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LIFESTYLE & CULTURE

Letting go of the ‘sirena’ in me (or: Discovering the whale sharks of Oslob, Cebu)…

Swimming with sea creatures like the butanding can be… magical. But protection of nature’s wonders needs to be constantly communicated to us (hammered, even, into our consciousness); in this case, while bringing out the ‘sirena’ in us. Because if not, then our supposedly “win-win” approach to eco-tourism is in dire need of being reconsidered.

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There are two sites in the Philippines that are popularly known to provide people (i.e. tourists) the chance to “interact” with the famed gentle giants of the seas, the whale sharks (i.e. “butanding”) – Donsol, Sorsogon and Oslob, Cebu. And based on personal experience in visits to both sites, there are pros and cons worth considering. These pros and cons, not incidentally, are largely driven by profiteering from a natural wonder…

In Donsol – as we’ve written in the past – profiteering can be seen in treachery (for the lack of a better word). That is, the butanding only visit the small fishing village a few months in a year; but even off-peak, the locals (who have become the tourist guides) will still claim that they can “look” for the giants of the sea with you. This means paying them X amount of money (for the “professional” fees, rent of the bangka, rent of equipment, et cetera) as you basically waste your time looking for what’s not there. If you’re really, really eager to look for the butanding, they ask for more money so you can search again the next days – again, even if they already know that the butanding has long gone.

Whale-less wandering at Donsol, Sorsogon

In Oslob, profiteering can be seen in the “conversion” of the butanding. This place can be likened to an aquarium (or even a “natural” zoo); and the butanding, mere “pets” on leash. Yes, you will see the butanding here for sure, since they hardly ever leave the place. The locals have “tamed” them by incessantly feeding them; this “easy” life sort of forced them to just stay here.

It is, therefore, hard to support – or even promote – this form of eco-tourism.

This is, I suppose, the “tricky” part.

We recognize various facets of the promotion of Oslob as an eco-destination to interact with the butanding.

There’s the providing of employment to the locals (who would otherwise kill the fish for their meat, a source of livelihood for many in the past). Nowadays, it is not uncommon to hear these fishermen-turned-tourist guides as staunch caretakers of the seas’ bounties (butanding included); and hearing them claim that protecting the seas IS a way of protecting the fishermen and their families is (admittedly) heartening…

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There’s the issue of the “taming” of the butanding, with animal rights activists right in claiming that this approach is basically ruining natural order. The butanding are wild animals; and with this “arrangement”, they are now turned into “pets” that seem to solely exist for the benefit of those who want to earn from them (and yes, those who pay to see them).

Alas, no, Oslob shows how we have yet to find a “common ground” (if it can be called that). That is, we have yet to really find comprehensive solutions to the issues besetting the fishermen and their families (helmed by their lack of consistent sources of earnings) so that they continue “taming” the butanding (in the guise of giving people the chance to learn more about the need to protect these giants).

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A discussion is, indeed, needed for the “solutions” regarding this to be comprehensive.

In the meantime, for those in Cebu City who are keen to encounter the butanding, here are some must-know points:

  • To go to Oslob, head to South Terminal in Cebu City. There, there are buses heading to Oslob (even as early as 1:00AM), taking from three to four hours (depending on the traffic conditions). Airconditioned bus fare is P165. Note that the “feeding” of the butanding (more on that in a bit) only happens from 6:00AM to 12:30PM, so the earlier you go there, the better it will be for you. We left Cebu City at 2:30AM, and when we arrived in Oslob just after 6:00AM, there were already lots of tourists.
  • Tell the konduktor (in the Philippines, the person who gives the tickets and collects the fare) that you are getting off at BCD’s Resort, which is right beside the registration area for the butanding watching.
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  • When you get off the bus, there is a registration area (the two resorts there can also help here). You go inside and then pay the fees – i.e. P500 for locals (Filipinos) who want to swim with the butanding/P300 for those who will only watch from the bangka and P1,000 for foreigners who want to swim with the whale sharks (the fee includes the bangka ride, flippers and the goggles). You can pay an additional P550 for the bangkero to take your pics while you swim with the whale sharks (the files can be saved into your Android phone, and saved in a CD). If you want to be able to enjoy the experience of swimming with the whale sharks, don’t be stingy and just pay the P550 for the cameraman – they’ve been doing this so long they know how to take good shots, while you basically do nothing but be the sirena you are…
  • You will then be taken to the take-off area, where some educating happens (e.g. that every swim lasts only for 30 minutes, that you to keep your distance from the butanding, not to use chemical-laden sunblock, no splashing in the waters, not to panic when the shark seems to head your way, and so on). As a side note, you can get scratchies while in the waters; so if you’re allergic to bites of se creatures, bring anti-histamine with you…
  • You will then be given your vests, hauled into a bangka, and then the bangkero-cum-photographer paddles only a few meters from the shore. Here, all the bangka loaded with tourists line up. Another bangka passes by all the tourists, with this one’s bangkero incessantly feeding a butanding. It is when this butanding passes by your own bangka that the “interaction” happens, making it – basically – a displaying of an animal on a leash (the “leash” here the food it is given). It’s worth noting that if you want to have beauteous underwater shots, then not using the vests and even the goggles may be worth considering. A friend I was with used both, and now he only has mostly headless shots (since the cameraman was underwater) and pics of someone who could be anyone (people all look the same when wearing the mask) to show off…
  • After 30 minutes, you are told that the interaction is done, told to return to your bangka, and then head back to the shore. THE. SWIM. WITH. THE. BUTANDING. IS. DONE.
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Swimming with sea creatures like the butanding can be… magical. It can give you various insights – e.g. how “small” we all are, even inconsequential in the scheme of things; how beautiful nature can be, perhaps especially if left untouched; and how we continue to be in dire need of education re nature and how we can use it without necessarily destroying it.

But protection of nature’s wonders needs to be constantly communicated to us (hammered, even, into our consciousness); in this case, while bringing out the ‘sirena’ in us. Because if not, then our supposedly “win-win” approach to eco-tourism is in dire need of being reconsidered…

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The founder of Outrage Magazine, Michael David dela Cruz Tan is a graduate of Bachelor of Arts (Communication Studies) of the University of Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia. Though he grew up in Mindanao (particularly Kidapawan and Cotabato City in Maguindanao), even attending Roman Catholic schools there, he "really, really came out in Sydney," he says, so that "I sort of know what it's like to be gay in a developing and a developed world". Mick can: photograph, do artworks with mixed media, write (DUH!), shoot flicks, community organize, facilitate, lecture, research (with pioneering studies under his belt)... this one's a multi-tasker, who is even conversant in Filipino Sign Language (FSL). Among others, Mick received the Catholic Mass Media Awards (CMMA) in 2006 for Best Investigative Journalism. Cross his path is the dare (read: It won't be boring).

Health & Wellness

First case of sexually transmitted dengue confirmed in Spain

Health authorities confirmed a case of a man spreading dengue through sex. This is a world first for a virus which – until recently – was largely thought to be transmitted only by mosquitos.

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Photo by Егор Камелев from Unsplash.com

No, getting bitten by mosquitos isn’t the only way you can get dengue.

In Spain, health authorities confirmed a case of a man spreading dengue through sex. This is a world first for a virus which – until recently – was largely thought to be transmitted only by mosquitos.

The case involves a 41-year-old man from Madrid who contracted dengue after having sex with his male partner, who got the virus from a mosquito bite during a trip to Cuba and the Dominican Republic.

When the man’s dengue infection was confirmed in September, it puzzled doctors because he had not traveled to a country where the disease is common. An analysis of the sperm of the two men was carried out and it revealed that not only did they have dengue, but that it was exactly the same virus which circulates in Cuba.

Dengue is transmitted mainly by the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, which grows in number in densely-populated tropical climates, such as the Philippines.

Though it kills 10,000 people a year and infects over 100 million, the disease is fatal only in extreme cases, though symptoms are extremely unpleasant, including high fever, severe headaches and vomiting. It is particularly serious – and deadly – in children.

In the Philippines, the Department of Health reported a total of 271,480 dengue cases from January to August 31 this year, prompting it to declare a national dengue epidemic. As of end-August, an estimated 1,107 people have died of dengue in the country.

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LIFESTYLE & CULTURE

Gay in space in Disney’s ‘Star Wars Resistance’ kids’ show

This isn’t the first time an animated series highlighted LGBTQIA people/relationships; arguably even more progressive than mainstream Hollywood fare.

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Viewers sort of knew it all along, and then Disney confirmed that two characters on its “Star War Resistance” animated series for children are indeed a “gay couple.” 

On the Coffee with Kenobi podcast, Disney executive producers Brandon Auman, Athena Portillo, and Justin Ridge said that they are “proud” that two characters, Orka and Flix, are a “gay couple.” 

When Ridge was asked about the link between the two characters, he said: “I think it’s safe to say they’re an item… They’re absolutely a gay couple and we’re proud of that.” 

Orka is voiced by Jim Rash, while Flix is voiced by Bobby Moynihan.

Moynihan said later on the same podcast that he was glad to speak openly about Orka’s tendencies. 

“I have had a sentence prepared for a year and a half,” he said. “If someone would finally ask me, I would say, ‘All I can say is that when Flix says I love you, Orka says I know.’ … They’re the cutest.”

Orka and Flix are non-human, but fans assumed that they are homosexual. In an episode titled Dangerous Business, in the first season of “Star Wars Resistance“, there was a moment perceived to reveal the pair’s proclivities. 

The show is now in its second and final season on October 6, after getting nominated for an Emmy last year for outstanding children’s program.

This isn’t the first time an animated series highlighted LGBTQIA people/relationships; arguably even more progressive than mainstream Hollywood fare.

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In August, the new Aquaman, Kaldur, in the animated “Young Justice: Outsiders”, DC Universe’s animated show about teenage superheroes, was revealed to be LGBTQIA.

And in 2018, “Steven Universe”, a series from Cartoon Network, showcased a lesbian marriage proposal between two out queer characters in a special July 4 episode.

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Travel

Surrounded by art

Heading to Niagara Falls in NY in the US? The waterfalls may be the main attraction;buut there’s more to see in Niagara Falls than the body of water. Go IG crazy with a quick visit at Art Alley NF.

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When heading to Niagara Falls in the state of New York in the US, the three waterfalls at the southern end of Niagara Gorge (between the Ontario, Canada and, yes, the US state of New York) may be the main attraction. This isn’t exactly surprising; heck, everyone who saw 1980’s Superman (before he got grumpy and too dark – even if he stayed yummy – with DC’s re-imagining of the alien boy scout) will want to see the… grandeur of the location. For that matter, Hollywood has repeatedly “told” us (via the likes of 2003’s Bruce Almighty, 2014’s Tammy, 2016’s After the Sun Fell, and 2016’s The American Side) that it’s a must-visit.

When you get there, though, it is but… a body of water.

Sure, it is grand. Perhaps made even grander by the power of illumination, with the waterfalls enveloped in various colors when the sun sets. But truth be told, there’s more to see in Niagara Falls than just the body of water.

Case in point: Art Alley NF.

Located a few minutes from Niagara Falls State Park, Art Alley NF is a public mural project located at 425 Third Street in Niagara Falls, NY.

Credit for its development goes to Seth Piccirillo, the city’s community development director, and Rob Lynch, one of Niagara Falls High School’s art teachers. The two established the roadside inlet in 2016 to house 19 murals from local artists.

Think of San Francisco’s Clarion Alley, and you’d get the idea of what this is. Sans the angst, political activism, et cetera…

The location used to be a vacant lot blocked by a wall. It was blasted down by the city’s Department of Community Development to make way for a walkway lined with the murals.

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Street art enthusiasts ought to like this; or at least IG aficionados.

Though I say that again, when in Niagara Falls, NY in the US, don’t just stick to the body of water (you can check this in a just a day); instead, be surrounded by art with a quick visit to Art Alley NF.

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Health & Wellness

Improved support after self-harm needed to reduce suicide risk

To reduce the high risk of suicide after hospital attendance for self-harm, improved clinical management is needed for all patients – including comprehensive assessment of the patients’ mental state, needs, and risks, as well as implementation of risk reduction strategies, including safety planning.

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Photo by Sasha Freemind from Unsplash.com

Risk of suicide following hospital presentation for self-harm is very high immediately following hospital discharge, emphasising the need for provision of early follow-up care and attention to risk reduction strategies

To reduce the high risk of suicide after hospital attendance for self-harm, improved clinical management is needed for all patients – including comprehensive assessment of the patients’ mental state, needs, and risks, as well as implementation of risk reduction strategies, including safety planning.

The results are from an observational study spanning 16 years and including almost 50,000 people from five English hospitals, published in The Lancet Psychiatry journal.

“The peak in risk of suicide which follows immediately after discharge from hospital underscores the need for provision of early and effective follow-up care. Presentation to hospital for self-harm offers an opportunity for intervention, yet people in are often discharged from hospital having not received a formal assessment of their problems and needs, and without specific aftercare arrangements. As specified in national guidance, a comprehensive assessment of the patients’ mental state, needs, and risks is essential to devise an effective plan for their follow-up care,” says study author Dr. Galit Geulayov, Centre for Suicide Research, Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford, UK.

It has been estimated that every year there are approximately 200,000 presentations to emergency departments in hospitals across England following acts of non-fatal self-harm. Self-harm is associated with increased mortality, especially by suicide. Approximately 50% of individuals who die by suicide have a history of self-harm, with hospital presentation for self-harm often occurring shortly before suicide.

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The new study compared the risk of suicide following hospital presentation for self-harm according to patient characteristics, method of self-harm, and socioeconomic deprivation. It also estimated the incidence of suicide by time after hospital attendance, adjusting for gender, age, previous self-harm, and psychiatric treatment.

The study included 49,783 people aged over 15 years who presented to hospital after non-fatal self-harm a total of 90,614 times between 2000-2013. The authors followed these patients for 16 years (until the end of 2015), and the study included five hospitals (one in Oxford, three in Manchester and one in Derby).

Within the 16 year follow up, 703 out of 49,783 people died by suicide – with the incidence of suicide being 163 per 100,000 people per year.

Around a third of these deaths occurred within a year of the patient attending hospital for non-fatal self-harm (36%, 252/703 deaths), and the study confirmed the high risk of suicide in the first year after presentation to hospital for self-harm (the incidence of suicide in the year following discharge from hospital was 511 suicides per 100,000 people per year – 55.5 times higher than that of the general population).

The authors found that risk was particularly elevated in the first month (the incidence of suicide in the month following discharge from hospital was 1,787 per 100,000 people per year – close to 200 times higher than in the general population) – with 74 out of 703 people in the study dying by suicide within a month.

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The authors note that men were more likely to die by suicide following hospital presentation of self-harm than women, people who attended hospital more than once for non-fatal self-harm were more likely to die by suicide than those with a single presentation, and age was associated with risk (with risk increasing 3% with each year of age).

In addition, those who lived in less deprived areas had a higher risk of death by suicide than those who lived in the most deprived areas, but this contrasts with a large body of evidence and might be explained by higher rates of psychiatric disorders in this group in this study – more research is needed. The authors also note that some forms of self-harm were more strongly linked to subsequent suicide, but advise against including detail of this kind in media reporting.

Suicide is a big issue in the LGBTQIA community. In 2018, for instance, a study found that a total of 37% of trans respondents reported having seriously considered suicide during the past 12 months and 32% had ever attempted a suicide. Offensive treatment during the past three months and lifetime exposure to trans-related violence were significantly associated with suicidality.

A study published in LGBT Health in 2016, meanwhile, emphasized the importance of strengthening family support and acceptance as part of a positive intervention.

The authors of this newer study note that holistic assessment of risk factors is required, and warn that no single characteristic will help predict later suicide.

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“While awareness of characteristics which increase the risk of subsequent suicide can assist as part of this assessment, previous studies indicate that individual factors related to self-harm are a poor means to evaluate the risk of future suicide. These factors need to be considered together, followed by risk reduction strategies, including safety planning, for all patients,” says Professor Hawton, Centre for Suicide Research, Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford, UK.

The authors note that their study focuses on three cities in England and the findings may not necessarily apply to the whole of the country.

Writing in a linked comment, Dr. Annette Erlangsen, Danish Research Institute for Suicide Prevention, Denmark, notes that there is a range of treatment options available following presentation of self-harm in emergency departments (including referrals to psychiatric wards after psychosocial assessments, outpatient treatment for patients not under immediate risk of self-harming, and – in some countries – specialized suicide prevention clinics) but many countries send patients home with a referral to their GP or do not refer at all.

She says: “The bottom line is–while the body of evidence of effective intervention is growing, we need to help people who present with self-harm. Operating in such a scenario is challenging but the numbers are clear; we need to ensure that patients receive support immediately when presenting and implement a continuation of care after discharge.”

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LIFESTYLE & CULTURE

Is Lara Croft an LGBTQ+ icon?

Lara Croft paved the way for female representation in action games and movies, and in doing so created an icon and ally for the LGBTQ+ community. While her tomb raiding days are still ongoing, the wealth of other games means that so many more people can find characters that resonate with who they are.

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Screencap from "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" (2001)

Lara Croft is one of the most recognizable and popular characters to ever be created. Whether fans know her from the classic PlayStation games, from the Angelina Jolie films, or even from the remake with Alicia Vikander, Lara Croft is an icon. While female gamers are more aplenty today, back in the early days of gaming, every corner was nearly entirely male-dominated. So Lara Croft was created to appeal to every gamer. As such, she fell between the two demographics and became a broad church to many, but a very niche fandom for some.

While the tomb raiding heroine offers some much-needed female representation in the action genre, is she also an LGBTQ+ icon?

Who becomes and who doesn’t become a queer icon is unpredictable, but since her debut in 1996, Lara Croft has proven she has the mettle to do more than just raid tombs. Action games are coded with high masculinity, so offering a female counterpart helps to take some of the testosterone out of the equation and offer a different kind of character. It has been well documented that LGBTQ+ identifying people are more likely to choose the female character in games – from Princess Peach to Coco Bandicoot and Eevee.

Women in games are often underappreciated, which helps the LGBTQ+ community identify with them. The disregarding of traditional femininity to be an adventurer also bridges the gap towards androgyny. Lara Croft eschews what is expected of her to do what she really wants to do – a trait that is both admirable and holds a deeper meaning for a lot of LGBTQ+ members of society.

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But, while there has been wider representation as of late and a more welcoming eye on all communities since 1996, Lara Croft and the strength she embodies still pervades in all forms of gaming today. As the Lara Croft Tomb Raider slot game at LeoVegas Casino shows, that utilises popular themes, artwork, and motifs from the franchise, the theme is still a popular one, still succeeding in offering something different for players. The fact that so long after her debut, and with so many more options available, Lara Croft is still the go-to franchise for many people, helps to prove her appeal.

While some of the marketing may look at Lara Croft through a male lens and focus on her physicality, for queer people, the adventurous nature that contrasts with this image helped cement her as a heroine. The 2013 reboot, written by Rhianna Pratchett, strands Lara on an island with nobody else except Samantha. Her mission becomes to keep Samantha safe and illustrates the true power in their sisterhood.

Lara Croft paved the way for female representation in action games and movies, and in doing so created an icon and ally for the LGBTQ+ community. While her tomb raiding days are still ongoing, the wealth of other games means that so many more people can find characters that resonate with who they are. There wouldn’t be as much representation across gaming had it not being for Lara Croft and the temples she raided, and the doors she unlocked.

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Health & Wellness

Trouble sleeping? Insomnia symptoms linked to increased risk of stroke, heart attack

The results suggest that if we can target people who are having trouble sleeping with behavioral therapies, it’s possible that we could reduce the number of cases of stroke, heart attack and other diseases later down the line.

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Photo by Matheus Vinicius from Unsplash.com

People who have trouble sleeping may be more likely to have a stroke, heart attack or other cerebrovascular or cardiovascular diseases, according to a study published in the November 6, 2019, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

“These results suggest that if we can target people who are having trouble sleeping with behavioral therapies, it’s possible that we could reduce the number of cases of stroke, heart attack and other diseases later down the line,” said study author Liming Li, MD, of Peking University in Beijing, China.

The study involved 487,200 people in China with an average age of 51. Participants had no history of stroke or heart disease at the beginning of the study.

Participants were asked if they had any of three symptoms of insomnia at least three days per week: trouble falling asleep or staying asleep; waking up too early in the morning; or trouble staying focused during the day due to poor sleep. A total of 11 percent of the people had difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep; 10 percent reported waking up too early; and 2 percent had trouble staying focused during the day due to poor sleep. The researchers did not determine if the people met the full definition of insomnia.

The people were then followed for an average of about 10 years. During that time, there were 130,032 cases of stroke, heart attack and other similar diseases.

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People who had all three symptoms of insomnia were 18 percent more likely to develop these diseases than people who did not have any symptoms. The researchers adjusted for other factors that could affect the risk of stroke or heart disease including alcohol use, smoking, and level of physical activity.

People who had trouble falling asleep or staying asleep were 9 percent more likely to develop stroke or heart disease than people who did not have this trouble. Of the 55,127 people who had this symptom, 17,650, or 32 percent, had a stroke or heart disease, compared to 112,382, or 26 percent, of the 432,073 people who did not have this symptom of insomnia.

People who woke up too early in the morning and could not get back to sleep were 7 percent more likely to develop these diseases than people who did not have that problem. And people who reported that they had trouble staying focused during the day due to poor sleep were 13 percent more likely to develop these diseases than people who did not have that symptom.

“The link between insomnia symptoms and these diseases was even stronger in younger adults and people who did not have high blood pressure at the start of the study, so future research should look especially at early detection and interventions aimed at these groups,” Li said.

Li noted that the study does not show cause and effect between the insomnia symptoms and stroke and heart disease. It only shows an association.

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A limitation of the study was that people reported their own symptoms of insomnia, so the information may not have been accurate.

Also, the researchers did not ask participants about having sleep that was not refreshing; this is another common symptom of insomnia.

The question that needs to be asked: How is this relevant particularly to the LGBTQIA community?

Sleep may be fundamental to health, but a study found that lesbian, gay and bisexual adults reported more sleep problems than their heterosexual counterparts. This suggests that sleep difficulties may underlie a number of mental and physical health problems experienced by sexual minorities.

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