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  •                                  NETFUTURE
                        Technology and Human Responsibility
    Issue #117     A Publication of The Nature Institute      February 1, 2001
                Editor:  Stephen L. Talbott (stevet@netfuture.org)
                      On the Web: http://www.netfuture.org/
         You may redistribute this newsletter for noncommercial purposes.
    NetFuture is a reader-supported publication.
    On Forgetting to Wear Boots (Stephen L. Talbott)
       Sometimes we need help from the least capable
       NetFuture Gives Me Hope (Johan Eriksson)
       How Important Is Animal Suffering? (Phil Walsh)
       Do We Need Less Modesty -- or More Self-understanding? (Van Wishard)
       As Gods, We Are Powerless and Confused (Michael Goldhaber)
       Response to Goldhaber and Wishard (Kevin Kelly)
       John Gage, Computers, and Malaria (Ed Arnold)
    About this newsletter
                           ON FORGETTING TO WEAR BOOTS
                                Stephen L. Talbott
    "I have no doubt that Camphill is an expression of a
    great intuitive thrust out of the deep heart of nature
    which has us in its keeping and knows that both we and it
    are in mortal peril".  (Sir Laurens van der Post)
    Whenever friends visit Phyllis and me, one of our favorite places to take
    them is the nearby Camphill Village in Copake, New York.  The village is
    part of a thriving, worldwide movement for the care of people with special
    needs.  You will find here villagers with Down Syndrome and a great
    variety of other mental handicaps -- all pursuing their lives in a
    beautiful, restful, productive, socially supportive, and artistically rich
    setting.  If there is a place that can bring healing to a high-tech
    society, surely this is it.
    Dignity and Laughter
    One of the first things likely to strike you about most any Camphill
    community (there are more than ninety of them worldwide, from Ireland to
    Botswana to India) is the beauty and craftsmanship evident in the
    buildings and their furnishings.  Much of the craft work issues from shops
    where the villagers are employed -- there are facilities for weaving,
    pottery-making, woodworking, candle-dripping, bookbinding, and jewelry-
    making, as well as dairies, bakeries, and gardens.  At Camphill Copake a
    seed-saving venture has recently gotten under way, together with an herb
    garden and a laboratory for the preparation of herbal remedies and salves.
    There is plenty of healthy and fulfilling work to satisfy the villagers'
    strong need to contribute something worthwhile to society.
    Camphill villages spring from the same roots as Waldorf education, and
    they share the Waldorf emphasis upon an artistically shaped life.  This
    emphasis extends from the long, beautifully carved, wooden tables in many
    of the living units (where the resident villagers eat regular meals with
    their house parents and any children who live there), to the celebration
    of seasonal festivals, to the frequent gathering for artistic performances
    in an auditorium that is typically the architectural crown of the village.
    (In Copake, pianists Andre Watts and Peter Serkin are among those who
    donate their time to perform for the villagers and staff.)  Drama, dance,
    dramatic speech, music -- there is always something to bring the community
    together in consciousness of the spiritual background of life in which we
    all are united.  As a Camphill worker in Great Britain, Sybille Alexander,
    has put it:
       The atmosphere in the villages is determined by the recognition of the
       dignity of each human being, the inner, spiritual work done by the
       leaders -- and, of course, humor, without which the community life
       would be unbearable.
    I can vouch for the place of humor.  A few years ago, on a slushy winter
    day, we took a visiting friend for a walk through the wooded village in
    Copake.  Loafing along a muddy path, we were overtaken by two of the
    villagers, women of older middle age securely bundled up against the
    weather and walking to their jobs in the bakery.  As they passed us, they
    caught sight of our sneakered feet and broke into a fit of hilarity.  "You
    forgot to put your boots on!" they exclaimed, pointing and laughing.  We
    acknowledged our folly and joined in the merriment.  After a brief
    exchange they passed on ahead, still laughing and chattering gaily.  We
    cracked up, too, as we reconstructed their conversation for ourselves:
       "Imagine letting people like that in here!"
       "Yeah, don't have sense enough to wear boots in the mud.  I bet they
       wouldn't even come in out of the rain!"
       "If you ask me, they're an ace or two short of a full deck."
    Trying to Communicate
    More recently, I had a rather different encounter in the village.  The
    staff had invited me to come speak on technology as part of a lecture
    series they were putting together.  Knowing how deeply Camphill workers
    were in the habit of thinking about social issues and the human being, I
    put together an ambitious and fairly abstract talk.  But when I arrived at
    the appointed hour in Fountain Hall, with its high-arching wooden beams
    and stained glass windows, I was disturbed to find the auditorium seats
    full of villagers.
    I expressed my concern to the organizer, explaining that I had expected to
    speak only with staff and had not prepared anything appropriate for the
    villagers.   (Not that I would have known how to prepare even if I had
    been forewarned.)  She quietly replied:  "Just speak your real concerns
    out of heart-felt conviction.  That is what they need.  They will hear
    what is important".
    "What is important?" I wondered as I sat down to await my introduction.
    Then, at the podium, gripped by self-doubt, I proceeded to deliver the
    hour-long talk I had prepared.  "At least", I thought, "only the staff
    will be in any position to ask questions afterward".  But when the time
    came, it was the villagers who thrust their hands eagerly skyward.
    I called first on a lean, intense-looking gentleman in a suit and tie.
    Upon being recognized, Robert (whose name I learned later) stood up and
    began to speak earnestly while vigorously gesturing with arms, face, and
    body.  But nothing came out of his mouth.  There was only the sound of
    muffled struggle as inchoate words, trapped somewhere in the man's throat,
    tumbled over each other on their way into some deep, internal void.
    Yet he spoke with all the vivid force of a hellfire-and-brimstone
    preacher, and he began to move from his place as if carried along by the
    momentum of his own gestures.  He traversed his row to the aisle and,
    still gesticulating with a message urgently demanding expression, began to
    approach the podium.  Alarmed by the man's almost violent and growing
    intensity, I began to wonder whether I might be in some physical danger --
    a puzzling sort of question to ask while you're looking out over an
    audience that seems as serene and undisturbed as ever.
    In the actual event, someone rose easily to meet Robert's advance and
    gently ushered him back to his seat -- a guidance he did not resist.
    Apparently, it seemed natural to everyone that he should have had his say.
    Of course, I owed Robert a reply.  So I told him that I envied his ability
    to speak with such force and passion, since my own great limitation lay in
    my inability to do so.  And it was true.  Robert's force of conviction was
    fully on display, while his words remained bottled up inside him.  My own
    intellectual work is in fact driven by great passion and conviction, but I
    learned long ago to choke off any outward expression of feeling.  My words
    flow freely enough, but their passage into the outer world is cut off from
    the furnace of their forging.
    Other questions and comments came.  One villager told of enjoying a game
    of computer solitaire when she visited a relative's home.  Another
    confided to me afterward that the questions I raised were so gravely
    important that he would carry them into his nightly bedtime meditation.
    Some other comments I could scarcely understand -- perhaps because I was
    not as attuned to what is important as my audience had been.
    Karl Koenig, founder of the Camphill movement, once wrote that
       I can help my brother only if I see the helper in him, [and] the
       receiver of help in me.
    You will find throughout the Camphill movement a strong sense that people
    with special needs bring special gifts to the planet -- perhaps exactly the
    needful gifts in our time.  These folks can teach us the virtues our
    culture has largely disregarded -- for example, the virtue of attending
    fully to the person immediately in front of us.  Rose Edwards, a former
    Camphill worker, once told me,
       I worked for eighteen years with extremely disabled children, and to
       this day I can recommend it as a tremendous background for life.
       Everything had to be exaggerated:  you have to speak more slowly, be
       more patient, plan more carefully, be more present in the moment.
    Her own manner of deliberate, thoughtful speech gave uncommon emphasis to
    her testimony.  Hearing her words, I couldn't help thinking of the
    contemporary habit (often proclaimed a virtue) of divided attention.  I
    also thought of the fabled ethic of Silicon Valley, with its pride in raw
    efficiency, in supreme technical ability, and in "don't get in my way or
    I'll run you down" aggressiveness.  At Camphill the whole point is to
    allow the other person to get in our way.  That's how we begin to see him
    for who he is, and thereby discover something about who we are --
    something other than what our preferred mirrors tell us.
    When you create an environment like that, remarkable things begin to
    happen.  What often catches people's attention about Camphill is the
    extraordinary and unanticipated development their loved ones undergo
    there.  Part of this is owing to the special gifts the villagers bring
    with them.  Koenig has remarked that, while we can often gain efficiency
    and speed by ignoring those with special needs, in some matters they may
    possess a speed and ability far surpassing our own.  As a writer at the
    Camphill in Botton Village, U.K., has put it:
       All kinds of issues can be discussed with far more grasp by people who
       are normal, yet the generosity of nature, the power of commitment to
       ideals, the capacity of forgiveness in those with special needs can be
       disconcerting to say the least.  In the end, living with people with
       special needs is living with people and this is a symphonic task
       in which, at any time, any instrument can soar upwards and lead the
       melody to the accompaniment of all the other instruments in the
    Serving the Other
    A great deal depends on an environment that supports, believes in, and
    encourages individual gifts and individual development.  Koenig describes
    the "College Meetings" at Camphills for children, where every week the
    staff of a house or entire facility come together to discuss a particular
       The child's case history is read, and then the teachers, helpers and
       nurses give their reports and impressions of the child in question.
       Many symptoms, signs and features are collected until -- usually under
       the guidance of one of the doctors -- the image of the child arises.
       His habits, achievements, faults and failures are laid out in such a
       way that gradually a complete picture of his individuality appears.
    In this picture the staff find guidance that enables them to clear a path
    for the child's continued growth.
    All this echoes the way children are assessed in Waldorf schools, where
    the College of Teachers will often hold meetings to discuss the problems
    and opportunities facing a particular student.  The contrast with the
    mentality behind standardized testing could hardly be greater.  Certainly
    teachers must assess student performance -- and in the most profound and
    intimate way possible.  The problem with standardized testing is that it
    avoids any such rigorous assessment.  It is a hopelessly crude tool, a
    means of studied ignorance rather than deep understanding.  And, as a side
    effect, it removes all flexibility, the living qualities, from classroom
    engagement.  When you know in advance exactly what knowledge the
    student-container is supposed to hold, there's not much incentive to
    attend to the particular gifts and developmental needs, or the consuming
    interests, of the individual learner.  Standardized testing is not student
    assessment; it is the refusal to assess.
    No student's needs and timing and achievement and potential can be
    assessed in exactly the same terms as another student's.  I suspect that,
    where teachers willingly acquiesce in the demand for standardized testing,
    two factors at work are laziness and fear.  It can be both difficult and
    disturbing to confront what lives deeply in another human being.  This, of
    course, is exactly the burden that Camphill workers take upon themselves.
    But the principle of the distinctive character of the individual is hardly
    less important in mainline schools.
    Of Accident and Destiny
    Whether it accords with our philosophical disposition or not, most of us
    have had some sort of an experience of destiny -- for example, we have
    (perhaps unwillingly) felt that a horrific accident or dramatic change in
    fortune or a significant personal encounter was somehow "prepared" for us.
    What we met on these occasions was ourselves, or something that belonged
    to us.  The events were "fated", answering as if by some hidden intention
    to a need or potential of ours.
    In other words, the accidents were not really accidents; they were
    integral to our lives.  But, at the same time, we could not feel ourselves
    reduced to these strokes of destiny, for we also stood apart from them; it
    was we who chose how to make them into material for further development.
    If they were part of us, it was because they presented us with the
    opportunity to exercise exactly the capacities that needed strengthening.
    All such events shape us, but they do so most crucially by giving us the
    opportunity to transcend them.
    Of course, the prevailing, scientifically informed culture leaves little
    room for any very significant reading of these unusually freighted
    experiences.  Nevertheless, given that the purpose of sound science is to
    elucidate experience and not merely to dismiss it, our inattention to
    these inklings of destiny is much more problematic than the effort to
    bring them into greater clarity.
    But my purpose now is not to argue such matters either way.  Rather, it is
    merely to point out that, without a strong sense of human destinies,
    Camphills would not exist.  What is true of the "external" events of our
    lives, Camphill workers will tell you, is also true of your and my bodies
    as physical instruments for the expression of our selves:  the instrument
    of my earthly existence is not an accident; it belongs to me.  But at the
    same time, I am not just the instrument.  There are many ways I can use
    it, and in the using I can to one degree or another grow beyond its
    limitations -- grow by means of its limitations.
    It is not hard for us to realize that the crushing, outward circumstances
    of life may have kept hidden from us some of the most powerful, ingenious,
    and significant personalities ever to inhabit the earth -- a Mozart,
    perhaps, who never laid hands on a piano, a Gandhi whose crippling
    accident and unenlightened society left him in institutional darkness.
    What you will find among many Camphill workers is a sense that this same
    truth applies to those individuals coping with the severe constraints of a
    defective physical organism.  The self whose destiny it is to wrestle with
    such daunting limitations may be a self whose hidden resources and powers
    of development far exceed those of its helpers.  The close connection
    between genius and the breakdown of normal function is well known.  We are
    not just our handicaps.  We are not just our symptoms.
    A Parent's Disconcerting Revelation
    Carlo Pietzner, who helped found the Camphill movement in America, has
    spoken of the experience, both striking and shattering, when parents
    realize their child is more than his symptoms.  They suddenly find
    themselves utterly alone in a society unable to appreciate their
    revelation.  No one is prepared
       to help them understand why there is more in the child than the
       symptoms of stammering, stuttering, not being able to learn to read,
       not being able to walk, not being able to feed themselves, to complete
       toilet training.  Surely, yes, these are the describable symptoms, the
       incapacity of the instrument.  And yet they can see and feel that there
       is more to it; there is the player to it.  And if there is a player to
       it, it cannot be only an accident.  This player must have the
       possibility of finding a way to play his sonata, however hollow the
       instrument may sound, or however many notes may be missing.  (From
       Questions of Destiny.  Slightly paraphrased.)
    Whose life is not a broken song?  Camphills are a testimony to the
    conviction that even the most troubled songs need singing -- and more,
    that these may be, in their own way, songs of genius, giving voice to some
    of the most critical melodies and counterpoints in the sung destiny of
    earth itself.
    As I say, I am attempting no explicit justification of such a view, remote
    as it is from conventional understanding.  But Camphills are real places
    of practical effectiveness -- remarkable sites of healing and inspiration
    exactly where the surrounding society would be least inclined to look for
    anything of much importance.  My own inclination, in trying to glimpse a
    tolerable social future, would be to look at least as hard at what is
    going on in a Camphill village as to look at the excitements of Silicon
    For further information about the Camphill movement, see www.camphill.org.
    Also, you can contact the Camphill Association of North America, Triform
    Camphill Community, 20 Triform Road, Hudson NY 12534.  Their email address
    is info@camphillassociation.org.  For information about volunteer
    opportunities, see http://camphillassociation.org/opportunities.html.
    Related articles:
    ** "The Many Voices of Destiny" in NF #102.  A review and commentary on
       Martha Beck's remarkable book, Expecting Adam, about giving birth to a
       Down Syndrome child at Harvard.
    ** "Can Technology Make the Handicapped Whole?" in NF #92.
    Goto table of contents
    NetFuture Gives Me Hope
    From:  Johan Eriksson (f98joer@dd.chalmers.se)
    Dear Steve,
    I am a Swedish engineering student who discovered NetFuture a few months
    ago.  I can hardly describe the impact it has had on my view of the world
    since then.  It is not often I encounter something that so brilliantly and
    powerfully challenges my thinking and gives me such hope for the future.
    It has given me much joy and sparked a mental revolution the like of which
    I haven't experienced before.
    Regarding the recent comment from a reader in issue #115 (and your own
    comment "In many ways I feel I have failed with NetFuture") about
    NetFuture's supposed negativity, let me just say that I haven't felt that
    NetFuture is negative.  While it often does point to events and trends
    that are negative and even destructive, I never fail to come away from it
    with great optimism and enthusiasm.  As for reaching a broader public, I
    have no really good suggestions.  All I can say is that I am trying to
    introduce my friends and the people around me to the thoughts expressed in
    NetFuture.  I doubt that there is any better way.  I also don't think that
    five years is very long considering that your message goes right against
    "mainstream culture".
    How Important Is Suffering?
    Response to:  "Factory-farmed Pigs: Further Thoughts" (NF-116)
    From:  Phil Walsh (philw@microware.com)
    [Douglas Sloan wrote:]
       A pall of suffering of living, feeling creatures hangs over our modern
       culture, and most of us are complicit in it, if only through willful
       ignorance of what is taking place.
    This is simply too much.  Is our vision so blurred?  Is our hearing so
    deadened?  Do the butchery and barbarity man has inflicted on man for
    millennia no longer register on our senses?
    The human suffering going an all over the world will, in the time it takes
    me to write this note, create a thicker "pall of suffering" than 10,000
    years of factory farms could ever produce.
    Willful ignorance of the life of a pig?  Would that it were true that that
    sin was the one worthiest of our pain.
    Phil Walsh
    Des Moines, Iowa
    Phil --
    In a way, I'd say that the feature article in this issue is a fair
    response to your concern.  If the destinies of the "greatest" of us are
    inextricably linked to the destinies of the "least", may not this truth
    extend, in the appropriate degree, to all living things?
    As I'm sure you realize, nothing in Douglas Sloan's words implied a
    devaluation of human suffering.  But I'm not sure what else one can say to
    your complaint.  The thought that comes immediately to mind is, "How far
    we've come from any sense of a "Great Chain of Being"!  And how far from
    the Native American's often profound sense of respectful connection to the
    deer that fed and clothed him, and the ash tree that supplied his bow".
    Whether we should retain anything of such sentiments is, of course,
    something you might dispute.  In any case, I take it to be part of Sloan's
    contention that a coarsened attitude toward the other creatures with whom
    we share the pulsings of life will lead inevitably to coarsened relations
    with our fellow humans.  Cruel and disrespectful impulses toward living
    beings cannot easily be quarantined within one compartment of the psyche.
    To be a little provocative:  I do not know any philosophical perspective
    justifying the conclusion that pigs are of no account that does not also
    force the conclusion that persons are of no account.  (Yes, I am well
    aware of claims to the contrary.  And, yes, as I indicated before, I
    occasionally eat pork.)
    Do We Need Less Modesty, or More Self-understanding?
    Response to:  "The Dangers of Undue Modesty" (NF-116)
    From:  Van Wishard (vwishard@worldnet.att.net)
    "We are as gods and might as well get good at it."  In my judgment, what
    Kevin Kelly is revealing is not that we are as gods, but that we have
    assumed a certain "god-almightiness" or hubris.  For the Kelly who calls
    for us to "learn to be responsible" for our god-like capacities is the
    same Kelly who sees himself (and all of us) as living in "the great vacuum
    of meaning, in the silence of unspoken values, in the vacancy of something
    large to stand for, something bigger than oneself."  (New Rules for the
    New Economy, by Kevin Kelly, p. 160).  Is this a description of a god-
    like context of life?  One could ask, "What is the substance of
    `responsibility' in such a nihilistic context?"  It is one thing to
    celebrate the powers of the gods that we are assuming, but quite another
    to subject oneself to the restraint and wisdom of the gods.
    It seems as if our greatest need is still the age-old search for self-
    understanding, self-control and for some self-limitation on the power
    complex that beguiles us into believing we are as gods.  And lest some
    suggest the phrase "power complex" is extreme, consider the story that
    appeared in The Washington Post (4.5.99) about a Carnegie Mellon computer
    science professor who had been hired as a researcher by Microsoft.  The
    good professor noted, "Teaching steals from research time."  At Microsoft,
    however, the professor said, "To me, this corporation is my power tool.
    It's the tool I wield to allow my ideas to shape the world."  My power
    tool.  Does such a statement not suggest the presence of ego-inflation?
    Freeman Dyson recognized this temptation when, in the documentary film
    "The Day After Trinity," he said, "The glitter of nuclear weapons.  It is
    irresistible if you come to them as a scientist.  To feel it's there in
    your hands, to release this energy that fuels the stars, to let it do your
    bidding.  To perform these miracles, to lift a million tons of rock into
    the sky.  It is something that gives people an illusion of illimitable
    power, and it is, in some ways, responsible for all our troubles -- this,
    what you might call technical arrogance, that overcomes people when they
    see what they can do with their minds."
    Jacob Bronowski understood this lure and expressed our need:  "We have to
    cure ourselves of the itch for absolute knowledge and power.  It is not
    the business of science to inherit the earth, but to inherit the moral
    imagination -- what we are as ethical creatures -- because without that man
    and beliefs and science will perish together" (The Ascent of Man).
    Van Wishard
    WorldTrends Research
    As Gods, We Are Powerless and Confused
    Response to:  "The Dangers of Undue Modesty" (NF-116)
    From:  Michael Goldhaber (mgoldh@well.com)
    Kevin, I very much doubt that most people feel at all godlike; rather, I
    think they feel often overwhelmed and confused by the rapid onrush of the
    current world.  And each one of us is in fact far more acted upon than
    acting, no matter how creative and inventive we may try to be or even
    succeed in being.  Were there some way to bring democratic reflection to
    bear on the directions we -- inevitably collectively -- choose, then we
    might feel some ability to act with godlike power and responsibility.  As
    it is, I think, as Langdon Winner illustrates, too many of us choose false
    and destructive power, as in video games, because real, effective and
    constructive power is so glaringly absent.
    Response to Goldhaber and Wishard
    From:  Kevin Kelly (kevin@wired.com)
    I agree fully with Michael Goldhaber.  And this was in fact my point.  We
    need the education, training, tools, and perspective to become good gods.
    I also agree with Van Wishard's comments that our greatest need is a
    search for meaning.  Now that we have god-like power, what are we going to
    do with it?  It is an awesome, frightening responsibility, with few
    answers supplied by science, and only some answers supplied by religion.
    My main point was only that we have to acknowledge our godhood, rather
    than deny it.
    Kevin Kelly     kevin@wired.com     Editor-At-Large, Wired magazine
    149 Amapola Ave, Pacifica, CA   94044  USA       www.well.com/user/kk
    +1-650-355-3660 home   +1-650-359-9701 fax
    John Gage, Computers, and Malaria
    Response to:  "Bill Gates' New Concerns" (NF-115)
    From:  Ed Arnold (era@ucar.edu)
    I've watched John Gage many times on the Sunergy broadcasts.  He is, of
    course, the consummate single-focus technologist, though not nearly as
    colorful as Scott McNealy, Sun's president.
    I let him know how I feel (below) ... perhaps input from a few other
    NetFuture readers would dislodge his mind a bit from its single-track
    focus.  Sun has gotten so large, though, that I doubt that their
    bureaucracy can see beyond their focus of promoting Sun computers and
    trying to bring down Microsoft's Evil Empire.
    Mr. Gage:
    I understand you made the following comment at a conference on computers
    and the third world:
       After listening to three days of serious analysis and work [at a
       conference on computers and the Third World, where Gates spoke], and
       then to have Gates rather flippantly say, "You've got to have clean
       water and food" -- that wasn't exactly furthering the point of the
       entire meeting.
    That raises some questions:
    ** If you are attempting to wire 3rd-world countries before they've gotten
    rid of malnutrition, diarrhea, malaria, etc., does the meeting have
    any point?
    ** Is your point that the computer is the solution to every problem, and
    you (and Sun?) are simply unable and unwilling to provide solutions that
    are not directly related to your economic interest, i.e. solutions that do
    not depend on computer technology?
    ** If, as the Alliance for Childhood has documented, computers in schools
    are not significantly improving the educational experience while
    introducing negatives, then why is NetDay's purpose singularly to wire
    schools, and ignore the provision of educational assistance in categories
    that don't directly involve computers?
    My concern, basically, is that highly-placed people like yourself live so
    high on the food chain, and have such a narrow focus of interest, that
    they have not the emotional intelligence to figure out what's really
    needed at the bottom.
    Lest you conclude that I'm some sort of wild-eyed radical, I think about
    these issues every day because I parent a child with cerebral palsy and
    other disabilities, who will never be able to work at the likes of Sun or
    Microsoft.  She will be part of the (largely invisible) group of persons
    with severe disabilities in this country, who live in near-poverty, a
    group which has benefitted not at all from the economic boom of the 1990s.
    Perhaps Mr. Gates (whose products, by the way, I find inferior to Sun's)
    has figured out that the word "charity" ought to apply to the least among
    us, and not to those who are wealthy and powerful, or well on their way to
    being so?
    Goto table of contents
                              ABOUT THIS NEWSLETTER
    Copyright 2001 by The Nature Institute.  You may redistribute this
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    Steve Talbott :: NetFuture #117 :: February 1, 2001
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