Posted by: ErrorPositiveInfinity | September 15, 2012

‘The Innocence of Muslims’ should not be viewed in isolation.

The first point to make is that I have not watched the entire film; I started but couldn’t finish, not because I was offended (though I somewhat was), but because it is quite possibly the worst film I have ever seen in every sense. There are YouTube videos made in back gardens, starring teenagers that have just bought their first camera (or discovered the one on their phone), that are better produced.

The acting is awful, the script is silly, the props are preposterous…I could go on to near-infinity. Childish, insulting and ignorant, its one aim is to offend and insult Muslims; it offers no deep message or moral, existing only to abase Muhammad. It is, essentially, the type of film that the general membership of the BNP would make were Nick Griffin forbidden to interfere and raise the tone even slightly.

I am not going to call for the film to be banned; I believe in freedom of speech, and freedom of political speech above all else, but this film is something which should concern us greatly. Not for any merit that the film possesses intrinsically, but as part of a larger pattern of behaviour that has emerged in recent years (the various threatened and occasionally actual desecrations of the Koran are another example).

The film is a successful attempt to create conflict between the Muslim and Christian-Secular world.

The concept is simple. An action is taken which so offends Muslims that they riot. Damage is done, people are injured and threats are made. The American government are forced to condemn the violence, as well as those who provoked the Muslims, but they must also recognise their right to freedom of speech. Both these things may then be spun by hostile media as an endorsement, tacit or explicit, of the offence given. No matter how nuanced, anything less than complete condemnation is portrayed as complicity. Each such action makes Muslims more alert for future offences and increases distrust of the West as a whole. On the Christian-Secular side, the riots are portrayed as an example of Muslim intolerance, and lack of willingness to coexist, increasing tensions further.

The idea is to create a cycle of escalation whereby it becomes politically untenable in either area of the world to take a moderate stance with respect to the other side. This is more pernicious than mere insult; a small group of radical Christians and Jews are deliberately taking advantage of the protections that exist for free speech in the secular world to provoke those in the Muslim world, in an attempt to create a more hostile global climate.

These various stunts must be viewed through a single lens and as a single phenomenon, and addressed as such. However, any action should not take the form of a bar on free speech – if Muhammad becomes legally untouchable by genuine satire, due to the threat of violence, then the use of violence becomes a legitimate tactic to limit free speech; one group should not be more protected than another simply because one is more willing to resort to savagery. The problem is, that without stepping on those rights that we hold dear, there are few ways that we can negate the impact of these projects.

One of the best ways that this could be done would be by educating Muslim countries about the West. In many Muslims countries, particularly ones like Egypt, there are few films, due mostly to funding issues, produced without some government involvement or sanction; in most of the Muslim world, there are would be no equivalent of Hollywood, which can mock the State and God freely, without any endorsement being implied. Similarly, most countries in the Muslim world have a much stricter control of their citizens and their lives than those governments in the West; for many, the idea that the State might be unable to prevent these actions, while still genuinely condemning them, would be implausible. A greater awareness of how the West functions, and the ideas that drive Christian-Secular countries, would make it easier to defuse these situations before large-scale violence occurs .

The problem with this is that many of the governments in the Muslim world are fundamentally autocratic – they do not want Western ideals to be understood, in case they might be adopted, and it is unlikely that any effective education could occur without the co-operation of the governments.

The core problem is that there are people on both sides of the divide who are deliberately pushing for, and attempting to foster a climate conducive to, war; it is unlikely that they will achieve this, but they may be able to create a state of permanent semi-conflict; once either side are made to tip irrevocably into a hostile attitude, it will be largely irrelevant why or how that attitude came to be; all that will matter in politics is that a leader is capable and willing to meet the threat. As further and further outrages are performed, it will become harder and harder for politicians to be seen as compromising and willing to negotiate.

The purposes of this conflict are manifold: a religious belief that Israel must be defended at all costs, a hated of Muslims, a need to create a replacement for the Soviet Union; the reasons are many and contradictory. What matters is that the these actions are seen and treated as what they are, and that plans are made to tackle them forthwith; as each successful provocation proves the effectiveness of the technique, and gives further incentive for further action.

 

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Posted by: ErrorPositiveInfinity | September 8, 2012

Climate change inaction is not just a product of denial

In Monday’s opinion piece, John Gibbons attributes the lack of public support for action against climate change to four main causes: (1) that humanity’s moral reactions tend towards visceral responses to immediate stimuli, (2) that we do not condemn unintentional actions as strongly as intentional ones, (3) that we dislike the idea of climate change as the ultimate responsibility for the problem rests with our lifestyles, and (4) that there is a perception that climate change will affect other people and not ourselves, either in the future or merely elsewhere.

While all those reasons doubtlessly play a part in the public and political inaction on the issue of climate change, he has in fact missed the greatest reason that so many people refuse to act: it may not make much sense to do so.

The first thing to note is that actions against climate change fall into two categories: preventative, which seek to stop climate change ever occurring, for instance by taxing carbon emissions, and ameliorative, which seeks to limit the harm that climate change, when it occurs, will undoubtedly cause, perhaps by building tidal walls. Some actions and investments may fall into both categories, but in general they tend to be distinct.

The second thing to note about climate change is that it is predicted by many climate models to be, to a large extent, an all-or-nothing phenomenon – there is a tipping point which we shall either reach or we won’t. Reaching this tipping point will be the source of most of the damage caused by climate change.

The third thing to note is that it is a worldwide phenomenon, and while it will not affect all countries equally, no country can prevent itself from being affected; a country that cleans up its act and meets or excels its targets will be no better off if the rest of the world causes climate change to occur. Therefore, there is no benefit to a country for reducing its emissions if other countries continue to pollute at the current rate; in fact, the country that acts responsibly and cuts its emissions may be worse off, if the actions taken to lessen emissions reduce the amount of available resources to respond to the effects of climate change.

The question then becomes not “should we become more green” but “will China and the USA (whose actions in this matter are the true determinates of the fate of the world) become sufficiently green”. And the answer to that, sadly, is probably not.

The explanation for the current mire of inactivity that action on climate change finds itself in is not due to any defect in the populace of Ireland or even its politicians, but instead in the age old problem of the Tragedy of the Commons. If people and nations were assured that by amending their behaviour, climate change could be avoided; they would most likely do so. Unfortunately, when good behaviour will go unrewarded, or even possibly punished (whether it be by giving other nations a competitive economic advantage or from absorbing resources on a futile effort), it is unlikely that people will choose to take decisive action.

The cause of the lamentably listless attitude to climate change finds its roots not in the denial of the reality of climate change itself, but in an acknowledgement of the true nature of international politics and economies.

Posted by: ErrorPositiveInfinity | March 14, 2012

Myopic, Yobbish, Erroneous, Ridiculous, Scandalous (MYERS)

Kevin Myers has apparently decided that it has been too long since he was discussed in the Oireachtas and, accordingly, has kicked over the proverbial cradle with an article on gay marriage.

This isn’t the first time Mr Myers has courted publicity by seeking to shock; after all, who can forget his article about MoBs (Mothers-of-Bastards), which led to his public humiliation? There was a time when the calling card of Myers was to send up sacred cows in an incredibly offensive, excessive and hilarious manner, allow the public to howl and scream for a small while, then follow up his original article with a well-written and cogent explanation of his views, which tended to be articulate, intelligent and designed to capitalise on the increased and incensed audience available to him.

He appears to have ceased to write the follow-up articles.

When I first heard that Myers had written an incredibly offensive piece on gay marriage, I have to admit that I was looking forward being entertained by it. I do not read his work as often as I did in his Irish Times days, and so I expected wit and brimstone in equal measure.

Instead I was left reading an article that should never have been published in a national newspaper, not because it was controversial or offensive, but because it was, bluntly, dumb.

A word I never would have attributed to Myers before, and one I hate to use given its schoolyard tones; yet, it is the only word that really fits.

The focus of the article seems to have been intended to be either gay marriage or gay adoption, but instead it manages to hit on AIDS and sex-selective abortion, and, while on its merry way, touches tangentially (once burned, twice shy) on single mothers as well.

However, it should be noted that, ever the considerate gentleman, he does specify, àpropos to nothing, that he is not referring to paedophilia. In his article about gay adoption which decries the chances of two gay men adopting on the same terms as a straight couple and then uses AIDS as a justification.

The start of the article is relatively inoffensive, then the controversy begins when Myers starts to complain about Fianna Fail’s (after well-publicised shenanigans) recent conversion to supporters of gay marriage. It deepens as Myers enters into an uninspired whinge about gay adoption, devoid of anything original, witty or even erudite.

The fun only really begins when Myers equates the War in Vietnam with the Legalisation of Homosexuality, and claims that the death ratio between the two is 65,000 to 250,000 respectively. Myers manages this little display of mental acrobatics by attributing every death from the HIV epidemic to the legalisation of homosexuality. This doesn’t make sense.

Firstly, the death toll figures are from America, which only finished legalising homosexuality in 2003 with the case of Lawrence v. Texas, which legalised homosexuality in the last 14 states with sodomy laws. In total, 25 states have legalised homosexuality since 1990 meaning that it was still illegal in around half of America during the AIDS epidemic.

Secondly, merely having sodomy outlawed would not have prevented the AIDS crisis; to accomplish this, it would have been essential to have strict and effective enforcement of the laws as well. However, since sodomy is by its very nature normally a private crime, this presents a serious problem. Even though enforcement was tried and gay bars were frequently raided and homosexuals named and shamed, this had very little effect on the tragedy that occurred. The extent of the legal mechanisms needed to effectively and decisively reduce the incidence of sodomy on the scale needed to prevent the AIDS crisis ever occurring would have resulted in a gross and unacceptable intrusion into the lives of the general citizenry, both gay and straight.

Myers has fallen into the old trap of assuming that just because something is illegal, that means it will go away.

Thirdly, the stigma surrounding homosexuality, so incredibly prevalent at the time, is a large factor in the obscene death toll that resulted from the epidemic – how was society to notice, diagnose, highlight and fight a disease plaguing community that it refused to acknowledge?

Myers seems to suggest that had society been just a little more stringent, the death toll would have been less severe. However, I think the above would suggest that had the gay community been even more invisible when AIDS struck, it probably would have taken even longer for society to notice and confront the issue.

As to Myers final question on the issue, whether or not it was worth it, I would say yes, it was.

The death toll was not caused by acceptance of the gay community.

It was caused by ignorance, prejudice and averted eyes; the same phenomena that facilitated the epidemic of child sex abuse in Ireland.

But even if the AIDS crisis could have been avoided by persecuting the gay community, the movement that Myers decries has ended an oppression that lasted centuries, and which, with the aid of modern technology, will never be forgotten. Every generation from here onwards, about 5% of them will live happier, freer and more fulfilled lives than if Myers has had his way, and the clock been stopped.

Myers views in this article are extremely myopic. He effectively calls for the kind of governmental yobbery he pretends to dislike, and presents a misinterpretation of history that is erroneous, ridiculous and frankly, in a national paper, scandalous.

Posted by: ErrorPositiveInfinity | August 31, 2011

Fianna Fail must run a Presidential candidate.

‘If Fianna Fáil fail to run a candidate in the upcoming Presidential election, they are effectively admitting that they are a dead party.’

This statement, while sweeping, is one I will stand over even if Fianna Fáil manage to pull off an amazing resurrection in the next general election; there is no rational basis for failing to run a candidate in the current circumstances, the only reasons can be fear and short-sightedness. That Fianna Fáil must, if it hopes to continue as a viable entity in Irish politics, enter what will be the main political event over the next few months should be self-evident, and the reasons I give below are just some of the arguments that can be made in favour of running a candidate.

Before I begin, I must note that I am not a Fianna Fáil supporter, I have never been a member, and I have no current intention to join. I was however, Dublin Chair of the Young Progressive Democrats, a witness to the deterioration of the Progressive Democrats and present at the vote taken to wind up the party; it is on this foundation that I base my remarks. I am not writing this for the benefit of Fianna Fáil, but in the (most likely vain) hope of in some way delaying their replacement by more extremist elements, until a new, properly constituted party with rational policies can rise to displace them. Ireland needs an opposition, and frankly at this moment in time, and for the forseeable future, the alternatives to Fianna Fáil are worse than Fianna Fáil.

The first point to note, and this must be made clear, is that Fianna Fáil cannot win this election – it would be an astounding upset if they managed to do so. What Fianna Fáil seem to fail to understand however, is a truism that every small party takes for granted: An election can be a victory even if your candidate is not the person who gains the office. Even if one cannot win an election, it is essential to take part, or be sidelined from the discussion and debate that surrounds the race; if the party has no dog in the fight, it will be effectively barring itself from most public debate for a period of weeks, during which public interest in politics will be at a high, and when national issues, and the merits of a particular candidate, will take precedence over the party brands.

And it is unavoidable that the Fianna Fáil brand will act as an albatross around the candidate’s neck, reducing their vote considerably and hampering them in any public debate. However, the solution to this problem is not to sit quietly and wait as long as possible before raising one’s head above the parapet, in the hope that the public will forgive and forget – simply, frankly, the public will not do so. This election provides Fianna Fáil with an opportunity to at least partially heal their brand.

The candidates in this election are, as they now stand, woeful (it is beyond the scope of this piece to go through each candidate and detail why they are unsuitable, but I have no doubt it has been done already by numerous writers). This dearth of talent is Fianna Fáil’s chance: if the party nominates any good candidate, not one that is the highest in seniority, or has served his time, or is liked internally, but a candidate who will make a good and capable President that the Irish people could be proud of, then Fianna Fáil will poll respectably, and have a realistic chance of outpolling Gay Mitchell, the candidate of the largest party in Ireland. For once, the good of the nation, and the selfish good of the political party are in sync, and Fianna Fáil can only profit if they can make the election a choice between voting for the Fianna Fáil candidate, or voting for a clearly inferior option. In the previous Presidential elections this would not have been possible but the general low quality of candidates in this election makes it so. The question of the election should be, and more importantly could be: will Ireland cut off it’s nose to spite its face?

A huge number of people have sworn that they will never vote Fianna Fáil again, and most of them made admirable progress in carrying out this promise at the last election – Fianna Fáil were left with 19 TDs, few of them able media performers and several of them planning to retire rather than run again. The party cannot enter the next election as tainted as it is now or its seats could fall to single digits.  Fianna Fáil need to get the Irish people back into the habit of voting for them, and putting forward the best candidate in a race that focuses mainly on the attributes of the particular candidate, is the best opportunity to do so. The stigma will stop them winning, but it will still allow them to poll well and do respectably compared to the other candidates – the party is the third smallest in the Dáil, there is no shame in not coming first when the other parties hold literal multiples of your seats. Fianna Fáil need to understand that their position has changed and they are now a smaller party; they need to tear up the old rulebook and standards, and look at what the smaller parties in Ireland do to simply survive.

Another advantage of running a candidate is that it allows the party machine to begin to work again. At the moment the stories emanating from Fianna Fáil are so similar to the end of the Progressive Democrats as to be uncanny: empty meetings, positions going unfilled or filled by acclamation, people speaking heartily of rebuilding at one meeting, being subdued at the next, then failing to turn up to the one after. And above all else, the slow decay as members wait longer and longer for something to be done. The party is, by all accounts, withering slowly in many constituencies, and left without any experienced campaign-teams in others. This atrophy is not a temporary phenomenon, it is a cycle that feeds itself, and if the canvassers are not called to arms before 2014 (the next local and European elections), then there will be nothing left.

It must be emphasised that Mr. Martin cannot take the approach that Mr. Kenny did of visiting every branch and boosting the party that way; while this is important, all the internal team building in the world will not save a party whose members feel afraid to show their colours in public. Mr. Kenny had time to play Mother Teresa to every member; Mr. Martin does not have such luxury as more and more of the party members realise that everything has gotten significantly harder, and that they are unlikely to regain much of the ground they have lost – many face the prospect that they may not be able to keep the ground they have now. The time to begin revitalising Fianna Fáil as a whole is now, and it begins by running a strong, decent candidate for President.

Furthermore, Canvassing when you are disliked almost universally is a completely different experience from canvassing when you have a large support base, as many Fianna Fáil canvassers found to their dismay at the last election; different tactics and approaches must be used. It is far harder to find canvassers:very often an embattled party must rely on a crack team of canvassers, as opposed to merely rounding up some people from the local Cumann and giving them some paper and some stock lines. If Fianna Fáil are running a good candidate, then not only will the election provide an opportunity for the party machine to be oiled and run rather than deteriorating for three more years, but canvassers can be trained, and can confidently approach the door with a legitimate selling point, making the experience much easier.

In short, running a candidate will allow the party to begin the process of repairing its reputation, galvanise the remaining membership and train canvassers to operate in the vastly different landscape they now face.

If Fianna Fáil decide not to run a candidate in this election, then there are only two possible explanations: either the leadership has decided the party is dead, or the party does not possess, in all its thousands of members, a candidate of sufficient worth and capability to make, with no effective opposition and ample media coverage, a respectable contender for the Áras.

In either case, the party should not limp on till it gradually dies, but should bite the bullet, follow the Progressive Democrats, and end itself.

Posted by: ErrorPositiveInfinity | July 8, 2010

Honours should be designed to stand the test of time.

In recent times Archbishop Ryan Park has been renamed as Merrion Square (the name used by everyone already; the average Dubliner would have blinked if asked where Archbishop Ryan Park was) as a response to the Murphy Report’s condemnation of the Archbishop’s actions in relation to the care of children. The park was renamed to honour the Archbishop after his death, as it was his decision to give the park to the people of Dublin.

Over the last few months there was an attempt to have a train station named after Stephen Gately, the deceased former member of Boyzone. This was rejected on the grounds that “Iarnród Éireann now restricts the naming of stations to their geographical location, a policy which was developed on the back of repeated requests to rename stations after celebrities and other well-known figures“. Given that the renaming of a street or station should be a relatively permanent event, this policy is a fairly wise one, in these times of overnight fame. Unfortunately, this policy robs otherwise deserving Irishmen of their chance to be honoured by having a landmark named after them.

The solution should be relatively simple: for new landmarks, publically-funded statutes and the renaming of old roads and stations, only candidates who have been dead for fifty years will be considered.

If what you did in life was so minor that after only fifty years you aren’t considered worthy of a statue, then you probably weren’t worthy of one in the first place. Also, this allows for candidates like Archbishop Ryan, whose reputations are sullied by new revelations or changing standards in society, to be weeded out.

Dedications should be restricted to those persons whose accomplishments can stand the test of time, and be respected by the next generation.

Posted by: ErrorPositiveInfinity | May 7, 2010

Quick post: British election results.

The Economist has provided a very handy interactive map of the British election results.

Enjoy.

Posted by: ErrorPositiveInfinity | May 6, 2010

A handful of interesting stories.

I have exams coming up, so I have had to retreat into the books for the last while. I’ll resume blogging when they are done, but here are a few interesting stories from the last week or so.

Firstly, a clash has occurred between a BNP candidate and several Asian teens. The teens spat on local candidate Bob Bailey after chasing off Nick Griffin by hurling fruit at him. A fight ensued in which the BNP candidate got several choice blows in, as can be seen from the video in the link. It’s unfortunate that it came to this, as even the BNP should be able to canvass without being threatened or literally spat on.

Secondly, a rather funny story about a Florida state senator who was caught watching porn on his laptop during an abortion debate. In fairness to him, his excuse that the single image was sent to him in an e-mail is probably true, given that the ‘porn’ is a rather tame shot of a few girls on a beach, and a video of a running dog can also be seen on the Senator’s laptop. It is incredibly unfortunate for the senator that it occurred during a period when another senator was complaining that the measure under discussion “disrespected to too many women in the State of Florida”.

Thirdly, a leading anti-gay campaigner has been caught with a rent boy. Apparently the young man was helping him carry his baggage.

Fourthly, The Economist has provided an interesting summary of the election manifestos of the three main parties in the British general election.

Bizarrely, Iran has been given a seat on the UN Commission on the Status of Women. One can only assume the press release was deliberately drafted to be as turgid as possible, in order to avoid any widespread reporting of this decision.

Finally, on a lighter note, the Sun has launched a last-minute campaign based on the notion that if Labour or the Liberal Democrats get it, they will ban the paper’s infamous Page 3. WARNING: Link contains naked breasts.

Posted by: ErrorPositiveInfinity | March 30, 2010

Court rules gene patenting invalid.

A New York court has ruled that the patents held by Myriad Genetics on BRCA1 and BRCA2 (both of which appear to cause breast cancer) are invalid. News report here and link to full judgment here (Warning: PDF).

Our improved ability to map the human genome, and our ability to isolate parts of it with greater accuracy, have led to a minor gold-rush as bio-tech companies around the world compete to patent as much of the human genome as possible. Plant genes have also been patented by the likes of the Monsanto corporation.

This decision is a welcome development, especially when one considers the similar decision of the European Patent Office in 2004, which revokes the same patents, and I hope it is upheld on appeal. While companies should be allowed to patent any new breeds that they engineer, it is ridiculous to suggest that discovering something that exists in nature, and has been a part of humanity for millennia, is akin to inventing it. Allowing companies to mark out a gene as being only for their use hinders research and limits the scope of future investigations.

Posted by: ErrorPositiveInfinity | February 23, 2010

Eugene Lambert has died.

Eugene Lambert has died aged 82.

The Lambert Puppet Theatre, which Mr. Lambert founded in 1972, will be closing for two days as a mark of respect to it’s founder. Mr. Lambert was also known for the children’s television show Wanderly Wagon which has recently experienced a revival as a nostalgia piece.

I have very fond memories of the Lambert Puppet Theatre, and a clear recollection of Mr. Lambert and Judge arguing on stage, with Judge trying to give Mr. Lambert the literal run-round, and in general being incredibly cheeky, while the audience sat convulsed in laughter. So far as I recall, I never attended a show that Mr. Lambert did not also attend, walking out during the break to act as the comic relief. The times I spent in Lambert’s are some of my fondest memories of my childhood.

So much so that for my next birthday I was half-considering holding it at the Puppet Theatre, as a little bit of nostalgia. What made me want to do this was that I had been told that Mr. Lambert still appeared from time to time, occasionally performing for the audience, but more often waiting to speak to guests when they had finished. While I saw Mr. Lambert perform many times, I never actually met the man, and had wanted to. I am disappointed that I will not now get the opportunity.

RIP Eugene Lambert, probably Ireland’s greatest children’s entertainer.

Posted by: ErrorPositiveInfinity | February 9, 2010

Politicians don’t enjoy funerals.

It is very true, and very sad, to say that attending the funerals of deceased constituents in order to gain the votes of their grieving relatives is considered a vital part of a politician’s job in Ireland. In fact, given that the Dail only sits three days a week, with long holidays during the year (the number of days on which the Dail sat rose to more than 100 out of 365 for the first time in a decade in 2009), dealing with funerals, potholes and other local issues will normally take more of a TDs time than national issues.

It has always struck many in our society, including myself, that attending funerals in order to gain votes is a particularly craven aspect of the excessive focus on the ‘parish pump’ which blights our politics. The idea of turning up to a funeral uninvited and without knowing the deceased, making sure that every single mourner notes one’s presence, by sitting near the back so that everyone must pass, and going up to Communion last so that you are seen by the whole congregation when walking back, in order to secure a place as a family’s ‘minder’, who they turn to to negotiate the use of any public services, must be one of the most cynical political tactics in the world.

Were this an unknown practice in Ireland, and an author described it in a book, it would be considered a laughable scenario constructed for its shock value.

And yet, it works. If people were shocked and horrified by politicians soliciting their votes at a funeral, and responded negatively to their attempts at ingratiation, this practice would long since have ceased, instead, politicians who do not engage in this practice, most particularly in rural areas, normally lose out to those who do, and a process of selection occurs whereby those politicians who spent a greater amount of time on local issues tend to have safer seats then those who spend less; of only two Progressive Democrat TDs to survive the last election, one of them survived solely on the basis of his impressive constituency work: Noel Grealish. This leads to the truly bizarre aspect of Irish politics: a politician must calculate the local work he has to do to succeed in re-election, add a generous safety margin, and then, if there is any time left over, try and turn his attention to national issues. In fact, in many rural constituencies, a politician who does not utilise funerals as public appearances will often be criticised as being aloof, and unconcerned.

This is a point that many commentators who criticise this disturbing practice fail to grasp: funerals are not enjoyable affairs which politicians attend because they wish to study the artwork and bob along to the dirges; funerals are sad, depressing events which they attend because they are given no option. If they fail to attend, a competitor will, and they will soon be ousted, given only the epitaph that “He didn’t do much for the area, and he was never around”. The blame for the continuance of this practice rests solely with the populace who demands it, and punishes those politicians who refuse to continue it.

So long as politicians gain electoral support from this scavenging this shameful practice will continue.

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