Archive for February, 2011

Birds of a feather; another book; and Godwin

There was Silent Spring and the Population Bomb as two bibles of the movement. Mark Musser highlights another one by Guenther Schwab in 1958 that “outlines many looming environmental emergencies, including anthropogenic global warming.” A correlation noted is that Schwab was an Austrian Nazi.

This, of course, brings to mind Godwin’s Law (wikipedia) as the Nazi analogies get in here early. The problem is that those aren’t analogies but rather history.

Schwab had been a strong nature lover since boyhood, and by the 1920’s he became very active in the emerging environmental movement in Austria. Later, he joined the Nazi Party. While this may sound odd to many who have bought into the Marxian propaganda over the years that the Nazis were right wing capitalistic extremists, greens who signed up for the Nazi Party were actually very typical of the day. The most widely represented group of people in the Nazi Party was the greens,

After the war in the 1950’s, Guenther Schwab’s brand of environmentalism also played a fundamental role in the development of the green anti-nuclear movement in West Germany. … Their hatred toward global capitalism became even more vitriolic precisely because the capitalists were now in charge of a dangerous nuclear arsenal that threatened the entire planet.

This is remindful of the way that one’s desires can drive one’s thinking and that can drive one’s behavior and one’s religion.

What is also interesting is that a canon was being published for this ‘movement’ right around the famous sixties.

Then there is the ‘birds of a feather’ phenomena as common interests gathered under one tent. What made the Nazis so dangerous was their ideological fixation on certain principles that attracted those with ‘green’ views. When the Nazi was removed, the remainder had to resettle on another kernel. The basic ideologies, the misanthropy especially aimed at self governing social systems, the desire for a pure planet without any artifacts or influences from mankind, the eschewing of mankind’s role in the Biblical mandate as in Genesis 1:28-30. (bible.org), all of these are part of the same flock.

It comes down to a point of view about stewardship. What is the role of man in the use of the planet? Can man be trusted with powerful things like nuclear energy? It is proper stewardship to manipulate and change? Is wealth an indicator of proper stewardship or just personal greed and avarice?

A key here does get to how the Nazis dealt with these issues. It does show in Silent Spring where nature took precedence over man as reflected in the Malaria plague. It does show in the Population Bomb that put a solution to misery as being a reduction in the population. It does show in the climate alarmism as the proposed solutions are almost entirely that of restricting and reducing man’s impact. Let us hope that settling this problem does not devolve to what it did 70 years ago.

Update: also see Reference Frame: The Nazi father of global warming apocalypse – there is a link to the book as well.

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backwards denial

Trying to rationalize one’s views can take on interesting flavors. Larry Moran
cites

Jim Spiegel is a philosophy professor at Taylor University (a Christian College in Indiana, United States). He has published an article in Christianity Today: Unreasoanble Doubt, “The reasons for unbelief are more complex than many atheists let on.”

The point at hand is that religion may place constraints on an individual that they’d rather avoid. Therefore, they avoid religious belief its constraints on their behavior. Moran turns this around and asserts “My life is a moral wreck and that’s why I have to reject God.” This turns the point upside down. It is not that one’s life is a “moral wreck” that results in a rejection of religious belief, it is that the rejection of a belief that has moral standards may result in moral confusion which can create a wreck. There is no mandate to “have to reject God”, either.

What this escalation of a choice to a demand and the convolution of cause and effect illustrate is the quote from Paul “noting that some people “suppress the truth by their wickedness” (1:18)” – i.e. a form of denial in order to squeeze reality into being something more pleasing to one’s experience.

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Footprints: carbon, land, whatever – impact

WUWT cites a “a submission to the Australian Senate Enquiry into Wind Farms” on the extraordinary costs of wind power generation both economically and environmentally. It takes off on the modern meme about footprints – which are things humans are not supposed to leave behind anymore.

Wind power is so dilute that to collect a significant quantity of wind energy will always require thousands of gigantic towers each with a massive concrete base and a network of interconnecting heavy duty roads and transmission lines. It has a huge land footprint.

This is true of most energy resources considered as an alternative to the major corporation polluted (and polluting) power plant sources such as coal, oil, or nuclear. The reality of the matter is that there are efficiencies in scale that can be applied to high energy density plants. Those not only further reduce the footprint on the land but also improve efficiency.

Or you can go basic thermodynamics. When you have a dispersed energy source, such as the sun or the wind, you have constrained limits on efficiency as you have to gather together that energy into useful amounts. Calculate it out for a typical gigawatt power plant. You can get a kilowatt per square meter from the sun in the daytime and modern techniques may have a 25% efficiency. How much land would be covered to get the equivalent of the modern standard fuel power plant? What would be its reliability? What about that footprint?

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governmental budget responses

One the one end there is a parent looking at the local school district cutting teacher positions to meet budget reductions and wondering why some other big ticket items, like the administration complex or software budget, didn’t get the axe. Headless Chickens Come Home to Roost is the viewpoint.

When people’s encounters and perceptions of that sort get to a certain level, things will happen. That is what Paul Rahe describes in How to Think About the Tea Party « Commentary Magazine

Without quite knowing whom they are evoking, Tea Partiers are inclined to say, as FDR said in 1936, that if they do not put a stop to what is going on, “for too many of us life” will be “no longer free” and “liberty no longer real”—for otherwise the bureaucratic busybodies ensconced in Washington will deprive us of the means by which to “follow the pursuit of happiness” as we see fit.

The only difference is that FDR’s assertions demonizing the “economic royalists” were demonstrably false, and when the Tea Partiers make comparable claims today, they are, alas, telling the truth.

The Tea Party movement is, however, testimony to the fact that all is not lost. When confronted in a brazen fashion with the tyrannical impulse underpinning the administrative state, ordinary Americans from all walks of life are still capable of fighting back.

The Tea Party movement is generally considered to be a political base but it extends much farther than that. The phenomena includes those like Ken Starks and the headless chicken school governance. It also includes the climate brouhaha and skepticism about the behavior of those promoting government alarmism.

Most important, it should be humbling to those elites that ordinary American citizens choose spontaneously to enter the political arena in droves, concert opposition, speak up in a forthright manner, and oust a host of entrenched office holders when they learn that a system of punitive taxation is in the offing, when they are repeatedly told what they know to be false

But, so far, humbling is not happening as, instead, behaviors more typical of psychological denial seem evident.

Jefferson feared that in this country the government would eventually find its way to what his friend James Madison would later call a “self directed course.” It was with this unwelcome prospect in mind that he asked, “What country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve their spirit of resistance?” In the end, then, one does not have to agree with the Tea Party movement in every particular to welcome its appearance.

It is the grass roots stepping up, speaking out, and seeking accountability in governance. The many facets from debt and deficit to environmental issues to local budgetary insanities all speak of something that will not be ignored.

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Scrambling for a rational, a green one

“Save the planet” is getting a bit old and there hasn’t been much to show for it so another rationale is needed. It is recession time so jobs are at the top of people’s minds so why not promote the idea that going green creates jobs? Bjørn Lomborg describes why he thinks this is a Green Smoke Screen.

the biggest problem in these analyses is that they often fail to recognize the higher costs or job losses that these policies will cause. Alternative energy sources such as solar and wind create significantly more expensive fuel and electricity than traditional energy sources. Increasing the cost of electricity and fuel will hurt productivity, reduce overall employment, and cut the amount of disposable income that people have. Yet many studies used by advocates of green jobs have not addressed these costs at all—overlooking both the cost of investment and the price hikes to be faced by end users.

There are all sorts of ways to try to weasel around this reality. The higher cost is tackled by shifting it to governmental tax incentives and rebates and power company regulations. The idea of such money being a stimulus that creates jobs is also short sighted because those jobs do not leave behind high value for the investment.

The green movement is a solution looking for a problem. Much is fear based. The scramble is for anything to justify the solutions envisioned. In such a scramble, the implications and actual costs tend to be overlooked. Making energy more expensive doesn’t help anyone much less any effort to reduce pollution and enhance independence.

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where is it going? temptation and risk

Olson describes the Worst argument in history against letting Wal-Mart into one’s neighborhood — temptation to steal. It seems that putting a WalMart in Washington DC would cause young folks to get criminal records when they succumb to the temptation of shoplifting and, therefore, WalMart should be banned.

In another story, he says UK: “Shed owners warned wire on windows could hurt burglars”. If a criminal gets hurt criminalizing you in the UK, you can be sued for the damages the criminal receives so you shouldn’t defend yourself or your property to avoid this risk.

Then there’s the adjustment needed in lawsuits against Toyota when the studies determined that the sudden acceleration problems didn’t result from equipment faults. So now the problem becomes one of explaining how a driver tromping on the gas peddle rather than the brake is Toyota’s fault.

Any wonder that law and justice seems rather tainted these days?

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Another study confirming viewpoints

Every now and then you get reports of these studies that conservatives or Republicans are less intelligent or otherwise inferior in some way than progressives or Democrats. In line with this research is a report that asserts that the Left is mean but right is meaner, says new study of political discourse. There are two issues to look at in studies like this. One is the definition of what is being measured and the other is the sample used.

The term “outrage talk” refers to a form of political discourse involving efforts to provoke visceral responses, such as anger, righteousness, fear or moral indignation, through the use of overgeneralizations, sensationalism, misleading or patently inaccurate information, ad hominem attacks and partial truths about opponents.

what this means is that they are using a subjective assessment as an objective measure.

“Whether it’s MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann spitting out his coffee because of some conservative transgression or radio host Michael Savage venomously impugning the character of immigrants,

This example indicates that they are ignoring a lot of variables in population selection. For example, Olberman and Savage employ different media and do not have comparable positions.

If you wanted to get a more reliable assessment of vitriol or meanness, you could use a better measure than “outrage talk” such as some measure of the density of logical fallacies or false or unsupported assertions. For the sample selection, you’d need to make basic distinctions about media and position in that media.

The study is by a Tufts Assistant Professor of Sociology and a Professor of Political Science. Is it any wonder that the fields of academia are suffering a lack of regard. These sorts of stories raise “WTF” eyebrows everywhere except among those who really and truly believe its results reflect reality and need such studies to reinforce their world view.

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Free wifi for everyone!

Well, that’s the plan, anyway. A new plan has been released to find radio spectrum for wireless I’net access. That is the kind of access about 98% of the US population currently has but only a third use. Daily Tech: Obama Reveals National Wi-Fi Plans, Claims it Will Cut Deficit by $10B USD

In other words, this plan is good, but it’s not great.  It’s a concrete vision, but if we’ve learned anything from history it’s an overly optimistic one.  In the end “yes we can” will likely become, “well we did — sort of”.  The effort will help the U.S. keep from falling behind in the world tech race, but will it be enough?  It’s hard to say.  And it is equally hard to predict what the reaction across the political spectrum will be to Obama’s vision.

This conclusion is interesting because it assumes that the US is “falling behind in the world tech race” and needs to government to keep up. The historical extrapolation appears to be a on a bit more solid ground, though.

ArsTechnica also has a report.

But space and access to wireless or mobile connections may not be the problem; Free Press research director S. Derek Turner notes that “according to the FCC’s own data, 98 percent of households in the United States already have access to wireless broadband service, while less than one-third subscribe to it.” Nothing in the plan encourages them to adopt it, Turner said.

On that ‘encourage to adopt thing – isn’t that what the healthcare bill brouhaha is all about?

These are the folks who push net neutrality when they really mean free high speed broadband I’net access anywhere, This plan is step one towards that goal. Its multi-billion cost is hidden in promises of selling bandwidth and restructuring the landline everywhere and emergency number taxes.

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The ‘denialists’ response

Watts posts a Rebuttal to the Climate Rapid Response Team that provides names for those who use the word ‘denier’ to describe their ideological opponents. The stimulus was a letter to Congress.

On 28 January 2011, eighteen scientists sent a letter to members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate urging them to “take a fresh look at climate change.” Their intent, apparently, was to disparage the views of scientists who disagree with their contention that continued business-as-usual increases in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions produced from the burning of coal, gas, and oil will lead to a host of cataclysmic climate-related problems.

The eighteen climate alarmists (as we refer to them, not derogatorily, but simply because they view themselves as “sounding the alarm” about so many things climatic) state that the people of the world “need to prepare for massive flooding from the extreme storms of the sort being experienced with increasing frequency,” as well as the “direct health impacts from heat waves” and “climate-sensitive infectious diseases,” among a number of other devastating phenomena. And they say that “no research results have produced any evidence that challenges the overall scientific understanding of what is happening to our planet’s climate,” which is understood to mean their view of what is happening to Earth’s climate.

So here is another letter to Congress that can serve for comparison and contrast. Its signatories and endorsements provide a sufficient sample to completely destroy the denigration of climate research skepticism as being extreme or insignificant. The civility and tone contrasts between the letters should also be noted. Citation and reference are another topic for comparison as well.

This particular stimulus and response do create an interesting insight into just who is in a state of denial.

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Hubris driving rationale

A Harvard law professor, L.H. Tribe thinks that the health care law that several judges have determined as violating the U.S. Constitution is indeed constitutional and an open and shut case (NY Times Opinion). He knows better than those judges, it appears.

His reasoning is that “Since the New Deal, the court has consistently held that Congress has broad constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce.” Since health insurance is an interstate market, it falls under this principle therefore Congress can regulate. The problem is that health insurance is not an interstate market as you can only purchase insurance that meets criteria established in state law. One of the proposals for health insurance reform is to make health insurance such that you can buy health insurance in the interstate market rather than be limited to just intrastate plans. So Tribe starts off with a rather glaring error in his reasoning.

A second rationale is about turning a recent court decision on its head.

Many new provisions in the law, like the ban on discrimination based on pre-existing conditions, are also undeniably permissible. But they would be undermined if healthy or risk-prone individuals could opt out of insurance, which could lead to unacceptably high premiums for those remaining in the pool. For the system to work, all individuals — healthy and sick, risk-prone and risk-averse — must participate to the extent of their economic ability.

The existing decision says that, since regulating inactivity was going too far, all those other provisions in the law were also null and void because of this inseparability that Tribe turns on its head.

A third false rationale is the idea that “the health care law is little different from Social Security” because the courts have ruled that you cannot opt out of Social Security. The problems with this include Social Security being considered a tax and not considered to be the primary retirement resource. The health care bill carefully avoided its payments being considered a tax and was placed as the primary health insurance resource for citizens.

The tax idea is one often obfuscated in these debates. Tribe says “Even if the interstate commerce clause did not suffice to uphold mandatory insurance, the even broader power of Congress to impose taxes would surely do so.” That is as if the law was passed with the idea of its costs being a tax. The debate used to get the law passed was very careful to claim it was not a tax. This dissonance has shown up as a factor in court decisions.

Another consideration of Tribe’s tactics is his ideological conflict implications. “It would be asking a lot to expect conservative jurists to smuggle into the commerce clause an unenumerated federal “right” to opt out of the social contract.” He concludes that a “nonpartisan majority of justices will do their constitutional duty, set aside how they might have voted had they been members of Congress and treat this constitutional challenge for what it is — a political objection in legal garb.” i.e. the “constitutional duty” is to think the way I do and not the way the other side does.

You don’t need to be a Harvard Law professor or a constitutional scholar to avoid being sold a bill of goods. A bit of intellectual integrity can go a long ways on its own.

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UBB and the net neutrality ethos

The Financial Post has a good rundown over the latest brouhaha over I’net service billing in Seeing red over metered Internet. The situation is a good case study in the need for values clarification. What is causing the ruckus, the “seeing red”, is customers of I’net service providers running into service and billing changes. That is a basic driving force in capitalistic systems: consumer demand. Where that is a problem is in a proposed solution that is socialistic in that government is being asked to intervene to set prices and services. That creates conflict.

The appropriate response to consumer demand is competition. If another company can provide something closer to what the customer wants, then that company has an edge in the market that it can used to grow its business. An appropriate place for government would be to make sure that the opportunity for such competition is not hampered by artificial constraints such as monopolies over equipment or other resources or unethical business practice.

One area where the socialist arguments go astray, as illustrated in the FP story, is in the attempt to tie the price for a service to a perception of the cost of the service. That is a fundamental error that causes socialistic ideologues a lot of grief. Capitalists realize that the profit margin – the difference between sale price and actual cost – is a driving factor in creating competition. Wider profit margins make the business more attractive for competitors. They provide headroom for getting into the business and grabbing market share. The more business that enter the market, the more pressure there is to find ways to provide more for less. That is the innovation stimulation that is needed for the growth and development of a business that exists in capitalistic oriented systems but not in socialistic oriented systems.

What the government should not do, if business and technology development is desired, is to establish what it thinks is the proper profit margin. If it does that, it removes any incentive to compete for better margins or markets because those are guaranteed.

But what is truth and what is fiction in this overheated debate? Are consumers being gouged or is this a uncomfortable but necessary transition? It appears the answer is both.

The economist in Prof. Dewees likes the idea of usage-based billing. So does the Internet user within the tenured professor. He does not download libraries of music from iTunes or stream hours of TV episodes from Netflix though he does “a little bit of YouTube.”

Usage patterns, however, are rapidly putting the professor in the minority. As online video viewing — which chews up several times more bandwidth than simple browsing does — explodes, more and more consumers are hitting or blowing past initial monthly “caps”.

What can be seen by students of economic history is that it is the capitalistic systems that do best at providing more for less. That is why the U.S. is the economic power house that it is. Trying to set prices top down and control business via central government committee is a model that has failed every time it is tried. It is a testament to human desire over reason that these failures seem to make no impact on what many demand the government do.

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A bit too cold to protest a problem that doesn’t exist?

In the net neutrality line, Canada is looking at regulating how I’net service providers can bill for their services. The National Post says the Usage-based billing rally smaller than expected, taken over by NDP

On Thursday, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, after pressure from the federal Conservatives, said it would review an earlier decision to allow major Internet providers to impose bandwidth caps on wholesale, independent providers. Over 415,000 people have signed a petition on OpenMedia.ca calling for the ruling to be reversed.

You’d think that a good number of those signing the petition would turn out for a rally, “But by 11 a.m. Friday, the 12 or so shivering protesters were equalled by members of the media, who came expecting a larger turnout.”

Why?

It is one of those nice sounding things without any substance to drive it — A manufactured issue.

The key issue is the same: Video demand via I’net has overwhelmed the infrastructure and redefined traditional use patterns. The service providers are trying to find ways to deal with that change. The service users want high speed I’net anywhere, anytime, and cheap.

The proposed tiered or usage billing would only impact a very small population and even then the cost would not be significant. There just isn’t enough skin in the game for enough people to get them out in the cold to parade around the public square.

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Reagan Century

Leadership is not just doing things, executing policy or whatnot. Hansen describes something special about Ronald Reagan on the centennial of his birth that illustrate his leadership. He calls it The Psychological Effect.

Ronald Reagan’s legacy is not one of ideological purity. … Instead, Reagan’s greatest contributions were more psychological, amounting to nothing less than a reawakening of the American faith in common sense and blunt speech.

Pundits and others who study management and leadership look for cause and effect. The cause has to be things they can see, the tangible behaviors. The problem is that great leadership has a significant effect that is very difficult to trace to any particular cause. You can’t just train someone to do certain things and be a great leader. It is becoming more obvious that Reagan was much more than just the sum of his various experiences and skills. Hansen illustrates this.

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Taking the politicing out of politics

While Bloch feels he is being unjustly lambasted, Scott Coffina can explain why he should reconsider his views. The Bush Administration And the Hatch Act put some perspective on the fact that the President is a political function as well as an executive one.

To be sure, a few of the political activities cited in the report probably did cross the line. … The limited instances where this is alleged to have occurred, however, were within the agencies, not at the White House. More important, the vast majority of the allegations of Hatch Act violations rest upon a fundamentally flawed analysis of the facts and the law that suggests an effort by the OSC to support a pre-determined conclusion that the OPA acted as a political “boiler room” in the run-up to the 2006 congressional elections.

The whole question arises because the president, in addition to being head of state, is uniformly recognized as the head of his political party. That role carries with it certain political responsibilities. The Hatch Act accommodates this fact by expressly excluding the president (and vice president) from its restrictions on the political activities of federal and state employees. Those responsibilities include helping to get like-minded candidates elected to Congress, not for the glory of the party, but to advance the president’s policies for the good of our nation.

This is fallout from the cynicism of the sixties. It still shows in a priori presumption about a taint of money, as for example, climate alarmists claiming anyone who doesn’t agree with them is under the influence of Big Oil money. Many laws were passed to try to purify politics. The deal making in private ‘smoke filled’ rooms by fatcats of industry was another model used to promote such reforms.

What is happening is what can be seen in nearly all attempts to over-regulate human behavior: the regulations become political weapons and other ways are found to achieve the ends the regulations seek to prevent.

There is a very significant need to find ways to prevent corruption in politics – the examples US troops encountered in trying to deal with government at all levels in the mid east illustrate that. The Hatch Act is one means to attempt to codify anti-corruption efforts. But, as Coffina illustrates, the implementation of that Act requires some efforts towards intellectual integrity just as avoiding corruption in politics does.

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Propaganda machine: case study on BBC and climate

It seems the BBC did a documentary about climate research and the skeptics. The primary target, Lord Monckton filed a lawsuit and others have provided background about the BBC’s perfidy. Anthony Watts and James Delingpole both describe their experience in being interviewed and solicited in the BBC’ “stitch-up.”

Watts describes BBC4′s “Meet the Skeptics”

I was interviewed (captured really, they flagged me down in the conference hall foyer with no notice) by this production group at the Heartland conference last year in Chicago, giving well over an hour’s worth of an interview in which they asked the same question several times in different ways, hoping to get the answer they wanted. This is an old news interviewing trick to get that golden sound bite. I knew what they were doing, and kept giving the answers my way.

Then, they showed me the contract they wanted me to sign (no mention at the beginning before the interview) and I spent several minutes reading it, finally deciding that the contract basically amounted to me giving them all rights to my image, words, and opinion, with specific rights to edit them together in “any way they saw fit”. Yes, as I recall, that was exactly the way it was worded in the contract, and basically gave them a license to create their own alternate “Watts interview” reality as they desired. My years in television news have shown me how editing can be brutally unfair in the hands of somebody skilled, and I basically told them to “stuff it” and refused to sign the contract. They spent the next two weeks via email and phone trying to come up with contract variations to get me to sign and I still refused. The entire affair was rushed and unprofessional in my experience.

Dekingpole says Meet The Sceptics: another BBC stitch-up. He was also accosted at the Heartlaned conference in Chicago and tells the tale of his experience with Rupert Murray, the BBC program producer.

I was approached by a louche, affable, dark-haired, public school charmer called Rupert Murray. With his friend Callum he was making a documentary about climate sceptics for the BBC and wondered if I’d like to take part.

“The BBC? Not bloody likely. You’ve come to stitch us up, haven’t you?” I said.

Because, yes, you guessed it, Murray’s documentary is another hatchet job. This time the man designated for the chop is Lord Monckton. Except, knowing Monckton as I do, I don’t think he’s going to let this one lie. Sure he’ll probably be made to look a fool, but then as Richard North explains in this superb essay, this means nothing.

The whole idea is to gather enough material so that careful selecting and editing can paint the desired picture. The effort depends upon the gullibility of the honest who believe the honey used to draw them into the process. As seen here, the gullible honest are turning skeptic because they do learn from experience.

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