Via a Reader-Modern Land Artists Point You Back To Nature, Placing You In Time, But Whose ‘Now’ Is This, Man? What Is Nature, Exactly?

Paul Wood discusses the works of Robert Smithson (Broken Circle, Spiral Hill) and Richard Serra (Fulcrum, Spin Out):

Land-art pieces are site-specific. They require you to be there and experience them, designed as they are to be within the specific spaces they occupy.

In so doing, they break from previous modernist ‘Readymades‘ and reproduced images (I don’t know about you, but I’m tiring of so many commentaries on consumerism, the desire for craft over mass production, a certain collective vagueness against such disposability…the dream of unique Selfhood, celebrity even, amidst a thousand urinals).

As a viewer, you’re supposed to interact with these pieces and start feeling and thinking differently than perhaps you might have otherwise. Walk around, through, and over them. View one hillock from another. Walk back over to the first hillock and look from whence you came.  The view is never quite what you were imagining.

Clap inside of Serra’s ‘Vortex:’

Time is clearly intended to be an element, here; the long sweep of geologic and/or historical time as the artist understands it, as well as the relative brevity of personal time during just a 10-minute visit.

These pieces can act as signposts towards Nature and what we can begin to observe of our specific natural environments (steel rusts in unique, but perhaps underlying, patterns…winds blow at different angles and around different obstacles in one grove as opposed to another, these lichens are growing here…other lichens over there, are they the same species?).

If you pull the piece out of its specific environment, it may just wither and die, looking out-of-place as many other products of civilization do amidst natural settings (a jar in Tennessee).  Perhaps, though, they won’t look quite so out-of-place as mass-produced objects because of such careful design and attention to detail.

That said, these pieces will eventually look quite awkward undergoing the changes they will undergo if Nature’s Laws are any guide (Romantic/Modernist recreations of Nature can promise the comforts of Home).

Here’s Wikipedia, keeping it simple:

‘Land art, earthworks (coined by Robert Smithson), or Earth art is an art movement in which landscape and the work of art are inextricably linked.’

From the video description:

‘Robert Smithson and Richard Serra both believed that sculpture should have a dialog with its environment. This program explores the challenging dialectic of the site-specific sculpture of Smithson and Serra through examples of their work. In an interview, Serra discusses the aspects of time and context in relation to his art as well as the influence of Smithson.’

Maybe it’s worth pointing out that Serra seems interested in symmetry, visualizing and realizing abstract shapes with the help of some mathematics and the practice of drawing/drafting. Interesting problems can arise from tooling around with shapes on paper (a practice of Serra’s), the kind I’m guessing folks fascinated by puzzles and software and math love to solve.

But Serra’s not a mathematician nor an engineer nor an architect. He’s not writing a proof for its own sake nor building bridges nor houses for practical use.

Rather, the intuitive and creative impulses of the artist take over in his work, a kind of creative exploration, as well as the dialog between fellow artists, living and dead.

Much (A)rt, of course, is useless for most, if not all, purposes. It’s one of the things that can make it meaningful for people. There can be a significant gap between what the artist may have felt, thought and realized, and which emotions, thoughts and experiences any viewer/listener might have in interacting with a particular piece.

Serra, in his work, wants to alter the thinking of anyone moving through the space he creates by manipulating specific substances like steel (he has a facility with the material), and by getting viewers to a point of reorientation of spatial and temporal awareness.

Of course, this involves reorientation towards certain ideas as he understands them, and by promising people a return to themselves, or a state of experience and creative play perhaps similar to that of the artist.

Here’s a Charlie Rose interview:

More about Land Artists:

Any thoughts and comments are welcome. Feel free to highlight my ignorance…

Related On This Site:A structure in the desert…not even a city Update On LACMA, Michael Heizer And The ‘Levitated Mass’-Modern Art And The Public

Denis Dutton suggested art could head towards Darwin (and may offer new direction from the troubles of the modern art aimlessness and shallow depth…the money and the fame) Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

No thanks to living in planned communities upon someone else’s overall vision.: Roger Scruton In The City Journal: Cities For Living–Is Modernism Dead?

Modern Art For Sale In The Middle-East-From The New Yorker: ‘Richard Serra In the Qatari Desert’

Labor & Time-Kevin Williamson At The National Review: ‘Planes, Trains & The Internet’

Full piece here

Williamson suggests we should look to Helsinki, Finland, at least when it comes to technology and transportation:

‘Notably, the Helsinki model would end some transportation monopolies (the rail service would no longer have a monopoly on ticket sales, for instance) and would rely on competition among private providers to match resources with consumer demand.’

The larger principle he uses to get there:

‘American progressives love railroads and hate cars, and that is not without a political dimension: Railroads tell you where to go, which is very appealing if you see society as one big factory to be subjected to (your) expert management. And that’s really the basic question of liberalism in the better, classical sense of that word: Is the state here to tell you where to go, or is it here to help you get where you are going? And how to get there?

If you believe that you have a right to your own labor, and that your time is your labor, then why would you need a large, unresponsive, oft politicized monopoly deciding how much time you spend in transit now that technology is making other options available?

One appeal of the libertarian argument is simple: Don’t you want to pay less for a ride when you can?

Another appeal is also pretty simple if you believe in the above: Free citizens need to put the moral justification back onto the current laws, political players, and monopolies from time to time, forcing them to justify their involvement in our lives and in the markets. After all, beneath lofty ideals gather real interests seeking to bend the laws towards their own ends, and with a lot of self-interest besides.

Incentives matter, and while I’m guessing safety and public safety guide a lot of moral justification by local governments, and which a lot of citizens generally support, it’s necessary to do some house-cleaning now and again.

Airlines are partially de-regulated as Williamson points out (more responsive to consumer demand these days, so flying is much cheaper and more accessible and thus probably more like taking a Greyhound), but not all the way de-regulated.  Yet, where is the money going again exactly?  Who’s doing what and how much are they getting paid? Aren’t these regulations creating dead zones where technological innovation lags?

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On that note, one of the main arguments behind the push to pass Obamacare was the idea that you don’t own a right to your own labor nor time enough to prevent the socialization of that labor when it comes to health-care:  It’s no mere commodity nor economic exchange. You will have a tax/penalty levied and part of your tax dollars will now go to a centralized, redistributionist, oft politicized set of experts and enforcers promising to make sure everyone gets health-care on some level (ignoring many of the structural problems at the VA and various other incentives that prevent responsiveness at other bureaucracies).

Unsurprisingly, this hasn’t exactly worked as advertised so far, with a lot more bumpy road likely to come.

The Scandinavian welfare-state was held-up as a model by many progressives for Obamacare, so Williamson does try and justify his use of Helsinki as a model for deregulation here in the U.S.:

‘Imagine trying to implement such a thing in New York City or California — imagine the union friction alone — and you’ll have a pretty good indicator of why European-style policies are unlikely to produce European-style results in the United States. It is not as though Helsinki is a free-market, limited-government utopia — far from it. But on the liberty–statism spectrum, it matters not only where you are but in which direction you are moving — and why.’

Intentions matter as much as actions?

On the statism/liberty axis, I’m guessing many progressives believe that we need more Statism in order to secure more liberty, but from the libertarian perspective, such a definition of liberty is so utopian and idealistic/ideological that it can never be reached, only promised and over-promised. Many progressives also likely believe their intentions are pure enough for government work and during the last two Presidential elections, it seems a fair number of Americans agreed with them for a time.

Puppy Dog Tails And Everything Nice-Some Saturday Links

Christina Hoff Sommers, the civil-libertarian feminist, or contrarian-feminist, at Time: ‘What Schools Can Do to Help Boys Succeed:’

‘Being a boy can be a serious liability in today’s classroom. As a group, boys are noisy, rowdy and hard to manage. Many are messy, disorganized and won’t sit still. Young male rambunctiousness, according to a recent study, leads teachers to underestimate their intellectual and academic abilities.’

Clearly, many educators, especially of young children, are women (some of whom do an excellent job).  Much of our educational system is bureaucratic in nature, in an attempt to provide standards, structure and feedback to each student.  Over time, bureaucracies tend to create incentives which catch up with them (see Pournelle’s Iron Law Of Bureaucracy).  Bureaucracies often come to be controlled by the ‘company men’ within them, the people who’ve learned only how to become masters of the reef of rules, regulations, and internal procedures.  As a result, bureaucracies often come to a point where they’re no longer able to adapt to the needs of the people they serve, nor reality:  They become clunky, wasteful, and resistant to change.  Talented and well-meaning newcomers enter with high ideals, learning later… Bureaucracies can also become havens for ideological interests.

So, you’re a young boy:  You’re in an institution surrounded mostly by women teachers, run very often by women administrators (though men congregate in administrative positions), and which forms part of a large bureaucracy.  Some of the people seeking to control this bureaucracy are women who call themselves feminists, many of whom are ideologues who insist there are no differences between the sexes at all (or if there are differences, they are to be understood as women having suffered some deep injustice as both superior to men and as victims, men and boys must become victims too).

Not exactly a welcoming environment, no?

As to that feminist ideologue part.  It’s almost like they’re a religious cult:  Cathy Young At Minding The Campus: ‘Trigger Warnings–A Ludicrous Step Towards Censorship:’

‘Twenty years ago, critics such as Christina Hoff Sommers, Daphne Patai and Noretta Koertge, and Karen Lehrman described the bizarre “therapeutic pedagogy” in many women’s studies classrooms, where female students were frequently encouraged to share traumatic or intimate experiences in supportive “safe spaces.”  Today, at many colleges, academic therapism has spread to other fields.  Welcome to the age of the trigger warning. ‘

Do you really want these people running our institutions?

Related LinksChristina Hoff Sommers (wikipedia) is trying to replacing gender feminism with equity feminism. She also wrote The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism Is Harming Our Young Men.

Are You Man Enough? Nussbaum v. MansfieldFrom The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’

A very Harvard affair: The Spelke/Pinker debate-The Science Of Gender And Science

Repost-Revisting Larry Summers: What Did He Say Again?

Harvey Mansfield At The City Journal: ‘Principles That Don’t Change’

A Wolf In Wolf’s Clothing?-‘Rewilding’ And Ecological Balance

This video’s been making the rounds (copyright) on the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone. In it, the claim is made that Yellowstone wolves have started a trophic cascade. In hunting and clearing-out deer herds from valley floors, the wolves, as top predators, have indirectly caused more vegetation and higher trees to grow near streams and rivers. This has created more habitat in which more species flourish, allowing for greater biodiversity, straightening out Yellowstone’s rivers and even altering the very landscape.

What a noble creature, the wolf, goes the thinking, starting such an improbable causal chain. Nature has been made more whole and pure by the mere presence of such a creature, and perhaps your place in Nature, dear reader.  Man is nowhere to be found, really, except perhaps as humble observer of what he’s helped put into motion (focus on the good parts).

Of course, not discussed are the costs of wolf management placed by some conservationists and activists upon ranchers and property owners as the wolves spread out beyond Yellowstone:

‘In sum, the people who support wolves need to take economic responsibility for them. But this program is about a lot more than money. It’s about respecting what the ranchers do. Eventually, I want wolves to be just another animal, not up on a pedestal as they are now. ‘

Laws cost time and money, and so does conservation. Activism isn’t free, as it comes with increased taxes, increased regulation and people to oversee both. The meter’s running in a world of economic and natural scarcity, and right now private-property owners and taxpayers are disproportionately picking up the tab when it comes to wolf reintroduction, however meager the populations.

Green Means Go, Red Means Stop?

It should be noted that the narrator of the original video is Briton George Monbiot, who seems awfully political for someone merely interested in Nature and Man’s place in it. Perhaps he’s nearing eco-socialist territory:

From his site:

‘Here are some of the things I try to fight: undemocratic power, corruption, deception of the public, environmental destruction, injustice, inequality and the misallocation of resources, waste, denial, the libertarianism which grants freedom to the powerful at the expense of the powerless, undisclosed interests, complacency.’

That sounds like an oddly specific and ideological mission-statement, going way beyond merely ordering nature and wolf-reintroduction. In fact, there’s a whole set of political assumptions and grievances under there.

On that note, some greens can become so humanist as to become anti-humanist, disgusted by man and his economic activity trampling through their visions and frustrated ideologies.

See Bob Zubrin discuss ‘Radical Environmentalists And Other Merchants Of Despair’:

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Since we’re importing all this Britishness, here’s Briton Roger Scruton discussing why he thinks his brand of conservatism is better able to tackle environmental issues than either liberalism or socialism.

As an American, I have to confess that seeing Scruton is his fox-hunting attire moves me to imagine how these guys might have looked marching down the street:

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From George Monbiot: ‘How Freedom Became Tyranny’

Is it actual Nature, or a deep debate about civilization and morality, man and nature that fuels this Western debate: ….Roger Sandall At The New Criterion Via The A & L Daily: ‘Aboriginal Sin’Roger Sandall At The American Interest: ‘Tribal Realism’

Instead of global green governance, what about a World Leviathan…food for thought, and a little frightening: At Bloggingheads Steven Pinker Discusses War And Thomas Hobbes

Ronald Bailey At Reason: ‘Delusional in Durban’A Few Links On Environmentalism And Liberty

Fareed Zakaria At Foreign Affairs: ‘Can America Be Fixed?’

Full piece here.

‘The danger for Western democracies is not death but sclerosis. The daunting challenges they face — budgetary pressures, political paralysis, demographic stress — point to slow growth rather than collapse. Muddling through the crisis will mean that these countries stay rich but slowly and steadily drift to the margins of the world.’

Zakaria has been arguing that America would no longer get to be the ‘director,’ and that we are seeing the rise of the rest, especially Asia.  In the new piece above, he’s now arguing that we may become little more than bit players.

Here are some previous Zakaria articles, for those interested, as I think he is a deeper analyst with a wide ranging mind, who’s hit a slightly more liberal, mass audience, sweet spot:

‘Are America’s Best Days Behind Us?

-“How To Restore The American Dream

Where he’s coming from, on this site:  Fareed Zakaria At Foreign Policy: ‘Remembering Samuel Huntington’

There was the plagiarism kerfuffle a while back.

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If we focus in on just America, the demographics are better than Europe and Japan, but perhaps on a similar arc.  We’ve seen the slow decline of institutionalized religion, traditional marriage, and a rise in delayed decisions by many women to have children.   The boomer generation is retiring en masse and we’re stuck with entitlement programs in drastic need of reform, where some mix of more tax revenue (flat tax?) and less spending will be necessary.

Politically, in the meantime, under two terms of Obama’s leadership, we’re extremely polarized and subjected to an ever-growing sclerotic State.  Many Americans are becoming angry at D.C.  As for my dogs in the hunt, I’d humbly argue that the rise of feminism, post-modernism, environmentalism and multiculturalism have grown in influence in our culture and institutions, and incline toward Statism, and generally point Europeward.  This is accelerated under progressive leadership.

Yet, we’ve also seen a steady rise and growth in the size and scope of government before Obama, stretching back for decades.  Perhaps we’re at the end of the ‘greatness’ model, as technology, globalization, and other forces are pressuring us to change, where we’ve been taking our supremacy and economic prosperity for granted.

See Also On This Site:  Can you maintain the virtues of religion without the church…of England?:  From The City Journal: Roger Scruton On “Forgiveness And Irony”…Are we going soft and “European”… do we need to protect our religious idealism enshrined in the Constitution….with the social sciences?…Charles Murray Lecture At AEI: The Happiness Of People..Repost-Gene Expression On Charles Murray: Does College Really Pay Off?

America in Decline?: Fukuyama seems to think so, but maybe he’s still reeling from the Iraq war…From The New Perspectives Quarterly: Francis Fukuyama’s ‘Is America Ready for a Post-American World?Fareed Zakaria BBC Interview: America In Decline?…Richard Lieber’s not necessarily convinced:  Richard Lieber In The World Affairs Journal–Falling Upwards: Declinism, The Box Set

Fareed Zakaria At Newsweek: ‘Are America’s Best Days Behind Us?’

Full piece here.

Zakaria, of course, notes the current high level of partisanship.  I’ll add that I think it will stay highly divided for at least the next presidential cycle if the past is any indication.  More than a few libertarians I know believe this current partisanship is due to a failure of liberalism to be classically liberal, and instead has slipped into a more Continental Leftist pattern of excess since the 60’s of protest and identity politics.  To them, the Right’s response (the rise of overtly partisan news agencies, demagoguery) and redefining the founders intent to combat such excess started out on a good foot, but has merely led to a populist resurgence and unthinking political loyalty  (and I would point out, fairly successful) political platform.  Perhaps libertarianism rises in opposition to liberal administrations.

Zakaria doesn’t seem to think such a partisan fight is good in the long run.  As he’s noted elsewhere, perhaps America’s staying the same, a victim of our successes and stability of our political structures that now serve the past and keep us from the future, while other countries rise and move ahead:

‘It’s not that our democracy doesn’t work; it’s that it works only too well. American politics is now hyperresponsive to constituents’ interests.’

and, like the British after WWII:

“British society grew comfortable, complacent and rigid, and its economic and political arrangements became ever more elaborate and costly, focused on distribution rather than growth. Labor unions, the welfare state, protectionist policies and massive borrowing all shielded Britain from the new international competition.”

In order to break from this potential sclerosis, we have to get away from a kind of insularity, Zakaria suggests, and perhaps looks to copy and innovate (anything, really) from other countries, economies and the strategic necessities (Europe, trade).  These tools that have led others to success can allow us to duck our heads for a while and make some changes..

‘This is not a question of too much or too little government, too much or too little spending. We need more government and more spending in some places and less in others.’

Point taken, we need to get over the current partisanship and meet with broader, more urgent goals and innovate, but you don’t turn a ship on a dime.   He finishes with:

“In the past, worrying about decline has helped us avert that very condition. Let’s hope it does so today.”

Addition:  As a reader points out, perhaps just splitting the difference is not enough in the face of the Affordable Care Act, the current administration’s green ambitions, and a fairly left of center immigration policy.  The non-partisan talk is wearing thin.

Perhaps we just need less government, and Zakaria’s approach keeps him relevant along with a more liberal worldview

Also On This Site:  Richard Feynman also made a point about bureaucracies after investigating the Challenger disaster: Repost: Richard Feynman at NASA…Henry Kissinger has a few quotations about the necessity and dangers of bureaucracy:  .Monday Quotations-Henry Kissinger

How do you save egalitarianism from the egalitarians and their own intentions? (the touch math crowd, the-everyone-learns-in-their-own-way pedagogy) if you need a new round of educational excellence and investment in the future?  Bill Gates has noted this problem for a while: A Shortage Of Skilled American Workers At Microsoft?

America in Decline?: Fukuyama seems to think so, but maybe he’s still reeling from the Iraq war…From The New Perspectives Quarterly: Francis Fukuyama’s ‘Is America Ready for a Post-American World?Fareed Zakaria BBC Interview: America In Decline?…Richard Lieber’s not necessarily convinced:  Richard Lieber In The World Affairs Journal–Falling Upwards: Declinism, The Box Set..

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Fareed Zakaria At Time: ‘Why There’s No Turning Back in the Middle East’

Full piece here.

Well, times are changing as Zakaria points out (and I’d offer that Americans are seeing the change through the lens of their ideals and current politics…the Left seeking its abstract ideals of democracy, equality and justice through protest never to be reached but certainly to be pursued…parts of the Right seeing only dangerous, violent unrest that is potentially a security threat):

‘…but there are two fundamental reasons the tensions that have been let loose in the Middle East over the past few weeks are unlikely to disappear, and they encompass two of the most powerful forces changing the world today: youth and technology.’

In Bahrain, one family has had nearly complete control for generations, in Egypt, Mubarak was in power for over 30 years…and how to stay in power?:

‘Those payments are a reminder that in the Middle East, there are two modes of control: mass repression and mass bribery.

A reasonable question to ask is have the conditions that created the autocratic and monarchic rulers within the people themselves been overcome?  Also:  is there a broader raft of what we would regard as individual freedoms in the Muslim world?   Are there sources for such freedoms that stem from Islam?  in law? from the West? in pockets of an educated elite…and cultural exchanges? from somewhere else?

Many in the West are rightly worried that the movement in the Middle-East to recapture a glorious Islam and past seizes power in some locations (we are currently engaging the most extreme examples with our military, which is probably not the best long-term solution).  This vision radicalizes many poor, uneducated youth with little hope of a future into a pan Arab identity of righteous vengeance, guerilla-style fighting and impossible purity.  More moderately, such movements can address the injustice of many Palestinians, say, in the charter of Hamas by refusing the right of Israel to exist (a recipe for potential disaster if they follow such logic to conclusions).  In times of war and suffering, and in sudden change, people will yearn especially for social stability, cultural identity and purpose and….often Islam is the glue.  This raises reasonable skepticism.

Addition:  As a reader points out, quite well-educated folks like Mohammed Atta and the underwear bomber radicalized as well, but I suspect their primary grievance is with their own rulers and their own conditions (the common enemy of American interest, or drive the infidel from the Arabian peninsula, is secondary, however consequential).  For many Afghans, it’s just more war, and as has been reasonably pointed out here, many Afghans are illiterate, very poor, living in tribal bands in often geographically isolated areas.

Just a few thoughts, feel free to highlight my ignorance.  Zakaria finishes with:

‘Warren Buffett once said that when anyone tells him, “This time it’s different,” he reaches for his wallet because he fears he’s going to be swindled. Well, I have a feeling that this time in the Middle East, it’s different. But I have my hand on my wallet anyway.’

Related On This Site:  From Abu Muqawama: ‘Mubarak And Me’Walter Russell Mead At The American Interest: ‘Mubaraks, Mamelukes, Modernizers and Muslims’

Do we try and invest in global institutions as flawed as they are?:  Daniel Deudney On YouTube Responding to Robert Kagan: Liberal Democracy Vs. AutocracyFrom The Atlantic: Samuel Huntington’s Death And Life’s WorkFrom The American Interest Online: Francis Fukuyama On Samuel HuntingtonFrom Foreign Affairs Via The A & L Daily: ‘Conflict Or Cooperation: Three Visions Revisited’

From March 27th, 2009 At WhiteHouse.Gov: Remarks By The President On A New Strategy For Afghanistan And PakistanFrom CSIS: ‘Turmoil In The Middle-East’

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Fareed Zakaria At Time: ‘How To Restore The American Dream’

Full piece here.

Are technology and global competition whittling away the ‘middle-class’?:

“Blinder understands the benefits of free trade but worries that the new wave of offshoring is so big and fast that Western societies will have difficulty adjusting. The crucial distinction for the future, he argues, might be not between highly educated and less educated workers but between those jobs that can be done abroad and those — such as nurse or pilot — that cannot.”

Here are a few of Zakaria’s suggestions (click through for more):

1.  Shifting from consumption to investment (this would be part of his making things again argument, but not things that can be made elsewhere with cheaper overhead and labor…global competition)

2.  Training and Education-On this, it seems to me we have a highly politicized, underperforming educational system.  Look for more politicization and inertia.  The internet will be as important as ever.  The spirit of egalitarianism at its best and worst?

3.  Fiscal Sanity (He suggests getting health-care costs in order, but doesn’t necessarily advocate Obamacare)-For my part, this will be difficult because it requires greater political cohesion, as I don’t think we’ve reached the end of extending freedom for every group (growing an idealism much more comfortable with a big State in its pursuit of justice, equality and fairness and potentially dividing the electorate).   I’m not sure how this will play out, but the impetus for fiscal sanity must come from people and how they balance their own checkbooks.   We need to survive without byzantine rules, a bloated state and protectionism.  Keep it out of the political arena as much as possible to stay nimble. See education.

Addition:  Or has the middle class been co-opted by the American Left, who have all sorts of plans for it?

Also On This Site: Part of Zakaria’s larger project and vision: Repost-Fareed Zakaria BBC Interview: America In Decline?A Shortage Of Skilled American Workers At Microsoft?…Martha Nussbaum and Amartya Sen have plans for America and India, and it involves much more state involvement here in America:  Amartya Sen In The New York Review Of Books: Capitalism Beyond The Crisis

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