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The Rising Tide

There is an ominous gap between the instant and plethoric accessibility to current events provided by the Internet, iPods, Androids, et al, and significant sources from which the meaning of those events might be better understood.

Having lived a very long time, I’ve witnessed the resurgence of failed ideologies time after time. The concept of history repeating itself is one thing; actually witnessing it through the better part of a century is quite another. There is something about living a long time, day-by-day, year-by-year, decade-by-decade, that illuminates the major aspects of political thought and action.

I remember the absurd ‘goose step’ of men marching through the streets of Berlin, the ugly Soviet military parades brandishing weapons during the Cold War. And now, I see Iranian soldiers prancing through the streets of Tehran. Apart from their uniforms, they are indistinguishable from their counterparts in the 20th century.

Worse yet, the ideologies for which they march and die are also indistinguishable. For example, there was no substantive difference at the root of the titanic conflict between Germany and Russia in World War Two. Communism and Nazism are essentially interchangeable, with emphasis on redistribution of wealth under one system and total control of production under the other.

Tragically, ideologies are not necessarily understood by their adherents. That lack of understanding is eloquently exemplified by the compatibility of professors and students engaged in political demonstrations that are anti-capitalism and pro-socialism. Before my generation, political attitudes reflected the appeal of socialism. The ‘working class’ favored labor unions and more or less grumbled about their employers, all the more vociferously against millionaires, and made little or no distinctions between industrialists and Robber Barons.

Those attitudes were passed onto my generation. In my high school days, the political ‘slant’ (now, better known as ‘spin’) was emphatically in favor of socialism although it was not called that. ‘Colonialism,’ on the other hand, was distinctly labeled and given extensive attention in textbooks. Universities taught that colonialism and capitalism were synonymous. History books and social study classes invariably included condemnation of the United States. That has not changed. If anything, bashing the United States has been enhanced in academia by inviting domestic celebrities and foreign ‘dignitaries’ to speak at prestigious universities.

During Hollywood’s Golden Age, movie stars concealed their political views from the public for obvious reasons, and we liked it that way. But many screenwriters were virtually anonymous to most moviegoers. They wrote screenplays with thinly veiled socialist messages. Today’s movie stars are not only open about their ‘liberal’ political views but use their celebrity off-screen to advance those views. Almost all ‘conservative’ actors are still in the closet. Some of them wait until they have retired before revealing political views that are not in step with the Hollywood mainstream. A few reveal their conservative politics. They are encouraged to do so because they think the adoration of their fans will protect them from losing part of their audience. They are wrong about that. Prejudices trump loyalty.

On screen, a considerable number of the ‘biggest’ stars enjoy playing stereotype conservatives, greedy capitalists, and rogue military leaders. (This assertion on my part is not speculative; those actors often explicitly confirm their role preferences when they are interviewed.) Playing those roles gives them an opportunity to please most of their audiences and score political points with their unsuspecting audiences. This practice is a far cry from the film, Advise and Consent, the only totally objective high-level political film I’ve ever seen. If I were an educator, I would strongly urge my students to see that film. That is one of those sources I refer to above. As an actor/director, I also recommend viewing it for its artistic excellence. If you haven’t seen it, please make an effort to do so. (Incidentally, as you may have noticed, capitalists and republicans have always been depicted in a negative light in movie scripts, even if only in ’ jest.’ Yet, to the credit of several liberal actors, they are often fond of their republican colleagues in real life.)

For me, the ‘60s were ‘the best of times and the worst of times,’ as I’m sure Charles Dickens would call them. It was a time when young people swept away repressive attitudes of the 50s, but were also attracted to blotting out reality through the use of drugs. I am among those of whom it is said, “If you remember the 60s, you missed them.” Well, not the best part of them. I was inspired by the second Golden Age of Opera at the Metropolitan Opera House while most of my contemporaries were wallowing in the mud of Woodstock and other gatherings that resembled today’s ‘flash mobs.’

I suppose I’ve always been something of a misfit. I enjoyed most of the Broadway musical, Hair, for its penetrating social insight, and at the same time was swept away by the opera, Electra, a little further uptown.

I was fortunate to have lived during the sunset of Western Civilization. Now, in the dusk of our civilization, I find it tragic to see a generation that has access to a virtual universe in the form of a pod in the palms of its hands and yet is so terribly uninformed about the world in which it lives. Academia continues to foster collectivism. Most professors and college students think like my generation’s grandfathers did! They still talk of colonialism and the evils of capitalism. The same is true of congressmen, senators, columnists, the authors of documentaries, and TV commentators.

I hear a cacophonic choir of mobs: corporate mobs, labor union mobs, political mobs. Ironically, Americans, a people who rejected European politics, are now seeking to follow in the collectivist footsteps of a collapsing Europe! This phenomenon is epitomized by the terrifying mindlessness of flash mobs as well as by organized ideological groups- – -often, a combination of both, here and abroad. Beneath their exterior forms, mobs are motivated by the same instinct as that of jungle marabunta.

There is a profoundly unhealthy symbiotic relationship among corrupt corporations, labor unions, politicians, and millions of ‘little guys.’ Their complicity in global chaos is characterized by their pointing to one another as the root of the global fiscal crisis. As I listen to their shrill and incoherent accusations, I cannot help but think that Marxist theory patently states that collectivism doesn’t seek to destroy civilization: its goal is to take it over. He explicitly stated that the way to a socialist society is to let capitalists create an industrialized civilization, and then take it over.

An eternal optimist, I hope the current generation will stem the tide of collectivism by closing the gap between out-of-date ideologies and the Information Age. Humanity cannot afford another Dark Age.    

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The Terrorist and the Infidel


PLACE: The Middle East


I, The Infidel

A Terrorist

A Global Citizen

An Indian

I. It is one thing to be a soldier, but terrorists—

TERRORIST. Hold on! Hold on! What do you mean terrorists? We are freedom fighters!

I. Exactly what freedom is it that you’re fighting for?

TERRORIST. We are fighting against the freedom practiced by the Great Satan.

I. Does that include freedom of speech and religion?

TERRORIST. Especially, freedom of speech and religion! Observe the evils that your way of life have unleashed upon the world.

I. Well, at least we don’t expect seventy-two virgins to pamper us in paradise.

TERRORIST. Infidel, you mock our revered beliefs!

I. Some beliefs don’t wear well with time. And don’t tell me that the belief in seventy-two virgins is no more or less taken literally by Moslems than is its Christian counterpart of swirling angels plucking harps. I know that.

TERRORIST. Your arrogance is the reason why Americans are hated throughout the world. You disrespect cultures far older than yours. You have much to learn.

I. For instance?

GLOBAL CITIZEN. (Interrupting) The freedom fighter doesn’t mean ‘learning’ literally. He means understanding. As a global citizen I fully empathize with him. You Americans have a way of not understanding—let alone being derisive of— cultures that differ from yours. You think your culture is the best thing since the Industrial Revolution.

I. It is. …One of the best, anyway. And don’t get me wrong. I respect all great cultures. The Arab-Islamic culture resuscitated and preserved the unprecedented genius of the Classic Age as a source for the Renaissance. Islamic scholars picked up the torch of civilization before it might have been extinguished. In addition, were it not for their introduction of the number ‘zero’ into European–

GLOBAL CITIZEN. Oh, I didn’t know Arabians invented the zero.

I. Well, no, they didn’t invent it. Long before the Islamic golden age, Mayan and Asian Indians had discovered the zero separately and at different times. But when Arabian traders brought the concept of zero home from India and consequently into Europe, they made a momentous contribution to civilization. Modern commerce and industry is inconceivable without the Hindu-Arabic number system.

INDIAN. Score one for India!

I. Yeah. Along with the Caste System. What’s there to ‘understand’ about that?

INDIAN. Hypocrite! Don’t you reward your doctors, educators, and other professionals according to their occupations? So few of you understand the Indian Caste System. You are newcomers in the community of civilizations. Indian wisdom has assigned pre-ordained occupations to the unborn in accordance with a cosmic plan. What is your cultural equivalent to place people into their proper occupations?

I. Classified ads.

TERRORIST. (furiously) Again, you mock the serenity and certitude of Eastern Civilizations. Your insolence is—

INDIAN. (to the TERRORIST) Wait… (to me) We Indians are a patient people. I’m open to see Indian culture through an American’s eyes.

I. No. Look through an untouchable’s single, remaining eye. You can find that unforgettable, haunting eye on Page 28 of National Geographic, June 2003.

INDIAN. A Bhangi, I suppose?

I. He has a name. It’s Ramprasad. Having a picture taken of his disfigured face by a National Geographic photographer must have been the highlight of his invisible life. His remaining eye speaks eloquently of India’s revered shame. He had acid thrown in his face by an outraged mob that discovered him fishing in a pond belonging to upper-caste villagers. As you must know, throwing acid on untouchables is the punishment of choice among upper-cast Indians, and raping an untouchable woman in the presence of her husband is another. What kind of system condones punishment as perverse as that?

INDIAN. Don’t you Americans have similar methods of keeping your ‘untouchables’ in their place?

I. No.

INDIAN. How simplistic you are.

I. All Americans are simplistic. We think of depraved people who commit punitive atrocities as ‘nut jobs,’ their religious fervor notwithstanding. We feel the same about Islamic Jurisprudence.

TERRORIST. Again you are insolent! And hypocritical. Your fledgling culture has been rich in injustice from its very beginning. Genocide against Native Americans, the ultimate injustice of slavery—your culture is blemished by hundreds of injustices.

I. Oh, yes…and then some.

INDIAN. Then how do you differ from us?

I. We strive to abolish our injustices, we don’t revere them!

TERRORIST. You also force your brand of justice on others. The arrogance of democracy!

I. You’ve got me there. I don’t know where we got the idea that everyone wants freedom—

TERRORIST. (interrupting) Please, spare me your lies about liberation. We all know that the wars in the Middle East are about oil, not freedom. I’ve heard all your clichés: ‘America was attacked on 911,’ ‘It’s cheaper to buy oil than fight for it,’ ‘America could not allow Sadam Hussein to harbor weapons of mass destruction,’ and so on. All excuses, all clichés.

I. There, we agree. There’s no point in exchanging clichés. So, let’s get back to the war itself.

TERRORIST. You mean, Israeli aggression.

I. We’re not going to get anywhere if you tell me what I mean. Remember, I’m an American, let’s keep it simple.

TERRORIST. Agreed. Our cause is simply this: to kill as many Israelis and Americans as possible.

I. Right. But, cultural differences aside, I’m sure you can understand why we’re not all that comfortable with your existence.

TERRORIST. Ah, is it your desire to kill as many Muslims as possible?

I. No. Just you. Isn’t suicide your MO anyway?

TERRORIST. The Israelis have made me so. They lust for our land, they continue to build settlements that—

I. Stop right there. There are many heated and complicated issues imbedded in Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I am not taking sides on Israeli-Palestinian issues here. It’s the way you go about achieving your goals that disturbs me. Even if you are enraged by what you perceive to be gross injustices, that doesn’t justify acts of terrorism—

TERRORIST. Acts of war. The Israelis bomb us too, you know.

I. Not with stealthy homicide bombers that change a scene of peaceful civilian marketing into an aboveground graveyard filled with body parts in a matter of seconds.

TERRORIST. Ha! You must think I am a monster.

I. Don’t flatter yourself.

TERRORIST. What you call ‘homicide,’ suicide bombers know to be ‘justice.’

I. Whatever. But for your information and contrary to media hyperbole, millions of Americans make a sharp distinction between Muslims and religious fanatics. There are many communities in the United States in which Muslims, Christians, and Jews live side by side and enjoy their traditional diversities while embracing American assimilation.

TERRORIST. (laughing) Ah, now who is it that spouts hyperbole!

I. Sorry. You have to live here to believe it. Anyway, what Americans do find extremely objectionable about Islam is Sharia.

TERRORIST. Infidel, Islam is the true religion—

INDIAN. Oh, I must take issue with you there. Hinduism is the only religion that –

I. Let’s not go there…okay, guys? Let’s just stick to warfare itself. Let me ask you a question. Why do you suppose that women and children, hospitals, apartment houses, and mosques are often in the line of Israeli fire? The IDF has high resolution weapons, why do you claim that killing Palestinian civilians is deliberate?

TERRORIST. Killing my people is not just ‘collateral’ damage. Israelis are deliberately killing as many civilians as possible. So, we must retaliate.

I. Yeah, okay. Assuming that’s true. Why would coalition forces bomb hospitals? The ill and injured are no threat to anyone, let alone a military force. Why would Israelis, Americans, and other coalition forces target schools and mosques? Children ‘worshipers’ at mosques are even less a threat than hospitalized people (though, I suspect some children provide peripheral help to terrorists). And why are apartment houses bombed? Could it be that the mosques, hospitals, and residential buildings contain arms and shield ‘freedom fighters’?

TERRORIST. Assuming that is true. And I don’t believe coalition forces would hesitate to bomb innocent civilians—

I. You don’t believe it! Come on, how is it that time after time, civilians are killed in the midst of battles?

TERRORIST. They happen to be in the line of fire.

I. In a supermarket?

TERRORIST. As I tried to say before you interrupted: Assuming that civilians are deceitfully imbedded with freedom fighters, they are voluntarily committed to fight to the death along with freedom fighters, even if they serve only as shields.

I. Does that include two-year-olds?

TERRORIST. Are you implying that we are cowards?

I. No. I’m not implying that. I’m stating it as fact.

TERRORIST. We are not afraid to die!

I. So I’ve noticed. Suicide seems to be a way of life for many of you.

TERRORIST. Then why do you call us cowards?

I. Because you force civilized soldiers to fight you with one hand tied behind their backs. You hamstring them with human shields. You depend on their aversion to kill innocent civilians. You know Media are watching.

TERRORIST. Oh, be fair now. Our side has no choice in an asymmetrical war.

I. Asymmetrical against whom? The wars may have begun that way decades ago when overwhelmingly outnumbered Israelis fought against seven Arab armies. There’s nothing asymmetrical about Middle East wars now. Israel and America are surrounded by a sea of global hostility, your greatest ally—including media bias within the United States.

GLOBAL CITIZEN. You’re paranoid.

I. You bet your ass, I am. What conflict are you watching?

GLOBAL CITIZEN. The Middle East war, of course.

I. I didn’t say war, I said conflict.

GLOBAL CITIZEN. What’s the difference?

I. One is regional, the other is ideological.

GLOBAL CITIZEN. What do you mean?

I. (pointing to theTERRORIST) Ask him. He knows. (to the TERRORIST) Tell her.

TERRORIST. The infidel knows that we are not fighting for just a scrap of land. This is Jihad. Surely you have repeatedly heard our message.

GLOBAL CITIZEN. What is that?

TERRORIST. We want total destruction of America and Israel.

GLOBAL CITIZEN. Oh, I don’t believe that.

I. He does.

GLOBAL CITIZEN. Oh, no. I’m sure he doesn’t mean it.

TERRORIST. I do. You’re not listening. Our leaders are clearly telling you that. Of course we mean it.

GLOBAL CITIZEN. But this is the age of Globalization.

TERRORIST. Exactly. That is why it is critical that the world be united under one god—the god of Islamic Law. The godless parade of evil civilizations must come to an end. The parade’s shameless march has led the world to the abomination known as Democracy. America and its whore, Israel, must be stoned to death.

I. Ah, yes…stoned. As I understand it, Sharia demands that the stones should not be too small because they might not finish the job, nor should they be too large because the job would be finished too soon.

TERRORIST. We don’t take punishment lightly. We are just. A woman is not convicted to death if she can produce four male witnesses to prove that she has not committed adultery.

I. I’m not familiar with your sexual customs, but I think I can safely assume that sexual engagements in your culture are pretty much the same as they are anywhere else, private. It follows that four male witnesses to adultery would have to be voyeurs. I understand that proof of rape also requires four male witnesses. That is even harder to come by since rape is extremely furtive. And, if a woman is gang-raped, the witnesses would almost certainly have to be her rapists.

TERRORIST. You simply do not understand us.

I. God forbid I ever should.

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Queen of the Hill

When I was a boy there was a very popular game titled King of the Hill. The title of that game implies all there is to know about it. Ideally, playing it required only a hill and a rush of testosterone. But hills are hard to come by in Brooklyn. So, boys would find a mound in an empty lotif possibleor simply designate a certain area on the pavement as ‘the hill.’ Sovereignty on the hill was maintained by its occupant until some other boy knocked him out of it. As far as I know, girls did not play that game.

When girls of my generation became women they were largely excluded from grown-up games. Virtually all TV commercials featuring competition between men and women reflected the prevalent sexist fantasies of the time. Males were depicted as better suited than women to make the right choice of products, including cars. In auto commercials, women had surrogate sex with sparkling new automobiles, usually lasciviously draping themselves around the body of the car, stroking and caressing its upholstery with fervent desire and tenderness. In commercials with a mate, her participation in choosing a car was limited to the selection of its color. At that time the female’s domain was the home. She reigned supreme only in the choice of appliances, detergents, food products, and disposable diapers.

That was then. Now, no one seems to noticelet alone criticizea sexist reversal in most (if not all) TV commercials featuring male-female competition. On the bright side, women are no longer portrayed as patriarchal helpmates. Good. However, male superiority has been replaced by another cliché wherein the gender roles are reversed.

One of many similar commercial scenarios that come to mind is that of two men frustrated, confused, and disappointed because they have not chosen Verizon as their telephone company. As they fumble and grumble with their cell phones, a woman in the foreground serenely manipulates her vastly superior cell phone, smugly smiling to herself and shaking her head in abject disbelief that men can be so stupid.

This is not an isolated example of sexist commercials. Current commercials with male-female competitive behavior invariably depict women superior to men when in competition. Female characters have retained their superiority in choosing detergents, but they have also uncannily attained superior expertise when in competition with males whether it be choosing detergents, insurance policies, or painkillers. And cars? Just watch them out-race men as they burn rubber!

A PCMatic commercial depicts a married couple. The wife plays her scene as a PC wizard. She is articulate, well groomed, and condescending. The husband is a dodo. Grabbing car keys off a table, she turns to us confidentially and says, ‘girls night out.’ When she flurries out of the house, dodo looks out at us dumbfounded with an expression reminiscent of a Marx Brothers skit.

Women are still extensively seen in commercials that highlight sex as a selling point. But there is a double standard in the unspoken rules of engagement when men and women interact to make a sale. Although it is commercial suicide to depict women as ‘sex objects’ for men, advertisers have no fear of commercials depicting men as sex toys. Fine. But consider the following commercials:

Taking a break from climbing the corporal ladder, three women in an air-conditioned room ogle a male laborer stripped to his waste outdoors on a very hot day and sensually quenching his thirst with a Coke. Looking through their office window, they look forward to their next break.

Mind you, I wish I could be that guy, but as I understand it he is being exploited. (Would that I could so be exploited!)

Two women express their admiration for a man who is examining the wonders of his brand new car. One of the women delivers an unequivocally sexual line: “I wonder what he has under the hood.” Can you imagine the uproar from NOW if the genders of that commercial were reversed!

In the tradition of Irish folklore, a commercial for Irish Spring soap depicts a scantily clad male washing himself in a spring. Two or three women are surreptitiously admiring him. He spots them and flashes a charming smile in recognition of their admiration. (see: last line of Item 1 above)

As far as I know, there are neither individual celebrities nor male organizations that cry out about male sexual exploitation. That is not the case on the distaff side of gender.

Yet, despite myalas, unfulfilleddesire to be admired for my skin-deep attributes, objectivity demands that I thoroughly respect the perception of women who are offended by sexploitation. Objectivity also demands that the same standards apply to males. The sexual subtext of the commercials cited above doesn’t bother me. It’s the double standard that I find objectionable.

A skin-deep reversal of roles is one thing, an intellectual reversal is another. To whatever extent the former may adversely affect TV viewers, the latter carries far more serious consequences, especially to impressionable young minds. None of my grown-up friends have noticed the widespread reversal of roles in commercials just as they had not noticed the implied male superiority in commercials of our generation. As we know, children and teenagers unconsciously absorb societal attitudes, including those imbedded in commercials.

Laws are in place banning commercials from images of people drinking alcoholic beverages or smoking cigarettes. Perhaps it’s time for advertisers to be discouraged from intoxicating viewers with sexual fantasy and from inhaling sexist images.

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Lust for Fame

Just [me] and those wonderful people out there in the dark.
—Norma Desmond, Sunset Boulevard, film

Fame is generally held as the prime measure of success. The obsession for it, even for a fleeting moment, has never been more intense than it is now that the electronic age is in full bloom.

We are all familiar with the justifiable radiance of a woman on her wedding day; a mother when she sees her newborn for the first time; a man who shares those joys with her. But this radiance pales when compared to that of someone who spots herself on a TV monitor scanning the members of a live audience.

At first sight of herself on the tube something almost mystical happens. Her eyes sparkle like precious gems. They exude a transcendental self-consciousness. She has seen her reflection in mirrors hundreds of times, but what is it that delights her beyond comprehension when she sees her image on the monitor? The answer lies in ancient Greek mythology. Narcissus saw his reflection in a single pool. The studio monitor is just one pool in an ocean of millions of electronic pools reflecting her.

Johnny’s eyes glitter when the camera is turned on him. He can’t resist furtively glancing at the monitor. Although he feigns attention to the subject matter at hand, his inner gaze is on the image of millions watching him. When the show’s host announces that audience members will be questioned for their opinions, his heart beats faster. Who knows? Maybe he will be one of the chosen few to be asked about the Middle East crises. No matter that he doesn’t know where the Middle East is located on the globe. No matter if he stumbles and mumbles through incoherent responses to the host’s questions. All that matters is that millions are seeing him.

On another channel, a political event includes a cheering crowd standing behind a reporter or commentator. On those occasions the glances are not at all furtive. We know where the unseen monitor is located off camera simply by observing the collective target of transfixed eyes gazing at the portal of instant fame.

On a live news broadcast, a reporter is talking about a child who has been killed in a drive-by shooting. The TV images include grieving parents and neighborhood spectators. Even then, we see that gleam, that glow, that radiance – the crowd is being seen by millions. Some of the anonymous spectators wave to anonymous viewers. For a fleeting moment, they know how it feels to be a rock star.

A passerby spots a news crew. Like a deer stunned by a headlight, she stops dead. With the precision of a laser beam and the speed of light, she whips out her cell phone and makes calls to as many people as possible. “Oh, God, please let Larry be home…he’s got to see this!” Not the event – just her.

Graphics TV personnel have had one-way-windows installed between the studio and the outside world as one more way to satisfy those viewers who require constantly moving images to keep them from switching to another channel. On the street there are fame-worshipers that know exactly where those windows are ‘concealed.’ They stop and wave to us while on their cell phones, excitedly talking to friends who see them on a regular basis anyway. They can’t see you, but you can see them unwittingly embarrass themselves wherever the Great Electronic Eye peers into the darkness of anonymity.

Even vicarious fame is welcomed. I was acquainted with a chauffeur who worked for celebrities, including Britney Spears. He had taken her to an event featuring her and was waiting for her in his limousine for the return trip. He noticed a mother and her daughter clinging to a shared umbrella in the torrential rainfall. They too were waiting for the end of Britney’s gig. It occurred to him that they might want something to eat. So, he called them to the car and offered them a box of half-eaten candy left behind by Spears. The women were ecstatic. They squealed with joy and told him, “Oh, no, no, no! We will not eat this candy. We’ll keep it always, as a memento from Britney.”

Waiting in the pouring rain paid off in a big way: they now had a precious artifact that could be kept in perpetuity because it was made of sugar. This precious heirloom to-be was far more than they had expected. Soaked by the rain, they continued to wait for a glimpse of Spears. The rain continued, but no matter. They happily clutched the nuggets of used chocolates that had been touched by their idol’s lips and teeth.

Apparently, there are no limits to the desire for fame. My sister worked from home. On occasion, she hired a neighbor to deliver urgent business packages. One day, Goldy delivered a package to the home of Geraldine Ferraro. When she returned from her mission she was trembling with excitement. She told my sister that she had used Ms. Ferraro’s bathroom. She went from neighbor to neighbor spreading the news.

Unlike the two women who cherished Spears’ chocolate leftovers, Goldy was unable to enshrine an artifact from Ms. Ferraro’s home. Yet, she experienced the aura of fame that resides in everything touched by the famous. In Ferraro’s bathroom Goldy had brushed the hem of fame and felt a vestige of it radiate through her skin as she rubbed against the toilet seat.

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