Earthsea (in Patagonia)

I recently flew down to Punta Arenas, Chile. A few comments about latitude (and these are guesstimates on my part; correct me if I’m wrong.)

People talk about a North/South split in development, but it’s really more North/Central. Africa runs from about 37 degrees north to 34 degrees south. That’s central. The actual south is mostly empty.

It’s interesting to contrast the north and south of the planet. Take the region from 38.5 degrees up to the arctic circle. That’s from Lisbon up to the northern tip of Iceland. Over in the US, 38.5 is about a line from Sacramento across to DC, and the arctic circle is way up in northern Alaska. So this northern region includes most of North America and most of Eurasia.

The world is 71% water and 29% land, but I’d guess the region from 38.5 degrees up to the arctic circle is more than 50% land. In contrast, the middle section of the world is much more water intensive, and the southern section (from 38.5% south to the antarctic circle) is almost entirely ocean. Down there you have most of New Zealand, Tasmania, a tiny piece of Antarctica, the Falkland Islands and Patagonia. But all that together comprises perhaps 3% (or less?) of the surface area of this southern region. And the vast majority of land in this region lies in Patagonia, which begins roughly at the 38.5 degree south latitude (the Rio Negro.)

The south is like Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea. It’s a water planet with hardly any people. The Earth is very “top heavy” in terms of land, people, power, almost everything. That’s why world maps often put the equator about 2/3rds of the way down.

I like to read. Most normal students stop reading for fun when they enter grad school and begin to seriously focus on economics. I did the opposite in my first year at Chicago (1977). I suddenly began reading lots of novels and travel books. Here are a couple of examples; both came out at about the same time:

Right before this trip, I reread the Chatwin book. It’s every bit as good as I recall—a travel masterpiece. But is it true? When it’s this good, who cares?

Us northerners tend to associate the term “south” with “hot”. But the southern part of this planet is really cold. In Punta Arenas, the average high during mid-summer is only 60 degrees (15 or 16C), whereas an equal distance north of the equator (say Hamburg, Germany) is 73 during the summer (23C). The great Southern Ocean is like a big bowl of water with a giant ice cube floating in the center. And nothing to break the relentless wind. The south is too cold for me. Soon we’ll head up north to warmer regions.

The native people of Fireland (which the local people call “Tierra del Fuego”) lived mostly outdoors, with almost no clothing. The cold, wet and windy climate in this area is similar to that of Reykjavik. In contrast:

1. I live in Southern California.

2. I live indoors.

3. I have warm clothing.

4. I have a furnace.

And for four months, I’m still &$#@&% cold all the time!

A while back I recall reading that residents of San Diego complain more about the cold than people of any other city. At one time, that made no sense to me. Now that I’ve moved to Southern California, I finally understand.

This is just one more illustration of why economic growth doesn’t make people happier. Hedonics. Set points. And don’t tell me that you’d hate living without clothing in Patagonia. Of course you would—you’re soft! But the natives didn’t hate their lives. Painkillers? It’s all relative. Here’s Montaigne:

Most of Mankind spend their lives without experiencing poverty; some without even experiencing pain or sickness

He wrote that in the 1500s. What do you think Montaigne regarded as “poverty”? What definition of poverty would cause one of the world’s wisest men to make that claim during the 1500s? What definition of “pain or sickness”. A toothache? A cold?

You say that teenage girls are depressed by social media? I bet the teenage girls of Fireland were not depressed.

PS. I am currently reading a memoir entitled “Uttermost Part of the Earth”, written by Lucas Bridges, one of the first European settlers of Fireland. An amazing book. Imagine something like Kipling’s “The Man Who Would Be King”, except a true story. (Not the same plot, but an equally thrilling adventure.) Fascinating stuff on the native Patagonians, who have mostly disappeared.

PPS. After Punta Arenas we visited Puerto Natales. The weather was even worse than normal; cold, windy and rainy. Wind tends to come from the west, and there’s no land going west from the Falklands–all the way around the world until you reach the west coast of Chilean Patagonia.

When I was young I liked looking at maps and dreamed of visiting the southern tip of South America. So here I am. But I waited too long. Hiking near Grey glacier yesterday I was all bundled up and still felt cold—in mid-summer! Don’t wait to travel—do it when you are young. Patagonia is “no country for old men”.

BTW, it gets dark at 9:30 and light again at 6:30, which means their time is shifted two hours forward. One hour is because Chile is currently on daylight saving time, and the other because Puerto Natales is in a time zone one hour ahead of New York and Boston, despite lying directly south of those eastern US cities. It’s like Chile normally has DST, and then double-DST in the summer.

If you plan to travel to this area, I’d suggest staying up at Torres del Paine, not Puerto Natales. Otherwise, you’ll have very long and bumpy bus rides between your hotel and the best scenery. If you are old, I’d consider NZ’s south island before Patagonia—it’s much easier.

We visited the cave that motivated Chatwin’s trip, where his grandmother’s cousin had found the remains of a mylodon skin (one of those many large mammals wiped out by the early human inhabitants of the Americas.)



30 Responses to “Earthsea (in Patagonia)”

  1. Gravatar of Rajat Rajat
    14. February 2023 at 12:18

    Haha, I can’t even haul myself down to Tasmania because it’s ‘too cold’. You’re right about southern winds – Melbourne (at a shade under 38S) can go from 38C to 18C in hours when a ‘cool change’ hits. And we don’t cast off our puffer jackets except for maybe 6-8 weeks in summer, if we’re lucky.

    I’m like your typical students and read a lot in my first few years of university, but more or less stopped in later years and since being in the workforce – except on holidays. Now, reading anything in bed other than old Tintin comics puts me to sleep in 5 minutes. But when I did read, I read quite a few of Paul Theroux. What’s The Old Patagonian Express like?

  2. Gravatar of Brett Brett
    14. February 2023 at 12:31

    It becomes really noticeable if you flip a globe or map upside down, so that the south pole is on “top” and the north pole at the bottom. Suddenly, it looks like there’s just one vast, huge northern ocean – with the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans just feeling like particularly large “gulfs” in it.

    A while back I recall reading that residents of San Diego complain more about the cold than people of any other city. At one time, that made no sense to me. Now that I’ve moved to Southern California, I finally understand.

    Obviously there’s hedonics, but I live in a place that has real winters, and San Diego does feel cold sometimes when I visit in winter. It’s the humidity and the wind – with wet winds, even 45-50 degrees F can feel cold.

    Reminds me of how housing’s main value wasn’t so much that it kept you significantly warmer than outside (although it usually helped), but that it kept you dry.

  3. Gravatar of Sara Sara
    14. February 2023 at 13:39

    Better than your other posts, but I’m sorry to say that this is quiet obvious. I hope you are not just realizing that economic growth doesn’t equate to happiness at the age of 70.

    I mean, there are 19 year old backpackers who realize this.

    I’ve also been to Chile, Colombia, Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia; And yes, they are happier; they also don’t like globalists; they don’t like people that attack their religion, like you, or talk about one-world-nato or encourage open borders to flood their communities with snobby 70 year old retired economists. And they sure as hell don’t want you and your McDonalds and warmongering Bolton’s coming to their towns; although, I presume they’ll tolerate you and your pathetic Spanish for few days. If nothing else but for the cash you can fork over.

    But please tell us how it felt to be wrong again about the Chinese balloon? Do you remember just two posts prior you called everyone who believed it was a spy balloon a moron? According to the intelligence community and the examination of debris, they weren’t “morons”

    The problem, and it’s a pattern, is that you jump to conclusions without thinking things through. You hear a talking head on t.v., then you propagate precisely what they say; there is no “there there”, no substance, no understanding of detail, no individual analysis and investigation, like how radar works, the goal of the CCP, etc, etc.

    But please do keep traveling and learning; hopefully, it will help provide a more cosmopolitan view of the world: one that respects sovereignty and individuality; and if you learn to respect self determination, one of these days, then you will come to respect the rights and wants and desires of people living in Bosnia — AND AND AND AND – the people living in Donbas! Because there is no difference between the two countries. Bosnia doesn’t want anything to do with Serbia, and Donbas doesn’t want anything to do with Zelensky and his globalist thugs. The only difference is your bizarre hatred and belief that Putin is committing some “thought crime” presumably with the goal of taking over the world — nonsense.

    I also suggest while you are out paroling the world that you take a visit to Russia. Learn a bit about their culture, their traditions, and you might see that they are not so evil. You might see that they are “happy people”, happier than the U.S., and don’t need your wokeness and progressivism that creates nothing but degeneracy. And no, I’m not Russian. I can already see your brainwashed brain begin to create conspiracies. My commenters are lying; they are russian; they are putin peddlers, lol. No. I’m not. Put some ice on that 1960’s brainwashing.

  4. Gravatar of Aladdin Aladdin
    14. February 2023 at 15:31

    “This is just one more illustration of why economic growth doesn’t make people happier. Hedonics. Set points. And don’t tell me that you’d hate living without clothing in Patagonia.”

    Hang on, is a libertarian economist arguing against economic growth as the goal of public policy? I’m confused.

  5. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    14. February 2023 at 16:31

    Rajat, Theroux is an interesting character. More than other travel writers, his personality quirks are reflected in his travel books. (Although V.S. Naipaul is similar in that regard) It’s been 45 years, so I don’t recall much of that particular book, but all his books are of interest.

    Brett, Very good observations–I’d never thought of the map in that way.

    Sara, “Do you remember just two posts prior you called everyone who believed it was a spy balloon a moron?”

    Actually, no.

    Where did I say it wasn’t a spy satellite?

    Aladdin, No, it’s like Pascal’s Wager. 🙂

  6. Gravatar of Brandon Berg Brandon Berg
    14. February 2023 at 21:25

    “Us northerners tend to associate the term ‘south’ with ‘hot.'”

    Of course, this relates to your first point. Well over 90% of Earth’s habitable land and something like 97% of the population lives north of the Tropic of Capricorn. The non-tropical South is a rounding error.

  7. Gravatar of David S David S
    14. February 2023 at 22:36

    I’m still grumpy that The Economist didn’t do an obituary for Ursula K. Le Guin. She pushed fantasy and science fiction into some really cool territory, so thank you for the reference. Speaking of cool, here’s a fact that corroborates your complaints about Southern California: people spend more on heating costs in “Hot” and “Warm” climates than they do on air conditioning. Mark Twain figured this out the hard way, even if he never did come up with the line: “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”

    Granted, places like S.F. are “Mild” climates like most of South America. How’s the food?

  8. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    15. February 2023 at 04:24

    Brandon, That’s right.

    David, The food seems fine—the fish seems better than the beef. Chile is a developing country, however, and there are some really annoying inefficiencies. But it is more developed than other parts of Latin America.

    As for Le Guin, lots of people have a bias against sci-fi.

  9. Gravatar of JMCSF JMCSF
    15. February 2023 at 05:04

    Sara you got everything wrong about Russia. Russian people can come off very cold and abrasive and build high walls. This is out of necessity as life in Russia is and historically has been so bleak. Once you are “in”, they will treat you like family and are incredibly warm and thoughtful – much less superficial than Americans. They are maybe only happier in the sense that they put up with so much shit and manage on. I say this as an American who lived in Russia for several years.

    I think many Russians would trade for the progressive/“woke” life of the West versus their broken and corrupt governance/system they currently have (literally everything is run by the mafia). Many of the Russians I know have certainly left.

    There was a joke from the Soviet era that goes something like they would pretend to work and the government would pretend to pay them. This mindset grinds you down. When there are no returns or opportunities for one’s labors, life can become hopeless.

    Anyway, just takeaway, ymmv.

  10. Gravatar of kangaroo kangaroo
    15. February 2023 at 20:51

    “Most of Mankind spend their lives without experiencing poverty; some without even experiencing pain or sickness”

    Did I miss the joke?

    In 1500 Europe was far ahead of the rest of the world with life expectancy at birth of ~33yr – but still in the midst of repeated bouts of the Plague, which continued for another 200 years. So much for never experiencing pain or sickness.

    But no doubt, in plague-depopulated Europe, those remaining alive didn’t have too much trouble making a living.

    I love the idea that dirt poor people are just happy happy. Sure they are. That’s why there tens of thousands trying to get into the US every year.

    I dunno, this is so obvious, I guess I missed the joke.

  11. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    16. February 2023 at 05:03

    “I love the idea that dirt poor people are just happy happy. Sure they are. That’s why there tens of thousands trying to get into the US every year.”

    Wait . . . preferences equal happiness? I have ten times more wealth than I used to have, and I PREFER not to lose it. I must be much happier!!

    Heroin addicts prefer heroin. It must make them happy.

    Seriously, you don’t know the difference between preferences and happiness?

  12. Gravatar of kangaroo kangaroo
    16. February 2023 at 11:59

    “Heroin addicts prefer heroin. It must make them happy.”

    I love that!! 🙂 Reminds me of the Progressive flag flying over the city here in Seattle: a blue tarp with a syringe floating in a rising sun! Brings tears to my eyes. Ah, the promise of a bright future!! If only everyone would try smack just once!! Think of the beauty!

  13. Gravatar of Ricardo Ricardo
    16. February 2023 at 17:23

    It’s not just “teenage girls” you PC buffoon

    …you self-righteous, sententious, sanctimonious, silly old progressive clown. And for the love of all that his holy, please stop calling me Latinx.

    Your ‘holier than thou’ flag is annoying. it’s okay to use the words “depressed boy” sometimes, and recognize that boys are also affected by social media.

    And what do you propose as a solution to this industrialized problem exactly? deindustrialization? technocracy? a one-world-nato? Your posts about population size, abortion deaths, and this post where you dream of an old Patagonia is as disturbing as anything Malthus ever wrote.

    All people want is for you to leave them alone! Why is that so hard for you? Stop trying to plan and micro manage. Tell the Fed, NATO, and your atheist’s, and your weird fetus killers, and MNC’s to leave and pack their bags. Say bye-bye, and don’t come back.

    And if you do have to visit, learn to speak the language so we don’t have to pretend to understand your finger-pointing and neanderthal grunts.

  14. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    16. February 2023 at 20:59


    glad you made it to these places. I can assure you that P.A. and surroundings were challenging even as a young man. I remember winds pick up from nothing to strong enough to blow away children and small cars, in a space of minutes. Loved Bruce Chatwin too, one of my most magical reading experiences. Haven’t re-read him since.

    On the make-up of planet, something else: not only is land mass mostly North, so is global warming – why, because continents have stronger warm and cool cycles than the oceans with their mixing. And, if you look at a world map centered on the North pole, you realize that the North is another “mediterranean” sea, meaning, it’s like a lake between continents. Were it ice free all year long, it would be a natural transportation hub between continents.

    Montaigne: I did not know he wrote this, astonishing from a man who lost his best friends to the plague, lived in the middle of genocidal religious wars, lost all of his 6 children save one as infants, fell off a horse leaving him with sequels, suffered from endless recurring kidney stones and finally died from infection in a 3 day long agony. But I suppose he never had molten lead poured down his throat or the like so he considered himself lucky…each time has their standards I suppose.

  15. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    17. February 2023 at 04:35

    mbka, I wonder what Montaigne would think of American politicians who talk about how our middle class is “struggling”.

    BTW, the Lucas Bridges book is really good–with the middle third being especially fascinating. It made me realize that my life has been rather bland, and that much more interesting lives are possible.

  16. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    17. February 2023 at 05:37

    I have always found the SoCal “cold” issue interesting.

    Although Mark Twain never said it, the concept of “the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco” is interesting.

    One might think it’s expectations but it is not. For example, here in NJ, February feels warm this year—-almost the exact opposite of you feeling cold. But the temperature this month has been in the 40s and 50s. It definitely feels warm.

    Your experience is universal——-and there is some general claim that our bodies acclimate quickly to changing temperatures. Also, the so called “heat index” attempts to adjust for wind, humidity, air temperature, and other factors——to adjust for how our bodies react —-and thus feel. It’s not just the air temperature.

    Climate change promoters should factor this is in to their schtick (not really—but maybe!)

  17. Gravatar of msgkings msgkings
    17. February 2023 at 08:31

    @Michael R:

    What do you mean “climate change promoters”? You are aware the climate is changing and warming rapidly, right? There’s a debate over what to do about it but that is an undeniable fact. And it’s pretty much proven that mankind is having some effect on that.

  18. Gravatar of Tacticus Tacticus
    17. February 2023 at 10:14

    I’ve never read any Theroux, but have wanted to for some time. ‘In Patagonia’ is marvellous – I should re-read it. And ‘Earthsea.’ So many books, so little time…

  19. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    17. February 2023 at 20:57


    re: Lucas Bridges, thanks for the tip, will look it up.

    This brought back to me a moment I recall being triggered, some years back, by some well-meaning policies of Argentina (or was it Chile?) basically taking Firelander kids away from their parents “to get them away from rampant abuse and alcoholism” and I thought, well well, nothing has changed since colonialism, first the missionaries forced them into religion to save their souls, now the social workers again shove things down their throats, still in the name of saving their souls, just updated to our modern obsessions.

    And I also feel my life has been boring, even though objectively I did better than many.

  20. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    18. February 2023 at 10:03


    No, I am not aware the “climate change” is changing rapidly. I don’t have any idea what that means. It sounds like the first derivative of an undefined term. Please explain.

    Re “rapid warming”. Forecasts predict rapid warming. But there has not been rapid warming. There has been warming. Although satélite data for last 7 years shows no warming

    But the real point is do you believe the policies being promoted will do something like “save the planet”.

    What is the opportunity cost of these policies? My opinion is none of the policies will ever be implemented.

  21. Gravatar of Edward Edward
    18. February 2023 at 17:07

    Speaking of patterns, I’ve noticed that Sumner’s ad hominem attacks include references to masculinity, which is generally a sign of insecurity; for example, in this post he calls people “soft.” In another post, he mentions the benefits of dueling. In another post he talks about conservatives being wimps.

    I was watching his debate with white, only nine minutes on YouTube, so it’s not much of a debate, but you can see from the debate that Sumner lacks confidence. The occasional smirk, the smug look, the shoulders rolled forward, are all signs of anxiety.

    The smirk which he uses throughout the debate is a defense mechanism designed to shield him from his feelings of insecurity. It’s designed to give one the illusion of being in control when they are losing control. Now it could just be camera shyness, but the insecurity in many ways explains his other actions.

    You see insecure people are the type of people who attack other people’s masculinity: they often call people wimps, soft, babies etc, because they want to give the appearance that they are stronger than they really are. It’s like a blowfish that has been threatened.

    These are dangerous people because they always have to prove their toughness to everyone else. They are the type of people who call for the destruction of Donbas residents, of annihilating North Korea and anyone else who thinks differently, because they believe the end justifies the means, and the end of course is some global utopia where everything is ordered from the top down and where they can feel safe and secure.

    A conflict thousands of kilometers away suddenly, to these folks, becomes life threatening. A phone call or a politician they don’t like becomes a secret ploy to destroy democracy. Putin discussing peace becomes a call for war. The mind becomes warped into believing that somehow they are always under attack.

    As we know Sumner often talks about Bolton. Bolton of course is a war criminal, but setting that aside Bolton is also very much like Sumner. He suffers from anxiety; he has a short temper, and he resorts to ad hominem attacks when he feels threatened.

    The pattern here should be clear; people who suffer from these types of mental disorders should not be anywhere near the lever of power. Sumner of course doesn’t have enough power to drag us all into WW3, thank goodness for the people living in Chile right now, but if he ever does look out. And when he discusses his political views remember that he’s suffering from anxiety. His views are the views of someone who needs protection. Protection requires mechanized order; it requires large central governments and many laws; and giving people more liberty and autonomy is the type of world where he gets nervous. He feels like he’s lost control of the people around him, and people who lose control often lash out viciously at others.

  22. Gravatar of Travis Allison Travis Allison
    19. February 2023 at 09:52

    Scott, I really enjoy your travel commentary. I am curious what insights you gained from reading the travel books when you were in graduate school. Or was it that you simply enjoyed them and weren’t looking for any insights?

    Although, when I look at my question, I guess I should ask myself why I enjoy your travel commentary 😉

  23. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    19. February 2023 at 13:28

    mbka, Only boring compared to Lucas Bridges, not the average Joe.

    Travis, I just read them for enjoyment.

  24. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    19. February 2023 at 13:37

    Great post as always.

    My only comments are on the “cold” topic.

    The “cold in Southern California” thing was new to me. Maybe you should move to Arizona – I don’t think anyone ever complains about the winters there. (Of course they complain about the summer, instead).

    Also not being able to warm up while hiking (at any temperature) surprises me. I hope it doesn’t come to that in my own case, that’s for sure. As I’ve gotten older I do have more clothes and have to put in a lot more effort at dressing for outdoor activity, but I haven’t experienced anything like outright failure in this regard.

    Finally, how were the Patagonians (or Firelanders) not prone to hypothermia, if they never wore clothes in a cold climate? Was it a “selection” thing or is any human capable of it? I am ignorant of the basic physics and physiology, here, obviously.

  25. Gravatar of Steve Steve
    19. February 2023 at 18:16

    Sumner, the Southern Hemisphere is indeed 1 or 2C colder than the northern hemisphere, but the problem is not a lack of land. It is that the land is in the wrong place (South Pole) such that a greater share of the sunlight is reflected back to space.

    Back during the Triassic and Jurassic, the South Pole was open ocean, producing a warmer climate. As a recent visitor, hopefully you will enjoy this video:

    Another consequence of Antarctica is the temperature gradient in SHem is greater, implying more and bigger mid-latitude storms. In the NHem there are relatively tranquil summers especially once Canada and Siberia thaw out. No such luck in SHem which permanently resembles “Boston in March” in a meteorological sense.

  26. Gravatar of Steve Steve
    19. February 2023 at 18:30


    The body has certain adaptations to cold/heat. One of these is constricted blood vessels/higher blood pressure (cold) and more blood flow to the skin (heat). Another is sweating more uniformly and with lower salt content (heat adaptation).

    These adaptations kick in over a period of a few days to a couple weeks, similar to altitude adaptations.

    Anyone experiencing sudden cold after a long period of warmth is going to feel a greater shock to the system than someone who is adapted to reduced skin blood flow. Southern Californians just complain more 😉 as they never have prolonged exposure to adapt.

    Likewise people coming from temperate climates to perform endurance activities in the heat are much more likely to experience heat-related illnesses including nausea, heat stroke, dehydration, and hyponatremia.

  27. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    21. February 2023 at 21:44

    Thanks, Steve.

    I have to revise my opinion of humans upwards. I thought we were softies who had to put something on when it got cold….

    On the Socal thing I was thinking that the temps can drop pretty fast in the fall, after long warm spells, where I live too (further up the West Coast). But maybe cooler nights help….

  28. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    22. February 2023 at 03:01

    Anon/portly, Here’s a true story. When I was young, my friend and I shoveled snow to earn money. After 15 minutes my hands and gloves were ice cold, and we switched. His gloves were warm. Another 15 minutes and his gloves had turned cold, and we switched again. He’d warmed up my cold gloves, and I’d cooled off his. Rinse and repeat. He couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. Neither can I.

    If I’d been born before 1900, I never would have reached age 40. (Pneumonia, TB, or something like that would have gotten me with my bad lungs.)

    Steve, I read that the Fireland natives had some genetic adaption. (Analogous to the Tibetans). Is that story apocryphal?

  29. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    23. February 2023 at 15:52

    That’s quite the glove story.

    If I’d been the other snow-shoveler, one of us would have lost a finger to frostbite, probably. I’ve always had difficulty keeping my hands warm, especially when skiing but in the last few years riding my bike in the winter as well.

    But right now for me dressing for hiking is a bit like central banking – I think I worry about dressing too warm as much as I do about dressing too cool. It would be no fun to keep adding layers and it’s never enough – I hope it never comes to that. Brr! (Literally and figuratively).

    Anyway, Tyler C linked to someone’s Twitter thread on Atlas Shrugged a couple of days ago, I sent it to a friend (film blogger) and he found this, which he thinks is excellent:

    (Just don’t check out her twitter threads on economics – she’s a “petrodollar” enthusiast).

  30. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    24. February 2023 at 03:06

    Thanks, I need to check out that Macbeth.

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