Sunday, June 22. 2008
Posted by Joerg Wolf in US Domestic and Cultural Issues on Sunday, June 22. 2008
"Americans are increasingly choosing to live among like-minded neighbours. This makes the culture war more bitter and politics harder," writes The Economist
Residential segregation is not the only force Balkanising American politics, frets Mr Bishop. Multiple cable channels allow viewers to watch only news that reinforces their prejudices. The internet offers an even finer filter. Websites such as conservativedates.com or democraticsingles.net help Americans find ideologically predictable mates. And the home-schooling movement, which has grown rapidly in recent decades, shields more than 1m American children from almost any ideas their parents dislike.
Why is this voluntary segregation bad for politics? Because:
Voters in landslide districts tend to elect more extreme members of Congress. (...) America, says Mr Bishop, is splitting into "balkanised communities whose inhabitants find other Americans to be culturally incomprehensible." He has a point. Republicans who never meet Democrats tend to assume that Democrats believe more extreme things than they really do, and vice versa. This contributes to the nasty tone of many political campaigns. (...)
UPDATE: Susan Jacoby, the author of "The Age of American Unreason", wrote the Op-Ed "Talking to ourselves" in the Los Angeles Times (HT: David):
Whether watching television news, consulting political blogs or (more rarely) reading books, Americans today have become a people in search of validation for opinions that they already hold. This absence of curiosity about other points of view is the essence of anti-intellectualism and represents a major departure from the nation's best cultural traditions.Whatever the party affiliations of all the above mentioned authors might be, I think their main point is bipartisan and refers to a negative national development, which cannot be blamed on just one side. It is not just the right that gets more segregated. The left does it as well.
America's domestic "culture war" is stronger than the disagreements in Europe, but Europe is usually a few years behind anyway... And the term "Balkanization" obviously comes from the old continent.
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Pat Patterson - #1 - 2008-06-22 15:10 -
This will be a first for me as I have never criticized the choice of a topic till today. I can only ask why alarm bells didn't go off when the first example of a self-selecting group was Ron Paul supporters? Do they need to live near each other so that they can finally get that blimp off the ground? That lawyer might want to brush up on the history of Maryland because it was founded as a safe haven for Catholics fleeing persecution in England and Canada as well as being the only state in the Union during the Civil War that kept slavery until after 1865. Oddly enough it was also the last state after the Revolution that overrode some counties and ended taxing all citizens to support the Catholic Church. To describe the other side of the James as the "Confederacy" as glib and stupid is an understatement, satisfying to the lawyer and playing to the worst stereotypes of the writer. But then I suppose it's too much to ask to notice that Americans self-selected their neighborhoods from the very beginning and that tradition has stayed alive through the founding of various homogenuous settlements, Amana, Brook Farm, Fruitlands, and Pullman in the US. And in my own state starting with the Franciscans building a string of missions for Chritianized Indians, Allensworth for freedmen, San Bernardino by the Mormon Batallion and probably most famously Berkeley for people who forgot their locker combinations in high school. The whole article is risible simply by ignoring that in the US congressional districts are formed by the state legislatures to protect the incumbents. But maybe under the guiding hand of perfection, if Sen. Obama becomes president, a law could be passed that sorted out neighborhood by politics, race and religion to achieve some sort of glorious muddle which of course everybody living there will hate.
Joerg - Atlantic Review - #1.1 - 2008-06-22 16:09 -
Pat, first of all, I would like to stress that I don't mind you criticizing the choice of topic or anything else in the Atlantic Review. Why should alarm bells go off, when the Economist starts an article with an example of some crazy fans starting their own community? "Do they need to live near each other so that they can finally get that blimp off the ground?" That's not the point. The point is that apparently more and more Americans want to live together with like-minded folks. Political disagreements with neighbors are increasingly important. [i]"I suppose it's too much to ask to notice that Americans self-selected their neighborhoods from the very beginning and that tradition has stayed alive through the founding of various homogenuous settlements"[/i] So what? Hardly any political development is totally new. Many things happened in one form or another in the past. This does not contradict the author's thesis: "Americans are increasingly forming like-minded clusters." and that this is bad for politics. [i]"congressional districts are formed by the state legislatures to protect the incumbents."[/i] Yes, the legislatures are producing more changes than Americans with U-Haul moving vans. Pat, don't you agree that Americans are politically more segregated today than 15 years ago[b]????[/b] The blogs and the above mentioned dating sites and even the MSM and more neighborhoods are more partisan than before.
Joe Noory - #1.1.1 - 2008-06-22 17:44 -
Joerg: You've been had. I've been watching what "the big sort' authors Bishop and Cushing take this take, when in fact there "scholarhip" is actually a playbook for Democratic elections and fits into [url=http://thebigsort.com/home.php]a set of memes[/url] that Bishop in partiucular is constructing. The other effort on illusion-making he's running is an all-out effort to convice people that the thrust behind the Democratic party's activists are not eliteists by running a kind of incredibly fake "[url=http://www.dailyyonder.com/racing-08]rural-democrat[/url]" blog that hits the points authored and cared for only in the precious organic-farming neighborhoods of Manhattan, Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia, and Dupost Circle in DC. No doubt that overwelming groundswell of rural lefties (the ones who don't mind being told that they cling to God and guns, have to face the shock of the urban elite that they wear shoes and have their front teeth...) would be pleased by such a well staged presentation, all three of them. The big example they like to use is the 1976 US presidential election as a benchmark of nominal "unity" somehow being greater than '04 when the Republicans were evil "dividers". This is [url=http://www.thebigsort.com/maps.php]horseshit[/url]. in '76, the US election was an abberation where Ford was being punished for a demonized Nixon - little else. Note that they did NOT use the uniform detestation of Carter where the country was just as "unified". Moreover a look at their maps of a "unified" country show deeper divisions than today - regional and racial voting to a greater degree. As for this specious effort to build "unity", the left trots it out once every 4 years, and it bubbles along for the other 3 among those on the left who seem to want a one-party state where unity means never having a choice after the Democratic primaries such as there are in most east coast cities. They don't touch on just how corrupt these places are. A few days later I noticed this telling peice from the [url=http://www.americanthinker.com/2008/06/the_unity_weapon_1.html]American thinker[/url]: [i]Calls for unity are frequently heard in the context of issues concerning religious morality. Opposition to abortion and non-traditional marriage are both often characterized by the Left as "wedge issues", as if religions dating back several millennia were specifically crafted to provide talking points in some 21st century political contest. The term "wedge issue" is noteworthy. What exactly does this mean? The fact that there are two separate opinions on a subject and a politician is attempting to clearly distinguish his or her position on such is supposed to be a bad thing? Isn't that the point of politics? Isn't this the point of freedom of speech, debate, and assembly? Another oft-heard complaint is that the opposition is inflexible and not open to compromise. The fallacy here is that every issue has a middle ground in which the Left and right can meet without surrendering their principles. In our own checkered past of slavery and Jim Crow is it not a blessing that the abolitionists and civil rights protesters were unwilling to seek that "middle ground"? Does anyone, in hindsight, look back fondly on the Missouri Compromise?[/i] You've been had. All these guys are is another 'provisional wing' of a slick, hollywood stage-managed, well funded left that is trying to make partisan every last social instiution in the country. If they succeed, we'll be a corrupt little one-party nation like Mexico under the PAN for 80 years. The irony is, that these two guys are using that very argument to ship us all there.
Joerg - Atlantic Review - #184.108.40.206 - 2008-06-22 18:18 -
What I don't understand is why you and Pat focus about "the big sort" authors Bishop and Cushing alleged Democratic agenda. It confirms to me that everything in the US is a Democrat/Republican culture war. Is Pepsi Republican and Coke Democrat? I don't know Bishop and Cushing and I don't care. I found Bishop's statement interesting: [quote] America, says Mr Bishop, is splitting into "balkanised communities whose inhabitants find other Americans to be culturally incomprehensible."[/quote] As netizens we know that "communities" are not just local neighborhoods, but include online communities as well... And we know how partisan the MSM and the blogs are. Hardly any Democrats read the Weekly Standard, the politics section of the Wall Street Journal and Instapundit. And when they do, then with the goal of criticizing them later on in their own community (blogs, friends etc). And vice versa. [b]Do you know any popular political blogs (i.e. in the top 100 on technorati or other charts) where Democrats and Republicans write posts and comments?[/b] Or to quote from the Economist again: [quote]Multiple cable channels allow viewers to watch only news that reinforces their prejudices. The internet offers an even finer filter.[/quote] All of this is true for both liberals and conservatives, thus I don't understand why you focus on critizing Bishops alleged partisan agenda. Isn't he equally critizing the Democrats? Take Dailykos. Nothing like it exists on the right. The liberals/progressives are more centralized then the conservatives. The conservative blogosphere is bigger than the liberal blogosphere and consists of a huge number of blogs that are independent from each other. Dailykos is a single platform for liberal "diary" writers. But then you got the right-wing talk radio. Only conservatives are on those stations. Very little discussion with liberals, who are only as punching bags sometimes online? Or am I wrong? Perhaps I exaggerate due to the lack of observations "in the field." So, please take my writing here as questions to you all.
Joe Noory - #220.127.116.11.1 - 2008-06-22 20:10 -
[blockquote]America, says Mr Bishop, is splitting into "balkanised communities whose inhabitants find other Americans to be culturally incomprehensible."[/blockquote] Nonsense. We are less likely to have regional accents, have "local" customs and mores. In fact the other bleat is that by some magic WalMart and 7Eleven are making us homogenous. What these two crypto-politicos are angry about is that there are multiple sources for news, and they lionize the good old days when Kronkite was [i]his master's voice.[/i] Joerg: they are trying to make an argument that FEWER choices in information are more. COMMUNITIES should define individual voting choices. That there is some importance in cultural homogeneity, (because heaven knows, NOONE can cope with being around people who don't agree with everyone else's every word!) When they say "segregated", what they mean is that it isn't uniformly propping up their world view. At the same time, they make no comment on political factionalization based on race, gender, or anything else that fits the class-warfare playbook. Bishop and Cushing are intellectual hit-men. Nothing more. They are making a roundabout argument against pluralism. And seemingly intelligent people are buying it. Thisd isn't about "bowling alone", it's an underhanded attempt to make us [url=http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/18/books/review/Stossel-t.html]all bowl in unison[/url]. One of them spoke at Pew this week, presumably to soften the listeners' minds to the notion that pluralism, independant unregulated information sources, blogs, and the like shouldn't have a future. What's strange about their appearance there, is that it's normally reserved for people presenting on projects that they fund. The Q&A responding to the question "but what can be done about this?!?" must have been hilarious, because the only honest answer would be to regulate speech, shut down blogs, and forcably relocate homeowners by income classification. You know, all of that "socially just" redistributive stuff.
Anonymous - #18.104.22.168.1.1 - 2008-06-22 20:55 -
Joe Noory - #22.214.171.124.1.1.1 - 2008-06-22 21:46 -
Not unlike the "Jesusland" map, which was the sole intellectual property of the fringe of the party that lost. That's the illustration that appeared in the NYT, by the way. But so what? Really... what are you going to do about this alleged problem and why would you bother? To TAKE AWAY speech rights? To construct some idealized delusion? In 1978, virtually all the broadcast media tended left. Conservative discourse was on a tiny part of the magazine rack or had to come in the mail. This thought is only dawning on these people because they found themselves having to share some space with conservatives. The half of the population that tends to the right would hardly get sentimental for those days when they were structurally dispossessed. Oh! But what "unity" society had!
Joerg - Atlantic Review - #126.96.36.199.188.8.131.52 - 2008-06-22 22:35 -
[i]Really... what are you going to do about this alleged problem and why would you bother? To TAKE AWAY speech rights?[/i] Yes, I will call the Queen and recommend to her to recolonize the US and take away free speech, because Americans are not mature enough to handle their own politics. Relax, Joe. I am not going to do anything, obviously. I am not even arrogant enough to tell the followers of Dailykos, Hotair, Bill O'Reilly, Stephen Colbert etc. to grow up and seek good news in the MSM and blogosphere rather than infotainment and supporting partisan hacks. What is Scott McClellan recommending? Isn't he lamenting about the same problem?
quo vadis - #184.108.40.206.2 - 2008-06-22 21:55 -
Joerg, I'm a typical American, but in your view of the US I would be an impossible paradox. I'm a registered Democrat who lives in San Francisco. I voted for Obama in the primary but I'm waiting until I get a better idea about his policies before deciding who I will vote for in the general election. I like Governor Schwarzenegger, I think Ronald Reagan was one of this country's greatest presidents and I think George Bush is merely disastrously incompetent, not evil, criminal or insane. You are only hearing the fringes of American society because they are the out-shouting everyone else. Technology has given everyone a global podium and the people most motivated to shout are making the most of it. People outside the US see only the fringes and assume that they are representative of all Americans. Only a very small percentage of Americans listen to conservative talk radio or read Daily Kos. Those partisan news sources you hear about? Here's some news: Many Democrats do read the Wall Street Journal and many Republicans do read the New York Times. Some people actually read both! The big change in the 24 hour news channels is that they are trying to differentiate themselves by doing opinion pieces and what I call 'infotainment' - salacious details about the latest crime scandal or whatever in addition to straight news. The straight news reporting they do is all pretty much the same, but how many times can a TV station run the same 2 hour news loop like CNN did 20 years ago before viewers move on? In addition, you are studying the US during an extremely contentious time in our history. The response to 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have driven a lot of controversial changes. What real divisiveness you see is more a response to current issues than a long term trend.
Joerg - Atlantic Review - #220.127.116.11.2.1 - 2008-06-22 22:25 -
I agree with what you say about the outspoken fringes. It is easy to exaggerate their influence, esp. from over here in Europe. "Many Democrats do read the Wall Street Journal and many Republicans do read the New York Times." But the numbers of those Democrats and Republicans (as well as the total number of NYT readers) have been going down in the last 15 years I believe, while readers and listeners of blogs and talk radio have been going up. "What real divisiveness you see is more a response to current issues than a long term trend." I hope so
influx - #18.104.22.168 - 2008-06-22 18:41 -
"slick, hollywood stage-managed, well funded left" what, as opposed to the disenfranchised, under-funded right?
Pat Patterson - #2 - 2008-06-22 16:55 -
Fifteen yers ago? Certainly not as most of the changes that occurred then and subsequently had more to do with ousting Democrats from office in districts where the voters were and had become Republicans. But owing to the advantages of incumbency it takes years in some areas, decades actually, to effect this change. People move to where they can afford to move. The beach town where I live was solidly Republican at the turn of the last century as a matter of being a farming community, then a blue collar oil town, voting New Deal Democrats and even some Father Coughlin supporters, then continuing a blue collar, Reagan Democrats, light manufacturing with lots of hippies who oddly enough were openly hostile to Democrats and thus the city turned Republican again beginning after WWII. Currently registration is showing an increasing number of Democrats moving in as they have been abandoning LA and to live near the beach and find excellent schools. They being able to afford the prices of the homes built in the 90's and currently that are selling for 1-3 million dollars. And yet when I have gone to our local conservation group meetings, I sit in the back, I've yet to hear one person say that he moved here to be with like minded people. But what they do say was usually something like what a beautiful day at the beach and my commute was only 35 minutes today! But back to the Ron Paul reference, do you really feel comfortable when the writer set the tone by describing such a marginalized group? Now what if it had been a group of NOI followers moving into one of the hundreds of suburbs or exurbs in the South as a matter of survival or belief? Would you have still identified them as "crazy fans?" It was a poorly researched and glib piece of polemic that plays into the worst impulses and stereotypes available. I especially like the part about driving around looking for guns shops, evangelical churches and organic shops rather than schools, parks and fire stations. Because we all know that in America in case of fire we pray that we can find a gun shop and an organic meat market so we can either shoot out the flames or cook our free range chicken.
Joerg - Atlantic Review - #2.1 - 2008-06-22 17:59 -
@ Pat [i]"Fifteen yers ago? Certainly not..."[/i] But what follows sounds like you do agree with me that America is politically more segregated now than 15 years ago. And mind you, I did not blame the segregation on Bush, thus you don't have to give some explanation why it is not Bush's fault. I don't quite understand the relevance of your questions, but will answer them anyway: [i]But back to the Ron Paul reference, do you really feel comfortable when the writer set the tone by describing such a marginalized group? [/i] I don't feel anything about it. [i]Now what if it had been a group of NOI followers moving into one of the hundreds of suburbs or exurbs in the South as a matter of survival or belief? Would you have still identified them as "crazy fans?" [/i] I might have written "crazy and potentially dangerous fans" And how about that crazy self-described Christian sect full of polygamists and pedophiles in Texas...? [i]Because we all know that in America in case of fire we pray that we can find a gun shop and an organic meat market so we can either shoot out the flames or cook our free range chicken.[/i] Exactly! :-) You don't mess with the Zohan.
David - #3 - 2008-06-22 18:05 -
Well, I think The Economist is on to something that is very real. Americans have become more close-minded and less willing to entertain opposing points of view. The author Susan Jacoby wrote about this in a recent op/ed piece:[url=http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-op-jacoby20apr20,0,5722702.story]Talking To Ourselves[/url]: "Whether watching television news, consulting political blogs or (more rarely) reading books, Americans today have become a people in search of validation for opinions that they already hold. This absence of curiosity about other points of view is the essence of anti-intellectualism and represents a major departure from the nation's best cultural traditions." There are many theories as to why this is so. I happen to believe it is connected to what Robert Putnam called the decline of "social capital" - or civic engagement in American life - in his 1995 study "Bowling Alone".
Joe Noory - #3.1 - 2008-06-22 20:26 -
Jacoby does a beautiful job of making my point. Her examples leave one with the impression that no leftist has ever shouted anyone down, or shut anyone out. Just watch Code Pink in action or try to post a contrian view on a leftist blog if you still believe that one. It also feeds the elitist presumptive-user-of-populism's favorite notion that [i]everyone else[/i] is of low intelligence, and are at best charming cave-dwellers when that's far from being the case. We live in a highly ergalitarian society where people have the means to chose centerist or outlieing opinions. What disturbs these critis is that people actually do this without consulting them. The cast of fragmented news outlets that have reported on and blogged about these two items are telling: people who are already [url=http://www.technorati.com/search/http%3A%2F%2Fwww.latimes.com%2Fnews%2Fopinion%2Fcommentary%2Fla-op-jacoby20apr20%2C0%2C5722702.story]rather well self-sorted[/url] to one side of the ideological scale.
David - #3.1.1 - 2008-06-23 02:15 -
You are wrong about Jacoby and obviously haven't read her books. She is a cultural conservative. Actually, you make her point quite well. You already know all about her and her views without actually reading her work. You may want to start with "The Age of American Unreason".
Pat Patterson - #22.214.171.124 - 2008-06-23 03:20 -
Susan Jacoby describes herself as a secularist and an atheist. So the assumption I can make is that David, though probably well meant, is using the term cultural conservaive because she is more closely aligns herself with a European conservatism that is elitist and statist and is convinced that the US is going to hell in a handbasket. I think I tend to see native American conservatives as anti-elitist and confident of the ability of Americans to eventually solve all problems. But then since I would probably be identified as one of those poorly educated Republicans I can be excused for not understanding the genius and munificence of my betters.
Joerg - Atlantic Review - #126.96.36.199.1 - 2008-06-23 06:38 -
[i]"a European conservatism that is elitist and statist and is convinced that the US is going to hell in a handbasket." [/i] Are you sure that this is European conservatism?
Pat Patterson - #188.8.131.52.1.1 - 2008-06-23 11:32 -
In retrospect that was badly stated since I meant that it seems the European conservative is convinced EUROPE is going to hell in a handbasket. Of course without acknowledging that they sometimes seem nostalgic for is the man on the white horse while at the same time bemoaning the rise of middle class values and concerns.
influx - #184.108.40.206.1.1.1 - 2008-06-23 12:04 -
I'm still not sure what you're talking about. Can you give an example of such a European conservative?
joe - #220.127.116.11 - 2008-06-25 06:01 -
David Jacoby is even less consertative than you are
Zyme - #4 - 2008-06-22 20:12 -
"Americans are increasingly choosing to live among like-minded neighbours. This makes the culture war more bitter and politics harder." I would argue that this is among the symptoms when a society based on immigration slowly changes into a society based on the established people. Surely many immigrants first sticked to themselves - but they all aimed at having personal success in this new world. When the frontier is gone and national property is no longer increased, the struggle for new wealth is replaced by the struggle for its distribution (vaguely like it is in Europe for at least 3000 years now).
Pat Patterson - #5 - 2008-06-22 20:48 -
I thought I was pointing out that congressional districts change either from new populations moving in or like Detroit where every sane person, black and white, has simply left the city regardless of political position. I suspect that, owing to the tiptoeing around American race issues by Europeans that if I had identified the NOI as a group black muslims seekin good schools and religous freedoms then you would have never described them as "crazy and potentially dangerous." But if they were seen as white and evangelical and horrors, possibly Republican then the characterization is ok. I repeat the whole tone of the article is essentially just another poorly thought out sneer at American life written strictly for one of those non-existent politically self-segregating groups that live in Notting Hill or Stoke Newington. Only in Europe would there be someone gullible enough to believe that people in the US move using the criteria of God and guns or Prius's and pashima. A much better source on US political demographics is The Almanac of American Politics by Michael Barone where he has studied the voting patterns, the demographics and the sociological makeup of every congressional district in the nation. And, surprise, surprise, he finds that contrary to the Rip Van Winkle view of American history Americans are actually more moderate and more openminded now then even a mere 15 years ago. Plus one thing the article did not address fully was where exactly are the political independents living, where is there self-segregating comunity? Or is it possible that it might be the retired nurse living next door to me or the principal of the high school I work at? Or possibly the author simply skipped over that cohort, almost 35% of electorate, because that might have meant his thesis was as realistic as an alchemist's claim.
Joerg - Atlantic Review - #5.1 - 2008-06-22 21:14 -
NOI are the Louis Farrakhan folks, right? http://www.noi.org/statements/rift/recent_history.htm
Joe Noory - #5.1.1 - 2008-06-22 22:45 -
Yes. There movement went into collapse when they tried to go mainstream after the "million man march".
Sue - #6 - 2008-06-23 05:02 -
Americans have always been able to move away from people they dislike. It's still possible today. I don't see anything new or different in this tendency of groups to form around ideological or cultural shared tastes. Utopian communities, lifestyle enclaves, towns like the Catholic compound Ave Maria in Florida (funded by the Domino's Pizza founder) all flourish and will continue to do so. What I think is in the mainstream media, there is no longer an establishment voice that dictates polite "mainstream" discourse. We are in a transition where the old, vaguely liberal Northeast cultural establishment is no longer powerful and it's not clear which group, if any, is going to take its place. Media are fragmented. Blogs are still a minority pastime and dominated by urban educated people, hence the Democratic bias. Most Americans, however, still watch TV or listen to talk radio. Lou Dobbs and Sean Hannity are a lot more politically and culturally influential than the Daily Kos or Instapundit.
Pat Patterson - #6.1 - 2008-06-23 05:47 -
Lou Dobbs? I must be wasting my time because the only programs I listen to on the radio are Jonesy's Jukebox and the unfortunately named Reggae Smoke In. And I don't smoke the ganja!
David - #7 - 2008-06-23 21:53 -
Why not start a "Transatlantic Book Club" where we can read and discuss a book each month, alternating from a left/right perspective? Ideally, we should choose books that are also available in German. Here's my first pick: "The Post-American World" by Fareed Zakaria. Other suggestions??
Joerg - Atlantic Review - #7.1 - 2008-06-23 22:36 -
Good idea. Here's a book review written by an American intern at my day job: Fareed Zakaria: The Post American World [url]http://atlantic-community.org/index/articles/view/Fareed_Zakaria%3A_The_Post_American_World[/url]
joe - #8 - 2008-06-24 01:16 -
interesting that a 2 month old op ed piece by a leftist is considered timely and newsworthy. I must be missing something.
James Bass - #9 - 2008-07-01 21:44 -
Joerg, Are Europeans "unified?" If so, that's the problem, not the sharp divisions in political opinion experienced here. From what I can glean, the politics of Europe range from left to loony left, with a couple crackpots on the right that get trotted out for show. From our founding, the US has had a intense ongoing debate about the role and size of government in our lives. This will always be. Unity is a phantom. Many in the US -- Democrats -- want to emulate Europe with its high taxes, intrusive government, unsustainable social programs, low birth rates, and pacifism that borders on cowardice. Many of us say no thanks. The big media in our country are strongly pushing Barack Obama, who would love to remake the USA in Europe's image. Is it any wonder that those who see the bias seek other sources of news?
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