Crikey’s cardboard controversy:

Crikey: On Wednesday, Crikey published the below image as our edition’s editorial:

After receiving a few comments, both positive and negative, we discovered that The Australian has published a similar cartoon in its editorial pages. So in yesterday’s edition we published the following editorial:

Meanwhile, on the opinion pages of The Australian, an appalling lapse in taste …

And in doing that, we triggered this…

Wes Pryor writes: I stared at yesterday’s editorial until the screen flickered. Mr. Pratt in a recyclable cardboard box, his pallbearers sundry business types and a Blues footballer. Where is the lapse in taste? Mr. Pratt contributed enormously to paper recycling. While he has done quite handsomely, in doing so he has also contributed to a reduction in landfill and a sensible usage of waste. He was a trailblazer in green business.

Through his philanthropy, he has demonstrated a humility that honours his shaky start in Australia and in business. It would indeed be an honour, I suspect, to be buried in one of his own cardboard boxes. The only lapse of judgement anyone is demonstrating is not pursuing the hypothesis that to die innocent, one needs only to be a rich, humble philanthropist who did handsomely in green business.

This is a conversation we need to have — in time — when his family and friends have mourned their loss.

Scott Phillips writes: Come on guys. I expect Crikey to be irreverent in terms of honestly exposing the truth of the issues about which you write. That irreverence shouldn’t extend to what most of us know as “university humour”. Intelligent comedic commentary, a la First Dog or Guy Rundle (even when I don’t agree with the points made, which is often in the case of the latter) is brilliant and appreciated.

Cheap shots are just that. They do you a disservice, and it’s not what I subscribe for. Please think about the things for which you want to be known, and do those things brilliantly — and avoid the questionable “cardboard coffin” stuff. It’s not cutting edge or irreverent, it’s just poor taste and not funny.

You can do better.

Paul Donoughue writes: You berate The Australian for their “appalling lapse in taste” for yesterday’s cartoon depicting cardboard honcho Dick Pratt being carted out of his own funeral in his company’s product. Am I missing something? Did you not, in the same section on Wednesday, make the same tasteless gag? Are you just bitter because Peter Nicholson stole your joke and gave it wider airing? I am rarely one to stand up for The Australian‘s antics, but this reeks of double standards.

Kirk Muddle writes: Your editorial on The Australian’s cartoon yesterday was a bit pot calling the kettle black isn’t it? After all — on Wednesday Crikey had instructions on how to fold up your own coffin, in much the same vain. The most ironic part is that you can’t use a Cardboard Coffin (well, you can’t in Queensland).

Simon Frazer writes: Crikey yesterday describes a cartoon from The Australian on the demise of Richard Pratt as “an appalling lapse in taste”. Is this meant to be subtle irony, or bare-faced hypocrisy? What cartoon did Crikey publish, in exactly the same spot, just the day before? I’m struggling to see the difference.

Justin Templer writes: Inexplicably you generously credit The Australian with an appalling lapse in taste for their cartoon … while modestly failing to take credit for your own equally fine efforts…

Scott Rochfort writes: How is The Australian‘s cartoon an “appalling lapse in taste” when Crikey ran the cardboard coffin on Wednesday? Talk about double standards.

Phillip Norman writes: Was the lapse of taste the cartoon itself or that they clearly plagiarised your one from yesterday?

Clare Ellis writes: I’m assuming that your description of Nicholson’s cartoon as an “appalling lapse in taste” description was in fact a facetious reference Wednesday’s Crikey editorial.

Margaret Bozik writes: The Australian cartoon was the epitome of taste, compared to the Herald Sun’s front page story about Pratt’s mistresses’ last secret visit to the billionaire. Whatever one thinks of Pratt’s business dealings, his wife and children should not have been subjected to that on the day of his funeral. It wasn’t news; it was puerile sensational tabloid journalism at its worst.

Peter writes: Poor old Crikey … You are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Please keep up the good work. First your cardboard cut out instructions — BRILLIANT. Followed by the cartoon you reproduced from The Australian … who obviously pinched your idea … and ran with it to a great conclusion.

And you had the cheek to say; “Meanwhile, on the opinion pages of The Australian, an appalling lapse in taste…”

My wife’s business still pays over the top for cardboard boxes.

This week, you have truly made my subscription worthwhile.

Empowernet International:

David Ross, CEO of Empowernet International Limited writes: Re.Is Henry Kaye in business with Kathy Lette and Pamela Connolly?” (yesterday, item 7). Is there a mystery? YES. The mystery is why would journalist Michael Feller write a story about this company published on this website on 30 April 2009 without checking his facts first. One of Australia’s best reconstructed companies looks set to redefine how women and therefore the population in general will support and grow themselves throughout their financial lives and into self funded retiree status.

Empowernet International Limited has links with an outstanding board of female achievers who make up 60% of the current board.

Under astute direction of the board and new management, the flight to “back to basics” financial management and direction for women, and the reliance on fundamental simplicity underpins the company’s new ethos and activity. The restructure is approaching completion. The balance sheet has been recapitalised significantly.

Australian Financial Review has reported on a healthy value increase.

ASX announcements confirm the company’s new direction. Altruistic investment with a return via a funds management programme. Debt finance with a simple responsibility to have capacity to repay. The ability to participate in how the lending is conducted. Fundamental asset management education.

Is Henry Kaye in business with Kathy Lette or Pamela Stephenson Connelly? NO. Has Henry Kaye or Brad Cooper had anything to do with the reformation of this company? NO.

Is there any management or company direction connection to Kaye or Cooper? NO.

Has Kaye or Cooper provided any capital to the reformed company? NO.


Simon Dewhurst, EVP, Chief Financial Officer, Melco Crown Entertainment Limited, writes: Re. “Melco media coverage misses the point” (yesterday, item 28). I read with interest your article published just concerning our share placement earlier this week. I would like to make the following comments:

  1. Our initial filing was a shelf for US$400m. In the US it is necessary to have an effective non-deal prospectus shelf filing before you can consider launching and concluding a deal specific prospectus supplement. The value of the shelf is academic. It remains up and available to accommodate future placements, if any were to occur. This is standard practice in the US. To conclude that our US$180m deal placement was below the value of the non-deal shelf filing preceding it is both ignorant of process in the US and misleading to your subscribers.
  2. Our shares are combined to form ADSs which trade in the US. Three shares are equal to one ADS. You are confusing the two. We placed at US$4.00 per ADS vs. a closing price of US$4.40 — a discount of slightly less than 10%. A placement price of US$4 per ADS is the same as a placement price of approximately US$1.33 per share. This error in your note makes the rest of your note non-sensical. A discount of slightly less than 10% is relatively tight given current market conditions. The discount was much tighter by reference to our Weighted Average Share Price in the preceding 30 day period.
  3. Following announcement of the pricing of our placement, which occurred at c. 2.30pm on Tuesday afternoon EST, our share price has traded above the placement price. At no time did it lose 25% as claimed in your article.
  4. The deal was for US$165m with a 30-day over-allotment provision granted to the underwriters (termed a greenshoe option) for an additional US$15m. The greenshoe has now been exercised by the underwriters and we are about to receive the additional US$15m proceeds. It is completely erroneous to confuse an over-allotment or greenshoe with deal expenses. Total expenses on the placement (underwriter fees plus printing and legal costs) totalled approximately US$4m. In the US it is common for fees to be in the range of 5 to 7%. Our fees and expenses were just above 2%. Net proceeds received by the Company totalled US$176m.


Telstra spinner Rod Bruem writes: Re. “Sol Trujillo: one slick hustler” (Wednesday, item 26). Over the past two days Crikey has published two extraordinary attacks on Telstra’s outgoing CEO Sol Trujillo — beginning on Wednesday when Adam Schwab regurgitated some of the recent writings of The Australian‘s Michael Sainsbury. Sainsbury has without question been Sol’s most trenchant and vitriolic critic. Fairer commentators, people inside the company and even some of Telstra’s competitors concede Sol has done a lot of good transforming Telstra.

Sadly there have been few if any positives in the many columns Sainsbury has written during Sol’s tenure. Allow me to tackle the most egregious of his misconceptions – that is the suggestion that Sol’s “greatest achievement” — overseeing the build and launch of Telstra’s Next G Network, was “no real achievement at all” because Telstra simply paid the vendor Ericsson to deliver.

Strangely enough, when Sol, Don and the Telstra board took the decision to replace Telstra’s three mobile networks with one, Sainsbury (and others) predicted it would fail. The technology shift to 850 HSPA and customer migration associated with the quick phase out CDMA did indeed make it risky. Only one other telco in the world had at that time chosen the same technology, so it was predicted Telstra wouldn’t even be able to source handsets that would work.

I remember the criticisms only too well because I was given the job of going on radio to try to defend what seemed like a ‘crazy’ idea to so many. At times, even I had my doubts. I was up against Tim Fischer who the CDMA lobby had hired to attack the decision, which he did rather well.

The end result, from getting a national network up and running in just ten months, (with Telstra networks people working cooperatively with Ericsson), through to the inspired marketing idea to brand it as ‘Next G’, is now rightly seen as one of the greatest global telco success stories of the past decade.

It has driven Telstra to unarguable and quantifiable market leadership in the all-important 3G space. And if you needed proof as to how difficult such a project really is, consider the fact that Telstra’s major competitors are still desperately trying to catch up with the patchy roll-out of similar networks — and how the struggling Optus network went into meltdown when people started buying 3G Apple iPhones and overloaded the system. There have been no such problems with Next G.

Anyone who dismisses success stories like this as ‘simple’ shows just how little they understand business and the highly competitive telecommunications market. Kicking Trujillo on his way out the door might be flavour of the month with some in the media who are either uniformed or are swayed by personal agendas. The fact is Sol has made great strides leading Telstra’s transformation with bold and risky decision-making.

Crikey insults its readers and demeans some great and lasting achievements by repeating the worst of it without checking facts or seeking some sort of balance.


Google’s Public Relations Manager for Australia and New Zealand Annie Baxter writes: Re. “Tips and rumours” (yesterday, item 9). Yesterday Crikey published this tip:

From the grassy knoll: Google Earth is set to announce that in addition to Street View it will label the houses with the people who live there. Apparently Australia will be the first to have this technology because it isn’t illegal. They argument is that it’s good for emergency services to locate people quickly.

Sure, and next week we’re strapping Street View cameras on kangaroos to collect images of the outback … this one definitely deserves in the “grassy knoll” category I’m afraid. Absolutely not true.

The Monthly:

Nick Shimmin writes: Re. “The Monthly: an editorially dysfunctional sales-driven PM star wagon” (yesterday, item 21). Has Greg Barns gone completely mad? He berates The Monthly for supposedly being “highly partisan” (which in Australia seems to be code du jour for “anything which disagrees with my own views”) and then holds up as models of “quality even handed intellectual debate” The IPA Review and the Australian edition of The Spectator! Good grief, everywhere apart from Planet Barns recognises these two august journals as being mouthpieces for a particular ideological viewpoint, and I doubt even the editors would disagree with this.

I certainly have little sympathy for Robert Manne, whose piece in yesterday’s Crikey dragged the discourse back down to the 12-year-old schoolyard “he said she said” level where he and Gerard Henderson seem most at home, but if he’s responsible for the non-appearance of Barns in The Monthly, then he has my support on that at least. Because of course the key to Barns gripe is the statement “I have written for both [The IPA Review and The Spectator] recently”.

Obviously Greg, that means they must be fine journals, and anyone who doesn’t publish you is a failure. This tedious and trivial personal bickering by our so-called “public intellectuals” is really the reason people are fleeing to the web to find serious debate about things that matter.

David Havyatt writes: Greg Barns has got to be kidding! He writes “The IPA Review and the Australian edition of The Spectator … satiate the thirst for quality even handed intellectual debate in this country.” Yes The Monthly was an avowedly leftist rag, and yes it certainly had editorial problems including an incredibly poor choice in writers. But the two cited journals lean the other way, and at least the latter has no better choice in writers.

The Manne and then McGuiness edited Quadrant had an equal bias, but good writers. It seems though under the new editor the latter quality has also vanished.

I don’t mind the bias in a journal; I don’t believe there can be “value free” opinion writing. What I miss is an article clearly enough written and well enough researched that you at least need to engage with it intellectually.

Peter Wilms writes: Re. “Robert Manne: the true history of The Monthly bust up” (yesterday, item 3). I don’t read The Monthly and I’m rather glad if Robert Manne’s verbose, loquacious and unenlightening expose of “what really happened” is any indication of the sort of writing that appears in the magazine.

For goodness sake Manne, get a life or at least get a good sub-editor especially as you do not seem to be able to stop once you get up a head of steam.

Brevity is the name of the game and you don’t seem to understand this fundamental concept of journalism.

Keep it tight Manne, keep it tight!

Guy Rundle writes: Given the extraordinary viciousness that has characterised The Monthly brou-haha, I’m beginning to regret putting the occasional Manne-Schwartz bro-mance gag in my critique of the magazine. Manne is correct to say that remarks about his cancer affecting his conduct were unnecessary — the (bitter, anonymous, vicious) comment in which they were contained could have been paraphrased .., if they were required at all. Particularly absurd is the suggestion — also made in a dumb piece in The Age — that Schwartz and Manne somehow have form because of a conflict with Peter Craven in the editing of the AQE series.

Publishing debate means ideas and personalities intertwine — volatility is a given. You would be worried if you had less than two big stoushes a decade. Ultimately, an editor serves at the pleasure of the proprietor, individual or collective. A good proprietor will listen to their editor on the fundamental form of the thing, and allow their mind to be changed, to a degree. But if the visions diverge then either the publication changes or the editor goes.

The idea being put around by Warhaft’s insane clown posse of supporters, that she has been deeply wronged does her no favours — short of wearing a neon hat saying “here’s trouble!” I can’t think of anything more self-defeating in terms of future activity.

Governments and money:

Chris Lehmann writes: Re. “Budget deficits and the grand hypocrisy of Peter Costello” (yesterday, item 1). I am a big fan of Bernard’s columns, but I believe that this article is just plain wrong. If you are a conservative government you face the criticism of being “too close” to business and only looking after the top end of town (converse to the claim of Labor governments facing the charge of being too close to the union movement).

So, when times have been good, and company profits strong, (whilst at the same time the percentage of company tax has decreased), company tax receipts making up a larger percentage of the total tax take would seem to be only logical. Those with the greatest capacity to pay, contributing more, etc, etc, it sounds almost socialist doesn’t it?!

If the previous government set the stage for companies to be more profitable (by industrial relations changes and lowering the effective company tax rates), whilst at the same time ensuring prudent financial and competition regulation, AND increasing the percentage of this taxation revenue and using it to provide tax relief to the PAYE taxpayer to encourage greater liquidity and investment in the economy from the middle income taxpayer, then I say… Bonza!

Taxation policy is not set in stone, if the circumstances have now changed, then surely the logical thing to do is change the taxation mix to suit. Mr Rudd cannot keep playing Santa when the sack is getting emptier. Peter Costello made the best choices available within his bailiwick at the time, and of course, political considerations come into it when governments are trying to win elections… But at least we did have money socked aside in things like the “future fund”, the “infrastructure fund”, and the “university fund”.

Give the bloke a break Bernard.

Martin Field writes: Further to Rudd’s massive spending: Bertrand Russell wrote in 1953 in New Hopes for a Changing World (quoted in Bertrand Russell’s Best, Unwin Books 1975):

In the situation that existed in the great depression, things could only be set right by causing the idle plant to work again. But everybody felt that to do so was to risk almost certain loss. Within the framework of classical economics there was no solution. Roosevelt saved the situation by bold and heretical action. He spent billions of public money and created a huge public debt, but by so doing he revived production and brought his country out of the depression.

Businessmen, who in spite of such a sharp lesson continued to believe in old-fashioned economics, were infinitely shocked, and although Roosevelt saved them from ruin, they continued to curse him and to speak of him as “the madman in the White House.” Except for Fabre’s investigation of the behaviour of insects, I do not know any equally striking example of inability to learn from experience.

Swine Flu:

Steven Mendelson writes: Re. “Swine Flu: the dangers of over-reacting” (yesterday, item 5). Thanks for the suggestion to wash our hands Mr Rudd. I was wondering if a similar policy of pollies washing their mouths with soap would produce a similar effect on the epidemic of bullshit from Canberra.

Tigger, an anonymous Swine Flu expert, writes:

Meanwhile, bacterial virologist Eeyore submitted the following medical document:


Gil Elliot writes: Re. “Emirates flight 407: seconds and centimetres from death” (yesterday, item 4). I am by no means an expert in aviation safety, but I am very interested in the use of ergonomics to design failure-tolerant systems. By my reckoning, the flight computer allowed the flight crew to enter, and then acted upon, a 28% miscalculation in takeoff weight — on the low side.

Not surprising, then, that the Airbus A345 decided that it really wanted to be a piece of earthmoving equipment rather than an aeroplane. To me, this is a strong message that computers are essential these days, but lack common sense. This has to be supplied by the people who write the programs — they must allow for mistakes by those who input the data.

A plane taking off from Australia in today’s competitive market is likely to be packed to the gunwales, or the airline will quickly find itself bankrupt. I find it hard to believe that there was nothing in the program to say “Are you sure?” when the crew entered what appears to be an anomalously low takeoff weight when departing from Melbourne.

But the ATSB preliminary report does not seem to consider this. And an ABCTV report on Thursday 30 April based on the ATSB report left very little room for doubt that the cause was “human error” — i.e., it was entirely the fault of the plane crew.

Just as it was with the Mount Erebus crash — wasn’t it? It will be interesting to see the final report.

Housing affordability:

The Market State blogger David Llewellyn-Smith writes: Re. “Crikey Counterpoint: the Australian property market” (yesterday, item 27). Yesterday’s Crikey debate between Adam Schwab and Christopher Joye missed the most important point about the prospects for Australia’s housing market.

This debate makes no sense unless we understand that Australian housing no longer exists as a stand alone “market” at all. It is supported by government intervention to such a degree that it might be considered a public private partnership.

Government support is far greater than the First Home Buyers Grant. It extends to $8 billion of public money being spent on residential mortgage backed securities. Another $100+ billion of insurance wraps for the major banks international wholesale funding, as well as the prospect of another $30 billion dispersed through RuddBank.

It is fair enough for Christopher Joye to observe that Australian housing is growing at a “robust” 1.6%, but that in no way reflects its performance as a market. It is a measure only of the degree to which the Federal Government has leveraged its budget to house prices.

Therefore, the prospects for Australian housing are not to be found in analysis of fundamental value, nor supply and demand. The only place to look is in the office of Wayne Swan.

And the signs are not promising. With a likely budget deficit over the $50 billion mark, and the government already banging its head on the $200 billion debt ceiling, there are two major emerging risks for Australian housing.

The first is that the Rudd Government feels the need to deliver on its rhetoric of social democracy and keeps spending on big ticket infrastructure. With the infrastructure banks still in disarray, such projects are going to require much higher quantities of government equity than originally planned, just as in the case of the national broadband network. There is a real risk that the government overdoes its Keynesian borrowing, resulting in a downgrade to Australia’s sovereign debt rating. In that event, all of its guarantees of bank debt will also be downgraded. Overnight, banks will be faced with higher servicing charges, and credit rationing is the likely result.

The second risk is that if a recovery is forthcoming more quickly than is currently forecast, the $US will slide and commodity price spike, followed closely by an inflation scare. Australia’s inflation rate is already proving very stubborn, in large part because of the devaluation of the dollar. In the event of recovery, interest rates abroad will rise swiftly. But here, with all that stimulus in the pipeline, the rises could be dramatic. In that event, the current artificial affordability of historically low rates will quickly be replaced with genuinely cheap houses.

Peter Johns writes: Adam Schwab wrote: “Strangely, Joye noted that last year the Australian housing market encountered a “modest 3 per cent fall in home values” — this begs the question, how is a 1.6 percent rise “robust”, yet a 3 percent fall “modest”?”

He makes the mistake of thinking that the two figures are being compared with each other. Clearly the description assigned to them is based on how they compare, at the time, to similar statistics – i.e. housing market performance in other countries. The 3 percent fall was modest in comparison to the massive falls at the time in other markets.

It is equally fair to describe the 1.6% rise as robust given the continuing avalanche of factors weighing against any increase (which doomsayers like himself and Steven Keen have delighted in telling us about). (Just as, for instance, several years ago a 1.6% increase in prices could fairly be called modest, yet a 3% fall would have been jaw-droppingly huge).

As to access to housing data, I subscribe to, which gives me access to the sale date and contract price for every house and unit in the state since 1970 — for the princely sum of $5 per year.


Adrian Jackson, regular Army Infantry Officer 1972-95, writes: Re. “Richard Farmer’s political bite-sized meaty chunks” (yesterday, item 12). The commitment to Afghanistan, first by Howard and now by Rudd, will fail; in fact it has failed already. Paying the wages of and training a large foreign Armies, propping up corrupt and incompetent foreign governments, killing innocent civilians during combat in villages and cities and little or no commercial, industrial and agricultural development are all the hallmarks of a naive policies by western and Australian governments since WW2. All this was done in the 1960/70’s in South Vietnam and it failed in 1975, barely three years after the USA and its allies withdrew.

MP’s, and some ADF senior officers too, need to study military history because Afghanistan is the grave yard of empires be they Alexander the Great, British Empire (1900’s), Soviet Empire and now the US/EU Empires. Australian leaders that get us caught up in ill conceived and murderous conflicts overseas shouldn’t get a parliamentary or defence pension; they should be tried for war crimes and gaoled.

Tom Koutsantonis:

John Turner writes: Re. “Media briefs: Kout’s cruel-o-meter… Politkovskaya murder suspects acquitted…” (Yesterday, item 23). Thursday’s Media briefs implied that Tom Koutsantonis has been removed from the South Australian ministry. In fact he has only been relieved of his road safety portfolio. He continues to be responsible, according to the SA government website, for several other areas, including Correctional Services and Gambling.

Premier Rann, who has already been wrong footed by his Minister’s economy with the truth, will no doubt be keeping his fingers crossed that there are no further revelations about these portfolios. The below photo, which I took on Wednesday in Wakefield St (in the public service heartland of the CBD) , suggests that he may have already engaged outside consultants to manage the issue.

The perfect storm:

Angela Barns, Therese Jefferson and Alison Preston from Curtin University of Technology’s Women in Social and Economic Research (WiSER) write: With the current focus on climate change it is fitting that Elizabeth Broderick (Sex Discrimination Commissioner) adopted the metaphor of “the perfect storm” to call for a rethink of working time arrangements.

In her speech to the National Press Club on Wednesday Broderick correctly focused on the economic and social costs associated with inflexible working arrangements. Women currently comprise 54% of all university students; however, in the workplace they remain disadvantaged. The gender wage gap is around 17% for those in full-time employment, when part-timers are included it is significantly higher.

71% of part-timers are women, many of whom are in jobs which underutilise their skills and training. Inflexible schedules, the lack of quality part-time work (particularly in professional jobs) and the lack of effort to support and encourage women’s employment participation and career attachment and contribute to the unconscionable waste of economic resources.

Broderick is therefore right to call for an attitudinal change concerning work and care. Women and men need to share care responsibilities. A paid parental leave scheme is critical to engendering the necessary attitudinal and cultural change.

The Federal Government has an opportunity to introduce such a scheme in the forthcoming budget. It is imperative that it takes this step so that Australia can once again be lauded for its gender equality provisions.

Climate change cage match (now with its own blog):

Mark Byrne writes: Re. “Greens the only honest brokers in climate change debate” (yesterday, item 11). Some of my fondest memories of Greg Combet were his struggle for justice for victims of Asbestos exposure. Workers and families that were exposed to a material known by science to cause terminal disease. Profit motive and corporate hierarchy meant that innocent people were exposed to asbestos for decades after if should have been banned. Asbestos wasn’t pulled straight away because it would have cost profits and cost jobs. Of course we can see clearly now that such arguments are immoral because of the externalized costs that the profiteers foisted on victims and society.

Now as climate change parliamentary secretary, Greg Combet has accused the Greens of “economic lunacy” for standing up for greenhouse emissions reductions that are demanded by science (40% cuts by 2020). A target that is consistent with the 25-40% range which the Labor government supported at Bali global convention. Since then Labor has reneged on there support for even the low end of this range.

As with asbestos, science predicts immense harm if this threat is not dealt with properly. Though climate change will have my times more victims than asbestos.

Implicit in Combet’s attack on the 40% target is recognition that the government’s “Clean Coal” approach is unlikely to deliver emissions cuts of a scale demanded by science.

Combet must rethink his “No We Can’t” approach. Greg, its time to start form the goal of success, then work backward to develop solutions. Continuing to back coal to the hilt is not showing solidarity with our brothers and sisters around the world. What’s more Combet’s backing of coal over renewables is suppressing good clean jobs than could be rolled on a war production scale. These are the jobs that have a future.

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