Who Wants Some Ukraine?

2021-11-24

On Tuesday, 23 November, Russia’s most senior military general, Valery Gerasimov, had a “deconfliction” phone conference with US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, in which the two discussed “pressing issues of international security.” Actual details of what they discussed are not available; what is available is Western media speculation, which in recent days has included false reports of Russian troops massing on the Ukrainian border and supposedly getting ready to invade. What Western media has studiously ignored is an actual massing of Ukrainian troops on the borders of the Donbass region—the industrialized temporarily Ukrainian region that has been de facto independent since the Kiev putsch of 2014.

Following that putsch, and the refusal of the Donbass (along with Crimea) to recognize the new US State Department-installed Ukrainian government, the Ukrainians made attempt to recapture the Donbass by force. This attempt failed, and Kiev managed to avoid all-out defeat by signing the Minsk agreements of February 2015, but has clearly had no intention of ever fulfilling them. Instead, ever since then, Ukrainian forces have been shelling the no man’s land between Ukrainian-held territory (which is mostly open prairie) and Donbass (which is urbanized and thickly settled), killing small numbers of civilians and local militia members and causing considerable property damage. Although Western press has continuously reported on “Russian forces” in the Donbass, they are yet to present any evidence of it. And although Western press likes to describe the Donbass using the hackneyed epithet “war-torn” it is actually more prosperous and stable than the rest of the Ukraine, integrated into the Russian economy and essentially functioning as a Russian region.

Turning down Western media noise, a Russian military effort to capture the Donbass, never mind the rest of the Ukraine, is exceedingly unlikely. Russia already has everything it wants. Unlike Crimea which in its 2014 referendum produced a 97% vote for integration of the region into the Russian Federation with an 83% voter turnout, in a similar referendum in the Donbass (held against Moscow’s wishes) only 27.5% of the 74.87% who turned out voted in favor of joining the Russian Federation. Based on this result, Moscow chose to soft-pedal the Donbass situation, providing humanitarian aid and diplomatic support, granting Russian citizenship to those who want it and gradually integrating the region socially and economically. In other Ukrainian regions, were similar referendums to be held there, the level of support for joining Russia would in all likelihood have been even lower, and now, seven years later, would be lower still. From this, a conclusion can be drawn: other than Crimea (which was part of an independent Ukraine for just 23 years), none of the Ukraine was or is a candidate for inclusion within the Russian Federation. The Russians living there will receive some amount of Russian support and are, of course, welcome to move to Russia, but that is really it.

Having ruled out that which is exceedingly unlikely, let us turn to that which is quite likely; and that is a provocation in the Donbass staged by the authorities in Kiev and by their State Department, Pentagon and CIA handlers, designed to deflect the blame from the truly disastrous economic situation that is unfolding there in the hopes of being able to maintain political control of the situation. In blundering into the Ukraine and converting it into a sort of anti-Russian bulwark, the US gained a brazenly corrupt and unruly dependency. Unable to stop its inexorable slide into failed-statedom and political and social disintegration, the US is faced with the prospect of another Afghanistan-style rout, with desperate left-behinds running after US transport planes hastily taking off from Kiev’s Borispol Airport, after which point even the mental laggards who run the European Union will be forced to admit that American security guarantees are an utter joke and will start getting ready to walk into the Kremlin on their knees to kiss the gem-encrusted felt slipper.

Given this unwelcome scenario, the US is quite eager to control the optics and to make it look like it is all Russia’s fault. Since merely jumping up and down and screaming “The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!” is no longer doing the trick, they are looking for something—anything!—that will make the Russians show up and put up even a tiny bit of a fight so that CNN and MSNBC can broadcast staged photos of a bloodied baby blanket and US Congress can then harrumph-harrumph about “Russian aggression” and impose sanctions on Russian baby blanket manufacturers. That “anything” is called a provocation, and what better place to stage it than the Donbass, which is an existing bleeding sore they’ve been picking away at for seven years now. Of course, they will do this in great trepidation of an escalation they would be unable to control, hence the hasty “deconfliction” conference with General Gerasimov: “Look, we go pew-pew, then you go pew-pew, then we declare hostilities over and toast each other with vodka and caviar; OK?”

Given that a provocation of some sort appears to be very likely, it is worth pondering what it would look like and what the outcome of it might be.

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The Tripartite World Order and the Hybrid World War

2021-11-12

General Mark Milley, America’s highest-ranking military officer, has recently gone public with a revelation of his: the world is no longer unilateral (with the US as the unquestioned world hegemon) or bilateral (as it was with the US and the SU symmetrically balancing each other out in an intimate tango of mutual assured destruction). It is now tripartite, with three major powers—the US, Russia and China—entering a “tripolar war.” That is the exact term he is reported to have used at the Aspen Security Forum on November 3, 2021.

This seems strange, since neither Russia nor China is eager to attack the US while the US is in no condition to attack either of them. The US has just got defeated in a two-decade conflict against a fourth-rate adversary (Afghanistan, that is) in the most humiliating way possible, abandoning $80 billion of war materiel and forsaking thousands of its faithful servants in a hasty withdrawal that amounted to a rout. It is about to suffer a similar fate in Syria and Iraq. Its navy just got humiliated in a minor skirmish with the Iranians over an oil tanker. Clearly, the US is in no shape to attack anyone.

So what could Milley possibly mean? He may not sound smart, but he is the most powerful man at the Pentagon. Of course, Milley-Vanilley could just be lip-sinking to some stupid music coming out of the White House (which is currently stocked with some choice imbeciles). This would make sense, since throughout his career Milley carefully avoided anything that smacked of actual military action and therefore carried within it the possibility of defeat, instead choosing to concentrate on such things as producing a report on the impact of climate change on the U.S. military.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley meets with Chief of the Russian General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov in Bern, Switzerland, Dec. 18, 2019. (DOD photo by U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Chuck Burden)

Here is Milley captured during one of his prouder moments, standing next to Russia’s General Valery Gerasimov, who saw combat—and victory—as commander during the Second Chechen War. Gerasimov then authored Russia’s hybrid war doctrine (the Gerasimov Doctrine), which allows strategic and political objectives to be achieved through nonmilitary means but with military support and military-style secrecy, discipline, coordination and control. In comparison, our General Milley is something of a cardboard cutout general, with a string that makes his lower jaw move up and down leading to some place within the Washington swamp of political think tanks and defense industry lobbyists.

The Gerasimov Doctrine bears an uncanny resemblance to the Chinese doctrine of unlimited war, indicating that Russia and China have harmonized in their defensive strategies. These doctrines are designed to amplify China’s and Russia’s natural advantages while placing the US at a maximum disadvantage. It is not immediately clear whether Milley is capable of understanding such matters; quite the opposite, it is likely that his job security and career path critically depended on his inability to understand anything above his pay grade. Nevertheless, since he happens to be the mouthpiece for the whole ungodly mess, we need to at least try to take his words at face value and try to think of what his “tripolar war” could possibly mean.

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Noosphere, Part VI: Trinitarian mythologies

2021-11-04

There is just one trinitarian mythology worth discussing, and that is Christianity. The Christian God is the Holy Trinity, consisting of the Father (the old Hebrew God), the Son (Jesus Christ) and the Holy Spirit. God the Father arrived via Jewish sacred texts, which happened to be on sale just around the time Christianity first got going, the Jews having just lost a nasty war with the Romans, who then dislodged them (yet again) from Palestine. Prior to their wholesale purchase of Jewish sacred texts, the Christians had been mocked by other, more literarily endowed sects, as “a people without a book.”

The incorporation of Jewish sacred texts into the burgeoning Christian sect were something of a mixed blessing because these texts are riddled with internal contradictions. Take, for instance, the rather simple example of murder. Exodus 20:13 is quite clear on this point: “Thou shalt not murder.” This comports rather well with Christ’s teachings, which are very much in the direction opposite to murder: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” [Luke 6:27-28] The rationale for such lenience is that to punish one must first judge and judging is God’s prerogative which Christians should not usurp: ““Judge not, that you be not judged.” [Matthew 7:1]

“That’s no way to run a proper bordello!” you might exclaim, and you would be right, of course. And here’s where the Old Testament has been very helpful in subverting the original Christian teaching and making it serve the needs not just of bordello operators but of bloodthirsty emperors, homicidal maniacs and rapacious oligarchs. Right within Exodus, which exhorts us not to kill, it says this: “Whoever lies with an animal shall be put to death. [Exodus 22:19] Zoophiles, beware! Adultery is likewise a capital offense: “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.” [Leviticus 20:10] As is homosexuality: “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death” [Leviticus 20:13]

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The Reverse Green Energy Cargo Cult

2021-10-29

I couldn’t help but notice a most curious phenomenon that has recently gripped Western Europe, which very much looks like a cargo cult, but in reverse.

In a classic cargo cult, native tribes that have become inured to the indignity of regular airlifts providing them with humanitarian relief in the form of, say, beer and pizza, when deprived of this affront to their native dignity, take to building fake airstrips with fake control towers and bonfires for runway lights in the hopes of luring more transport planes laden with aforementioned beer and pizza.

In a reverse cargo cult, native tribes, that have become inured to the indignity of regular airlifts providing humanitarian relief in the form of, say, beer and pizza, having suddenly become cognizant of the deleterious effect of beer and pizza on public health, Arctic permafrost or planetary alignment, take to barricading the landing strips and dismantling the control towers in the hopes of preventing the landing of more transport planes laden with aforementioned beer and pizza. The natives then remain hungry and sober until sanity returns and air traffic is restored.

The latter scenario is what seems to be unfolding in the European Union of late, where the native tribes have made strenuous efforts to limit their access to Russian-supplied beer and pizza, instead switching to eating grass and drinking swamp water—figuratively speaking: by beer and pizza I mean natural gas and coal and by grass and swamp water I mean wind turbines and solar panels. And by blocking runways and dismantling control towers I mean blocking or delaying the construction of South Stream and Nord Stream 2 pipelines, gambling with their own energy security by tying the pricing of long-term natural gas contracts to casino-like futures markets, and playing political games with pipelines that run through Poland and the Ukraine. Lastly, the assumed deleterious effect of beer and pizza on public health, Arctic permafrost or planetary alignment is analogous to the assumed planet-destroying effects of CO2 emissions from burning hydrocarbons.

If you find such analogies outlandish, please let me explain.

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The Green Energy Cargo Cult

2021-10-26

Are wind generators and solar panels a replacement for fossil fuels? A lot of people still seem to believe that, even after the recent flood of bad news on this front, but a few people are already beginning to suspect something.

Although some people claim that wind and solar farms have an EROEI (Energy Returned on Energy Invested) of 5 or even 7, it is trivial to prove that this just isn’t so. If, for each 1 kWh of energy invested in their design, marketing, production, installation, maintenance, removal and safe disposal, they were to return 5 or even 7 kWh over their useful lifetime of, optimistically, 20 years, and assuming a constant (inflation-adjusted) cost of energy, they would produce at least 400% of pure profit! Compare that to a bank deposit or a guaranteed income investment yielding 3% over inflation (if you can find one!). Over the same 20 years it would produce a mere 80% profit, which is equivalent to an EROEI of just 1.8. If wind and solar installations were so lucrative, their promoters would not be asking for government subsidies; they would be running away from frenzied mobs of investors shouting “Shut up and take my money!” Such a huge, and guaranteed, rate of return, is something to die (or at least risk going to jail) for.

Instead, the wind and solar energy sectors have turned into gigantic state subsidy sponges. Not only have they squandered money and natural resources, but they have become a major headache for grid operators because they have managed to force through regulations requiring grid operators to take whatever electricity they produce regardless of demand. However, there is generally little risk of them ever producing too much electricity; for instance, wind farms for all of 2021, for all of Germany, have produced just 20% of their rated capacity and solar farms barely over 10%. In any case, all they have to show for several trillion dollars of squandered public funds, and huge swaths of land and sea blighted by their installations, are much higher electricity rates. In Russia, which has so far avoided this green plague and has instead concentrated on developing hydroelectric and nuclear generation capacity, electricity rates are 10 (ten!) times lower than in the West. Thus, the real EROEI of wind and solar is not 5 or even 7 but much less than zero: they are a net waste of energy.

While such very simple analysis is sufficient to demonstrate that wind and solar farms are not just unprofitable but a net waste of energy, a more in-depth look would reveal that they also impose exorbitant costs on the rest of the electric grid. That is, if wind and solar installations were entirely free, connecting them to the electric grid imposes costs on other energy producers because their output fluctuates randomly, depending, as it does, on the availability of wind and sunlight, instead of being matched to real-time electricity demand. This forces other electricity producers to waste fuel, whether by spinning idly or by rapidly ramping up and down, in order to compensate. In turn, this causes energy rates to fluctuate wildly (in some cases going negative on cool, sunny, windy days while shooting up into the stratosphere on cold or hot, overcast and windless ones), making it impossible for energy-intensive businesses to plan their production so as to avoid financial losses.

The problem of ragged energy generation from wind and solar, which is unmatched to real-time energy demand, could be remedied by the introduction of mass energy storage, but electricity storage doesn’t exist except for a few boutique applications, and scaling it up would only compound the overall waste of energy. There are just a few locations on Earth that could reasonably be used for mass electric storage: that is where there is a lake at a high elevation in close proximity to a lake at a lower elevation that could be connected together using pipelines, pumps and turbines; all other mass electricity storage ideas have so far turned out to be duds and, given the physics of the problem, are likely to remain so. Thus, it would be far more cost-effective and energy-efficient, overall, to keep wind and solar farms disconnected from the electric grid; not as good as never building them at all, but a major step in the right direction. As far as building any more of them, here is an interesting datapoint: spot prices for polycrystalline silicon, a major ingredient in solar panels, having reached an all-time low of $6.30/kg in mid-2020 have since gone up 600% to $36/kg and are now predicted to continue to increase over time.

Thus, the effective EROEI of wind and solar farms is comparable to that of a classic cargo cult, in which native tribes that have become inured to the indignity of regular airlifts providing them with humanitarian relief in the form of, say, beer and pizza, when suddenly deprived of this affront to their native dignity, take to building fake airstrips with fake control towers, and burning bonfires in place of runway lights, in the hopes of luring more transport planes laden with aforementioned beer and pizza. The natives then sit around and wait for some transport planes to land, remaining hungry and sober. Eventually, sanity returns and they wander off into the jungle in search of something to eat. With regard to renewable energy, we are not quite there yet, but it may be time to try to move things along because with any more of this nonsense a lot of people will end up very cold and very hungry—and very angry as well.

Noosphere, Part V: Dualistic mythologies

2021-10-05

“In Chinese cosmology, the universe creates itself out of a primary chaos of material energy, organized into the cycles of Yin and Yang and formed into objects and lives. Yin is the receptive and Yang the active principle, seen in all forms of change and difference such as the annual cycle (winter and summer), the landscape (north-facing shade and south-facing brightness), sexual coupling (female and male), the formation of both men and women as characters and sociopolitical history (disorder and order).” [Feuchtwang, Stephan (2016). Religions in the Modern World: Traditions and Transformations.]

Yin-yang dualities are numerous, but one of the most easily observable ones is the feminine-masculine distinction: the essential sexual dimorphism of the Homo sapiens. Members of our species are unable to function—be it as bands, tribes, nations or civilizations—without maintaining distinct gender roles and a dynamic equilibrium between masculine and feminine ways of being. The history of collapsed cultures and civilizations, which often go through a period of sexual deviance and decadence as their end nears, offers a never-ending stream of object lessons in the validity of this cosmological model. All previous cultures that denied human sexual dimorphism, including the current bout of sexual dysphoria gripping the West, are telltale signs of a failing culture and can reasonably be expected to go biologically extinct before too long.

This is the world’s most important and prevalent dualistic mythology apart from the Jesus and Mary cult, which we will discuss later. It is a highly nuanced cosmology that towers above NULL, 0 and 1-type religious mythologies because on the one hand it gathers in the whole universe and on the other it is based on specific, observable distinctions, tying it all together into a single sacred whole. It does not attempt to rule out or to compete with gods, godlings and godlike thingies but relegates them to their proper place as cultural artifacts, elements of tradition and outlets for people’s superstitious natures. Most importantly, it introduces the notion of dynamic equilibrium of complementary rather than opposing principles, embracing the concept of endless change as central to the entire cosmology—not as progress but as oscillation and flux. Thus, the pseudo-arithmetic expression for it is 1+1=1: out of duality comes unity.

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Global gas wars: the fun has just begun!

2021-09-28

Spot price for natural gas in Europe has just breached the psychologically important level of $1000 per thousand cubic meters, or a buck a cube. This has already had some significant results all across Europe. In the UK, fertilizer plants can’t operate at such prices and have shut down. This will in due course cause food price inflation later on, but the immediate effect is to deprive consumers of packed meat and beer because of a shortage of dry ice that is a byproduct of fertilizer production. Meanwhile, all the way on the other side of what remains of the European Union, in the Baltic statelets electricity prices are now 10 times higher than just across the border in Russia. Of course, they are welcome to buy cheap and plentiful electricity from Russia, but that has to come in via Belarus and Lithuania and the Lithuanians have strategically wrecked relations with Belarus by harboring the fugitive Tikhanovskaya the cutlet queen who is a sort of Belarussian Juan Guaidó.

On the other side of Belarus lies the Ukraine, where things are even more fun. Back in spring of 2019 the Ukraine declined Russia’s gracious offer to sell it gas $240-260 per thousand cubes (a quarter of the current spot price) and instead opted to buy it on the spot market. The result is that the Ukraine needs 13 billion cubes of gas in storage to get through the heating season but has less than 5. But it can always buy what it needs on the spot market, right? Wrong! The Ukraine is broke and has zero budgeted for this purpose. Luckily, it can still buy cheap electricity from Russia—at least until Ukrainian nationalists decide to blow up the transmission lines to Russia like they did with the ones to Russian Crimea a while back, causing energy shortages there and forcing the Russians to construct an energy bridge to it from the mainland in a process that took close to a year.

But Unlike the Ukraine, which is broke, countries within the EU don’t have to freeze because they can just buy the gas they need on the spot market, in the form of liquified natural gas, right? Wrong! The LNG market is global, and Europe’s East Asian competitors—China, South Korea and Japan—can always outbid them for the available supply. These three countries have been running structural deficits with the United States for decades and have accumulated an unwholesome hoard of US federal debt. With the US now nearing national bankruptcy and/or triggering dollar hyperinflation by allowing its national debt to breach the $30 trillion threshold, they are eager to unload as much of this hoard as possible, exchanging it for needed commodities such as natural gas. They don’t much care how much the gas is going to cost because the eventual price of the US debt is going to be zero and something is always better than nothing. Thus, there is a good chance that the EU will be shivering in the dark this winter in solidarity with the Ukraine.

But things are much better in the United States which, after all, is a proud exporter of natural gas thanks to what is left of its fracking industry. Wrong again! The Industrial Energy Consumers of America (IECA), a chemical and food industry lobbying group, has just demanded that the US Department of Energy place limits on LNG exports. Otherwise, they say, very high natural gas prices will render numerous US enterprises noncompetitive and force them to shut down. Prices have already gone up by 41% over the past year. But that’s not enough to stimulate production: natural gas production in the US is falling together with the drilling rig count and the amount of gas in storage is currently 7.4% below the previous five year average. Attempting to put limits on LNG exports will cause loud screams from energy industry lobbyists, who have plenty of clout on Capitol Hill, and result in protracted political battles in an already sharply divided and disagreeable US Congress.

Meanwhile, back in the EU, there is something that can be done immediately to avert this crisis: turn on NordStream2, which has just been completed, by setting aside European bureaucratic foot-dragging protocols that will stretch out the process of certifying it and by throwing out the truly idiotic restriction that it only be used at 50% capacity. Russia’s Gazprom would be perfectly willing to sign a long-term supply agreement at a reasonable price, just as it did with Hungary just a few days ago. But for now such a change of heart seems unlikely. On the one hand the free market fundamentalists are still full of blind faith that the free market will somehow keep their people from freezing; on the other, environmentalists seem to believe that freezing would be a virtuous act that will help save the planet from overheating. Come next spring, melting snow may reveal a political landscape littered with the frozen corpses of environmentalists and free market zealots. We should all wish them the best of luck, of course, whether they deserve it or not.

Noosphere, Part IV: Monistic Mythologies

2021-09-25

After a few tens, perhaps hundreds of millennia during which Homo sapiens dwelt in the company of a multitude of gods, goddesses and godlike thingies (along with heaping handfuls of demons, sprites and trolls) the idea arose to put an end to the madness and, as a disciplinary measure, declare that there is just the one God whom everyone must perforce worship and revere. Much blood has been spilled as a result, until a sort of tense standoff was reached, in which various theologians confirmed, squirming in their seats the whole while, that there is just the one God, be he God of the Jews or the Moslems, in spite of such minor doctrinal differences as the right to have more than one wife or whether serial adulterers should be stoned to death by an enraged mob or invited to talk shows together with their multiple jilted lovers.

The source of monotheism can be traced to Zoroastrianism, which arose in Persia in the 6th century BC. In its current state, this religious mythology is represented by its two most prevalent forms—Judaism and Islam. Both can be adequately summarized by the statement “There is no God but G-d/Allah.” This statement of denial indicates that not all is well with the “mono” aspect of monotheism: the necessity of denial ipso facto admits the possibility of affirmation while emphasizing its undesirability. Right in the second book of the Old Testament is the following line: “I, Yahweh your God, am a jealous God…” [Exodus 20] “Jealous of whom?” inquiring minds automatically want to know. Thus, the relevant arithmetic-defying formula of monotheism is 1≠1.

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A Stalingrad for Natural Gas

2021-09-15

European natural gas hub spot price has surpassed $900 per thousand cubic meters with the psychologically important threshold of $1 per cubic meter not far off. This is an astronomically high price that is likely to bankrupt a lot of European energy companies while causing their customers to die of exposure this winter.

Just in the UK, where around 10 thousand people freeze to death during a normal winter with normal prices, so far PfP Energy, MoneyPlus Energy, People’s Energy and Utility Point have kissed the world good-bye, their customers getting picked up by the government regulator Ofgem. Acting wisely, Ofgem raised the annual price cap for a typical household by £139 to £1,277. Just to make things even more interesting, the underwater cable providing electricity to the UK from France just failed, knocking 1GW out of the 2GW link.

What’s behind all of this chaos and mayhem? Call it the wages of stupidity.

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Biden’s Little Victories

2021-09-08

Kamala Harris lays flowers at a memorial to the Viet Cong who shot down John McCain

Victory comes to mean different things as we grow up and age; for an infant, victory may be in spitting a mouthful of food farther than ever before; for a grown man in his prime, victory may be in bedding down a beautiful woman; and for someone Joe Biden’s age, victory may be in successfully moving his bowels. Let us not lose sight of such relativities as we consider America’s victorious exit from Afghanistan and its forthcoming victorious exits from Iraq, Syria, the Ukraine, Kosovo, Israel, Taiwan, Qatar, Okinawa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Alaska, to name a few.

A well known fact about the US is that its national policies generally, and its “vision thing” (as George Bush-père called it) in particular are formulated by liberal arts graduates of Ivy League schools. Their training generally consists of reading and thinking about some books, but their reading lists tend to be rather short. However, they always include two titles: 1984 by George Orwell and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Perversely, they remember these not as cautionary anti-utopias but as sets of instructions, 1984 especially, and proceed accordingly.

Please recall that on the wall of George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth were inscribed three slogans:

WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH

Back in 2014 it had occurred to me that these apply just a little too well to the way the Washington, DC establishment operates, and I have been tracking its progress in light of this realization ever since with excellent results.

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