The Biden-Trump Debate: The Agony Booth

W.J. Astore

In the Star Trek episode, “Mirror, Mirror,” Captain Kirk and a few other crewmembers find themselves in a parallel universe on a more barbaric ship. On this imperial version of the Enterprise, disobedient or otherwise malperforming crew are punished, tortured really, in an “agony booth.” And that’s exactly how I felt last night watching the Biden-Trump debate. What did I do wrong to be put in this agony booth? Fortunately, I was able to escape after 75 minutes. The “full-duration” just may have killed me.

I watched the debate with my wife (agony loves company), and she had some of the best lines of the night. Here’s a sampling:

  • Great, two old white guys again. It’s blinking Biden versus bully-boy Trump.
  • Trump’s just a horrible, badgering bully.
  • Biden’s already muddled and is mixing up his numbers.
  • Trump never smiles, never laughs. Mean people suck.
  • Trump is steamrolling over everything.

Really, the less said about this “debate,” the better. It was insult after insult, interruption after interruption, most of the insults and interruption coming from Trump. His followers, I assume, enjoy his bully-boy tactics, but they left me cold and made the “debate” unwatchable.

As usual, Trump played some of his greatest hits. Covid-19 is “the China plague” and is “China’s fault.” A vaccine is “weeks away” (with no mention of how many weeks. Five? Fifteen? Fifty?). He’s going to make insulin for diabetics as cheap and available as water. Even that he was the one who brought back Big Ten college football.

Speaking of football, Trump earned many penalties in this debate. Taunting. Unsportsmanlike conduct. Delay of game. Unnecessary roughness. The list goes on. Next time, instead of a debate moderator, I suggest a team of NFL referees with whistles and plenty of penalty flags.

Media spokespeople and candidate spin rooms are most concerned about which candidate “won” or “lost” the debate. My sense is that Trump, in dominating the debate — what a nasty man he is — “won.” And who lost? Anyone who was expecting a real debate.

Welcome to the agony booth that is politics in America.

There I am, in the Agony Booth (actually, it’s Ensign Chekov)

41 thoughts on “The Biden-Trump Debate: The Agony Booth

  1. I liked both your wife’s remarks and your football penalty list for tRump’s behaviors. He really did a brilliant Bruno Ganz-esque performance.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was being facetious! lol! But I didn’t expect it to be so bad as it was.

      I have been watching US Presidential Politics from CanaDa since Eisenhower. The 2016 Election was the 1st one where I saw the choice being offered the American People was between BAD or WORSE.
      It’s so disappointing, and not a good sign for the Future, I see the same choice being offered in 2020.

      This is my latest Today, of over 8000 comments and analysis posted in The Washington Post over the last several years,

      When Putin, Xi, Erdogan and other World Leaders made the Global Pandemic, Support for the United Nations and the Global Order it has Represented since WWII, and the necessity of Global Co-Operation the the main focus of their UN address, Trump in his typical gauche ways, spoke of how beautiful and mighty US Weapons are, and the World better not force the US to use them.

      He would have been booed if the Assembly was full. Good thing the Virus kept it empty.
      With that part of his personality he has already displayed as fundamental to his Personality, he might look for the excuse to unleash all those beautiful America 1st weapons of Death and Destruction on the World.

      Trump set the Tone and Tenor for all that has happened in 2020 since January 3rd, when he murdered such a High Government Official of Iran in the person of General Soleimani, escalating the Economic War he has waged against Iran designed to DESTROY THEIR ECONOMY supporting their 83 MILLION People, to MILITARY HOSTILITY only in a Pause for now.

      For those who know how to read between the lines, preparations are already under way for further US Military escalation in the US/Israeli War against Iran.

      Within 2 WEEKS of 9/11, the US came out with WAR PLANS to change the regimes of Iraq, Libya, Syria, Lebanon, and at THE END, IRAN.

      Bush did Iraq. Obama did Libya and Syria. Trump is following that same 2001 US WAR PLAN doing Lebanon, and preparing to lead this Material World to THE END with the Iran phase of that 2001 US WAR PLAN. Americans don’t notice or don’t care.

      That Economic Carnage Trump is inflicting on Iran, has NOW come home to roost in America as in what he sowed, so shall he reap!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. My take away from the “Debate” was a Trumpet that has distilled and concentrated his toxic personality since the debates of 2016. This is no surprise to me – He has been toxic all his life. Why change now, no reason to do so – Toxicity is what won the presidency for him. There are no meaningful checks or balances on him. The idea or notion that he would select the so called “Adults” and listen to them was a farce. The over riding characteristic The Trumpet has looked for in his Cabinet, appointees and in the GOP is absolute total loyalty to HIM – Not to the laws, rules or the Constitution. The Trumpet’s personality is set rigidly in stone – Bluff, Bluster and Bully.

    What I observed of the Trumpet was a person who has no discipline, or self-control. That part of the brain that has a regulatory valve or switch is totally absent in the Trumpet. Standing on the debate stage, it was obvious to see He has No Control over himself. He was in a constant state of physical agitation. This build up of mental and physical agitation could not be contained.

    I feel confident in terms of The Trumpet’s base, they feel his debate performance met and exceeded their expectations. It is what his base has always wanted the Macho-Male standing up and violating all the polite norms of a civilized society.

    I do not know how many of you have seen or recall the movie Caine Mutiny – Humphrey Bogart plays Capt. Queeg and Loses It during a court martial. Bogart comes off as a person you can have sympathy or empathy for as he breaks down.

    The Trumpet had a similar breakdown last night during the debate – Lashing out blaming everyone else for his failures. I go back to the Nixon-Kennedy Debates in 1960, some debates over the years were real yawners. Never have I seen a performance like The Trumpet put on last night. Unhinged is the word that keeps coming to mind and it was displayed for the whole world to see and hear.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes ML “The Caine Mutiny” a Classic… If only Queeg’s Crew would’ve worked with him instead of buck him just about every step of the way causing the endless tension & grief on board esp. Fred Macmurray who played the Writer, and a Coward at that! I did have sympathy for Queeg who cracked under pressure during the Typhoon, but for Trump I could never…! Biden did alright.


  3. [Sorry I’m late for this party; wicked windstorm knocked me offline for ten hours.] Brilliant choice of title for the article, Bill A.! Two thumbs up, as Siskel & Ebert would’ve said! Now, I must dissent from the notion that this was so bad we needn’t discuss it. I think Biden did surprisingly well, all things considered. Above all, he wasn’t cowed by the bully opposite him on the stage. (I’m trying to keep this brief, I swear!) For me, these were the biggies: 1.) a sitting president gave instructions to a heavily-armed Fascist group, by name, to “stand back and STAND BY.” A far cry from telling them to “stand down,” per moderator’s invitation. Trump refuses to clarify that remark; 2.) Trump virtually vowed the election would not be ultimately decided for “weeks, maybe months.” Biden was very good in trying to reassure us transition will be orderly. Trump did not face the “sleepy” opponent he hoped for. Now, here’s something really weird: CNN online claims Biden said “inshallah” in one of his retorts. This is Arabic for the simple phrase “God willing,” used by Muslims the world over. Did anyone on this thread hear such a thing?? And this may be even weirder: late last night I posted on Facebook that the Commission on Presidential Debates should disinvite Trump from additional events. Even I was shocked (!!) at his level of boorishness last night. So what do I hear on NPR News late this afternoon? That the commission reportedly IS considering changes, possibly to include empowering the moderator to shut off someone’s microphone! Should I claim personal credit for this?!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. One more observation on “debates” Round One: Trump also laid out for all to see his effort to suppress the vote by arguing no one should be sent an application to vote by mail unless they request it. I guess he also disapproves of efforts in recent decades by motor vehicle bureaus and the like to make it easier for people to register to vote. He is, quite simply, against what degree of “democracy” we have had in this country heretofore. He’d love to see a Trump Dynasty, with his offspring succeeding him as far down the road as one can see.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I found something that I think perfectly characterizes Trump and it came from an unexpected place, the writing of Immanuel Kant.

    Kant in one paragraph listed many desirable traits that a person could have but said that none of them are worth a thing if the person lacks good will.

    That’s it. Trump shows no evidence of good will and he certainly has none of the positive traits that Kant mentioned. He is a real threat to anyone who deals with him as so many have found out and as every American should recognize who has been paying attention.

    I just finished Michael Cohen’s book, Disloyal in which he says that Trump denounces even Trump Jr. to his son’s face and in the presence of others. Cohen also states that Trump is legally liable for the same things that put Cohen behind bars and that Trump will do anything to keep himself in an office that provides immunity, backstopped as it currently is by a corrupt DOJ.

    I’ve said previously that I think Trump will lose, but his call out to the Proud Boys seals his fate. Last night makes it hard to believe that Biden would, as president, pardon Trump for even a minor thing while it would surprise me if many wronged parties are not ready to pounce legally when Trump leaves the White House, voluntarily or escorted.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. At the very least, one would think the NY State tax authorities will pounce once King Korruption finally leaves office. I suppose he’ll furiously fight extradition from his new home state of Florida, and when time runs out on that tactic he can flee the country. Need I bring up the fact that Al Capone only did a stretch behind bars on tax-related charges? Much as I’d love to see The Orange One wearing an orange jumpsuit, I’ve been on record on social media for a long time now predicting we will never see that day. But, life goes on.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. “His [Trump’s] followers, I assume, enjoy his bully-boy tactics, but they left me cold and made the “debate” unwatchable.”

    On the other hand, as an example of the type who cheer for the teenage twerp testosterone thuggery that Donald Trump loves to project for his Bible-thumping base, I would cite only three headlines from The Duran, a website that I visit regularly for pretty good legal deconstruction of the whole red-baiting, Russia-gating thing that has so discredited the Democratic party and Corporate Media in the United States. Unfortunately, from my point of view, the editorial staff has gone way off the deep end for Trump in assuming that the U.S. actually has a political “Left” that threatens some sort of working-class revolt. Since I don’t endorse the content of these articles, I won’t include links but just the titles for illustration.

    (1) Biden’s REFUSAL To Condemn Antifa Is EXACTLY Why I’m Voting Trump, Leftists Get Charges DROPPED, by The Duran (October 1, 2020)

    (2) Trump DOMINATES First Debate Against FLEDGLING Biden as Left MELTS DOWN!!!, by Alex Christoforou (October 1, 2020)

    (3) Democrats ALREADY Begging Biden Not To Debate Trump Again, Demand Rule Changes To Help Joe Compete, by The Duran (October 1, 2020)

    Headlines such as these indicate rather starkly, I think, that Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster each have their own Orwellian fan clubs who see the Kayfabe right-wing “wresting” show in the U.S./UK/EU as having some actual connection to reality. Mythological Delusion run amok, and with trembling fingers hovering over “locked and loaded” red buttons, to boot.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for those titles, Mike. In a way, Trump helped Biden. Trump was so over-the-top, grabbing so much attention, that Biden’s usual misstatements just melted away in the vituperative heat.

      Of course, Trump “won” among his base. Whether Biden “won” in the sense of gaining new voters remains to be seen. Everyone else lost.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Having provided some examples of in-the-tank-for-Trump headlines from The Duran, I should also — in fairness to the editors of that website — include a brief and fairly accurate article which provides some interesting “electoral” context, however depressing for its informative truthfulness.

        [begin quote]

        “How the Bush Family Is Finally Defeating Donald Trump,” by Eric Zuesse, The Duran (October 1, 2020)

        Perhaps more than anyone else, Jeb Bush organized the ‘electoral’ defeat of Donald Trump this year, and the installation of Joe Biden into the White House in 2021.

        Jeb had been the Florida Governor who engineered the “Brooks Brothers riot” that, with the help of Antonin Scalia on 9 December 2000, defeated Al Gore’s U.S. Presidential campaign, and installed George W. Bush into the U.S. Presidency on 20 January 2001. Perhaps more than anything else, this astroturf ‘grassroots Republican’ rebellion against the Florida vote-recount, and the follow-through of it by the Republican Supreme Court judges, made today’s USA what it now is.

        Jeb Bush holds a grudge that is obsessive, and he can’t forgive Trump for having wiped him out in the Republican U.S. Presidential primaries during 2016. He’s getting back at Trump, today, with another dark-money ‘grassroots Republican’ operation. (Republican billionaires, such as the Kochs, have been far more successful at funding Republican astroturf ‘grassroots’ organizations than Democratic ones have been.)

        This is the dark-money-financed campaign ad for Joe Biden that Jeb, working behind the scenes, created via the dark-money group “Republican Voters Against Trump”, and which is now flooding onto TV, in the key battleground states, so as to make Joe Biden not just the man of America’s defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin, but also the man of (and in debt to) the Bush family, in particular:

        It’s an entirely truthful ad, because lying isn’t necessary in order to portray Donald Trump as a psychopath — both a racist and corrupt, just like Trump himself is (though the Democratic version is far more hypocritical about it).

        And that’s just one of their many ads — a torrent, all from billionaires who are collectively buying President Biden (actually President Harris, whom they had already bought). The only reason why Trump will lose is that everyone already knows what he has been doing as the President — America’s billionaires always give voters a choice between two unacceptable candidates, and America’s ‘democracy’ consists in voters choosing one of those two options which have been offered to them. [emphasis added]

        What’s not shown in the ad is that it is placing another psychopath, Joe Biden, into the White House. Whereas Bernard Schwartz, the former CEO of Lockheed, organized the dark-money operation that won Biden the Democratic Party’s nomination, Jeb Bush is completing the dark-money operation that will end up making Biden the President.

        This is today’s American ‘democracy’. It’s much like the 2016 contest. In 2016, Trump won because Hillary already had a record in public office, and it was atrocious. But he barely scraped by to win it. This time around, Biden will win because Trump already has a record as the President, and it is atrocious — and it is lots more obviously atrocious than Hillary’s atrocity was, because Trump isn’t merely a former U.S. Secretary of State and briefly a U.S. Senator — Trump has actually been occupying this office, now, for nearly four years. What makes this ‘election’ similar to the one in 2016 is that it’s offering the voters a choice between two poisoned chalices, and ordering them to drink from the one that the voter chooses.

        This has become the American way, of today. American democracy has degenerated into this aristocracy — the billionaires offer voters a choice between the two nominees that the billionaires have actually approved and selected. [emphasis added]

        [end quote]

        “Ah, Kirk. My old friend. Do you know the Klingon proverb that says ‘Revenge is a dish best served Cold’?” — Khan Noonian Singh (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan)

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Did we “learn” anything new about where the candidates stand on the issues? I don’t think so, but Biden was right on target reminding Trump that he has NO PLAN to really deal with climate, Covid, etc. Trump’s only real plan, two-pronged, is to keep his base energized and work as diligently as possible to discourage/suppress voting. You’d think he was being asked to personally foot the cost of mailing ballots out to potential voters! Could he even raise such funds in current state of his businesses–which, of course, he never relinquished control of during his term in office?


        1. But……does Biden have real, concrete plans to desk with the pandemic and the environment? Perhaps I missed them, but I haven’t heard anything from the Dem camp that would make a difference.


          1. Tuesday night Biden spoke of “A Green New Deal,” but when Trump claimed it would cost $100 trillion (!!), Biden clarified his plan would not be on scale of “THE Green New Deal” that was floated ages ago. True, Biden was skimpy on detail, but he hinted–hinted, mind you–that he would ban additional fracking from starting up. Not a word about protecting wildlife refuges from drilling, etc., but hey, in the heat of the moment you can’t expect even a candidate half his age to get everything spot on! Joe also correctly pointed out that he holds no elected office at this moment, so he’s under no obligation to “have a plan” at his fingertips. Trump’s retort was to say US death toll woulda been 10 X higher had a Dem been in office at time of outbreak, ‘cuz the Dems would have failed to close the borders. He was cleverly hitting the GOP theme that Dems want a totally “open” border, no controls, come on everybody on the planet, come live here! But the truth is Trump was TOO SLOW to close down incoming air traffic! Yes, from a scientific perspective, the borders should have been closed immediately. US citizens returning from abroad could have been put in mandatory–and I mean mandatory, not “on your honor”–quarantine for at least 14 days. Because this virus spreads so easily, this is a very real crisis. Biden told Trump it’s his pandemic, but that wasn’t fair. This is the most major black swan event in my lifetime. The Trump administration has bungled its response very badly, no question, but Trump no more personally caused the virus to exist than did Pres. Xi of China. Fair is fair!


            1. Ummm….to earn my vote, Uncle Joe had better damn well come up with a plan! The fact that he WANTS to hold office means that he should have chapter and verse thought out for all the issues, and be able to outline at least the broad strokes when called upon. It’s not as if he doesn’t know he’s going to be asked. And if he let the Orange Idiot assert that the Green New Deal would cost $100 trillion and didn’t call him on it, more fool he.

              The facts that Biden won’t ban fracking and vows to veto a universal healthcare bill if it crosses his desk are two major, possibly fatal, strikes against him, from this voter’s point of view. As I’ve contended in other threads, moving Joe to the left should he get into office is a pipe dream.


              1. Having stuck it out thru the whole affair Tue. night, I can assure you Biden DID rebut Trump’s absurd taunt about the alleged cost of “THE Green New Deal,” you know, the one floated originally by folks like AOC (NOT fully endorsed by Bernie, if I recall correctly). Denise, Ohio is going to go for Trump, so if you decline to vote for Biden I think you can be forgiven. Gosh, I’m feeling charitable today! Of course, we now can’t be certain Trump will be a living candidate come Nov. 3. He’s 74, overweight, barely sleeps. If his lungs start filling with fluid, it will be “Hello, President Pence”! Won’t THAT be dandy?! BTW, I think we should expect Trump to demand postponement of the election because he can’t go campaign in person for a while. You read it here first, as usual.


                1. Mr. Murry seems to think that the breaking story of the Orange One’s virus infection may be a ruse to avoid further debates. I hadn’t thought of that, but wouldn’t be surprised. And I also believe you’re correct, that his illness, real or faked, will be put forth as an excuse to postpone the election. Wonder how that will play out? Perhaps, however, the Orange One will be dosed with chloroquinine and be good as new in a week!


                2. You wanna talk about an Agony Booth? I think Trump must finally have achieved an ability to be mortified. Imagine the embarrassment of being felled by a little virus he’d been scoffing at all year! No way do I think this is a hoax to avoid further “debates.” Some of his closest advisers, perhaps, had the temerity to suggest to Donald that he came off really badly Tue. night, but don’t we think his ego would compel him to barrel ahead, the ol’ bull in a china shop, regardless of anyone else’s opinion? I sure do.


          2. Biden’s health care “plan” is just the ACA (Obamacare) “improved.” His Covid-19 “plan” is to listen to the scientists and MDs (a big improvement, I’ll admit). He won’t touch anything with “new deal” in it: socialism!

            Dems like Biden are why we got Trump.


            1. I opposed the ACA from the outset, ‘cuz it’s based on “Romneycare”–foisted on your state, Bill A., while Mitt was governor–a scheme to herd folks into for-profit insurance plans. GOP hopes to deliver coup de grace to the ACA via SCOTUS ASAP. Restoration of ACA by Biden would be better than having GOP continue to run roughshod. Looking as far into future as my own crystal ball allows, I don’t see “Medicare For All” being instituted here in Capitalism’s Last Bastion. It’s just too damned HUMANE an approach!!


              1. I always thought the ACA was a very poor substitute for the universal healthcare plan that SHOULD have been adopted. However, my friend who works in a healthcare facility told me that for about 30% of their patients, it was a godsend. At this point, having lost my job last year, I can say from experience that it provides at least some safety net, albeit a relatively expensive, yet minimal, one.


  7. From Nate Silver, the Five-Thirty-Eight pollster:


    “Consider that Trump’s convention produced, at best, a very meager bounce in his favor. His attempt to pivot the campaign to a “law and order” theme fell completely flat in polls of the upper Midwest. He’s thrown the kitchen sink at Biden and not really been able to pull down Biden’s favorables. His hopes that we’d turn the corner on COVID-19 before the election are diminishing after cases have begun to rise again in many states. His campaign, somehow, is struggling to hold on to enough cash to run ads in the places it most needs to run them. The New York Times and other news organizations are likely to continue publishing damaging stories on his taxes and personal finances from now until the election. And now he’s seemingly lost the first debate.” [emphasis added]

    “If Trump intuits that he’s unlikely to win legitimately — it’s not hard to imagine him escalating his anti-democratic rhetoric and behavior. It’s also not hard to imagine this rhetoric further eroding his position in polls. It’s highly unpopular in focus groups (yes, take those with a huge grain of salt) and Trump’s polling over the past several days has been particularly bad (although there’s been a lot of other news, too).” [emphasis added]

    “So we could be headed for a vicious cycle where Trump increasingly gives up on trying to persuade or turn out voters and voters increasingly give up on him. But from a polling standpoint, this is one of the clearer elections to diagnose: Biden isn’t home-free, but he’s in a strong position. Nonetheless, the outlook for what’s actually in store for America has rarely been more cloudy.” [emphasis added]

    [end quote]

    Increasingly clear but still cloudy. OK.

    Now President Trump claims that his wife and he have contracted the Corona Virus and must quarantine themselves in the White House for the next two weeks, or approximately half the time remaining before the November election. Having royally fucked up the first debate against a marginally senile Joe Biden, this reputed illness — real or feigned — may serve as Trump’s way out of having to lose another debate to a standard-issue soiled-and-corrupt Democrat desperate to prove his right-wing Republican credentials. Joe Biden did, after all, “beat the Socialist” Bernie Sanders — with a lot of help from Bernie Sanders — so that Donald Trump the Republican wouldn’t have to face losing to someone the working class actually favored.

    At any rate, the generals and their death grip on the nation’s treasury will definitely win no matter which Republican proves the better at playing President: the one who calls himself a Republican, or the one who calls himself something “different.”


    1. … and since he’s such a huge – one might even say bigly – sports fan, I won’t be at all surprised to hear him utter the great unwritten rule of sports: “No one loses their position due to illness or injury.” Yeah, well … tell it to Wally Pipp.


      1. You remind me that I haven’t commented on Trump’s “debate” boast that he, personally, got Big Ten College Football up and running again. And guess what, Donald? That stupid decision by Big Ten just guarantees more cases of the virus on campuses erupting soon.


    2. Got about halfway through the original article and quit reading. It was a long, elaborate discourse which essentially said there’s no clear picture yet. Yeah, we knew that.


  8. Love the Star Trek analogies, Bill. I had actually reflected on this episode recently (prior to this column), in relation to the current political/social environment. I did not land on the agony booth aspect, but rather Mr. Spock’s observation in the closing scene: “It was far easier for you as civilized men to behave like barbarians, than it was for them as barbarians to behave like civilized men.” Such a great analogy for our current scene: The Democrat/Liberal/Left/Progressive/etc barbarians trying desperately hide their barbarism to appear civilized, and conservatives responding in-kind to their underlying behavior, appearing as even better barbarians. Thankfully, at the end of the day, the fake barbarians succeed, and the fake civilized men do not. The only adults left in the room are conservatives. Other than that: screeching tribes of barbarians pretending to be civilized. So in an elegant way, conservatives have become the new progressives…because they are the only ones left that can actually make things happen.


    1. You have a point about conservatives being able to “make things happen.” But this is because establishment Democrats join them and help them in their “progress.” But progress for whom? Not for workers. Not for small businesses. It’s progress for the richest and most powerful.

      Again, it’s easy to be misled by labels. What are these conservatives conserving? Why do you think liberals are acting barbarically? Some examples would help here.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Like “Red State” vs. “Blue State,” “Liberal” vs. “Conservative” is not real helpful these days. The “strict constructionist” view of the Constitution, trying to “conserve” the ideas of the Founding Fathers, is nothing but a figleaf, a scam, to try to cover the right’s real agenda of rolling back any social progress they can. I understand from headlines that Alito and Clarence Thomas today, as SCOTUS begins fall session, are ranting against same-sex marriage. I guess they want to roll over the beloved concept of “state’s rights,” which would reverse earlier rulings that this IS a matter the states can decide. This would be a gross abuse of power by Fed. Gov’t of which the Founders would not approve, I firmly believe. I don’t think you’re gonna get your way on this, fellas, possibly not even if Ms. Barrett had already been seated.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’ll try to reply on your most recent ACB piece. I think there is some good stuff there for your q’s…


        1. Yes, but don’t be fooled by the Democrats’ “opposition.” It’s mostly theater. ACB will be confirmed because that’s what the owners and donors want.


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