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Saturday, June 18, 2011
Friday, June 17, 2011
The CNN Belief Blog, which has graciously featured a few of my pieces, just celebrated its first anniversary, and for the occasion, its editors reflected on 10 things that they've learned in the course of the year. The one that got my eye was this: that atheists are by far the most fervent commentators on matters religious.
This completely coincides with my own experience as an internet commentator and blogger. Every day, my website and YouTube page are inundated with remarks, usually of a sharply negative or dismissive nature, from atheists, agnostics, and critics of religion.
In fact, some of my YouTube commentaries have been specifically targeted by atheist webmasters, who urge their followers to flood my site with "dislikes" and crude assessments of what I've said. And one of my contributions to the CNN site -- what I took to be a benign article urging Christians to pray for Christopher Hitchens -- excited literally thousands of angry responses from the haters of religion.
What do we make of this? I think we see, first, that atheists have come rather aggressively out of the closet. Following the prompts of Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Bill Maher, and many others, they have found the confidence to (excuse the word) evangelize for atheism. They are no longer content to hold on to their conviction as a private opinion; they consider religion dangerous and retrograde, and they want religious people to change their minds.
This fervor has led them, sadly, to employ a good deal of vitriolic rhetoric, but this is a free country and their advocacy for atheism should not, of course, be censored. But it should be a wake-up call to all of my fellow religionists. We have a fight on our hands, and we have to be prepared, intellectually and morally, to get into the arena.
Most of the new atheists employ variations of the classical arguments of Ludwig Feuerbach, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Sigmund Freud, namely, that religion is a pathetic projection born of suffering, that it is an infantile illusion, that it is de-humanizing, etc.
How well do Christians know the theories of our intellectual enemies? Can we identify their blind-spots and the flaws in their logic? Have we read the great Christian apologists -- G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, Ronald Knox, Fulton Sheen -- and can we wield their arguments against those who are coming at us?
In my own Catholic Church, we sadly jettisoned much of our rich apologetic tradition in the years after Vatican II, convinced that it would be better to reach out positively to the culture. Well, at least part of that culture has turned pretty hostile, and it is high time to recover the intellectual weapons that we set aside.
Today's atheists also eagerly use the findings of contemporary science -- especially in evolutionary biology and quantum physics -- to undermine the claims of religion. Are the advocates of the faith ready to meet that challenge? How carefully have we read the scientific critics? And have we bothered to study the works of such deeply religious scientists as Fr. John Polkinghorne, Fr. George Coyne, Fr. Stanley Jaki, and Fr. Georges Le Maitre, colleague of Einstein and the formulator of the Big Bang theory of cosmic origins?
We shouldn't imitate the Internet atheists in their nastiness, but we should certainly imitate them in our willingness to come forward boldly and showing some intellectual teeth. But the fierce and vocal presence of so many atheists on the CNN Belief Blog and so many other religious sites also speaks to what I call the Herod Principle.
The Gospels tell us that Herod Antipas arrested John the Baptist because the prophet had publicly challenged the King. Herod threw John into prison but then, we are told, the King loved secretly to listen to the prophet, who continued to preach from his cell.
St. Augustine formulated an adage that beautifully sums up the essentials of Christian anthropology: "O Lord, you have made us for yourself; therefore our hearts are restless until they rest in you." A basic assumption of Biblical people is that everyone is hard-wired for God in the measure that everyone seeks a fulfillment that cannot be had through any of the goods of this world. Long before Augustine, the psalmist prayed, "only in God is my soul at rest."
My wager, as a person of faith, is that everyone -- at that includes Christopher Hitchens, Bill Maher, and Richard Dawkins -- implicitly wants God and hence remains permanently fascinated by the things of God. Though the fierce atheists of today profess that they would like to eliminate religious speech and religious ideas, secretly they love to listen as people speak of God. This goes a long way, it seems to me, toward explaining their presence in great numbers on religious blogs.
So I say to Christians and other believers: be ready for a good fight, and get some spiritual weapons in your hands. And I say to the atheists: I'll keep talking -- because I know, despite all of your protestations and sputtering, that your hearts are listening.
Cancer death rates keep falling in the United States, but people with the least education are still twice as likely to die as their better-off neighbors, the American Cancer Society reported on Thursday.
The group estimated that nearly 900,000 people escaped an early death from cancer between 1990 and 2007 because of the progress in preventing, detecting, and treating cancer. Nonetheless, cancer remains the No. 2 cause of death in the United States.
The projection for 2011: 1.56 million people will be diagnosed with cancer, and 571,950 will die of it.
“Overall cancer incidence rates were stable in men in the most recent time period after decreasing by 1.9 percent per year from 2001 to 2005; in women, incidence rates have been declining by 0.6 percent annually since 1998,” the society said in a statement.
But education – usually a marker for affluence – was important, the group said: “In 2007, cancer death rates in the least-educated segment of the population were 2.6 times higher than those in the most-educated.”
The group added, “This disparity was largest for lung cancer, for which the death rate was five times higher in the least educated than for the most educated.”
Lung cancer is the No. 1 cancer killer globally and in the United States. The report said that 31 percent of men with a high school education or less smoke, compared with 12 percent of male college graduates and 5 percent of men with graduate degrees.
For men, prostate, lung, and colon cancer account for more than half of all cancer diagnoses; for women, the three most common types are breast, lung, and colon cancer.
About 44 percent of all men will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives, compared with 38 percent of all women.
The purpose of federal fuel-economy mandates is to keep the agenda of green pols hidden lest the public awaken to their enormous costs. Want to make cars fuel efficient? Tax gas. And commit political suicide. So instead we get the stealthy Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) laws, which forces automakers to compromise cars to government standards, not those of customers.
But sometimes those costs still leak out.
The Detroit News’s dogged David Shepardson has unearthed a study by one of world’s most respected automotive research firms that reveals that President Obama’s radical CAFE mandate that vehicles average — average! — 62 MPG by 2025 “could force vehicle prices up by nearly $10,000, reduce sales by 5.5 million vehicles annually, and eliminate more than 260,000 jobs.”
Shepardson is quoting from the Michigan-based Center for Automotive Research and the 260,000 job loss figure (consistent with past job losses from CAFE rule hikes) is another dent in White House’s propaganda that Green creates jobs.
The CAR study also reveals that Obama’s NHTSA and EPA have been gaming the figures when it comes to the cost of their new rules. The center’s study predicts it will cost between $3,744 and $9,790 per vehicle, while the agencies have low-balled the figure at $770 to $3,500 per vehicle.
The resulting costs would shrink the new-car market, with 5.5 million potential buyers disappearing (and manufacturing jobs with them) by 2025. That assumes that the auto fleet can even be built to meet such an absurd spec. Currently, no car — much less the average — meets 62 mpg. Indeed, only a handful of small vehicles meet the 35-mpg fleet-wide standard mandated in just five years.
As a result, there is more gaming of the system, as automakers pour lobbying money into D.C. to effect regulatory agency rules handing credits to electric cars — whether customers buy them or not.
This is change, Obama-style: More rules, more lobbyists, more corruption of government standards. It all adds up to more jobs for Washington bureaucrats, and fewer for the rest of the country.
Thursday, June 16, 2011
Demonstrators today encircled the Greek parliament in Athens in an attempt to stop MPs voting on even deeper austerity measures for the debt-ridden country.
They were involved in a tense stand-off with riot police in Constitution Square as a 24-hour strike began.
The walkouts left hospitals running on emergency staff, disrupted transport and forced radio and TV news shows off the air.
Prime minister George Papandreou was attempting to push through the measures which will include higher taxes and wider spending cuts.
The government needs to pass a new 2012-2015 austerity programme worth more than £20 billion this month or face being cut off from continued funding of rescue loans from European countries and the International Monetary Fund.
"They keep asking us to give more," said Ilias Iliopoulos, general secretary of the civil servants' union ADEDY. "Now, again, they will cut our salaries and bonuses, from the little that we have left."
Some government MPs have attacked the new cuts and one defected yesterday, reducing Mr Papandreou's majority to just five in the
Another has said he will vote against the government and opposition will not side with the ruling party.
But the government claims the cuts are vital if Greece is not to slide even deeper into the red.
Government spokesman George Petalotis said: "We are fighting the battle to serve the common good, in the most crucial moment in the country's modern democracy."
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Saudi Arabia? Nope that has already been picked over. The “new” oil find is in Israel.
The old energy order in the Middle East is crumbling with Iran and Syria having left the Western fold and others, including Saudi Arabia, the largest of them all, in danger of doing so. Simultaneously, a new energy order is emerging to give the West some spine. In this new order, Israel is a major player.
The new energy order is founded on rock – the shale that traps vast stores of energy in deposits around the world. One of the largest deposits – 250 billion barrels of oil in Israel’s Shfela basin, comparable to Saudi Arabia’s entire reserves of 260 billion barrels of oil – has until now been unexploited, partly because the technology required has been expensive, mostly because the multinational oil companies that have the technology fear offending Muslims.
Of course you should read the whole thing for details but the essence is that if this oil can be exploited it will put a lid (depending on demand of course) on what can be charged for oil. In any case immediate fears of an oil shortage are put off a little longer. And if the Wave Engine works out it could extend that “little to fear” era by 50 or 100 years. Long enough to develop what ever comes next without requiring a crash program.
Speaking of offending Muslims. I wonder if they would be offended if the price of oil declines by half? It would be good to see that proposition tested in the real world.
Cross Posted at Power and Control
For months, Rep. Michele Bachmann has hovered on the margins of the consciousness of the mainstream media. But after her breakthrough appearance at Monday night’s New Hampshire Republican presidential debate, it was a given that she would start getting the same treatment that was accorded the last religious conservative woman to make it onto the the national stage. As Michelle Goldberg’s hit piece in today’s Daily Beast illustrates, the effort to demonize Bachmann is in full swing and she can expect no more mercy from liberals than Sarah Palin got.
The highlight of Goldberg’s piece is undoubtedly her account of what happened when to supporters of gay marriage ambushed her in a rest room after a 2005 town hall meeting when Bachmann was a Minnesota state senator. The two, a lesbian and a nun, claim Bachmann screamed for help when the two buttonholed her in a lady’s room. Apparently we’re supposed to think Bachmann is a screwball for feeling threatened (if indeed, that’s what actually happened) when hostile strangers in a small space cornered her with no one else around.
Goldberg’s biggest problem is, of course, the fact that the religiously conservative Bachmann is a longtime opponent of gay marriage and she makes the most out of the fact that the congresswoman’s gay stepsister broke with her over the issue.
We can also expect to hear a great deal the influence of one of her law professors, John Eidsmoe who appears to something of a theocrat as well as advocating some erroneous and extreme ideas about both slavery and the Civil War.
I am watching a conference titled “The Debt Ceiling, Fiscal Plans, and Market Jitters: Where Do We Go From Here?” and the impressive roster of speakers all seem to agree that things are really bad and there is an incredible risk to waiting. Deficit commission co-chair and former senator Alan Simpson was great and, as always, very funny. Chairman Ryan was great, too. When asked what he needs to move forward, he said a commitment to adopt the Ryan-Rivlin plan to reform Medicare and Medicaid.
But I was particularly interested by what Larry Lindsey had to say. He started by saying that he now works in the private sector (after basically getting fired) because a few years ago, he dared to say that a particular price tag for a particular action that the government was undertaking would be much bigger than what the government was claiming (it was the war in Iraq). As we know now, even Lindsey’s numbers were an underestimation of the actual cost.
Lindsey predicts that there are three important costs that the government is completely wrong about:
1. Interest-rate payments and underestimated: They will cost $5.4 trillion more than the current estimate over ten years.
2. Future economic growth rates are overestimated: The president’s budget predicts a growth rate of over 4 percent, which is unlikely. Every administration does it, but right now the gap between projected growth and what is likely to happen is wide.
3. The cost of the health-care law is grossly underestimated, by $1 trillion according to a McKinsey report. I haven’t read the report and can’t vouch for its accuracy (it wouldn’t be crazy to think that this law will end up costing taxpayers a lot, considering how the law expands the demand for health care); however, we know that it’s extremely unlikely that the cost savings in the health-care law will be implemented.
In other words, it’s not good. There was also a lot of talk about what investors are doing and how they are thinking about the risk that the U.S. represents. The consensus on that seemed to be that, thankfully, investors’ attention is focused on the European crisis.
Overall, this conference is very interesting. I think there is a true willingness to find a solution. The question still remains, what solution?
Update: I mean that there is a true willingness among the people at the conference.
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Herman Cain started strong and speaks forcefully on the economic issues,however he loses his step on matters outside his greatest strength. He lacked specifics for all his passion and that is something he is going to be forced to provide. He didn't lose support,but he didn't move the ball forward.
Newt Gingrich proved to be frustrating again. Had his campaign not recently imploded I suspect he would be included in the conversation than he is at present. Few people in public life demonstrate the capacity to strategically assess all the issues in a clear manner,but foot in mouth disease has permanently harmed him.
Ron Paul was Ron Paul, but he looked tired.
Rick Santorum is bright,articulate and passionate in his beliefs, but last night proved that he can project coldness in the midst of passion.
The loser of the debate was Tim Pawlenty. He had a good night,but he is remembered for not engaging Romney on "Obamneycare". In a year where Republican voters want to take the fight to Obama, Tim Pawlenty showed polite timidity.
The biggest loser of the evening was Jon Huntsman Jr. Why? Because he was invited to the debate, he declined and then promptly announced he was running today. How do you think that looks to New Hampshire voters? All the more clueless given reports that he will forgo an effort in Iowa.
Mitt Romney won the debate because he didn't lose. He was focused on the economy,he looked presidential and more importantly he did not appear to be the phony that emanated from him four years ago. He was in command of himself,confident and assertive. I'm not a Romney fan for many reasons, but he at least allayed some fears to a degree. Wait and see. If he is the nominee I want to see how he takes a punch first. If you get into the ring with Obama you had better not have a glass jaw.
The most significant result from last night's debate is the performance of Michelle Bachmann. She has been subject to ridicule and marginalized as a fringe or niche candidate. Not anymore. She was focused.She prefaced each response with her credentials justifying her response to questions. More importantly, she was credible.
When asked about Obamacare she reminded everyone she was the first to file for its repeal. When asked about Libya she referenced her service on the House Select Committee on Intelligence giving her just criticism all the more weight.
Michelle Bachmann did something I found quite profound and has to my knowledge gone unstated anywhere. Pro Life candidates are often criticized by pro choicers as being unconcerned about a child after its born. Michelle Bachmann when asked about abortion reasserted his pro life position, but prefaced it by informing people of her five children and twenty three foster children. Many took this as just personal fluff, but the truth is how can anyone accuse Michelle Bachmann of being a hypocrite on abortion when she's taken in 23 foster children? How do you criticize one who has sheltered children from the storm?
Michelle Bachmann is for real folks and I look forward to the campaign with renewed vigor.
Monday, June 13, 2011
Dams are big and stupid things. The Three Gorges Dam on China's Yangtze River is bigger and stupider than most, so it attracts a lot of criticism. Much of the criticism is deserved. Some of it - such as accusations that it has significantly exacerbated the drought gripping China - is, perhaps, undeserved.
All of the criticism, however, is an important harbinger of mounting political problems for China's authoritarian model of national development.
The Three Gorges Dam, or TGD, is very much the bastard child of the Tiananmen democratic movement of 1989 and the ensuing crackdown.
Popular activists, led by author Dai Qing, tried to stop the dam in
the name of transparency, accountability and democracy. After Tiananmen, the Chinese government built and promoted the dam as a symbol of the government's determination to pursue economic development over political reform and in the teeth of international economic sanctions.
TGD was also a public vote of confidence in then Chinese premier Li Peng, who was at the time internationally excoriated as "The Butcher of Beijing" for ordering the crackdown. Li, trained as a hydropower engineer, was an enthusiastic advocate for the project, and allegedly had strong family as well as professional and public interest in the construction of the dam.
Because of its potent symbolism, negative reporting on the dam was actively discouraged in the Chinese national press for two decades.
Therefore, it was significant news when the State Council, China's cabinet, went public recently with the information that it was necessary to throw another 20 billion yuan (US$3 billion) or so at the Three Gorges in order to deal with landslide, pollution and relocation issues.
Most probably, the State Council announcement reflected the priorities of Premier Wen Jiabao. Wen, who is responsible for projecting the friendly, caring face of the Chinese government, has made it his priority to respond to popular dissatisfaction with bloated, destructive hydropower projects promoted by greedy local governments and powerful national utilities.
Famously, Wen pulled the plug on the Leaping Tiger Gorge Dam in 2008, after reading an investigative report by Liu Jianqiang in the Guangzhou-based Nanfang (Southern) Daily blasting the rogue project.
The Western press, however, decided not to spin the State Council announcement as "China's government makes a belated but welcome step toward transparency and public engagement by breaking silence on TGD problems".
Instead, some outlets decided to use the Yangtze basin drought as a news hook for the story. As the Washington Post reported, "Amid severe drought, Chinese government admits mistakes with Three Gorges Dam."  CNN pitched in with "Has the Three Gorges Dam created Chinese drought zone?"  Associated Press: "China drought renews debate over Three Gorges Dam." 
In example of the bloggy "it would be irresponsible not to speculate" writing that news outlets increasingly turn to in order to fill their pages and attract readers, Elaine Kurtenbach of AP reported the allegation that "many villagers and some scientists suspect the dam ... could also be altering weather patterns, contributing to the lowest rainfall some areas have seen in a half century or more."
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), whose foreign policies have troubled some Western officials, sailed to a third term victor in elections Sunday, as expected.
But voters did not hand Erdogan the majority he sought to push ahead with plans for a new constitution without the support of opposition parties. The Islamist-leaning AKP’s 49.9 percent of the vote translates into 325 seats in the 550-seat parliament, down from 331 in the last parliament.
That result is well short of the two-thirds needed to replace the constitution without consulting other parties or Turkish citizens in a referendum.
Erdogan’s plans include moving Turkey from a parliamentary to a presidential system, prompting some concerns that he may – emulating Russia’s Vladimir Putin – use the change as a vehicle to extend his rule beyond 2015, when his third and last term as prime minister is set to end.
In another setback for Erdogan on Sunday, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) achieved its best result in three decades (25.9 percent). Kurdish-backed candidates increased their share of seats in parliament by a third, underlining the growing importance of the issue following an election campaign that saw Erdogan adopt a more nationalistic tone with regard to the large Kurdish minority.
Erdogan in a optimistic, conciliatory statement hailed the outcome as “a victory for democracy, for stability, for peace” and promised to work with opposition parties.
The Obama administration, like its predecessor, points to Turkey’s mix of Islam, democracy and economic reforms as a “model” and example for other countries in the Muslim world to follow.
But Erdogan has drawn criticism for authoritarian tendencies at home, and for a evolving foreign policy that has seen Turkey, a NATO member, side with Iran both in the councils of the transatlantic alliance as well as at the U.N.
Washington is pressuring Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to accede to its proposal to resume Israeli-Palestinian peace talks on the basis of U.S. President Barack Obama's May 19 speech.
An Israeli source who spoke recently with senior officials in Washington said the Americans were very frustrated with Netanyahu's behavior, feeling that he was impeding America's efforts to keep the Palestinians from unilaterally seeking UN recognition of a state in September.
Netanyahu's personal envoy, Isaac Molho, spent last week in Washington, where the Americans presented their proposal for resuming talks on the basis of Obama's speech. Specifically, Obama's plan calls for negotiating over borders and security first, while deferring issues such as Jerusalem and the refugees until later.
It also calls for the borders to be based on the 1967 lines, with mutually agreed land swaps.
The Americans told Molho that to block European initiatives such as France's proposal for an international peace conference in Paris, they must have something concrete to offer, like Netanyahu's agreement to negotiate on the basis of Obama's speech.
The U.S. proposal was also given to chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who said the Palestinians would resume talks on this basis.
Meanwhile, a European diplomat who was briefed on Molho's talks in Washington said they were fruitless. "The Americans didn't get anything new from Molho," the diplomat said.
This week, American diplomat David Hale will arrive in Israel to hold further meetings with both Molho and Erekat. Hale is temporarily replacing George Mitchell, the U.S. special envoy who resigned earlier this year.
An Israeli source who maintains close ties with both senior U.S. officials and people close to Netanyahu said that Washington's frustration began with Netanyahu's trip to Washington last month, when he publicly fought with Obama and then refused in an address to Congress to endorse the president's outline for talks. The Americans were now speaking very harshly of Netanyahu, said the source.
"The legislative cannot transfer the power of making laws to any other hands. ... The power of the legislative, being derived from the people ... (is) only to make laws, and not to make legislators."
- John Locke
"Second Treatise of Government"
Here, however, is a paradox of sovereignty: The sovereign people, possessing the right to be governed as they choose, might find the exercise of that right tiresome, and so might choose to be governed in perpetuity by a despot they cannot subsequently remove. Congress did something like that in passing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.
The point of PPACA is cost containment. This supposedly depends on the Independent Payment Advisory Board. The IPAB, which is a perfect expression of the progressive mind, is to be composed of 15 presidential appointees empowered to reduce Medicare spending - which is 13 percent of federal spending - to certain stipulated targets. IPAB is to do this by making "proposals" or "recommendations" to limit costs by limiting reimbursements to doctors. This, inevitably, will limit available treatments - and access to care when physicians leave the Medicare system.
The PPACA repeatedly refers to any IPAB proposal as a "legislative proposal" and speaks of "the legislation introduced" by the IPAB. Each proposal automatically becomes law unless Congress passes a measure cutting medical spending as much as IPAB would.
This is a travesty of lawmaking: An executive branch agency makes laws unless Congress enacts legislation to achieve the executive agency's aim.
And it gets worse. Any resolution to abolish the IPAB must pass both houses of Congress. And no such resolution can be introduced before 2017 or after Feb. 1, 2017, and must be enacted by Aug. 15 of that year. And if passed, it cannot take effect until 2020. It is transparently designed to permanently entrench IPAB - never mind the principle that one Congress cannot by statute bind another Congress from altering that statute.
That principle may cause courts to dismiss the challenge by the Phoenix-based Goldwater Institute to Congress' delegation of its powers, because courts may say Congress can just change its mind. Hence the court may spurn the institute's argument on behalf of two Arizona congressmen, Jeff Flake and Trent Franks, that the entrenchment of the IPAB seriously burdens the legislators' First Amendment rights.
Diane Cohen, the institute's senior attorney, demonstrates that the IPAB is doubly anti-constitutional. It derogates the powers of Congress. And it ignores the separation of powers: It is an executive agency, its members appointed by the president, exercising legislative powers over which neither Congress nor the judiciary can exercise proper control.
Unfortunately, the IPAB may not be unconstitutional. This is because the Supreme Court, having slight interest in policing Congress' incontinent desire to give to others the power to make difficult decisions, has become excessively permissive about delegation. Cohen notes this from Justice Antonin Scalia's dissent in a 1989 case wherein the Supreme Court affirmed the power of the U.S. Sentencing Commission to set "guidelines" that, being binding, have the effect of statutes:
"I anticipate that Congress will find delegation of its lawmaking powers much more attractive in the future. ... I foresee all manner of 'expert' bodies, insulated from the political process, to which Congress will delegate various portions of its lawmaking responsibility. How tempting to create an expert Medical Commission ... to dispose of such thorny, 'no-win' political issues as the withholding of life-support systems in federally funded hospitals."
The Supreme Court said that the legislative power of Congress does not include the power to delegate legislative authority to an executive agency without "intelligible principles" to constrain such authority. The only principle - if such it can be called - constraining the IPAB is that its mission is to cut medical costs as it sees fit.
The Goldwater Institute's challenge to the IPAB serves the high purpose of highlighting some of Obamacare's most grotesque provisions, which radiate distrust of the public and its elected representatives. The essence of progressivism, and of the administrative state that is progressivism's project, is this doctrine: Modern society is too complex for popular sovereignty, so government of, by and for supposedly disinterested experts must not perish from the Earth.
Email George Will at firstname.lastname@example.org
The last two episodes have been outstanding. Apparently the show is following the books closely. Tonight's episode and its ending is as dramatic as I can recall seeing on television. I look forward to the season's conclusion and future seasons to come.
Sunday, June 12, 2011
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