Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for July 20th, 2010

Good riff on the Old Spice commercial

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Via Andrew Sullivan:

Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2010 at 2:11 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education, Video

The GOP

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I can only shake my head. These people do not live in the same consensual reality as I. Steve Benen:

Just yesterday, President Obama spoke on the importance of unemployment benefits, and the misguided Republican argument that jobless Americans choose to stay that way — on purpose — because they’re receiving benefits.

"That attitude I think reflects a lack of faith in the American people, because the Americans I hear from in letters and meet in town hall meetings … they’re not looking for a handout," Obama said. "They desperately want to work. Just right now they can’t find a job. These are honest, decent, hardworking folks who’ve fallen on hard times through no fault of their own, and who have nowhere else to turn except unemployment benefits and who need emergency relief to help them weather this economic storm."

But Republicans keep making the argument anyway. Sharron Angle, the extremist Senate candidate in Nevada, has already pushed this line, calling the unemployed "spoiled." Greg Sargent reports this afternoon on two more GOP Senate candidates making the same case. Here’s Ron Johnson, the right-wing Republican taking on Russ Feingold in Wisconsin…

"When you continue to extend unemployment benefits, people really don’t have the incentive to go take other jobs. They’ll just wait the system out until their benefits run out, then they’ll go out and take, probably not as high paying jobs as they’d like to take, but that’s really how you have to get back to work."

…and here’s Sen. Richard Burr (R), seeking a second term in North Carolina:

"The wrong thing to do is to automatically today extend unemployment for 12 months. I think that’s a discouragement to individuals that are out there to actually go out and go through the interviews."

It’s not just Senate candidates — a couple of weeks ago, Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett (R), the frontrunner in this year’s gubernatorial race, argued that jobless Americans choose not to work. "The jobs are there," Corbett said in a state facing unemployment levels at a 26-year high. "But if we keep extending unemployment, people are just going to sit there."

Look, if Republicans want to make the case that the deficit is more important than the plight of the unemployed, fine. It’s a debate they’ll lose, but at least it’s something to talk about.

But this notion, pushed by Republicans for months, that jobless aid creates a disincentive for people to work, is misguided.

Yes, I can appreciate the fact that an unemployed worker who’s exhausted his/her benefits will be more desperate to take any job than an unemployed worker who’s still receiving public aid. But this dynamic matters a whole lot more when there are plenty of job opportunities for those who want them. That’s just not the current reality — we’re in the midst of an employment crisis, and there are five applicants for every job opening.

For leading GOP officials and candidates to keep arguing that joblessness is something people choose shows a striking detachment from the lives of real people.

I don’t know what the unemployed did to offend the Republican Party this much, but I can only hope the GOP gets over it.

And while this is going on, the GOP is also fighting to get tax breaks for the wealthy even if middle-class taxes must rise.

Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2010 at 2:09 pm

Posted in Daily life, GOP

They just plain say it: The middle class MUST support the wealthy

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Pat Garofalo at ThinkProgress:

In the last week or so, a dizzying array of Republicans have made it their official stance that $33 billion to extend unemployment benefits must be fully paid for, but financing a $678 billion extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy with deficit spending is just fine. “I think we need to be paying for all the spending that’s going on,” said Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN). “But when people can keep more of their own money that shouldn’t be considered a cost.” Florida Senate hopeful Marco Rubio agreed yesterday, claiming that the tax cuts “will be paid for because they create economic growth,” despite the preponderance of evidence to the contrary.

Today, Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) tackled this topic and started to go down the same road as the likes of Rubio, Bachmann, and Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), who was the first to set foot in this fiscal fantasy land. But he then pivoted to suggest that the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy should be funded with unspent stimulus funds:

Q: Are you for extending the Bush tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans, yes or no? […] Are you paying for them? Or are you for adding to the deficit to continue those tax cuts?

Barrasso: There is so much unspent stimulus money that we ought to use that in a responsible way, which is to help keep taxes low.

Watch it:

This is problematic on two levels. First, it’s simply not true that there’s “so much unspent stimulus money” just lying around. According to the latest data, there is $362 billion in stimulus funding waiting to be allocated (see chart at right), so Barrasso is still $325 billion short of the money he would need to cover the $678 billion cost of extending the Bush tax cuts for just the richest two percent of Americans.

stimleft1

And a longer look at the chart reveals that $125 billion of the unallocated funding is already dedicated to tax cuts. Remember, despite conservative’s constantly portraying it as only federal spending, the stimulus cut taxes for 95 percent of Americans. So Barrasso’s plan to repeal the money amounts to a tax increase on the lower- and middle-classes, which Barrasso wants to then turn around and spend on tax cuts for the rich.

Barrasso didn’t explicitly call for raising taxes on the poor and middle class in order to pay for his preferred policy outcome (which is tax rates for the wealthy that are as low as possible), but that’s what his suggestion would do. A similar sentiment was made far more directly by Wall Street Journal Editorial Board member Stephen Moore, who called for raising the rate of the lowest tax bracket in order to bring down tax rates for the rich.

Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2010 at 10:59 am

Posted in Congress, Daily life, GOP

Is the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) Valid? Part Two

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I blogged earlier the first part. Here’s the second.

Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2010 at 10:48 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, Law

Why businesses do a poor job at delivering utilities

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Because businesses are legally required to do everything they can to increase profits, not service to customers. mistermix at Balloon-Juice:

The FCC is going to release a report saying that the current broadband oligopoly is not bringing connections to the American market fast enough. If you’re interested in why, this study of Time-Warner’s spending and profits provides some of the answer:

TWC’s revenues from Internet access have soared in the last few years, surging from $2.7 billion in 2006 to $4.5 billion in 2009. Customer numbers have grown, too, from 7.6 million in 2007 to 8.9 million in 2009.

But this growth doesn’t translate into higher bandwidth costs for the company; in fact, bandwidth costs have dropped. TWC spent $164 million on data contracts in 2007, but only $132 million in 2009.

What about investing in its infrastructure? That’s down too as a percentage of revenue. TWC does spend billions each year building and improving its network ($3.2 billion in 2009), but the raw number alone is meaningless; what matters is relative investment, and it has declined even as subscribers increased and revenues surged. “Total CapEx [capital expenses] as a percentage of revenues for the year [2009] was 18.1 percent versus 20.5 percent in 2008,” said the company a few months ago.

In fact, CapEx has declined for the industry as a whole. As the National Broadband Plan noted, the big ISPs invested $48 billion in their networks in 2008 and $40 billion in 2009. (About half of this money can be chalked up to broadband; the rest of the improvements were done to aid cable or phone service.)

To recap: subscribers up, revenues up, bandwidth costs down, infrastructure costs down.

Businesses can do a good job, but only if they are regulated and monitored by independent third-party monitors incented to find problems.

Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2010 at 10:38 am

Crack down on settlement funding

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Yousef Munayyer writes in Foreign Policy:

To say that the proliferation of Israeli settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territory is an impediment to peace is an understatement. As Israel continues to gobble up Palestinian land, the individual rights of landowners and the Palestinian people are trampled upon, leaving no realistic peace process of which to speak.

Ever since the Israeli occupation began in 1967, the United States has held that the transfer of Israel’s civilian population into those territories is illegal and contrary to the Fourth Geneva Convention, an agreement that both Israel and the United States are party to. Consecutive presidential administrations have taken public stances against settlement building.

President Obama’s recent national security strategy identifies securing a peace agreement as a key national security interest. Last year, in Cairo, President Obama restated the importance of a peace agreement and said that the United States does not recognize the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements.

This makes the premise of a recent New York Times story exposing the extent of funds from American tax payers to support the continuation of Israeli settlements so disturbing. The story highlighted an issue that has long been problematic for activists and policy-makers alike. Hundreds of millions of U.S. tax dollars in deductible contributions are funneled into occupied territory through American charities to fund the enterprise that is killing the very peace process the United States aims to champion.

The extent of the networks operating here in the United States to support Israel’s settlements is vast and likely much greater than what the Times story revealed. Certainly, charities in the business of subsidizing colonization have made efforts to disguise their contributions, and these efforts will continue as more light is shed on these controversial transactions.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2010 at 10:30 am

Cause and effect in the War on Terror

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It’s not so complicated as you would expect. Greenwald:

Britain, unlike the U.S., is currently in the process of Looking Backward, Not Forward, as they investigate both the events that led them to the attack on Iraq as well as their involvement in America’s torture regime. Here is testimony provided as part of the Iraq investigation from Ron Paul Noam Chomsky the former head of MI5, the U.K.’s domestic intelligence agency:

Britain’s support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan radicalized many Muslims and triggered a big rise in terrorism plots that nearly overwhelmed the British security services, the former head of the domestic intelligence agency said on Tuesday.

Giving evidence to an official inquiry into the Iraq war, Eliza Manningham-Buller, former MI5 director general, said the U.S.-led invasions had substantially raised the number of plots against Britain.

"It undoubtedly increased the threat and by 2004 we were pretty well swamped," she said. "We were very overburdened by intelligence on a broad scale that was pretty well more than we could cope with.

So if I understand this deeply esoteric and surprising concept correctly, what causes many Muslims to become radicalized and want to mount violent attacks on a particular country is when that country brings war, bombings, and other forms of destruction and interference to the Muslim world.  Who knew?  British Muslims became "radicalized" and "swamped" that country with Terrorist plots only after watching the Government attack two separate Muslim nations.  Add to that things like lawless detentions, Guantanamo, a torture regime, attacks in places like Somalia, Pakistan, Yemen and others — all on top of two occupations in the Muslim world that will extend for a full decade at least — and only the densest among us (or those who actively desire high levels of Terrorism threats for their own interests) will fail to see how the very policies justified in the name of fighting Terrorism are the ones most exacerbating that problem.  [And, as always, those who have been told that American interference and violence in the Muslim world began only after 9/11 should read about Mohammad Mossadegh; Joy Gordon’s new book on the devastation brought by American air attacks on Iraq in the Persian Gulf War and especially the decade-long sanctions regime that followed; our endless support for continuous Israeli wars and occupation in that part of the world; and our decades-long support for tyrants from Egypt to Indonesia].  The issue is causation, not justification, and it’s as crystal clear now as it was in 2003 when the U.S. Government itself recognized it.

Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2010 at 10:10 am

Posted in Daily life, Terrorism

More of that tedious American exceptionalism

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The kind of thinking that thinks actions we condemn bitterly when done by other nations are perfectly okay when done by the US—a mode of thinking that is enough to nauseate me. Greenwald has a good example:

Former Bush Attorney General Michael Mukasey, The Washington Post, today, arguing against civilian trials for Guantanamo detainees:

The civilized world has tried over several hundred years to establish rules of warfare so that those who wear uniforms, follow a recognized chain of command, carry their arms openly and do not target civilians are treated as prisoners of war when captured. Those who follow none of these rules are treated as war criminals, not as ordinary defendants accused of ordinary crimes and entitled to far more robust protection than war criminals.

Dana Priest and William Arkin, The Washington Post, today, on the sprawling network of private corporations performing core U.S. military and intelligence functions:

Private contractors working for the CIA have recruited spies in Iraq, paid bribes for information in Afghanistan and protected CIA directors visiting world capitals. Contractors have helped snatch a suspected extremist off the streets of Italy, interrogated detainees once held at secret prisons abroad and watched over defectors holed up in the Washington suburbs. . . . Contractors kill enemy fighters. They spy on foreign governments and eavesdrop on terrorist networks. They help craft war plans. They gather information on local factions in war zones. . . .

Most of these contractors do work that is fundamental to an agency’s core mission. As a result, the government has become dependent on them in a way few could have foreseen: wartime temps who have become a permanent cadre. . . .

Since 9/11, contractors have made extraordinary contributions – and extraordinary blunders – that have changed history and clouded the public’s view of the distinction between the actions of officers sworn on behalf of the United States and corporate employees with little more than a security badge and a gun.

Contractor misdeeds in Iraq and Afghanistan have hurt U.S. credibility in those countries as well as in the Middle East. Abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, some of it done by contractors, helped ignite a call for vengeance against the United States that continues today. Security guards working for Blackwater added fuel to the five-year violent chaos in Iraq and became the symbol of an America run amok. . . .

Contractors in war zones, especially those who can fire weapons, blur "the line between the legitimate and illegitimate use of force, which is just what our enemies want," Allison Stanger, a professor of international politics and economics at Middlebury College and the author of "One Nation Under Contract," told the independent Commission on Wartime Contracting at a hearing in June.

The irony here is that the decision to declare enemy fighters in Afghanistan as "unlawful enemy combatants" — which is what, in turn, "justified" denial of Geneva Conventions protections for them (at least until the Supreme Court ruled otherwise) — was grounded in the fact that they do not, as Mukasey put it, "wear uniforms, follow a recognized chain of command, carry their arms openly."  That’s what made them, in the U.S. lexicon, not only "unlawful combatants" but even Terrorists.  But, of course, exactly the same is true for our countless private contractors who are acting as combatants for the U.S. in multiple parts of the world; as Priest and Arkin document, they are so numerous and unaccountably embedded in secret government functions that they are literally "countless":

Making it more difficult to replace contractors with federal employees: The government doesn’t know how many are on the federal payroll. Gates said he wants to reduce the number of defense contractors by about 13 percent, to pre-9/11 levels, but he’s having a hard time even getting a basic head count.

"This is a terrible confession," he said. "I can’t get a number on how many contractors work for the Office of the Secretary of Defense," referring to the department’s civilian leadership.

In sum, if you combine this second Post installment with the first one from yesterday, the picture that emerges is that we have a Secret Government of 854,000 people so vast and secret that nobody knows what it does or what it is.  Roughly 30% of that Secret Government — engaged in the whole litany of functions from spying to killing — is composed of private corporations:  "The Post estimates that out of 854,000 people with top-secret clearances, 265,000 are contractors."  That there is a virtually complete government/corporate merger when it comes to the National Security and Surveillance State is indisputable:  "Private firms have become so thoroughly entwined with the government’s most sensitive activities that without them important military and intelligence missions would have to cease or would be jeopardized."

As little oversight as National Security State officials have, corporate officials engaged in these activities have even less.  Relying upon profit-driven industry for the defense and intelligence community’s "core mission" is to ensure that we have Endless War and an always-expanding Surveillance State.  After all, the very people providing us with the "intelligence" that we use to make decisions are the ones who are duty-bound to keep this War Machine alive and expanding because, as the Post put it, they are "obligated to shareholders rather than the public interest."  Our military, our CIA, our spying agencies (such as NSA) are every bit corporate as they are governmental:   in some cases more so.  So complete is the merger that it’s the same people who switch seamlessly back and forth between governmental agencies and their private "partners," which means we have not only a vast Secret Government, but one that operates with virtually no democratic accountability and is driven not by National Security concerns but by its own always-expanding private profits.   Just read the years of work from Tim Shorrock — which disgracefully was not even cited by the Postdocumenting how dangerous all of this.

Priest and Arkin wrote yesterday that what they were describing wasn’t quite the same as Dwight Eisenhower’s 1961 Farewell warning about the "military industrial complex" and the threats it poses to democracy (largely because, as they put it, the mission of this entity is more "amorphous" than it was in Eisenhower’s time).  Please read the relevant portions of Eisenhower’s warning and decide for yourself if this isn’t exactly what he was talking about: …

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2010 at 10:07 am

More truth from Netanyahu

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Andrew Sullivan:

“I know what America is. America is a thing you can move very easily, move it in the right direction,” – Binyamin Netanyahu, in a just-released and secretly taped private meeting in 2001. He also reveals his approach to the Palestinians:

“beat them up, not once but repeatedly, beat them up so it hurts so badly, until it’s unbearable.”

And so Operation Cast Lead makes more sense, doesn’t it? He also describes how the notion that the Palestinians destroyed the Oslo process was a cover for his own sabotage:

Netanyahu exposed the naked truth to his hosts at Ofra: he destroyed the Oslo accords with his own hands and deeds, and he’s even proud of it. After years in which we were told that the Palestinians are to blame, the truth has emerged from the horse’s mouth.

And how did he do it? He recalled how he conditioned his signing of the 1997 Hebron agreement on American consent that there be no withdrawals from "specified military locations," and insisted he choose those same locations, such as the whole of the Jordan Valley, for example. "Why is that important? Because from that moment on I stopped the Oslo Accords," he boasts. …

He calls then-U.S. President Bill Clinton "extremely pro-Palestinian," and says the Palestinians want to throw us into the sea. With such retrograde beliefs, no one can convincingly argue that he wants an agreement.

Netanyahu wants and has always wanted total Israeli control of the West Bank for ever, and believes in using the United States as a means to advance Israeli interests in the Middle East, whether they conform to US interests or not. Any administration that believes, as Obama pathetically just said he did, that Netanyahu is “ready to take risks for peace” is engaged in naive fantasies. The man has contempt for America, seeing his country’s prime ally not as a country to be supported and engaged, but a country to be pushed around and lied to. So when will Obama stand up for his own country against this charlatan?

Now remember: Netanyahu is increasingly a moderate compared with his coalition partners.

Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2010 at 9:59 am

T.S. Eliot

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I occasionally get obsessed to master something that has eluded me. When I first began again traditional wetshaving, I had no problem at all in getting a good lather from shaving creams (which seem to be more or less condensed lather), but with soaps I was hopeless. I finally decided to quit creams altogether so that I would learn how to lather soaps. Now, of course, I vastly prefer soaps to shaving creams.

T.S. Eliot is another example: I somehow have never liked his poetry and plays, though I do understand their importance and the fact that they deserve their praise. But I just didn’t get it.

I’m now determined to remedy that. I have George Williamson’s book A Reader’s Guide to T.S. Eliot: A Poem-by-Poem Analysis, and I’ve just started reading it. So far, it seems to be exactly what I needed: a knowledgeable person tactfully pointing out the various things that I totally missed. I’m hopeful—and I recommend the book for other T.S. Eliot-blind people like myself.

Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2010 at 9:55 am

Posted in Books

Posh Lunch Club

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Our family follows this series with bated breath and drooling mouth:

Fine dining, once perceived as elusive and perhaps elitist, at least on a regular basis is fantastically achievable if you dine at lunch time, and eat from the set menu.

Always well priced, sometimes including wine, it’s a great way of living the high life a bit more regularly than you would otherwise be able to, and finding those restaurants that you may like to go back to and try a tasting menu.

I will be blogging a Posh Lunch Club post at least once a week and updating the list here. I do hope you enjoy it, if you try them please let me know how you find it! Comments always welcome.

  1. Announcing Posh Lunch Club: First Stop, Arbutus
  2. Posh Lunch Club: Quo Vadis
  3. Posh Lunch Club at The Ledbury
  4. Posh Lunch Club at Kitchen W8, Kensington
  5. Posh Lunch Club at The River Cafe
  6. Posh Lunch Club at Terroirs

Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2010 at 9:49 am

Posted in Daily life, Food

BP looks worse and worse as testimony continues

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Julie Cart reports in the LA Times:

Months before the April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon that killed 11 men, the sophisticated drilling vessel experienced power blackouts, computer glitches and a balky propulsion system, and carried a list of more than 300 deferred maintenance projects.

Under withering questioning during Monday’s resumption of the Coast Guard- Interior Department investigation into the well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, the rig’s chief engineer revealed the possibility that alarms and other crucial systems were bypassed or not functioning at the time of the explosion.

His testimony also introduced a sensational detail: As crew members scrambled onto life rafts to abandon the crippled rig, the vessel’s captain ordered an injured man to be left behind. The injured worker was eventually loaded onto a life raft and evacuated.

The day’s first witness, chief engineer Stephen Bertone, was questioned sharply by panel members from the Coast Guard and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, who laid out a pattern of lax maintenance on the Deepwater Horizon, owned by Transocean and leased to BP.

The engineer said the rig had been experiencing mechanical failures for months before the explosion. Bertone, an employee of Transocean, said the vessel’s thruster, or propeller system, had been "having problems" for the previous eight months. In addition, the computer station where the rig’s driller sits had temporarily lost electrical power days before the blowout, he said.

Bertone said on the night of the explosion, he heard no general alarm, there were no internal communications and no power to the engines, and none of the Deepwater Horizon’s backup or emergency generators were working.

"We were a dead ship," he said.

Because there was no power, the crew was unable to engage the emergency disconnect system that would have halted the flow of oil from the wellhead.

He said there was at least one incident earlier in the day that had foreshadowed what was to come. While taking BP and Transocean officials on a tour, Bertone saw a large group in the drill shack, an unusual number of people crammed into a small space.

"I had a feeling something wasn’t right," Bertone said, adding that he was told to keep the tour moving and didn’t hear anything further about problems with the well…

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2010 at 9:29 am

Wonderful series: The Tick

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I generally (though not always) discover things late in the game. Go, for example, I didn’t start playing until about 3000 years after it was invented. I did get an early start on The Lord of the Rings, which I read in 1959.

Only last night did I start watching The Tick (the live-action version), available on Watch Instantly. I thought the Pilot episode was okay, the first actual episode better, and by the second episode I was LOLing. Highly recommended to those whose tastes are the same as mine.

Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2010 at 9:11 am

New shaving stuff

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Mr. Mail Carrier did me proud yesterday: a new Vie-Long combination horse and badger brush; hjm aloe vera shaving soap; a new head for my iKon razor: a safety bar instead of open comb. (I purchased only the head, using the same handle as yesterday.)

The brush is not bad at all—it has the initial aroma that will fade, and the combination gives a very resilient brush that still feels good. I think it may need a little breaking in—or the hjm will require an adjustment to my technique. I’ll use it tomorrow on a soap I know. The hjm aloe vera soap had a very light fragrance—a generic soap smell. The lather seemed to do the job, though.

Greg had told me the the head I bought ($30) has been reported to be quite mild. I wanted to try it anyway, though I prefer a slightly more aggressive razor. In the event, though, it worked extremely well for me with a slightly used Swedish Gillette blade (the one that was in the razor yesterday, in fact: when I transferred the handle, I also transferred the blade). I didn’t find it especially mild at all, and its aggression was quite domesticated. Indeed, this head, like the open comb, struck me first and foremost as comfortable. The iKon razors at their current level of development shave quite well and are strikingly comfortable.

Extremely smooth shave and extremely smooth result. A very nice razor indeed. And it’s kind of nice to have two heads: open-comb and straight bar.

The back of the head is smoothly polished with the brand name etched on it:

Anyone else using this razor? Your thoughts?

Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2010 at 9:02 am

Posted in Shaving

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