Wednesday, June 01, 2011

And We Sang Him A Song Of Times Long Gone, Though We Knew That We'd Be Seeing Him Again.

Doctor Who's Karen Gillan has admitted that she did not predict the twist ending of this week's mid-series finale. The actress, who plays Amy Pond, told Total TV Guide that she was shocked by the revelations that viewers will discover in A Good Man Goes To War. Gillan said: 'This is when we discover who River Song (Alex Kingston) really is. It's such a huge pay-off, I didn't see it coming." She added: 'We end on a revelation so huge, everyone will need the whole summer to digest it.' Gillan also dismissed suggestions - mainly made in the pages of the Daily Scum Mail with its thoroughly sick and venal lice-like anti-BBC agenda - that the most recent series of Doctor Who has been 'too scary' for younger viewers. 'I'm all for it getting scarier!' she said. 'Kids are cool with it, it's just the adults who worry.' No, Karen, it isn't. It's just some adults who need to grow the fek up, frankly, who worry. 'This [last] episode is full of shocks and twists, but it's more disturbing than scary.'

Steven Moffat has clarified his recent comments about not using the Daleks in Doctor Who. Speaking to Radio Times, the showrunner said that it was 'about time to give them a rest,' admitting that they had become 'the most reliably defeatable enemies in the universe.' Following the attention the statements attracted online and in a bunch of - hugely inaccurate - utter shitehawk tabloid 'exclusives' (including one in, God help us, the Gruniad - this constitutes 'news' apparently), Moffat said on Twitter: 'Daleks: I was talking about THIS series. Stand down.' When a follower asked Moffat if he was 'getting some flack' for his earlier comments, he responded: 'Quite the opposite - everyone seems to think it's a GOOD idea. But it's not what I meant.[sic]'

John Barrowman has confirmed that Captain Jack will remain a total girly-man bisexual in the new season of Torchwood. And, hurrah for that, frankly. Torchwood: Miracle Day is being co-produced by the BBC and the American network Starz and some fans had - allegedly - been 'concerned' that Jack's sexuality would be ignored in the episodes. Although, whoever these alleged fans with their alleged concerns actually are, or what they are basing their alleged concerns upon, the report does not reveal. probably because they don't exist. However, Barrowman told Entertainment Weekly that viewers do not have to worry. That's if they were. Which, they probably weren't. 'I knew they would be true to the show and not change drastically,' he said. 'If it was watered down, I wouldn't have done it. For those people who are our staunch fans, it's going to have the heart and soul of Torchwood which we've always had, plus the energy and excitement of a show that's bigger and better.' Barrowman added: '[Jack] gets to have full-on boy-sex a couple of times. On those days going to work I'd wake up and Scott my partner would say, "What are you filming today?" And I'd say, "Oh, it's going to be a tough day, I get to have sex with a twenty four-year-old."' Meanwhile, the show's executive producer Russell Davies suggested that - in this regard, at least - American television is more progressive than UK shows. 'The portrayal of gay, bisexual and lesbian characters is currently way ahead of Britain,' he said. 'The kids on Glee, the beauty and detail of that couple on Modern Family. We've got nothing like that. Even a nice Republican sitcom like $#*! My Dad Says, a show I quite liked, was stacked with intelligent gay-friendly stories, and that's in a corner you'd never expect to find them. Of course, it's all the gay men and women sitting on writing teams pushing their stories forward, which I think is wonderful.'

TV comedy moment of last week: The moment on Have I Got News For You when they used a clip of legal commentator Joshua Rosenberg on BBC News noting, on the subject of the injunction fiasco: 'Well, the law is clear. There is still a court order in force which says that we can't name Ryan Giggs as ...' Brilliant! (It was, as previously mentioned, a pretty good episode, with Ian, Paul, Bill Bailey and Armando Iannucci all on fine form, only ruined somewhat by the presence of that smug twat Jack Whitehall.)

Meanwhile, recording of episode nine of the next series of Qi took place last night: The guests were Jimmy Carr, Sarah Millican and Johnny Vegas and theme was Insects.

Having attempted to convince us of the arcane links between Ayn Rand, the 2008 global economic crisis and Monica Lewinsky, filmmaker Adam Curtis turned his attention to ecology and the development of the eco-system in the second episode of his latest series of TV essays All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace. Or, to be more specific, this second episode - The Use And Abuse Of Vegetational Concepts - focused on a variety of ecological theories which would later inform the growth of computer systems. As any viewer who has seen Curtis' earlier work – The Power Of Nightmares, The Trap, or Pandora's Box for instance – will already be aware, Curtis's unapologetically subjective, opinionated and highly personal documentaries can seen a little like history lessons provided by James Burke ... wearing a tinfoil hat. This week's series of connections begins in 1918, when English botanist Arthur Tansley - under the influences of an obscure part of Sigmund Freud's theories - came up with the modern concept of the ecosystem. It ended with the rise of social media in the early years of the Twenty First Century. Taking in MIT computer theorists, geodesic hippie communes and ecological surveys on a Colorado grass plain, Curtis postulates a compelling link between apparently disparate moments in history. And, it all started with a dream. One night during the later stages of the First World War Tansley had an unsettling nightmare which involved him shooting his wife in Africa. He therefore did the natural thing and started reading the works of Sigmund Freud, and even went to Vienna to be analysed by Freud himself. Then Tansley came up with an extraordinary theory. He took Freud's idea that the human brain is, effectively, like an electrical machine – a network around which energy flowed – and argued that the same thing was true in nature. That underneath the bewildering complexity of the natural world were a series of interconnected systems around which energy also flowed. He coined a name for them. He called them 'ecosystems.' But Tansley went one stage further. He said that the world was composed at every level of systems, and what's more, all of these systems had a natural desire to stabilise themselves. He grandly called it 'the great universal law of equilibrium.' Everything, he wrote, from the human mind to nature to even human societies – all are tending towards a natural state of equilibrium. Tansley admitted he had no real evidence for this. And what he was really doing was taking an engineering concept of systems and networks and projecting it on to the natural world, turning nature itself into a sort of machine. But the idea, and the term ecosystem, stuck. Then Field Marshal Smuts came up with an even grander idea of nature. And Tansley hated it. Smuts was one of the most powerful men in the British empire. He ruled South Africa and he exercised power ruthlessly. When the Hottentots refused to pay their dog licences, Smuts sent in planes to bomb them. As a result the blacks hated him. But Smuts also saw himself as something of a renaissance philosopher – and he had a habit of walking up to the tops of mountains, taking off all his clothes, and dreaming up new theories about how nature and the world worked. This all culminated in 1926 when Smuts created his own philosophy. He called it Holism. It said that the world was composed of lots of 'wholes' – the small wholes all evolving and fitting together into larger wholes until they all came together into one big whole – a giant natural system that would find its own stability if all the wholes were in the right places. Einstein liked the theory, and it became one of the 'big ideas' that lots of right-thinking intellectuals wrote about in the 1930s. Even the King became fascinated by it. But Tansley attacked it. He publicly accused Smuts of what he called 'the abuse of vegetational concepts' – which at the time was considered a very rude thing. Tansley said that Smuts had created a mystical philosophy of nature and its self-organisation in order to oppress black people. Or what Tansley maliciously called the 'less exalted wholes.' And Tansley wasn't alone. Others, including HG Wells, pointed out that really what Smuts was doing was using a scientific theory about order in nature to justify a particular order in society – in this case the British empire. A form of social eugenics, if you like. Because it was clear that the global self-regulating system that Smuts described looked exactly like the empire. And, at the same time Smuts made a notorious speech saying that blacks should be segregated from whites in South Africa laying the ground for several subsequent decades of Apartheid. The implication was clear: that blacks should stay in their natural 'whole' and not disturb the system whilst the European races - the white men - got on with running the world. This was the central problem with the concept of the self-regulating system, one that was going to haunt it throughout the Twentieth Century. It can be easily manipulated by those in power to enforce their view of the world, and then be used to justify holding that power stable. Because, although Tansley and Smuts and their argument about power would eventually be forgotten, hybrid combinations of their ideas were going to re-emerge later in the century – with some vengeance. Strange theoretical fusions of systems engineering and mystical visions of organic wholes. Thirty years later, thousands of young Americans who were disenchanted with politics went off instead to set up their own experimental communities out in the wastelands of America – the commune movement. And they turned to Arthur Tansley's idea of the ecosystem as a model for how to create a human system of order within the communes. Curtis's argument is that, beginning with Tansley in the early 1900s, ecologists began to look at the natural world as a mechanical system, in which all life forms naturally find their own equilibrium over time. It was a concept which was later picked up by pioneers in cybernetics, not least the computer engineer and visionary Jay Forrester. Forrester came up with an idea called 'System Dynamics,' which were a means of predicting behavioural development by building models of feedback loops. These models treated everything like a smoothly running machine, or like nodes in a network – a reasonable assumption in the world of computers, Curtis argues. But, such models are ineffective when applied to the natural world or to human society. For evidence of this, Curtis points to failed communes in the 60s and 70s, in which idealistic young people attempted to set up tiny societies without leaders or hierarchy. The results were straight out of Orwell's Animal Farm – all members of these communes were free, but some were more free than others. Most communes collapsed within three years or less, following bitter feuds or accusations of bullying. They had, as noted, turned to Tansley's idea of the ecosystem as a model for how to create a human system of order within the communes. But they also fused it with cybernetic ideas drawn from computer theory, and out of this came a vision of strong, independent humans linked, just like in nature, in a network that was held together through feedback. The commune dwellers mimicked the ecosystem idea in their house meetings where they all had to say exactly what was on their minds at that moment – so information flowed freely round the system. And through that the communes were supposed to stabilise themselves. But, of course, they didn't. In many communes across America in the late 1960s house meetings became vicious acerbic bullying sessions where the strong characters preyed, mercilessly, on the weak, and nobody was allowed to voice any objections. The rules of the self-organising system said that no coalitions or alliances were allowed to be formed because that was politics – and politics was bad. If you talk today to ex-commune members, as Curits does, they tell horrific stories of coercion, violent intimidation and sexual oppression within these supposedly Utopian communities, while the other commune members stood mutely watching, unable under the rules of the system to do anything to stop it. Again, the central weakness of the self-organising system was dramatically demonstrated. Whether it was used for conservative or radical ends, it could not cope with power, which is one of the central dynamic forces in human society. It's the old Baron Acton conundrum - 'power tends to corrupt, absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely.' But at the very same time, a new generation of ecologists began to question the basis of Tansley's idea of the self-regulating ecosystem. Out of this came a bloody battle within the science of ecology, with the new generation showing powerfully that wherever they looked in nature they found not stability, but constant, dynamic change; that Tansley's idea of a underlying pattern of stability in nature was really a fantasy, not a scientific truth. Ecologists began to realise that their earlier view of nature as an economic system was wrong. A study of the creatures lurking in the grass of a small field in Colorado revealed that ecosystems are chaotic, and almost impossible to predict – not unlike the behaviour of members in a lice-ridden stinking hippie commune. At the end of 1991 a giant experiment began in the Arizona desert. Its aim was to create from scratch a model for a whole self-organising world. Biosphere 2 was a giant sealed world. Eight humans were locked in with a mass of flora and other fauna, and a balanced ecosystem was supposed to naturally emerge. But from the start it was completely unbalanced. The CO2 levels started soaring, so the experimenters desperately planted more green plants, but the CO2 continued to rise, then dissolved in the 'ocean' and ate their precious coral reef. Millions of tiny mites attacked the vegetables and there was less and less food to eat. The men lost eighteen per cent of their body weight. Then millions of cockroaches took over. The moment the lights were turned out in the kitchen, hordes of roaches covered every surface. And it got worse – the oxygen in the world started to disappear and no one knew where it was going. The 'bionauts' began to suffocate. And they began to hate one another – furious rows erupted which often ended with them spitting in one another's faces. A psychiatrist was brought in to see if they had gone insane, but concluded simply that it was a struggle for power. Then millions of ants appeared from nowhere and waged war on the cockroaches. In 1993 the experiment collapsed in chaos and hatred. Literally as well as metaphorically. The idea of nature that underpinned all these visions of self-organisation was a fantasy. A fantasy that was born at a time when those who ran the British empire were desperately trying to cling on to power as the dynamic forces of history whirled around them. So they turned to science to create a vision of a static world where everything is stable and your moral duty is to make sure that nothing ever changes. Our modern network of personal computers, Curtis suggests, is a modern attempt to replicate the Utopian ideals of a hippie commune on a larger scale – we're all just nodes in a network now, plugged into a vast global system like the luckless human batteries of The Matrix. All of this is, it must be said, a fairly gloomy worldview, tempered somewhat by Curtis's humour and marvellously skilled way of editing together weird archive footage, his eye for a memorable caption or title (All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace comes from a rather odd prophetic poem by Richard Brautigan), and an ear for a catchy bit of music. It's not what you say that's important, it's the way in which you say it. And then there's also his soothing narration, delivered with the kind of even tone that could accompany a session in a iso-tank. The whole thing works because of the sensual overload which it presents to the viewers - again, as we said last week, it's classic theoretical MacLuhanism in action. Not everyone will necessarily find truth in the curious links that Curtis finds everywhere, but there is, undeniably, something endlessly fascinating about his personal way of making documentaries which continues to mesmerise.

Principal photography has begun in London on Lynda La Plante's Above Suspicion: Silent Scream for ITV, starring Kelly Reilly. Reilly plays rookie female detective Anna Travis in the three-part drama, which is the fourth adaptation from La Plante’s series of novels, alongside Ciaran Hinds as James Langton. The cast also includes Shaun Dingwall, Michelle Holmes, Celyn Jones and Amanda Lawrence.

James Purefoy has admitted that he was pleased to play a 'subtle' role in new ITV drama Injustice. The actor told TV Choice that he was becoming frustrated, having played a series of 'big' characters. Purefoy explained: 'I have not done anything like this for a long time. I played Mark Antony in [HBO drama] Rome, Solomon Kane [in the film of the same name], Blackbeard [in a 2006 TV movie]. Those are all big, grandstand men, this is a much more subtle part for me to play.' Purefoy, who plays criminal barrister William Travers in Injustice, added that he had noticed a 'pattern developing' in his recent roles. 'I was just getting a little bit [frustrated],' he said. 'I'm not a big fan of patterns. I like the unexpected.'

Jason Isaacs has admitted that he is 'bored senseless' by many detective dramas on television. To such an extent that he's only been and gone and taken the lead in ... wait for it ... a detective drama. The former West Wing actor will play private detective Jackson Brodie in new BBC drama Case Histories, based on the Kate Atkinson novels. 'It's more about the people and the characters,' Isaacs rationalised to TV Choice, probably after realising that his previous statement made him sound either like a hypocrite or a complete tit. Or both, simultaneously. 'Kate Atkinson who writes the books is bored senseless by the technical stuff and so am I.' He continued: 'I mean, there's a place for CSI and stuff like that, but it's much more interesting to see what people are hiding and what it shows about them.' The actor added that he was also attracted to Case Histories by the project's humorous slant. 'I wouldn't have done it if it wasn't funny,' he insisted. 'I think if you tell people there's comedy [in it], they'll be expecting to laugh out loud all the time, but there is a richly humorous vein running through it.'

Police in Bristol have arrested four people after secret filming by BBC Panorama found a pattern of serious abuse at a residential hospital. Winterbourne View treats people with learning disabilities and autism. Andrew McDonnell, a leading expert in working with adults with mental disabilities, labelled some of the examples captured on film 'torture.' The hospital's owners, Castlebeck, have apologised unreservedly and suspended thirteen employees. Avon and Somerset police confirmed that three men and one woman had been arrested as part of their ongoing investigation into the hospital. During five weeks spent filming undercover, Panorama's reporter captured footage of some of the hospital's most vulnerable patients being repeatedly pinned down, slapped, dragged into showers while fully clothed, taunted and teased. The hospital is a privately owned, purpose-built, twenty four-bed facility and is taxpayer-funded. McDonnell, a clinical psychologist who viewed the footage, told the programme that basic techniques for dealing with patients with challenging behaviour were ignored. He said he was shocked by the treatment of vulnerable patients at the hands of those charged with their care. After seeing footage of an eighteen-year-old patient named Simone being verbally abused and doused with cold water while fully clothed as a punishment, he said: 'This is not a jail. People are not here to be punished. This is a therapeutic environment. Where's the therapy in any of this? I would argue this is torture.' Simone's parents told the programme that she had told them she was being abused at the hospital, but they had assured her that it would not be allowed to happen. 'She told us, that she had been hit, her hair had been pulled and she'd been kicked - and I said no, this wouldn't happen, they're not allowed,' said the patient's mother. Professor Jim Mansell, from the University of Kent, is a government adviser on the use of physical restraint for those with developmental disabilities. From the Panorama footage it appeared that staff were 'waiting to pounce on people and restrain them,' he said. 'This is the worst kind of institutional care. It is the kind of thing that was prevalent at the end of the 1960s and that led Britain to gradually close the large, long-stay institutions,' he added. The programme decided to film secretly after being approached by a former senior nurse at the hospital who was deeply concerned about the behaviour of some of the support workers caring for patients. 'I have seen a lot over thirty five years but this I have never seen anything like this. It is the worst,' former nurse Terry Bryan told the programme. 'These are all people's sons, daughters, parents, aunties, uncles. These are all people who have got families. The families themselves do not know what goes on there.' Bryan reported his concerns to both management at Winterbourne View and to the government regulator, the Care Quality Commission, but his complaint was not taken up. Ian Biggs, regional director of the CQC for the southwest, said an opportunity to prevent abuse was missed when Bryan's complaints were not investigated. 'Had we acted at that time, as we have done now, we can act very quickly to cease that kind of treatment. We missed that chance and we are sorry for that and we're doing everything we can now to make sure we're responding properly.' The Care Quality Commission also said in a statement: 'Following an internal review, we recognise that there were indications of problems at this hospital which should have led to us taking action sooner. We apologise to those who have been let down by our failure to act more swiftly to address the appalling treatment that people at this hospital were subjected to.' Winterbourne View's owners, Castlebeck, have launched an internal investigation into their whistle-blower procedures and are reviewing the records of all of their five hundred and eighty patients in fifty six facilities. The vulnerable patients filmed by Panorama have been moved to safety and the police notified. The hospital charges taxpayers an average of three thousand five hundred pounds per patient per week and Castlebeck has an annual turnover of ninety million pounds. Chief executive Lee Reed told the programme he was 'ashamed' by what had happened. 'All I can do is unreservedly apologise to both the families and the vulnerable adults that have been involved in this and recommit to making sure this doesn't happen again,' he said. Panorama reporter Joe Casey said he was shocked by what he witnessed. 'On a near-daily basis, I watched as some of the very people entrusted with the care of society's most vulnerable targeted patients - often, it seemed, for their own amusement. They are scenes of torment that are not easily forgotten,' he said. Peter Carter, head of the Royal College of Nursing, said: 'The sickening abuse revealed in this programme is more shocking than anything we could have imagined.' The RCN said there had been 'failure' on the part of the CQC, and that the government should examine the training and regulation of healthcare assistants, as 'it cannot be right that there are no national standards for those caring for vulnerable patients.' Panorama's Undercover Care: The Abuse Exposed was broadcast on BBC1 on Tuesday 31 May.

Sarah Michelle Gellar has dropped more hints about her return to television in Ringer. The former Buffy The Vampire Slayer star told IGN that the CW drama is 'a story of redemption. It's about [personal] demons,' she explained. 'It's a story of what happens when circumstances put your life in a direction you never saw and you're trying to make amends for it, but you just keep getting deeper and deeper.' Gellar, who will play identical twin sisters Bridget and Siobhan in the series, confirmed that both characters will feature continuously. 'You will see both sisters,' she said. 'Maybe not necessarily [in] every episode or consecutively, but you will be seeing them.' Gellar previously claimed that it is 'definitely a challenge' playing the two different roles.

Joel Kinnaman has defended the pacing of AMC crime drama The Killing. The actor, who plays Detective Stephen Holder in the series, told New York Magazine that the show's relaxed pace allows it to properly examine character. Something of a radical concept in much US network drama where - good as it is, and much of it is great - it's usually based on the concept that the majority of the audience has an attention span of about seven seconds as long as things aren't blowing up. Something which also explains much US foreign policy for the last sixty odd years. Kinnaman said: 'This show is trying to tell a story about these people. I think for an American audience, when you compare it to Law & Order and [shows that are] packaged and the pacing is high, I think there's a bit of insecure patience.' He continued: 'You're not allowed to dive into depths and linger on everything [because] you're afraid they'll change the channel.' Yep, that;s about the size of it. Kinnaman's co-star Eric Laden (Jamie Wright) previously insisted that television viewers have a sufficient attention span to follow The Killing's multiple plot threads. 'I hold audiences to a much higher standard,' he said. 'I know that we're not competing for CSI's audience or Criminal Minds' audience.'

CNBC, the business and financial news broadcaster, has announced that Channel Five owner Richard Desmond is to become the next interviewee on its CNBC Meets... series. Desmond is the billionaire media tycoon behind Northern & Shell, which owns a variety of publications such as the Daily Lies, Daily Scum Express and OK magazine, as well as Portland TV - home of adult TV channels Television X and Red Hot. His public profile increased considerably last summer when he paid £103.5 million to acquire the loss-making Channel Five from European broadcasting giant RTL. On 15 June CNBC will air a rare television interview with Desmond, in which he will discuss his childhood, early business career and how he managed to become one of Britain's most successful entrepreneurs, with an estimated net worth of nine hundred and fifty million smackers. Presented by Tania Bryer, the programme will be filmed on location at the Manor House pub in North London where Desmond worked as a cloakroom boy, and at his first ever offices in London's Covent Garden. The programme will also feature Northern & Shell's printing plant and The Richard Desmond Children's Eye Centre at Moorfields Hospital. Desmond will discuss the forthcoming autumn launch of his new Health Lottery, which aims to raise 'a minimum of fifty million pounds a year' for health charities around the UK. Contributions to the programme will come from the billionaire's celebrity friends, such as Roger Daltrey and Simon Cowell.

A film advert which featured a man's head exploding and was broadcast during teen show Glee has been banned by the advertising watchdog. The Mechanic showed a 'stream of violent imagery,' the Advertising Standards Authority said. The advert for the fifteen-rated movie, starring Jason Statham, prompted thirteen viewer complaints. Film studio Lions Gate said it was unavoidable that 'sensitive' members of the public would complain. Some of the scenes which featured in the taster showed a man's leg being speared and another man being shot in the face through a window. The ASA said although two versions of the advert were broadcast after the watershed, it was likely a large number of viewers under the age of sixteen would have been watching Glee at the time. 'We considered that the ad was inappropriate for children and were therefore also concerned that a significant proportion of children had been exposed to the violent imagery,' the organisation said. The ASA ruled that both adverts should be withdrawn from transmission completely.

Benches which can 'talk' are being set up at eight beauty spots across the UK, voiced by celebrities including Stephen Fry and Miranda Hart. The National Trust project will give listeners the chance to hear five-minute monologues inspired by nature. Other famous names involved include philosopher Alain de Botton, cricket commentator David Gower, and TV presenter Claudia Whatsherface. The venues include Felbrigg Hall in Norfolk and Castle Ward, County Down. Fry, who has voiced the bench at Felbrigg Hall, said: 'To quote, or nearly quote, WH Davies, "What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?" I am very proud to be associated with a bench and I hope I provide comfort, balm and solace for many a weary bottom.' Fry will be heard relaying tales of filming A Cock and Bull Story at Felbrigg, while sitcom star Hart will speak about how her love for the outdoors was re-ignited on a recent charity bicycle ride from John O'Groats to Land's End. The benches have taken more than six months to make and each one is engraved with three words their celebrity has used to describe their setting. The other venues are Cragside in Northumberland, Quarry Mill Bank in Cheshire, Petworth House and Park, West Sussex, Cotehele in Cornwall, Derbyshire's Calke Abbey and Dinefwr Park and Castle, Carmarthenshire.

The latest Keith Telly Topping's 45 of the Day is a good ol' boy rebel-song about beer and whisky and 'the pub where I was born.' It sounds like it should have been written in the 1930s in some Christfersaken Dublin bar room dive by a man with tuberculosis and sung by yer dad at family funerals. But, it was actually composed by an Old Westminster (for such they are called) in London in 1985. Begorrah, bejesus. It's also one of yer actual Keith Telly Topping's absolute favourite songs to bellow, utterly tunelessly, on the very odd occasions these days when he's had a jar or two and feels the need to burst into song. It's not a pretty sight, dear blog reader, trust me. Introduce us, Mr Kershaw.
And, if you get the twelve inch single there's fantastic versions of 'The Wild Rover' and 'The Leaving of Liverpool' on the b-side, an'all!

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