October 25, 2011 | Graham

Occupy – a vacant lot

If a field full of Irishmen is called a Paddy field, what do you call a field full of Australians? A vacant lot. Boom boom. It’s an old joke and it’s what comes to mind when I see reporting of Occupy Melbourne, or Occupy Sydney, or Occupy Wherever.

They’ve had over a week to work out what they want and they’re completely vacant – bereft of a viable idea between the lot of them.

In fact, I suspect there is no development potential there at all.

If you want to understand how important Occupy really is, then check out the crowds gathering to see this old Dame, er Queen, versus the hundreds who’ve been gathering in Martin Place. I bet Sunrise gets more people gathering outside the windows of their Martin Place set hoping to get on camera day in and day out, than turn-out for Occupy.

Not that Occupy doesn’t perform a useful function. They are helping to bolster the popularity of the recently elected Victorian and New South Wales governments. Law and order plays pretty well in the outer suburbs, particularly when played out as our uniformed best beating up on our uninformed worst, or better yet members of Socialist Alliance.

And it gave the panellists on Q&A something to talk about last night, although why they should choose to discuss this crowd when the aforementioned Octagenarian constitutional superstar was pulling infinitely more is a mystery best explained by their producers, and possibly a yearning for the Vietnam protest movement when protesters did know what they wanted, and there was more of a life and death matter involved.

Not that there aren’t problems with capitalism at the moment.

I’m not sure how bad they are because the historical record is a bit short for meaningful comparisons, but there has developed a sort of crony capitalism where paid professional managers arrogate to themselves the rewards and privileges of ownership without any of the risks via unsupportably high salaries coupled with a share of the profits.

The US bailout of their banks and the subsequent recapitalisation of the bank executives is the most stunning example of this.

Should this matter to society if the returns are there? Possibly not. A recent survey by Credit Suisse International shows Australia to be the second richest country in the world after Switzerland judged on average wealth, and the richest judged on median wealth (which must mean our Gini co-efficient is better than the Swiss one).

Australia is a leader in the world in following the advice of “neoliberal” economics, so perhaps we are the dataset that says that Occupy is fretting about nothing. It’s certainly a long way from the days of the 70s protests when Australia was increasingly looking like the white trash of Asia, and with a report card to match.

Perhaps it’s time for the vacant lot to vacate and go and do some hard research. What seems obvious isn’t always right, and what is right isn’t always obvious, which is a hard lesson to learn when you’re sleeping out rough for no good reason.

Posted by Graham at 6:37 am | Comments (28) |


  1. the lack of ideas is fairly simply explained. they are finally waking up to the fact that their revolutionary ideas have been as popular “dog turd on the soles of your shoes” for at least half a century. the proletariat want a good job/career, life etc, not a dictatorship of any kind.

    they are however stuck in the “denial is not a river in Egypt” stage, incapable yet of bringing themselves to say communazism bad, capitalism good.

    Comment by formersnag — October 25, 2011 @ 10:45 am

  2. The lie that the protestors are not protesting about anything can only be perpetuated with deliberate ignorance or assistance from the corporate media.

    Highly suggest the excellent commentary over on the Drum site where this tripe is also being aired. It would appear either no one reads this blog or the comments are moderated excessively. Compare this one positive response to the torrent of reasoned criticism on the Drum:


    For example from John K W Ashton :

    25 Oct 2011 1:44:20pm
    “…Australia to be the second richest in the world…”

    Graham Young’s inference is that we have nothing to complain about and assumes, like a neo liberal would, that we should only whinge when it’s all about me, me, me.

    These protesters are taking less parochial overview and commenting about the state of the world, yes, I know, selflessness is both highly unfashionable and in Australia, well, Un-Australian.

    It is actually neo-liberal economics which gives obscene tax breaks to the rich, deregulates economies (See GFC, 2008), deregulates EPA’s (see Deepwater Horizon BP, Niger Delta, Shell Oil) strips rainforests, parties on with third world dictators, privatises essential services.

    This can be summarised as an overall contempt for democracy.

    What part didn’t you get?

    Comment by Sean Bozkewycz — October 25, 2011 @ 2:55 pm

  3. “It is difficult,” Upton Sinclair famously pointed out, “to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

    Or try this, thankfully, also on the Drum:


    Comment by Sean Bozkewycz — October 25, 2011 @ 3:01 pm

  4. So they’re protesting that human’s are selfish? So where does that get you exactly? We’ve had a couple of million years of that. And what do you expect anyone to do about it?

    Comment by Graham Young — October 25, 2011 @ 3:19 pm

  5. Only humans excused of their individual morality by the corporate/government identity are quite this ruthless. I repeat:

    ‘gives obscene tax breaks to the rich, deregulates economies (See GFC, 2008), deregulates EPA’s (see Deepwater Horizon BP, Niger Delta, Shell Oil) strips rainforests, parties on with third world dictators, privatises essential services.’

    All these symptoms have a common cause. Money and the pursuit of power by those unanswerable to the people.

    Let’s imagine for a second that all the issues raised by the Global Occupation boil down to selfish humans. Where does that get us? Ready to deal with the selfish humans who are in charge illegitimately – through a farcical ‘democracy’ propped up by a subservient mass media and big business bucks.

    There is a point to be made about the tragedy of the commons here but you miss it entirely. Humans will be quick to take an advantage if they believe someone else will simply take their place should they opt out. However if we all get together to make sensible decisions about our resources, only the crooks will attempt to take the morally dubious prize.

    Comment by Sean Bozkewycz — October 25, 2011 @ 4:20 pm

  6. But Graham, you’re based in “Wherever” (aka Brisbane), aren’t you?

    Why not go down and spend a couple of hours, or are you too busy>

    Or maybe you have, but decline to admit it.

    Like any aggregation of people, it will range from the vacuous and self-absorbed, through the intelligent and compassionate. And you can choose how to spend your time.

    One rather abstracted statement of the global problem being confronted can be found at:


    I for one am interested to see what comes of OccupyBrisbane and other like events.

    Comment by R Rands — October 25, 2011 @ 4:54 pm

  7. This is all about creating increases in our productivity as debt.In 1976 our total debt was 3% of GDP.In 2008 it was 53% of GDP.We started selling of Govt banks in the 1980’s We have sold off 4 state banks + the enormous Commonwealth that created some of our new money debt free.We borrow 30% of our mortgage money from OS banks.Why can we not create our own money to equal increases in GDP + inflation free of foreign debt?

    These protestors have legitimate reasons for dissent.Our Govts have allowed the corporate world to enslave them illegally in debt.Private banks should not be allowed to express increases in our toil and inflation as debt.If we did it as individuals,we would be gaoled for counterfeiting.

    Comment by Ross — October 25, 2011 @ 6:25 pm

  8. […] economics, so perhaps we are the dataset that says that Occupy is fretting about nothing", writes Graham Young at Ambit Gambit. Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. This entry was posted in News digest. Bookmark the […]

    Pingback by News digest – Wednesday 26 October 2011 | CSSA news & research — October 26, 2011 @ 6:53 am

  9. Hi Graham,

    Perhaps this might explain some of it to you.


    I’m also curious how you propose to change the world before you critisise those who are trying to do it.

    Two questions.

    1. Do you think the present system as is is fair?
    2. Do you think ther present system needs changing?

    If you answered “no” to the first question and “yes” to the second, then you agree with the Occupy Movement.

    Thomas Brookes

    Comment by Thomas Brookes — October 26, 2011 @ 10:17 am

  10. Thanks for the link Thomas Brookes.The Brisbane Police were far more tolerant.Melbourne and Sydney were quite violent.I don’t think the Reserve Bank likes this spotlight on them.They are trying to nip it the bud since their power base is being seriously threatened.

    At the very least the RBA should be creating all our inflationary money debt free.This is over $ 50 billion pa.Julia would not have to then borrow from China and our taxes could be lower.

    Comment by Ross — October 26, 2011 @ 12:32 pm

  11. Thanks for the link Thomas. I just checked out the first blog post on the Change Brisbane site and I think it makes my point for me pretty well. There are a number of suggestions there sourced from participants of what they think the protests should be about. Many of them completely contradict others, not on detail alone, but in terms of world view.The chances of there being a genuine consensus are zero.

    Do I think the present system is fair? Not perfectly fair, but fairer than any previously in the history of the world, and I think pretty close to optimal.

    I think the present system substantially needs defending, not changing. One of the problems with humanity is that we are always wanting to tinker, and not necessarily in good ways.

    Not that I’d do away with tinkering all together – you do need to trim sails from time to time, and I do have some issues with various forms of unnecessary regulation and misallocation of public money, but generally speaking the Australia of the first decade of the 21st Century was and is doing pretty well.

    Comment by Graham Young — October 26, 2011 @ 2:43 pm

  12. http://www.mailstar.net/xTrots.html “occupy brisbane” anywhere, creating australian poverty & introducing globalisation to the land of OZ, yesterday.

    Comment by formersnag — October 26, 2011 @ 3:00 pm

  13. Graham,

    Yeah sure, Australia is the second wealthiest country in the world–until the real estate asset bubble bursts and wipes out the middle class and its median ‘wealth’. I wonder how much of Switzerland’s wealth is in real estate, rather than productive assets.

    Actually, Switzerland scores better on the UN’s Gini.


    Comment by Russell W — October 26, 2011 @ 4:06 pm

  14. occupy brisbane & anywhere creating poverty & globalisation tomorow http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZgXeewXYbJU&feature=relmfu more derivatives trading aimed at stealing your money

    Comment by formersnag — October 26, 2011 @ 4:14 pm

  15. Hi Russell,

    I instanced the Credit Suisse report because it was the latest. Other league tables of international wealth show Australia in a pretty good light though, and much better than we were doing 30 years ago, so it doesn’t affect my main point which is that by implementing liberal economic principles such as freeing up markets and exchange rates, we have done pretty well.

    There are weaknesses in the CS report in that it relies on market exchange rates, and factors in a real estate price that is historically high, but any study will have methodological weaknesses. High real estate prices and a high currency tell you something about how the rest of the world views us.

    On the Wikipedia page you reference the CIA Gini co-efficient is better for Australian than Switzerland, so again methodological differences play a part. Not that the Gini co-efficient is the be-all and the end-all as it assumes more equal wealth is better than less equal wealth, which is not a given.

    However, when you do look at the table you see that the higher (less desirable according to the co-efficient theory) Gini co-efficients are more likely to be associated with third world developing countries than first world liberal economies. As the Occupy critique appears to be that our system leads to inequality, one has to ask what system they propose to substitute for it that is demonstrated to do better.

    Comment by Graham Young — October 27, 2011 @ 10:25 am

  16. Graham,

    I’d certainly agree with your comments in regard to the ‘Occupiers’,the entire circus seems rather derivative and irrelevant to Australia’s real economic problems. They should direct their anger at our generally third-rate industrialists.

    I don’t agree with your optimism in regard to the Australian economy,it’s been described as ‘amazingly primitive’ for a developed nation.

    Australia hasn’t really made significant progress in reducing its reliance on commodity exports,unlike Canada.

    ‘High real estate prices and a high currency tell you something about how the rest of the world views us.’

    Yes,but it’s the view of the international financial sector. Australia’s international rankings in competition and growth potential present a totally different view.

    Comment by Russell W — October 27, 2011 @ 1:28 pm

  17. Is it all about how the economists see us? Those people who assume infinite resources and unlimited growth in their models? (try and build a television, or a bicycle, for that matter, with theory that “robust”).

    Ben Elton comments, in New Matilda:

    “…the systemic issues that the Occupy protests have identified remain endemic in Australian society; indeed, in the structure of the global economy itself. The trends driving increased poverty and inequality in supposedly wealthy western nations are international and long-standing, and protests about them can’t be wished away as meaningless agitprop without a wilful blindness to the economic trends of the past three decades. These trends include rapid globalisation, footloose capital, vast increases in consumer and household debt, and widening income inequality driven by unprecedented and unjustified rewards for those — like bankers and CEOs — at the top of the economic pyramid.”


    Comment by R Rands — October 27, 2011 @ 2:03 pm

  18. If you all want to know the truth then see http://secretofoz.com/ When L Frank Baum wrote ‘Wizard of Oz ” back in the late 1890’s he intended real economic meaning in his book.1873 was known as the crime of ’73 since this was the yr the Elites of the UK and USA replaced the cheaper silver money in the US economy with their gold money.The result was that 80% of currency was taken from the economy.Since the elites had all the gold,they took possession of most of the wealth.

    In the book Dorothy had silver slippers and not the ruby ones worn by Judy Garland in the movie.The Tin Woodman represented factory worker who needed oil or the liquidity of money to move.The Scarecrow represented the farmer who in all reality knew how an economy worked.The Cowardly Lion represented William Jennings Brian the champion of the silver movement whom Brian championed in his quest to become the next US president.The wicked witches of the East and West,represented JP Morgan and JD Rockerfeller,the two major banks of that era.

    To defeat the wicked witches all Dorothy had to do was to click her sliver slippers 3 times.She did not know she had to power to create from nothing,the increases in her own toil just like the evil witches who were enslaving them on the yellow brick road of financial slavery.

    Comment by Ross — October 27, 2011 @ 8:39 pm

  19. Correction.It was L Frank Baum who championed William Jennings Brian in his quest to become the next president of the USA.The elites won and Dorothy awoke to the reality of the missing silver slippers.

    We are missing our magical sliver slippers today.We are drowning in a sea of debt.

    Comment by Ross — October 27, 2011 @ 8:45 pm

  20. Occupy Wall Street Tactics applied to a meeting of the NYC Department of Education.


    These activists get it, what #OWS is all about. Maybe the Chancellor gets it too, but his job is to enact policy.

    That he chose to end the meeting, rather than accomodate the audience activism, suggests to me that the meeting he chairs is in fact nothing more than procedural window-dressing.

    I wonder how big the audience would have been if it had not included the #ONYCDoE crowd.

    Had the meeting taken its normal course, I wonder what would have been accomplished on behalf of students, teachers and parents, beyond the ticking of a box, in an office somewhere, showing that “public consultation” had taken place.

    Comment by R Rands — October 28, 2011 @ 6:38 am

  21. Ben Elton’s rant is essentially content free. He rails about a world he imagines exists without checking to see whether facts support his case. Inequality is less in our current society than it has been in the past.

    As for the Occupy Flash Mob in the NYC Department of Education, what a bunch of jerks. They closed the meeting down so that it achieved nothing. If they continue to behave like that I imagine that public consultation will cease altogether.

    And imagine setting that little girl up to read out someone else’s words. For someone whose education is allegedly “sub-standard” she’s pretty well-educated, but I doubt whether they were her words.

    Comment by Graham Young — October 28, 2011 @ 10:36 am

  22. Dear Graham,

    You write
    “Ben Elton’s rant is essentially content free. He rails about a world he imagines exists without checking to see whether facts support his case. Inequality is less in our current society than it has been in the past.”

    Harsh words, Graham. Can you identify those words of Ben’s which clearly do not support his case?

    and you write
    “As for the Occupy Flash Mob in the NYC Department of Education, what a bunch of jerks. They closed the meeting down so that it achieved nothing. If they continue to behave like that I imagine that public consultation will cease altogether.”

    Graham, These consultations will very likely continue. Maybe the next one(s) will ask for an RSVP, from a carefully filtered list of candidates for tickabox consultations. Maybe the meeting will have one or two well-dressed young assistants, roaming the audience with a microphone, to assure that audience participants’ voices are electronically amplified. With no need for a primitive, tribal MIC CHECK!

    The participants’ words will have (in my antipodean estimation) about as much effect on the demolition of New York’s public education system as yours, or mine, or Ben Elton’s. And The Chancellor will be able to tick his box. (Procedures like this, to enact policies like those, also go on in Hobart, the southernmost city of the Antipodes, and elsewhere on our island). Ad hominem dismissals will change nothing.

    Perhaps Rupert Murdoch’s opinion of the New York State school system will be influential. See his WSJ OpEd of 15 October, “The Steve Jobs Model for Education Reform” http://on.wsj.com/oS3jSl

    You finish by writing
    “And imagine setting that little girl up to read out someone else’s words. For someone whose education is allegedly “sub-standard” she’s pretty well-educated, but I doubt whether they were her words.”

    Are you sure they’re someone else’s words, or are they just someone else’s ideas? I’m willing to forgive her for putting someone else’s ideas into her own words. That’s what intelligent children are expected to do, at home and at school (standard or substandard), and in preparation for a life of remunerative productivity. As for putting one’s own ideas into words, music sculpture or other action, there’s always some critic can be found to call one’s creations derivative. And if they are truly original, then there’s every chance that one is less of a genius than an oddity.

    Graham, are you sure you’re not overreacting?

    Comment by R Rands — October 28, 2011 @ 12:29 pm

  23. It’s not ad hominem to attack people’s behaviour when behaviour is what is at stake. What those people did in the school board meeting was wrong and they are jerks. Involving kids in their behaviour is reprehensible.

    I gave you reasons why Elton’s rant was content free. We are not living in times of particular inequality, and in fact all Australians enjoy an unprecedented level of wealth.

    Contra Elton in 1950 the top 10% of the income distribution had 31.53% of total income, the top 5% 25.56% and the top 1% 14.13%. The relevant figures for 2007 (the latest year I have) are 31.51%, 21.61% and 9.84%.

    What you see over roughly the last 100 years is that Australian income inequality has fluctuated around the same sorts of figures as they do now. The lowest figure for the top 10% was 23.99 in 1957 and the highest 34.61 in 1941.

    Over the period since 1941 the income of the poorest Australians has increased just over three times.

    Comment by Graham Young — October 29, 2011 @ 11:43 am

  24. Graham, your argument regarding what is and what is not “ad hominem” is unconvincing to me. Behaviour is always at stake. Writing and talking are behaviour, and your argument justifies (IMHO) poor manners on blogs and in comments such as these.

    If you explain your opinion of the negative consequences of given behaviour of the OWS DYDoE meeting, well and good, but if you explain and/or-just call the disruptive protesters jerks, then you are attacking the people, not the behaviour.

    It may be that you believe those people ought to be attacked, but is name-calling (especially from here in the antipodes) going to break any bones?

    Here is another guerilla non-violent civil disobedience for you to consider (NYC 13 October 2011).
    Are these people “jerks” as well?

    Auctioneer: Stop All The Sales Right Now!


    Comment by R Rands — October 31, 2011 @ 10:54 am

  25. R Rands, ad hominem is a logical fallacy which, according to Wikipedia involves “An ad hominem (Latin for “to the man” or “to the person”), short for argumentum ad hominem, is an attempt to negate the truth of a claim by pointing out a negative characteristic or belief of the person supporting it.”

    I did not try to negate the truth of any of their claims because they are jerks. I drew the conclusion that they are jerks from the paucity of their logic.

    In fact you are using a variation of the fallacy as you are attacking my argument on the basis that I am “name calling”. You need to deal with my argument, not try to portray me as rude and therefore unreliable.

    Comment by Graham Young — November 2, 2011 @ 9:40 pm

  26. Ok then, Graham, I’ll put it another way. Calling the MIC CHECK demonstraters who interrupted the NY Dept of Education Panel for Education Policy meeting “jerks” is at best gratuitous and at worst diverting.

    You are grossly labelling a whole group of people, each of whom has individual motives for agreeing by consensus on a common action, and carrying out the action in a disciplined fashion.

    You may be willing to admit that, if you had chosen another word than “jerks” (and I am not saying you even thought of any other words), then you might have been politically incorrect, or worse. Those quotation marks around the label are like an underscore line that shows a blank in a sentence to be completed. But the name is never the thing named, and names that summarise personal opinion are even more awkwardly applied to groups of people than to individuals.

    Your complaint seems to be that these people are disrupting the meeting, and the act threatens the future of the PEP conducting further public consultations.

    Never mind what I think of the meeting, what I guess of the efficacy of the consultations, the expression of policy, the efficacy of the policy.

    (Which is to say, ignore this parenthetical remark: to me, the MIC CHECK crowd is effectively demonstrating that “the emperor has no clothes”.

    My opinion rests on the fact that the meeting is abruptly adjourned (and I have seen ALP and other meetings adjourned the same way, when people made demands of the executive which they refused to deal with except by applying a guillotine with the available rules of order and running away. The Chancellor adjourned instead of attempting to accommodate the MIC CHECK pressure group at the meeting, attempting to register and record their questions, statements or demands). Of course such demands aren’t always reasonable, but the demonstrators said nothing, recorded in the video, that I considered unreasonable, except on the assumption that talking out of turn made their words unreasonable, regardless of what they said or might have said.

    If these demonstrators are instead assumed on the face of the evidence to be “reasonable people”, then they might be accommodated within the meeting structure, at the least by giving them acknowldgement and putting them somewhere on the meeting agenda (as, say an extraordinary item of business, to be dealt with at the end of the meeting).

    IMHO, the Chancellor and his mob are choosing to avoid a dialogue. I don’t know whether they are constrained by their policies or whether they responded irrationally to the challenge with their own pattern of collective behaviour as “the executive tribe” (or however one might label them as individually rational people reacting dysfunctionally, as a group, to a perceived threat).

    Graham, what is missing from the logic of the MIC CHECK crew, so that you say it is isufficient? You only say that “They closed the meeting down so that it achieved nothing.” .

    The demonstrators did not close the meeting down. They interrupted the meeting. After about two minutes of Human Microphone, the meeting executive chose to close the meeting down, for their own reasons, which are not clear to me (did someone leave the cake out in the rain?).

    I would say most Australian politicians would respond differently to the challenge of an organised faction at a meeting, at least the first time they were confronted. The Chancellor’s reaction to the situation suggests to me that not only is he an appointed official, he has no political or public speaking experience that he can draw on for the occasion.

    I would say what the Chancellor and his retinue did was weak, but I would never call them jerks. I think the Chancellor handled the radio reporter poorly, but what’s the point of calling him a jerk, even though his behaviour was pretty jerky?

    Here is an address for the demonstrators:

    Here is an address for Chancellor Walcott:

    I expect there are at least two sides to the story of the New York Panel for Education Policy, which evidently has replaced the New York Board of Education in New York City, and you may be able to satisfy your curiosity without using either of the above addresses.

    Comment by R Rands — November 6, 2011 @ 12:45 am

  27. R Rands, that is an extremely long post and I’m not going to even attempt to answer all of it.

    It doesn’t matter what they might be in other contexts, in this context they are jerks. It is important to name anti-social behaviour for what it is.

    If they wanted to exercise their right to protest they would have picketed the place, not shut the meeting down.

    It was a meeting set down for consultation. There was no need for them to do what they were doing and show no signs of stopping.

    If those people did that in our parliament they would have been forcibly removed, as right-wing protestors were recently. This meeting didn’t have the same coercive powers available to them so they adjourned. That’s what any sensible chairman would have done.

    If people want to behave like Brown Shirts then they are jerks. This is not an ad hominem attack, it is a rational assessment of them based on their behaviour. It is not democratic behaviour, it is anti-democratic behaviour.

    Comment by Graham — November 7, 2011 @ 11:08 pm

  28. Dear Graham,

    It is true, if the Occupiers had been in a courtroom or in Parliament, they would hae been removed.

    It is also true that their rudeness, their insousiance, their intrusive behaviour on the Human Microphone lasted for about 2 minutes, but in a courtroom or a Parliament (not to mention other solomn places), their behaviour could have resulted in criminal charges, and in a worse place, perhaps further consequences. They were fortunate not have stumbled onto the Queen of Hearts’ Croquet Ground.

    And I will grant you your argument on logical incorrectness of arguing that naming the demonstrators, collectively,”jerks”, is ‘ad hominem”. I am not an expert polemicist (I wasn’t sure this was the word I wanted, but not even my Oxford Thesaurus could offer me some other word, so it will have to do). Perhaps someone with shinier armor and a more unerring lance can take up the challenge if I have conceded a point that should instead be championed.

    As for the occupiers behaving like Brown Shirts, there were no sticks or stones or fisticuffs. They didn’t even sing “Edelweiss” (let alone other top hits of a bygone era). Nor did they behave like the Oakland black block anarchists did last week, after the General Strike that shut down the Port of Oakland: people who IMHO should be left entirely at the mercy of the Oakland Police Department, with its long history and vestigial pockets remaining, of an entrenched culture of poor community relations.

    I can only say in their defence that the ones who did not want to act like Brown Shirts should not be thrown into the same kettle as those who secretly may have. As for whether the Occupiers’ behaviour was antidemocratic: in my opinion, it was no more anti-democratic than ending the meeting without even giving them enough polemic rope to hang themselves properly, through a minuted dialogue, however brief.

    I appreciate that you can’t address every point I raise; and vice versa. I agree, this can’t go on forever. We will simply have to agree to disagree, if you are agreeable to that.

    Comment by R Rands — November 8, 2011 @ 9:17 am

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