Monday, January 27, 2003

IMPORTANT NOTICE ABOUT THIS BLOG: I'm excited to report my weblog is being partially absorbed into, as part of my new position as editorial assistant for Books&Culture magazine. That means a reduced output here, and a transfer of certain features like Places&Culture to the new digs. It will be up every Monday at B&C, and I'm eager to try out some new features, including a new twist on History&Today. I start this week with my Super Bowl diary, a sort of cultural critic's play-by-play:

Thursday, January 23, 2003

My latest Tribune article:
Former winners from the original "Star Search": Where are they now?,1,7083566.story

My Tribune archive

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Mayor Daley responds to a 3-part Tribune investigation to which I contributed, on the demolition of designated historical buildings. What specific measures will he take to address the problems the Tribune found? Said Daley: "Gee, I don't know.",1,9100.story

Monday, January 20, 2003

Quote of the Day
"I've gone from being the stone thrower to the glass."
Gilberto Gil, Brazil's counterculture pop star who has been appointed the country's minister of culture.
Number of the Day: 11
Percentage of American girls who are Girl Scouts, for a total of 2.8 million girls, a 20-year high.

Previous Quote and Number
Places&Culture File from
NY Times

NY TimesPARIS, Jan. 5 — These are dark days in the City of Light. It is a cruel trick played on those who are not forewarned. Paris is a northern city, on about the same latitude as Seattle and Vancouver. New York, by contrast, sits on a level with Madrid and Naples. So when winter comes, Paris's northern position combines with humidity, above-freezing temperatures, the absence of fierce winds and a location at the bottom of a basin to rob the city of sun and light. ... Daylight arrives well after 8 a.m. and leaves only eight hours later. Even as the days begin to grow longer now that the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, has passed, the demons of darkness linger. ... The darkness has such an effect that the French government's generous medical insurance program covers medical consultations for those who grow depressed because of the waning light of winter. The syndrome — clinically known as seasonal affective disorder, more commonly as the winter blues — affects as much as 20 percent of the population, according to studies.

By 10 a.m. yesterday, 18,000 shoppers had already plowed their way through the doors of the Queens Center mall to participate, by purchasing, in the year's great American spending moment. By the look and sound of things, the shoppers seemed to have come from 18,000 places, from Alexandria to Zagreb, from Quito to Katmandu. And a lot of them were not really shopping for Christmas.
Black Friday at the mall, on Queens Boulevard in Elmhurst, is surely as hectic and hedonistic as it is at any other mall in the country. In fact, in terms of retail sales per square foot, the mall, an aging urban anomaly with a headache of a parking situation, is one of the busiest in the United States, doing roughly twice the business of the average American mall and drawing 21 million shoppers annually. ... But sales aside, it would be hard to find this at the Mall of America: Polish Jehovah's Witnesses; a Vietnamese Catholic shopping for Hanukkah; and a circular bench in front of J. C. Penney's that, in the span of only 20 minutes, gave respite to the rumps of shoppers from the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, Japan, India, Korea, Mexico, Pakistan, the Philippines, Poland, Thailand, Trinidad and the Bronx.

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The promise and perils of driving via Mapquest, from the NY Times:
Who knew? There's an organization called the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers with a website at It was cited in a Wall Street Journal article on the recent increase in divorce filings; although research on the divorce rate always lags a few years behind, 78 percent of AAML lawyers report an increase in case loads for last year, WSJ said.
I came across these sites while looking for Christmas movie trivia for my Dec. 20 Tribune article on Christmas sites. uses It's a Wonderful Life and other movies to teach English idioms and expressions:
(I recently clipped an NYT article about Seneca Falls, presumably the real-life Bedford Falls: click here)

This site culls enough stacks of TV and movie trivia from IMDB to kill four lunch breaks:
BBCAstronomers have discovered three new moons around Neptune, the BBC reported earlier this month.

Speaking of space, the Chinese government reported it retrieved its robot space capsule from a space trek, and hopes to become the third country to send an astronaut into space later this year, the AP reported earlier this month.
Unique New York (say that five times fast...): NY Magazine sums up the city's character in a list of phrases, along with its year-end NY awards.
What kind of lower life form do you need to be to loot a national park? Understaffing and sticky fingers spell doom for the purity of the National Park System, reported USA Today last month:
Money&Culture File from
NY Times

In the basement of his Standard Oil Building, just steps from Wall Street, where the Museum of American Financial History celebrates the wonders of capitalism, an exhibit wall is papered with gaily colored stock certificates carrying names like Enron, WorldCom and ImClone Systems. It's the dark side of the American dream. But the dot-com debacles and infamous bankruptcies of the infant millennium are as much part of the nation's financial heritage as scandals of the past and the stock market crash of 1929, says the museum, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution.Exhibits about that Black October Friday that ushered in the Great Depression, and accouterments like the plunging ticker tape record, have long been the biggest draw of this low-profile and literally underground museum, in its 15th year at 28 Broadway, where Rockefeller first moved into a smaller building in 1883, on same the site where Alexander Hamilton's law office once stood.

BAGHDAD, Iraq — Perhaps the keenest measure of impoverishment in Saddam Hussein's Iraq can be taken from the scenes at places like Liberation Square in central Baghdad. ... These days, Liberation Square — like similar sites in all Iraqi cities — has been transformed into a vast flea market. Here, the sellers — of household bric-a-brac, of plumbing fixtures, of postcards and old magazines, of 45- and 78-r.p.m. records, of plastic sandals, of anything with even vestigial monetary value — are not the illiterate underclass so much as the newly destitute middle class.

GALESBURG, Ill. — Throughout the 90's, this prairie town of 34,000 felt blessed because it managed to escape the scourge of factory closings that hit Peoria and Decatur and and other heartland communities. But when Maytag announced this fall that it was closing the area's largest factory, a refrigerator plant with 1,600 employees, the news hit Galesburg like a bomb. Despite this city's gritty optimism, home prices are slipping, shop owners are complaining about flat Christmas sales, and Maytag workers do not know what to tell their children.

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Alberta is becoming a porn haven--not so much for its weather as its libertinism, according to the Calgary Herald:

Often considered to be a bastion of social conservatism, Alberta's lack of regulation has proven to be fertile ground for retailers selling explicit pornography that would be illegal in other provinces, according to industry officials.
Urban Issues Watch

NY TimesJust as this small city's mythical namesake took more than a day to build his metropolis, and just as he came to that task in part by the lack of an alternative, the planners of a 1,300-acre development intended as the cornerstone of a 25,000-acre stretch of commercial real estate between here and the dilapidated Willow Run cargo airport have much work to do, the speaker said. ... Today...Romulus is known as the doughnut city; the Detroit airport cuts a hole in the six-mile by six-mile geography — and tax base — of this city of 14,000. Surrounding the airport are fields of lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes, corn and bedding plants, crops that can be taken into Detroit and to farmers' markets

SAN FRANCISCO, Jan. 5 — Add urban renewal to the growing list of reasons to deploy wireless computing networks. The city of Long Beach, Calif., plans to announce on Friday that it will make free wireless Internet access available in its downtown area as part of an effort to attract visitors and companies to the business district. The city will use the increasingly popular standard known as Wi-Fi, which lets personal computers and other hand-held devices connect to the Internet without wires at high speed.

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What could make an already overpriced, undersized Manhattan apartment even more of a rip-off? When the stars move in next door, says the NY Times.
Technology&Culture File from
NY Times

NY TimesJACKSON, Miss. -- NOT long ago, TiAndrea Beasley would no sooner have plunged her hands into the electronic guts of a personal computer than she would have stuck her head under a car's hood to change the spark plugs. But that was before TiAndrea, a 17-year-old high school senior, enrolled in a computer engineering technology class at her school in Port Gibson, Miss., a small rural town about 50 miles southwest of Jackson. Now TiAndrea, a B-plus student who plans to study business and accounting after she graduates next year, can install the operating system on any computer she builds in less than a half-hour. ... TiAndrea and Sarah were among about a dozen students busy in the school's computer instruction classroom, which for at least three hours a day, Monday through Friday, has of late been a homespun computer assembly plant.

Phone calls over the Internet may finally be catching on.When the technique was first used in the mid-1990's, Internet telephone conversations were hailed as a way to make long-distance calls without paying toll charges. The most zealous advocates predicted that the conventional public telephone network would quickly become obsolete. That has yet to happen, of course. Despite the money-saving potential, sending voice telephone calls over the Internet remains largely a niche service for technophiles and for people seeking cheaper international communications — like users of prepaid phone cards, who may not even realize that their discount calls are bypassing the regular phone network. Yet the technology is showing signs of gradually expanding to a broader audience, a step that could eventually mean wide-reaching changes in the telecommunications industry, if early experiments by individuals and businesses are any indication.

Previous Technology&Culture
Revisiting Lewis&Clark: It's the 200th anniversary of their trek. Earlier, I linked to a couple features celebrating their exploration, and another questioning their importance (here).

Latest History&Today
Etymology Today from M-W: lethargic \luh-THAHR-jik or leh-THAHR-jik\
*1 : of, relating to, or characterized by drowsiness or sluggishness
2 : indifferent, apathetic

In Greek mythology, Lethe was the name of a river in the underworld that was also called "the River of Unmindfulness" or "the River of Forgetfulness." Legend held that when someone died, he or she was given a drink of water from the river Lethe to forget all about his or her past life. The name of the river and the word "lethargic" both derive from "lethe," Greek for "forgetfulness."

similarly sluggish:
stoic \STOH-ik\
1 capitalized : a member of a school of philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium about 300 B.C.
2 : one apparently or professedly indifferent to pleasure or pain

Zeno of Citium was a Syrian merchant who lost his fortune at sea. In Athens he was consoled by the Cynic philosopher Crates, who assured him that money didn't bring happiness, and he was so impressed that he founded his own school of philosophy and began teaching at a public hall called the Stoa Poikile. Zeno's philosophy, Stoicism, took its name from the hall where he taught, and it preached self-control, fortitude, and justice; passion was seen as the cause of all evil. By the 14th century, English speakers had adopted the word "stoic" as a general term for anyone who could face adversity calmly and without excess emotion.

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Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Alongside Part 3 of the Tribune's investigation of the destruction of historical buildings in Chicago, I wrote a story on the most prominent buildings that remain at risk, including the Marx Brothers' house and the site of the first Kennedy-Nixon debate.,1,703330.story

Monday, January 13, 2003

I was a contributing reporter to a Tribune investigation on the destruction of designated potential landmarks by the city of Chicago. The 3-part series began this morning.

Saturday, January 11, 2003

Voit trial update: The woman I wrote about in an investigative feature at was found guilty yesterday in a trial that took less than one week.,1,3308776.story,1,4816109.story

Read my feature here on the background of this family living the idyllic Chicago suburb of Golf.
Places&Culture File from
NY Times

NY Times

With its 29,000 cows and costly technology, Al Safi, deep though it is in the Saudi desert, has been certified by the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest "integrated" dairy farm in the world. It grows the hay that the cows eat, turns their milk into crème caramel and strawberry laban, a yogurtlike drink, and delivers it all in Safi trucks to stores across the kingdom. ... The dairy is the product of a panic after the 1973 Arab oil embargo against Western nations made the Saudi royal family realize its own vulnerability to such tactics. Food was Saudi Arabia's Achilles' heel, so the king decreed that his kingdom should become self-sufficient in its food supply.

SENECA FALLS, N.Y., Nov. 27 — Finding connections between the fictional Bedford Falls and the real-life Seneca Falls has become a matter of civic pride in this old Finger Lakes mill town. Frank Capra visited the area before making his 1946 classic, "It's a Wonderful Life," and many here are convinced that their hometown inspired the movie's setting. Comparisons peak each December with a celebration called "It's a Wonderful Life in Seneca Falls." This year's festivities, which begin on Dec. 6, will feature a visit by Karolyn Grimes, who played Zuzu Bailey in the movie, and "Clarence sales" at downtown stores.Yet if George Bailey has been cast as the town's chief promoter, many believe that Mr. Potter is lurking at the northwestern edge of town, where the state's largest active landfill takes in an average of 6,000 tons of garbage and industrial waste a day.

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The NYT reviews the new book Measuring America:

Jefferson, Washington, Madison and Hamilton wanted the mapping done by decimal measurement. The flood of settlers and speculators already spilling westward meant that there was no time to work out the new and still disputed system. Measurement would be made by a device already in use for some 150 years: the surveyor's chain, 66 feet long and 80 chains to the mile.
Money&Culture File from
NY Times

NY TimesPARIS, Dec. 30 — The idea, says Tawfik Mathlouthi, who runs a radio station for France's Muslim minority, came to him in the shower: to create a competing product to Coke that would satisfy the needs of Arab speakers in Europe and elsewhere for soft drinks, while providing jobs and economic growth. "My son adores McDonald's and Coke," Mr. Mathlouthi, 46, the father of two young boys, acknowledged in an interview. His 10-year-old was chagrined when his father urged him not to patronize American brands. ... In November, after months of preparation, Mr. Mathlouthi came out with Mecca-Cola. Borne aloft by Muslims in France desirous of boycotting American brands, to protest policies in the Middle East, the company he created delivered more than a million bottles by early December.

IRAPUATO, Mexico, Dec. 15 — A decade of hemispheric economic upheaval finally turned Eugenio Guerrero's life upside down last Saturday. That morning, he tried to auction off the pig farm that has supported his family and some 50 others for two generations. "It's true," read a flier that announced the sale. "We are closing and auctioning everything." From now on Mr. Guerrero, 41, will dedicate himself to selling paint. The changes he has been forced to confront are being felt all over Mexico as the country struggles to keep its balance, one foot in poverty, the other seeking a toehold in prosperity through the North American Free Trade Agreement.

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Etymology Today from M-W: marmoreal \mahr-MOR-ee-ul\
: of, relating to, or suggestive of marble or a marble statue especially in coldness or aloofness

>William surveyed Agnes with marmoreal coolness, his features rigid and disapproving.

Most marble-related words in English were chiseled from the Latin noun "marmor," meaning "marble." "Marmor" gave our language the word "marble" itself in the 12th century. It is also the parent of "marmoreal," which has been used in English since the mid-1600s. "Marbleize," another "marmor" descendant, came later, making its print debut around 1859.

E.T. bonus: Greek phraseology, also from M-W: omphaloskepsis \ahm-fuh-loh-SKEP-sis\
: contemplation of one's navel as an aid to meditation; also : indisposition to motion, exertion, or change

>Mystics of the Middle Ages practiced omphaloskepsis, believing that concentrating on a single focal point such as the navel would help them experience divine light and glory.

Greek mythology holds that Zeus released two eagles, one from the east and one from the west, and made them fly toward each other. They met at Delphi, and the spot was marked with a stone in the temple of the oracle there, a stone they named "omphalos," Greek for "navel" (it supposedly marked the center of the world). Mystics have been practicing omphaloskepsis for centuries, but it wasn't until the early 1920s that English speakers combined "omphalos" with another Greek term, "skepsis" (which means "examination," not "skepticism"), to create a word for studying one's own middle and thinking deeply.

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Monday, January 06, 2003

Latest article: The Tribune killed this piece so I'm publishing it through I spent six months investigating the salacious story of Sharon Voit, a suburban Chicago homemaker who is charged with trying to hire a hit man to kill her dentist husband. The trial begins today in Skokie.

You can’t find a smaller, quieter, leafier suburb than Golf, the lush village north of Chicago. Railroad baron Albert J. Earling put Golf on the map in the early 20th Century by ordering his trains stop there so he could play golf at what is now Glenview Country Club. Today, with a population of a few hundred, and without any stores, mailboxes, or gas stations, Golf is home to little more than the stately red brick colonial building that houses the Western Golf Association, which runs the PGA Western Open, the annual professional golf tournament played in Lemont, Ill. In this tranquil setting—a village with no annual crime rate—prosecutors say Sharon Voit plotted her husband’s demise.

Saturday, January 04, 2003

My latest Tribune article: On the merits of the Weatherbug and other weather forecasting via the Web:,1,7130455.story

My Tribune archive
Places&Culture File from
NY Times

If there is a national symbol of French cuisine, it has to be the cook who searches for the freshest of ingredients at the best prices and then lovingly transforms them into hearty stews and delicate sauces. But the French, like household chefs nearly everywhere, have steadily cut in half the time they spend in the kitchen. In recent years, with varying degrees of passion and stealth, they have embraced frozen foods, too. In 2001, for example, the average Frenchman consumed 66 pounds of frozen food products, compared with only 4 pounds in 1960. A poll cited in Le Figaro last January revealed that 75 percent of respondents believed that "one can eat right if one eats frozen." Not that this has eliminated the stigma. Picard, France's best-known frozen food retail chain, is so closely associated with, well, the ordinary, that it can never aspire to the cachet of a gourmet emporium like Fauchon or Hédiard.

"In the film, this is where the Orcs attacked the Fellowship in the Battle of Amon Hen," Mr. Rutherford said, strolling muddy ground where a sea of boot prints long ago gave way to tractor tracks and hay rolls. Historically isolated by geography, New Zealanders are working to reap a publicity bonanza from the hit movie series, marketing their nation around the world as a destination for family tourism and as "a second Canada" for Hollywood productions seeking to save money on location. Soon after "The Lord of the Rings" won an Oscar for cinematography, New Zealand's government took out advertisements in The New Yorker and other upscale American publications, billing New Zealand as "best supporting country." It is already reaping benefits. Filming is to start here in January on a Tom Cruise movie, "The Last Samurai," produced by Warner Brothers. ABC-TV is moving its "Power Rangers" film operation from the United States to Wellington, the capital, which is jokingly referred to as Wellywood by locals.

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Sports&Culture File from
NY Times

NYTimesESPN plans to celebrate the face-painter in us all with a campaign that makes the none-too-subtle point to both viewers and advertisers that the cable network is synonymous with sports. The effort from ESPN, a division of the Walt Disney Company, is called "Without Sports," and will begin Monday. It is ESPN's first comprehensive brand campaign, as opposed to ads for specific programming like its sports news show, "SportsCenter." ... Lee Ann Daly, senior vice president for marketing at ESPN, said the network would spend more on this campaign than any other in its history....In one commercial, "Gathering," a group of Spanish relatives are in a small living room, watching a soccer match between the traditional rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona. Half the relatives support Real Madrid, the other half Barcelona. One player takes a dive and a penalty is called, leading to a huge argument among the relatives. The tagline is, "Without sports, what would bring a family together?" ... "It's like holding up a mirror to all of us," Ms. Daly said. "The idea is that sports aren't a metaphor for life, sports are life. Sports really do forge connections between people. They shape how we interact with each other."

-The often-asserted but widely ignored assertion that the dubiously educational football program is a college's pact with the devil in terms of both money and principles is applied to one small college in football-crazy Florida in this NY Times Magazine piece by MIchael Sokolove: "Football is the S.U.V. of the college campus: aggressively big, resource-guzzling, lots and lots of fun and potentially destructive of everything around it."

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Say what? An ad in Museums Chicago magazine proclaims, "You haven't seen Chicago until you've seen Bloomingdales." Huh? Chicago is one of the most eclectic conglomerations of distinctive cultures in the world, and this bland department store claims a corner on the city's unique cultural identity? B-dales needs to get a life--as does the corpse-like pale model clutching a plain gray shawl in the ad, leering but lifeless.
Architecture Watch from
NY Times

NY TimesAfter months of growing fainter and fainter, the gigantic titanium cloud that was to have been the Guggenheim Museum on the East River dissipated completely yesterday, victim of the Guggenheim's financial straits and a weak economy. In a three-paragraph e-mail message, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation announced that it had withdrawn its proposal to build a polymorphous, 400-foot-tall building designed by Frank Gehry on Piers 9, 13 and 14, south of the Brooklyn Bridge in Lower Manhattan. Thomas Krens, the foundation director, acknowledged as unrealistic the prospect of financing the $950 million project at a time when the museum is cutting budget, staff and programs. Beginning Sunday, for example, the Guggenheim Las Vegas is to go dark indefinitely.

NY TimesIn a city whose skyline has long been dominated by concrete Soviet monoliths, some unlikely new neighbors have been appearing. A glass and metal spaceship-like apartment building squats behind the Foreign Affairs Ministry. A lemon-yellow wedding cake towers over the neighborhood where a famous Russian writer once lived. A curvy glass mall stands defiantly across from the old K.G.B. headquarters. They are apartments and office spaces being erected with tremendous speed as demand for elite housing by Russia's growing wealthy class increases. The buildings, much despised by a small group of historians and intellectuals, are part of Moscow's frenzied rebirth. The recent changes are signs of a new Russia, where a longing for luxury was sharpened by 70 years of shopping monotony.

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What will 2003 be remembered for? The Tribune assembled a panel of educated guessers in various areas of life. The edcuation entry is provocative:

John Katzman, CEO of the Princeton Review:

A major state will announce that its high school graduation test will serve as an alternative entrance test to its university system, thus sounding the death knell of the SAT. Parent and teacher protests against the ICAT and other state tests will rise; however, rising test scores and a shrinking achievement gap between rich and poor will maintain the popularity of the 'No Child Left Behind' Act.

As the Supreme Court moves to limit or abandon affirmative action, a major college will announce a new admissions preference program, based on economic disadvantage and not race. . . . And in the coming congressional debate about special education, every student will be declared special, but extra funds will only follow students deemed to be significantly learning disabled.",1,5754196.story

-Benjamin Franklin biographer Edmund S. Morgan on Franklin and New Year's resolutions:
Perhaps it is basic to our national character, this habit of giving ourselves instructions for living right. ... In his autobiography, Franklin tells how he molded his career with a set of resolutions that he drafted as a young man (and adhered to more successfully than most of us ever do for one short year). He ... declares that he has "conceiv'd the bold and arduous Project of arriving at moral Perfection." ... He sums it up in a list of 13 virtues: temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity and humility. Except for chastity, what do these have to do with what most people mean by morality? The whole list sounds more like today's New Year's resolutions than it does like a redaction of the Ten Commandments. But Franklin took it seriously, and since it has earned him so much opprobrium from the likes of D. H. Lawrence and Mark Twain, it is worth asking why.

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Etymology Today from M-W: munificent \myoo-NIH-fuh-sunt\
1 : very liberal in giving or bestowing : lavish
2 : characterized by great liberality or generosity

"Munificent" was formed back in the late 1500s when English speakers, perhaps inspired by similar words such as "magnificent," altered the ending of "munificence." "Munificence" in turn comes from "munificus," the Latin word for "generous," which itself comes from "munus," a Latin noun that is variously translated as "gift," "duty," or "service." "Munus" has done a fine service to English by giving us other terms related to service or compensation, including "municipal" and "remunerate."

Continuing an optimistic, can-do etymological start to 2003...
E.T. bonus: Latin phraseology, also from M-W: factotum \fak-TOH-tuhm\
1 : a person having many diverse activities or responsibilities
2 : a general servant

"Do everything!" That's a tall order, but it is exactly what a factotum is expected to do. It's also a literal translation of the New Latin term "factotum," which in turn traces to the Latin words "facere" ("to do") and "totum" ("everything"). In the 16th century, "factotum" was often used in English as if it was a surname, paired with first names to create personalities such as "Johannes Factotum" (literally "John Do-everything"). Back then, it wasn't necessarily desirable to be called a "factotum"; the term was a synonym of "meddler" or "busybody." Now the word is more often used for a handy, versatile individual responsible for many different tasks.

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