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Archive for January, 2008

Cheeseburger In a Can–Courtesy of Zee Germans

If a worldwide apocalypse had forced us to live in underground bunkers just a few months ago, our diet would have consisted of dehydrated foods, canned beans, and vegans. Now, thanks to zee Germans, you can add cheeseburgers to that menu.

And not just any cheeseburger–canned cheeseburger. The web detectives over at Spuch dug up this gem.

I guess if survival came down to a choice between cannibalism and canned cheeseburger, I’d definitely think twice about eating someone.

Yum!

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This feed lot in in California can accommodate up to 100,000 head of cattle.

A Sea change in the consumption of a resource that Americans take for granted may be in store — something cheap, plentiful, widely enjoyed and a part of daily life. And it isn’t oil.

It’s meat.The two commodities share a great deal: Like oil, meat is subsidized by the federal government. Like oil, meat is subject to accelerating demand as nations become wealthier, and this, in turn, sends prices higher. Finally — like oil — meat is something people are encouraged to consume less of, as the toll exacted by industrial production increases, and becomes increasingly visible.Global demand for meat has multiplied in recent years, encouraged by growing affluence and nourished by the proliferation of huge, confined animal feeding operations. These assembly-line meat factories consume enormous amounts of energy, pollute water supplies, generate significant greenhouse gases and require ever-increasing amounts of corn, soy and other grains, a dependency that has led to the destruction of vast swaths of the world’s tropical rain forests.Just this week, the president of Brazil announced emergency measures to halt the burning and cutting of the country’s rain forests for crop and grazing land. In the last five months alone, the government says, 1,250 square miles were lost.

The world’s total meat supply was 71 million tons in 1961. In 2007, it was estimated to be 284 million tons. Per capita consumption has more than doubled over that period. (In the developing world, it rose twice as fast, doubling in the last 20 years.) World meat consumption is expected to double again by 2050, which one expert, Henning Steinfeld of the United Nations, says is resulting in a “relentless growth in livestock production.”

Americans eat about the same amount of meat as we have for some time, about eight ounces a day, roughly twice the global average. At about 5 percent of the world’s population, we “process” (that is, grow and kill) nearly 10 billion animals a year, more than 15 percent of the world’s total.

Growing meat (it’s hard to use the word “raising” when applied to animals in factory farms) uses so many resources that it’s a challenge to enumerate them all. But consider: an estimated 30 percent of the earth’s ice-free land is directly or indirectly involved in livestock production, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, which also estimates that livestock production generates nearly a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases — more than transportation.

To put the energy-using demand of meat production into easy-to-understand terms, Gidon Eshel, a geophysicist at the Bard Center, and Pamela A. Martin, an assistant professor of geophysics at the University of Chicago, calculated that if Americans were to reduce meat consumption by just 20 percent it would be as if we all switched from a standard sedan — a Camry, say — to the ultra-efficient Prius. Similarly, a study last year by the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Japan estimated that 2.2 pounds of beef is responsible for the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the average European car every 155 miles, and burns enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for nearly 20 days.

Grain, meat and even energy are roped together in a way that could have dire results. More meat means a corresponding increase in demand for feed, especially corn and soy, which some experts say will contribute to higher prices.

This will be inconvenient for citizens of wealthier nations, but it could have tragic consequences for those of poorer ones, especially if higher prices for feed divert production away from food crops. The demand for ethanol is already pushing up prices, and explains, in part, the 40 percent rise last year in the food price index calculated by the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization.

Though some 800 million people on the planet now suffer from hunger or malnutrition, the majority of corn and soy grown in the world feeds cattle, pigs and chickens. This despite the inherent inefficiencies: about two to five times more grain is required to produce the same amount of calories through livestock as through direct grain consumption, according to Rosamond Naylor, an associate professor of economics at Stanford University. It is as much as 10 times more in the case of grain-fed beef in the United States.

The environmental impact of growing so much grain for animal feed is profound. Agriculture in the United States — much of which now serves the demand for meat — contributes to nearly three-quarters of all water-quality problems in the nation’s rivers and streams, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Because the stomachs of cattle are meant to digest grass, not grain, cattle raised industrially thrive only in the sense that they gain weight quickly. This diet made it possible to remove cattle from their natural environment and encourage the efficiency of mass confinement and slaughter. But it causes enough health problems that administration of antibiotics is routine, so much so that it can result in antibiotic-resistant bacteria that threaten the usefulness of medicines that treat people.

Those grain-fed animals, in turn, are contributing to health problems among the world’s wealthier citizens — heart disease, some types of cancer, diabetes. The argument that meat provides useful protein makes sense, if the quantities are small. But the “you gotta eat meat” claim collapses at American levels. Even if the amount of meat we eat weren’t harmful, it’s way more than enough.

Americans are downing close to 200 pounds of meat, poultry and fish per capita per year (dairy and eggs are separate, and hardly insignificant), an increase of 50 pounds per person from 50 years ago. We each consume something like 110 grams of protein a day, about twice the federal government’s recommended allowance; of that, about 75 grams come from animal protein. (The recommended level is itself considered by many dietary experts to be higher than it needs to be.) It’s likely that most of us would do just fine on around 30 grams of protein a day, virtually all of it from plant sources.

What can be done? There’s no simple answer. Better waste management, for one. Eliminating subsidies would also help; the United Nations estimates that they account for 31 percent of global farm income. Improved farming practices would help, too. Mark W. Rosegrant, director of environment and production technology at the nonprofit International Food Policy Research Institute, says, “There should be investment in livestock breeding and management, to reduce the footprint needed to produce any given level of meat.”

Then there’s technology. Israel and Korea are among the countries experimenting with using animal waste to generate electricity. Some of the biggest hog operations in the United States are working, with some success, to turn manure into fuel.

Longer term, it no longer seems lunacy to believe in the possibility of “meat without feet” — meat produced in vitro, by growing animal cells in a super-rich nutrient environment before being further manipulated into burgers and steaks.

Another suggestion is a return to grazing beef, a very real alternative as long as you accept the psychologically difficult and politically unpopular notion of eating less of it. That’s because grazing could never produce as many cattle as feedlots do. Still, said Michael Pollan, author of the recent book “In Defense of Food,” “In places where you can’t grow grain, fattening cows on grass is always going to make more sense.”

But pigs and chickens, which convert grain to meat far more efficiently than beef, are increasingly the meats of choice for producers, accounting for 70 percent of total meat production, with industrialized systems producing half that pork and three-quarters of the chicken.

Once, these animals were raised locally (even many New Yorkers remember the pigs of Secaucus), reducing transportation costs and allowing their manure to be spread on nearby fields. Now hog production facilities that resemble prisons more than farms are hundreds of miles from major population centers, and their manure “lagoons” pollute streams and groundwater. (In Iowa alone, hog factories and farms produce more than 50 million tons of excrement annually.)

These problems originated here, but are no longer limited to the United States. While the domestic demand for meat has leveled off, the industrial production of livestock is growing more than twice as fast as land-based methods, according to the United Nations.

Perhaps the best hope for change lies in consumers’ becoming aware of the true costs of industrial meat production. “When you look at environmental problems in the U.S.,” says Professor Eshel, “nearly all of them have their source in food production and in particular meat production. And factory farming is ‘optimal’ only as long as degrading waterways is free. If dumping this stuff becomes costly — even if it simply carries a non-zero price tag — the entire structure of food production will change dramatically.”

Animal welfare may not yet be a major concern, but as the horrors of raising meat in confinement become known, more animal lovers may start to react. And would the world not be a better place were some of the grain we use to grow meat directed instead to feed our fellow human beings?

Real prices of beef, pork and poultry have held steady, perhaps even decreased, for 40 years or more (in part because of grain subsidies), though we’re beginning to see them increase now. But many experts, including Tyler Cowen, a professor of economics at George Mason University, say they don’t believe meat prices will rise high enough to affect demand in the United States.

“I just don’t think we can count on market prices to reduce our meat consumption,” he said. “There may be a temporary spike in food prices, but it will almost certainly be reversed and then some. But if all the burden is put on eaters, that’s not a tragic state of affairs.”

If price spikes don’t change eating habits, perhaps the combination of deforestation, pollution, climate change, starvation, heart disease and animal cruelty will gradually encourage the simple daily act of eating more plants and fewer animals.

Mr. Rosegrant of the food policy research institute says he foresees “a stronger public relations campaign in the reduction of meat consumption — one like that around cigarettes — emphasizing personal health, compassion for animals, and doing good for the poor and the planet.”

It wouldn’t surprise Professor Eshel if all of this had a real impact. “The good of people’s bodies and the good of the planet are more or less perfectly aligned,” he said.

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, in its detailed 2006 study of the impact of meat consumption on the planet, “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” made a similar point: “There are reasons for optimism that the conflicting demands for animal products and environmental services can be reconciled. Both demands are exerted by the same group of people … the relatively affluent, middle- to high-income class, which is no longer confined to industrialized countries. … This group of consumers is probably ready to use its growing voice to exert pressure for change and may be willing to absorb the inevitable price increases.”

In fact, Americans are already buying more environmentally friendly products, choosing more sustainably produced meat, eggs and dairy. The number of farmers’ markets has more than doubled in the last 10 years or so, and it has escaped no one’s notice that the organic food market is growing fast. These all represent products that are more expensive but of higher quality.

If those trends continue, meat may become a treat rather than a routine. It won’t be uncommon, but just as surely as the S.U.V. will yield to the hybrid, the half-pound-a-day meat era will end.

Maybe that’s not such a big deal. “Who said people had to eat meat three times a day?” asked Mr. Pollan.

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(Warning, Story includes spoiler.)

The ABC network said on Monday it will go ahead with plans to air an episode of its new legal drama “Eli Stone” despite objections from pediatricians who say the show may discourage parents from having their children immunized.The debut episode features the shows’ title character and hero, a trial lawyer for big corporations who decides to fight for the little guy, convincing a jury that a mercury-based preservative in a vaccine caused a child’s autism.

On the show, a jury awards the boy’s mother $5.2 million in damages after it is revealed the CEO of the vaccine maker kept his own daughter from getting the company’s vaccine because of autism concerns.

The “Eli Stone” plot ventures into a highly charged debate between the U.S. medical establishment and some parents and advocates for autistic children over the safety of vaccines for youngsters.

Critics of childhood immunization have argued that thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative formerly used in vaccines, is a primary cause of an autism in young children.

Major health authorities, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), cite numerous studies that rule out any scientific link between autism and vaccines.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, reacting to a synopsis of the “Eli Stone” episode in a recent New York Times article, issued a statement criticizing the show as “leaving audiences with the destructive idea that vaccines do cause autism.”

The academy also made public a letter to ABC, a unit of the Walt Disney Co., calling on the network to cancel the shows’ premiere episode, which is scheduled to air Thursday.

“Many people trust the health information presented on fictional television shows, which influence their decisions about heath care,” academy president Dr. Renee Jenkins wrote in a letter to Disney-ABC Television Group President Anne Sweeney.

ABC said it plans to broadcast the episode without changes, but would run a disclaimer at the opening of the show stating the story is fictional. A message at the end will refer viewers to a CDC Web site for information about autism.

The shows’ two creators, Greg Berlanti and Marc Guggenheim, disputed the notion that their show would frighten parents away from vaccines.

“We actually share the concern of the American Academy of Pediatrics. We believe that children should be vaccinated,” Berlanti told Reuters. But he also said, “We hope that people do watch the episode and draw their own conclusions.”

Jenkins, in her letter to ABC, said the pediatricians group is “alarmed that this program could lead to a tragic decline in the immunization rate.”

“In the United Kingdom, erroneous reports linking the measles vaccine to autism prompted a decline in vaccination and the worst outbreak of measles in two decades, including the deaths of several children,” Jenkins wrote.

What, exactly do you think?

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Recent laboratory tests found so much mercury in tuna sushi from 20 Manhattan stores and restaurants that at most of them, a regular diet of six pieces a week would exceed the levels considered acceptable by the Environmental Protection Agency.

tuna-sushi.jpg

Tuna sushi

Sushi from 5 of the 20 places had mercury levels so high that the Food and Drug Administration could take legal action to remove the fish from the market. The sushi was bought by The New York Times in October.

“No one should eat a meal of tuna with mercury levels like those found in the restaurant samples more than about once every three weeks,” said Dr. Michael Gochfeld, professor of environmental and occupational medicine at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in Piscataway, N.J.

Dr. Gochfeld analyzed the sushi for The Times with Dr. Joanna Burger, professor of life sciences at Rutgers University. He is a former chairman of the New Jersey Mercury Task Force and also treats patients with mercury poisoning.

The owner of a restaurant whose tuna sushi had particularly high mercury concentrations said he was shocked by the findings. “I’m startled by this,” said the owner, Drew Nieporent, a managing partner of Nobu Next Door. “Anything that might endanger any customer of ours, we’d be inclined to take off the menu immediately and get to the bottom of it.”

Although the samples were gathered in New York City, experts believe similar results would be observed elsewhere.

“Mercury levels in bluefin are likely to be very high regardless of location,” said Tim Fitzgerald, a marine scientist for Environmental Defense, an advocacy group that works to protect the environment and improve human health.

Most of the restaurants in the survey said the tuna The Times had sampled was bluefin.

In 2004 the Food and Drug Administration joined with the Environmental Protection Agency to warn women who might become pregnant and children to limit their consumption of certain varieties of canned tuna because the mercury it contained might damage the developing nervous system. Fresh tuna was not included in the advisory. Most of the tuna sushi in the Times samples contained far more mercury than is typically found in canned tuna.

Over the past several years, studies have suggested that mercury may also cause health problems for adults, including an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and neurological symptoms.

Dr. P. Michael Bolger, a toxicologist who is head of the chemical hazard assessment team at the Food and Drug Administration, did not comment on the findings in the Times sample but said the agency was reviewing its seafood mercury warnings. Because it has been four years since the advisory was issued, Dr. Bolger said, “we have had a study under way to take a fresh look at it.”

No government agency regularly tests seafood for mercury.

Tuna samples from the Manhattan restaurants Nobu Next Door, Sushi Seki, Sushi of Gari and Blue Ribbon Sushi and the food store Gourmet Garage all had mercury above one part per million, the “action level” at which the F.D.A. can take food off the market. (The F.D.A. has rarely, if ever, taken any tuna off the market.) The highest mercury concentration, 1.4 parts per million, was found in tuna from Blue Ribbon Sushi. The lowest, 0.10, was bought at Fairway.

When told of the newspaper’s findings, Andy Arons, an owner of Gourmet Garage, said: “We’ll look for lower-level-mercury fish. Maybe we won’t sell tuna sushi for a while, until we get to the bottom of this.” Mr. Arons said his stores stocked yellowfin, albacore and bluefin tuna, depending on the available quality and the price.

At Blue Ribbon Sushi, Eric Bromberg, an owner, said he was aware that bluefin tuna had higher mercury concentrations. For that reason, Mr. Bromberg said, the restaurant typically told parents with small children not to let them eat “more than one or two pieces.”

Koji Oneda, a spokesman for Sushi Seki, said the restaurant would talk to its fish supplier about the issue. A manager at Sushi of Gari, Tomi Tomono, said it warned pregnant women and regular customers who “love to eat tuna” about mercury levels. Mr. Tomono also said the restaurant would put warning labels on the menu “very soon.”

Scientists who performed the analysis for The Times ran the tests several times to be sure there was no mistake in the levels of methylmercury, the form of mercury found in fish tied to health problems.

The work was done at the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute, in Piscataway, a partnership between Rutgers and the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

Six pieces of sushi from most of the restaurants and stores would contain more than 49 micrograms of mercury. That is the amount the Environmental Protection Agency deems acceptable for weekly consumption over a period of several months by an adult of average weight, which the agency defines as 154 pounds. People weighing less are advised to consume even less mercury. The weight of the fish in the tuna pieces sampled by The Times were 0.18 ounces to 1.26 ounces.

In general, tuna sushi from food stores was much lower in mercury. These findings reinforce results in other studies showing that more expensive tuna usually contains more mercury because it is more likely to come from a larger species, which accumulates mercury from the fish it eats. Mercury enters the environment as an industrial pollutant.

In the Times survey, 10 of the 13 restaurants said at least one of the two tuna samples bought was bluefin. (It is hard for anyone but experts to tell whether a piece of tuna sushi is bluefin by looking at it.)

By contrast, other species, like yellowfin and albacore, generally have much less mercury. Several of the stores in the Times sample said the tuna in their sushi was yellowfin.

“It is very likely bluefin will be included in next year’s testing,” Dr. Bolger of the F.D.A. said. “A couple of months ago F.D.A. became aware of bluefin tuna as a species Americans are eating.”

A number of studies have found high blood mercury levels in people eating a diet rich in seafood. According to a 2007 survey by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the average level of mercury in New Yorkers’ blood is three times higher than the national average. The report found especially high levels among Asian New Yorkers, especially foreign-born Chinese, and people with high incomes. The report noted that Asians tend to eat more seafood, and it speculated that wealthier people favored fish, like swordfish and bluefin tuna, that happen to have higher mercury levels.

The city has warned women who are pregnant or breast-feeding and children not to eat fresh tuna, Chilean sea bass, swordfish, shark, grouper and other kinds of fish it describes as “too high in mercury.” (Cooking fish has no effect on the mercury level.)

Dr. Kate Mahaffey, a senior research scientist in the office of science coordination and policy at the E.P.A. who studies mercury in fish, said she was not surprised by reports of high concentrations.

“We have seen exposures occurring now in the United States that have produced blood mercury a lot higher than anything we would have expected to see,” Dr. Mahaffey said. “And this appears to be related to consumption of larger amounts of fish that are higher in mercury than we had anticipated.”

Many experts believe the government’s warnings on mercury in seafood do not go far enough.

“The current advice from the F.D.A. is insufficient,” said Dr. Philippe Grandjean, adjunct professor of environmental health at the Harvard School of Public Health and chairman of the department of environmental medicine at the University of Southern Denmark. “In order to maintain reasonably low mercury exposure, you have to eat fish low in the food chain, the smaller fish, and they are not saying that.”

Some environmental groups have sounded the alarm. Environmental Defense, the advocacy group, says no one, no matter his or her age, should eat bluefin tuna. Dr. Gochfeld said: “I like to think of tuna sushi as an occasional treat. A steady diet is certainly problematic. There are a lot of other sushi choices.”

Okay, how many of you remember that years ago there were screaming headlines in the newspaper, reporters foaming at the mouth, politicians demanding that we warn the people, about a jillion advocacy groups, on both sides of the fence,  whining either for or against installing regulations,  grocery stores with warning labels about the possible/probable contamination of fish of whatever stripe?  Oh how soon we forget – the case of history repeating itself , ja?

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Jenna Wortham over at Underwire posted this yesterday.  FYI – This article relates my own exact feelings about MySpace. I won’t be joining those who flee from this once popular networking site as I did that long ago.  Three cheers to all of you who tell MySpace to cram it.

“MySpace users fed up with glitchy pages, annoying banner ads and an abundance of spam may finally have the motivation to take the plunge and delete their accounts.

Wednesday is International Delete Your MySpace Account Day, an online protest geared at uniting users eager to ditch the popular social networking site.

Tired of juggling both a Facebook and MySpace account, blogger Simon Owens instigated the movement Jan. 20, laying out 10 reasons to ditch the News Corp.-owned site.

“After months of only visiting my myspace (sic) profile in order to delete spam friend requests from half-nude women, I’ve reached the end of the line,” wrote Owens in his original declaration.

Rather than delete his profile immediately, Owens decided to recruit as many participants as possible for his self-declared coup.

“I’d love to see a large number of people delete their accounts all at once in order to send MySpace a message: Your website sucks,” he continued.

Owens’ supporters have posted their votes of solidarity in the comments section of his blog.

One user, Rachael, elected to delete her account before the designated day, writing: “I jumped the gun and I already deleted mine…. SUCK IT, MYSPACE!”

Another user, Cope, offered simple thanks for the movement: “Great idea. Thanks for pushing me to get the monkey off my back.”

Other fans of the silent protest eagerly hopped on the bandwagon, creating a Facebook group to spread the word. Nearly 1,800 group members have confirmed attendance, indicating their participation in deleting their MySpace accounts.

One Facebook user, Tom, based in London, posted a message indicating his support to the group board: “Mine’s gone. Solong MySpace, you were shit.”

Another user, Smelly Jen, posted her support of the movement, writing: “I did it! So refreshing! Like ripping off a band aid! It’s gone forever!”

The online protest hasn’t gone unnoticed by MySpace officials.

According to an article on News.com.au, Rebekah Horne, vice president of Fox Interactive Media and MySpace in Australia and New Zealand, bit back at the international event, saying: “This Delete-Your-MySpace day is just about being controversial. MySpace is still the biggest social networking site in the world.” ‘

See also:

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Betsy Shiffman over at Wired Blog Network authored this piece yesterday and I thought you might like to read it.

“EBay users are mad as hell and they’re not going to stop complaining about it.

“After a fairly challenging year, John Donahoe, who takes over as eBay CEO at the end of March, unveiled plans yesterday to lower the upfront listing fee and increase the back-end fee for sellers. The so-called “success-based” model, which takes effect Feb. 20, is meant to increase listings, but from what we can gather, it will do little more than enrage its merchant base.

‘ “Sellers prefer this structure, as it lowers their risk if an item doesn’t sell,” Donahoe said in a keynote speech at a conference yesterday. “Put simply, we will make more of our money when sellers are successful.” ‘
“We’re not sure who Donahoe consulted, but sellers far and wide are loudly complaining that the new fee structure will increase the costs of using the auction site — the web is aflutter with calls for a “mass exodus” of “feebay.” Ina Steiner, author of the Auction Bytes blog, calculates that the new fee structure could hike rates by 33 percent for many sellers.

“eBay, by contrast, projects that new structure will lower fees for 60 percent of its sellers, assuming they’re eligible for discounts offered to power sellers who meet eBay’s recently revised criteria.

‘ “Every seller’s going to have to go back and review their business practices and see what this means for them individually,” said eBay spokesman Usher Lieberman.

“It isn’t just the fee structure that has sellers out of sorts: eBay also changed its feedback system so that sellers cannot give a negative or neutral rating to buyers.

‘ “Sellers will no longer have a way to protect themselves against bad buyers, deadbeat bidders, scam artists, buyers who make unreasonable demands, buyers who don’t read the ad then demand a refund, the list goes on and on,” one merchant wrote in a forum.

“The company argues that the feedback system was being abused, and that it has provided sellers with several new tools to protect themselves from deadbeat bidders.

‘ “We’ve seen a four-fold increase in unwarranted negative feedback left for buyers in a retaliatory way. Buyers have told us consistently — that one of the strongest reasons for not using the site is retaliatory feedback,” says Lieberman. “If buyers have a bad transaction, that won’t drive them away. What does drive them away is retaliatory feedback.” ‘

Isn’t that so like eBay.

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Rather than post timely articles, one-by-one, I’ll just give you headlines and links to these stories. Yeah, I’m being lazy.

Spears has ‘mental issues,’ friend says

Pathologist admits to being self-taught

Morrison endorses Obama for president

Niece of Scientology’s leader backs Cruise biography

Obama isn’t ‘the black candidate’

When Catholicism was the target

Don’t put public figures on the couch

Women get bra price equality

Kidney racket scandal shocks country

Son of Kan. governor creates board game

Venezuela’s Chavez swaps coffee for coca in speech

Germany Confronts Holocaust Legacy Anew

Archivist: I stole papers to pay bills

Cash-strapped states resort to odd taxes

VA: 19 deaths in Ill. traced to care

A frosty moment between Clinton, Obama

That ought to keep you busy. Thanks for putting up with this format. I’m in a rush today – hope you understand.

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