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Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Well, What Did We Expect?
Joe Biden: dumb as a bag of hammers in 1987, dumb as a bag of hammers in 2007.

This guy is one-man train wreck. He's arrogant. He's condescending. He can't keep his foot out of his own mouth.

And the 2% of Democratic primary voters who felt inclined to support him are now shopping for a new candidate.

A Mind-Bendingly Bad Idea
For a guy who's built a political career out of flipping off the U.S., Venezualen presdient Hugo Chavez seems to have the same authoritarian streak as Bush and Cheney:

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela's Congress
Wednesday granted President Hugo Chavez powers to rule by
decree for 18 months as he tries to force through
nationalizations key to his self-styled leftist revolution.

The vote allows anti-U.S. leader Chavez, who has been in
power since 1999, to deepen state control of the economy.

The lawmakers, all loyal to Chavez after opposition parties
boycotted the 2005 congressional elections, flaunted their
populist credentials by taking the unusual step of holding
their vote in public in a square in Caracas.

"We in the National Assembly will not waver in granting
President Chavez an enabling law so he can quickly and urgently
set up the framework for resolving the grave problems we have,"
said congressional Vice-President Roberto Hernandez.

The economic reforms are set to work in tandem with
increased political centralization. Chavez is forging a single
party to lead his radical reforms, stripping the central bank
of autonomy and seeking indefinite re-election.

I oppose U.S. efforts to topple Chavez for three reasons:

He is democratically elected;

Venezuela poses no threat to the U.S.;

Our country has no business toppling foreign governments anyway.

Moreover, I don't much care for the blatantly anti-Chavez news coverage in the media. And while I feel that nationalizing Venezuela's industries is pure folly, it's the Venezuelan people's choice to make. They can do what they like.

But at the same time I want to be clear about this: I think Chavez is a thug and a sinister buffoon who had no right asking for the power he's just won. Any country that gives its president the right to "temporarily" rule by decree is a country of fools. Any Congress that abdicates its responsibilities to govern ought to be sent home and replaced by barnyard animals.

After all, barnyard animals can just as effectively grovel in the mud, while providing useful things like meat, milk and eggs.

The Red Queen's Race
The Bush administration's first public attempt to drum up support for a war against Iran has been delayed -- apparently due to a certain, um, lack of credibility:

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A plan by the Bush administration to release detailed and possibly damning specific evidence linking the Iranian government to efforts to destabilize Iraq have been put on hold, U.S. officials told FOX News.

Officials had said a "dossier" against Iran compiled by the U.S. likely would be made public at a press conference this week in Baghdad, and that the evidence would contain specifics including shipping documents, serial numbers, maps and other evidence which officials say would irrefutably link Iran to weapons shipments to Iraq.

Now, U.S. military officials say the decision to go public with the findings has been put on hold for several reasons, including concerns over the reaction from Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — as well as inevitable follow-up questions that would be raised over what the U.S. should do about it.

Senator James Webb's intriguing exchange with Secretary Rice last week suddenly seems very significant. And just for the record, Rice still hasn't answered Webb's simple question: does the Bush administration believe it has the authority to invade Iran without the consent of Congress?

What a difference a couple of months make. Remember when the November election results and the Baker-Hamilton report both seemed to signal the end of the neocon foreign policy agenda?

Those were the days, my friend.

Now, while our troops are playing whack-a-mole with lunatic Iraqi militias, we're playing whack-a-mole at home with this crazy-ass administration.

What we're seeing is a political arms race. The Bush administration is hell-bent on expanding its Mideast war while the rest of the country is trying to end it. Bush has just enough power -- and just enough time -- to drag us to a place where we don't want to go and from which, once we get there, we will never be able to escape. His administration is constantly adjusting its tactics to keep the Congress and the American people off balance while it tries to find a way to expand the war to Iran.

After the last election, many of us hoped that Bush would see reason and climb down from the barricades. Instead, we're now in a political version of the Red Queen's Race -- endlessly sprinting to head off Bush and his cronies as they dodge and weave, trying to plunge us into as much chaos as possible before they leave office.

One thing is clear: if Bush attacks Iran without a specific congressional authorization, it would be proof enough of presidential malfeasance -- or presidential insanity -- that the Congress would have no other choice but to remove him from office.

Impeachment is not something I take lightly. I think it ought to be reserved for the most blatant cases of official corruption. But if Bush attempts to pull the trigger on Iran, we should demand the Congress pull the trigger on impeachment.

Thursday, January 25, 2007
A Nut, I Say
I used to think that Dick Cheney was a scheming, cynical oligarch, with a pathological inability to tell the truth and a dangerous contempt for the Consititution and the rule of law.

Now I think he's just a goddamn nut:

When Blitzer asked whether the administration's credibility had been hurt by "the blunders and the failures" in Iraq, Cheney interjected: "Wolf, Wolf, I simply don't accept the premise of your question. I just think it's hogwash."

In fact, Cheney said, the operation in Iraq has achieved its original mission. "What we did in Iraq in taking down Saddam Hussein was exactly the right thing to do," he said. "The world is much safer today because of it. There have been three national elections in Iraq. There's a democracy established there, a constitution, a new democratically elected government. Saddam has been brought to justice and executed. His sons are dead. His government is gone."

"If he were still there today," Cheney added, "we'd have a terrible situation."

"But there is," Blitzer said.

"No, there is not," Cheney retorted. "There is not. There's problems -- ongoing problems -- but we have in fact accomplished our objectives of getting rid of the old regime, and there is a new regime in place that's been here for less than a year, far too soon for you guys to write them off." He added: "Bottom line is that we've had enormous successes and we will continue to have enormous successes."

What else did this goddamn nut have to say? Find out here.

Friday, January 19, 2007
My Heart Did Leap When I Heard The Wild Eep
I have a confession to make.

I still miss my old Mac SE.

It was a great computer: durable, practical and with an economy of design that bordered on elegance. It had MacWrite and MacPaint and a cool tank battle game. It had a 30 Mb hard drive, and I never came close to filling it up.

In the olden days, kiddies, 30 Mb was all you needed. Not anymore. Today you need a nearly infinite amount of memory, because every application is a grotesque, lumbering monster, bloated with enough unnecessary code to fill a Chicago phone book and enough useless gimcrackery to kill an elephant. An abomination, I say!

My old SE finally died but I kept it around; there was still stuff on the hard drive I wanted to preserve. I ended up taking it to an Apple dealership in the suburbs. They copied the entire computer -- operating system, applications, data, everything -- onto a single CD, with room to spare.

So imagine how excited I was to find this thrilling online simulation of -- gasp! -- Mac OS 7!

I never thought I'd get nostalgic over a computer operating system. But it's always the little things that get you, isn't it?

Thursday, January 18, 2007
Let's Play Chicken
The liberal blogosphere is lamenting the apparent demise of the ethics reform package in the Senate. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has attached a poison pill to the legislation that would give President Bush a line-item veto on budget matters. It's unrelated, obviously, and specifically designed to sink the reforms:

Senate Republicans scuttled broad legislation last night to curtail lobbyists' influence and tighten congressional ethics rules, refusing to let the bill pass without a vote on an unrelated measure that would give President Bush virtual line-item-veto power.

The bill could be brought back up later this year. Indeed, Democrats will try one last time today to break the impasse. But its unexpected collapse last night infuriated Democrats and the government watchdog groups that had been pushing it since the lobbying scandals that rocked the last Congress. Proponents charged that Republicans had used the spending-control measure as a ruse to thwart ethics rules they dared not defeat in a straight vote.

But the Democrats don't have to just wring their hands about it.

They can play chicken. And I think they should.

Imagine this scenario: the Democrats effectively shut down the Senate. They simply refuse to move on to other legislation until the Republicans remove the line-item veto provision. Reid can promise a separate vote on the issue if he likes. But the ethics reform package is popular with the public, and the Republicans are hoping that they can simply make it fade away, and blame the Democrats later.

They know that their strategy will fail if they face prolonged public scrutiny.

Already the Dems are talking about ethics reform being dead for now. They shouldn't. They can't lose on the ethics reform issue, and the Republicans know it. The Democrats can win this, but they need to be bold and they need to take the gloves off. Starting now.

He Was Against The Surge Before He Was For It
Apparently it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for administration sock monkey Norm Coleman to find a middle course on the Iraq war.

You will remember that Norm came out publicly against a troop surge last week. But does he back the bipartisan resolution saying so? Umm, well...

Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota, one of several Republicans wary of Bush's plan, said he is concerned the resolution may go too far. Coleman spokesman Tom Steward said the senator is open to an increase in the Anbar province, for example.

"Senator Coleman has repeatedly conveyed his specific concerns to the president and is hopeful that Congress can find bipartisan common ground on this resolution going forward," Steward said.

Alternative proposals have already begun to surface. House GOP leaders backed a bill that would protect funding for U.S. troops, while Senate Republicans prepared a resolution supportive of Bush's strategy.

A real profile in courage, our Norm.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007
Unnews: Stars Must Check Science Facts

Thomas Dolby: "I would never endorse any scientific laser beam shrinking ray I did not fully understand the operating principles of myself." (photo credit: redragdiva)

LONDON, Wednesday (UNN Science) -- Celebrities have been asked to check their facts before lending support to scientific research and campaigns, rather than risk misleading people, says the charity Sense About Science.

Over 1400 scientists are backing the campaign, as well as many celebrities. "As a scholarship chemical engineer," said Cindy Crawford, "I could never endorse a hair product if I couldn't at least in theory design the manufacturing plant myself."

Read the whole thing here. (h/t:Thomas Dolby)

The M-Word
There is little question at this point that George W Bush will be remembered as one of the worst presidents in American history. I'm not going to say he's the worst -- after all, he's still got two years to go, and he faces stiff competition from James Buchanan. But he's rattling around down near the bottom. That's clear.

The real question, it seems, is this: is Bush insane?

We kicked that one around a bit yesterday, and I don't think it's an idle question.

If Bush is stupid or incompetent, that's one thing. The people can elect anyone they want to the White House, even stupid or incompetent people.

But what if he's a real, genuine madman? How do we prove it? And what do we do then? Impeach him? Is insanity a bar to the presidency?

I'm not being facetious or rhetorical here, by the way. I don't claim to know the answer. But I think it needs to be discussed because, well, the idea of an insane president with a messianic complex and an arsenal of nuclear weapons at his disposal is not as hypothetical as it once was.

At the Huffington Post, Jane Smiley invokes the M-word as well:

Bush is the worst possible president because he is simultaneously unusually ignorant for a president and unusually shallow, as well as desperate for a success he can call his own. I can see how in a certain sort of era--say an era of prosperity and world peace (can you think of one? I can't) an unusually ignorant and shallow man could bump along in the presidency for a few years without creating havoc and destruction, but these years didn't happen to be peaceful and prosperous, they happened to be delicate and dangerous. Clinton knew that, and he approached his compromising and self-contradictory foreign policy tasks with care. But Bush and his fellow boors were so blind that they adopted as their motto "anything but Clinton", sheer contrarianism and resentment. It wasn't enough to them for the US to be powerful, as it was in the Clinton years, or to be generally respected and appreciated--they wanted something more sensational--power they could feel, power that was erotic and fetishistic, power that was uncomfortable for others, power that would make them feel big by making others feel small, power that would show Clinton up. That's the tit Little George has been sucking for the last six years--the deluded propaganda of the neocons, addressed first to him and through him to the rest of us. What we saw the other night, when he proposed more war against more "foes" was the madman the last six years have created.

.....The propaganda that Bush's sponsors and handlers have poured forth has ceased to persuade the voters but succeeded beyond all measure in convincing the man himself. He will tell himself that God is talking to him, or that he is possessed of an extra measure of courage, or he that he is simply compelled to do whatever it is. The soldiers will pay the price in blood. We will pay the price in money. The Iraqis will pay the price in horror. The Iranians will pay the price, possibly, in the almost unimaginable terror of nuclear attack. Probably, the Israelis will pay the price, too.

.....We have a bona fide madman now, who thinks of himself in a grandiose way as single-handedly turning the tide of history. Some of his Frankensteins have bailed, some haven't dared to, and others still seem to believe. His actions and his orders, especially about Iran, seem to be telling us that he will stop at nothing to prove his dominance

.....Maybe the bums planned this mess for their own profit, or maybe they planned to profit without mess; maybe some of them regret what they have wrought. However, they all share the blame for whatever he does next.

Well, in a just world, they would all share the blame. The the world isn't always just, and this crowd is very adept at dodging the blame -- usually by affixing it somewhere else.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007
Gratitude Fetish
Remember Peter Galbraith's review of Paul Bremer's Iraq memoir from a year or so ago? It was pretty eye-opening, especially in regard to a certain preoccupation -- one might even call it an obsession -- on the part of Dear Leader:

Bremer says that Bush "was as vigorous and decisive in person as he appeared on television." But in fact he gives an account of a superficial and weak leader. He had lunch with the President before leaving for Baghdad —a meeting joined by the Vice President and the national security team—but no decision seems to have been made on any of the major issues concerning Iraq's future. Instead, Bremer got a blanket grant of authority that he clearly enjoyed exercising. The President's directions seem to have been limited to such slogans as "we're not going to fail" and "pace yourself, Jerry." In Bremer's account, the President was seriously interested in one issue: whether the leaders of the government that followed the CPA would publicly thank the United States. But there is no evidence that he cared about the specific questions that counted: Would the new prime minister have a broad base of support? Would he be able to bridge Iraq's ethnic divisions? What political values should he have? Instead, Bush had only one demand: "It's important to have someone who's willing to stand up and thank the American people for their sacrifice in liberating Iraq." According to Bremer, he came back to this single point three times in the same meeting. Similarly, Ghazi al-Yawar, an obscure Sunni Arab businessman, became Bush's candidate for president of Iraq's interim government because, as Bremer reports, Bush had "been favorably impressed with his open thanks to the Coalition."

Bush's bizarre fixation with the gratitude of the Iraqi people came out again on Sunday, during his "60 Minutes" interview:

I am proud of the efforts we did. We liberated that country from a tyrant. I think the Iraqi people owe the American people a huge debt of gratitude, and I believe most Iraqis express that. I mean, the people understand that we've endured great sacrifice to help them. That's the problem here in America. They wonder whether or not there is a gratitude level that's significant enough in Iraq.

First things first. Any kind of war -- be it a war of choice, a war of necessity, a war of invasion, a war of defense -- is designed to fulfill specific policy objectives. They might be good objectives or bad ones. It doesn't matter.

Achieving those objectives really ought to be its own reward. Insisting that the Iraqis ought to be really, really grateful about the invasion and occupation of their country is churlish and adolescent.

Does Bush believe that the American people are laying awake at night, wondering why the Iraqis aren't more grateful to their liberators? Does he imagine that just a little more gratitude from the Iraqi people would make us all gung-ho about the war again?

I hope not. Because that would imply that Dear Leader isn't just stupid or in a bubble, as we have all believed, but that he is on the brink of some sort of massive psychotic episode. He could, at any moment, become the sort of gibbering, spittle-flecked madman one usually associates with H.P. Lovecraft stories.

Next, there's this curious statement: "The people understand that we've endured great sacrifice to help them".

This leapfrogs over "churlish and adolescent" and lands squarely on "delusional".

Now, we've spent a lot of blood and treasure on this war, no question, and the families of those serving overseas have certainly sacrificed. But the American people have not, in the main, endured "great sacrifices" -- or any sacrifices at all. The only thing the President has exhorted the American people to do is shop more and cheer for the latest round of tax cuts.

What do you do with a delusional president who's waging a reckless overseas war? Whose vice president is the sort of gibbering, spittle-flecked madman one usually associates with H.P. Lovecraft stories? Whose chief advisors are now the sycophants and royal fuck-ups at AEI?

I don't think there's a good answer. Some bloggers -- increasingly, even the respectable ones -- suggests that if Bush expands the current conflict to Iran and Syria, it will prove he's crazy and ought to be removed from office. But I'm not sure.

Impeach Bush if you want; you'll make Cheney the President. Then see what sort of impeachment insurance Cheney appoints as VP (if I were Cheney I'd pick Rumsfeld -- kinda makes you stop and think, doesn't it?).

But one thing's for sure: we're stuck with these guys -- the whole rotten lot of them, in one form or another -- for two more years.

Friday, January 12, 2007

A screen shot from Ridley Scott's famous "1984" ad.

I was watching a video of Steve Jobs at the MacWorld gathering in San Francisco early this week. Jobs was dressed in his trademark black turtleneck and blue jeans, and I flashed back to the famous video of a much younger Jobs unveiling the original Macintosh back in 1983. Looking at the video now, Jobs looks like a kid; and the computer that drew oohs and ahhs from the crowd seems quite primitive today.

But it's easy to forget just how revolutionary the Mac was. It was the first mass-produced machine to use changeable black fonts on a white background; the first to use a GUI interface, the first to use the mouse (which had originally been developed by Xerox). It was designed to be so user-friendly that it could be operated without ever having seen an operating manual.

It's safe to say that the home computer would never have become the workaday appliance it is now without the Mac.

Macintosh was such a gigantic success that Apple Computer's board did what any sensible gaggle or suits would do: they fired Jobs. Apple then spent more than a decade building mediocre machines that looked increasingly like regular PCs, and their market share dwindled accordingly. It wasn't until Jobs was brought back on board that Apple began its current run of success: the various iterations of the iMac, the iPod, and now the iPhone.

But that same witless board of directors very nearly made another enormous blunder. They were dead-set against broadcasting Ridley Scott's "1984" ad, which became one of the most famous television ads ever created and which is widely regarded as a masterpiece. Sarah R. Stein wrote an clever essay that took apart the ad, putting it in its artistic and historical context:

Orwell's novel, written in 1948, is a critique of power, directed specifically at Stalin and his gulag and evident in the mass of prisoner/workers assembled on the screen in the "1984" Macintosh ad. The ad's use of this theme, while an obvious choice on the surface, suggests, however, some intriguing political slippages. The identification of IBM/Big Blue with Big Brother and Stalin is clearly intentional, though IBM might be argued as quintessential, and certainly blue-chip, American. Indeed, this could be viewed as a critique of capitalism: the promise of emancipation of the workers from the tyranny of capitalism and dehumanizing technological progress.

The IBM culture was famous for its rigid rankings, and insistence on a uniform, blue-suited corporate look and attitude. Steven Wozniak and Steven Jobs, founders of Apple, had already been brought into the public eye by media stories highlighting their hippie, garage-grunge style and anti-corporate, anti-hierarchical stance.

Anti-corporate? Anti-hierarchical? No wonder the suits hated it. We're lucky that the ad -- and the Macintosh -- beat the odds.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007
Canary In A Coal Mine
If you needed any evidence that the Bush administration's "strategy" to add 20,000 troops to Iraq is going to be a hard sell, you need look no further than Norm Coleman, the Cheney-approved senator from Minnesota and official sock monkey to the President.

Coleman, a former liberal Democrat who became a conservative Republican when conservative Republicanism was briefly in fashion, backed Bush and the Iraq war to the hilt when he (and it) were popular. Now Bush (and the Iraq war) are both unpopular, so Coleman -- who is up for re-election in two years -- is, not surprisingly, running like hell in the other direction:

Sen. Norm Coleman took to the Senate floor Wednesday to raise his objection to President Bush's plan to send more troops to Iraq, arguing that an escalation of U.S. forces isn't the answer to the violence in Iraq.

"A troop surge in Baghdad would put more American troops at risk to address a problem that is not a military problem," said Coleman, a Minnesota Republican and White House ally. "That will put American soldiers in the cross-hairs of sectarian violence, create more targets. I just don't believe this makes sense."

President Bush will deliver a prime-time speech Wednesday night, in which he will announce he's sending 21,500 more Americans to Iraq. Coleman, who visited Iraq last month, has previously announced his opposition to this approach, but he elaborated in his Senate speech Wednesday.

Coleman said the U.S. is fighting two fronts in Iraq: against terrorists, and in the war between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

"Our military must continue the battle against extremists and terrorists, but we have no business being caught in the cross-fires of an Iraqi sectarian conflict," he said. "... The only long-term solution for bringing stability to Iraq must be centered on national reconciliation."

That's up to the Iraqi government, Coleman said.

"I refuse to put more American lives on the line in Baghdad without being assured that the Iraqis themselves are willing to do what they need to do to end the violence of Iraqi against Iraqi," he said. "If Iraq is to fulfill its role as a sovereign and democratic state, it must start acting like one."

Ha. Now Norm wants to "refuse to put more American lives on the line in Baghdad".

He had no problem putting American lives at risk when the war was popular, when it helped his chances to be elected to the U.S. Senate.

As an example of moral cowardice, you can't do much better than Coleman. The guy is a waste of skin. But he is useful as a barometer to the current political winds. He's a right-wing canary in the coal mine. He's on his back now, gasping for breath. And so, I would imagine, is the Bush "surge" strategy.

Monday, January 01, 2007
Incompetence Is As Incompetence Does
What was behind the sudden rush to execute Saddam Hussein, and what was with the weird, brutal atmosphere at the gallows?

If you've seen the execution video, you know what I mean: the executioners are dressed in street clothes and ski masks, taunting Hussein and cursing him as they put the noose around his neck. It looked less like the impartial meting-out of justice than it did an old-fashioned lynching.

I had assumed that the execution's timing was orchestrated by the Bush administration, in an attempt to provide some meager evidence of "progress" in Iraq before Bush announces an escalation of American forces. But this report from the New York Times indicates that it was American officials who were urging restraint. The Maliki government apparently couldn't execute Saddam fast enough -- and they didn't seem to care how ham-fisted, bloodthirsty or -- ahem -- sectarian they looked in the process:

The Shiites who predominated at the hanging began a refrain at one point of “Moktada! Moktada! Moktada!”— the name of a volatile cleric whose private militia has spawned death squads that have made an indiscriminate industry of killing Sunnis — appending it to a Muslim imprecation for blessings on the Prophet Muhammad. “Moktada,” Mr. Hussein replied, smiling contemptuously. “Is this how real men behave?”

American officials in Iraq have been reluctant to say much publicly about the pell-mell nature of the hanging, apparently fearful of provoking recriminations in Washington, where the Bush administration adopted a hands-off posture, saying the timing of the execution was Iraq’s to decide.

While privately incensed at the dead-of-night rush to the gallows, the Americans here have been caught in the double bind that has ensnared them over much else about the Maliki government — frustrated at what they call the government’s failure to recognize its destructive behavior, but reluctant to speak out, or sometimes to act, for fear of undermining Mr. Maliki and worsening the situation.

But a narrative assembled from accounts by various American officials, and by Iraqis present at some of the crucial meetings between the two sides, shows that it was the Americans who counseled caution in the way the Iraqis carried out the hanging. The issues uppermost in the Americans’ minds, these officials said, were a provision in Iraq’s new Constitution that required the three-man presidency council to approve hangings, and a stipulation in a longstanding Iraqi law that no executions can be carried out during the Id al-Adha holiday, which began for Iraqi Sunnis on Saturday and Shiites on Sunday.

....American officers at the Thursday meeting said that they would accept any decision but needed assurance that due process had been followed before relinquishing physical custody of Mr. Hussein.

“The Americans said that we have no issue in handing him over, but we need everything to be in accordance with the law,” the Iraqi official said. “We do not want to break the law.”

The American pressure sent Mr. Maliki and his aides into a frantic quest for legal workarounds....Mr. Maliki had one major obstacle: the Hussein-era law proscribing executions during the Id holiday. This remained unresolved until late Friday, the Iraqi official said. He said he attended a late-night dinner at the prime minister’s office at which American officers and Mr. Maliki’s officials debated the issue.

One participant described the meeting this way: “The Iraqis seemed quite frustrated, saying, ‘Who is going to execute him, anyway, you or us?’ The Americans replied by saying that obviously, it was the Iraqis who would carry out the hanging. So the Iraqis said, ‘This is our problem and we will handle the consequences. If there is any damage done, it is we who will be damaged, not you.’ ....

The Bush administration: so incompetent it can't even control its own puppet government.

None of the Iraqi officials were able to explain why Mr. Maliki had been unwilling to allow the execution to wait. Nor would any explain why those who conducted it had allowed it to deteriorate into a sectarian free-for-all that had the effect, on the video recordings, of making Mr. Hussein, a mass murderer, appear dignified and restrained, and his executioners, representing Shiites who were his principal victims, seem like bullying street thugs.

Just more gasoline for the fire.

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