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Friday, October 29, 2004

This has got to be the worst presidential election I have ever seen.

I didn't pay much attention to politics prior to 1968. But that year you could hardly avoid it. That was a pretty weird contest, too, with Wallace running on what amounted to a segregationist platform (in 1968!) and Humphrey trying to succeed Johnson who had been crippled by what turned out to be (in hindsight) the absolutely idiotic reaction in the press to the Tet Offensive in Vietnam. And through it all, you had Nixon trying to convince people that he had a plan for Vietnam, but he couldn't tell us what it was.

I was hooked.

1972 was almost boring, with the Democrats nominating McGovern seemingly as a favor to Nixon, who absolutely creamed him. That massive victory was followed immediately by nonstop Watergate coverage until Nixon resigned rather than be impeached in the summer of 1974. The (non-Watergate) lesson from 1972 was to check the past of your VP candidate with great care after McGovern dumped Eagleton from the ticket because of a history of depression. Depression? Man, those were the days. I wish that was all that was wrong with our current crop of politicians.

1976 was a contest between Carter, a nuclear engineer turned Southern governor who seemed more like a preacher than a politician, and Ford, the man who became President by mistake, a lifelong pol who seemingly could not walk and chew gum at the same time. But at least there were no scandals.

Carter turned me into a conservative, so I was glad that Reagan won the next two elections, 1980 and 84, first against Carter and then Mondale. The 1980 contest was over as soon as Reagan asked people if they were better off in 1980 than they had been four years earlier. The 1984 win over sacrificial lamb Walter Mondale was almost as big as Nixon's lopsided victory over McGovern in terms of the popular vote, and bigger in terms of the electoral vote.

Reagan's victory was so complete, that Bush 41 pretty much coasted to victory in 1988 against Mondale in an election mainly remembered for Lloyd Bentsen's devastating takedown of Dan Quayle in the Vice Presidential debate. (I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.) Bush won and Quayle was vice president for four years, but Quayle was unable to accomplish a thing and his future presidential ambitions were in ruins.

1992 was interesting, too, with a three way race in which Ross Perot positioned himself to the right of Bush, leaving Bush squeezed between him and Clinton. Bush's stellar performance in the First Gulf War was not enough. Perot added color ("That giant sucking sound you hear is all the jobs leaving for Mexico") but gave us Clinton (with about 43% of the popular vote to Bush's 37% and Perot's 19%) and, eventually, Monica, which leaves us, after two Clinton terms, with Hillary.

The pre-Monica Clinton could probably not have been beaten by Reagan in his prime in 1996, given the state of the economy and the fact that the world at least appeared to be largely peaceful, especially with Perot threatening to run again on the right. And so, Bob Dole, one of the last of the generation of WWII politicians was served up by the Republicans for ritual slaughter.

The 2000 election made history in many ways. It was one of only a few elections (three?) in which the winner of the electoral college and the winner of the popular vote were different. It was only the second time that a presidential candidate failed to carry his home state (the McGovern rout was the first). It was the first time that a candidate withdrew his concession. It was the first time that a concession speech (the real one, thank God) was made on national TV at 8:55 pm. It was before a Monday Night Football game, as I recall.

But most importantly, it was the first Presidential election ever to be the subject of a formal post election contest.

During the Florida contest, we all learned way too much about the nitty gritty of actually counting votes. Who knew that chads could be pregnant? No matter which candidate you were rooting for, the winner of the Florida contest was always going to be damaged goods. Personally, I think the Florida Supreme Court tried to give it to Gore and the US Supreme Court stopped them (as opposed to stopping Gore or helping Bush). Gore partisans still think that the Florida Court was only doing the right thing and that the US Supremes gave it to Bush.

All of that, and Bush's subsequent problems related to the contest, made it clear to me that Nixon was right in 1960 not to contest Illinois and try to swing the election away from Kennedy. The cost of the Florida contest cannot be measured by the amount of money or time it took. It must be measured in terms of the impact it had on the ability of the ultimate victor to govern.

And we paid and are continuing to pay a steep price. National elections should not lightly be contested, and certainly not after you have conceded defeat.

That said, Gore's eventual concession speech was graceful, gracious and even noble. Gore's declaration after 9/11 that Bush was his commander in chief helped alot too. It's too bad the great concession speech couldn't undo all the harm he had caused. And it's too bad that no one seems to have picked up on the fact that 8:55 is a terrific time to schedule a 5 minute televised speech.

But the 2004 election is in a class by itself. Part of the problem is a result of Bush's damaged legitimacy in the wake of the Florida contest (a recent bumper sticker: Re-defeat Bush) Additionally, after campaign finance "reform" supposedly designed to take the money out of politics, we have suffered through the most expensive election in history. With the political parties and candidate's own campaigns no longer in control of a large chunk of the money being spent, we have had the most vitriolic campaign in my lifetime.

For comparison, pundits have had to go back to pre-war elections. Pre-Civil War elections. The president of the United States, the leader of the free world, has been called a liar by his mainstream opponent. In addition, Kerry's allies have called him a nazi, a moron, a monkey and a deserter. And while Bush is personally staying above the fray as much as possible, the name calling and denigration is not all going one way, by any means.

While seemingly united on the necessity of the war, the electorate appears bitterly divided on how to fight it. Actual discussion between the opposing sides has become difficult, if not impossible, and some people are beginning to become violent. One Kerry supporter is on tape telling Liz Edwards at a campaign rally that riots might occur if Kerry doesn't win Pennsylvania. Her response? "Not if we win." How about we just hold the damn election, okay? No one should change their vote because of threats of random violence by thugs.

A former Gore adviser writes:

[If this election is contested in court] there could be real anger--the kind of anger associated with elections in unstable developing countries, the kind that spills out into the street and terrifies people who have always believed in our
stability. There are ugly racial overtones to the Republican plans to prevent "fraud" among all those new voters--most of whom will prove to be African-American. . . .
What Elaine Kamarck doesn't say is that there are ugly racial overtones to the Democratic claims that minorities are being disenfranchised when they fail to fill out a ballot correctly or are forced to vote only in their actual precinct. Reasonable precautions against voter fraud by anyone, white, black, brown or purple, are just as important as counting the votes as accurately as you can. And I think that means asking me and every other voter for identification, both when I register and when I vote. I think it means assigning me a place to vote and requiring me to go there to vote or to vote absentee according to set rules.

But leave aside why the election might be contested, who started the contest and who wins it. Kamarck is right about a number of things. If this election is contested in court, I will be angry. If this election is contested in court, I will also be afraid that the country will become unstable. Bush might have won the last contest, but we all lost something. In the next contest, there may well be no winner. Even the nominal winner of the next contested presidential election could come to realize that his victory was entirely pyrrhic.

Here's hoping that there will be no next contest. Ever.

This, then, is my personal pledge to anyone who will listen:

The party whose candidate contests this election, regardless of the outcome of that contest, will not get my vote for anything (Governor, Representative, Senate, President, dogcatcher) for at least 8 years.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Need a laugh? Read.

Via Baldilocks, and before you ask, I have no clue how I ended up there, but Yahoo was involved.
Monday, October 25, 2004


Via Drudge:

On CSPAN, John Edwards' wife, Liz (Lizbeth? Elizabeth?) had the following dialogue with a supporter:

Supporter: Kerry's going to take PA.

Liz Edwards: I know that.

Supporter: I'm just worried there's going to be riots afterwards.

Liz Edwards: Uh.....well...not if we win.

An audio clip here. There is no error in the transcript.

Do I think that Mrs. Edwards is threatening riots if Kerry loses? No. But I think that both she and the anonymous supporter are acknowledging that there is a real risk of violence perpetrated by Kerry/Edwards supporters if their side loses.

I agree that the risk is real. This campaign has been extremely nasty for a long time, now. There have been many acts of violence directed at the right from the left. And the violence is almost entirely a one way street.

The Kerry/Edwards campaign, indeed, all Democrats, should ask themselves why that is. How did we arrive at the point where one side in a closely contested election fires bullets into the opposition's offices, steals the opposition's computers, threatens the opposition's children, and trashes the opposition's offices, assaults and injures the opposition's volunteers, and throws cinder blocks through the doors of the opposition's offices. How did it come to pass that one side declares victory more than a week before the election is held and is likely to riot if that victory is not "acknowledged" by actual voters?

Is Stephen Green right? Is winning the office more important to Democrats than preserving the system by which one wins that office? I'm with Ann Althouse: Whoever wins, I hope that they win big. That will get us past this election and give the winner four years to fix things.

I also hope that whoever wins will take steps to prevent this sort of thing from happening in the future.

How? Well, first, rules that do nothing to prevent or discourage fraudulent voting need to be addressed. The Motor Voter bill is a disgrace. In order to register to vote, you should be required to produce some identification, some proof of citizenship and some proof that you reside in the precinct you claim to live in.

If state law prevents you from voting (because, for example, of a felony conviction), the state should be required to notify all voting registrars in that state of the disability and the registrars should be required to compare that list to their registration rolls.

If you move, some system for notifying the registrar in your old precinct that you have moved should be instituted, perhaps by requiring the the registrar in your new district to notify the registrar in your old one before you can register at your new residence.

Will these measures have a different effect on different classes of people? Sure. Is it racist to say that only voters who are legally permitted to vote should vote? No. I think it is racist to say that the people who will be most affected by such changes are too stupid to deal with them and still vote.

And second, I think that local prosecutors have to make real efforts to catch and punish the people who are committing real crimes in connection with elections. The objection here is that "over the top" campaign rhetoric (in other words, the normal crap that goes on) will be criminalized. But check out this list (which provides links to all of the items):

  • 10/23/04 - Sun Sentinal - Reports Democrat election observers and Democrat voters asking voters whom they are voting for, and pointing them out to the crowd. Observers campaigning at polls.
  • 10/23/04 - Although not technically Democrats (being British and all) the Guardian wonders "Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, John Hinckley Jr - where are you now that we need you?"
  • 10/23/04 - Arizona Daily Sun - Vandals break into Republican Campaign office.
  • 10/22/04 - The Oregonian - Lawless group smashes the windows of the Multnomah County Republican office in Southeast Portland on Thursday
  • 10/22/04 - Bush/Cheney headquarters ransacked.
  • 10/22/04 - Lawrence O'Donnell screams his hate at John O'Neill over Swift Boat allegations. No reasoned debate allowed.
  • 10/22/04 - Columnist Ann Coulter attacked while giving a speech.
  • 10/11/04 - WSJ - Assaults and gunfire.
  • 10/1/04 - WISC-TV - Democrats burn Swastika into Bush supporter's lawn

I don't think that prosecutors should take a "boys will be boys" attitude here. I think that doing so imperils the ability to vote. And impairing the right to vote imperils everything, and I mean everything, that this nation has achieved in the two hundred plus years of its existence.


Powerline hinted at a big story to come out on Monday in the Washington Times. Since I woke up at 1:00 am on Monday morning, and since I have become a political junkie in the past couple of months, I thought I would check.

And there it is. The Washington Times reports that, contrary to statements he made during the second debate and in subsequent speeches, Kerry did not in fact meet with the Security Council prior to the Iraq War.

Kerry (emphasis added):

"This president hasn't listened. I went to meet with the members of the Security Council in the week before we voted. I went to New York. I talked to all of them, to find out how serious they were about really holding Saddam Hussein accountable."

Well, as noted in here, the Security Council members at the time were the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Russia, China (the permanent members) and ten others: Mauritius, Mexico, Norway, Singapore, Guinea, Ireland, Columbia, Cameroon, Bulgaria and Syria.

The Washington Times:

"The former ambassadors who said on the record they had never met Mr. Kerry included the representatives of Mexico, Colombia and Bulgaria. The ambassador of a fourth country gave a similar account on the condition that his country not be identified... The Times was only able to confirm directly that Mr. Kerry had met with representatives of France, Singapore and Cameroon. In addition, second-hand accounts have Mr. Kerry meeting with representatives of Britain... But after being told late yesterday of the results of The Times investigation, the Kerry campaign issued a statement that read in part, "It was a closed meeting and a private discussion." A Kerry aide refused to identify who participated in the meeting. The statement did not repeat Mr. Kerry's claims of a lengthy meeting with the entire 15-member Security Council, instead saying the candidate "met with a group of representatives of countries sitting on the Security Council." Asked whether the international body had any records of Mr. Kerry sitting down with the whole council, a U.N. spokesman said that "our office does not have any record of this meeting." A U.S. official with intimate knowledge of the Security Council's actions in fall of 2002 said that he was not aware of any meeting Mr. Kerry had with members of the panel. An official at the U.S. mission to the United Nations remarked: "We were as surprised as anyone when Kerry started talking about a meeting with the Security Council." Jean-David Levitte, then France's chief U.N. representative and now his country's ambassador to the United States, said through a spokeswoman that Mr. Kerry did not have a single group meeting as the senator has described, but rather several one-on-one or small-group encounters. He added that Mr. Kerry did not meet with every member of the Security Council, only "some" of them. Mr. Levitte could only name himself and Ambassador Jeremy Greenstock of Britain as the Security Council members with whom Mr. Kerry had met. One diplomat who met with Mr. Kerry in 2002 said on the condition of anonymity that the candidate talked to "a few" ambassadors on the Security Council."

Yeah, but was Kerry wearing his magic hat?

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Teresa Heinz Kerry on Laura Bush:

Q: You'd be different from Laura Bush?

A: Well, you know, I don't know Laura Bush. But she seems to be calm, and she has a sparkle in her eye, which is good. But I don't know that she's ever had a real job — I mean, since she's been grown up...

Way to go, Teresa! With that one sentence, you have managed to say that:

Teachers don't have real jobs
Librarians don't have real jobs
Mothers raising their children don't have real jobs

I think Matt Damon's million bucks would be better spent if he paid to have this woman gagged.

All links via Drudge.


OK, she apologized. "I had forgotten that Mrs. Bush had worked as a school teacher and librarian, and there couldn't be a more important job than teaching our children. As someone who has been both a full time mom and full time in workforce, I know we all have valuable experiences that shape who we are. I appreciate and honor Mrs. Bush's service to the country as First Lady, and am sincerely sorry I had not remembered her important work in the past."

The next problem is that she didn't apologize for dissing Mrs. Bush's work in raising her children. That's like claiming that someone is a murderer and a rapist, and then apologizing saying that you had forgotten that they hadn't murdered anyone.

Kerry would be far better off to just shut up.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Steven den Beste is continuing to take small and apparently tentative steps in connection with his professed nonreturn to the web.

First it was a quickie about anime, now it is a short analysis of presidential polling. The political post is somewhat speculative, but, as always, interesting and astute.

In connection with the newest post, he said, "By the way, this does not mean I'm going to start posting regularly again."
That compares hopefully with his comment after the anime post, which was, "Before anyone asks: no, I have no urge whatever to once again write posts for USS Clueless."

In nineteen days, he went from "I have no interest" to "I'm not going to do this as a regular thing."

Let's hear it for irregular free ice cream. Can't be beat.

I just read Howard Fineman's article in Newsweek. Something is wrong with this picture.

In describing the hysterical pitch of the political combat to come over the next two and a half weeks, Fineman states:

The combat is so ferocious in part because the race is where it's always been: too close to call—though there is evidence that Bush now has a narrow lead: 48-46 percent among registered voters, 50-44 percent among likely voters in NEWSWEEK's new poll. Still, Bush's job-approval rating (often a harbinger of the incumbent's Election Day tally) is an ominously low 47 percent—and only 47 percent say they want to see him re-elected. (Emphasis added.)
I don't doubt that the race cannot be called at this time. Presidential races are frequently won or lost by substantially less than five percent of the popular vote, and the margin of error in most polls is larger than that. What amuses me about the Newsweek poll is that Fineman says only 47% of voters want Bush to be reelected, but Bush leads Kerry with 48% of registered voters and 50% of likely voters. If the poll is accurate, that means that between one and three percent of voters plan to vote for Bush even though they don't want to see him reelected.

The job approval ratings are more ambiguous. An opinion of how well or poorly Bush has performed over the course of his term does not translate directly into a vote for or against him. It is entirely consistent to for vote for Bush while believing that he has done a terrible job on absolutely everything, as long as you also believe that Kerry would be worse. The opposite is also true: It is possible to believe that Bush did absolutely everything perfectly and still be logically consistent with a vote for Kerry, if you believe that Kerry would do better at the tasks he will face in the next four years. Simply put, elections are about the future. Job approval ratings are about the past. The two are not entirely unconnected, sincepast actions are all we have to go on in predicting future actions. (The preceding sentence obviously and pointedly ignores the unenforceable and frequently ignored promises by politicians.)

The same point has been repeatedly made by Rand Simberg (sorry, no specific link because there is no search feature on Transterrestrial Musings) about the "right track/wrong track" question so beloved of pollsters. You can believe that Bush has the country on the wrong track for one of two reasons: he has pursued the wrong strategies and policies or, even though he has pursued the correct strategies and policies, he has not gone far enough.

But, at least according to Fineman, the Newsweek poll asked whether the respondent wanted the President to be reelected, and the answers they received simply do not add up.
Friday, October 15, 2004

Tresca was short and stocky and square. She was small for her breed. She wore fourteen tons of beautiful fur, and left it all over the house. She had a sense of humor. She was overweight because we spoiled her and her advancing age meant that she didn’t get the amount of exercise she needed.

The Daughter named her after a greyhound she read about in some book. That was ironic, because Tresca was about as far as you can get from a greyhound in terms of physique. She always wanted to do what you told her, even if she didn’t quite understand what it was you were telling her to do.

She wasn’t as well trained as some dogs I’ve met. There was simply no way to keep her off our furniture. She was never going to be a watchdog, that was for sure. She hardly ever barked until the dog next door showed her how effective it was at being brought back inside on demand. She was one of the most gentle dogs on earth.

She was tolerant of the kittens my kids brought home. Hell, she was tolerant of our kids and the friends they brought home, even when they were petting her five day old puppies. Then the cats became tolerant of her as she stumbled over them. She was completely blind in one eye and mostly blind in the other, but you couldn’t tell when she was in familiar territory unless the something was out of place. Apparently she’d been bleeding internally for a couple of days. She stopped climbing stairs about six months ago, and in the last few days she’d gotten much weaker. She was having trouble with the single step into the house from the back yard.

And we had to put her down today. God that hurts.

That was the second time in my life I’ve had to make that decision.

I want to say I will never do it again, but I can’t. There are the three cats I have. Adopted strays that are legacy pets from my kids. Boots is a fat loudmouth who purrs so quietly you can hardly tell. He is a favorite of several of the homes he has adopted in the neighborhood (which is why he is so fat). Ricky and Lucy are littermates. They are the household clowns, hence the names. They have not yet figured out how to speak as loudly as Boots does, but they are more affectionate than he is and purr so hard they practically shake.

As much as I desire otherwise, the day will come for all of them, and I will do what I have to do. But from this day forth, there will be no new pets in my house. Ever.

I can’t do this anymore.
Tuesday, October 12, 2004

I've seen various responses to the Bai article on Kerry in the New York Times (requires registration, but go to for help in avoiding spam). I like Lileks best:
Mosquito bites are a nuisance. Cable outages are a nuisance. Someone shooting up a school in Montana or California or Maine on behalf of the brave martyrs of Fallujah isn't a nuisance. It's war.
I don’t want to go back there. Planes into towers. That changed the terms. I am remarkably disinterested in returning to a place where such things are unimaginable. Where our nighmares are their dreams. ...No. We have to go the place where they are.
Volokh is not kind. Powerline is somewhat nicer. Rudy Giuliani is cutting, to say the least.

But I think the most perceptive comment comes from Citizen Smash:
Essentially, Kerry’s goal in the War on Terror appears to be to reduce the terrorists’ effectiveness to a level where he can “safely” focus his attention on other priorities. I’m sorry, but that’s just not good enough for me. My problem with Kerry isn’t that he sees Iraq as a diversion from the War on Terror, but rather that he sees the War on Terror as a diversion from his domestic agenda. (Emphasis in original)
Just so.

Monday, October 11, 2004

A long time ago in a galaxy far away, some people in the 2000 Bush campaign thought that they might win the popular vote but lose the Electoral College vote. Some campaign operatives made noises about attempting to woo Gore electors to “allow the will of the people to triumph”. Had they attempted to court the electoral vote after winning the popular vote but not the election, they would have been wrong.

Of course, what actually happened was that Gore, not Bush, won the popular vote and lost the Electoral College vote. In one of the (very) few positions he took which I admire, Mr. Gore did not follow advice similar to that received by Bush received after the election. That candidate Bush may have taken such a position (by proxy, since I don’t recall him ever making the statements himself) does not make the argument that the Electoral College serves a valid and enduring purpose any weaker. Nor does the fact that in approximately one of twenty five elections (once every hundred years or so) a candidate wins the popular vote and loses the election.

Why does the Electoral College exist? Primarily, to prevent the domination of the executive branch of the US government by a few populous states to the detriment of a large number of sparsely populated states. And it has some additional beneficial effects, over and above requiring that national candidates campaign beyond the borders of New York, California, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois and Florida.

There are, at present, two ways that electoral votes are allocated to candidates. In most states, the candidate with the largest number of popular (no majority required) votes wins all of that state's electoral votes. In Maine (and possibly Nebraska), two electoral votes are allocated to the overall vote winner in the state and one electoral vote is allocated to the vote winner in each Congressional District. Now Colorado is considering a third method: allocation of electoral votes based solely on the statewide popular vote totals.

The thing I noticed about the Electoral College during the 2000 election was that the winner take all system makes stealing an election through fraudulent votes extremely difficult. The same is still true, but to a lesser degree, under the apportioned system now in effect in Maine. Unfortunately, the proposed system in Colorado does not provide the same anti-fraud protection, and, of course, neither would eliminating the Electoral College altogether.

Elections are human enterprises. We have to expect that they will not be perfect and that the participants will always attempt to “game” the system. There is absolutely nothing wrong with tailoring your campaign strategy to account for the effects of the Electoral College. It exists for very purpose of encouraging candidates to do so. On the other hand, since humans are involved, we should also expect some people to attempt to subvert the system. All we can do is make the system harder subvert and make it easier to discover and either prevent or correct the subversion. I think the Electoral College achieves both of those objectives, to a greater degree under the predominant winner take all system and to a lesser degree under the Maine district by district method.

Imagine the huge incentive to fraud that exists when you give each candidate’s supporters the incentive to stuff any ballot box anywhere under a direct popular election. In a close election I don’t think we would have a president until the midterm elections rolled around. It is a given that most modern elections are quite close (a couple of percentage points difference) in terms of the popular vote. It is far too much to expect every partisan political operative in every election from now till kingdom come to refrain from enhancing their candidate's chances by putting a few extra pieces of paper, appropriately marked, in a box in some backwater polling place. The difficulty in proving that ballots for the other guy were fraudulently produced and/or that ballots for your guy were wrongfully excluded from the count on a nationwide basis (a few here, a few there) is immense.

The post election contest in Florida in 2000 was bad enough, and that only took about six weeks and about thirty trips to various courthouses. Fortunately, such a closely contested election only seems to happen once every one hundred years or so. Imagine, if you will, the same nightmare re-re-recount scenario occurring in all fifty states after literally every nationwide election, under the Maine scheme or in the complete absence of the Electoral College.

The primary effect of the Electoral College is to force candidates to campaign outside of the main population centers of the nation. For more than two hundred years, it has performed as advertised. In addition, the Electoral College completely eliminates the incentive to cheat in the state or states where the candidate is strongest. But please note that this is precisely where cheating would be easiest and least detectable, and therefore most likely. But your guy is going to win there anyway and get all the state’s electoral votes, so it makes no sense whatever to cheat and risk being caught. This would not be the case in the absence of the Electoral College or under the Maine scheme.

Finally, under the winner take all system which is in effect throughout most of the nation, the ballot box stuffers in closer states must operate on a large scale to influence statewide results. This makes detection easier and therefore more likely. The same effect is not achieved under the Maine district by district scheme, since a series of districts could be swung with widely scattered efforts involving fewer fraudulent votes.

Colorado is currently considering apportioning its electoral votes between the candidates based on the popular vote in the state. This is a bit different than the Maine scheme, but its effects will be similar.

The Founders were proud of the Electoral College. They had reason to be. It ain’t broke. Don’t fix it.
Saturday, October 09, 2004

Go see Jib Jab's new cartoon It's Good to be in DC.

Caution: In order to protect your electronic equipment, remove all foodstuffs from within arm's reach before playing the movie.
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