidence. They’ll actually have to prove their ideas empirically and can’t demand that their critics must prove that something doesn’t exist before they’re allowed to have an opinion. It’s kind of absurd to require proof of a negative and doubly absurd when the burden of proof is on you for invoking the very thing that has to be disproved. And yet that’s what all too many faithful do with their gods.

So yes, if you’re used to delegating all your problems to the supernatural and are content to sit there, dreaming about your eternal life after this one is over, pounding your shoe on the table about the arrogance of atheists and demanding they prove that God doesn’t exist when you call him as the justification to impose your way on others, certainly losing your faith is a huge blow. It means you have to discard things that made your life easier and more convenient. You will also have to face scorn from those who can no longer use a deity as leverage over you because all their invocations of a god now sound like "if you don’t do what I say, Santa won’t being you any presents this Christmas." But again, this doesn’t mean that you’re now free to mope around and lament your godlessness. You have a responsibility to those around you to make your life count and do something noteworthy. Few great inventions and big ideas were born by focusing on the fun stuff the dead get to do in the afterlife. They came from curiosity about the natural world, by asking tough questions with good science, and by thinking about the people around us.

Ironically, while ardent theists talk about atheists trying to shirk their responsibility to a deity no one has ever proved extant, they’re refusing to have a responsibility to their fellow humans once they compare atheism to rebellious nihilism and insist that lack of faith gives people a license to do as they wish and there’s nothing to stop them from killing, pillaging and raping just for fun. If all that holds them back from this sort of destructive behavior is a book and they really believe that should they ever lose faith, they would go out and do unspeakable things just for the fun of it, they’re not sane, stable, or moral people, and they really need to reevaluate their outlook on life rather than excoriate atheists for not thinking like them. It’s as if they no longer have any real obligations to others and no longer inhabit the same world. Don’t they want to fight disease and advance our civilization? Don’t they want to live longer and explore farther? And wouldn’t they want to do this if not for themselves, then for their children and their children’s children?

[ illustration by Koren Shadmi ]

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inhuman pope

For the first time in six centuries, a sitting pope will be stepping down from his post. Those of us who watched him refuse to prosecute cases of sexual abuse in the Church, encourage many of his minions to lie about the need for contraceptives to slow the spread of AIDS, demean sex ed that actually works while promoting the myth that abstinence prevents pregnancies and STDs in blissful ignorance or pathological denial, and self-indulgently blame atheists for the what he saw his predecessors do during the Holocaust with his own eyes out of bigotry and cowardice, won’t be sorry to see him go. In fact, please do let the door hit your ass on the way out Ratzinger. Of all those who deserve to leave an ass print on a door for their moral failings, you are very near the top of the list because you’re simply an evil, morally bankrupt failure of a human.

Perhaps when Ratzinger goes off for his announced post-Papal period of prayer and reflection, he can reflect on all the hate he spewed, all the people who are far worse off thanks to his blind faith, all the kids who’ll never see their abusers in jail where they belong, and all the misery he caused by pretending to be a deep thinker and theological genius while his supposedly pointed scholarship consisted of chewing the same dogmatic cud the Vatican has been tossing out of its gilded walls for a thousand years. But he won’t, and that’s what makes him truly evil. Certainly, a sociopath with no sense of right and wrong doing terrible things that harm others because he is amused by it can be called evil. But worse than that is someone who does evil things convinced in his own near-divine infallibility and eying those who don’t agree as lesser people.

Ratzinger will spend the remainder of his days just like he spent much of his time as a cardinal and as the Pontifex, as a parasite. He took money from the rich and poor alike, benefited from the modern medicine and science he decried as inherently dehumanizing and corrupt, ruled by edict from a golden throne while sentencing his poorest followers to a slow death by demanding that they reject the modernity that allowed him to live his golden years in obscene luxury, and last, but certainly not least, blamed everyone else for his own sins. Few men in history could lay claim to having accomplished such evil in their lives in the name of their deity and if there is any sort of afterlife or divine justice, I sincerely hope that this ancient, wizened, wretched creature be sent there to rot and burn for his sheer inhumanity and self-serving arrogance while listening to the special tribute to his reign as Pope written by Tim Minchin for all eternity

[ illustration by Aram Vardazaryan ]

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mosque

Seriously, don’t do it. Don’t get excited about something, don’t go out too much, stay with those of your own gender unless you’re with your spouse, and if you’re a woman, cover up your bare, seductive eyes you harlot, or risk the wrath of the zealots of the CPVPV who will arrest you and treat you as inhumanely as they want because being the religious police, they think they’re way above and beyond any human laws. Unless, of course, you happen to live in one of the luxury gated communities where you’re actually allowed to act like a normal person rather than a bland automaton that Saudi clerics demand everyone who sets foot in The Kingdom should be. There, the laws don’t apply, and religious fundamentalists are banned from talking about them or trying to regulate what happens behind closed doors. It’s the typical way the Saudi government deals with the conflict between modernity and fundamentalism. They just keep the two separate and happily encourages radicals to travel abroad, as they did with weekend jihadis for example.

Westerners are welcome to come and bring their money with them as long as they do their very best not to provoke the clerics who lose their minds every time they hear about humans doing human things. Likewise, the fundamentalists are allowed to fume, hate, and issue edicts as long as they don’t interfere with any profitable foreigners and sheikhs or cause some sort of a messy public controversy in their little crusades. And so the foreigners and oil tycoons spend nights in posh, expensive clubs hiding deep inside shining skyscrapers in newly built cities that look as if they were beamed down from the year 2075, drinking fine cognac and indulging in escorts, while devout fundamentalists memorize the Qu’ran cover to cover at home. This segregation trick has been also adopted in the UAE and it works. Until it doesn’t and we hear about a Western woman arrested for having sex with her boyfriend or a teenager being raped at random and arrested on the suspicion of being gay, complete with stern references to conservative Islam.

So what does this separation policy accomplish for the Saudis? It creates ticking time bombs for one, and it helps them to speak out of both sides of their mouth without actually dealing with the simple problem that modern culture and religious fundamentalism are just not compatible. It’s a recipe for a bipolar culture that crowds mosques and covers up in flowing robes during the day, and douses its pent up frustrations in alcohol, sex, and recreational drugs at night. After all, we know full well how utterly obsessed the Muslim world is with adult entertainment despite all their protests and bans on the subject because we can use Google Trends, and enough meetings in the KSA and the UAE take place for Westerners to deliver very thorough accounts of the secret party life of the typical sheikh from which a pretty clear and very un-Islamic picture emerges. It’s the problem with being human. Sooner or later our normal desires will emerge and if we are not allowed to satisfy them in a healthy way, all sorts of problems appear, problems that the Saudi religious police then tries to correct with arrests, beatings, and their cruel insanity.

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dingy lab

Granted, it’s been a few weeks since the Panda’s Thumb caught the Discovery Institute using a stock image for one of their research labs, but this seemingly little thing really matters because it’s another glaring example of how creationists are desperate to present “I don’t know, therefore an unspecified creator or designer which sounds suspiciously like a Biblical deity,” as science. I can imagine Luskin’s train of thought now. Scientists like to show people labs, right? So if we get an image of a “scientist” in what looks like a lab, they’re bound to think that we’re also scientists doing serious research, right? Not really, it’s just taking cargo cult science a notch down and no green screen added lab makes a supposed biologist’s ridiculous musings any more legitimate.

Come on, we have Biologist Ann Gauger, PhD telling us that it’s premature to assume that two similar species must have some common descent without telling us how else these species can get their genetic and anatomical similarities without invoking magic or the supernatural. I’d really like to know the kind of research she produced to show a causal agent for genetic similarity with no evolution involved in that gloomy lab of hers. I’m sure we’ll find it in all the top journals which are always on the lookout for some paradigm-shifting discovery. Though the fact that no one at the Discovery Institute and its offshoots can even define evolution as we know it might be a big impediment to producing work of any scientific value, with or without a real lab…

[ illustration from Far Cry 3 ]

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god fossil

It seems that with every school shooting, there’s an almost inevitable parade of fundamentalists rushing to tell the world that we all as zealous about religious beliefs as they are, there would be no more gunmen bursting into schools and colleges and God would protect us all. If they really believe in this line of thought, the only thing I could possibly call them would be ghouls. Just take a minute to think what they’re saying. Their righteous, omnipotent deity who loves humans and thinks of them as his progeny is either powerless before secular laws or is willing to let children and young adults die just to make a point. It’s the classic theodicy problem posed by Epicurus. If the god is able but not willing to help, he’s downright malevolent and that’s the kind of deity that we’re being told should be praised and revered in public. That’s hardly a deity to worship.

Tragedies are supposed to make you question why they happen and what can be done to make sure they don’t happen again. But to the ghouls whose petty tyrant of a God won’t intervene in a dire situation they’re an excuse to proselytize rather than question their devotion. Instead of the hard thing to do, asking why their god would allow something like that, they blame humans for a deity’s shortfalls. Or at least that’s the only reason I can think of for their actions without having to resort to a more sinister explanation. They may see this tragedy as a chance to advance their ideology and opportunistically jumping on others’ grief to convert more followers to their cause, acting as the religious version of the ambulance chasing lawyer if you will. Either way, it takes a rather compromised set of morals to think that the non-intervening deity is in the right here.

[ illustration by Koren Shadmi ]

playground soldier

You might remember the bitter Israeli joke I used in a previous post about Haredi Jews’ complete lack of any desire in participating in their own nation’s future. It goes something like this. A third of the country works, a third fights in the military, and a third pays all the taxes; unfortunately it’s all the same third. Things have progressed somewhat since this joke was made, and there are a lot fewer religious fundamentalists shirking their military duties rather than claiming their religious exemption similar to the American "conscientious objector" clause, and staying home on a state stipend, reading the Torah for the hundredth time. Unfortunately this means that there are a lot of fundamentalists in the IDF and that doesn’t bode well for the Israeli women who are very, very quickly rising through the ranks and thriving in the military’s primarily secular structure. The new Haredi recruits seem determined to maintain separation of genders at all costs…

If the pressure to avoid sin in the military has always been an onus on women, more recently it’s transferred to men. Like Boianjiu’s recruits, many religious men are taught that they must steer clear of certain dangers, such as being touched by a woman, hearing a woman sing, and looking at women. As more women advance into positions of power, or just generally spread out among various units, these actions are harder and harder for men to avoid.

Perhaps one of the most ridiculous manifestations of this is a growing refusal to allow a female instructor to correct a man’s posture during combat training. Not hearing women sing or simply avoiding the sight of a woman can be excused as quirks, utterly asinine quirks that take several phrases in the Torah to unwarranted and unthinking extremes, but quirks nonetheless. But when these recruits refuse to learn how to handle their weapons or assume a proper stance during a live ammo exercise because a woman is in charge of their training, we’re venturing into that rare category of lunacy so extreme that it’s dangerous to the lunatic and everyone around him. It’s almost better if they just kept mooching off the government and shirked their responsibilities just like they did before because now, instead of trying to live in a post-1600 AD world, they’re trying to make the IDF bow to their whims regardless of what it does to combat readiness.

Not only are the Haredis a force for social unrest in Israel, and not only do they refuse to work in a knowledge-based economy the country has spent many billions trying to create, they’re now trying to turn their nation’s military into one of their yeshivas but with uniforms and guns. Can we consider this example of religious fundamentalism going too far again and again to learn a few glaring lessons as to why we shouldn’t be praising religious extremists as devoted pillars of their communities, and why we can’t allow them to have free reign in politics and modern society? For the last 60 plus years, Israel clothed, fed, sheltered, and defended its fundamentalists, letting them do as they wished and granting them every exception and stipend they demanded. What did the state get in return? Hardcore religious fanatics who will ridicule and shun the society that enabled their cushy existence, demanding ever more money, power, and concessions. And the only word I can possibly think of to describe shameful behavior like that is parasitic.

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sad trex

Just in case you haven’t heard, dinosaurs were not all giant, scaly, greenish beasts. In fact, an astounding number of them had multicolored plumage like birds and share multiple specialized anatomical features with them, clearly showing that birds are descendants of these immensely popular extinct creatures. But to Ken Ham, the Australian preacher with a six figure salary drawn from his followers’ donations and millions of dollars tied up in an empire of mis-education which promotes his belief that the Flintstones wasn’t an animated Honeymooner’s rip-off but a serious documentary, these new discoveries are an affront to the Almighty. You see, since the dinosaurs were created on the fifth day about 6,000 years ago they were huge, reptilian creatures as the Bible says, so for scientists to say that it’s not actually what happened must be another atheist plot to test the faithful, or worse yet, doubt their decision to see his temple of ignorance.

So, as detailed by Brian Switek, fresh off his attempt to publicly debate with Bill Nye The Science Guy, Ham is campaigning to restore the image of the giant hulking dinosaur brute to keep the steady flow of tourists coming to Kentucky. To me, the most depressing part of this issue is that his religion marketing instinct is probably right. Bring in the kids with dinosaurs and set them up so you can hit them right between the eyes with fundamentalist propaganda and wishful thinking that eliminates all doubt and curiosity. And whenever someone points out that this is what he’s doing, he can cry about religious persecution. Why oh why won’t those evil meanies in lab coats respect his beliefs no matter how misguided, self-serving, or backward, he’ll cry with a stream of crocodile tears and pleas for donations. Switek seems to agree that this is Ham’s strategy here as well, summing up his objections in this quote…

We have an undeserved deference to faith in this country. Someone need only [to] start a sentence with “I believe…” and whatever miasma spills out of their mouths becomes beyond reproach. But our essential and cherished freedom to express our religious beliefs doesn’t mean that those same ideas should be free from criticism and even ridicule. We have let our brains slide out our skulls and through the door if we don’t question someone who claims that carnivorous dinosaurs like Allosaurus lived in the Garden of Eden and honed their teeth and talons on coconuts before the Fall of Adam brought sin, and hence death by carnivory, into the world.

Sadly his statement about beliefs is all too true. We’ve all met someone who uses the seemingly simple and innocuous phrase "well, as a person of faith" to really mean "because I’m better than you" and a license to lecture you about life, and we’re all told to respect others’ beliefs. But if we don’t draw a line and stand our ground against beliefs obviously proven false, and dismantle the faithful’s transparent attempt to ignore, dismiss, and marginalize even the most concrete of facts that proves their ideas wrong, as we saw when the windbags who run Conservapedia had the bad sense to pick a fight with a scientist who lead one of the most superb studies on evolution published in recent memory, we end up with problems like Science and Technology Committees in Congress filled with ignorant blowhards who proudly show off their aversion to facts to media outlets when discussing important policy debates and school boards which use political ideology and religion to justify throwing science books out of science class. Religious fundamentalists see this as a plus, but in reality, the country and its education and workforce suffer for it.

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futuristic hong kong

Sometimes people do mean things to me. Very mean things, like making me read passages by pontificators who have the intellectual depth of the shallow end of the kiddy pool. In this case, I’m talking about Dinesh D’Souza, the pundit who went off the deep end in arguing that showers of missiles from killer drones across the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa in a campaign to kill those deemed a threat to the United States and its allies were signs of a president who is trying to curtail America so he can avenge the colonization of Kenya. Of course this is prime Tea Party territory so I am using the term "went off the deep end" from a different perspective, you know, the one that has trouble seeing a global drone war as a sign of limiting the nation’s reach, and his political wingnuttery isn’t going to be the focus of this post. Instead I want to use a chapter in his opus on Christianity and its supposed superiority to science and skepticism as an example of how not to make and defend a point. Listen, I had to suffer through it and I don’t like to suffer in silence or alone. And besides, you can use this as ammo in a debate so there’s an upside.

When opining why those who live in religious nations have more children on average than those who live in more secular states, he dances and dances around the point he wants to make, but he basically posits that atheists don’t love their children as much as the faithful, which is why the birth rate is lower for them. You see, according to him, the faithful love children as gifts from God while atheists, primed to think about humans as just animate flesh, see them as more of a needy burden necessary for the continuation of the species. Aside from being mindlessly insulting and obviously pulled out of someone’s lower descending colon, it’s not even a new argument. He all but plagiarizes Bill Donohue’s foaming-at-the-mouth declarations on the subject, wrapping name-calling in the typical eloquence with which pseudointellectuals like to lard their talking points. And just to make the insult even dumber, he acknowledges all the reasons why birth rates are falling all over the world with modern medicine and education, and counters them by saying… that they’re not enough to explain the discrepancies he brings up. Oh my dear sweet FSM. He’s not only a twit, he’s also a lazy twit. He’s done the same exact thing when looking for an afterlife!

This is like you making a claim that you were abducted by a UFO, patiently listening as to why it would be extremely improbable for you to be abducted by alien life forms, then responding with "yes, of course this is improbable, but as I was saying, when I was abducted by the Greys…" as if nothing was just said to counter your assertions. How does this guy become and president of a college? How does he have publishing deal? How much can you fail upwards? If he really is one of the key faces of conservative intellectualism as he’s been praised many times over, I can only weep for conservative intellectuals who are now being mentioned in the same breath with an ad hominem slinging slacker who cannot be bothered to defend his points with anything other than arguments by assertion. Hitchens made his share of conservative treatises and though I had an extremely hard time agreeing with a lot of the points he made, he did have solid reasoning for the opinions he held and I wanted to find out why he thought what he thought. You could see a logic behind his conclusions, which is something to be praised and respected.

When someone hands me a book by D’Souza, they’re giving me a tome of overwrought insults and clichés that are not even defended by their author with anything beyond his typical smug self-confidence. As with S.E. Cupp, there’s nothing to debate because the very argument is just utter garbage built on strawmen and hatred for those with different views. So when I was given a chapter of his to read following a conversation about why human populations should drop over the next several decades and asked for my opinion, I said that I was insulted and that there are much, much better books out there on the question of population growth, books that don’t just wave off facts and take a chapter to verbally defecate on those who don’t think alike when they could’ve accomplished that feat in a few sentences. And added that I would like to send my very sincere condolences to the students of the college where this intellectual zero is a president by virtue of having a good vocabulary in which to veil his vapid musings…

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