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Posted by on Nov 21, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Politics | 6 comments

Blaming MGM (Mandalay Bay) for the Las Vegas Shooting is Absurd

 

 

My Thoughts on Victims and Survivors Suing Mandalay Bay: 

This lawsuit is absurd.  It has no merit whatsoever.  Hopefully, the legal case never reaches trial.  Hopefully, MGM and Live Nation refuse to settle out of court.  They did nothing wrong, and finding them guilty of any negligence sends the wrong message.  It also makes everyone’s lives more difficult and more expensive because, in the end, it’s we who end up paying the price.  We suffer the fallout.

 

It seems that everyone in America can sue anyone for any reason for any amount, no matter how frivolous the claim.

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Posted by on Nov 9, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Politics | 1 comment

Marijuana’s Impact on Las Vegas from a Non-User’s Perspective

 

 

Now, four months into Nevada’s bold experiment with recreational marijuana use, all evidence indicates that critics of legalization were dead wrong about the presumed dangers they insisted would occur.

This isn’t the view of a biased, half-stoned, pot smoker.  It’s my sober opinion based on countless encounters with pot users who I’ve seen light up in public places, mostly using vaporizers.  “Vaping,” I believe it’s called.  Forgive me if I get some of the lingo wrong.  I’m not familiar with the mechanics of marijuana smoking nor do I know how to use one of those devices which resembles an electronic metal tube.  In fact, I’ve never smoked marijuana (or cannabis) in my life and have no plans to do so in the future.

I don’t like drugs.  But I don’t begrudge those who chose to imbibe in the milder stuff, provided they act responsibly.  Despite having no desire to partake, I strongly favor the legalization of recreational marijuana (and most other drugs, too).  Nonetheless, earlier this year when the law changed, no one knew what to expect once using marijuana became as convenient as buying a six-pack.  Frankly, given Las Vegas’ pervasive culture of quick and easy access to all forms of vice, things could have gone either way.

Critics warned that incidents of public disorder would worsen.  They claimed crime would increase.  They insisted recreational marijuana use would lead to a significant rise in the use of harder drugs, thus filling up emergency rooms and adding to the burdens of law enforcement.

Turns out, legalizing marijuana hasn’t made any of these problems worse.  In fact, pot may have actually helped to reduce some these problems.  In recent months, for instance, I’ve encountered fewer traffic accidents.  Data will ultimately determine if the rate of auto accidents has declined in Nevada since legalizing marijuana.  But based on personal experience, I’m willing to stand by the supposition that things are better now.

Why is this so?  My theory is as follows:  Since more people are now smoking marijuana than before, they’re also consuming less alcohol.  This shift in behavior would likely reduce the number of impaired drivers on the road.  Fewer impaired drivers means fewer accidents.

But doesn’t smoking pot impair driving?  I don’t think so.  Interestingly, I see drivers smoking pot all the time.  At stoplights, drivers frequently roll down their windows and release huge plumes of white smoke.  You can’t drive anywhere in the city and not witness this phenomenon.  When my windows are down and I’m sitting next to another vehicle with a driver who’s vaping, the odor is unmistakable.  It’s pot.  Yet, I’ve not seen any incidents where any pot-smoking driver appears to be driving unsafely.  Sure, it might happen occasionally.  I just haven’t seen it.

I don’t want to be accused of overstating things, but marijuana use appears to be happening almost everywhere around Las Vegas.  I’m astounded at how public this activity is and how few people (non-users) seem to care.  Pulling into some parking garages is like getting invited to a pot party.  Small groups of people are frequently seen standing around their cars, at all hours of the day and night, sometimes just sitting in their cars quietly as though huddled around a campfire, as clouds of smoke rise into the air.  It’s pervasive.

I’ve walked past these dens of pot smokers more times than I can count, frequently late at night after a long poker session.  I’ve never encountered a problem or felt unsafe.  Not once.

Downtown Las Vegas has become a melting pot of bikers, women with too many tattoos, budget-seeking tourists from the Midwest, and at least on weekends — about half the population of San Bernadino County.  It’s also become the city’s epicenter for marijuana use.  Locals and tourists alike carry vaping devices openly on city streets and inside many casinos, toking away.  Many different odors have come to be associated with marijuana products now, given there are so many different varieties.  I don’t know enough about it to describe the sensation, but the smell is distinctive and unmistakable.

Despite all the pot smoking within relatively confined spaces, I’ve seen no incidents of violence or disorder associated with its use.  To the contrary.  Smoking pot appears to make most users more mellow.  They don’t want to fight.  They want to chill, and maybe later — eat.  Moreover, smoking pot usually means there’s less drinking.  So, just like with driving, that would account for less public intoxication and violence.

Again, it may be too early to tell just yet, but crime has not increased in Las Vegas (obviously, the mass shooting isn’t taken into account here, but that had nothing to do with drug use).  Desperate dope addicts aren’t robbing and stealing in order to feed their addictions.  That appears to be yet another myth associated with legalizing marijuana — now disproven.  I expect we’ll eventually see better research on this which will settle the matter once and for all.

The only negative I’ve experienced with marijuana used so openly is a mildly annoying odor, at times.  If confined within a small space, the smell of smoke vapors can be pretty intense to a non-user.  But I’ve yet to encounter any of the discomforts associated with second-hand smoke — such as coughing and burning eyes.  Given the option of having a cigarette smoker VERSUS a pot smoker (vaping) right next to me, and I’ll gladly take the pot smoker.  In a heartbeat.  No discussion necessary.  Not even close.  Besides, the pot smoker probably won’t be much of a bother.

I can’t speak with any depth as to the economics of legalizing marijuana.  However, the state’s revenue from taxation will be huge.  Based on reports, including the conservative-leaning Las Vegas Review-Journal, local and state officials appear to be doing a remarkable job in policing the new industry, which remains scandal-free.  Even more compelling is the fact that hundreds (perhaps thousands) of new jobs have been created, many at legal dispensaries located all over town.  So, economically speaking, legalizing marijuana has been a good thing.  Just how good still remains to be seen.

Okay, so virtually all the short-term impacts of legalizing marijuana appear to be positive.  But what about the long-term?  Surely, we will pay a heavy price down the road, right?

We’ll eventually see.  If the critics are right (they’ve been wrong on every point, thus far); if marijuana proves to be a so-called “gateway drug” to harder stuff in the future, then Las Vegas will have some mighty big problems.  However, there’s no evidence yet that harder drug use has worsened in jurisdictions where pot has been legal for some time.  Other states (and countries) which liberalized their drug laws aren’t seeing any epidemics when it comes to overdosing and addiction.  In the end, legalization probably ends up saving more lives since those who do abuse drugs won’t be dissuaded against getting treatment because of fears of being charged with a crime.

Alas, the most serious drug epidemic in this country right now has nothing whatsoever to do with marijuana.  It has everything to do with a corrupt corporate capitalistic culture pushing the hell out of opioids in order to swell profits and make shareholders happy.  Las Vegas certainly has its share of victims who have become slaves to this opioid crisis.  Still, none of this has anything to do with marijuana.  America’s opioid addiction crisis has killed thousands.  But no one dies from smoking marijuana.  Let’s face it.  It’s big pharma’s bonus-driven corporate whores and overzealous marketing departments who are the most dangerous and destructive drug cartel in America.  Not pot people.

By and large, Las Vegas’ initial four months as a test case in the ongoing marijuana debate has produced a convincing case that this should be our national drug policy:  Total decriminalization of all marijuana-related products, sale, and use — in every state in America.  Imagine how that might free up our overburdened law enforcement and court system to tackle real crime instead of wasting precious resources busting pot smokers.

It’s clear.  Critics of drug legalization here in Las Vegas have been proven wrong.  Advocates were right.  So, let’s now listen to the people who got it right and start ignoring the people who always seem to get things wrong.  Let’s get wise and expand this smart and more economical approach towards marijuana to other places.

Here’s the final conclusion of someone who has no interest in smoking marijuana:  Legalizing recreational marijuana in Nevada was the right thing to do.

 

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Posted by on Nov 8, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Movie Reviews, Politics | 2 comments

Holding Celebrities Accountable

 

 

I went to a movie last night.  During the previews, the trailer for “All the Money in the World” came on.  To be released soon, the Ridley Scott-directed film tells the true story of the kidnapping of John Paul Getty’s grandson by terrorists during the 1970s.  At the time, John Paul Getty was the world’s richest man.  Still, he stubbornly refused to pay a ransom.

Sounds intriguing, no?

There’s just one problem.

John Paul Getty is played by Kevin Spacey.

The recent allegations against Spacey of multiple sexual and perhaps criminal misdeeds are shocking.  One of Hollywood’s most respected actors, he’s become the latest miscreant in what appears to be a mass epidemic of abuse — of sex and power.  Spacey, his reputation in shreds, is toxic — at least for the time being.  He joins the moral septic tank which includes Roman Polanski, Mel Gibson, Harvey Weinstein, and other movie moguls tainted by scandal.

Just as the movie trailer concluded, I leaned over and whispered to my wife, “Well Spacey killed that movie’s chances of success.”

Think about it.  What an awkward situation for multi-million dollar film production.  Writers, producers, investors, executives, film crews, advertising departments, other movie actors — hundreds and perhaps thousands of people worked hard on that film.  They’re likely to suffer because now many people won’t go and see a Kevin Spacey film.

To be clear, Spacey was cast and the film wrapped-up production way before any of the terrible allegations came out.  Had there been prior knowledge beyond just the rumors and whispers, probably someone else would have been cast as John Paul Getty.  But hey, what’s done is done.

[NOTE:  READ UPDATE BELOW]

I wonder to what extent we should hold celebrities accountable for their misconduct.  When we make a decision to boycott someone’s film, are we really punishing them?  Or, is the collateral damage to innocents far worse?  Is boycotting a movie based solely on a performer in it really fair?

For decades, many Americans boycotted Jane Fonda’s movies because she was among the most outspoken voices of the Vietnam anti-war movement.  For millions of good people who loved movies (and probably adored her father — actor Henry Fonda), Jane crossed a serious line when she visited North Vietnam and appeared to delight in mocking the shooting down of American aircraft.

The anti-Jane Fonda boycott didn’t hurt her career.  She went on to create a stellar body of film work, including several Oscar-caliber performances.  While she later apologized for her actions in 1972, specifically to the veterans she outraged, Fonda remains stigmatized by her actions, some deemed as treasonous.  Perhaps rightly so.

I’m pretty dogmatic about standing up for my views.  But I also have trouble boycotting movies based on politics.  Before he became the frontman for the National Rifle Association, Charlton Heston was a proud liberal.  He marched in civil rights parades during the early 1960s when it wasn’t a cool thing to do.  Later on, Heston became an arch-conservative.

None of Heston’s political views bothered me when I watch (and inevitably re-watch) him playing Moses in “The Ten Commandments” or the slave in “Ben Hur,” or the astronaut in “Planet of the Apes.”  I don’t see a conservative or a liberal.  Instead, I see a master performer who was perfectly cast in many film roles who left us with an astounding catalog of entertainment.

To be clear, there are many performers I have absolutely no interest in seeing in any movie (Adam Sandler, Jennifer Lopez, Casey Affleck — all make my short list).  But it’s not because I oppose their politics or think they’ve done bad things in their lives.  I just think they suck.

Mel Gibson probably committed the gravest sin in Hollywood, which is to be anti-Semitic.  Gibson’s repeated drunken outbursts during which he defamed Jews pretty much destroyed his bankability as a beloved movie star.  Or……….perhaps not.  His controversial 2004 film, “Passion of the Christ,” released well after allegations against Gibson began to surface, has earned $430 million (most of the profits going directly to Gibson since he was the primary investor).  It remains one of the best-selling DVD releases more than a decade after coming out.  Apparently, Christian audiences were perfectly willing to forgive an overt anti-Semite.

No doubt, Harvey Weinstein was (and is) a pig.  He’s a disgraceful man who badly abused his power and probably deserves to be behind bars eating pork and beans the rest of his life.  Weinstein should never again be in a position of power over anyone in the movie business.  That’s putting it mildly.

That said, Weinstein (and specifically his former production company — Miramax) has consistently released the most critically-acclaimed movies over the past 15 years.  Many Miramax films have been quite progressive in pushing the boundaries of conventional taste.  When it was still considered risky to make movies about the Black experience in America or delve into uncomfortable (for many) topics like homosexuality, Miramax hasn’t just been an opportunistic conglomerate intent to exploit these outlier subjects.  It’s been a cultural beacon.

Sadly, Weinstein’s fall from Hollywood grace now brings the viability of making smarter and riskier movies into a perilous future.  It’s far less risky for studios to redux cartoon characters for the umpteenth time or make movies about spaceships rather than to greenlight a World War II movie about a British codebreaker who happened to be gay.  In the end, Weinstein’s victims won’t just be all the women he molested.  It will be the rest of us for missing out on what could have been.

I do find it odd that we allow certain celebrity sub-cultures to get away with gross offenses which would otherwise destroy the careers of people in other fields.  Rock stars (rappers, etc.) are almost expected to engage in scandalous behavior.  Groupies.  Destroying hotel rooms.  Drugs.  Drunkenness.  But when’s the last time a musician was charged with having sex with a minor?  Are we to conclude that pop musicians are better behaved than actors?

Even non-celebrity cases of sexual misconduct are often fraught with outlandish hypocrisy.  Teachers abusing students is a crime and should be.  When an older male teacher sexually assaults a younger female student, he’s considered a pervert.  When an older (usually good-looking) female teacher sexually assaults a younger male student, we make jokes that the kid’s lucky.

Morality isn’t so much a line, but a matrix.

 

UPDATE:  All of Kevin Spacey’s scenes will be re-shot.  The movie release of “All the Money in the World” was pushed back to a December 22nd release date.  READ MORE HERE

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Posted by on Nov 7, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Politics, What's Left | 0 comments

Another Discussion Worth Having: Animal Rights and Stopping Abusers

 

 

The tragic killings in Central Texas this past weekend have sparked yet another round of tireless debates about gun laws and mental health issues.

While these are debates worth having, they don’t fully address a national epidemic worsened by the distorted scales of criminal justice in America when it comes to animal cruelty.  Turns out, abusing animals (often family pets) is among the most troubling indications of serious trouble to come later in life.  And — we don’t take this issue nearly as seriously as we should.

The deranged Texas gunman wasn’t just a military reject, a mental patient, and wife beater.  He was also a viciously cruel man who was charged with animal abuse.  In 2014, the mass murderer was cited for animal cruelty after neighbors told police he viciously punched his dog outside his trailer home in El Paso.  Court records show the case was dismissed after he paid a small fine.

A small fine.

So punching a defenseless animal in the face so brutally that witnesses living in a trailer park felt compelled to call the local police gets taken about as seriously as a parking citation.

Most animal abusers aren’t caught.  Most aren’t charged with criminal offenses.  The vast majority of animal abuse goes unreported.  And most people who abuse animals don’t do it just one time.  They are habitual offenders, mindlessly cruel sadists who do awful things to animals for some sick perverted satisfaction, even joy.

There’s a terribly disturbing pattern linking animal abuse in childhood (and sometimes later on, even as adults) to the monstrous acts they commit which brings them into the public consciousness.  Consider the most high-profile killers in history, most of whom have tortured animals, and then gone on to commit viciously wicked crimes:

  1. Albert DeSalvo, a.k.a. “The Boston Stranger” murdered 13 women.  As a child, he trapped dogs and cats in boxes and would then shoot arrows at them.
  2. David Berkowitz, a.k.a. “Son of Sam” murdered at least six people.  Before he began his mass killing spree, he shot his neighbor’s dog.
  3. Brenda Spencer shot a gun into a crowd of children.  Eleven were hit by bullets and two died.  During her childhood, Spencer liked to light the tails of stray cats and dogs on fire.  Not as many women commit these horrendous acts.  Most childhood animal abusers tend to be men.
  4. Jeffrey Dahmer was a sexual sadist who murdered 17 young men.  As a kid, his hobby was to kill neighbor’s pets.  He even impaled a dog’s head on a stick, which he proudly displayed.
  5. Ted Bundy killed 40 people.  He learned cruelty early in life, often watching as his father tortured small animals.  As a teenager, Bundy later did the same acts to animals, and eventually people as an adult.
  6. Edmund Emil Kemper murdered eight women (including his mother) during the 1970s.  As a child, he found cats around the neighborhood, killed them, and then displayed their heads on poles.  He even killed his own cat and sliced it into pieces.
  7. Andrew Cunanan murdered five people, including fashion icon Gianni Versace.  As a kid, he often went to beaches and tortured crabs by gouging out their eyes.
  8. Lee Boyd Malvo was the impressionable teenager in a duo of snipers who terrorized the Washington, DC area during the early 2000s.  As a child, he used to torture small animals.
  9. Dennis Rader, who would become the infamous “BTK Killer,” discovered a grotesque thrill as a kid when started binding, torturing, and killing animals.  He cruelly experimented on several types of animals, even going so far as to prolong their lives during torture sessions so they would experience more pain.
  10. Now, add the name Devin Kelly to this list, who murdered 26 people on Sunday.

It’s excruciating for me to point out this short list is by no means complete, nor is it comprehensive.  Indeed, there are innumerable cases — thousands, hundreds of thousands — of kids who torture animals who later go on to commit even worse crimes as adults when empowered with greater means and opportunity to inflict more pain and destruction upon innocents.

So, what is to be done?  And, how do we stop this?

I don’t have all the answers, but this is a question we should be asking.  While gun debates and how we administer mental health treatment is a vital issue right now, so to must be animal rights and mindless cruelty.

A good start might be each of us taking an interest in what we observe.  Neighborhood kids throwing rocks at ducks might not seem like such a big deal.  Chasing defenseless animals seems innocent enough.  Shooting a pellet gun at birds isn’t illegal.  But engaging in these inexplicable childish acts not only exhibits a complete lack of empathy for other creatures.  These common acts of adolescent violence often become an early foundation for horrors to come later.  They are an affirmation that is okay to amuse oneself at the expense of animals.  It’s fucking sick.

We need more teaching.  We need more respect for animals and the environment.  We need to instill goodness in the hearts and minds of children.  We need more counseling.  We need greater access to mental health professionals.  We need more severe punishment for those who harm animals.

Not small fines.

It’s time to take animal cruelty much more seriously.  Too often, it’s the secret and silent beast within which incubates for years and later mutates into mass murder.

 

READ MORE:  DO MASS KILLERS START OUT BY HARMING PETS? [PSYCHOLOGY TODAY]

 

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Posted by on Oct 24, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Personal, Politics | 4 comments

When Terms of Endearment Get Politically Incorrect

 

 

A recent Facebook discussion sparked curiosity and heightened my awareness about the ways we commonly address each other in public.

My discovery came as a surprise.  The lesson I learned was this:  I’m guilty of making spurious assumptions about what’s acceptable in the ways I address other people.

This self-reflection began yesterday when Terrell Johnson, a Facebook friend, posted the following message:

 

 

I thought about this post for a while.  I admit being guilty of the act described by Mr. Johnson as “dumb weird.”  Yes, I’ve called Black males “brother” plenty of times, even when I didn’t know them and I wasn’t entitled to that instant salutation of familiarity.  Of course, I didn’t mean anything harmful by it.  But, the salutation remains indomitably tinged with presumptions based on race.

“Hey, brother — how’s it going?”

Sounds innocent, enough.  But I’d probably never say it to a White guy.  Only a Black man.  That makes it racial — and inappropriate.

“Man” is another common term that’s been around for decades.  “Man” has been spoken across racial lines for as long as I’ve been alive.  Before 1960’s counterculture co-opted “man” as common slang between rockers and hippies, the term was deeply rooted in Black male self-empowerment.  It was even a quiet means of protest.  Indeed, “man” was the typical greeting Black jazz musicians often used to address each other during the Klan-clawed 1920’s when most of America was undergoing an ugly resurgence of bigotry and mass discrimination.  In many places, Black men, including old Black men who deserved respect were instead still called “boy” — often straight to their faces.  Millions of Black men were forced to stand there and swallow the degradation because to do otherwise would have been life-threatening.  And so, “man” became a small yet significant means of defiance against this cultural belittlement.

“Hey, man.”

I still use “man” quite frequently.  It’s just a common figure of speech for those who came of age during a certain era.  You might say it’s part of our linguistic DNA.  I see no reason to stop using “man,” because no one is offended and there are no racial connotations to its usage.

Meanwhile, younger people have created their own expressive lingo, using common salutations like “dude.”  Call it a “get off my lawn” seizure, but I don’t like this one bit.  Hey, man —  I’m not a “dude.”  No one calls me “dude.”  If I offended easily, I’d take issue if someone whom I did not know addressed me in that way, unless, of course, I was somehow cast in the movie remake of “The Big Lebowski.”  Then, calling me “dude” would be okay and besides I’d be collecting a fat paycheck for my willingness to lower myself to the depths of thinking of myself as a “dude.”

Whew.  I feel much better now.

Salutations between the sexes are equally as sensitive these days, and perhaps even more so given the alarming rise in reports of sexual harassment that have been in the news.  Most of these misunderstandings about everyday interaction can be solved by a healthy dose of common sense.  But I must also admit not knowing exactly where to draw some lines.

Though I was born and grew up mostly in the South, I’ve never fallen prone to its regional colloquialisms, particularly when it comes of informality.  For instance, “honey” is a term I’ve never used when addressing females.  I think it’s wrong, or perhaps it just doesn’t fit my manner of speaking.

Nonetheless, “honey” remains a very common expression in many areas of the country to this day.  It’s so common that most people probably don’t even consider it offensive.  Then again, I’ve never seen any actual studies on this — so, who knows?  Perhaps waitresses who get called “honey” all the time by their customers are quietly boiling deep down inside.  I don’t know.  Hence, it’s better not to use it at all is my policy.

About ten years ago, I started using “darling” a lot when addressing females — mostly when around co-workers, waitresses, and so forth.  Many people probably think of it as another way of saying “honey.”  I picked up this cutesy means of expression from the late writer Christopher Hitchens, who used it all the time and sounded downright suave and gentlemanly, which was quite endearing.  Then again, perhaps the English accent combined with his masterful use of prose that made “darling” acceptable within elite circles.  I’m not nearly so talented nor as lucky.  In my circles, “darling” probably raises some eyebrows.  And so, barring the occasional slip up from now on based purely on a bad habit, I won’t be using it any longer.

While I’m perfectly willing to alter (and even cease) my use of language based on changing times and cultural sensibilities, my best guess is that others will not be nearly so flexible.  Most people are deeply rooted in their ways of speaking and behaving and thinking.  They are utterly unaware, and if made aware by chance, they usually don’t care if others take offense to words and phrases they’ve considered “normal” all their lives.

Of course, playing the common sense card — we should probably be willing to forgive and dismiss the typical mutterings of the very aged, to which the rules of political correctness will never apply.  Old people who call someone “honey” might as well be speaking a different language from another time.  Occasionally, I still hear some old people refer to Blacks as “Negroes.”

C’est la vie.  I mean, what can you say?

I think the common bond on what’s truly offensive — be it everyday language or much worse, actions which lead to overt racism and/or sexual harassment — is very much rooted in the subservient role of the victim.  An older woman waiting tables who addresses me as “honey” is entitled to that latitude whereas I should not be able to get away with it.  After all, if I don’t like being called “honey,” I can get up and leave.  If she doesn’t like being called “honey,” well then, tough shit.  She pretty much has to suck it up and take it — because that’s her job.

By the way, it’s okay to call me “honey.”

When it comes to common expressions we use, what’s normal is no excuse.  Tradition is no justification.  At one time in America, the denigration of women and minorities was quite normal, acceptable and even encouraged within power circles.  It was a tradition.  Then, we gradually realized how hurtful the small things were and how those seemingly insignificant details buttressed a faux fever of racial, cultural, and gender superiority.  Changes in the way we address each other are gradual and slow, but they are certain, and that’s a good thing.

In short, just because you’ve been doing something the same way all your life, doesn’t make it right.  Just because it’s an old habit that’s comfortable to you, doesn’t make it right.  Just because you don’t think you’re not offending anybody, doesn’t make it right.

Times change.

We must also change with them.

 

Note:  Thanks to Terrell Johnson for sparking the idea for this column on Facebook.

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