Dr. Dawg

Shots and preyers

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Another day, another mass shooting in the US.

Nothing will be done.

The American empire is in its decadence. Comparisons with the Roman one have been duly noted. Headed by an Id-creature whose prototype was surely Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roy, America is a nation where core values appear to have been inverted. Evangelical Christians support rampant womanizing, violence and hatred. Constitutionalists worship at the altar of constitution-wrecking. A “well-regulated militia” has come to mean any nutcase with a semi-automatic weapon, or cops on the hunt for what now amounts to their lawful prey. Checks and balances mean almost nothing, now that all three branches of government are under Donald Trump’s thumb.

But the Constitution is just a construct, a text. What explains the hideous allure of Trump, and his grotesque reign? And, here in Canada, on a lesser scale to be sure, the appeal of a porcine oaf like Doug Ford, likely the next premier of Ontario?

I will take credit for coining the term “sado-politics” in 1996, to describe the hateful regime of Ontario Premier Mike Harris, and more generally the mindset of the Right. There is a thesis to be written on sado-politics, I said then, and I was seriously considering writing a paper or even a book on the subject. Then I came across this essay by China Miéville, and reluctantly put down my metaphorical pen.

It’s all here. History, psychology, politics. I urge folks to read the whole thing. It goes some way to explain the joy that so many Americans take in shooting and killing, a joy directly tapped by bands of evil enablers like the NRA, and indirectly by savvy politicians who know just how to arouse and excite the electorate with their oily rhetorical caresses.

Some part of a person likes to hurt other people, or enjoy the inflicted pain and death vicariously. A politician promising to further immiserate the poor, or kick immigrants in the face, or target other vulnerable groups with trademark conservative derision, promising to make their lives even more difficult, is guaranteed a huge proportion of the vote. Bombing brown people abroad will also win much applause: and showing the results up close is likely a wrong-headed liberal mistake, as it is guaranteed to excite a large number of viewers even more.

Miéville is right on the money, pun entirely intended. Class oppressors mine this part of the human psyche, weaponize it and deploy it. But, depressingly enough, Miéville is able to offer only the most attenuated hints of strategy for stemming this blood-red tide. Kindness? Hatred that somehow doesn’t obviate empathy? The joy, however fleeting, of overturning property relations here and there, and now and then?

How do we build on that? How do we win? Optimism of the will must somehow find its direction, its realistic grounds for existing, and its concrete project. But my pessimism of the intellect is admittedly causing me more and more to ask—is it all hopeless?

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James Bow

Excuse Our Dust...

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And now for an unscheduled message from Dr. Dawg's webhost:

Please excuse our dust. We are undertaking a switch of webhosts from Hostgator to GreenGeeks, and Dawg's Blawg has a lot of stuff to move. However, when all is said and done, you shouldn't notice any difference. Carry on!

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Doug Frump1.jpgIs Doug Ford “like” Donald Trump, as Kathleen Wynn suggested yesterday?

I just listened to two pundits on CBC comparing similarities and differences between Ford and Trump’s policies. In the carefully “balanced” manner of all CBC political interviews, one “expert” was earnest and angry and of vaguely liberal mien; the other was smarmy and dismissive and more or less conservative. But they both agreed that issues in the US and issues in Canada have created very different political environments, making the comparison problematic.

They’re missing the point. Ford supporters aren’t voting on “issues”, or for “policies”. They’re not voting “for” anything. They’re voting against.

I heard the best, clearest statement of Ford’s real position during an interview with him in February, on “The House”. Ford was asked to explain his promise to fight “the Elites”. His response “I’m not talking about any one specific person. But I always say, the three parties, the LIberals, NPD and the PCs, they have the elites, and the elites, my definition is, they look down on you. They look down on the average person. They think they’re smarter than everyone…I think everyone knows what I mean when I talk about Elites”.

That’s the heart of Ford’s campaign, and the core of what he shares with Donald Trump. He’s another rich kid who inherited his dad’s business, but who pretends to speak for the angry and resentful; a corrupt influence peddler donning the mantle of virtue to capitalize on corruption by Wynn’s predecessor. But he wants you to vote for him because you’re mad at some undefined folks somewhere who look down on you. You can show them. He’ll be your middle finger; elect him and he’ll make those folks squirm. Won’t that be great? Isn’t “making lefty heads explode” the best possible criterion for selecting a provincial leader? (Jay, don’t answer that.)

That bitter core defines both the Ford campaign and the Trump administration. It’s the “Wreck It Ralph” school of governance: a platform that says “If I elected I will fire… I will undo… I will repeal… I will revoke… I will say no”. There’s no vision there. Toronto tried “Governance by NO” with Rob Ford, and it failed; the United States tried it with Trump, and we’re being treated to the spectacle of its slow motion meltdown daily. But Homo Politicus is a slow learner: and now it looks as though there are enough Ontarians angry at Wynn and distrustful of Horvath to initiate our very own provincial suicide attempt.

Is Doug Ford another Donald Trump? Yes; because his one political idea is “No”. And while “No” may be enough to get you elected, it’s not enough to govern.

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Gaza violence.jpg

Stupid, stupid Canadian Journalists for Free Expression. It dared to stand up for journalists shot by Israeli snipers at the Gaza border. Didn’t the CJFE know that criticizing Israel is off-limits?

Now the statement expressing concern has been deep-sixed, the CJFE Communications Director, Kevin Metcalf, has been thrown under the bus, and the organization itself, thoroughly cowed at this point, is reportedly on the rocks. (You can find the censored statement at the second-last link, by scrolling down.)

If you think Canadian journalists are upset by this ironic turn of events, guess again. They have been leaping to condemn CJFE and Metcalf (a journalist in his own right, who has taken his lumps for covering Canada’s alt-right) in particular.

The hypocrisy is monumental; it is staggering. Jonathan Kay, who has been wittering on for months about an alleged threat to free speech on Canadian university campuses, was first on board to mock Metcalf. He considers it “hijacking” the CJFE to condemn the deliberate targeting of journalists by the Israel Defence Forces, and the shooting of unarmed demonstrators in general.

Doug Saunders, the Globe and Mail’s foreign affairs correspondent, complains that the impartiality for which journalism is supposedly known (permit a mild eye-roll here) has been compromised by calling upon the Canadian government to act. He called the statement disturbing, and accused CJFE of “politicking.” He must have missed this. And this. And this. And this. Certainly we have heard no complaints from Saunders about any of that.

Self-styled media critic Jesse Brown called the CJFE’s statement a “mistake.” Robyn Urback, opinions editor for the CBC, extended her claws. And Chris Selley of PostMedia evidently thinks that standing up for his dead and wounded colleagues in Palestine is plain nuts.

The CJFE’s remit, let us remind ourselves, is this:

CJFE monitors, defends and reports on free expression and access to information in Canada and abroad. Rooted in the field of journalism, we promote a free media as essential to a fair and open society. CJFE boldly champions the free expression rights of all people, and encourages and supports individuals and groups in the protection of their own and others’ free expression rights.

It has done just that. Perhaps to avoid further opprobrium, it could add “except for Israel” to its mission statement.

Other international watchdogs have, thank goodness, stepped up to decry the targeting of their fellow-journalists. More generally, you can find stark condemnation of the Gaza violence in Israeli media, and the International Criminal Court in The Hague has found it necessary to issue a direct warning.

Here at home, political party leaders, other than Jagmeet Singh*, have remained silent. Criticism of the assault on unarmed protesters has been muted, as casualties continue to mount. And an organization dedicated to promoting freedom of expression and the protection of journalists, daring to apply those principles to the killing and wounding of Palestinian journalists in Gaza, has been drop-kicked by journalists themselves. Israel, once again, has proven to be Canadian journalism’s Achilles’ heel.

* UPDATE: Green Party leader Elizabeth May has now spoken out.

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No exit: security and peace

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I am given to understand that Donald Trump — or, at least, his inner, ever-shifting coterie — actually expected their announcement of the official move of the US embassy to Jerusalem would kick-start the peace process, which is precisely the opposite of what everyone predicted. Why anyone would think that implicit negation of a core Palestinian claim would contribute to some kind of “peace deal” is beyond me. No, that’s not true: I have strong suspicions about the sort of theorizing on which it is based, the claim that it is right to crush the weaker party in order to achieve “peace”, that the people who object to their fate only understand “the language of force”, etc. It is nothing other than the banal belief that might makes right.

In my previous post on the topic, I raised the point that the sine qua non of Zionism is that there be, at the end of any agreements, actions, processes, treaties, settlements, etc., a viable state in the conventional sense of the late 20th century that is intended to be specifically and primarily Jewish in some material sense. This is a more nuanced position than the view that the Palestinians must simply be crushed — many well-intentioned people believe that it is so and struggle with the moral dilemmas that it presents.

There are a number of reasons why it is a defensible position, and I went into that in that post. But I hope that the people who hold the Zionist position also acknowledge that it is “morally legitimate” also to believe that the Palestinians have a moral right to reject that the cost of realizing the Zionist imperative must come at their expense, i.e., that there’s no obligation on the part of Palestinians to care that the Jews have a state or to yield any of their claims to Zionist purpose. Of course, that both of these may be true is just the nature of moral impasses.

I used that previous post also to point out that if the Zionist goal is to preserve a Jewish majority, then its settlement enterprise is simply incompatible with that, unless it is willing to go beyond its more well-founded moral remit. However, even if Israel puts a (wise, but internally political impossible) halt to further settlement expansion, there remains the dilemma that has reared its head in the past few days: the dilemma of Gaza. And the dilemma of Gaza represents an unexpected moral outcome of the underlying imperative of Jewish state-building in the real existing Middle East.

Let us consider for a moment that because Israel has created “facts on the ground”, the end result is going to favour the Zionist claim: the Palestinians are not going to be able to enforce their own moral claims and return to their lands. That is not an unknown situation. The same is true for the descendants of Sudeten Germans and many other groups in the 20th century. The difference is that Israel remains in control of refugee populations, particularly in Gaza, where Israel and its effective ally, Egypt, hold the space.

It is a source of frustration to partisans of Israel that this problem has not yet disappeared on its own. But there is no reason for it to do so. Arabs populations are not fully fungible; despite the deepest wishes of the more reactionary part of right-wing Israeli politics, Palestinians are not Jordanians or Egyptians, no matter what labels were used at particular times. It might have been nice if someone had “made the problem go away”, but no one did and no one had to: Israel continues to “hold the bag” for whatever happens in the West Bank and especially Gaza. Even if it were true that “Palestinian” is a recently constructed identity, it is even more on the account of Israel for being the principal factor that constructed it.

It is still a while yet to see if the Gaza march really turns into a mass march of unarmed Palestinians trying to cross the border, and yet it’s already clear that the very thought of that being attempted, however futile, is deeply alarming to the Israeli state and pro-Israeli media. Indeed, Israel’s supporters attempt to point out that Hamas should have used the money given to it instead for economic development rather than the actions that Israel says forced it to put a blockade on Gaza. And therein lies the other, fundamental and practical dilemma to the imperative of a Jewish majority: any move that could conceivably also reduce the incentive for Palestinian uprisings (of whatever form), necessarily also strengthens Hamas’ military capacity. On the other hand, any attempt to restrict resources to choke Hamas increases its political support and monopoly over government in Gaza in particular.

In other words, the under real, existing circumstances, the Zionist moral imperative towards a Jewish state becomes incompatible with an approach that places the security of Israeli citizens over the individual rights of Palestinians. This has been the approach followed for a long time, and it has not improved the inner parameters of the conflict. The situation in Gaza is not sustainable — but if you believe that development in Gaza will reduce the prospect of an existential threat from Gaza, and you are not prepared for an even more generalized aggression against Palestinians in pursuit of a conclusion to the conflict, then you must paradoxically accept that letting Hamas have increased power (and capacity to attack) in the near term is necessary for peace in the long term.

And that is a (long-known) lesson that could probably be applied the world over: giving security priority over rights is rarely a sustainable policy.

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Dr. Dawg

The no-limit franchise

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Kid Vote.jpg

Sixteen is presently being considered as the new minimum voting age in BC, with support from a former Canadian Chief Electoral Officer. That’s no surprise: the idea has been around for quite a while now. A Bill to extend the franchise to 16-year-olds was introduced (and defeated) in Parliament as long ago as 2005.

A more recent attempt in PEI was unsuccessful; a similar Bill has just been introduced in Ontario.

The measure has already been implemented in Austria, Malta, Nicaragua, Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Scotland, the Isle of Man, Jersey, and Guernsey.

It’s no surprise that the proposal is being immediately red-lighted by some. But Andrew Coyne, not exactly partial to the idea, may be on to something—perhaps without knowing it.

Why not extend the franchise to children? he asks rhetorically. Or cats, for that matter? He’s getting at an illogical counter-argument, of course (the fallacy of the converse)—old arguments against giving women the vote, or lowering the voting age from 21 to 18, cannot simply be reversed to claim that any group should be given the vote. But (setting cats aside) why not let the kids vote?

“But they don’t know enough,” some will cry. OK, give sixteen-year-olds the vote, others say, but make sure they get a good grounding in civics to qualify.

But this is, with respect, the wrong way to frame the discussion. Instead, why don’t we step back and look at voting behaviour in general?

Democracy is a messy business. We all know people who vote for “the wrong reasons.” They like Justin Trudeau’s hair (or dislike it). They’re mad as hell and don’t want to take it any more. Andrew Scheer seems like a nice young man. Jagmeet Singh is different (which can be either a plus or a minus).

Meanwhile you agonize over your vote: you assess party policies and how they align with your own values, you wonder whether you should vote strategically, you look at the various parties’ records in office, you listen to the candidates in your own riding and assess their merits in terms of what they are saying, how they are saying it, whether they have the right qualities to represent you in Parliament, and so on. You know how the system works. On E-Day, you go into that booth prepared.

But you are in a minority. A small minority.

In 1964, Philip Converse wrote his now-famous classic on voter behaviour, “The nature of belief systems in mass publics.” He identified five strata of voters, the first two of which voted, entirely or at least to some degree, on the basis of political considerations: added together, these two groups were about 15.5% of the whole. Most others voted on the basis of perceived group interests (a largely instinctual matter for them that bore little or no relation to policy), or were single-issue voters. The fifth stratum, comprising more voters than the first two groups combined,

…included those respondents whose evaluations of the political scene had no shred of policy significance whatever. Some of these responses were from people who felt loyal to one party or the other but confessed that they had no idea what the party stood for. Others devoted their attention to personal qualities of the candidates, indicating disinterest in parties more generally. Still others confessed that they paid too little attention to either the parties or the current candidates to be able to say anything about them.

But that was then, more than half a century ago, and this is now. Surely things have changed since, with so much almost instantaneous information available to everyone, right? Well, apparently not.

Two political scientists, Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels, have been tracking voter behaviour for nearly two decades, focusing upon a phenomenon called “blind retrospection,” where voters punish or reward political representatives for matters well out of their control. In 2002, they presented some disconcerting findings: shark attacks in New Jersey significantly affected the vote for Woodrow Wilson in 1916. While this specific conclusion has been disputed, their general view of voting behaviour has not. In 2004, they were able to establish that Al Gore, running against George W. Bush, lost seven states because there was either too much rain, or too little. 2.8 million voters in those states wanted to punish the incumbent government for bad weather.

Their conclusion:

Our formal model is based on the assumption that voters do behave rationally. However, our empirical evidence is equally consistent with a political psychology in which retrospective voting has more in common with kicking the dog—or with the superstitious tendency of earlier peoples to punish their own leaders for droughts, plagues, or volcanic eruptions than with…rational assessments of blame or credit.

The point to stress here is that most voters do not vote the way that a few of us politically-engaged types might have imagined. In this wider context, the flap about giving young people the vote because they wouldn’t choose wisely seems to be seriously misplaced. At its worst, the vote of children would make no difference whatsoever to the outcome of an election, so we might as well give it to them. At its best, judging perhaps hastily from the recent children’s crusade in the US, it could make a significant difference—for the better.

We needn’t make strawman arguments to bolster the case for a genuinely universal franchise. Nor should we adopt Demeny voting, in which the children’s vote is delegated to parents: that’s a perfectly dreadful idea that privileges parents over all other voters, and leaves children as disenfranchised as before.

Even without mandatory civics classes from grade school on—which should be encouraged—we can reassure ourselves that schoolchildren likely know as much and care as much about the system in which they are engaging as do most older folks today. The youth demographic traditionally has a low voter turnout, but, in Canada at least, this is changing. If 18-year-olds are becoming more engaged, why not encourage those even younger to do the same?

Promoting civic involvement in our schools, and encouraging our youth to develop the voting habit early, could each have beneficial effects on our democracy, and in combination would certainly do so. And, taking the long view, the next generations of electorates, fortified with more knowledge and voting experience than anyone today, would be likely to vote more wisely and rationally between policy choices—rather than hate-voting because of an above-average snowfall.

It’s hard to see the downside, when you think about it.

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Trudeau Ruler.jpg

(Beijing, March 11) DawgNews has learned of unsettling developments in a country that once seemed to be leading the way in democratic governance.

Canada has no term limits—so strongman Justin Trudeau, whose official title is “Prime Minister,” may rule the troubled nation for life. Already, under the Canadian Constitution, he holds the power to appoint legislators to an “Upper House,” members of his Cabinet, and judges. He also has the unquestioned authority to hand-pick members of powerful “boards and commissions,” sign treaties, and declare war.

Prime Ministers will continue to be chosen, not through a universal franchise, but by a party convention. Canada’s largely ceremonial Parliament is restricted to asking questions on specified days—which Trudeau is not required to answer.

Promised electoral reform has been squelched, according to pro-democracy sources. This further entrenches the ruling Liberal Party, called the “Natural Governing Party” by supporters and dissidents alike.

President Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China has reiterated his willingness to seek a free trade deal with Canada, but only if political rights there can be guaranteed.

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Dr. Dawg


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question.jpgWhen I was asked at my clinic a few days ago what my “preferred pronoun” was, the hornet’s nest that I have been avoiding became just a little too inviting. So big, so grey, so buzzing with hellish life. And so I put on my boots, while looking around for handy escape routes.

Once upon a time—well, three or four years ago, and for some time before that—“gender” came to be seen as an oppressive social construct, which of course it is. Gender discourse is inscribed upon bodies. It is a kind of brand, and I mean that literally, in both the cattle-owning and commercial senses of the word. It defines a primordial (for we are encouraged to think that way) difference, a binary, and in practical terms a set of unequal power relations: “We knew who we were then. Girls were girls and men were men.”

Obviously this had to go. But a funny thing happened on the way to liberation.

Suddenly—and I may have been asleep while it began—gender was getting reinforced, with rivets and steel, by the very people sent to smash it.

This all seems to have begun innocently enough. The gay and lesbian “communities,” which had fought their own bitter battles and changed society in the historical blink of an eye, had always embraced the tricky bisexual category as well, and then the trans community, in the acronym “LGBT” (once GLBT, but, you know, intersectionality). The trans phenomenon, however, is not like the others: it isn’t a sexual orientation—partner choice—but a claimed identity.

(I’m going to avoid the TERF wars here, but just suggest that those who claim transwomen were “socialized as men” should unpack the notion of socialization a little. Later for that.)

Meanwhile, in the natural course of events, LGBT expanded to LGBTQQIP2SAA. And from sexual preferences, all of these categories slid effortlessly into identities themselves. In other words, we went from “whom do I want to sleep with?” to “who am I?”.

That way madness lies. It’s a question without an answer. The identity swamp breeds reptiles of the mind: essentialism, fragmentation and exclusion, “call-out culture” and an endless proliferation of categories.

What was once a matter of loving who the hell you want has become an existential question, complete with its bottomless pit of Angst. As for that gender binary…

Well, perhaps one way of getting rid of gender is to make it explode. But that suggests more strategy and collusion than I think we are witnessing. Instead, two genders have been replaced with dozens, all points on a “gender spectrum.”

The battle now is only between two versus many. Binaries are before the firing squad. But gender itself, like rock and roll, is here to stay.

How do we accommodate this taxonomic eruption? Why, by coming up with pronouns to fit, of course. Once we bemoaned the absence of a personal third-person singular gender-neutral pronoun (other than “one,” which means “a person,” not a specific person). At least, some of us did. I wincingly learned to use “they” as a singular, and as a handy replacement for “he or she,” although my spirit recoils at “They is.” But I was, in any case, heading in the wrong direction.

Here’s a list of current pronouns, and they are anything but gender-neutral. I am advised that people venturing into the gender spectrum can try various sets on for size until they get a good fit. Failing memory? Not to worry—practice makes perfect.

Let me address the metaphorical elephant in the room at this point. That would be Professor Jordan Peterson, the fake polymath from Toronto who is the latest darling of the alt-right. Peterson, some will recall, vaulted into public prominence by stating his refusal to use preferred pronouns in class (although he himself used the singular “they” to cover off “he or she” in one article, as I recall).

If only he had stopped there! Keeping in mind the lists I referred to above, one could easily sympathize with a person, part of whose job is to teach large classes, throwing up their hands in despair. Just keeping track of names is hard enough. That Peterson turned out to have an agenda, and used the pronoun issue to force a political public entrance, is neither here nor there.

Were this extraordinary catalogue of genders to be seriously taken up by mainstream society (whatever that might be these days), social interaction would become just a tad awkward. Deliberate misgendering—calling a transwoman “he,” for example—is offensively rude and discriminatory. But using “cir” when the person you’re talking to wants “zan” could be just an honest mistake. Many of those would inevitably be made, spoiling a lot of parties and wrecking learned society conferences.

The “call-out” possibilities, on the other hand, would be endless. So perhaps all is not lost.

UPDATE: I leave this here without further comment:

Hi John,

I’m writing to let you know that we’ve reviewed your latest blog post and have decided to pass on publishing it: http://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/dr-dawgs-blawg/…/03/pronouns

The discussion of gender identity and pronoun use in this post is dismissive of LGBTQ communities and the struggle to assert their rights — seen for example in references to “the trans phenomenon” and the suggestion that the way gender identity and sexual orientation are framed in 2018 veers towards “madness.” In our view, it has overtones of transphobia, which violates our journalistic policy, and reads more like a provocation rather than an effort to advance progressive debate on this topic. Because of this, we’ll be passing on it. You can see our full journalistic policy here: http://rabble.ca/about/journalistic-policy If you have any questions, please let me know.

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Dr. Dawg

What a long, strange trip it's been

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Harper ao dai.jpg

Whoops, wrong photo. Could derail the narrative that way.

Trudeau in India1.jpg


This is an open thread. Why? Because, maybe for once, I am not sure whom or what to believe.

I can’t believe this, for starters. On the other hand, Terry Glavin’s Maclean’s piece opposes a conspiracy theory with other conspiracy theories. It’s a stunningly incoherent article. Before he returns us to his Yellow Peril v.2.0 hobbyhorse, he leaves us with the unchallenged suggestion that the Liberals have been deliberately derailing peace talks between Khalistan separatists and the Indian government. Cui bloody bono?

Needless to say, I don’t mind Trudeau’s parade à la mode, and the pack journalism on this occasion will be something for future J-schools to ponder. But the presence of Jaspal Atwal on the tour, granted a visa to India while the peaceful Jagmeet Singh remains barred, may be of more consequence.

Yet, of how much consequence? We’ll be reaching peak tinfoil at this rate. Couldn’t it have been a simple misjudgement? Such things are not unknown.

Comments welcome.

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