TIME Environment

What Caused the Worst Oil Spill in American History

Big Spill
Cover Credit: PHOTOGRAPH BY CHRIS GRAYTHEN - GETTY IMAGES. INSET: AP The May 17, 2010, cover of TIME

The Deepwater Horizon spill started on April 20, 2010

Five years ago Monday, when there was an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon, an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, the first news reports said that nearly a dozen people had been killed by the blast.

Before long, however, it was clear that the impact would continue to be felt, and by many more people. The oil spill that began that day and continued into the summer would end up being the worst such accident in U.S. history, spilling millions of gallons of crude into the fragile waterway. How it would be cleaned up remained a mystery, one that is still being answered today.

Another mystery, as TIME’s Bryan Walsh explained in a cover story shortly after the spill began, was what had actually happened on that fateful day:

Investigators are still exploring exactly what went wrong on the Deepwater Horizon, but the catastrophe seems to have been the result of a cascading series of failures–and too little oversight. Rigs are equipped with blowout preventers, 40-ft.-high (12 m) stacks of machinery with multiple hydraulic valves that are designed to seal a well should anything go wrong. Crew members on the Horizon couldn’t activate the blowout preventer, and a deadman’s switch that should have kicked in when control of the rig was lost failed as well. One safety feature the Horizon did not have is an acoustic switch, an additional backup that can activate the blowout preventer remotely. Regulators don’t mandate them in the U.S., though they are effectively required in nations like Brazil and Norway.

When the rig sank, the riser–the pipe that runs from the wellhead to the surface–fell as well, kinking as it did and causing three breaks, from which thousands of barrels of oil are leaking each day. “There were multiple chances to stop this,” says Malcolm Spaulding, a professor of ocean engineering at the University of Rhode Island. “And they all failed.”

Read the full cover story, here in the TIME Vault: The Big Spill

TIME Drugs

Here’s What People Called Pot in the 1940s

MARIJUANA REEFERS HIDDEN IN A BOOK
Keystone / Getty Images Marijuana reefers hidden In a book, circa 1940

"Two or three long puffs usually suffice after a while to produce a light jag," TIME explained in 1943. "The smoker is then said to be 'high'"

In 1934, when marijuana first appeared in the pages of TIME, it was with an asterisk that clarified that it was “a drug, long common in Mexico, made from a variety of hemp weed.” In the years that followed, the drug showed up in the news a few times, mostly associated with the idea of reefer madness. By 1943 when TIME published its first full article about what the magazine called “the weed,” readers would still be unfamiliar with much of the terminology used.

And, even though marijuana is moving toward legalization in many places in the United States, some of that terminology — giggle-smokes! — is likely to be unfamiliar to modern readers too.

See whether you recognize any of this pot slang from the 1943 story:

To its users, the drug has many names—many of them evasive. Marijuana may be called muggles, mooter, Mary Warner, Mary Jane, Indian hay, loco weed, love weed, bambalacha, mohasky, mu, moocah, grass, tea or blue sage. Cigarets made from it are killers, goof-butts, joy-smokes, giggle-smokes or reefers. The word marijuana is of Mexican origin and means “the weed that intoxicates.” It is made from the Indian hemp plant, a spreading green bush resembling sumac. Known to the pharmacopoeia as Cannabis sativa, it is a source of important paint ingredients and rope fiber as well as narcotics. It can be grown easily almost anywhere, hence tends to be inexpensive, as drugs go. Its recent prices (10¢ to 50¢ a cigaret) have placed it beneath the dignity of big-time racketeers. But its furtive preparation and sale afford a modest living to thousands.

In most U. S. cities the marijuana salesman peddles his cigarets to known clients in public places. He is known to his clients as a “pusher.” His clients are known as “vipers.” Etiquette between pushers and vipers is necessarily delicate. When he wants to buy, the viper sidles up to the pusher and inquires “Are ya stickin’?” or “Are ya layin’ down the hustle?” If the answer is affirmative, the viper says, “Gimme an ace” (meaning one reefer), “a deuce” (meaning two), or “a deck” (meaning a large number). The viper may then quietly “blast the weed” (smoke). Two or three long puffs usually suffice after a while to produce a light jag. The smoker is then said to be “high” or “floating.” When he has smoked a reefer down to a half-inch butt, he carefully conserves it in an empty match box. In this condition it is known, in Mexican, as a chicharra, or in English, as a “roach.”

Though much of that lingo would fade into the skunky haze of time, “the weed” itself wouldn’t stay mysterious for much longer. One reason for that mainstreaming shift is hinted at by the magazine section in which that 1943 article appeared: music. “It is no secret that some of the finest flights of American syncopation, like some of the finest products of the symbolist poets, owe much of their expressiveness to the use of a drug,” the story reported.

The reason for the connection between jazz and pot was, the magazine guessed, that the illusion of a slower sense of time and a keener sense of hearing might allow musicians to improvise with more confidence. Plus, though the effects of the drug might look like the effects of alcohol, it seemed in some ways to be a better choice of vice. Though regular use would get in the way of “orderly living,” it didn’t seem to cause “physical, mental or moral degeneration.” Seeing their heavy-drinking musical colleagues afflicted with cirrhosis or other alcohol-related conditions could further convince jazz artists to choose to light up instead.

As jazz music became more widely appreciated outside its specific scene, marijuana had to be more seriously considered by mainstream media too—and, by extension, mainstream readers.

Read the 2014 cover story about a new trend in the world of marijuana, here in the TIME Vault: The Rise of Fake Pot

TIME Sports

See Triumphant Photos of Boston Marathon Runners Through History

The annual event, which takes place on April 20 this year, has been running for more than a century

The 119th Boston Marathon, taking place on April 20, 2015, is sure to be an occasion for remembrance of the tragic crimes that were committed at the race two years ago. As the city continues to recover from that wound, it’s also worth remembering that the marathon has long been a symbol of perseverance, in which runners can conquer obstacles both personal and societal. Here’s a look back at some of those victories.

Read about the history of the Boston Marathon, here in the TIME Vault: A Long Running Show

TIME Crime

The Meaning of the Oklahoma City Bombing Anniversary

May 1, 1995, cover of TIME
Cover Credit: RALF-FINN HESTOFT Timothy McVeigh on the May 1, 1995, cover of TIME

The deadly act of domestic terrorism took place 20 years ago, on April 19, 1995

When a truck bomb blasted through a federal office building in Oklahoma City on a Wednesday morning 20 years ago — April 19, 1995 — it was the deadliest terrorist attack in the history of the nation to that point.

Though fingers pointed many directions in the immediate aftermath, it didn’t take long for investigators to find Timothy McVeigh. As TIME reported in a special issue devoted to the crime — with McVeigh’s face on the cover, alongside the words “The Face of Terror” — only a little more than an hour had passed since the bombing when he was pulled over for a traffic stop and arrested for driving without tags and insurance, and for carrying a concealed weapon. Two days later, the rogue driver was determined to be the same man who was suspected of masterminding the attack.

McVeigh and his accomplices’ possible link to antigovernment organizations immediately drew additional scrutiny to the subject, and offered some insight into the twisted mind that planned such a crime—and why it happened when it did:

Although the Michigan Militia, along with members of other groups, has moved quickly to repudiate any connection with McVeigh or the bombing, the significance of the date on which it took place–April 19–was not lost on those familiar with the patriot movement. Says Ron Cole, a former leader of the Branch Davidian sect who describes himself as a patriot: “It’s a date that has a significance like no other day of the year.” On April 19, 1775, the Battle of Lexington–the opening salvos in America’s Revolutionary War–began. On April 19, 1993, the siege at Waco ended in flames and despair. On April 19, 1995, Richard Wayne Snell, a member of the white supremacist group The Covenant, the Sword and the Arm of the Lord, was executed for the murder of a Jewish businessman and a black police officer. And when Timothy McVeigh rented the Ryder truck, he used a forged South Dakota driver’s license on which the date of issue was listed as April 19, 1993. “He probably meant that he woke up on that day,” says Cole. “I can see his perspective on that.”

In the years since, Oklahoma City has tried to make that date stand for something very different: rather than an example of separatism, they’ve made April 19 a date to remember a community coming together to help one another, living by the idea they call the “Oklahoma Standard.”

Read more from TIME’s special 1995 issue about the bombing, here in the TIME Vault: A Blow to the Heart

TIME faith

How the Vatican and Cuba Came Together

Jan. 26, 1998
Cover Credit: GERARD RANCINAN The Jan. 26, 1998 cover of TIME

John Paul II visited the island in 1998

The Vatican’s statement on Friday that Pope Francis is “considering” a visit to Cuba when he is in North America in the fall has brought new attention to the special relationship between the island nation and the Catholic leader. The Pope has been credited with encouraging the recent signs of rapprochement between the United States and Cuba, something his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, also spoke in favor of during a 2012 trip to Cuba.

Though Cuba has historic ties to the Catholic religion, that special relationship is really only two decades old: It was around 1995 that Fidel Castro began working on what ended up being Pope John Paul II’s 1998 visit to Cuba.

The anti-religion stance of strict Marxism had kept Cubans away from religion for decades and the crumbling of the Soviet Union only led Cuba to dig in, with hopes of proving the ideology’s endurance. At the same time, however, that period of enforcement was one of economic hardship, perhaps contributing to a rise in interest in both spiritual help and religious charity. “In 1991 Castro rescinded the ban against Christians’ joining the Communist Party,” writer Johanna McGeary explained, “and in 1992 he declared Cuba a secular, not an atheist, state.”

That change had been a long time coming:

The idea of a papal visit has actually intrigued Cuba’s leader for nearly two decades. It is not so strange as it might seem: from the very start of his revolution, Castro has sought political pilgrimages from the influential and famous as a sign of international approbation. And Castro has never feared talking to his adversaries. Although he barred Christians from the Communist Party, nationalized Catholic schools, expelled foreign priests and nuns, he never shut down the churches or prohibited religious worship or broke relations with the Vatican.

In 1979 Castro met some liberation-theology priests in Nicaragua and, says Wayne Smith, former chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, “decided that social justice, greater equality and caring for the poor were not very different goals from those of the Cuban revolution.” So he invited the Pontiff to stop by during a Mexican tour that year, but the “technical layover” Castro offered held no appeal to John Paul II.

By 1985 it seemed to Castro that signs of nonconformity and a search for new ideas were infecting the populace. Little by little, people were going back to church. So he spent 23 hours talking to a Brazilian Dominican friar, Frei Betto. The subsequent book, Fidel and Religion, became a national best seller. Here was the apostle of Marxism expounding on his Catholic upbringing and attitudes toward religion. He recalled his devout mother and his rigorous parochial education. He had been baptized and was taught biblical history and Catholic catechism. At his upper-class Jesuit high school he absorbed the determination and discipline of these militant teachers who prophesied in his yearbook that he would make a brilliant name for himself.

While he called Christ “a great revolutionary” whose teachings coincide with the aims of socialism, Castro insisted that “no one could instill religious faith in me through the mechanical, dogmatic methods that were employed. I never really held a religious belief.” Later on, he said, “I had other values: a political belief which I forged on my own, as a result of my experience, analysis and sentiments.” Nevertheless, the rebel wore a small cross on his guerrilla garb in the early days of the revolution. In the book, he astonished Cubans with the extent of his religious knowledge and the flattering comparisons he drew between Christianity and Marxism. “Karl Marx,” he said, “would have subscribed to the Sermon on the Mount.” Christians, he added, had been excluded from Cuba’s government not for ideological reasons but for historical mistakes in supporting the prerevolution status quo. Suddenly the subject of religion was no longer taboo.

Castro’s goals in eventually inviting the Pope for the 1998 visit were complex, and the results at first seemed modest. Large crowds had turned out to see John Paul II but no major news was made by either side. (Another contributing factor in the lack of news made by the visit: that was the same week President Clinton denied having sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky.) But today, many years later, it’s clear that the papal visit of 1998 did change something. It restarted a relationship between Cuba and the Vatican — a relationship that just might get another chapter very soon.

Read the full story, here in the TIME Vault: Clash of Faiths

TIME conflict

Why It Took So Long for the World to See How Phnom Penh Fell

CAMBODIA-US-WAR-KHMER ROUGE
Sjoberg / AFP / Getty Images The young Khmer Rouge guerrilla soldiers enter Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975

The Khmer Rouge took the Cambodian capital 40 years ago

When the Khmer Rouge, the Cambodian Communist forces, seized the nation’s capital of Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975, it was no surprise. In the years since the nation had been drawn into fighting in the region, the insurgents had continued to gain power. With the end of the U.S.’s involvement on the horizon—that would come before the month was up—it seemed clear that Phnom Penh would fall sooner or later.

In fact, as TIME reported in the days after April 17, the very leaders who had pledged never to stop fighting seemed to know that there was no point in a last stand. The surrender of the Khmer Republic to the Khmer Rouge was, the magazine noted, the first time a capital city had fallen to Communist forces since Seoul in the early 1950s.

But, even though the regime change was no surprise, the world watched with apprehension to see what the nation’s new rulers would do. In that initial report, TIME noted that at first “there was none of the carnage that some government officials had predicted”—one of the main fears was that widespread retribution would be exacted—even though “there were, to be sure, some ominous notes.”

A few weeks later, it became clear that those fears were not misplaced. “The curtain of silence that has concealed Cambodia from Western eyes ever since the Khmer Rouge capture of Phnom-Penh on April 17 opened briefly last week, revealing a shocking portrait of a nation in torturous upheaval,” TIME reported. “Eyewitness reports by the few Western journalists who stayed on in the Cambodian capital after the closing down of the American embassy indicated that the country’s new Communist masters have proved to be far more ruthless, if not more cruel and sadistic in their exercise of power than most Western experts had expected.”

Those eyewitness reports, as relayed by TIME, told a tale of Phnom Penh (stylized with a hyphen at the time) being emptied of its inhabitants, as urban Cambodians were forcibly relocated to grow rice in the countryside, despite the fact that there would be no rice harvest for months and there was no other plan to feed them. Foreigners who took refuge in the French embassy were stuck inside the compound, with no running water, for nearly two weeks. Cambodians among them—many married to the foreign citizens—were removed from the group before the outsiders were driven by truck to the Thai border and allowed to walk across.

The journalists among the roughly 1,000 people who escaped in that way agreed to hold their stories until everyone who would be allowed to leave was out, but by mid-May they told what they had seen.

In the years that followed, the details, as they emerged, only got more harrowing.

In 1978, David Aikman, who had been a TIME correspondent who left Cambodia mere days before Phnom Penh fell, wrote in an essay that what had happened in Cambodia since that day was “perhaps the most dreadful infliction of suffering on a nation by its government in the past three decades”:

On the morning of April 17, 1975, advance units of Cambodia’s Communist insurgents, who had been actively fighting the defeated Western-backed government of Marshal Lon Nol for nearly five years, began entering the capital of Phnom Penh. The Khmer Rouge looted things, such as watches and cameras, but they did not go on a rampage. They seemed disciplined. And at first, there was general jubilation among the city’s terrified, exhausted and bewildered inhabitants. After all, the civil war seemed finally over, the Americans had gone, and order, everyone seemed to assume, would soon be graciously restored.

Then came the shock. After a few hours, the black-uniformed troops began firing into the air. It was a signal for Phnom Penh’s entire population, swollen by refugees to some 3 million, to abandon the city. Young and old, the well and the sick, businessmen and beggars, were all ordered at gunpoint onto the streets and highways leading into the countryside.

…The survivors were settled in villages and agricultural communes all around Cambodia and were put to work for frantic 16-or 17-hour days, planting rice and building an enormous new irrigation system. Many died from dysentery or malaria, others from malnutrition, having been forced to survive on a condensed-milk can of rice every two days. Still others were taken away at night by Khmer Rouge guards to be shot or bludgeoned to death. The lowest estimate of the bloodbath to date–by execution, starvation and disease–is in the hundreds of thousands. The highest exceeds 1 million, and that in a country that once numbered no more than 7 million. Moreover, the killing continues, according to the latest refugees.

Aikman’s essay confirmed that news of what was happening in Cambodia had reached the rest of the world, without a doubt—but, he wrote, the response confirmed that somehow knowing the truth didn’t mean believing it and responding appropriately. “In the West today, there is a pervasive consent to the notion of moral relativism, a reluctance to admit that absolute evil can and does exist,” he wrote. “This makes it especially difficult for some to accept the fact that the Cambodian experience is something far worse than a revolutionary aberration. Rather, it is the deadly logical consequence of an atheistic, man-centered system of values, enforced by fallible human beings with total power, who believe, with Marx, that morality is whatever the powerful define it to be and, with Mao, that power grows from gun barrels.”

Read the full 1978 essay, here in the TIME Vault: An Experiment in Genocide

TIME Civil Rights

Why MLK Was Jailed in Birmingham

CIVIL RIGHTS MARCH
AP Photo Rev. Ralph Abernathy, left, and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., right are taken by a policeman as they led a line of demonstrators into the business section of Birmingham, Ala., on April 12, 1963. This is the photograph that ran with TIME's original coverage of their arrests.

King wrote the famous Letter From a Birmingham Jail on April 16, 1963

In the spring of 1963, in Birmingham, Ala., it seemed like progress was finally being made on civil rights. The notoriously violent segregationist police commissioner “Bull” Connor had lost his run-off bid for mayor, and despite Martin Luther King Jr.’s declaration that the city was the most segregated in the nation, protests were starting to be met with quiet resignation rather than uproar.

At least that’s what TIME thought: in the April 19 issue of that year, under the headline “Poorly Timed Protest,” the magazine cast King as an outsider who did not consult the city’s local activists and leaders before making demands that set back Birmingham’s progress and drew Bull Connor’s ire. “Last week Connor and Police Chief Jamie Moore got an injunction against all demonstrations from a state court,” TIME reported. “King announced that he would ignore it, led some 1,000 Negroes toward the business district. Both King and one of his top aides, the Rev. Ralph D. Abernathy, were promptly thrown into jail.”

King was in jail for about a week before being released on bond, and it was clear that TIME’s editors weren’t the only group that thought he had made a misstep in Birmingham.

On the day of his arrest, a group of clergymen wrote an open letter in which they called for the community to renounce protest tactics that caused unrest in the community, to do so in court and “not in the streets.” It was that letter that prompted King to draft, on this day, April 16, the famous document known as Letter From a Birmingham Jail.

In 1967, King ended up spending another five days in jail in Birmingham, along with three others, after their appeals of their contempt convictions failed. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Walker v. City of Birmingham that they were in fact in contempt of court because they could not test the constitutionality of the injunction without going through the motions of applying for the parade permit that the city had announced they would not receive if they did apply for one. The decision prompted King to write, in a statement, that though he believed the Supreme Court decision set a dangerous precedent, he would accept the consequences willingly. “Our purpose when practicing civil disobedience is to call attention to the injustice or to an unjust law which we seek to change,” he wrote—and going to jail, and eloquently explaining why, would do just that.

Need more proof that the original letter was convincing? Though TIME dismissed the protests when they first occurred, that letter was included was included in the issue the following January in which King was named the Man of the Year for 1963. “Although in the tumble of events then and since, it never got the notice it deserved,” the magazine noted, “it may yet live as a classic expression of the Negro revolution of 1963.”

Read excerpts from the letter, which was included in Martin Luther King Jr’s Man of the Year cover story, here in the TIME Vault: Letter from a Birmingham Jail

TIME remembrance

Why Holocaust Remembrance Day Is Today

Ghetto Uprising
Keystone—Getty Images 1943: Fire breaks out during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

The date marks the beginning of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

The calendar year is full of dates that could be chosen for Holocaust Remembrance Day. Some, like January 27, the day of the liberation of Auschwitz, are recognized internationally. And, as Allied forces moved through Europe liberating Nazi death camps throughout early 1945, those dates continue to amass. So why is this Thursday, April 16, marked as Holocaust Remembrance Day in the United States and elsewhere?

As the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum explains, the date corresponds with the 27th of Nisan on the Hebrew calendar, which in 1943 — on April 19 in the Western calendar — marked the beginning of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Though the date may appear to move around from year to year, it’s always on that anniversary.

The once-vibrant Jewish community of Warsaw was forced into a ghetto on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur in 1940, stuffed into an area scarcely bigger than a square mile, deprived and diminished and finally deported, as TIME’s Lance Morrow explained in a review of a 2002 book of eyewitness accounts of the infamous ghetto. As the population of the ghetto dwindled, some who remained began to organize for combat. On April 19, 1943, as the Jewish holiday of Passover approached, Nazi forces entered the ghetto with the intention of sending all of its remaining residents to camps — only to encounter the uprising. The Jews of Warsaw managed to fight back for weeks.

It would take years before the Nazi forces were finally suppressed in Warsaw and elsewhere, but the uprising was nearly immediately a touchstone for remembrance. By 1948, on the fifth anniversary, TIME reported on one such memorial:

Last week, on the fifth anniversary of the ghetto uprising, 12,000 Jews assembled on the spot where the first shots were fired. There they dedicated a monument to the heroes of the ghetto and to the 3,500,000 other Jews killed in Poland.

Delegations of Jews from 20 nations, including the U.S., laid wreaths and banners against the monument—a wall built of broken bricks from the ghetto‘s rubble piles. Mounted in a front niche was a bronze plaque showing armed men & women straining toward freedom.

These were moving symbols to the Jews of Warsaw. But what they liked best, perhaps, was the shining granite that sheathed the monument’s wall: it was some of the Swedish granite that Adolf Hitler had ordered for his monument in Berlin.

Read the full 1948 account, here in the TIME Vault: Shining Granite

Read next: Attacks Against Jews Spiked in 2014, Israeli Researchers Say

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Economy

How April 15 Became Tax Day

Final Day For Filing Taxes
Erik S. Lesser—Getty Images A man deposits his tax return into a mailbox on the final day for filing taxes in 2001 in Atlanta

The April date has been "T-day" for 60 years

Founding Father Benjamin Franklin famously said that the only things certain in this world were death and taxes, but he wasn’t necessarily talking about federal income taxes. The U.S. didn’t institute such a tax until the time of the Civil War, as a temporary measure. The Sixteenth Amendment, ratified in 1913, made it possible for the federal government to tax individuals directly.

But the story of tax day doesn’t end there. In 1954, Congress passed nearly 1,000 pages of revision to the Internal Revenue Code. Though TIME noted back then that the bill didn’t really change the overall structure of the tax code, and that many taxpayers wouldn’t be included in the categories of Americans who would see a decrease in their tax bill due to the change, it did mean one big difference that every single taxpayer would feel: “T-day” would be moved to April 15:

The lawmakers rewrote and in some places tightened many provisions concerning gifts, trusts, partnerships and reorganized or liquidated corporations. They plugged a clutch of minor loopholes that some taxpayers had found profitable. They switched income-tax day from March 15 to April 15, thus giving the taxpayer an extra month to recover from Christmas expenses and sparing him the yearly ordeal of hearing and reading clichés about the ides of March.

But when 1955’s tax day rolled around, it became clear that — even if the extra month did help Americans’ wallets — the new date didn’t mean an end to tired date-based jokes. The Ides of March were no longer financially deadly but April, TIME noted with no hint of irony, is the cruelest month.

Read the full 1954 story, here in the TIME Vault: The New Tax Law

TIME Business

See Early Ads and Photographs From the McDonald’s Archives

Ray Kroc's first franchise opened 60 years ago, on April 15, 1955

Correction appended, April 17, 2015

It was 60 years ago this week, on April 15, 1955, that Ray Kroc opened his first McDonald’s franchise, in Des Plaines, Ill. It wasn’t the first McDonald’s restaurant (two brothers actually named McDonald had started the California-based company) but it was the first step on the road to chain-restaurant domination.

As McDonald’s enters its seventh decade, here’s a look back at images and advertisements from its first few decades — including two, numbers one and three in the slideshow above, which have never before been published outside the company. The company has changed over the years, going international, transitioning from a hamburger joint to a company that sells bed linens, making news with labor issues and breakfast menus alike. But not everything has changed: look closely at the photos of the earliest locations and you’ll notice the telltale golden arches.

Ray Kroc Opens his First McDonald's in Des Plaines, Illinois on April 15, 1955
Courtesy of McDonald’s CorporationRay Kroc opens his first McDonald’s in Des Plaines, Ill., on April 15, 1955.

Correction: The original version of this article mistakenly identified the Des Plaines, Ill., McDonald’s as the company’s first franchise location. It was Ray Kroc’s first franchise location.

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