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The Daily Beast

‘It’s Not Personal!’: ‘Top Chef’ Judge Gail Simmons Tells All

NBC UniversalWhen I admit 30 seconds into my Zoom call with Gail Simmons that I have just finished bingeing all 17 seasons of Top Chef in preparation for this week’s highly anticipated 18th season premiere, she is simultaneously delighted and disturbed.“Oh god, I am horrified and I’m grateful,” she responds. “The hairstyles alone, I mean, it’s like a journey through time.”Along with head judge Tom Colicchio, Gail Simmons has been a vital part of the increasingly elaborate cooking competition reality show since its inauspicious premiere in 2006. (Padma Lakshmi famously joined the show as host and later executive producer in Season 2 after Top Chef’s first host Katie Lee was let go.)If Colicchio is the show’s intimidating father figure and Lakshmi is the fun mom with the unenviable task of telling every contestant but the winner to “pack their knives and go,” Simmons is the warm, loving Jewish aunt. She’s not afraid to tell the chefs when they mess up. But she is always there for a comforting hug and words of encouragement when they are sent on their way.Those hugs are just one of many staples of the show—along with frantic Whole Foods runs and “Restaurant Wars”—that will be missing in this new, ambitious season, which was shot entirely during COVID lockdown in Portland, Oregon. The summer shoot was also plagued by life-threatening wildfires and galvanized by the massive Black Lives Matter protests.All of this plus the return of several previous Top Chef winners and all-stars, who joined the production bubble as rotating guest judges, promises to make for the show’s most compelling season yet. And Simmons—who describes herself as, above all, a “professional eater”—breaks it all down below before Season 18 premieres tonight, Thursday April 1 at 8 p.m. on Bravo.With Season 18 about to premiere, can you talk about how different it is going to be from past seasons?Season 18 will be, in some ways I hope, a little bit of comfort food. And I do hope that it feels that way to our viewers, like coming home. It’s still the same high quality, it’s still the most amazing talent, it still showcases the city we’re in in a unique and beautiful way. But at the same time, obviously we’re facing this last year head on. We are so proud of the fact that we really have given a voice to the restaurant industry and we will show it in all its forms. And this year was an unprecedented year. It was a dark and difficult year in the world, obviously, and for the restaurant industry especially. The biggest thing you’ll notice is obviously that anyone that’s around us besides the talent and the judges are in full PPE. We created this show in a complete enclosed bubble in terms of the way that we operated for two and a half months in Portland, Oregon. And that was an amazing feat. And we’re really proud of it, not a single case of COVID along the way. Such a big part of our show is always the guest judges that come into every episode with the quickfire and the elimination and bring their perspective and their talent to the show. And we couldn’t do that in the same way this year, because the show has to be enclosed and we can’t have people coming in and out every day when we’re shooting. So we created this panel of alumni all-stars, 15 of them that are with us for the whole thing. They are our diners. So we’re never cooking for 200 people anymore.That must be a relief for the chefs.In some ways, yes. But in some ways it made it more challenging too, because every single diner that they’re cooking for is a professional chef this year, every single time. We did do a drive-in episode that allowed us to have people alone in their cars at the drive-in movie theater. But otherwise every time they were cooking, they were cooking for experts. And not just experts, but experts who had been in their shoes, which in some ways brought empathy in a way, but it also made sure that we were examining and cross-examining every bite in a really intense way. But I think it lends a lot to the show, not just because we got to eat meals with our friends all the time, but I just think it adds a richness to the show that will bring a lot. So it was a way to tackle that challenge, but make the show even better for it.The thing that’s apparent immediately this season is how this past year has affected the chefs who are on as contestants in that they have a lot more to gain and less to lose. Usually people have to leave their restaurants to come on the show, putting their career on hold to take a chance on this other thing.There is almost more at stake this year because the restaurant industry has been so challenged. And so, quite frankly, devastated, on the brink of collapse, that to have a shot at and have the opportunity to show what you can do to such a wide audience and the chance at rebirth, it’s a bigger opportunity even, right? Because most of these chefs lost their jobs, lost their restaurants, or the restaurants were closed, or they were furloughed, or they had to furlough a hundred people before they came on the show. I mean, there’s so much trauma in the industry. It’s not a trickle down of how this affected the industry, it’s a waterfall. So I think in some ways you’re right, there’s even more at stake for our contestants, because there’s so much on the line in their livelihoods to do well. It will give them opportunity that really doesn’t exist right now. At the same time, I think it allowed them a freedom in a way that they hadn’t had before. Because now there are so many different routes. You don’t have to go back and open a traditional restaurant. We were able to have them cook at a time when there’s just so many different ways to be a chef. And this year has proven that our industry is so creative and innovative in that way. So I think you’ll see that on the show too. And I hope that our viewers take that away from it, like you did, and notice that. Because I don’t know if civilians outside the industry really understand the extent to which restaurateurs and chefs have been tested this year.The fact that you’re all in this bubble together and you’re not really interacting with a lot of other people, how did it change the vibe on set? Was there a little bit more camaraderie, maybe even between the contestants and the judges than there have been in other seasons?I think there was an empathy, more than there’d been in past seasons. There’s no camaraderie. We are not hanging out with those contestants any more, for sure not. But there’s more of a camaraderie between them, this shared experience after being in isolation. And same with us because we had these 15 people with us. It wasn’t just Tom, Padma and I. Then on our nights off, we wouldn’t just go see other friends or go live our life. We had no one but each other. In some ways that was amazing because we got to actually eat together. And I will say, that was the most interaction with people any of us had had in months leading up to the show. So it was incredible to be able to sit down with friends at a table and eat a meal every day and be outside together and explore Portland and Oregon together, go to wine country, go to the coast and experience it with a big group of people. I mean, it was far more people than I’d been with for so long. We all were craving companionship and that’s what made it special. For the contestants, too, they’d all been alone in their own lives. And they got to then really form relationships. More than ever, I think you’ll see that this year it’s a group of incredibly diverse, interesting people who come together in unexpected ways.Yeah, it’s so fun to see the past contestants as judges. Richard Blais was the first former contestant to become a judge and now you have this huge panel, including him. Does it change the way you get to know these chefs, when they were contestants versus when they then become judges and you are more peers?Yeah, absolutely. Over the years, especially with some of them who were from earlier seasons, someone, like [season four’s] Dale Talde for example, I’ve gotten to know in our industry. I was a regular at his Brooklyn restaurant, I went to visit him in his new restaurant out in Tarrytown, New York. And so many of them, [season 10 winner] Kristen Kish, [season 14 winner] Brooke Williamson, we’ve spent a lot of time over the years getting to know them personally after their shows. But this was another level because we don’t necessarily all get to work together and have them on our side of the table, so to speak.I think it actually freaked a lot of them out because they thought that they’d just roll into it and it wouldn’t feel different, but their empathy and the way they identify with the experience in real time, when they’re sitting at that table—you could see them, all they wanted to do is jump over the table and get into the kitchen and tell the chefs in hindsight what they could do better. They were so invested in the outcome and in the success of these chefs. And I think it actually really lifted our contestants up to know that there was someone on the other end of the table who’d been in their shoes and could really understand that experience. Because otherwise their experience is very isolating and it’s so intense and so challenging on a good day. And this year has just been one giant, not so good day.One thing that I definitely noticed rewatching the show from the beginning is that the skill level of the chefs has just gotten better and better over the years. It seems like every finale, someone is making a comment like “this is the best dessert we’ve ever had.”It’s true. Every year we’re just like, we didn’t think it could get better.So it seems like the Judges’ Table for the finale must be the most difficult one that you have to do. What are those deliberations like, especially for the finale?So I have never gone back and watched the show’s previous seasons. I think that would just be like a slow knife in my heart. But I think it would be so interesting now to see, because the first season had a few sort of semi-amateurs. Someone just came out of culinary school, someone was like a home cook and caterer. And very early on, we realized that our audience wants the show to be about professionals. Let’s just call it that and make it that. This is not a show about aspiring cooks. This is not a show for people who want to get into the industry. Every person on our show has been working as a professional chef and this year, there’s not even sous chefs. They’re all executive chefs or owners. And that allows the level of conversation, the level of quality of the show to first of all be totally different than anything else out there, but also allows us to have this level playing field. Everyone’s coming in with the same years of experience. And that allows us to push them so much harder. So that has been amazing to see. Just every year, the casting of our show has gotten stronger and stronger.And when it comes to Judges’ Table, we have also evolved our production along the way. Our show has gotten a lot bigger since those first years. There used to be years where Judges’ Table would take through the night into the morning. Especially finales. I can count at least three or four finales where we would finish eating at like eight o’clock, nine o’clock at night, go to Judges’ Table, let’s say, starting at 10 o’clock at night. And we would debate until seven in the morning. In Puerto Rico, season four, we had to stop production during the finale Judges’ Table because the light was coming up, the sun was rising, the roosters were crowing, and we had to shut down so that our lighting department could switch around the lighting because it was lit for nighttime and it wasn’t night anymore. There are pictures of me literally taking a nap at the Judges’ Table. So they used to be agonizing and they’re still incredibly hard. And they do take hours and hours when they’re boiled down to 15 minutes of airtime. But we’ve gotten a lot more efficient at it because we all are sort of on the same page about what we’re looking for and the challenge. So what used to be eight hours or seven hours of Judges’ Table at finales now is four or five. But we take it seriously. And we have never regretted a decision that we’ve made because we make sure we’re unanimous and we talk it out. That’s the best part of the show is just an honest, real conversation about food. The finales are definitely difficult, but that’s a great problem to have. It would be really boring if it was like, “That guy was terrible and it’s an easy decision.”You said you’ve never regretted a decision, but were there any close calls that still haunt you?Oh yeah, many, many close calls. I don’t necessarily want to name them because it’s probably a sore point for the person who didn’t win. But there were many times when it really came down to the nuance of technique or the nuance of the dish or an overall experience. It’s never just one thing. There’s no black and white rules to how to judge. We don’t give three points for this and six points for this and it’s a clean, perfect mathematical equation. That’s not what eating is. Eating is an emotional experience. Eating transports you. It’s about taste memory and technique and science, kind of in equal measure. So every time we sit down, we judge a little bit differently in terms of what we’re looking for and what we get.There’s this really great moment that happens in almost every finale episode, where the camera catches you specifically going up to the runner up and consoling them in some way. It’s this really sweet moment and I don’t know if you’re aware that this happens in nearly every finale.I guess I’m not. I mean, I can remember a few. It’s a show to us, but it’s life to them, right? They’re really going through this. And it’s an enormous piece of their livelihood and the trajectory of their careers. And they work so damn hard to get to that last meal. They pour their emotions out. It is so physically taxing on them. And at the end of it, they just want to collapse, win or lose. And you connect with that and you can’t help but want to make sure they understand how much you appreciate that, how grateful I am to these people. We’ve taken this adventure with them and we are so proud of their work. And by the way, just because one person wins, as you know now, so many of them have gone on to great success. And actually some of whom have become bigger, more successful and more well-known than the winners themselves. So you just want to make sure they understand that while that other person’s dish or menu was better on this one day, they are extraordinary in what they accomplished along the way. I didn’t even remember who won a bunch of the seasons because that’s not what you remember. You remember these individual moments and stand-out dishes along the way.Oh, that’s nice to hear. I was watching the first episode of this season just the other night with my husband and he was trying to get ahead of it. And he’s like, so who goes home this first episode? And I could not remember. And to your point, I’m so glad that you as a viewer felt that way, because I was there. And I know the end result. But I also don’t remember who goes home, because that person who went home was just as memorable to me as so many of the others. And when that person was eliminated, I actually was like, “Oh, wait, I didn’t remember that, I’m so sad!” I mean, I remembered the dish and I agreed with the decision, like that needed to happen. But I was like, oh, damn, I really like that person. But it’s not personal! The decisions we make are strictly about the food that we eat and that’s the only fair way to do it.Before we go, now that we’re about a year into the pandemic, how have you handled this year without restaurants in a traditional sense? What has that been like for you?Painful, but not as painful as if I was a restaurateur, that’s for sure. So much of my life is traveling and eating out. It’s what gives me the greatest joy. I’m a restaurant industry cheerleader. That’s my job, because I love restaurants so much. I love cooking, of course. But championing restaurants is what I’ve always done and wanted to do. And so it’s what I crave and miss the most for sure. I’ve done a lot of takeout. I’ve been cooking and taking out in equal measure. It’s not quite the same, but I think there have also been some really bright points of innovation in the takeout space that I’m excited about. So I’m just supporting the industry the best I can, whether it’s by making sure people are doing takeout—and not just takeout, but takeout on the right apps so that the restaurant is not paying exorbitant fees to have that service. And at a government level, this is a bigger conversation that we all can get behind locally. And thank goodness relief is on the way, thanks in large part to Tom Colicchio. I think it has made everyone realize that we can’t imagine a world without restaurants. They are such an integral part of the way we live and commune and connect and unify in so many ways. They are the hub of neighborhoods. They are the place we go for celebration, for drowning our sorrows, for reunion. And I just can’t wait to get back.What’s the first restaurant you’re going to go eat at when you are able to again?Oh, I don’t know, that’s not fair! It depends on whether I’m with my kids or not. But I’ll definitely be paying my friend Tom Colicchio a big visit. But there’s just so, so many. I can’t wait to travel again and eat at new restaurants. I just hope that as many as possible are still standing.Read more at The Daily Beast.Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.

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British Columbia tackles innovation investment gap – The Globe and Mail



Lt.- Gov. Janet Austin delivers the Throne Speech at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., April 12, 2021.

CHAD HIPOLITO/The Canadian Press

The B.C. government will create its own investment fund to help promising B.C. companies scale up and keep jobs here at home, as part of its post-pandemic recovery plan.

The InBC strategic investment fund, announced in Monday’s Throne Speech, will be administered by a new Crown corporation. The initiative is designed to respond to concerns that the province’s world-leading innovations in sectors such as life sciences are consistently flowing to other jurisdictions with better investment climates.

The Throne Speech, read by Lieutenant-Governor Janet Austin, offers a self-congratulatory account of the government’s response to the health and economic challenges brought by COVID-19 over the past year, and acknowledges that the province is still in the grips of the pandemic. But it also focuses on plans to rebuild the economy.

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“We open this sitting of the legislature at a turning point in our fight to end the pandemic,” she read. “The threat of new variants means we cannot relax, even as your government accelerates the largest mass-immunization program in B.C.’s history.”

Ms. Austin cited the province’s contributions to the global effort to fight COVID-19, noting that its life-sciences companies have helped develop a vaccine and a treatment for the virus, as well as the development of an ICU ventilator for use in Canadian hospitals.

“Their work will not only help bring us out of the pandemic, it will position our province for success in the years ahead,” she said.

The speech predicts the province will find continued growth in trade. “Global markets are changing in ways that offer significant opportunities for B.C.’s goods and services. Prices are expected to continue to reflect environmental, social and governance aspects of production,” it states. “British Columbia firms will be able to take advantage of a premium paid for inclusive and sustainable products.”

But leaders in health sciences and the high-tech sectors have noted that B.C., while it excels in research and development, fails to foster a business environment where those innovations can stay and grow.

Quebec and Ontario have helped secure life sciences investments by partnering with Ottawa to offer incentives. Most recently, the global pharmaceutical giant Sanofi unveiled its plans to build an influenza vaccine manufacturing facility in Toronto, after the federal government and the province of Ontario committed to invest close to half a billion dollars in the project.

The B.C. government provided no detail on the new investment fund on Monday, and it is unclear how the new agency will assist. “This new strategic fund will help promising B.C. companies scale up, anchor talent – keeping jobs and investment at home in British Columbia,” it reads.

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It also promises additional funding to address the challenges that COVID-19 has exposed for the homeless, for health care and for seniors in long-term care. “In the year ahead, your government will continue to improve care for seniors by hiring thousands of new workers for long-term care and fixing the cracks COVID-19 has exposed.”

The Throne Speech also promises initiatives to assist British Columbians who struggle with the cost of living. The budget, which will be introduced on April 20, will include funds to help get thousands of rental homes built throughout the province, and will expand access to the province’s $10-a-day daycare spaces.

The government is also promising changes to its vehicle insurance rates through the Insurance Corporation of B.C. ICBC will deliver a 20-per-cent cut to car insurance rates, in addition to the COVID-19 rebate that was issued earlier this year.

We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.

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eBay Is Helping Gen-Y and Gen-Z Get Their Investment Kicks – Forbes



At a time when Sotheby’s is auctioning off rare sneakers, you know the nature of investing has changed. Those changes are coming as Generations Y and Z are looking to invest in what they love, while changing the nature of what investment-grade goods look like.

eBay, for one has been leading the charge and looks to remain the go-to agent for its monetization. And, to combat counterfeiting while supporting the segment’s growth, the online marketplace is innovating. eBay has begun a series of pop-up authentication events, intended to give their collectors and sellers a new source to both authenticate and value their rare kicks, as well as high-end watches, and collector cards.

Sneakers and watches are two of eBays most popular luxury categories. There are more than a half-million sneaker listings on eBay, and over 165,00 luxury watches listed on any given day. And over the past year the marketplace saw a 10 percent increase for high-end time pieces like Rolex, whose sales have jumped 60 percent since 2019.

Authentication Station

The on-site authentication events are an extension of the recently expanded “Authentication Guarantee” services that eBay offers, utilizing an independent team of industry experts. It’s the same group that authenticated a $1 million pair of 1985 Air Jordon 1’s, signed by non-other than the “Air-apparent” himself.  

The program first launched in LA’s Koreatown, back in November 2020 in a vintage, fifties-looking converted gas station. Participants handed the goods off to an attendant, who brought the items in to the inspection teams. The process was in full view via large outside screens, and successful assessments earned an eBay Authentication Guarantee. Participants were able to receive “on the spot” offers or elected to list the items themselves.

The East-Hollywood, LA experiment was successful enough to replicate. And pop-up authentication events took place this past Friday and Saturday in Atlanta. They are expected to again be replicated in Las Vegas, Seattle, Nashville, and Austin in coming weeks. Admissions to the events are free, without an appointment.

Playing A New Card

In a parallel effort, by late April eBay will add an imaging listing tool to its mobile app, designed to facilitate more efficient listings of trading cards. This is another category that has evolved from mere collecting to high-buck investing.

Beginning in late April 2021, eBay plans to launch an image listing tool in its mobile app to initially support Magic the Gathering cards and ultimately Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh! as well.  Users will point their camera at the card and hold to scan. A list of possible matches will pop-up, along with details on game name, title, card set, number and rarity. After tapping the closest match, the user can add their details and pricing to post. eBay plans to add other collectable and trading cards to the offering later in 2021.

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Joe Biden tax plan affect US investment in Ireland?




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Wander around Dublin’s Grand Canal Quay and you get a sense of how successful the Republic of Ireland has been in attracting US technology companies.

Google has its international headquarters across a campus of offices and will soon have more space nearby at the Boland’s Mill development.

Just across the canal, Facebook has its international HQ with Tripadvisor and AirBnB close by.

Stripe, the United States-based payments firm, could soon be in the area.

Last month its Irish founders said they’re planning about 1,000 new jobs in Ireland.

The head of the country’s inward investment agency, Martin Shanahan, described the Stripe investment as a “phenomenal signal from Ireland and about Ireland”.

But there’s now a risk that the pipeline of investment from the US could dry up if President Joe Biden can lead a major change to global tax rules.

Irish tax advantage under threat

In among those tech company HQs in Dublin’s docklands, you will also find the offices of the lawyers and accountants who help US firms use Ireland’s tax system to reduce their global tax bills.

For the last 20 years Ireland has had a simple message: invest here and you will pay just 12.5% tax on your Irish profits.

That compares favourably to headline corporation tax rates of 19% in the UK, 30% in Germany and 26.5% in Canada.

It is an article of faith in Irish politics that the 12.5% rate has been vital to attracting US investment.

But that tax advantage could be seriously undermined if President Biden gets his way.


Google head office Dublin


The most striking of his proposals – and the one of most consequence for Ireland – is for a global minimum corporate tax rate.

The US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has suggested a 21% minimum rate.

“We are working with G20 nations to agree to a global minimum corporate tax rate that can stop the race to the bottom,” she said in a speech last week.

“Together we can use a global minimum tax to make sure the global economy thrives based on a more level playing field in the taxation of multinational corporations.”

What would it mean for Ireland’s economy?

Essentially that would mean if a company paid tax at the lower Irish rate, then the US (or other countries) could top up that company’s tax in their jurisdiction to get it to the global minimum.

So if a US company had a presence in Ireland primarily for the tax advantage, that advantage would disappear.

This is a matter of urgency for the Biden administration because it is planning to raise corporate taxes at home and would prefer not to see more tax revenues leaking to other countries.

Peter Vale, tax partner with accounting firm Grant Thornton in Dublin, thinks a global minimum rate is now an inevitability.

“If you’d asked me six months ago I’d have been quite sceptical, there was a lot of opposition,” he said.

“But it’s now moving by the day and, with the US behind it with its plans, I think we’re going to arrive at some sort of global consensus.”

He said the key issue for Ireland becomes the level at which the rate is set.

“I don’t think 21% is where it will land, I suspect it will be somewhere in the teens.”



Niall Carson/PA

Other details will be important too: “Exactly how will you work out what the rate is a company is paying in Ireland and what does that mean in terms of any top up? The detail becomes pretty critical.”

The Biden proposals have reinvigorated work which is being led by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), an intergovernmental economic organisation.

It began a project known as Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) in 2013, which aims to mitigate tax loopholes which currently allow companies to shift profits from higher tax countries to lower tax countries like Ireland.

‘Intention to target Ireland’

Perhaps ironically Ireland appears to have been a major beneficiary of some of the early outcomes of the BEPS project.

The country’s corporation tax receipts have soared from about €4bn (£3.5bn) in 2013 to around €12bn (£10.5bn) in 2020.

That is the principle that companies should declare their profits in the location where they have real operations or activities.

“Countries like Ireland have been a huge winner from BEPS mark one,” he said.

“The objective was to align profit with substance and we actually are one of the countries where these companies have substance, whether it be pharmaceuticals, computer chips, medical devices and the ICT companies.

“I think when countries in the G7 looked at this they thought ‘that’s not quite what we wanted’ – maybe the intention was to target countries like Ireland, not benefit them.”

When could we see an impact?

In the next round of BEPS, with the US on board, those other rich countries are more likely to get what they want at Ireland’s expense.

But even if President Biden can agree the reforms at home and abroad, how quickly would that have an impact in Ireland?

Mr Coffey thinks any negative effects would not be instant because tax is not everything.

“Are the ICT companies likely to head off around the world, scattering their headquarters to various different cities?” he said.

“There are benefits to being co-located. At least in the medium term we are not likely to see a huge shock.”

That is echoed by the IDA (Industrial Development Authority), the inward investment agency, which points to Ireland’s workforce and significant clusters of specialisation in areas like medical technology and pharmaceuticals.

The IDA also sees the Brexit angle, pointing out that Ireland, unlike its UK neighbour, is part of the EU’s single market.

In a statement, it said: “Ireland is at the heart of Europe. Ireland’s continued commitment to the EU is a core part of Ireland’s value proposition to foreign investors, offering a base to access the European Single Market and to grow their business.

“Ireland also benefits from free movement of people within the EU, giving businesses located in Ireland access to a European labour market.”

The Irish government has been engaged in the BEPS process, though in a speech last year the Finance Minister, Pascal Donohoe, said he remained to be convinced of the need for minimum taxation, beyond the specific challenges relating to the digital economy.

This week a government spokesman said: “Ireland is aware of the US proposals.

“We are constructively engaging in these discussions, and will consider any proposals carefully noting that political level discussions on these issues have not yet taken place with the 139 countries involved in this process.”

Source: – BBC News

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