Dome ceiling at the Ambassadors’ Hall in the Royal Alcazar of Seville, Spain 1427 (click to enlarge)
Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.
– Virginia Woolf
Promising title, missed opportunity.
Vaccine passports are essentially certificates that link proof of vaccination to the identity of the holder, a potential silver bullet to return to our pre-Covid-19 lives. Before the pandemic, the EU was working on plans for cross-border electronic certificates to replace the paper booklets that many travellers carry. At this week’s EU summit some leaders pressed for further steps towards coronavirus passports. A recent Royal Society report that I led came up with 12 different criteria that would need to be satisfied to make such passports feasible. This is a complex ecosystem that requires an understanding of everything from immunity and infection to technology, ethics and behavioural factors. But the underlying question must be: what would a vaccine passport be used for?
The head of Heathrow airport has called for digital health certificates to reboot international travel. Estonia and Iceland already link e-vaccination certificates to travel and exclusion from quarantine. Greece is pressing the EU to move quickly. There are precedents such as the airline industry group Iata’s travel pass initiative. But would these certificates only be required for international travel or could they be needed for getting a job, attending a football match, or buying some milk? Israel recently introduced a green pass heralded as “the first step back to an almost normal life”. It opens entry to gyms, cinemas, hotels and meets some our technical criteria such as verifiable credentials, portability, (attempts at) security for personal data and interoperability. It is valid for six months after a second dose and for “those who have recovered from coronavirus”.
But this could be problematic. Current vaccines protect against severe disease, but we do not yet know whether they stop transmission, how quickly immunity wanes or if they are compromised by emerging variants. Whether someone who has “recovered” meets immunity criteria remains a question. In addition to an expiry date, we would need the ability to revoke a vaccine passport. Israel’s warning of severe punishment for forgery is another reminder of what could go wrong. There is also the question of mission creep. Recall the UK’s early digital contact tracing app, which raised concerns about privacy, government surveillance and private sector data sharing. Or consider the technical problems with the Tawakkalna app, introduced in Saudi Arabia, which is used for entry into many places but recently froze.
All vaccine passports have the potential to block people from essential goods and services and exclude those who lack identification or do not own or cannot afford a smartphone. The RS criteria for a workable vaccine passport included equity, ethics and non-discrimination. That means we must ask who would we exclude? There is higher vaccine hesitancy among ethnic minorities and the jabs are being rolled out by age. Plus some people are excluded entirely: children, pregnant women and those with allergies.
Using popular writers to soften resistance? “I’d tried to fight against it but I lost.”?
So sorry, Your Majesty, but I have had my first Covid vaccination for wholly selfish reasons. I did not do it for the good of others but for my own convenience. And I will have my second for the same purpose. A very important part of my family now lives abroad and I am deeply tired of not being able to see them. I get the strong sense that any sort of travel, and plenty of other things, will be impossible if I don’t have the necessary vaccine certificate. I hope it becomes known as the Blair Passport – as it is largely the warmongering Creature’s idea and people will come to hate it, as they have come to hate so many of his actions. So I have been more or less forced to have an immunisation I would not normally have bothered with.
Don’t, if you are wise, dare call me an ‘anti-vaxxer’. I have, in a long life, been injected against tetanus, smallpox, TB, polio, diphtheria and yellow fever. I’m a fiend for preventive medicine and the precautions I take when I’m in malarial areas are so elaborate my companions laugh at them – from swallowing horrible protective medicines to blasting my hotel room with ultra-strength death sprays to exterminate any possible mosquitoes. These are all terrible diseases and I think it’s wise to do this. And if you think Covid is as dangerous as them, I certainly don’t want to put you off the jab. Indeed, I don’t want to put you off in any way. It’s your business, not mine, and not even the Queen’s. I dislike her growing habit of getting involved in politics and I’d feel the same if she supported any cause I liked.
Of course my selfish injection didn’t hurt. I’m a blood donor (so also please don’t call me selfish), used to far bigger needles in my arm, for a lot longer. But I did feel a pang of regret and loss. For me, the vaccination was a gloomy submission to a new world of excessive safety and regulation. I’d tried to fight against it but I lost. The New Jerusalem, in which we allow the state to boss us around even more, in the name of our own good, is now coming into being.
Now test it properly. Yes, that takes years, we know.
Consistently ranked as one of the leading causes of death around the world, malaria doesn’t have an effective vaccine yet. But researchers have invented a promising new blueprint for one — with properties akin to the novel RNA-based vaccine for COVID-19. Making a vaccine for malaria is challenging because its associated parasite, Plasmodium, contains a protein that inhibits production of memory T-cells, which protect against previously encountered pathogens.
If the body can’t generate these cells, a vaccine is ineffective. But scientists recently tried a new approach using an RNA-based platform. Their design circumvented the sneaky protein, allowed the body to produce the needed T-cells and completely immunized against malaria. The patent application for their novel vaccine, which hasn’t yet been tested on humans, was published by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office on Feb. 4. “It’s probably the highest level of protection that has been seen in a mouse model,” said Richard Bucala, co-inventor of the new vaccine and a physician and professor at Yale School of Medicine.
The team’s breakthrough could save hundreds of thousands of lives, particularly in developing nations. In 2019 alone, there were an estimated 229 million cases of malaria and 409,000 deaths worldwide. Of those deaths, 94% were in Africa, with children being the most vulnerable. “It affects societies and populations that have the least amount of resources and expertise to manage these infections well,” Bucala told The Academic Times. “We need new vaccines, and we need more tools.” Novartis Pharmaceuticals and the National Institutes of Health funded the work. GlaxoSmithKline is an assignee on the patent, which if approved, will allow the company to produce the vaccine and make it available to the public.
At present, the only vaccine to prevent malaria is called RTS,S. Approved two years ago, this vaccine is the result of nearly two decades of research, but is only about 30% effective. And after four years, that figure drops to 15%.“It doesn’t work very well,” Bucala said. “And the research studies all have the conclusion that the people who fail to mount a vaccine response, or who get reinfected, have poor memory T-cell responses.”
“According to data from Johns Hopkins University, its death rate per 100,000 people is currently the worst in the world.”
Czech President Milos Zeman says he has sent a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin, asking for a Sputnik V vaccine shipment. Zeman said that Prague won’t insist on EU agency approval for use of the jab. Speaking to CNN Prima News on Saturday, Zeman revealed that the letter to the Russian leader was penned in agreement with the country’s PM Andrej Babis. The Czech leader said that he expects Putin to approve the request. “If I am properly informed, this request will be granted,” he told the channel. Zeman noted that the jab will need to be certified by the local regulator, the State Institute for Drug Control (SUKL), before the Russian vaccine can be rolled out. He added that its seal of approval will be “enough” to launch the vaccination campaign.
Zeman’s statement appears to run contrary to that of his top health official, Jan Blatny, who has been health minister since October, representing Babis’ pro-EU Action of Dissatisfied Citizens (ANO) populist party. Earlier this month, Blatny ruled out the possibility of the Czech Republic importing Sputnik V on his watch unless it is first greenlighted by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). Amid a spike in coronavirus infections, believed to be driven by a new, highly contagious variant, the Czech government extended a state of emergency on Friday, which will now run until March 28. Under the newly extended emergency, the authorities are expected to tighten curbs on the freedom of movement, including the imposition of bans on non-essential travel to other countries.
Interior Minister Jan Hamacek said the sweeping travel ban will be enforced by the military and the police. The restrictions will also see nurseries and schools for disabled children shut their doors, and people will be banned from leaving their municipalities other than for essential purposes. “We have to do it to prevent a total collapse of our hospitals,” Babis said on Friday, warning that if the lockdown is not properly enforced, “the whole world will watch Bergamo in the Czech Republic.” The country, with a population of 10.7 million, has reported some 1.2 million confirmed cases of Covid-19, including 20,000 fatalities from the virus. According to data from Johns Hopkins University, its death rate per 100,000 people is currently the worst in the world.
It makes zero difference. You lost.
President Biden released a statement on Friday marking the seventh anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea where he said the US will “never” accept Russian sovereignty over the peninsula. “The United States continues to stand with Ukraine and its allies and partners today, as it has from the beginning of this conflict,” Biden said. “The United States does not and will never recognize Russia’s purported annexation of the peninsula, and we will stand with Ukraine against Russia’s aggressive acts.” Left out of Biden’s statement was the reason for the Russian annexation.
In 2014, the US-orchestrated a coup in Ukraine. The largely ethnic Russian population of Crimea rejected the new nationalist anti-Russian government in Kyiv that even had neo-nazis in its midst. Polls after the annexation show the majority of Crimeans were in favor of joining Russia. The Biden family benefited greatly from the coup. Shortly after the change in government, President Biden’s son Hunter landed a high-paying job on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian natural gas company. President Biden tapped an architect of the Ukraine coup for a high-level position in the State Department. Victoria Nuland, the wife of neoconservative Robert Kagan, is the nominee to be the under secretary of state for political affairs.
“Orthodox Christian, thus appealing to swaths of the West; consolidated as major Eurasian power; a military, hypersonic superpower; and boasting unrivaled diplomatic skills, appreciated all across the Global South.”
Moscow is painfully aware that the US/NATO “strategy” of containment of Russia is already reaching fever pitch. Again. This past Wednesday, at a very important meeting with the Federal Security Service board, President Putin laid it all out in stark terms: “We are up against the so-called policy of containing Russia. This is not about competition, which is a natural thing for international relations. This is about a consistent and quite aggressive policy aimed at disrupting our development, slowing it down, creating problems along the outer perimeter, triggering domestic instability, undermining the values that unite Russian society, and ultimately to weaken Russia and put it under external control, just the way we are witnessing it transpire in some countries in the post-Soviet space.”
Not without a touch of wickedness, Putin added this was no exaggeration: “In fact, you don’t need to be convinced of this as you yourselves know it perfectly well, perhaps even better than anybody else.” The Kremlin is very much aware “containment” of Russia focuses on its perimeter: Ukraine, Georgia and Central Asia. And the ultimate target remains regime change. Putin’s remarks may also be interpreted as an indirect answer to a section of President Biden’s speech at the Munich Security Conference. According to Biden’s scriptwriters, “Putin seeks to weaken the European project and the NATO alliance because it is much easier for the Kremlin to intimidate individual countries than to negotiate with the united transatlantic community … The Russian authorities want others to think that our system is just as corrupt or even more corrupt.”
A clumsy, direct personal attack against the head of state of a major nuclear power does not exactly qualify as sophisticated diplomacy. At least it glaringly shows how trust between Washington and Moscow is now reduced to less than zero. As much as Biden’s Deep State handlers refuse to see Putin as a worthy negotiating partner, the Kremlin and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have already dismissed Washington as “non-agreement capable.” Once again, this is all about sovereignty. The “unfriendly attitude towards Russia,” as Putin defined it, extends to “other independent, sovereign centers of global development.” Read it as mainly China and Iran. All these three sovereign states happen to be categorized as top “threats” by the US National Security Strategy.
Yet Russia is the real nightmare for the Exceptionalists: Orthodox Christian, thus appealing to swaths of the West; consolidated as major Eurasian power; a military, hypersonic superpower; and boasting unrivaled diplomatic skills, appreciated all across the Global South. In contrast, there’s not much left for the deep state except endlessly demonizing both Russia and China to justify a Western military build-up, the “logic” inbuilt in a new strategic concept named NATO 2030: United for a New Era. The experts behind the concept hailed it as an “implicit” response to French President Emmanuel Macron’s declaring NATO “brain dead.” Well, at least the concept proves Macron was right.
Your daily Cuomo drip drip.
A second woman has accused Gov. Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment, according to a new report. Charlotte Bennett, a 25-year-old former aide to Cuomo, told The New York Times that the governor asked her inappropriate personal questions, told her he was open to relationships with women in their 20s, and left her feeling that he “wanted to sleep with me.” Bennett, who worked as an executive assistant and health-policy adviser, told the Times the interactions took place in the spring, as the coronavirus pandemic flared. Cuomo, 63, never made any physical advances, she said. Still, she described a June meeting in Cuomo’s Albany office, during which he griped about being lonely during the pandemic and whined he “can’t even hug anyone.”
Cuomo, 63, then pressed her: “Who did I last hug,” she said. She tried to dodge the question by saying she missed hugging her parents. “And he was, like, ‘No, I mean like really hugged somebody,’” she said. “I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared,” Bennett told the Times. “And [I] was wondering how I was going to get out of it and assumed it was the end of my job.” Bennett, who grew up in Westchester County, is around the same age as Cuomo’s oldest daughters. She said she told the governor how she had once played soccer against one of his girls. When she told Cuomo in May of her experience as a sexual-assault survivor, he seemed fixated by the revelation, she said.
She told a friend via text message: “The way he was repeating, ‘You were raped and abused and attacked and assaulted and betrayed,’ over and over again while looking me directly in the eyes was something out of a horror movie,” according to the Times. “It was like he was testing me.” Cuomo told her he was lonely since his relationship celebrity chef Sandra Lee, his girlfriend of 14 years, ended in 2019. He stressed to her that Lee was “out of the picture,” and referred to “wanting a girlfriend, preferably in the Albany area.” “Age doesn’t matter,” he told her, as he asked about her feelings about age differences in relationships — a conversation she told a friend about at the time, in a text reviewed by the Times.
It’s not just the state. Hospitals often have more managers and administrators than doctors and nurses.
The chilling narrative about the growth of the administrative state, which is essentially the regulatory apparatus of the executive branch, is usually confined to specialist professions. The ever-present danger of a slowly expanding and unaccountable apparatus of bureaucrats that threatens to sap the life out of American society and drown it in a sea of paperwork is typically a concern that only keeps policy wonks and lawyers up at night. Although many lawyers probably celebrate this dystopian vision because they benefit from the compliance fees. The regulatory state not only threatens to make society that much slower and dreary with its excessive onslaught of regulation but it also makes us poorer. Robert Samuelson writes for the Washington Post that
“No one really knows by how much, but “there is ample evidence that regulation has expanded and that this expansion has limited economic growth,” as Ted Gayer and Philip Wallach of the Brookings Institution recently wrote. One study estimates that regulation has shaved 0.8 percent off the U.S. annual growth rate, which — if confirmed by other studies — would be huge.” The regulatory state refers to organizations such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Control, the Federal Trade Commission, the Department of Education, the Department of Justice, the Internal Revenue Service, and all the other three-letter agencies in Washington, DC. If you would like to see how long the list of agencies is, take a look at the Federal Register, to which there are 455.
That number is absolutely mind-boggling and you don’t need a fancy degree in political science like I have to say that society can function without their oversight. A paper by Peter Strauss at Columbia Law School notes that there are currently over 2 million civilians employed in the federal government alone. He notes that for context, “The first Congress to meet once the Constitution was ratified created a Post Office and Departments of War, Navy, Foreign Affairs, and Treasury, each in unique ways suited to its responsibilities; this new government employed few civil servants to manage all its affairs. The first serious count of federal civilian employees, in 1816, reported that they numbered 4,837.”
The drastic expansion of the administrative state has come at a cost to not only our liberty, which is slowly being eroded by a sea of paperwork and regulations, but it also undermines our democracy. According to Article 1 of the Constitution, the legislative branch or Congress is supposed to be the primary law-making body of our government. That is because if there are bad laws or laws society doesn’t like, we can hold people accountable. However, more and more power has been shifted to the executive branch because of the growth of the administrative state. Even the judicial system is losing power to the administrative state after the establishment of a legal doctrine known as Chevron Deference, which binds the court system to defer to the administrative agency’s interpretation of a rule, not the Constitutional interpretation of a sitting judge.
These things are dirty.
The extraction process involves crushing the ore and milling it into granules, followed by some range of mechanical separation processes which might involve using magnetic sorting, gravity separation, or floatation. This is then usually followed by acid leaching, baking, or a solvent extraction step. This is why we don’t like processing it in the U.S. – it creates toxic wastes which have to be dealt with. Sometimes you get radioactive elements with it, like radium and thorium in the waste streams, which makes it even worse. So when we export it to China for processing, we really are exporting a lot of pollution with it.
China is the largest provider in the world today. It has three major ore deposits in Inner Mongolia, Sichuan, and Shangdong Provinces, as well lower grade deposits mainly in Jianxi, Guangdong, Fujian, and Guanxi Provinces in which the rare earths are adsorbed onto the surface of clay minerals. Though these lower-grade “weathered crust elution deposits” have lower concentrations of the actual rare earth elements, they are easier to extract. Dissolving them in salt water or ammonium sulfate solutions, and then precipitating them out with oxalic acid or ammonium bicarbonate – inexpensive chemicals – does the trick. It is a much less expensive process than extracting from ores, which has given Chinese producers a significant cost advantage.
During the 1960s and 1970s, the U.S. led the world in research on rare earths, but by the 1980s funding for the chemistry, separation technology, and processing was reduced. Low-pricing from China made U.S. mining and processing uncompetitive, and the Mountain Pass mine was closed in the 1990s, only to be reopened in 2013 after China restricted supplies. Could the U.S. become self-sufficient again? Bokan Mountain, on Prince of Wales Island in southeastern Alaska, is the site of a project by Nova Scotia-based Ucore Rare Metals. The company is trying to extract dysprosium, terbium, and yttrium over the projected 11 – 15 year life of the mine. From the 1950s – 1970s, the area was the location of a uranium mine, so the contaminated soil and waste rock today mark a Superfund site.
NioCorp. is also trying to develop a mine for rare earths and niobium in Elk Creek, Nebraska. In addition to rare earths, it could be one of the world’s largest sources of niobium, a critical ingredient in high temperature alloys used in jet and rocket engines, as well as in low-temperature superconducting wire. Bear Lodge, in the northeast corner of Wyoming, is another prospective mine development. Lynas Corp. and Texas Mineral Resources Corp. are also building processing plants in the U.S. MP Materials also plans to begin domestic processing in 2022.
The bank of cameras that camped outside Delhi’s sprawling Tihar jail was the sort of media frenzy you would expect to await a prime minister caught in an embezzlement scandal, or perhaps a Bollywood star caught in the wrong bed. Instead, the cameras were waiting for Disha Ravi, a nature-loving 22-year-old vegan climate activist who against all odds has found herself ensnared in an Orwellian legal saga that includes accusations of sedition, incitement, and involvement in an international conspiracy whose elements include (but are not limited to): Indian farmers in revolt, the global pop star Rihanna, supposed plots against yoga and chai, Sikh separatism, and Greta Thunberg. If you think that sounds far-fetched, well, so did the judge who released Ravi after nine days in jail under police interrogation.
Judge Dharmender Rana was supposed to rule on whether Ravi, one of the founders of the Indian chapter of Fridays For Future, the youth climate group started by Thunberg, should continue to be denied bail. He ruled that there was no reason for bail to be denied, which cleared the way for Ravi’s return to her home in Bengaluru (also known as Bangalore) that night. But the judge also felt the need to go much further, to issue a scathing 18-page ruling on the underlying case that has gripped Indian media for weeks, issuing his own personal verdict on the various explanations provided by the Delhi police for why Ravi had been apprehended in the first place. The police’s evidence against the young climate activist is, he wrote, “scanty and sketchy,” and there is not “even an iota” of proof to support the claims of sedition, incitement, or conspiracy that have been leveled against her and at least two other young activists.
Though the international conspiracy case appears to be falling apart, Ravi’s arrest has spotlighted a different kind of collusion, this one between the increasingly oppressive and anti-democratic Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Silicon Valley companies whose tools and platforms have become the primary means for government forces to incite hatred against vulnerable minorities and critics — and for police to ensnare peaceful activists like Ravi in a high-tech digital web. The case against Ravi and her “co-conspirators” hinges entirely on routine uses of well-known digital tools: WhatsApp groups, a collectively edited Google Doc, a private Zoom meeting, and several high-profile tweets, all of which have been weaponized into key pieces of alleged evidence in a state-sponsored and media-amplified activist hunt.
At the same time, these very tools have been used in a coordinated pro-government messaging campaign to turn public sentiment against the young activists and the movement of farmers they came together to support, often in clear violation of the guardrails social media companies claim to have erected to prevent violent incitement on their platforms.
Gates is all about money.
Late last year, Eric O’Keefe was researching a mysterious recent purchase of 14,500 acres of prime Washington state farmland. His magazine, The Land Report, tracks major land transactions and produces an annual list of the 100 biggest US landowners. Sales of more than a thousand acres are “blue-moon events,” O’Keefe noted, so this one stood out. And Eastern Washington has some of the richest, most expensive farmland in the country. But the purchaser of record was a small, obscure company in Louisiana. “That immediately set off alarm bells,” O’Keefe says. He assigned his research team to dig a little deeper. Soon they came back with the answer: The Louisiana company was acting on behalf of Cascade Investment LLC, the secretive investment firm that manages most of the huge fortune belonging to Bill Gates.
O’Keefe knew Gates had been acquiring farmland for years, mostly through various Cascade subsidiaries. The mogul’s holdings include large tracts in Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, California, and about a dozen other states. With the Washington state acreage and other recent additions to his portfolio, O’Keefe calculated, Gates now owns at least 242,000 acres of American farmland. “Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft, has an alter ego,” O’Keefe wrote: “Farmer Bill, the guy who owns more farmland than anyone else in America.” The Land Report scoop made headlines. Many stories focused on Gates’ longstanding interest in climate change and sustainability and suggested those concerns might be driving the land purchases. Newsweek called him a “sustainable agriculture champion.”
[..] Investment guru Michael Larson, who has worked with Gates since 1994, runs the Washington-based Cascade Investment, as well as supervising the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s nearly $50 billion endowment. “The arrangement is simple,” The Wall Street Journal wrote in a 2014 profile. “Mr. Larson makes money, and Mr. Gates gives it away.” Larson and his team are famously tight-lipped. Cascade employees almost never speak to the press. According to the Journal, they are even discouraged from using Facebook and other social-media platforms. Larson sees to it that Gates’ wealth is sensibly, even conservatively, invested.
He’s the new MacDonald: Bill Gates owns hundreds of thousands of acres across the United States — including 242,000 acres of farmland — making him the country’s top agricultural landholder, according to Eric O’Keefe’s The Land Report. NY Post graphic/Mike Guillen
According to public records, the billionaire’s portfolio includes shares in Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway conglomerate, a Coca-Cola bottling company, and the tractor manufacturer Deere & Co., among other non-flashy investments. Larson also makes sure Gates keeps his eggs in a wide variety of baskets. His portfolio is diversified, in other words. And that’s where the land purchases come in. Most of us imagine farmers tilling the soil that has been in their families for generations. But many farmers lease at least some of the land they cultivate. According to Bruce Sherrick, a professor of agricultural economics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, about 60 percent of row-crop farmland in the Midwest is leased. The landowners can include investors like Gates.
For investors who know what they’re doing, agricultural land offers financial stability in uncertain times. “Farmland has had a remarkably consistent ability to hedge against inflation,” Sherrick says. And it tends to be “negatively correlated” against other investments, he adds: If the stock market is going down, the return on farmland is likely to be going up. But farmland isn’t easy to buy.
“At bitcoin’s current value, Nakamoto’s fortune could exceed $50 billion..”
The largest US cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase, which is getting ready to go public, has named bitcoin’s developer, known to the world as Satoshi Nakamoto, as one of the major risks to its business.In its IPO filing sent to the Securities Exchange Commission earlier this week, Coinbase listed Nakamoto, an individual creator or a group of people thought to be behind the creation of the world’s largest cryptocurrency, as one of the recipients of the document. However, the same anonymous inventor could pose a risk to the entire “cryptoeconomy.”
According to the filing, if the identity is revealed or if Nakamoto’s bitcoins are transferred, the prices of the most valued digital coins, bitcoin and ethereum, may deteriorate. The creator, or a group of creators, are believed to hold around 1.1 million bitcoin, which account for around five percent of all bitcoins that can be ever mined. At bitcoin’s current value, Nakamoto’s fortune could exceed $50 billion, making him almost as rich as Chinese entrepreneur and the founder of Alibaba, Jack Ma. Since Nakamoto published the white paper titled ‘Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System’ in 2008, various theories have emerged about his identity. However, little is still known about him.
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