Archive for July, 2009
26 Jul 2009

NYPD Captain Looks at the Gates Arrest

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My class list has been obsessing over Skip Gates’s arrest in Cambridge for a couple of days. Most participants tended to agree that the Cambridge cop had not behaved unreasonably, but a few correspondents were inclined to contend that arguing with police and denouncing their presence and behavior should be considered First Amendment-protected instances of Free Speech.

Captain Brandon del Pozo of the NYPD discusses the Gates arrest from a professional police perspective on Crooked Timber, refuting, I think, effectively the Free Speech claim.

Whether or not a person should be arrested for disorderly conduct depends on subjective assessments that are nonetheless important to make. (more on discretion later) These include the extent to which the interaction is actually in public, the extent to which he has genuinely impeded the investigation by being verbally combative with an officer who needs to elicit investigative information from him, or created a situation of genuine public alarm, and, admittedly more controversially, the extent to which he fosters a climate wherein it’s acceptable for people to harass, berate and otherwise annoy the police as they are trying to conduct routine investigations that are in the interest of public safety. …

The officer instructs the person to exit the house and talk on the porch. This is standard police safety practice. An unfamiliar building with unknown occupants that is the potential site of a burglary is not a safe place for an officer to enter, especially alone. If he is drawn into the home and attacked there, he can be locked in and will take longer to rescue. Kitchens have a variety of weapons, and rooms have limited sight lines and places for suspects to hide. Bringing a suspect to the porch is a prudent move for an officer.

The man knows what’s going on. He did, in fact, just force his own front door open. All accounts indicate the sergeant showed up moments later; the 911 caller personally informed him, in sum and substance, “he just went into the house a few seconds ago.” There is a continuity of events that indicates a reasonable person would understand why the police came to his door a few moments after he broke it open. The only thing that could indicate a race bias is the unobserved hypothetical that the police would not have been there if he was white. This doesn’t matter; for a homeowner of any race there is a facially plausible race-neutral reason why the police have come to the door.

Around this time, the person begins to accuse the officer of racism, at first refusing to cooperate with the investigation. This makes the investigation more difficult, and might make the officer wonder if he is safe. To assume Gates isn’t the type of man to use violence when he is angry and using obscenities is to emasculate him, or patronize him, or to resort to stereotypes based on age, stature, type of employment, etc. Anyway, early on, the sergeant concludes this man is not a burglar, but reports that the man continues to be verbally belligerent. …

The police cannot be expected to leave a location simply because the person there is screaming at them and ordering them around, even if that person is apparently innocent and likely lives there. They should still thoroughly investigate. If this were a legitimate expectation of the police, then it would sometimes allow genuine criminals to berate cops into leaving the scene prior to a complete and thorough investigation of the crimes they have committed. Officers should leave when they are convinced that the investigation is complete, and that the situation is under control, regardless of the demeanor of a person.

The police need to foster an environment in which they can deliver public safety without being subject to obscenities, accusations and yelling from any party, even innocent parties. The judgments of policing are obviously difficult and subjective, and are often marred when they are made in the face of people issuing inflammatory comments even as the police are rendering routine services with an obvious cause. It is in the collective interest of citizens and police to promote an environment where the police can conduct an investigation calmly and with mutual respect. It cannot become commonplace for people to be allowed to scream at the police in public, threatening them with political phone calls, deriding their abilities, etc. Routine acts like rendering aid to lost children, taking accident reports and issuing traffic violations could be derailed at any time by any person who has a perceived grievance with the police. The police service environment is not the best venue for the airing of such grievances.

The police should not be cowed by threats of phone calls to people such as mayors, police chiefs and presidents of the United States, along with allegations that “you don’t know who you’re messing with.” It is traditionally whites who have had this type of crooked access and influence. These appeals to higher authorities are often meant to exempt the ruling castes from following the rules and laws that the rest of the community will be expected to follow. It happens, it is unfortunate, and it is not in the interests of justice for it to continue. Nobody trying to do their job fairly deserves to hear the equivalent of “My daddy donated fifty million to this university, and you’ll be getting calls from everywhere in the administration about raising my grade enough for this class to count as a distributive requirement.”

It is possible for a person to commit disorderly conduct by unabated screaming and verbal abuse in a public setting. Without drawing conclusions about the Gates case, there comes some point where a person is genuinely causing public alarm, and where he is acting with a rage that exceeds what we can expect from a reasonable person in a heated moment. The mere presence of the police conducting a legitimate investigation should not provoke continuous rage and epithets from such a person. One response is that the police should just leave if the investigation has been conducted successfully, and that this will calm the person down. In practice, this is indeed often the best thing to do. On the other hand, it should be noted that it is just as much the responsibility of the citizen to see that his actions are an inappropriate way to relate to police officers who have not, in the specific case at hand, acted unreasonably. This point may be hotly contested, but I believe it is true: there is no obligation for the police to hurry in their activities or to leave as soon as possible because they have incited the rage of a person who is acting unreasonably. There is a distinction between hanging around to show them who’s boss and working at a steady, professional pace, to be sure. But in the end the mere presence of the police cannot be seen as an acceptable reason for disorderly conduct, and should therefore not spur the police to leave a scene simply to de-escalate it. A police strategy of “winning by appearing to lose” emboldens citizens to attempt to get the police to lose in more and more serious matters, including walking away from situations where a person is genuinely guilty of a crime.

It is in the civic interest for cops to have discretion over violations and some misdemeanors.

24 Jul 2009

Obama Puts His Foot In It

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Power Line’s John Hinderaker aptly identifies Barack Obama’s potentially fatal flaw.

Obama… continues to overestimate his verbal skills. All his life, he has been rewarded for assuming a certain pose and offering up platitudes in a reasonably glib fashion. These are minor talents at best, but they got Obama elected President, notwithstanding his lack of original insight into any issue of public policy. Now that he is President, however, these limitations are starting to haunt him. Obama’s foolish and entirely needless assertion that Cambridge policeman James Crowley “acted stupidly” when he arrested Harvard professor Henry Gates is beginning to turn into a political issue that will hurt Obama with broad sectors of the electorate.

This is one more in a series of self-inflicted wounds that have contributed to Obama’s steadily declining standing with Americans.

Hat tip to the News Junkie.

24 Jul 2009

A Substitute for Victory

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Barack Obama did not explain precisely why he believed that an acceptable alternative to victory existed, when he contradicted General Douglas MacArthur‘s famous dictum (War’s very object is victory, not prolonged indecision. In war there is no substitute for victory.), but he did contend that simply not being successfully attacked was good enough for him.

President Obama has put securing Afghanistan near the top of his foreign policy agenda, but “victory” in the war-torn country isn’t necessarily the United States’ goal, he said Thursday in a TV interview.

“I’m always worried about using the word ‘victory,’ because, you know, it invokes this notion of Emperor Hirohito coming down and signing a surrender to MacArthur,” Obama told ABC News.

The enemy facing U.S. and Afghan forces isn’t so clearly defined, he explained.

“We’re not dealing with nation states at this point. We’re concerned with Al Qaeda and the Taliban, Al Qaeda’s allies,” he said. “So when you have a non-state actor, a shadowy operation like Al Qaeda, our goal is to make sure they can’t attack the United States.”

Obama’s view on war objectives would never have sold in America in times gone by. Today… well, Barack Obama’s opinions and perspectives coincide perfectly with those of a very elite and influential American constituency.

24 Jul 2009

Racial Indignation… or Ivy League Indignation?

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Phantom Negro in Salon sprinkles an otherwise very intelligent piece with conventional complaints about the sufferings of Ivy-League-educated African Americans dealing with racism “on a daily basis” (poor souls!), but apart from the we-have-to-keep-our-grievances-alive! bows in the direction of political correctness, I think he nails Gates dead center and from a privileged and shared perspective.

As a black Ivy Leaguer, something funny happens as you become ensconced in ivy. You’re smart enough to understand that race and racism are a reality you deal with on a daily basis, but you also know that your university ID sets you apart. Does this mean you are kept from hurtful incidents? No, but it is to say that much of the outrage felt at a racial slight is replaced by outrage at a class slight. Sure, we get pissed, knowing we’re getting hassled because we’re black, but the real indignation comes from being hassled as members of an elite group. How dare you hassle me? I go to school here. I go to work here. …

Which brings me to Skip Gates. He isn’t outraged because he feels he was the victim of racial profiling by the police (that dubious honor goes to his foolish neighbor) [in fact, the woman who called the police is not a neighbor, but works nearby]. He’s outraged because he was the victim of class profiling. He didn’t resent being identified as black; he resented being identified as that kind of black, the kind of black that can be hassled and pushed around by simpleton cops. How dare you hassle me? I’m Skip Gates: Harvard professor!

Skip has fallen victim to the Ivy League Effect. Check out his articles — you can definitely go to the Root — the Web site he is editor in chief of — if you want to see a repository for the whole masturbatory display. He all but says, “Do I look like that type of (black) person? I was wearing a blazer and a polo shirt!” Gates is Ivy League pissed with a dash of black anger. Not the other way around. …

Skip Gates thought that he’d worked hard enough, achieved enough, become Harvard enough that this sort of treatment did not apply to him. And now, rather than channel that outrage in a way that is subtle but effective, he’s very publicly suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, having “joined the ranks of the million incarcerated black men in America.” That’s laughable. He does not see those million men as kin and he doesn’t, by and large, give a damn about those guys. He’s merely annoyed that such an irritation as police misconduct found its way into his home. If he read about this story happening to a plumber in Roxbury, he’d shake his head in disappointment and then go on with his life.

So before we heed the call of racism, let’s be mindful of the tower from which that call came. This has something to do with race. But it has a lot more to do with messing with Skip Gates.

24 Jul 2009

Does Posting This Make Me a Racist?

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Zachary Roth apparently thinks so.

But I don’t know that we need to take his opinion into serious account. He’s just another of those exiled British journalists, so orthodox left that he posts in Talking Points Memo, and the sensitive sort who cries on the job.

I seem to remember the left’s commentariat having no similar problem with satirical stereotypes applied in editorial cartoons to people like Condeleeza Rice and Clarence Thomas.

23 Jul 2009

Good Night, Poor Harvard


Robert Wenzel, at Economic Policy Journal blog, has more bad news from Cambridge.

Harvard’s endowment got slaughtered in the financial crash, and hard times have arrived on the Charles. The school is wallowing in debt, and the administration is finding it necessary to undertake some dramatic belt-tightening. Seems only fair. Harvard, after all, gave us Obama, and it was the threat of his election which tanked the markets.

At Harvard University, they have lowered thermostats during the winter months from 72 degrees to 68 degrees. Hot breakfasts are no longer served on weekdays at undergraduate residential houses. Instead of bacon, poached eggs, and waffles, students have to get by on cold ham, cottage cheese, cereal, and fruit. These are just some steps Harvard is taking to battle serious financial problems. …

Harvard College, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences is facing a budget deficit of $220 million. Construction is halted on a $1.2 billion science complex.

Over the 20-year period from 1980 to 2000, Harvard University added nearly 3.2 million square feet of new space to its campus. But so far this decade, incredibly, from 2000 through 2008, Harvard has added another 6.2 million square feet of new space.

At it’s peak in 2008, Harvard’s endowment stood at $36.9 billion. Some estimates now have its value at around $18 billion, much of it in illiquid investments.

According to Forbes magazine, Harvard has $11 billion of unfunded commitments—money promised, but not yet paid, to various private-equity funds, real-estate funds, and hedge funds.

Last December, the university sold $2.5 billion worth of bonds, increasing its total debt to just over $6 billion. Servicing that debt alone will cost Harvard an average of $517 million a year through 2038. …

Today, on average, a full professor at Harvard earns $192,600, before benefits; that’s more than he or she would make at any other school in the nation. (At Yale, for example, the average salary is $174,700. At the University of California, Berkeley: $143,500.)

23 Jul 2009

Racial Stereotypes in Cambridge

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Barack Obama stooped from the office of the presidency to takes sides in last week’s incident in Cambridge, Massachusetts in which Henry Louis Gates, Jr., a prolific author and African American Studies professor at Harvard, wound up arrested for disorderly conduct.

Gates and a friend were observed by a neighbor trying to force open Gates’s own front door on a street in Cambridge near Harvard. Seeing two black men fiddling with a locked door (and apparently failing to recognize her eminent neighbor), that neighbor summoned the police.

Studying matters African American inevitably promotes hypersensitivity with respect to racial relations, and Mr. Gates predictably responded to the arrival of a police officer with indignation, asking if he was under suspicion “for being a black man in America.”

Gates accused the cop of being a racist, and proceeded to whip out a cell phone and attempt to pull strings with the chief of police. You have no idea who you’re messing with, the mighty Harvard faculty member arrogantly informed the policeman.

Despite all this, merely producing his Harvard ID was sufficient to persuade the officer to leave, but Gates was not content. Bent upon retaliation, he insisted that the cop identify himself, responded to a request to move the discussion outside the house with “yo mama,” and persisted in voicing indignant accusations and abuse.

Not completely surprisingly, in the end, Gates succeeded in getting himself arrested for disorderly conduct.

As this posting of less than a week ago shows, I am not myself inclined to defend exaggerated police sensitivity and amour propre in dealing with the public. In a possible life-or-death situation, that Michigan dispatcher should have taken into account the caller’s emotional distress and overlooked a little bad language.

But, in this case, it is only too clear that Skip Gates himself turned a minor and understandable misunderstanding on the part of a neighbor, where the police were in no way at fault, into his own private melodrama of racial martyrdom. He didn’t get arrested for being black. He got arrested for abusing and trying to intimidate a police officer who was just doing his job.

If Gates had spoken politely to that Cambridge cop and treated the incident with a little understanding, it would all have ended with a handshake and a smile. Gates preferred to manufacture a symbolic national incident. And our supposedly post-racial president can be relied upon to intervene in favor of Professor Gates.

The Boston Globe removed the police report it previously posted (for some reason); but, too bad! it was saved here.

Was Gates profiled? Sure, he was profiled… by his neighbor, who mysteriously could not even recognize him. But, face it, male minority members seen forcing open doors in affluent Cambridge neighborhoods really do fall more logically into the burglars-breaking-in conceptual category than the homeowner-lost-his-keys interpretation even to a not particularly racially prejudiced observer. Minorities really do commit more break ins, and minorities genuinely less frequently own expensive town houses. It is not unfair prejudice to operate prudently on the most probable assumptions.

If that neighbor had taken out her .44, and filled Professor Gates with lead on suspicion, I’d say she leapt to a conclusion. Calling to police to look into what was happening was not any sort of irrevocable act, and normal middle class people can encounter police officers in circumstances featuring minor misunderstandings without feeling victimized.

Stereotypes were obviously at play here, but the most active, hostile, and determinative images were those running furiously inside the head of Henry Louis Gates.

23 Jul 2009

Leszek Kolakowski, October 23, 1927 – July 17, 2009

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Polish philosopher and intellectual historian Leszek Kolakowski passed away last Friday in Oxford where he had taught for many years.

Coming of age during the Nazi Occupation, Kolakowski became an autodidact who educated himself via the library of a local nobleman in his native Poland. He was a member of the Communist Party after WWII, obtained a degree at Warsaw, and taught logic and the history of Philosophy.

Though his writings were sometimes suppressed, and despite being denounced for revisionism, he was able to work and teach in Poland until the late 1960s, finally being expelled from the party in 1966 and from his university position in 1968.

He taught at several universities in the West, including Berkeley and Yale, but his permanent home became a senior researcher chair at All Souls College, Oxford.

In the West, Kolakowski became an astute and highly effective critic of Marxism from a Humanist perspective. His Main Currents of Marxism (1978) effectively summarized the history of the bacillus as well as describing the destructive progress of the consequent disease.

After the liberation of his native Poland, Kolakowski was awarded the Order of the White Eagle, and on Monday Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski announced that Kolakowski will be buried in Poland with military honors.

Telegraph published an admiring obituary:

Kolakowski’s primary academic interest was the history of philosophy since the 18th century, and he was the author of more than 30 books which combined history, theoretical analysis and pungent, witty writing. His most influential work was a three-volume history of Marxism – Main Currents of Marxism: Its Rise, Growth and Dissolution (1978), published after he had taken refuge in the West.

It was a prophetic work, written at a time when Marxism still provided the ideological underpinning for a system that was thought to have an indefinite life expectancy. He provided an objective description of the main ideas and diverse currents of Marxist thinking, but at the same time characterised Marxism as “the greatest fantasy of our century… [which] began in a Promethean humanism and culminated in the monstrous tyranny of Stalin”. …

In an article published in 1975, he observed that the experience of Communism had shown that “the only universal medicine (Marxists) have for social evils – State ownership of the means of production – is not only perfectly compatible with all the disasters of the capitalist world – with exploitation, imperialism, pollution, misery, economic waste, national hatred and national oppression, but it adds to them a series of disasters of its own: inefficiency, lack of economic incentives and above all the unrestricted rule of the omnipresent bureaucracy, a concentration of power never before known in human history”.

Kolakowski was particularly scathing about western apologists for Marxist regimes who suggested that economic progress in communist countries somehow justified a lack of political freedom: “This lack of freedom is presented as though it were a temporary shortage. Reports along these lines give the impression of being unprejudiced. In reality they are not simply false, they are utterly misleading. Not that nothing has changed in these countries, nor that there have been no improvements in economic efficiency, but because political slavery is built into the tissue of society in the Communist countries as its absolute condition of life.” He dismissed the idea of democratic socialism as “contradictory as a fried snowball”, and modern manifestations of Marxism as “merely a repertoire of slogans serving to organise various interests”.

22 Jul 2009

“Barack Will Never Allow You to Go Back to Your Lives as Usual”

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Glenn Reynolds reports that, for some strange reason, sales of books like Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and Friedrich Hayek’s Road to Serfdom are soaring.

The amused cynic contends:

(W)hat is happening is that through the “economic emergency,” Obama is trying to implement Rand’s fictitious “Directive 10-289,” which is what the the combination of “stimulus package,” unsupervised TARP bailouts, “Cap and Trade,” and “Health Care Reform” equal when they are rammed down your throats without discussion (or even the reading of the details) by your supposed “representatives” in the national government.

He quotes none other than Michelle Obama herself, telling an audience at UCLA last year:

Barack, as Oprah said, is one of the most brilliant men you will meet in our lifetime.

Barack is more than ready. He’ll be ready today, he’ll be ready on day one, he’ll be ready in a year from now, five years from now – he is ready.

That is not the question. The question is: What are we ready for?

Wait, wait, wait – because we say we’re ready for change, we say we’re ready for change, butcha see, change is HARD.

Change will always be hard, and it doesn’t happen from the top down.

We do not get universal health care, we don’t get better schools because somebody else is in the White House. We get change because folks from the grass roots up decide they are sick and tired of other people telling them how their lives will be – when they decide to roll up their sleeves and work.

And Barack Obama will require you to work.

He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism, that you put down your division, that you come out of your isolation, that you move out of your comfort zones, that you push yourselves to be better, and that you engage.

Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual – uninvolved, uninformed…

Who knows? Like the Khmer Rouge, he may decide to march urban populations out of energy consuming cities for resettlement at collective farm settlements in the countryside, too.

22 Jul 2009

Who Killed the Men of England?

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Jonathan Shaw in Harvard Magazine explains that studies of population DNA suggest that an effective policy of sexual apartheid practiced by the newly arrived Anglo-Saxons could have eliminated British male Y chromosomal DNA in as few as five generations. The Spanish conquistadores in Colombia and the Vikings in Scotland and Ireland left similar DNA patterns, in which the male heredity of the modern population is overwhelming traceable to the invaders, but female mitochondrial DNA predominantly descends from the conquered population.

Moral? Successful invaders get the girls. At some level, history amounts to a contest over who gets to reproduce his DNA, and who does not.

There are no signs of a massacre–no mass graves, no piles of bones. Yet more than a million men vanished without a trace. They left no descendants. Historians know that something dramatic happened in England just as the Roman empire was collapsing. When the Anglo-Saxons first arrived in that northern outpost in the fourth century a.d.–whether as immigrants or invaders is debated–they encountered an existing Romano-Celtic population estimated at between 2 million and 3.7 million people. Latin and Celtic were the dominant languages. Yet the ensuing cultural transformation was so complete, says Goelet professor of medieval history Michael McCormick, that by the eighth century, English civilization considered itself completely Anglo-Saxon, spoke only Anglo-Saxon, and thought that everyone had “come over on the Mayflower, as it were.” This extraordinary change has had ramifications down to the present, and is why so many people speak English rather than Latin or Celtic today. But how English culture was completely remade, the historical record does not say.

Then, in 2002, scientists found a genetic signature in the DNA of living British men that hinted at an untold story of Anglo-Saxon conquest. The researchers were sampling Y-chromosomes, the sex chromosome passed down only in males, from men living in market towns named in the Domesday Book of 1086. Working along an east-west transect through central England and Wales, the scientists discovered that the mix of Y-chromosomes characteristic of men in the English towns was very different from that of men in the Welsh towns: Wales was the primary Celtic holdout in Western Britannia during the ascendance of the Anglo-Saxons. Using computer analysis, the researchers explored how such a pattern could have arisen and concluded that a massive replacement of the native fourth-century male Britons had taken place. Between 50 percent and 100 percent of indigenous English men today, the researchers estimate, are descended from Anglo-Saxons who arrived on England’s eastern coast 16 centuries ago. So what happened?

21 Jul 2009

“Just Tax”

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This Lady GaGa parody skewers BO and the democrats.

4:17 video

21 Jul 2009

Suicide of the Left

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When certain centrist Republican commentators were seen abandoning the defense of George W. Bush and endorsing Obama over John McCain, one cynic observed that it is always nice to be so obviously winning that all the trimmers, conformists, and opportunists are busily scrambling to climb on board your political side.

New York Times token conservative columnist David Brook’s defection last Fall was one of the minor landmarks on the road to Republican defeat. But, now, not even a year later we find David Brooks scurrying down the ropes and right off the good ship Obama, with a column remarking on the decline in public support for the Chosen One’s policies and predicting his thorough and well-deserved comeuppance.

Why, welcome back, David. Save a seat for Peggy Noonan, will you?

In March, only 32 percent of Americans thought Obama was an old-style, tax-and-spend liberal. Now 43 percent do.

We’re only in the early stages of the liberal suicide march, but there already have been three phases. First, there was the stimulus package. You would have thought that a stimulus package would be designed to fight unemployment and stimulate the economy during a recession. But Congressional Democrats used it as a pretext to pay for $787 billion worth of pet programs with borrowed money. Only 11 percent of the money will be spent by the end of the fiscal year — a triumph of ideology over pragmatism.

Then there is the budget. Instead of allaying moderate anxieties about the deficits, the budget is expected to increase the government debt by $11 trillion between 2009 and 2019.

Finally, there is health care. Every cliché Ann Coulter throws at the Democrats is gloriously fulfilled by the Democratic health care bills. The bills do almost nothing to control health care inflation. They are modeled on the Massachusetts health reform law that is currently coming apart at the seams precisely because it doesn’t control costs. They do little to reward efficient providers and reform inefficient ones.

The House bill adds $239 billion to the federal deficit during the first 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. It would pummel small businesses with an 8 percent payroll penalty. It would jack America’s top tax rate above those in Italy and France. Top earners in New York and California would be giving more than 55 percent of earnings to one government entity or another.

Nancy Pelosi has lower approval ratings than Dick Cheney and far lower approval ratings than Sarah Palin. And yet Democrats have allowed her policy values to carry the day — this in an era in which independents dominate the electoral landscape.

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