1. I’ve not read his books but know enough about Solzhenitsyn to know we should heed his words carefully today. The alarming path he described during that Harvard speech has only grown worse.

  2. “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

    This, perhaps Solzhenitsyn’s most famous quote, speaks to the cognitive distortion of black and white thinking. It comes from “The Gulag Archipelago”. The context of the quote is the realization by the prisoner that he could just have well been one of the cruel guards as one of their innocent victims.

    Last Sunday on CNN. Fareed Zaharia did a Special Report on elite universities and the scandal of their admission policies. It’s worth watching and not for the reasons that you might think. I came away with the feeling that these universities were failing to achieve something basic to their mission, but the focus was on input rather than output, means rather then ends.

    The Special Report exposed all sorts of shenanigans in admissions that showed that elite institutions like Harvard didn’t really practice the Jeffersonian meritocracy they pretended. Instead, because of obvious financial incentives to do so, elite universities mostly just preserved a wealthy plutocracy in their status quo. The question that I came away with, however, centered less on who got in than on what they hoped to achieve by wanting to go there in the first place. The obvious answer is success, but success at what? And for whom, the individual or the society as a whole? No one seemed to even question that more equality of opportunity makes for a moral goal, but no one was even asking the question: What are the moral goals that those more equal opportunities should fulfill?

    That seemed to be the spiritual question that Solzhenitsyn was asking at Harvard and that no one caught up in the materialistic rat race that a degree from Harvard guaranteed success at even cared to even hear questioned.

    1. @tsalmon

      The usual reaction to this sort of problem is that the government has to do something. Won’t work. Effectively, Harvard is the government. That school and a few others like it educate the elites who run our country, the elites who benefit from the status quo. These people will cover over the problem, not fix it.

      The point of a constitutional republic is to make folks responsible for the consequences of their own behavior, but Harvard and such get plenty of government money. If we want a university system that is responsive to students, parents, and donors, we need to cut government funding as much as possible.

      Will that create problems? Suppose so, but the cost of an education will go down.

      1. I’m not sure that government is the issue or the solution either way. Perhaps, to paraphrase a quote from Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”, the fault is not in our government dear Tom, but in ourselves. If materialistic greed and power motivates our ambitions as individuals and as communities, then we, our educational institutions and even our government simply reflect the nature of the spirit that drives us.

        Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think either more or less government can cure such a contagious disease spreading from individual to individual human heart. A change in government can follow a dramatic change in hearts, but I don’t think it can engender that change, or even stop it once it truly catches fire. (Look at the spread of Christ’s message of love, especially when repressed).

        Market capitalism is no panacea solution either. What is the price of the joy that comes from suffering for others? How do we value that grace of spirit? It seems to me that we need a dramatic change in what we value, a change that perhaps can only begin with some disillusionment, not with our institutions or with each other, but with ourselves.

        1. @tsalmon

          Wave a magic wand and change people’s hearts? Maybe Obama can more speeches about how women make better leaders?

          The only way I know to change hearts is to spread the Gospel and pray. Pray? That is because only God can change hearts. Otherwise, the best we can do is punish bad behavior with a hearty farewell.

          Most of the restrictions on our behavior stem from custom, not law. How is custom enforced? Through ostracism.

          The Constitution protects our right to associate with the people with whom we want to associate, that is, our right to discriminate in our choice of associates. This right is to principal tool we use to hold each other accountable. When a neighbor’s behavior becomes unpleasant or intolerable, we stay away from that neighbor.

          When we implement Socialism, we lose the right to associate freely with the people with whom we want to associate, especially with respect to our business and charitable relationships. That is why Liberal Democrats constantly portray any sort of discrimination in the most horrifying way. Discriminate against corrupt people? As Greta Thunberg would say, “how dare you?”

          1. I don’t know if I would call the good news of the love of God a “magic wand”, but it certainly is a “miraculous cross”, don’t you think?

            Shame and ostracizing? I can see how you may be right. We do have to protect ourselves from those unrepentant sinners who would selfishly harm us and those we love. (Maybe we also might not want to pick those who preach hate and vice as our leaders either). However, didn’t Jesus see the unrepentant people as lost sheep to be loved and saved? Besides, I know that I have been selfish and have sinned myself – who do I get to shame for sinning? Who am I so superior to that they only merit my disgust, that they don’t deserve my love?

            Your knowledge of the Gospels apparently exceeds my own, but the only people that I remember Jesus shaming were those who thought they were superior to other sinners. Am I right? And if Democrats and Socialists are the tax collectors and prostitutes of our time and the self righteous preachers who are shaming and ostracizing them for not following their idea of the rules are the Pharisees of our day, who do you think Jesus would be hanging out with and who do you think He would by calling hypocrites?

            While I appreciate the well meaning lecture on the importance of custom verses the law and I can see some truth in what you say, I don’t think that such simplicity reflects the complexities of the law, of human societies or of human behavior. My knowledge of the law and the Constitution recognizes a complex system where rights and responsibilities are most often ascertained when they conflict with one another. But maybe you have studied it more than I and have discovered some more simple Utopia than I learned about in law school. Good on you! Right now, however, I hope you’ll forgive me if I’m unconvinced.

            BTW, Happy New Year! I pray the coming year blesses you and yours with grace and joy.

          2. @tsalmon

            Happy New Year to you and yours too!

            As I said, Democrats portray any sort of discrimination as horrifying. If someone discriminates against someone else, does that make them arrogant, or is it arrogant to presume you have the right to decide for others what their choices should be?

            We can spread the Gospel, which is indeed wondrous, but we cannot makej people believe what we believe. Given we each are prone to make mistakes, we probably should let others make their own decisions whenever they can.

            Politics is not even about making people believe something. It is about maintaining justice and order. In this country, we have a history of most people wanting to run their own lives, and that has worked well. Why you find that complicated beats me. Let people pay their bills is complicated? Private scholarships are complicated? You have heard of the tax code, right? Now that’s complicated.

          3. You seem to do a lot of speaking for Democrats. I can only speak for myself and what I believe to be true.

            I went to Mass this morning. You may remember that, as the Feast Day of Blessed Virgin Mary in her aspect as the Mother of God, New Years Day is also a Roman Catholic Holy Day of Obligation.

            According to our Parish Priest, aside from being the Mother of God, Mary also holds the title of Queen of Peace. Everything we know about her life tells us that it was one of quiet obedient service and love. As such, Mary exemplifies the consummate peace maker. In so far as we also become such peace makers, perhaps in that way we are all her children with Jesus as the children of God. That seems like a beautiful sentiment to me as what Christians might strive for in the New Year, one inclusive family in the incarnate Christ.

            I don’t think that the right to discriminate works well for Christians to spread that peace in a free society. When our religion could use the law to force its dogmas on others, then sure, Christianity spread as a form of nationalist power (the return of which seems to be a nostalgic longing for many on the Right these days). But was that really Christ being spread at the point of a sword, or instead, does real Christianity resemble more the refugee family of Jesus fleeing from Bethlehem to Egypt to Nazareth trying protect a God from that same state religious power that would someday crucify Him?

            In modernity in nations such as ours where religion is voluntary, even you have often lamented that Christianity seems to be dying. I’m sure many excuses can explain this apparent decline: consumerism, selfishness, rationalist atheists, pubic schools, even those bedeviled secularist Democrats? I can’t help but think, however, that we Christians have deformed Christ’s message of universal peace and love into something judgmentally excluding, venial and petty, an exclusive country club on a hill where we look down smugly on the sinners who’s peculiar sins we judge somehow more damning than our own. This sounds more like a schadenfreude enjoying the crucifixion than Christ calling at our souls from the cross.

            My hope is that we have just begun a new evolution in the Christian faith. This evolution avoids judgementalism and exclusion and moves us toward something more like Jesus as the universal Christ. I think that I am just beginning to understand what that looks like, but I know that it manifests itself in mercy, in compassion, in love, in joyful suffering and yes, in peace. I think that, if we can learn to get over ourselves, this piece of the eternal truth kind of sells itself. It’s the only thing I know that actually gives our suffering meaning. We all crave this bread of life even if we don’t know it, don’t you think? In any event, I’m tired of all the fighting over it, as fighting for peace seems to me to be counterintuitive. People either will be willing to believe this good news or they won’t.

            You are very right about one thing, I think – we can’t force anyone to love selflessly. That has to be voluntary and even joyful. The law is not voluntary though and deciding under the law what discrimination is a protected right and what is a right to not be discriminated against I think must seems simple to someone who really wants to discriminate, whether that person claims to be a liberal or a conservative. 😉

          4. @tsalmon

            The law is not voluntary though and deciding under the law what discrimination is a protected right and what is a right to not be discriminated against I think must seems simple to someone who really wants to discriminate, whether that person claims to be a liberal or a conservative. 😉

            Given the propensity of some people to use the law to discriminate, I think it does simplify matters If we have fewer laws. When we discriminate, we should be prepared to suffer the consequences. When government discriminates for us, only those who suffer the discrimination suffer.

            Think about your long dissertation on the evolution that avoids judgementalism and exclusion and moves us toward something more like Jesus as the universal Christ. God judges sinners, and those who don’t repent and accept Christ as their Savior will not be saved.

            We are required to judgment the words and actions of others, but we should judge as we wish to be judged.

            Matthew 7:1-6 New King James Version (NKJV)
            Do Not Judge
            7 “Judge[a] not, that you be not judged. 2 For with what [b]judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. 3 And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? 5 Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

            6 “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.

            Note verse 6. Some people are intolerable. Just the way it is. Silly to presume otherwise.

            Look at yourself. Consider the irony. You cannot tolerate Trump, but you dream of a universal Christ?

          5. As I said, the conflict of rights and responsibilities that must be decided at law is very simply decided . . . for the bigot who wishes to discriminate. For judges balancing rights and responsibilities in a free society living under the law and the Constitution, I can assure that it gets more complicated. However, I have no problem if things are as simple as they can be.

            “ God judges sinners, and those who don’t repent and accept Christ as their Savior will not be saved.”

            Perhaps a merciful God does judge who is saved and who is not, but I don’t think I get to decide these things for God, do you? I don’t think I get to damn, exclude or judge anyone from salvation, even if by my rules he seems beyond redemption. I believe that Jesus asked us to dynamically love our neighbors, even our enemies, whether they are repentant or not. I know, this seems utterly impractical, even stupid, yes, even impossible, but then again, it seems equally stupid to sacrifice oneself on a cross for the just the people who put you there, now doesn’t it?

            “My brothers, my sisters, God has called me to walk in the way of humility, and showed me the way of simplicity. . . . The Lord has shown me that he wants me to be a new kind of fool in the world, and God does not want to lead us by any other knowledge than that.” —Francis of Assisi

          6. @tsalmon

            We don’t judge souls; we judge trees by their fruit. Someone can behave like a lunatic because they are crazy. God knows, but all we see is the behavior.

            What is a bigot? A bigot discriminates on a basis that makes no rational sense. If we don’t acknowledge a marriage just because the couple is of two different races, that is bigoted. If we don’t acknowledge a marriage because the “couple” consists of two people of the same sex, that is rational because it is consistent with biological reality, the definition of marriage, and Biblical teaching.

            The bigot gives offense because he wants to offend. On the other hand, some people take offense just to get their own way, regardless of the Truth.

          7. My wife and I have numerous gay friends who we love dearly. Some of them have gotten married. One of those is even a retired pastor. You believe God wants me to shun these friends and not recognize their love. You think that I should ostracize them because you don’t personally understand the logic of their love. I know that you think that the whole country is somehow discriminating against your religious right to shun these beautiful images of God, and I get the need for you to have that kind of freedom to judge them. I also get how they might be tired of being senselessly hurt and discriminated against by people who claim that an all loving and all merciful God wants them to proclaim their superiority over certain other sinners. The difficulty here is that you see them as an affront to you for just existing and being what they are while, they, by comparison, are actually not trying to hurt you at all, except perhaps your right for your outdated taboos not to be affronted.

            I say it again, this is only a simple problem if only one side’s bigotry is considered. But Jesus never said that His love and His compassion was easy or simple in practice, did He?

          8. @tsalmon

            I have friends who have committed suicide. I understand the logic of it. Should I have helped my friends kill themselves? Should have I killed myself too? After all, why hurt my friends feelings? Would want to seem superior, would I?

            If your friend wants to rob banks, are you going to help him? After all, banks have plenty of money, and he just wants his share. Well, it appears your friends want to FORCE everyone to approve a perverted version of marriage, and you are quite willing to vote for politicians who will twist arms. That’s not tolerance; that’s approval of something you know is wrong. So, forgive me, but I don’t see anything but idiotic virtue signaling in such nonsense.

            You are not protecting your friends rights. You are abusing the truth with lies.

            What is even more serious? Jesus would not approve of same-sex “marriage”, and you know it. Calling upon Jesus to affirm same-sex “marriage” is plainly dishonest. We don’t honor God by saying His Word says something it clearly does not.

            Making up your own Jesus is a form of idolatry, not Christianity.

          9. You imagine that the harm of two people living together in a loving same sex marriage is the equivalent to committing suicide, and robbing banks? Sounds a bit like you a catastrophizing? When you have to resort to getting this over-the-top to pretend that you are harmed, then it may be good time to rethink the morality of your angry stance. It sounds very much like the end of the world panicking that some folks predicted if black and whites were allowed to work together, school, together, eat together and worst of all, have sex together.

            There were gay people at the time of Jesus. If it really rated as a sin up there with murder and grand larceny, you’d think Jesus would have mentioned it at least one, but He didn’t did He? Instead Jesus attributed sin, not to arcane customs and taboos (like pork eating and Circumcision), but instead to our failure the failure to love as we should. This was the ultimate source of all the laws and all the teachings of the Prophets, Jesus told us.

            Jesus is often depicted rather androgynously. Perhaps this is because we instinctively recognize something holy in the mix of sexual identity. I saw an amazing fish on a nature show the other night. It spends its whole like as a female being impregnated by the larger males and giving birth. However, some of the females, if they get large enough, will hide and transform themselves into males. In other words, every male was at one time a female.

            An infinite God provides a diversity of life that can forever astound our imagination. The most astounding thing to me about being a Christian believer trying to live in constant awe and wonder at God and His/Her creation is that all of us are not constantly more astounded. But you know for certain what kind of exclusive sex the Christ incarnate, the infinite Alpha and the Omega of all things, prefers. Pshaw!

          10. @tsalmon

            You imagine that the harm of two people living together in a loving same sex marriage is the equivalent to committing suicide, and robbing banks?

            You begin by describing a fantasy relationship, SAME-SEX “marriage”. Then you proclaim: what harm could it do? Well, you have already helped to change the meaning of “marriage” and committed yourself to forcing people to accept a blatant falsehood. This nonsense leads to foul things like sodomy, high suicide rates, sex-changes for children, and you cannot see anything wrong with it?

            Read Romans 1:18-32. There is the Truth as best we can determine and understand it, and then there is whatever we want to be.

            You can make similar arguments for polygamy, pedophilia, and who knows what else. You refuse to see the harm. Then you act like anyone who sees the harm is a doofus. That’s not debating.

            Jesus defined marriage by affirming the Old Testament.

            Matthew 19:3-6 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

            3 Some Pharisees came to [a]Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to [b]divorce his wife for any reason at all?” 4 And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”

            The entire Bible is the Word of God, not just what the Bible’s record of Jesus’ words. If you are a Red Letter Christian, that’s ridiculous.

            Jesus is often depicted rather androgynously. Perhaps this is because we instinctively recognize something holy in the mix of sexual identity.

            The Bible depicts Jesus as a man. Matthew depicts Jesus as the King. Mark write of a man of action, the devoted servant of God. Luke writes of the Savior of both the Jews and the Gentiles. John tells us Jesus is God and that He loves us.

            Jesus has a dual nature. He is a man born of a virgin, and He God, the one who invented sex. The word “androgynous” doesn’t apply.

            A guy named Salmon saw a fish? I saw a bacteria. Bacteria are asexual. Are you a fish or a bacteria. I thought we were talking about people.

            But you know for certain what kind of exclusive sex the Christ incarnate, the infinite Alpha and the Omega of all things, prefers. Pshaw!

            If you are going to use the government to sanction same-sex “marriage” and force everyone to accept it, then you are the one claiming a certainty. Yet out of the other side of your mouth you are claiming we cannot be certain. That’s logical? Don’t think so. Arrogant, maybe.

          11. Reality? Tom, that ship has sailed. You sound like the person who continues to claim the Sun actually spins about the Earth long after it was shown that the Earth actually spins on its axis, and as proof, in disbelief you keep chanting like a mantra: “sunrise”, “sunset”, “sunrise”, “sunset” . . . .

            As for your quote from Mathew, I heard Jesus condemning divorce, but strangely, as upset as you are about someone else’s legal marriage contract that you aren’t involved in, you are not religiously affronted about having to recognize someone else’s divorce. For example, not once have I heard you complain that Melania is not the “real” First Lady. But you don’t see any contradiction in this selective busybodiness, do you?

            “The entire Bible is the Word of God, not just what the Bible’s record of Jesus’ words. If you are a Red Letter Christian, that’s ridiculous.“

            Like you, I’m just trying to follow the Word and example of Jesus as best that I can. Is Jesus just another Prophet in a chain of Prophets? Or rather, was Jesus far more transformative, evolutionary and transcending? Did His Word simply compliment and fulfill the Covenant that came before? Or should we recognize a dividing line, a New Covenant, where Christ perfectly defines, explains, completes and climaxes all of God’s Word that came before, indeed to the point that everything in the Old Testament only makes any sense to Christians if we see it through the profound lens that is the Word, the Life, the example, the Sacrificial Crucifixion and the glorious Resurrection of Jesus the Christ?

            To my small understanding of this, Jesus’ incarnation is the apex of a mountain from which we meekly try to survey His presence in the entirety of existence, and He has told us that we can only interpret His presence in existence through Him, with Him and in Him, by the power of the Holy Spirit with God’s love and God’s grace. If we want knowledge of God, including God’s Word throughout scripture, I believe this practice and prayer is the way, the truth and the light, a truth that is in and beyond every moment of time.

            You know that the truth of the scriptures l is multilayered far beyond the literal and it is also, as you have said, evolutionary, in that it is given for the limited understanding of the people of that time and place and culture. Unlike those who knew only the Old Testament, we now and for two thousand years have had the privilege of the living Word and example Christ incarnate in Jesus. We Christians are now, and unfortunately have been throughout the Centuries, fools not to see EVERYTHING in the Light of His Eternal Truth, and yet over and over again we choose to stumble around in the darkness of those poor pharisaic lawyers who sought to challenge the fulfillment of the Law who was also our Savior from Law with their small misunderstanding of the Law. After thousands of years Paul keeps explaining this over and over to us, but the message frightens us so we cling to a false certainty, miniaturize an infinite God to a sex and size that is less than infinitely mysterious, and close our ears, and then we schism and war over silly dogmas and doctrinal minutia at the expense of the Almighty love He/She/YWH offers us.

            BYW, what color letter do you label a Christian who sacrifices the Jesus of the New Testamen again and again for the sake of an arcane understanding of the Old Testament?

            “If you are going to use the government to sanction same-sex “marriage” and force everyone to accept it, then you are the one claiming a certainty. Yet out of the other side of your mouth you are claiming we cannot be certain. That’s logical? Don’t think so. Arrogant, maybe.”

            Stifle your tribalism with a dose of reality please. “I” used “my” government? I suppose if I thought I did it alone then that would be arrogant. If I’m stuck with Trump as “my” President, then you are stuck with the rest of “your” government too. This movement started in the states and ended in a Republican Supreme Court. As one lowly citizen in a constitutional republic, “I” had about as much to do with gay marriage being the law of the land as you did. As a straight married Catholic dude, it neither helps me nor hurts me, but I have no problem with it. My view, a view held by most Western Catholics and Christians, is that this does more to fulfill Gods message of love than to hurt it, but, unlike you, I don’t claim to speak for an infinite God on His/Her/YWH’s sexual preferences – the whole concept seems presumptuously and preposterously arrogant to me, even humorously so. 😆

          12. @tsalmon

            Same-sex “marriage” is marriage because the earth spins. That’s your argument? Somewhere at some time I don’t remember I said Melania is not the real first lady, so same-sex “marriage is real? Your theology of love is real and Christian even though it is nothing more than an excuse to believe whatever you want so you won’t offend some deluded perverts? Politicians define reality because they make laws? And that ship has sailed? A law? When the law of man defines your truth, so what? We can change a law on a whim.

            I don’t claim to speak for God either. I read the Bible, the whole book, and I understand the Old Testament and the New were inspired by the same unchanging God. Abraham was saved by the same God who saves us.

            Is there a new covenant? Yes, but the Old Testament points to it. Are the scriptures evolutionary? No. God revealed His plan for our salvation in stages, but the God never changes His mind. He never changes His Mind about homosexuality. He hates it in both the Old and the New Testament.

            To win an idiotic argument, you are going absurd lengths. You are in the majority? Truth is now defined by a vote? Yesterday’s vote. Today’s vote? Tomorrow’s.

            You end with the argument that “this does more to fulfill God’s message of love than to hurt it.” God’s message for us is the Bible. You just said what the Bible says is wrong is right.

            Isaiah 5:20-21 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
            20 Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;
            Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness;
            Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!
            21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes
            And clever in their own sight!

    2. I’m reminded of a joke:
      Man is being interviewed for employment and the interviewer looks over his resume, and asks, “I see there’s a four year gap in your work history…what’s that about?”
      Man answers, “Oh, that was when I went to yale”
      “Yale? That’s very impressive! You’re hired.”
      Man responds, “Yay! I go a yob!” 🙂

      When people are paying hundreds of thousands in certain cases to get into the right schools, we know there’s something illegitimate about the process…and something to be gained beyond just “education”.

  3. Tom,

    While I have very limited knowledge of him or his writings, it is apparent that he recognized back then the path of taking place in the USA. He pointed out one of the main failings leading to a downwarn vortex taking place in USA politics, in my opinion, in the following sentence.

    “ the author declared, for example. “It is time, in the West, to defend not so much human rights as human obligations.”

    Whether it is obligations to God, Nation, family, friends, community or responsibilities as I wrote in a post yesterdsy, we are spinning downward in a vortex because of lack of wisdom and love in or society and culture.

    Perhaps we as a Nation will wise up in the future and restore balance between rights, obligations, and responsibilities before we end up as a Nation in the hole at the bottom of every vortex.

    Regards,, goodwill blogging, and Happy New Year.

  4. Did you ever see the movie “The Way Back,” 2010 or read the book it’s based on, “The Long Walk” by a former Polish POW? This post just reminded me of them. I live in an area with a lot of love for communist ideals, and a lot of ignorance, a lot of romanticized Marxism. It’s disturbing.

    1. @IB

      No. Never read that book. I wonder if our library has it.

      The area I live in is gets crazier every year. For the last couple of years my delegate to the Virginia House has been a transgender “woman”. It is bad enough he is a Democrat, but he wants his crazy ideas about sex in the schools.

      Because it denies God, that’s where this disturbing Marxism nonsense leads, absolute lunacy straight out of Romans 1. Of course, if you point out the obvious, you must be some kind of bigot. So the lunatics feel justified in hating you.

      Any sensible person just pitys the poor fools. What could anyone do to them that is worse than what they are doing to themselves?

      The real issue for me is keeping children away from their influence.

  5. I read “Gulag…” back in the day when I was stationed in Iceland and belonged to three book clubs.. a personal renaissance period for me.
    Reminds me of a joke from back then… There’s was a drink called “The Solzhenitsyn”; it’s a shot of vodka in a class with a single cube of ice. One drink and you toss it out the window.

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