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Dark Age America: The End of the Old Order…

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From John Michael Greer

Lately I’ve been rereading some of the tales of H.P. Lovecraft. He’s nearly unique among the writers of American horror stories, in that his sense of the terrible was founded squarely on the worldview of modern science. He was a steadfast atheist and materialist, but unlike so many believers in that creed, his attitude toward the cosmos revealed by science was not smug satisfaction but shuddering horror. The first paragraph of his most famous story, “The Call of Cthulhu,” is typical:

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”

It’s entirely possible that this insight of Lovecraft’s will turn out to be prophetic, and that a passionate popular revolt against the implications—and even more, the applications—of contemporary science will be one of the forces that propel us into the dark age ahead. Still, that’s a subject for a later post in this series. The point I want to make here is that Lovecraft’s image of people eagerly seeking such peace and safety as a dark age may provide them is not as ironic as it sounds. Outside the elites, which have a different and considerably more gruesome destiny than the other inhabitants of a falling civilization, it’s surprisingly rare for people to have to be forced to trade civilization for barbarism, either by human action or by the pressure of events.  By and large, by the time that choice arrives, the great majority are more than ready to make the exchange, and for good reason.

Americans, I have some bad news for you…

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From Club Orlov

You have the worst quality of life in the developed world—by a wide margin.

If you had any idea of how people really lived in Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and many parts of Asia, you’d be rioting in the streets calling for a better life. In fact, the average Australian or Singaporean taxi driver has a much better standard of living than the typical American white-collar worker.

I know this because I am an American, and I escaped from the prison you call home.

I have lived all around the world, in wealthy countries and poor ones, and there is only one country I would never consider living in again: The United States of America. The mere thought of it fills me with dread.

That’s it: We’ve officially lost all human interaction. Apple has won. I give up…

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From The Guardian

What happens when you can reach out and digitally touch someone? We forget how to interact face-to-face, that’s what… When we phone home, we lose out on important human cues … yes, even if we’re using FaceTime…

Apple didn’t simply shrink the iPhone and strap it on your wrist, Tim Cook insisted. “Because you wear it, we invented new, intimate ways to connect and communicate.”

Intimate?

The Apple Watch won’t just vibrate when you choose someone to text; you can reach out and vibrate that person’s watch from across the globe. “We thought hard on how to enable a new form of communication,” Apple’s Kevin Lynch said onstage earlier this month. “We’ve created something called digital touch.”

Iran executes man for heresy…

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Mohsen Amir-Aslani convicted of insulting prophet Jonah and making ‘innovations in religion’ through interpretations of Qur’an…

A 37-year-old man has been executed in Iran after being found guilty of heresy and insulting prophet Jonah, according to human rights activists.

Mohsen Amir-Aslani was arrested nine years ago for his activities which the authorities deemed were heretical. He was engaged in psychotherapy but also led sessions reading and reciting the Qur’an and providing his own interpretations of the Islamic holy book, his family said.

Amir-Aslani was hanged last week for making “innovations in the religion” and “spreading corruption on earth”, but human rights activists said he was a prisoner of conscience who was put to death because of his religious beliefs. He had interpreted Jonah’s story in the Qur’an as a symbolic tale.

4 ways Amazon’s ruthless practices are crushing local economies…

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From Jim Hightower
Salon

Jeff Bezos has forged an empire by exploiting low-wage workers and  Even by the anything-goes ethical code of the corporate jungle, Amazon.com’s alpha male, Jeff Bezos, is considered a ruthless predator by businesses that deal with him. As overlord of Amazon, by far the largest online marketer in the world (with more sales than the next nine US online retailers combined), Bezos has the monopoly power to stalk, weaken, and even kill off retail competitors—going after such giants as Barnes & Noble and Walmart and draining the lifeblood from hundreds of smaller Main Street shops. He also goes for the throats of both large and small businesses that supply the millions of products his online behemoth sells. They’re lured into Amazon by its unparalleled database of some 200 million customers, but once in, they face unrelenting pressure to lower what they charge Amazon for their products, compelled by the company to give it much better deals than other retailers can extract.

Lest you think predator is too harsh a term, consider the metaphor Bezos himself chose when explaining how to get small book publishers to cough up deep discounts as the price for getting their titles listed on the Amazon website. As related by Businessweek reporter Brad Stone, Bezos
 instructed his negotiators to stalk them “the way a cheetah would pursue a sickly gazelle.” Bezos’ PR machine tried to claim this sneering comment was just a little “Jeff joke,” but they couldn’t laugh it off, for a unit dubbed the “Gazelle Project” had
 actually been set up inside Amazon.

We’ll Become ISIS…

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From James Howard Kunstler

I played fiddle at a small-town, country dance last night with several other musicians and it was a merry enough time because that kind of self-made music has the power to fortify spirits. About half the dancers were over 40 and the rest were teenage girls. The absence of young men was conspicuous. Toward the end of the evening, it was just girls dancing with girls. A wonderful and fundamental tension was not present in the room.

The young men are out there somewhere in the country towns, but this society increasingly has no use or no place for them, except in the army. There is absolutely no public conversation about the near total devaluation of young men in the economic and social life of the USA, though there is near-hysterical triumphalism about the success of young women in every realm from sports to politics to business, and to go with that an equal amount of valorization for people who develop an ambiguous sexual identity.

There really is no local forum for public discussion in the flyover regions of the USA. The few remaining local newspapers are parodies of what newspapers once were, and the schools maintain a fog of sanctimony that penalizes thinking outside the bright-side box. Television and its step-child, the internet, offer only the worst temptations of hyper-sexual stimulation, artificial violence, and grandiose wealth-and-power fantasies. There aren’t even any taverns where people can gather for casual talk.

How to Live: Lessons from Montaigne, Godfather of Blogging…

 Portrait of Michel de Montaigne by Salvador Dalí, 1947.

From Brain Pickings

Don’t worry about death, pay attention, read a lot, give up control, embrace imperfection.

“Living has yet to be generally recognized as one of the arts,” Karl De Schweinitz wrote in his 1924 guide to the art of living. But this is an art best understood not as a set of prescriptive techniques but, perSusan Sontag’s definition of art, a form of consciousness — which means an understanding that is constantly evolving.

In How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer(public library), British biographer and philosophy scholar Sarah Bakewell traces “how Montaigne has flowed through time via a sort of canal system of minds” and argues that some of the most prevalent hallmarks of our era — our compulsive immersion in various forms of lifestreaming, our incessant social sharing, our constant oscillation between introspection and extraversion as we observe our private experiences more closely than ever so we can record and frame them more perfectly in public — can be traced down to this one proto-blogger, the godfather of the essay as a genre:

For-Profit Insanity Is Killing Americans…

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From Thom Hartmann
TruthOut

Despite what you might hear on Fox So-Called News, Obamacare really is working.

Uninsured rates are dropping, premiums are a lot lower than expected, and in the states that have expanded Medicaid, hundreds of thousands of working Americans now have access to free, I repeat, free healthcare.

Everywhere you look, there’s good news to be found about healthcare reform. Even so, for-profit insurance companies and for-profit hospitals are still finding new ways to screw people over.

If Jesus came back, he would never stop throwing up…

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From Bust

This Woman Is Battling a Mega-Church, One Tweet at a Time…

Mars Hill Church, a 15-location megachurch headed by Pastor Mark Driscoll (who infamously referred to women as “penis homes”) has, in the past few weeks, been facing a growing controversy over its power structure, bullying of attendees and staff, and Driscoll’s inflammatory online (and in-pulpit) statements regarding (among other things), the status of women within the church, and marriage. Attendance is way down; Mars Hill is firing staff and closing branches, and Driscoll is taking a six-week hiatus.

Hey, have you heard the one about Seattle’s Mars Hill megachurch system slowly and publicly collapsing? The reasons have been covered by everyone from the New York Times to blogs devoted to ex-members sharing their experiences attending (any one of 13) Mars Hill locations.  

Zero Percent Water: Why The California Drought Is All Your Fault…

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From Medium

[...] The ten acres that holds the Wakefields’ house is the last scrap of a legacy of farming that started when Sharon’s family moved out from Oklahoma to escape the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Jim introduces Sharon as “Dust Bowl Sharon,” and she smiles but gives Jim a playful glance like maybe he’s in trouble.

David and Sharon have been fighting for years to stay in business, have successfully made it through past droughts by abandoning land and shrinking their acreage. They describe what the land used to look like, the rows of cotton, green plants tufted white, the fields teeming with workers at harvest time.

Sharon shows me an old illustration from the Encyclopedia Britannica, a barnyard and farmhouse, crops in neat rows in the distance, a farmer harvesting wheat. A boy rides a brown horse. A woman in a white apron feeds the chickens.

“This was my dream since I was a girl,” she says. “This is all I ever wanted.”

They bought the land in 1976. They raised their kids here, made it a special place for the grandkids. At the edge of the yard sits a line of tractors. They’ve kept them all, dating back to a tractor Sharon’s grandfather once used, a tractor they take pride in saying still runs. Sharon says they planted every tree. A eucalyptus towers above us, and I begin to realize this land won’t just be sold, but all of this—the trees, the tractors, the house — might soon be gone.

We’ve circled the house and stand back in their little yard. I ask what they’ll do now. David steals a glance at Sharon. “When we go I’ll never look back up that drive again. It’ll just be too hard.”

Sharon says that when as kids they’d see a house and land being sold her father would say, “That’s someone’s broken dream.” She peers out beyond the green of her trees as the sun sets hard over the dusty, barren land. “This is our broken dream.”…

Full story here
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Everything You and I Think is Pretty Much Horseshit…

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From Godless Mom

It’s one thing to say you’re a skeptic. It’s another to understand fully that we need to be, because nothing in this world, not even your own memories, are as they seem. Our minds and our motivations and our behaviour can all be quite dark, no matter how sure you are that you’re a decent person. I read these two books during my prison binge reading phase, and they double-handedly changed the way I look at the entire human race. We are slaves to our synapses, the sum total of what we believe and belief, well… belief just has no basis in fact. That means, basically put, everything you and I think… is pretty much horseshit.

The two books I’m talking about are The Wrong Men by Stanley Cohen and Twisted Confessions: The True Story Behind The Kitty Genovese And Barbara Kralik Murder Trials.

In light of reading Sam Harris’ new book, Waking Up, I was reminded of these two books because they were so brutally unsettling to me. Sam’s book talks about how little we know about human consciousness and asks the question, is what we know, really what we know?

If you supplement Sam’s book with these two books, you’ll answer that question, without hesitation, with ‘no’.

The Coming Climate Revolt…

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From TruthDig

Chris Hedges made these remarks Saturday at a panel discussion in New York City titled “The Climate Crisis: Which Way Out?” The other panelists were Bill McKibbenNaomi KleinKshama Sawant and Sen.Bernie Sanders. The event, moderated by Brian Lehrer, occurred on the eve of the People’s Climate March in New York City. For a video of some of what the panelists said, click here.

We have undergone a transformation during the last few decades—what John Ralston Saulcalls a corporate coup d’état in slow motion. We are no longer a capitalist democracy endowed with a functioning liberal class that once made piecemeal and incremental reform possible. Liberals in the old Democratic Party such as the senators Gaylord Nelson, Birch Bayh and George McGovern—who worked with Ralph Nader to make the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Mine Safety and Health Act, the Freedom of Information Act and the OSHA law, who made common cause with labor unions to protect workers, who stood up to the arms industry and a bloated military—no longer exist within the Democratic Party, as Nader has been lamenting for several years. They were pushed out as corporate donors began to transform the political landscape with the election of Ronald Reagan. And this is why the Democrats have not, as Bill Currypoints out, enacted any major social or economic reforms since the historic environmental laws of the early ’70s.

The way of the belt lasts lifetimes…

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From The Guardian

The toxic effect of discipline – abuse, self-delusion or both – is that you almost have to move on. But we can never move on. Sometimes it stops because you move out. Or because you realize that if both of you don’t grow up, one of you is going to die. 

There are many possible reactions to reports that Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson beat two of his children. To return to the NFL’s obsession of ethics via optics, you could wonder why his teammates were dismissed from the Vikings after they were arrested, while until Wednesday morning Peterson was expected to play. You could even wonder why the Minnesota governor would call for Peterson’s suspension after, just a year ago, posing for a picture with a Vikings team owner who had been fined $85m for fraud for actions a judge labeled criminal racketeering.

But all those are abstractions – the NFL as hypocrisy, as undiluted power masquerading as moral strength, the normative state of the NFL at this point. Instead, if, like me, you are about to become a parent soon, and if, like me, you were disciplined physically as a child, you look at Adrian Peterson – the man who says “I disciplined my son the way I was disciplined as a child” – and you wonder the same thing:

Will I become that?

The Wheel Turns, the Boat Rocks, the Sea Rises — Change in a Time of Climate Change…

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From Rebecca Solnit

There have undoubtedly been stable periods in human history, but you and your parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents never lived through one, and neither will any children or grandchildren you may have or come to have. Everything has been changing continuously, profoundly — from the role of women to the nature of agriculture. For the past couple of hundred years, change has been accelerating in both magnificent and nightmarish ways.

Yet when we argue for change, notably changing our ways in response to climate change, we’re arguing against people who claim we’re disrupting a stable system.  They insist that we’re rocking the boat unnecessarily.

I say: rock that boat. It’s a lifeboat; maybe the people in it will wake up and start rowing. Those who think they’re hanging onto a stable order are actually clinging to the wreckage of the old order, a ship already sinking, that we need to leave behind.

The Slaver’s Objectivity…

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From Jacobin Magazine

Their latest review was no fluke — the Economist will always find the master’s viewpoint more “objective,” regardless of the evidence provided…

The Economist’s controversial review of Edward Baptist’s new book ends on a feverish crescendo of denial about the fundamentals of American slavery: that slaves were slaves and masters, masters — with all the brutality, coercion, and punishment that relationship entails.

Accordingly, the publication has retracted the piece and issued an apology, but the loss of credibility will probably be lasting. The irony is that their indictment of Baptist’s exhaustive book decries its lack of objectivity. To this end, tucked away in the last paragraphs of the review is a surprising and somewhat obscure reference to Hugh Thomas’s 1997 book, The Slave Trade.

I’ve had the misfortune of getting to know Hugh Thomas’s book quite well. For my empirical work testing Eric Williams’ hypothesis that the Atlantic slave trade spurred capitalist development in Europe, I turned to Thomas to delve into the mind of slave traders, to understand their motivations and choices.

The drought is destroying California’s organic dairy farms…

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From Grist

“Roll down your window for a second and tell me what you smell,” Rosie Burroughs instructs me. It’s early March and I’m in the passenger seat of her gigantic white Ford pickup truck, bouncing down a narrow, potholed dirt road on her farm in the rolling hills just east of Turlock, Calif. Her husband, Ward is sitting in the driver’s seat.

The Burroughs’ 4,000 acres of sweeping organic grasslands, which practically rest under the shadow of Yosemite’s Half Dome, are a pastoral dream. On the Saturday afternoon of my visit, a storm was brewing over the purplish mountains, sending gusts of pink petals from their neighboring almond orchards across the landscape.

I opened the window, gazing at a herd of cattle grazing not more than ten feet away from our car, half expecting the acrid stench of manure and animal common on larger factory farms to assault my nostrils. But I couldn’t smell anything, save for the faint scent of damp earth and rain brewing on the horizon. Rosie leaned back in her seat, content.

Ward, Rosie, and their three grown children operate California Cloverleaf Farms and Full Circle Dairy, two organic dairies milking 500 cows each, in addition to a pasture-raised chicken operation and organic olive and almond orchards. In 2004, they joined Organic Valley — the largest organic, farmer-owned co-op in the nation with sales topping over $900 million annually — and began shipping their milk to grocery stores across the country.

Naomi Klein: the hypocrisy behind the big business climate change battle…

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From The Guardian

Richard Branson has pledged $3bn to fight climate change, and delivered just $230m. Naomi Klein looks at the ‘greenwashing’ of big business and its effects – on the planet, and our own bodies

I denied climate change for longer than I care to admit. I knew it was happening, sure. But I stayed pretty hazy on the details and only skimmed most news stories. I told myself the science was too complicated and the environmentalists were dealing with it. And I continued to behave as if there was nothing wrong with the shiny card in my wallet attesting to my “elite” frequent-flyer status.

A great many of us engage in this kind of denial. We look for a split second and then we look away. Or maybe we do really look, but then we forget. We engage in this odd form of on-again-off-again ecological amnesia for perfectly rational reasons. We deny because we fear that letting in the full reality of this crisis will change everything.

Angry Letters to the One Member of Congress Who Voted Against the War on Terror…

Barbara Lee was the lone dissenter in the post-9/11 vote authorizing military force. Many called her a traitor. But her constituents shared her concerns—and history has vindicated them.

OAKLAND, Calif.—The people here were out of step with America.

In the hours after the attacks of September 11, 2001, they were angry at the terrorists who flew planes into the Pentagon and World Trade Center. They wanted the attackers brought to justice. They mourned the victims, cheered the firefighters, felt united in sorrow with their countrymen, and dreaded more attacks. But in Berkeley, Oakland, and Alameda, the ultra-liberal, historically anti-war East Bay communities, a significant bloc also feared how their country would react. They didn’t trust the instincts of George W. Bush or the public that elected him.

The mistrust was mutual.

Censorship and What Freedom of Speech Really Means: Comedian Bill Hicks’s Brilliant Letter to a Priest…

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From Brain Pickings

“‘Freedom of speech’ means you support the right of people to say exactly those ideas which you do not agree with.”

In early June of 1993, several months before cancer took his life at the age of thirty-two, beloved comedian Bill Hicks received a letter from a priest, bemoaning the “blasphemous” content in Hicks’s live television special Revelations and reprimanding British broadcaster Channel 4 for having put it on the air. Writing a mere eight days before his fatal pancreatic cancer diagnosis — a young man still oblivious to his imminent tragic fate — Hicks decided to respond to the missive personally, in what became one of the most lucid and beautiful defenses of the freedom of speech ever articulated, on par with Voltaire’s piercing admonition about censorship and Madeleine L’Engle’s timeless words on the subject.

The Pariah…

He tells me I’ve got to understand about when the big dog gets off the porch, and I’m getting confused here. He is talking to me from a fishing camp up near the Canadian border, and as he tries to tell me about the Big Dog, I can only imagine a wall of green and deep blue lakes with northern pike. But he is very patient with me. Mike Holm did his hard stints in the Middle East, the Miami station, and Los Angeles, all for the United States Drug Enforcement Agency, and he is determined that I face the reality he knows. So he starts again. He repeats, “When the Big Dog gets off the porch, watch out.” And by the Big Dog, he means the full might of the United States government. At that moment, he continues, you play by Big Boy rules, and that means, he explains, that there are no rules but to complete the mission. We’ve gotten into all this schooling because I asked him about reports that he received when he was stationed in Miami that Southern Air Transport, a CIA-contracted airline, was landing planeloads of cocaine at Homestead Air Force Base nearby. Back in the eighties, Holm’s informants kept telling him about these flights, and then he was told by his superiors to “stand down because of national security.” And so he did. He is an honorable man who believes in his government, and he didn’t ask why the flights were taking place; he simply obeyed. Because he has seen the Big Dog get off the porch, and he has tasted Big Boy rules. Besides, he tells me, these things are done right, and if you look into the matter, you’ll find contract employees or guys associated with the CIA, but you won’t find a CIA case officer on a loading dock tossing kilos of coke around. Any more than Mike Holm ever saw a plane loaded top to bottom with kilos of coke. He didn’t have to. He believed his informants. And he believed in the skill and power of the CIA. And he believed in the sheer might and will of the Big Dog when he finally decides to get off the porch.

Carl Sagan’s Bullshit Detection Kit: Rules for Critical Thinking…

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From Brain Pickings

Necessary cognitive fortification against propaganda, pseudoscience, and general falsehood.

Carl Sagan was many things — a cosmic sagevoracious reader,hopeless romantic, and brilliant philosopher. But above all, he endures as our era’s greatest patron saint of reason and common sense, a master of the vital balance between skepticism and openness. In The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (public library) — the same indispensable volume that gave us Sagan’s timeless meditation on science and spirituality, published mere months before his death in 1996 — Sagan shares his secret to upholding the rites of reason, even in the face of society’s most shameless untruths and outrageous propaganda.

In a chapter titled “The Fine Art of Baloney Detection,” Sagan reflects on the many types of deception to which we’re susceptible — from psychics to religious zealotry to paid product endorsements by scientists, which he held in especially low regard, noting that they “betray contempt for the intelligence of their customers” and “introduce an insidious corruption of popular attitudes about scientific objectivity.” (Cue in PBS’s Joe Hanson on how to read science news.) But rather than preaching from the ivory tower of self-righteousness, Sagan approaches the subject from the most vulnerable of places — having just lost both of his parents, he reflects on the all too human allure of promises of supernatural reunions in the afterlife, reminding us that falling for such fictions doesn’t make us stupid or bad people, but simply means that we need to equip ourselves with the right tools against them.

How America’s Imperial Defeat and Collapse Could Happen…

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From John Michael Greer (2012)
Parts 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 |

Over the course of this year, my posts here on The Archdruid Report have tried to outline the trajectory of America’s global empire and explore the reasons why that trajectory will likely come to a sudden stop in the near future. To bring the issue down out of the realm of abstraction and put them in the context of history as lived, I’ve returned to the toolkit of narrative fiction, and this and the next four posts will sketch out a scenario of American imperial defeat and collapse. The narrative takes place at some unspecified point in the next two decades; it’s probably necessary to say outright that is not how I think the end of America’s empire will happen, simply one way that it could happen—and thus a model that may help expose some of the vulnerabilities of the self-proclaimed hyperpower currently tottering toward history’s compost bin.

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The news of the latest Tanzanian deepwater oil discovery broke on an otherwise sleepy Saturday in March. Thirty years before, a find of the same size might have gotten two column inches somewhere in the back pages of a few newspapers of record, but this was not thirty years ago.  In a world starved for oil, what might once have been considered a modest find earned banner headlines.

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