Words Mean Things

I just posted the following in response to a story at the Deseret News regarding the payment those who forego insurance must remit:

From the article: “The uninsured risk IRS fines.”

The IRS doesn’t have to worry about such messy, inconvenient concepts as due process. That’s why, if it decides you owe the Government something (even if it might be mistaken), it can, e.g., reach its grubby little hands into your bank account and suck that account dry. Fines, however, are a different matter. Because fines are a criminal or administrative penalty, the Government owes those against whom it levies such fines at least a minimum of due process. Obama Administration officials, wary of incurring public ire for raising taxes, repeatedly told the public that ACA payments are NOT fines; then, cognizant of the point I just raised, Obama’s Solicitor General went into court and made precisely the OPPOSITE argument.

You say “tax,” I say “fine.” You say “to-may-to,” I say, “to-mah-to.” You say, “po-tay-to,” I say, “po-tah-to.” Tax, fine, po-tay-to, po-tah-to. Let’s call the whole thing off?? It’s not simply a matter of pronunciation or semantics. Outside of “Alice in Wonderland,” words are supposed to mean things. Let’s see if the Supreme Court remembers this time what it forgot the last time it considered the ACA.

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What’s in a Word?

What’s in a Word?  Or, Why the Dictionary is Your Friend

By Ken K. Gourdin

I just posted the following regarding a post on the Utah Jazz blog at SLTrib.com:

From the article: “They may have already found a few in the likes of Elijah Millsap and Joe Ingles. General Manager Dennis Lindsey wouldn’t bulk [sic] at finding more pieces to add to the core.”

This is twice I’ve said this now (and counting???) The word you’re looking for is “balk.” (A few weeks back, you wrote about someone on the roster (Hayward, I think) who had a “bulky” back.) Yes, “bulk” and “bulky” are words, but overwhelmingly, the first is used as a noun, meaning “considerable size or girth,” and the second is an adjective referring to that quality. Simply put, if something is bulky, it is big. But again, the word you’re looking for is “balk.”

Dictionary.com, s.v. “bulk”: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/bulk?s=t

Dictionary.com, s.v. “bulky”: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/bulky?s=t

Dictionary.com, s.v. “balk”: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/balk?s=t

Dictionary.com, s.v. “balky”: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/balky?s=t

I’m sure you’ve covered football, Mr. Jones.  In that case, not a few of the players you have written about have been “bulky.”  Likewise, I’m sure you’ve covered baseball, so you’re familiar with the illegal play known as a “balk.”  Perhaps that will help you remember the difference.

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Lifted Up at the Last Day

Lifted Up at the Last Day”: Thoughts on Personal Revelation

By Ken K. Gourdin

Some time ago as a member of the High Council, President [name redacted] gave a masterful talk in the Tenth Ward on the nature of revelation. He said there are four possible answers when we seek inspiration from the Lord about what we should do in our personal lives: “Yes,” “No,” “Not yet,” and “What do you think?” If you’re like me, sometimes, it can be difficult to discern what the Lord is trying to tell me when I receive one of the latter three answers.

But, as the Lord told Oliver Cowdery in Doctrine & Covenants 6:22-23:

22 Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things.

23 Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?

It is not often that I have received revelation that is clear and direct, as though the Lord tells me, “Ken, do this,” or “Ken, don’t do that.” While we are here on Earth to prove to the Lord that we will do whatever He commands, we’re also here to learn by our own experience. Whatever else the Lord has or has not seen fit to tell me, He has spoken “peace to my mind” concerning many matters I have taken to Him in prayer, and I’ll briefly discuss a couple of examples later on.

What if, as President [name redacted] says, the answer is neither, “Yes,” nor “No,” but rather, “What do you think?” What if we, in the words of Paul, see the answer only “through a glass, darkly”? President Brigham Young taught:

If I ask [God] to give me wisdom concerning any requirement in life, or in regard to my own course, or that of my friends, my family, my children, or those that I preside over, and get no answer from him, and then do the very best that my judgment will teach me, he is bound to own and honor that transaction, and he will do so to all intents and purposes.

Whatever questions I do (or do not) have, whatever answers I do (or do not) get, I can only say, with the apostle Paul, that “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9). If I don’t yet have everything I righteously desire out of life or an answer to every question I have (and whether I ever get it or not), I can only say, with Job, “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).

Whatever unanswered questions remain, I do know for certain that there have been times when the voice of the spirit—still and small, but unmistakable, nonetheless—has spoken peace to my soul. I would like, briefly, to share two of those experiences with you. The first occurred as I lay on an operating table waiting to be cut open for the third time in a span of 27 months many years ago.

I have Cerebral Palsy. As a result of the Cerebral Palsy, I have had surgery on every major muscle in my left leg; have had my left hip reconstructed three times; have had hardware implanted and removed; have spent a total of six months with my lower body completely immobilized in plaster (though not all at once—thank God! ;)); and have used every ambulatory device imaginable, including canes, crutches, braces, a walker, and a wheelchair. In the midst of these challenges, while lying on an operating table waiting to be cut open for the third time in 27 months (after two failed operations, each of which had been followed by six weeks in a body cast), I knew—even though, if anybody had bet on the situation’s outcome, they would have bet against me, and even though many would’ve thought that optimism under these circumstances was foolhardy and naïve (to say the least!)—that when I awoke after the operation, it would be to news of the best possible outcome. To be clear, I knew beyond any doubt whatsoever (good reason for pessimism notwithstanding) that God would guide the hands of a brash young surgeon who dared to defy the weight of medical opinion opposing him, which held that the best course of action was to try, again, what had already failed—twice.

Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Twelve once spoke about his experience preparing to serve a mission and worrying whether he was ready to be a successful missionary. I find it interesting that while the Lord could have told him, “Neil, you need to study this or that subject more,” He didn’t; instead, the Lord simply told him, “Neil, you know enough.”

The second experience I would like to share with you is one that is similar to the one Elder Andersen shared about preparing to go on a mission. My experience, too, occurred as I was preparing to serve a mission, except that my question—my concern— was less about whether I knew enough to be a successful missionary (though I probably didn’t) than it was simply about whether I could meet the physical demands of missionary work. I don’t have time to share with you the background related to my experience. If you’d like to know more, you can Google my name—Ken Gourdin—and “New Era,” and my published account of that experience should be the first result to come up. [The article I submitted to The New Era, the magazine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for youth, is available here (last accessed March 19, 2015): https://www.lds.org/new-era/1993/02/we-did-it?lang=eng.] Long story short, I was inspired to read Alma 26:8-12, which is a conversation between Ammon and his brother Aaron. Ammon says:

8 Blessed be the name of our God; let us sing to his praise, yea, let us give thanks to his holy name, for he doth work righteousness forever.

9 For if we had not come up out of the land of Zarahemla, these our dearly beloved brethren, who have so dearly beloved us, would still have been racked with hatred against us, yea, and they would also have been strangers to God.

10 And it came to pass that when Ammon had said these words, his brother Aaron rebuked him, saying: Ammon, I fear that thy joy doth carry thee away unto boasting.

11 But Ammon said unto him: I do not boast in my own strength, nor in my own wisdom; but behold, my joy is full, yea, my heart is brim with joy, and I will rejoice in my God.

12 Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever.

I can only say, with Nephi, “I know that [God] loveth His children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things” (1 Nephi 11:17). Like Nephi, there are a lot of things I don’t know that I wish I did. But like Nephi, I know that God loves me—that He loves us. I echo Alma the Younger’s testimony to his son, Helaman, “ I do know that whosoever shall put their trust in God shall be supported in their trials, and their troubles, and their afflictions, and shall be lifted up at the last day.”

May we refuse to allow anything we might not know to obscure the light and truth of what we do know. And may we never forget—whatever hardships, struggles, and trials we may face—that the Lord loves us.

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People Are People

People Are People: They’re Not Their Characteristics

I By Ken K. Gourdin

I just posted the following on another forum, for what it’s worth:

Socrates is reported to have said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”  I think that’s true.  One’s capacity for growth and change is severely limited (at best) if one lacks the capacity or the inclination to engage in such self-reflection.  However, I think a truism can also be formed from looking at the opposite end of that spectrum by saying that “The overexamined life is not worth living, either.” (One can be so prone … and I know this from sad experience :huh: … to engage in such examination that one simply doesn’t live.)

And I think a similar principle can be applied, not only to individual reflection, but also to interactions with others.  In no way do I wish to minimize the genuine pain of someone who has suffered the effects of racism or of belief/behavior born of other forms of prejudice.  On the other hand, sometimes, nothing is less purposefully given yet more easily taken thanoffense.  If I’m constantly hypervigilant against being offended, chances are very good that I will be (offended, that is).  And if I’m constantly hypervigilant against giving offense, chances are very good that I will (give offense, that is).

It’s very difficult to have genuinely satisfying interactions with other people if someone is constantly wondering whether he should do [x] or whether he shouldn’t do [y].  And it’s doubly so if someone is sending him signals that tell him, “My [fill-in-characteristic-here] shouldn’t/doesn’t matter … unless-and-until I say otherwise.”  If I’m comfortable in my own skin (metaphorically speaking, and whatever characteristic that happens to embrace, whether it be race or something else, such as my disability), I don’t need to allow other people to make me feel otherwise.  And we can get so wrapped up in particular characteristics sometimes that we forget to simply relate to each other as people.

But whaddo I know? :huh:  I’m just one of those clueless, insensitive white folks. :unknw:

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Paul vs. Holtkamp

Paul vs. Holtkamp: If NBA Officials Really Are Too Sensitive, Gender Has Nothing To Do With It

By Ken K. Gourdin

Note: While other matters intruded to prevent my posting this on the blog in a more timely manner, I began to write it some time ago. Better late than never, I suppose.

* * *

NBA star Chris Paul of the LA Clippers recently criticized referee Lauren Holtkamp for assessing him with a technical foul. See the following address, last accessed March 12, 2015: http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/basketball/chris-paul-rips-female-ref-lauren-holtkamp-tech-call-article-1.2105486.

Paul apparently feels Holtkamp is too thin-skinned. If Holtkamp is simply hypersensitive, she’s far from alone: while players and coaches may be reluctant to go on the record criticizing the league or its officials for fear of their pocketbooks taking a hit, if their off-the-record or on-background comments are any indication, such hypersensitivity among officials (the vast majority of whom are, of course, men) seems rather common.

Whether the league or its officials, as a rule, are hypersensitive, Paul can’t win. Even if his beef is with Lauren Holtkamp, the NBA referee, and not with Lauren Holtkamp, the woman, few people who have read or who have heard of his displeasure are going to conclude that it’s the first rather than the second. And if the NBA Referees Union simply wanted to maintain an “old boys club,” it didn’t have to defend Holtkamp publicly; the union simply could have remained silent, but defend her it did. (See the link on the same page about the union’s defense of Holtkamp.)

The more he says, “No, really: I honestly don’t care that she’s a woman,” the greater the likelihood is that people will wonder, Methinks thou dost protest too much. And even if he really doesn’t care about Holtkamp’s gender, increasingly, it will seem as though his last available, feeble defense will be, “No, really: some of my best friends are women.”

I’m not familiar with all of the circumstances surrounding former referee Dee Kantner’s exit from the NBA. While I’m far from certain, and while I welcome correction, I believe the league simply conducted a regular review of her performance and decided not to retain her. And unless I’m really missing something (and that would be saying something, since my antennae tend to perk up whenever I read or hear the word lawsuit), as far as I know, she didn’t file a gender discrimination suit against the NBA for its decision not to retain her. As hard as it may have been, and no matter how tragic the end of her career as an NBA official, Kantner simply moved on.

Perhaps, eventually, the league will decide to not retain Holtkamp. If it does, it will do so for the same reason it decides to not retain other officials: not because of her gender, but because her performance does not warrant it. NBA Players Association presidents come and go. So do officials. But judging by the length of many officials’ tenure in the league as compared with the limited terms of Players Association presidents, turnover among the latter is much more frequent than it is among the former.

If on the off chance that Paul hasn’t yet done so (despite his own lengthening tenure as an NBA player) he had better get used to it.

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James Barker Shooting

Thoughts on the James Barker Shooting

By Ken K. Gourdin

The Salt Lake Tribune reports that the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office found the shooting of James Barker, who used a shovel to attack the officer who shot him, was justified. See the following address, last accessed February 25, 2015:


The Deseret News also posted a story about a rally in support of Barker. The story can be found here (last accessed February 7, 2015):


In response, first, I expressed condolences to Heidi Keilbaugh, James Barker’s girlfriend, who is quoted in the story, on her loss:

Ms. Keilbaugh, I’m sorry for your loss. I wish no one ever had to lose his life at the hands of law enforcement, and most all of the law enforcement officers I know (including my father, who spent 43 years on the job) feel the same way. I might even be prone to criticize law enforcement if I were in your shoes. As much as I sympathize with you, however, I do have serious questions about your criticism of this officer.

In the article, Ms. Keilbaugh characterized her deceased boyfriend by saying, “He had the hands of a surgeon. He was a guitarist. He touched gently.” In response, I asked, “Until he decided to attack the officer with the shovel he was holding?” I continued:

I’ll grant, for the sake of discussion, that this officer isn’t a Dale Carnegie graduate. [Dale Carnegie wrote a book, How To Win Friends and Influence People, and inaugurated a seminar incorporating the book’s principles.] As much as some might not like how he approached Mr. Barker, he simply stated facts as to why he was there: because someone matching Barker’s description had been peering into vehicles; because someone matching Barker’s description had been approaching residents offering to shovel snow when there wasn’t much snow to shovel. Not suspicious? I’d be surprised if someone, somewhere hadn’t used that tactic as a ruse before a home invasion.

There was absolutely no reason for Mr. Barker to become so belligerent and uncooperative simply because the officer asked him his name and what he was doing there.

As for [Summer Osburn’s] criticism [she was also quoted in the news story] that the officer simply should have stepped back, while this does involve some speculation on my part, based on Mr. Barker’s response to the officer’s innocuous questions, I think there is serious doubt [that Mr. Barker would not have become even more agitated] simply by the officer’s continuing presence.

So most all officers aren’t Dale Carnegie graduates. So what? Answer their questions and cooperate, and you’ll live long enough to tell your friends what jerks they are/were later on.

In response to comments on similar coverage by The Salt Lake Tribune regarding this incident, I wrote:

Full disclosure: my father spent 43 years on the job. It’s true that we ask law enforcement officers and soldiers to protect us, themselves, and each other. While whether a particular set of circumstances necessitated the use of deadly force or not may be endlessly debated, the reality is that accomplishing this task sometimes is going to necessitate that officers threaten deadly force, and other times accomplishing this task is going to necessitate that they actually use deadly force.

You may say that an unacceptable risk of death or serious bodily injury is simply the price my father and my family had to pay for a loved one to opt for that career, but personally, if it ever came down to making a choice whether he would go home at the end of his shift or whether someone who intended him harm would go home, I’m not sorry to say that I hope he would choose the former … every time.

That said, I’m always at least slightly amused to hear people … talk of officers who have shot somebody taking “paid vacations,” as though there are no repercussions (especially no psychological repercussions) other than getting paid time off to the officer or to anyone else with whom he is associated after he has shot somebody. The reality is that, while officers and soldiers may be unusual in some respects as compared to people who do not choose those professions, they are still normal human beings, and normal human beings are neither psychologically nor sociologically “well-engineered” to shoot at their fellow human beings: if they are, we call them psychopaths or sociopaths.

Another poster opined that it was improper for the officer to ask Barker for identifying information. I responded:

There’s abundant case law that says that if an officer asks you for identifying information, you must provide it. If it were otherwise, officers would be deprived of an essential tool that enables them to assess the threat someone might pose to him and whether someone has engaged in criminal conduct which the officer is bound to investigate.

Reiterating some of my themes from the on-line discussion at The Deseret News that the officer’s alleged lack of tact and social grace essentially are irrelevant, I also posted:

Even granting for the sake of this discussion that the officer is not a Dale Carnegie graduate, I believe it’s beyond dispute that if Mr. Barker had identified himself to the officer, had answered the officer’s questions, and had otherwise cooperated, he would be alive today and, thus, would be free to complain as much as he likes to whomever will listen about what he sees as unfair treatment at the hands of police.

As regrettable as Barker’s shooting might be for the officer who shot him and for James Barker’s friends and family, I’ll be greatly surprised if the Salt Lake Police Department finds that this officer violated any of its policies regarding use of force or if the Salt Lake County District Attorney finds this instance of use of force legally unjustified.

* * *

B.L. Smith is the former training coordinator for the Salt Lake Police Department, and currently fills a similar role with the Sandy (Utah) Police Department. The shooting of Michael Brown by former Ferguson, Mo. Police Officer Darren Wilson and the death of Eric Garner as police in New York attempted to take him into custody for selling untaxed cigarettes have fostered a debate regarding police use of force. (Similar incidents, as well as a similar debate, have occurred here in Utah, as well.) In an Op-Ed published in The Salt Lake Tribune on December 8, 2014, he wrote:

For more than 20 years I have hosted training not only for the officers on my department but for officers around the state on an annual basis. This training brings in local law enforcement officers who have been in shootings, been stabbed, injured or taken a life. They speak to officers about how it affects them, their family, their marriage, their work. I have brought in their spouses to speak about how it affected them and their children. (One officer’s child was told by a classmate that his dad was a murderer.) Never in all the years of this training have these officers been anything but hopeful that their story may help another officer from going through what they went through. . . .

In all of my years in law enforcement, I have met maybe a half-dozen law enforcement officers that were mentally not fit (prone to violent tendencies) to be officers. These individuals were investigated by their own agency and fired. Nationally, agencies do the same. Los Angeles Police fired Chris Dorner and criminally charged Raphael [sic] Perez. Miami Police investigated and arrested [a group of corrupt cops] known as the “Miami River Cops.”

The full Op-Ed is available at the following address (last accessed December 8, 2014): http://www.sltrib.com/opinion/1904164-155/op-ed-its-society-not-police-who.

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ISIS Threat Not Existential

Why Isn’t ISIS an Existential Threat?

By Ken K. Gourdin

National Security Adviser Susan Rice, in her delivery of the Obama Administration’s National Security Strategy, says that the threat posed by ISIS is “not existential.” Rice said, “While the dangers we face may be more numerous and varied, they are not of the existential nature we confronted during World War II or the Cold War. We can’t afford to be buffeted by alarmism and an instantaneous news cycle.” Don’t watch or read the news, and everything will be hunky-dory! Join us in burying your head in the sand: sure, you won’t be able to see much, and it’s awfully dark down there, but at least it’s nice and cool! Got it!

By the way, wasn’t the alleged “Cold War” simply a “crisis” that was manufactured by conservative hawks to sow an imaginary “existential” fear in the hearts and minds of Americans? I mean, sure, Uncle Fidel tried to put offensive nuclear weapons in Cuba right under America’s nose, before President Kennedy (who, no doubt, was simply suffering from a case of irrational “existential fear”; but wasn’t he one of those dovish, peace-loving Democrats?) convinced Castro to back down. But, heck, that was over fifty years ago, now. I’m sure Uncle Fidel has turned into an old softy in his old age, so why not normalize U.S.-Cuba relations?

I’m at a loss, however, to explain why ISIS is not an existential threat. Is it because ISIS is not a legitimate nation-state? ISIS certainly has statist aspirations: its preferred form of government, however—rather than democracy or republicanism or even theocracy—seems to be terrorocracy, and its motto (even as regards other muslims) seems to be, “Do what we want, or we’ll kill you.” Seems pretty “existential” to me! Is it because neither ISIS nor anyone who might sympathize with the organization has yet perpetrated an attack on the scale of that carried out by al Quaida on September 11, 2001? If so, and if one believes the words reportedly uttered by one erstwhile-and/or-aspiring terrorist when he was released from Guantanamo Bay (“See you in New York”), it’s only a matter of time.

Not to worry, though! No matter how many legitimate governments ISIS might topple, and no matter how much death, destruction, and terror it might leave in its wake, to quote the president’s immortal words, it’s “just the [junior varsity]. Just because they might put on Laker uniforms doesn’t mean they’re Kobe Bryant.” Nonetheless, the president might want to update that particular metaphor: Last I heard, Mr.Bryant was busy picking slivers out of his @$$ from riding the pine while being injured most all of this season. (I heard a rumor that LeBron James might’ve volunteered to replace Bryant in the metaphor; President Obama might want to check it out.) And it’s not as though there are any unaccounted-for nuclear or biological weapons floating around out there which ISIS or another such group would love to get its hands on. Nope! No existential threat there!

Meanwhile, at the latest National Prayer Breakfast, President Obama reminded us that “people have committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.” I’m with you, Mr. President, insofar as you contend that we should not tar all of Islam with the same broad, extremist brush, but no atrocities such as the Crusades or Inquisitions have been committed in the name of Christianity for hundreds of years, and despite the religious dominance of various stripes of Catholicism, a good portion of the Christian world is composed of Protestants and of other flavors of Christianity, and thus bears no responsibility (even historically) for any such atrocities, anyway. And whatever historical responsibility the ancestors of anyone now living might bear for such abuses, one shouldn’t punish the sons for the sins of the fathers.

Seemingly, President Obama disregards anything that is not consistent with his world view, refuses to see the world as it is, and insists, instead, on seeing the world as he would like it to be. I’ve got good news and bad news for you, Mr. President: The good news is that [President Bush’s!] “war on terror” is over; you ended it. Congratulations! The bad news is that someone forgot to tell the terrorists. I suspect America’s withdrawal from various areas of the world has (and will) create various power vacuums which I believe those whose aims are inimical to U.S. interests (to put it mildly) will be eager to fill. I don’t think any number of apologies, any amount of collective self-flagellation for our historical national sins, or any amount of capitulation will mollify them.

Meanwhile, even ISIS’s beheading of American citizen James Foley wasn’t enough to keep President Obama from his previously-arranged tee time. Way to not be “buffeted by alarmism and an instantaneous news cycle,” Mr. President. (On the other hand, given the number of national controversies about which President Obama has told the White House press corps, “I first learned about this the same way you guys did—on the news,” perhaps the president ought to allow himself to be “buffeted by an instantaneous news cycle” a little more often.) And the president is infamous for drawing amorphous, ill-defined, empty-threat (dare I say “meaningless”?) “red lines.”

If the beheading of American citizens won’t do it, one wonders where, exactly, any meaningful “line crossing” by our enemies might occur in the mind of our ever-calm, ever-unflappable, never-ruffled, “I-saw-[insert-crisis-here]-coming-from-a-mile-away-and-everything’s-under-control,” (almost comatose?) president. (Would such a line finally be crossed if ISIS were to put an American citizen in a cage, douse him in flammable liquid, strike a flame, and burn him alive while creating a video of the horror to post on the Internet? Speaking of which, no one better tell the friends and family of Muadh al-Kasasbeh, or Jordan’s King Abdullah II that the ISIS threat isn’t “existential.”)

If American (and other) lives didn’t hinge on President Obama’s world view and on his stubborn refusal—save for uttering the occasional placating platitude or glittering generality, much like those contained in most all of Rice’s remarks—to confront obvious realities, I would be content to agree to disagree with him; but American lives do hinge on the president’s world view and on his refusal to confront obvious realities.

One hopes more Americans—let alone people in other parts of the world—don’t pay too heavy a price for that before the president leaves office.

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