Excerpts from Officious

Excerpts from Officious: the rise of the busybody state by Josie Appleton.

The Ban:

The red sign with a slash-through line has come to define the character of public spaces. The entrance of every public space is announced with large red signs saying what cannot be done within it: no smoking on the platform, no hoodies, no helmets, no cycling. The character of public space is given by its specific menu of restrictions, the things that cannot be done.

The meaning of the ban is legislation as mere restriction. It is legislation that creates a slash through social life, which puts up a barrier and says merely, ‘this cannot be done’. This is not legislation that seeks to provide services, or organise social life on a more rational basis: it is the creation of a no-go zone.

The ban is the embodiment of an interfering, disapproving authority, which finds its raison d’être in interfering in other people’s habits. The officious officer will look out of their window at children skateboarding or playing in the fountain, and think: they shouldn’t be doing that. The following week a sign will appear: no skateboarding, no bathing in the fountain. Over time an increasing number of activities will be added.

It is through this sort of restriction that the officious state defines itself and makes its presence felt. For the officious state, there is rarely a good reason not to ban things, and lifestyle bans are posed as the answer to every social problem and ethical failing. If young people are being disrespectful the answer is to ban them from spitting or wearing hoods or low-slung trousers. If there are street alcoholics. the answer is to ban them from entering the park or to ban drinking in public.

Here the banning of a habit – the symbol or emblem of social problems – becomes the primary way in which the state can affect society, and replaces substantive interventions. The ban becomes a public service.

Increasingly, the lifestyle ban defines state authority. One of the few things that a politician can do at a stroke is to ban something or other, which is why a ban is often the first act of a new regime or government. The first act of the London mayor Boris Johnson was to ban drinking on the Tube, a benign habit that had been largely restricted to tired commuters and snoozy drunks. The role of the ban was not to deal with a social problem, but to announce the new regime, to at a stroke effect a change in the life of the city.

This ideological role explains the excessive passion with which politicians propose bans on some minor habit or practice. Various smoking bans have been described as ‘making history’; councillors seeking bans on spitting are gripped by an ecumenical zeal. The parliamentary houses of France and Belgium pulled out all rhetorical flourishes to bring through bans on burqas. In particular. the Belgian government was in a state of dissolution, all lawmaking had ceased, yet politicians managed to come together for an emergency session to prohibit this rare form of women’s headwear.

It is through lifestyle prohibition that the state can make its own statement of values. And so French republicanism is increasingly defined against the burqa, without which perhaps it would lose all definition. The Spanish state of Catalonia banned both bullfighting, the habit associated with the rule of Madrid, and the burqa, associated with Muslim immigrants. So the Catalonian principle is defined: non-Madrid, and non-Islam. By prohibiting the cultural practices of others one makes one’s own statement of principle.

The ban, therefore, bears the weight of state ideological definition and legislative capacity. The ban doesn’t reflect society but serves ideological needs intrinsic to the state or those in authority…


Security cameras would have once been restricted to private property, facing outwards to guard against incursions along with the wire and the guard dogs. If there were cameras it meant you were not supposed to be there.

Now cameras define public spaces; they are facing across squares, on buses, in public buildings or restaurants. When a new public square is built the cameras are put in along with the benches and streetlights. Now if there are no cameras, you are not supposed to be there; if there are no cameras you must be in a no-man’s land or wasteland, an unsafe and shadowy space. Public space has come to mean surveyed space.

Unwatched spaces are seen as disorderly and a threat to public order: if there is no camera then anything could happen….

…it is only if they are being watched, apparently, that people will treat each other well. Ethics originates from the restraining presence of the third eye, without which it would be all against all.


Stasi surveillance was obsessed with people’s activities and associations: what they had done and with whom. Now the citizen is categorised as a bare life form, as fingerprints, DNA, irises, face shapes….

A belief in the primacy of the paper world is characteristic of estranged bureaucracies that seem to generate policy out of themselves. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s novel The First Circle describes how Stalinist elites were more concerned with whether an event was recorded ‘on paper’ than whether it actually happened. The secret police would get to know somebody ‘by their files’ before they got to know them in person: the person would be interpreted through their files and not the other way around.

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Bandeirantes Beach

I’m a model builder. I build models of all sorts of things. And over the last 20 or so years I’ve slowly built a model – a computer simulation model – of the solar system, with all the planets going round in their orbits. It has Newton’s Laws of Motion and Gravitation built into it, and also, when necessary, Hooke’s Law of elasticity.

This model, and other similar models that I have built, serve to shape the way I think about not just the motion of the planets, but everything else as well, including human life. For we humans can no more contravene the laws of motion and gravitation than any rock in orbit around the Sun.

And so, when I recently constructed a model of the Earth’s atmosphere as set of bubbles of air rolling across the surface of the Earth, and bouncing off each other, I couldn’t help but think that the motion of human life upon the surface of the Earth was essentially no different. We are all either “getting along together” and going in roughly the same direction, or we are colliding with each other, and bouncing off in all directions, sometimes at high speed.

And I see things like smoking bans, which “exile people to the outdoors”,  as forces which act to expel them from society, and set them rolling across the surface of the Earth. But, because I see them as being in motion on the surface of a sphere, I also see them as bound to circle back to the place where they started, just like rocks thrown upwards sooner or later come back down. And so it seems to me that, if smoking bans are seen as powerful explosive efforts to expel smokers from society, the smokers are sooner or later bound to come back, even if they must roll all the way round the Earth (or all the way round the Sun) before they return.

And so it seems to me to be inevitable that, in the fullness of time, the efforts of the antismokers in Tobacco Control will be completely undone, and Tobacco Control will be utterly destroyed, and its antismokers scattered across the surface of the Earth just like they once scattered the smokers.

For there is a certain equity built into the universe, such that there is always an equal and opposite reaction to any action, and both energy and momentum are always conserved, in a continually unfolding process.

The antismokers in Tobacco Control seem not to see the world as a process, but as something fixed. They believe that, if they could just once manage to ban smoking everywhere in the world, they could thereby change the whole world forever. But the world, and everything upon it and around it, is always in motion. It cannot be fixed forever in one place.

Either that, or they are model builders who think that they can stop the world, make a few changes to it, and then restart the model. But the world is not the same as a some computer simulation model that can be stopped and restarted and re-run. The world never stops. Not once, not even for a fraction of a second.

The antismokers remind me of myself, at the age of 14, building dams on beaches to hold back the rising tide. It worked for a while. I could keep the spot where I stood seawater-free for quite a long time. But the dam had to be continually extended and raised. Eventually, it became a circular dam all around me, and I was working frenetically to keep it repaired. The end always came very suddenly, and usually from behind me, as a wall of water surged over the dam, reducing it in seconds to a sodden low mound of sand.

It will be much the same for the antismokers. Already, they are having to redouble their efforts, to keep out not just smoke, but completely unexpected vapour from new vaping devices. They are having to work harder and harder to keep their bans in place. They’ll manage for a while, just like I managed on Bandeirantes beach near Rio de Janeiro. And the end, when it comes, will most likely be very sudden, as they realise that all their efforts have come to nought.

Anywhere, here’s a little video I made of my simulation model last night. I spent a long time improving the islands in the Sumatran archipelago, and enlarging Hawaii and Samoa and the Galapagos islands, and adding new lakes in Siberia and Mongolia, as well as editing and correcting the coastline of China. You can do this sort of thing with a computer model. But you can’t do it with the real world.


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Where Does The Rage Go?

…was the question Nick Clegg asked.

“The long-term worry about populism is where does the rage go when people see the populist they invested so much hope in, is not delivering?” he said.

“Better jobs, income, security – The worry is it just goes to even more extreme populists, who come up with even more implausible solutions.

Remember Nick Clegg? He was the Lib Dem leader when I stopped voting for them. Or maybe it was the Scottish guy who voted for the smoking ban, and then got caught smoking on a train. I can’t remember, to be honest. I don’t even know who the current Lib Dem leader is. Nor do I really want to know.

Because I stopped voting Lib Dem when practically every single Lib Dem in parliament voted for the smoking ban. Once they all did that, they seemed to me to have ceased to be either “liberal” or “democratic.” And I ceased to have any interest in any of them. This is the first time in about 5 years that I’ve heard Clegg talk .

The “rage”, for me at least, was rage at the smoking ban. And it still is. And the sort of populist that I want to see is the one who’ll repeal the smoking ban. Someone who smokes and drinks and laughs. Someone like Nigel Farage:


I don’t want “better jobs, income, and security.” I just want our pubs back.

But Nick Clegg can’t see that. And, what’s more, he never will see that.

Moving onto the European Union, he continued: “Of course, I very, very much hope that Marine Le Pen won’t win because I don’t believe pulling apart the eurozone or European Union is remotely the answer for the many ardent supporters who believe Marine Le Pen is going a new panacea for them.”

Ms Le Pen has extended her lead as the country’s most popular single candidate to five points, according to an ifop survey released on Thursday.

I’m sure that the attraction of Marine Le Pen for many French people is that she’s a smoker. Perhaps she likes a Pernod or two as well. She’s a French Nigel Farage, in that respect at least. And she’ll give them back their smoky little brasseries.


Nick Clegg is worried that the EU will disintegrate. And so is Martin Schulz.

THE EU could “fall apart” once Britain leaves the EU, former Brussels chief Martin Schulz has admitted.

They all seem to suddenly be worried about the future of the EU, given the upsurge of “populism.”

Who are all these “populists”? Isn’t it odd that most of these “populists” seem to be smokers? Geert Wilders is another one:


There are some 150 million smokers in the EU, most of them suffering from smoking bans of one kind or other. And they’re all enraged, and looking to fellow smokers to represent them, and they’re finding them in the likes of Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen, and Geert Wilders. And their rage will only end when they get back their pubs and brasseries and cantinas.

But Nick Clegg will never see this. Nor will Martin Schulz. They are completely incapable. They’re blind. And so are all the rest of the great and the good, as they gaze in bewilderment at the rising tide of an incomprehensible “populism.”

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The Other Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming

A month or so back I showed a video of my bubble model of the atmosphere, which had bubbles of air rolling over the surface of the earth, and bouncing off each other. I was particularly pleased that the air bubbles gradually started moving faster and faster, and ‘boiling off’ into outer space: Global Warming!

But watching the video a bit more recently, it struck me that it could just as easily have been a political model of the world, with human players roaming over its surface, and colliding with each other. With a wave of migrants currently moving from south to north, we are perhaps seeing one of those times when there are large movements of peoples. It was a wave of such migrants from east to west, in the form of Huns, Vandals, and Goths, which submerged the Roman empire circa 500 AD. The rise of Islam, not long after, saw another wave of invasion and conquest sweeping through the Middle East and north Africa into Spain. And the European colonisation of the world from 1500 AD onwards was another migration outwards from Portugal, Spain, Britain, France, and Holland all over the world, and in its wake brought counter-migrations of slaves from Africa into the Americas, and finally a wave of decolonisation: the Ceylonese tea-planter whose story I recounted yesterday had returned to England by the time he told his story.

For a while there are periods of uneasy, frozen stasis, when the map of the world doesn’t change very much, but sooner or later the tectonic plates start moving again, with political earthquakes and volcanic eruptions in all sorts of surprising places.

Brexit was one of those political earthquakes, and Trump was a volcanic eruption. They were both the consequence of political forces that had been building up for a long time. The immensely fragile EU has only been in existence for about 50 years – the blink of an eye in historical terms -, and is already showing signs of incipient disintegration as centrifugal forces on its periphery act to spin member states out of it. First Britain and Brexit. Most likely, sooner or later, Greece and Grexit. And then Pexit, Spexit, Itexit, and maybe even Frexit. The political landscape, frozen for 50 years or more, is liquefying.

But all these large-scale political processes are ultimately being driven by the people in all these places – the people who are little bubbles of air rolling around, bumping into each other.

I am myself one of those little bubbles, and in recent years I’ve been bumping into other people a lot more than I ever used to. For many years I enjoyed a quiet, placid existence in the English provincial town of Bristol, where I had a wide circle of friends, some of whom I had known for 30 years or more. But over the past 10 or 15 years, a variety of forces have acted upon me to exile me from that tranquil backwater.

The most powerful of these forces was the UK smoking ban, which struck like a hurricane on 1 July 2007, and tore apart my circle of friends. In the first place, it left nowhere to meet up with them, because I nearly always met up with them in pubs or cafes or restaurants in which smoking was now banned. And in the second place, it divided people into warring smokers and antismokers – categories which hadn’t really existed beforehand. For example, one of my friends of some 30+ years duration, with whom I’d gone on holiday in Europe many times, stunned me when she told me she’d been working in Tobacco Control for 20 years or more, specialising in Smoking Cessation. That was like a Jew discovering that one of his best friends was a camp guard in Sobibor. Once we used to get along together swimmingly, but now we were in high-speed, head-on collision.

And, as befits an angry, agitated little bubble, I’ve become far more active than I ever was in my sleepy Bristol days. I started writing this blog, which now has readers all over the world, mostly fellow smokers experiencing their own grim, divisive smoking bans in New York or Munich or Moscow or Madrid or Melbourne.

Friendship is when you all flow slowly along together, going in more or less the same direction, like some slow, lazy river. Conflict comes when things get heated, and people start moving fast, and in all directions, and into inevitable collision with each other.

And Tobacco Control has, over the past 50+ years, slowly been heating up the world with its incessant antismoking propaganda. It’s been another form of Global Warming. And it’s been another Anthropogenic – human-caused – Global Warming. And quite likely it’s going to turn out to be Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming, CAGW. Tobacco Control’s incessant antismoking propaganda has created an army of fearful, worried antismokers. And as antismoking busybodies have collided with smokers, they have created angry, vengeful, and equally agitated smokers. And now nobody gets along with anybody. Everyone is odds with each other.

Back in the placid pre-smoking-ban days I used to routinely vote Liberal Democrat. I stopped voting for them when it emerged that 95% of Lib Dem MPs voted for the smoking ban, and that “liberal” and “democratic” now seemed to mean “illiberal” and “undemocratic”. Now my vote is pretty much up for grabs, for anyone who will repeal the smoking ban and destroy Tobacco Control. And I’m animated by a spirit of resistance to top-down control and ‘expertise’ of every kind – which includes the UN, the WHO, the BMA, the RCP, the EU, and any other organisation you care to mention, including NASA. And of course I’m one of the 17,410,742 Britons who voted for Brexit.

And if the global political climate has recently been getting hotter and hotter, I can’t help but think that everywhere in the world, smokers have been set in conflict with antismokers, climate alarmists set against climate sceptics, everyone against everyone else, as all the countless millions of little bubbles come into mounting collision with each other, gradually boiling over, and toppling or sinking the governments and organisations that were built upon them.

Never mind building up NATO or the US armed forces, the simplest thing they could do to quiet the whole world down a bit would be to switch off all the smoking and carbon dioxide alarmist propaganda, repeal all the smoking bans, and close down Tobacco Control. But the people at the top are completely oblivious to the social divisions their policies have created. It would never occur to them to do anything so simple.

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The Power of Suggestion

I noticed this yesterday:

Tara Palmer-Tomkinson found dead in her flat 

Comes as a friend appeared on This Morning to claim she had relapsed ‘back into a dark place’

Socialite and model told last year that she had been battling a brain tumour following bombshell diagnosis

Workmen in her building said they had not seen her since hearing ‘very loud bang’ from her flat last Friday

I assumed that the “very loud bang” had been a gunshot, and that Tara Palmer-Tomkinson had committed suicide. Of course, that may not have been what happened at all. But it set me wondering how many people lapse into despair, or commit suicide, shortly after being handed this sort of diagnosis by their doctor. And also to what extent doctors drive people to despair and suicide with diagnoses like these.

What happens if, during some routine examination, your doctor tells you have cancer or some other dreadful malady – even though you haven’t noticed any symptoms yourself? What if they tell you that you can only expect to live another 6 months, at most? Wouldn’t that be a tremendous blow to somebody who had been, up until that point, living a perfectly happy life? Might they easily lapse into despair, and take to the bottle, and spiral downwards out of control? Something they wouldn’t have done if they hadn’t been presented with this devastating diagnosis.

I suspect that, if it were me, given my collapsing esteem for doctors and experts in general, I probably wouldn’t believe what I was told. After all, I believe less and less of anything I’m told about anything.

But it would seem that TP-T was one of the believing kind. She believed what her doctor had told her (and, who knows, she may have been right to do so).

But I’m seriously concerned about a circumstance where you no longer go to visit a doctor when you judge yourself unwell, but instead doctors now tell patients when they deem them to be unwell. And furthermore they very often name the cause (smoking). I’m concerned because I think that it should be I – and not some doctor – who decides that I am unwell.

I’ve told this story before, but it’s worth re-telling. A retired tea-planter from Ceylon (Sri Lanka) recounted one day how one of the workmen on his plantation had committed some infraction, and had climbed up a tree to hide. The tea-planter tried to induce him to climb down, but the man refused. After a while, the tea-planter gave up trying, and called up to the man: “It doesn’t really matter whether you come down or not, because you’re going to die in three days anyway.” A day or two later, the fugitive climbed down from the tree, went back to his home – and died there the next day. “Such is the power of suggestion,” the retired tea-planter observed, after recounting the story.

With some slight caveats, I deem myself to be perfectly well at present, and I haven’t been to see a doctor for over 10 years. But I suspect that if I ever fall into the clutches of the medical profession, they will diagnose me with about 30 or 40 different diseases, and give me about three days to live.

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A Little More Liberal Fascism

After the turmoil of the Trump inauguration, I’ve gone back to reading Liberal Fascism by Jonah Goldberg, and have encountered in it a plausible explanation of why, in America at least, “liberal” no longer means “liberal”.

Liberal intellectuals and activists insisted during the 1920s that [Woodrow] Wilson’s war socialism had been a smashing success and its failures a result of insufficient zeal. “We planned in war” became their slogan. Alas, they couldn’t convince the yokels in the voting booths. As a result, they came more and more to admire the Bismarckian approach of top-down socialism. They also looked to Russia and Italy, where “men of action” were creating utopias with the bulldozer and the slide rule. The Marxist emphasis on scientific socialism and social engineering infected American Progressivism. And since science isn’t open to democratic debate, an arrogant literal-mindedness took over Progressivism.

It was also around this time that through a dexterous sleight of hand, Progressivism came to be renamed “liberalism.” In the past, liberalism had referred to political and economic liberty as understood by Enlightenment thinkers like John Locke and Adam Smith. For them the ultimate desideratum was maximum individual freedom under the benign protection of a minimalist state. The progressives, led by Dewey, subtly changed the meaning of this term, importing the Prussian vision of liberalism as the alleviation of material and educational poverty, and liberation from old dogmas and old faiths. For progressives liberty no longer meant freedom from tyranny, but freedom from want, freedom to be a ‘constructive’ citizen, the Rousseauian and Hegelian “freedom” of living in accord with the state and the general will. Classical liberals were now routinely called conservatives, while devotees of social control were dubbed liberals. Thus in 1938 John Dewey would write in Liberalism and Social Action that activist government in the name of the economically disadvantaged and social reconstruction had “virtually come to define the meaning of liberal faith.”

Given this worldview, it shouldn’t be surprising that so many liberals believed the Soviet Union was the freest place on earth… (p. 221)

Or, to put it another way, liberal now meant illiberal. Language had been turned on its head.

I must say I am inclined to think that much same thing has happened to the word “progress”, which now seems to mean more like “regress”, or going backwards, rather than going forwards. These words need to have their meanings restored. There are far too many of them, which now mean the opposite of what they used to mean: I would not be surprised to learn that “prisons” have now become “holiday camps.”

But I have my own ideas of what freedom means. In Idle Theory, freedom isn’t any sort of abstraction: freedom is free time or idle time, and it is measured in hours. It is as concrete a thing as a roll of cotton, measured in yards. It’s what people experience, very broadly, at weekends, or outside working hours, or briefly during lunch breaks. Historically, this freedom was experienced on the sabbath, or the day of rest. It was something holy.

Aside from this illumination of the tribulations suffered by the word “liberal”, Liberal Fascism also cast a little light on the word “fascism”:

The desire to destroy is a natural outgrowth of the cult of action. After all, if you are totally committed to revolutionary change, any boundaries you run into – the courts, the police, the rule of law – must be either converted, co-opted, or destroyed. All fascists are members of the cult of action. Fascism’s appeal was that it would get things done. Make the trains run on time, put people to work, get the nation on the move: these are sentiments sewn into the fiber of every fascist movement. The fascist state of mind can best be described as “Enough talk, more action!” Close the books, get out of the library, get moving. Take action! What kind of action? Direct action! Social action! Revolutionary action! Action, action, action.

Communists loved action too. That’s not surprising considering the family bonds between communism and fascism. But fascists valued action more. Communism had a playbook. Fascism had a hurry-up offense, calling its plays on the field… (p. 177)

Satanic exercise machine

Satanic exercise machine

Idle Theorists like me are, if anything, devotees of a cult of inaction: the sublime inaction of sitting in a pub with a pint of beer and a cigarette, gazing idly out of the window at the busy streets, vaguely thinking about nothing in particular. The fascistic antismokers who want to close down pubs, and stop people drinking and smoking, or gazing idly out of windows, are trying  to rouse people to action, trying to get them to Do Something. So also the health and fitness fanatics with their jogging and their marathons and their satanic exercise machines: they are all trying to rouse people to action. Everyone must do something, even if what is being done is pointless and futile and self-destructive.

For if I have any vision of what is meant by progress, it is towards a free and easy and idle world, in which everyone is doing the things that they want to, rather than what some blustering bullying busybody wants them to do.

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I saw something rather strange in a car park a few days ago. I had parked, and had just returned with my shopping, which I was placing inside my car. There was a car parked next to me, with the driver behind the wheel. I was keeping an eye on him because I was wondering if he was about to drive away. As I was watching, he suddenly blew out a truly vast cloud of smoke from his mouth. I’d never seen such an exhalation on such a scale before: with one breath he filled the entire car. I realised that he had to be vaping. And then he did it again. I started my car, and drove quickly away, slightly scared by what I’d seen.

I remembered it again this morning. And I had the thought – the inkling – that the War On Smoking had created a monster, much in the way that the War On Drugs only ever seems to produce new and ever more terrifying drugs. If pubs had once been a bit smoky from the smoke of a few dozen cigarettes, in the future they were going to be filled with a smog so dense that people would get lost on the journey from their table to the bar, or vice versa. In the attempt to get rid of one innocuous degree of smokiness, Tobacco Control has conjured up a new, almost inconceivable degree of smokiness. And the vapour would be laced with all sorts of different scents and flavours, and all sorts of different psychotropic drugs. The future wasn’t just going to be a bit smoky in the way that some pubs occasionally used to be: it was going to be super-densely smoggy. Firefighters would arrive wearing breathing equipment and carrying powerful torches to find their way to people who had got lost in the middle of a dance floor. I had seen the future in the car park.

A similar inkling this morning came from reading somewhere that outraged smokers in Malta or Cyprus or somewhere were demanding that tobacconists re-package tobacco to conceal the disgusting pictures that they were now being covered with. I’m not sure of the details, but the tobacconists were now providing their own packaging. And why not? Is Tobacco Control going to demand laws against re-packaging tobacco?

The inkling grew from realising that the disgust of smokers at the obscene images on the packages was undoubtedly going to be shared by any non-smoker who saw them. Tobacco Control was going to make not just smokers feel disgust, but everybody else as well. And at whom would that disgust be directed? Not the smokers on whom these images were being inflicted, nor the tobacco companies that printed them, but on the Tobacco Control zealots who had forced these pictures upon them. For with these obscene images, Tobacco Control is advertising its own sickness.

TC is like some artist who fills a gallery with images of his own vomit so disgusting that anyone who goes into it leaves shortly afterwards, retching. Such images reflect far more upon the artist who creates them than any gallery visitor who views them. But TC’s art gallery is not just one room in a building: TC’s art gallery is the whole world. They are painting their filthy pictures over the whole world. And everyone will see those pictures, and everyone is going to be revolted, and they are going to be revolted by the nightmare stream of ugliness pissed out by Tobacco Control:


It will all come back on them, in a wave of revulsion at what they are doing. They will be hoist by their own petard.

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