Sep 30 2010

Dallas Willard’s “Renovation of the Heart”

Category: Uncategorizedharmonicminer @ 5:26 pm

I am reading Dallas Willard’s book Renovation of the Heart.  It is challenging me.

As usual, Prof. Willard is philosopher and theologian, counselor and therapist mixed with insightful older-brother, all rolled into one.

He has convinced me that I have a LONG way to go (not that I needed much convincing).   Not the most important, but among other things he has convinced me that the memorization of large swaths of scripture is important.  Not just remembering the general content, and knowing where to find the details, but actually being able to recite it.  I think I had always seen that as a kid’s Sunday School sort of thing, a sort of summer vacation Bible school exercise.

So I think I’m going to work some consistent effort at that into my life.  As I said, this is far from the most important thing in the book…  you really have to read it to get the flavor and depth of it.

As a teaser:  if you are a person who finds that your feelings don’t always, or mostly, line up with your thoughts, or what you wish your feelings were, this book is for you.  If you are a person who finds it difficult to wholeheartedly and joyfully live the commitment you have made to Christ, this book is for you.

Prof. Willard does not chide.  He gently leads, and his words penetrate to the heart of the matter.

Highly recommended.


Sep 30 2010

The relationship between education spending and student success: not much

Category: Uncategorizedharmonicminer @ 4:13 pm

Here is an article that shows a lovely chart detailing why spending and student acheivement have little to do with each other these days.

Its final prescription is this:

The Democrats are forever challenging Republicans to explain where they would cut spending, as though that were a hopeless conundrum. It seems obvious to me that education is one area where we could cut spending at all levels (local, state and federal) without losing anything. In fact, if education budgets were cut, it might force school districts , educators and parents to re-think priorities in a manner that would actually improve results.

Merely “cutting spending,” however, is not going to do the job.  If we enforced across the board spending cuts, we would not be dealing with the fact that we are spending money in the wrong ways in major areas, and that spending needs to be not merely cut back by some common percentage, but largely eliminated.

Federal mandates on education have produced sink holes for money that didn’t exist in the 1970s, like hugely bloated special education budgets, enormous bureaucracies to service them,  required accomodations for every kind of disability, and so on.  In some states it is a huge budget buster.

The problems we now have are not just a little overspending here and then, but huge swaths of the budget that are diverted from serving the students who can most benefit from the support.  It may be impossible to significantly cut spending in ways that won’t hurt education until laws change about what is mandated.

The central point, however, remains:  high spending does not equal even moderate success.  The grip of unions and state education bureaucracies on the fate of our children is, at this point, nearly unbreakable.


Sep 29 2010

The Next Great Awakening Part 15: Doubting doubt

Category: philosophy,science,theologyharmonicminer @ 9:00 am

The previous post in this series is here.

Doubts linger over godless multiverse

STEPHEN HAWKING’S new book The Grand Design sparked a furore over whether physics can be used to disprove the existence of God. But few have noted that the idea at the core of the book, M-theory, is the subject of an ongoing scientific debate – specifically over the very aspect of the theory that might scrap the need for a divine creator.

That the laws of nature in our universe are finely tuned for life seems miraculous, leading some to invoke divine involvement. But if there is a multiverse out there – a multitude of universes, each with its own laws of physics – then the conditions we observe may not be unique.

Hawking suggests that M-theory, the leading interpretation of string theory, calls for a multiverse. Others are divided over the strength of this link. “My own opinion is that we don’t understand the theory well enough to be able to say whether there is one single universe or a multitude of universes,” says M-theorist Michael Duff of Imperial College London.

………………..

For now, it is hard enough to test string theory, let alone M-theory. Two weeks ago, Duff and his colleagues made some progress by using string theory to make predictions about the behaviour of entangled quantum bits (Physical Review Letters, DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.105.100507). This demonstrates that aspects of string theory can be tested in the laboratory, but won’t reveal if it is “the right theory to describe all the elementary particles, the big bang – the ‘grand design’ as Stephen describes it”, says Duff.

“It’s dangerous to pin your beliefs on any theory of physics,” Duff adds, “because it might turn out to be wrong. But if Stephen wants to stick his neck out, I wish him good luck.”

But wait!  I thought all right thinking scientists knew that God was a myth, the universe was a grand accident, or has always been here, and humans are accidental bags of water, carbon, nitrogen, calcium and trace elements, containers who process data.  Though why anyone should think the universe is a place where semi-intelligent meat machines should even find it vaguely possible to comprehend its deepest mysteries is beyond me.  Why should the universe be understandable?  And if it is, why should WE be able to understand it with brains evolved to run from carnivores on the savannah, hunt small game and gather fruit and nuts?

The notion that the universe is in principle understandable by primates sharing 95% to 98% of genes with chimps is itself reasonably laughable….  unless, of course, we were designed to be able to understand an intelligently designed universe.

In any case, string theory is not at this time falsifiable, as the article above points out….  which means that, by the rules of those scientists who deride “intelligent design theorists,” it isn’t even science, yet.  It’s just interesting mathematical speculation mixed with philosophy.  M-theory is even farther from fitting the definition of science that is most commonly used, namely testable, falsifiable theories backed with data.

If and when string theory or M-theory become scientifically supported theories, neither will disprove the existence of the Creator, of course.  How could they?  And it is encouraging, at least, that some scientists are becoming skeptical of the ability of science to answer all questions, or to remove any consideration of teleology in the universe.

And as others have pointed out, theories of multiple universes can’t answer final (or fundamental questions) at all.  All they can do is shove them back to an “earlier” “time,” and make it clear that the Creator is even more magnificently powerful than anyone understood.


Sep 28 2010

Faith Integration and dogs

Category: humorharmonicminer @ 12:17 pm

Oops, I forgot.  Praying before meals isn’t really faith integration.  It says so right here in the faith integration handbook for dogs.

You have to find a way to relate the selection of the food, the manner of presenting it, and the method of eating it, to your faith tradition, whatever that might be, and however you might choose to relate to it (or reject it)….  after doing a suitable literature review, of course, developing a bibliography on faith and dog food, and possibly attending a conference or two on the subject.

Coming up soon:  diversity and dogs in the modern obedience school.


Sep 27 2010

I suppose we’ll all have to stay home

Category: Uncategorizedharmonicminer @ 8:40 pm

The Europeans, having lost their minds, have decided that  carbon trading extortion is here.

Foreign airlines are threatened with a flight and landing ban from 2012 in the European Union if they do not participate in emissions trading.

The ban is proposed in an internal document by the EU Commission seen by Handelsblatt. Summarised on nine pages, the guidelines describe how such a ban could be implement. The Commission considers a flight and landing ban as a last resort to make the airlines surrender over its Emissions Trading Scheme.

An EU Directive stipulates that airlines from Europe and third countries are mandated to be included in the trading of emissions rights. On their flights to and from Europe, they may then only emit as much CO2 as the CO2 certificates they hold. 85 percent of the certificates are free of charge while 15 percent of the allowances have to bought via auctions.

“The whole project has not been thought through. The EU cannot impose its law on third countries,” Holger Krahmer, environmental spokesman for the German Liberal Party in the EU Parliament told Handelsblatt.

In fact, international resistance against the EU plan is growing. Several American, Asian and African airlines are suing the EU over its emissions trade project. The US Aviation Association ATA is attempting to have the policy suspended by the European Court of Justice. And the Russian government has also voiced its displeasure in Brussels.

That’s really a shame.  Here I was planning on spending all that excess cash in my checking account on a splurge whirlwind trip to all the hotspots of Europe.  First I was going to visit all the mosques in London, tour the medical facilities, and check out the firearms clubs.  Then I was going to Denmark’s family friendly tourist spots.  After that, I thought it might be fun to pay a nice visit to see some French “youths” burning police cars at night.  Then I was hoping for some Turkish food in Hamburg.

But since American air lines probably won’t pay the carbon taxes, I guess now I’m stuck with hanging around in L.A.  Which, by the way, is more cosmopolitan than all of Europe put together.  Of course, that’s partly because Europeans keep moving here, especially Russian mobsters and third generation French Algerians.  They seem to buy and sell illegal weapons from each other.

You’d think they could meet to conduct business somewhere closer.

Anyway, go Europe!  Enviro-whacko eco-pagan leaders of the world!


Sep 24 2010

More signs of the bubble in higher education

Category: Uncategorizedharmonicminer @ 9:23 am

I linked to another article on a possible bubble in higher education, and here is another indicator of it, with so many recent graduates struggling with digging-out-of-student-debt

When Angela Moore looks into her future, she sees checks for $500, $147, $280 and $250 piling up like leaves in a forest. Those are the amounts she could be paying every single month on her four student loans, which total $92,000, for the next several decades. If she postpones payments, the amounts she owes will go up. If she skips them, she could ruin her credit and end up in court.Moore, 26, graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Hartford in 2009 with $25,000 in federal student loans and $67,000 in private loans. She devotes about half of her paycheck to those bills and resorts to credit cards to cover other expenses. Says Moore, the first in her family to graduate from college, “It’s heartbreaking to have a college degree and not be able to pay for normal things because I have to pay student loans.”

Moore works at an orthopedic surgeon’s office, the same job she had in college. She would like to move on someday but can’t afford to make less than her current wage of about $18 an hour. Nor does she see an obvious way out of her predicament. “If you’re in that much debt and have a house or car, you at least have something you can give back. I have a piece of paper. I have nothing to give back.”

Meet the young and burdened. Of borrowers who graduated from four-year colleges in 2008, 10% walked away with $40,000 or more in student debt, almost three times the number of students who borrowed at that level in 2000, according to the Project on Student Debt, an advocacy group. The default rate for students who entered repayment between fiscal year 2006 and fiscal year 2007 was 6.7%, the highest since 1998.

You’d think bankruptcy would be a solution to massive student debt, but for most people, it is not an option. You must demonstrate to a judge that repayment would cause “undue hardship,” a term interpreted by some courts to mean the “certainty of hopelessness,” according to Deanne Loonin, of the National Consumer Law Center. This strict standard applies to both federal and private student loans. Proposed legislation in Congress would change that standard for private student loans, making them eligible for discharge under the more lenient rules that apply to credit-card and other consumer debt.

Meanwhile, federal loans offer programs that let you reduce payments or even qualify for loan forgiveness. As for private loans, some lenders are offering deals to borrowers rather than see loans go south.

The part of this that is rarely mentioned is this: there are disturbing similarities between the housing bubble and the higher education bubble.

1)  The federal government has subsidized many people who probably shouldn’t have gone to college in the first place, by encouraging them to borrow beyond their likely means to pay it back, just as many home buyers were encouraged to take home loans they couldn’t afford, due to federal policies pressed upon lenders to make more loans to “the disadvantaged.”

2)  Those education loans were made in the assumption that people would always be able to find good paying jobs in an endlessly booming economy, just as the home loans were made in the assumption of always rising home prices and constant boom times in the housing industry.

3)  The easy availability of money has made many education institutions incredibly inefficient, with top-heavy management, many unnecessary programs and initiatives, more and more staff (not to mention faculty) who have little to do with the main business of teaching and learning in the classroom, etc.

4)  The federal money (and federally subsidized loans) have given the federal government the ability to meddle and regulate in higher ed, just as it did in the housing market, to the detriment of both.  If you want the money, you have to toe the line.

I have a student who recently told me that he is going to be $60,000 in debt when he finishes his undergrad work.  He is a talented musician (a composer), but he will have to do very well in order to be able to pay off that loan, or else seek work in some job not related to his college major.  He is considering graduate study.

Even if he was pre-med, instead of a music major, I’m not sure I’d advise going deeper into debt in the current medical industry marketplace, with all kinds of unknown effects to be expected from yet more government meddling and regulation.  The music industry is far less secure than that.

This is, of course, an “admission against interest,” since my job depends on the availability of students to keep my institution open, and many of those students depend on federal dollars, often in the form of loan subsidies.  So I don’t know quite what to say….  but the signs are disturbing, and if the economy doesn’t turn around fairly soon, I’m not going to be surprised if the endless federal gravy train of college loans dries up, with the inevitable effect on the available pool of college students.


Sep 23 2010

You might be group-thinking if…. REDUX

Category: Uncategorizedharmonicminer @ 12:51 pm

UPDATE:  A friend suggested I repost this, so here it is.

****************************

Some of this material appeared in an earlier post, but I have some additional comments to make about it, so I’m reproducing the gist of it here.

I see the group-think phenomenon all the time, in the world of university faculty governance and general academic life. There are grandiloquently ill-defined buzz terms, common phrases and references, whose use sometimes seems to stop all thought or discussion, and anyone who questions their use, what they mean, why they matter, etc., is likely to be automatically marginalized. Since the higher levels of government are populated disproportionately by academics, this does not fill me with confidence about our government’s ability to keep an open mind, either.

Group-think results in failure to ask hard questions about the real effects of previous policy and perspectives, and confusion of action with effect. (The busier we are, the more we must be getting done.) Some people seem to think “meaning well” is enough, without regard to the actual effect of policy. I see people who, when confronted with the failure of previous policy, seem often to be reflexively in favor of even more of it, believing the real problem was that not enough of it was tried. Sometimes that’s true, but not nearly as often as they seem to think.

Signs that you’re succumbing to group-think:

1) You think it is practiced by the other side, not your side. Fair warning: when most people around you agree with you, it’s probably ludicrous of you to accuse the other side of group-think.

2) You don’t directly grapple with data from the “other side,” preferring to respond to specific data you don’t like with ideological generalization. Your failure to either directly challenge the data, perhaps also to provide countervailing data, or else to include it in your understanding of a situation, is a clear sign. You should either show that the data presented by the other side is wrong, or not representative, or include it in your perspective.

3) Your ability to talk about something is limited by your vocabulary, which is highly idiosyncratic and ideological in tone, yet you struggle to give clear definitions to terms you frequently use. What is an “Islamic extremist”? What is “diversity”? What is “critical thinking”? What is a “moderate”? And so on. If you find it difficult to express your meaning using alternate vocabulary, in a clear and unambiguous way, you may be “group-thinking”.

Educational institutions are famous for creating (or co-opting) buzz-terms, fancy sounding rhetoric that pretends to denote something new, when it either denotes the same old thing (which isn’t necessarily bad, but is certainly confusing and misleading), or much worse, it may denote nothing at all. These terms tend to show up in promotional materials, and are usually used to try to make the claim that, “We’re not like those other schools, because we practice (insert buzz-term here).” Definitions may even be provided, but they are likely to be more aspirational than operational; that is, they’ll sound nice, and seem to point to something good on the surface, but the definitions will not be something that can be used to decide if the institution is actually DOING the thing claimed in the buzz-term. Mostly, this phenomenon is an example of the primacy of advertising copy over academic clarity.

When entire academic and/or administrative departments and/or councils are created to manage the implementation of the buzz-term, which still cannot be defined in an operational way (so that you can tell whether or not you’re actually doing it), a tragi-comedy of futile flailing around generally ensues, at considerable expense to the institution, not the least of which may be the lessening of the institution’s ability to carry out its basic mission, the one that existed before the creation of the buzz-terms and jargon.

Unfortunately, buzz-terms (reflecting a sort of “group think” when someone tries to “implement” them) are often chosen to hide as much as to reveal the intent that lies behind them. For example, the word “diversity” was created at the moment when “quotas” became legally and socially less palatable.

I’ve been on academic “councils” that were tasked with implementing a program of (supply buzz term here). When I have asked for a definition of the buzz-term, there have been embarrassed glances around the room, followed by someone offering me a definition in the institution’s advertising materials. When I have asked how we can apply the definition to specific cases and data to see whether or not they exemplify the buzz-term, there has been more embarrassed silence, followed by multi-syllabic obfuscation and more buzz-terms. That’s because the definition was more about how someone wanted to feel about something, i.e., it was aspirational, not about what the something actually was, i.e., an operational definition that could be used to determine what did and did not qualify as an example of the buzz-term.

Humorously (I guess), the “councils” in which I have done this have sometimes discovered an urgent necessity to meet at a time when I’m teaching class. This has happened to me more than once.

Once I was told by a “council chair” to just pretend that the buzz term meant something, and get on with it, because WASC (our regional accrediting agency) is coming to evaluate us, and we have to show that we’re doing what we said we’d do. It doesn’t seem to matter if no one knows quite what that is, or how we’d recognize it if we saw it. It is group-think carried to a whole new level. Or maybe not.

More signs that you’re succumbing to group-think:

4) You resist identifying and accepting the ideological roots of your current positions. In other words, you claim that now you have the right idea, even though those earlier people who thought something like this, who are now out of favor, were clearly wrong. This can only be carried off, of course, in the presence of a group of people who have all decided not to remember where their current ideas came from, as long as they can all do what they want to do now, think what they want to think now, etc. When this is pointed out, do you insist that it’s only guilt by association, and you really mean something very different than the discredited person or group that actually created the idea? Keep telling yourself that, if it helps… but if the central viewpoint for which previous holders of the position were discredited is the basic root of your own position, maybe it’s time to re-think, instead of group-think.

5) You think the solution to most problems is the consensus creation of a new policy that will require people to act differently than they normally do, and you devise administrative methods to force people to act against their own perspectives and natures in order to implement the new policy. The “consensus,” in this case, is not likely to be made up of the people upon whom the pressure of authority will be brought to bear. It’s more likely to be a consensus of some special group that was convened with the express intent of reaching a consensus whose outcome was foreordained by the people chosen to form it. The outcome is often to make people into liars as they are forced to claim they are doing something that they really aren’t (and possibly can’t), and to create some piece of evidence for “assessment” purposes that will make it look like they are doing it. In essence, a pay cut has just been imposed, since the workload has gone up without compensation.

6) Bluntly, if you’re in the majority, or in a position of some power in your institution, be very careful. Group-think temptations are at their highest. Not that minorities are usually right, any more than majorities… but minorities are constantly forced to confront countervailing perspectives, while majorities often are not. (Read carefully here… I am talking about ideological or policy majorities and minorities, not ethnic or racial ones.)

7) If you’re in a leadership role, and you don’t encourage people to present contending positions to you, positively seeking out and rewarding people who have different perspectives just for bringing them to you, you are encouraging group-think in the people below you in the hierarchy, and are probably not thinking too well yourself. If the only people who ever get promoted are those who agree with you the loudest, you and your institution are in big, big trouble.

While I see all this in academic life (it seems to be a fixture in most schools), and I hear of it in the business world (mostly in businesses that are in trouble, or not dealing well with changes in the business environment), I have little reason to think things are better in the Oval Office, the Pentagon, Capitol Hill or the State Department, whether the occupants come from Left or Right. You can include in that the state and local governments, school boards, and labor unions of all stripes, both public and private employees.

So what’s a leader to do?

Take careful stock of the points just listed, and evaluate yourself as objectively as you can. If you discover that any of this describes you, or the systems you’ve helped create, it’s time to repent and reverse course. You don’t have to do it convulsively with public mea culpas, necessarily… but you do have to do it. Create a plan to gradually dismantle things that aren’t working, in some combination of efficiency and compassion for the people who will be affected. Start gathering input from people who disagree with you, or with some of your policies, and reward them for sharing their reasons. Let them teach you what you don’t know. If you aren’t in sufficient command of yourself to be able to withstand some uncomfortable input, you’re in the wrong line of work. Ask them to recommend books for you, and read them. If you must, get someone you trust to read some of them and summarize, but do read some of them yourself. Don’t choose a surrogate reader who already agrees with you about everything.

Discipline yourself to be able to articulate an idea very clearly in an operational way, not merely an aspirational one, before you start creating ad hoc committees to “reach consensus” on something you just wanted to do anyway because you liked the sound of it. Make sure you’ve thought about possible unintended consequences. Has some other institution already tried what you’re considering? How has it worked out? Would you like your institution to be like that one in other ways? Is it possible that if you emulate them in one way, then other things you don’t like will come along with it?

Read. Make sure you know the ideological roots of the underlying ideas that support what you want to do. Are you really sure you want to get in the same ideological bed? Ideas tend to travel in families, especially when they flow from a shared worldview. Be sure you’re comfortable with that entire worldview, because when you marry an idea, you often marry the family. You don’t want your ideological in-laws to give you heartburn at family gatherings.

One of the saddest things I see is when someone tries to rip an idea out of its ideological family and sneak it into another household where it doesn’t really fit the local DNA. The only way to cover up the kidnapping is often to resort to group-think, and pretend the idea was locally invented out of the local DNA.

The problem, of course, is that sheep with deer antlers sort of stick out in family photos.


Sep 22 2010

A plan for the GOP?

Category: Uncategorizedharmonicminer @ 10:32 am

Here’s a really interesting article on what the GOP needs to do going forward.


Sep 19 2010

Dim bulbs in Congress

Category: Uncategorizedharmonicminer @ 11:04 pm

Repealing the ban on the common light bulb | RedState

On this page two weeks ago, Erick lamented the fact that American factory workers are losing jobs to China as a result of the de facto ban on the incandescent light bulb. Light bulbs seem to be a pretty simple part of our lives today. It gets dark, you flip a switch and presto – light happens. But a law passed by Democrats in 2007 – the Pelosi non-energy energy bill – banned nearly all use of the incandescent light bulb by 2014.

A recent Washington Post reported GE is shuttering a plant in Winchester, Va., killing 200 jobs in the process.

“‘Everybody’s jumping on the green bandwagon,’ said Pat Doyle, 54, who has worked at the plant for 26 years. But ‘we’ve been sold out. First sold out by the government. Then sold out by GE.’”

Turns out the compact florescent light bulb, or CFLs as they are commonly known, can’t be produced cheaply enough in America so we’ve turned to China, where virtually every CFL is produced.

Even the AFL-CIO isn’t happy about the move to CFLs. The labor union’s Web site, Screw That Bulb, makes the valid point that there are many ways to save electricity without shifting to the mercury-filled compact florescent bulb from China, or anywhere.

Fortunately, we were already working on legislation to repeal the ban. Today we’ve introduced H.R. 6144, the Better Use of Light Bulbs Act, which repeals the ban on the incandescent bulb that has been turning back the night ever since Thomas Edison ended the era of a world lit only by fire in 1879. It’s as simple as that, though technically it repeals Subtitle B of Title III of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.

The unanticipated consequence of the ’07 act – Washington-mandated layoffs in the middle of a desperate recession – is one of many examples of what happens when politicians and activists think they know better than consumers and workers. From the health insurance you’re allowed to have, to the car you can drive, to the light bulbs you can buy, Washington is making too many decisions that are better left to people who work for their own paychecks and earn their own living.

We believe that the consumer, not Washington, is capable of deciding which light bulb works best. Democrats, however, believe that you just can’t be trusted to make the right decision. If Democrats want to show the folks back home that they understand the pent-up frustration in this country, they’ll start by supporting our bill.


Sep 19 2010

Big Box Green

Category: Uncategorizedharmonicminer @ 8:39 am

Save the Planet: Shop Walmart

Walmart’s ruthless focus on reducing prices is driving producers everywhere to cut the costs of production: to switch to cheaper materials, use less packaging, cut down on waste of all kinds and to consolidate and rationalize both production and distribution. The result is a steady and inexorable decline in humanity’s impact on the environment for every unit of GDP.

The Green Police couldn’t do it any better. In fact, given the political cluelessness, uncertain signals (is nuclear energy a good thing or a bad thing?), and anti-scientific knuckle dragging from environmentalists on subjects like the use of GMOs in agriculture, it’s likely that a world run by Walmart would be both richer and cleaner than a world run by Greenpeace. Not that I want Walmart (or Greenpeace) to run the world, but at the end of the day, being ruthlessly cheap is the most important way of being green. To cut out waste, to use methods of production that cut the energy consumed at every stage in the process, to strip packaging to the barest minimum, to reduce the amount of raw materials in every product: this is the mother lode of green. This is how a growing human population limits its impact on the earth. This is where Walmart and green are as one.

More, by doing what so many of its critics hate and driving small mom and pop stores out of business, Walmart is making the planet greener still. It is much more energy-efficient to have one large store that receives large shipments than to have dozens of little trucks roaming the highways and byways with small deliveries to small retailers. It is also more efficient to have consumers come to one store for all their needs rather than having them drive all over creation — to the farmer’s market for the local rutabagas, to the small appliance and notion store for the toaster, to the pharmacy for the drugs, the optometrist for their glasses, to the butcher and baker and candlestick maker for everything else.

This conveys perfectly the economic ignorance of the greens. They hate capitalists, when they should love them, because capitalists have to compete for market share, and in the end, that usually produces more efficiencies than any amount of “green regulation”, which usually produces MORE pollution as an unintended consequence. The recent oil spill disaster in the Gulf, caused by the greens, forcing oil companies to drill in mile-deep water, all because they won’t allow drilling closer in, or on land, is only the latest example.

Hooray for Walmart, savior of the planet.


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