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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
11/08/13 -- Vol. 32, No. 19, Whole Number 1779
Table of Contents
Game of the States (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
Evelyn seems to know United States geography very well. She made a comment about the shape of Alabama and I had to admit I really did not know the shape of Alabama from memory. When Evelyn was small she used to play "Game of the States" and it all stuck with her. My father was a chemist so "Game of the States" was a lot easier for us. We had only three: solid, liquid, and gas. I don't even remember what the new flag looked like when plasma was admitted. But it doesn't matter. Nobody gets all misty to hear about the four states of matter. [-mrl]
What You Claim Is True You Loose (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I saw a documentary that told the story of the reprehensible Jorg Lanz. He liked to call himself Jorg Lanz von Liebenfels. This is a man who in all likelihood had a great injustice done to him personally by Adolf Hitler. And I feel not one iota of sympathy for him. He was probably the root cause of millions of deaths before and during World War II. But Lenz claimed with a certain amount of justification that Adolf Hitler based his anti-Jewish and racist views on the writings of Lanz. Hitler never credited him or mentioned that his ideas had a source in anyone but Hitler. I will not go over Lenz's whole career, but he was a journalist and at one point a monk who founded the magazine "Ostara" in which he presented his racist "theories" of the superiority of his race and of his arguments against people of any other race, particularly of Jews. He named his magazine for the Ostrogoths and the Old High German goddess Ostara.
Hitler apparently had the complete run of the magazine. When he had all but two issues, Hitler went to visit Lanz himself and to get the two missing issues. In return, Hitler did what Lanz thought was a great injustice. Hitler had all of Lanz's writings suppressed, not because he disagreed with the content, but because he wanted to claim its ideas as his own. Lanz claimed that Hitler owed him a great debt for all his ideas that Hitler used quite handily as a warrant for mass murder. I will not go into this history very deep, but I was taken with Lanz's dilemma. During the time that Hitler was in power he could not claim the ideas that Hitler was making so freely with were actually his ideas. Hitler would not have hesitated to have Lanz murdered. After Hitler died Lanz's odious message would have had a very selective appeal at best. He could hardly claim authorship of a philosophy that justified great mass murder. So he was the victim of a great injustice and as they say, it could not have happened to a nicer guy.
But this got me thinking about a drawback of inventing history and claiming it was real. Lanz could not say that Hitler's view of history was stolen from him. In the blood-soaked pages of Ostara Lanz was writing what he claimed was history. Once he said it was history he no longer really had ownership of the ideas. If you write a piece of fiction and label it as fiction and somebody steals your plot, you have the recourse to sue the thief for copyright infringement. But once Lanz wrote his view of history he could no longer claim ownership of it. If poor little Adolf read Lanz's view of history and was convinced by it, then Adolf could claim it was reality. He could use it and repeat it whenever he wanted just like I can write about the Battle of Gettysburg. If I do write about Gettysburg and organize the information in my own way the authors of the history books I read cannot turn around and claim ownership of that piece of history.
A similar problem came up involving THE DA VINCI CODE. The fiction novel THE DA VINCI CODE by Dan Brown used--extensively apparently--the supposed history written in a book called THE HOLY BLOOD AND THE HOLY GRAIL (US title: HOLY BLOOD, HOLY GRAIL) by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln. The authors of this book sued Dan Brown's publisher for plagiarism in stealing their research. But they found themselves with a problem. They claimed that what they had put in the book was really history. Dan Brown could not be sued for using that history, no matter who discovered it. The contents of THE HOLY BLOOD AND THE HOLY GRAIL were claimed to be true and they could not turn around and sue Dan Brown for believing them even if it was a lie.
Even if Hitler was convinced by the contents of Ostara, Lanz cannot claim that the ideas were stolen from him. Lanz has to just content himself to know that his writings may have made him complicit in the murder of millions. [-mrl]
In particular, Wikipedia says of the 2006 lawsuit by the authors of HOLY BLOOD, HOLY GRAIL against Dan Brown, "Because Baigent and Leigh had presented their conclusions as historical research, not as fiction, Justice Peter Smith, who presided over the trial, deemed that a novelist must be free to use these ideas in a fictional context, and ruled against Baigent and Leigh. ... Baigent and Leigh appealed, unsuccessfully, to the Court of Appeal." [-ecl]
30 SFF Films I Would Recommend That You Almost Certainly Haven't Seen (comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
In response to the various films named by the panelists on the "30 Great SFF Films You Almost Certainly Haven't Seen" panel at LoneStarCon 3, and described in the 10/04/13 and 10/11/13 issues of the MT VOID, here is my list of thirty films, some of which are shamelessly lifted from Mark's list of forgotten science fiction, fantasy, and horror films, because everyone needs a memory-jogger for this sort of thing, and also because it is not surprising we should have some overlap. But all the descriptions are mine.
THE ACT OF KILLING (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: An oddly surreal documentary made by a film crew largely working anonymously. The camera focuses on a major executioner from the 1965 killings following the military coup in Indonesia. To get him and some of his friends to be truthful the company films them re-enacting their murders in the style of American gangster films and lavish musicals, claiming to film them for a movie. The killers apparently have never given much thought to regretting their actions. Joshua Oppenheimer, Crystine Cynn, and a third person unnamed directed this film. Rating: low +3 (-4 to +4) or 8/10
In 1965 a coup overthrew Sukarno's government of Indonesia and placed it in the hands of the military, making Suharto president. The military claimed it was saving the country from Communism. More than a million political enemies were accused of being Communist and then were murdered. Today the country is still in the hands of the military and people who did the killing for the government are now treated as heroes of the state.
The expression "the banality of evil" has rarely taken so concrete a form as it has in Anwar Congo, a lover of movies, music, and fine clothes and also the mass murderer of over a thousand people. Joshua Oppenheimer, Crystine Cynn, and an unnamed person direct THE ACT OF KILLING. There is a lot of smiling in this film. Congo will spontaneously do a little dance when he is happy. The word key to this documentary is "impunity." Anwar Congo proudly admits he had led a death squad in 1965 and 1966 and killed over a thousand people working as a "gangster" for the military government of Indonesia. He also extorted money from the Chinese murdering those who did not pay.
The filmmakers now invite Congo to relive those killings to be filmed as Hollywood-style fantasies. Congo sees this as his chance to be in the movies. The killers re-enact their murders in the style of their favorite film genres the gangster films, lavish musicals, and westerns. These scenes have a feel as surreal as anything in the film ARGO. The plot is worthy of a comedy, but it was the actual strategy the filmmakers used and it got the killers to tell very openly about their crimes. And we see in one of Congo's fantasies put on film a lavish musical in which Congo imagines his victims will return to thank him.
For Congo, killing several hundred people personally was a job and a way to earn money for niceties like nice clothing. He is proud of finding a way to kill that made clean-up easier. Because the government who paid him is still in power, he is treated by friends and neighbors like what he thinks he is, just a hard-working, fun-loving, former employee of the government. And if the government called people communists he had no scruples about killing them.
The filmmakers interview Congo and his friends, including the paramilitary Herman Koto. And the killers openly talk about the days they had their brand of fun killing for the government. They candidly talk about raping and murder and the pleasure it brought them. They take pride about being a "gangster" which in their language is the same as a "free men." Credits for the production are mostly anonymous in a country in which the government is probably not done killing.
This film manages at times to be funny and others times horrendously tragic. In many ways it is just extraordinary. And few documentaries can match the power of the last ten minutes of this film. I rate THE ACT OF KILLING a low +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10. This is a film that is hard to watch and just as hard to forget.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2375605/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_act_of_killing/
SHORT TERM 12 (film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: This film covers familiar territory but still manages to secure an emotional hold on the viewer. At a foster care facility Grace, the staff supervisor, is emotionally involved with the lives of the at-risk teens under her care. Destin Daniel Cretton writes and directs with a message that with enough effort and patience, psychologically scarred people can get together and help each other. Rating: +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10
A foster care facility is generally a place to keep troubled teens until society sends them out on their own. But implicitly the situation calls on the better staff members to become some combination of friend and parent to teens, some of whom are coming from intolerable situations at home. And because the term of their involvement is usually short the staff members frequently do not have the time to earn trust the way a real parent would. When the foster teens are approaching the end of their youth, their hormones and their peers make them particularly rebellious and difficult to deal with. One caregiver who really wants to help is the aptly-named Grace (played by Brie Larson of "21 Jump Street"). With only five or six years of age and experience between her and the adolescents she dealing with she tries to fix what she can of their broken lives. Grace is the staff leader of the titled facility, and while she doubts herself every step of the way she seems to have a natural talent for handling her charges.
Grace's escape from the pressures and worries of work is her private relationship with Mason (John Gallagher, Jr.) a fellow staff member. But this is not that much of an escape. As she approaches her mid-twenties she has to decide if she is going to commit to this relationship or not. This is weighing on her when she gets a new troubled and, of course, uncooperative teen Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever) to care for at the facility. Helping Jayden Grace gets some mastery of the demons in her own background, a background slowly revealed to the viewer.
The relationships and situations we see in this film are familiar and the plot covers well-trodden ground. However, frequently facilities like this one are not so positively portrayed. Grace has roughly the same job and responsibilities that Nurse Ratched had in ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEXT, but Grace doubts herself even as she sincerely tries to help the people under her care. That makes her the antithesis of Nurse Ratched. Writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton is very careful to color each interaction with assurances that doubts her own power and where she can she will manipulate patients for their own good, helping them to help themselves.
The story was inspired by Cretton's own experience in a foster care facility. Some of the incidents seem more idealized than authentic, but there will be viewers who will be deeply touched by the accounts and by Grace's sincerity. I rate SHORT TERM 12 a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2370248/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/short_term_12_2013/
Science and Science Fiction Movies (letter of comment by Guy Ferraiolo):
In response to Mark's review of EUROPA REPORT in the 10/25/13 issue of the MT VOID, Guy Ferraiolo writes:
[Mark said, talking about EUROPA REPORT] "The best science fiction films have no chases, no guns blaring, no zombies, no prosthetic makeup, and no suspension of the laws of science."
I have to disagree. This is no longer science fiction. It may be a form of science documentary. I always thought the idea was to change one, or a most a small set of things, and work out what would happen. [-gf]
EUROPA REPORT is hardly a documentary. Can you give an example of a better science fiction film than EUROPA REPORT that breaks those rules? Really I am saying why I think EUROPA REPORT is better than action films like THE MATRIX. [-mrl]
It seems to me that your rule "no suspension of the laws of science" is very restrictive. Perhaps I'm taking it more rigorously than you intend. Almost all science fiction, as defined by people who read, write and edit science fiction, does have scientific speculation. What does your rule exclude? Wouldn't it exclude every SF work that has FTL travel. That's a rather comprehensive list right there. Time travel? Clearly disallowed. There are no Martians, does this put War of the Worlds in the less favored category? I'm reading Gardner Dozois' 29TH ANNUAL BEST SF collection. I doubt if a single story would not be excluded. What about ADVENTURES IN TIME AND SPACE? Yes, there is an entry that passes: Willy Ley, "V-2: Rocket Cargo Ship" (essay) (1945).
As for EUROPA REPORT not being a documentary, would it be better if I said "it may be a form of popular science edutainment"? Despite various pretensions of the media, that's a pretty good description of what usually is presented as a documentary. But let's stick with my cumbersome second formulation. A work completely without any speculative aspect is just a reiteration of facts, however elegantly presented. And that means it doesn't have any speculation, it's no longer science fiction. [-gf]
I did not rule out scientific speculation. A theoretical physicist speculates all the time but within the laws of science. I do not think a theoretical physicist would spend much time speculating that perhaps sound travels in a vacuum.
Having two large objects collide in space and make a noise without benefit of conduction medium is a violation of the laws of physics. Taking a kilogram of matter and accelerating it to the speed of light and perhaps even past the speed of light without expending infinite energy is a violation of the laws of physics. Faster than light travel is *not* against the laws of physics. If tachyons exist they do it all the time. It may be that matter can be pushed through a wormhole or across wrinkles in space and have the net effect of FTL travel.
Side point: And what makes you so sure that time travel violates laws of physics? We have achieved forward time travel (at rates faster than 1); it just is very expensive right now. That is what the Twin Paradox is all about. And I assure you that the Twin Paradox phenomenon does not violate the laws of science. It is used to demonstrate the laws of science.
Rule of thumb: if respected physicists suggest how a phenomenon might occur, that phenomenon is probably not a violation of the laws of physics.
Let me rephrase what I said: "Science fiction that does not *obviously* violate laws of physics is better than science fiction that does, everything else being equal."
I think also you are confusing a "law of science" with a "scientific finding." Otherwise how does "War of the Worlds" violate laws of science? [-mrl]
THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT and Names (letters of comment by Tim Bateman, Keith F. Lynch, Philip Chee, David Friedman, and Scott Dorsey):
In response to Evelyn's comments on THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT in the 10/25/13 issue of the MT VOID, Tim Bateman writes:
[Evelyn said, "First, like just about everyone else, the internal narrator uses 'Frankenstein' to mean the Creation."
I bet these people are not even aware of the combination of "It's All In The Manual" and "Word of God" which, combined with deduction, would prove them correct (or even make them right).
And why do people call those characters in Geo. Lucas's RETURN OF THE JEDI_'Ewoks'?
Keith Lynch adds:
"Who played the title role in the 1931 movie FRANKENSTEIN?" is a good trivia question. (Colin Clive, not Boris Karloff.)
At the Halloween event I attended, we were discussing major characters without names. Examples include Frankenstein's monster, the robot in LOST IN SPACE, Agent 99 on GET SMART, and the time traveler in Wells's "The Time Machine." Can you think of any others?
The narrator in REBECCA (unless of course, you're actually responding to my comments on REBECCA in the 11/01/13 issue--but since I haven't posted that one yet, this must just be an example of synchronicity).
Philip Chee says:
Tsk. Shame on you for forgetting The Doctor.
Without a name at all, or just name not mentioned and/or not known?
How about The Saint? I don't think the author ever let on what name the character was using for the first eighteen years of his life. Patricia Holm  was my favourite character. I was rather disappointed that she was written out of all the later stories. On the bright side she's back in the latest reboot. And played by Faith, er, Eliza Dushku .
David Friedman responds:
"Simon Templar, no? Is there a suggestion somewhere that that wasn't his original name?" [-df]
According to Wikipedia, S.T. started using that nom de plum at 18. [-pc]
Scott Dorsey adds:
The Starchild in 2001. The aliens in ALIEN. And all of the real people in Cordwainer Smith's stories. [-sd]
[A long discussion of nameless characters ensued in rec.arts.sf.fandom.]
THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT and Evolution and Deep Time (letters of comment by Tim Bateman, Keith F. Lynch, Philip Chee, and David Friedman):
In response to Evelyn's comments on THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT in the 10/25/13 issue of the MT VOID, Tim Bateman writes:
[Evelyn said, "Burroughs] also thinks Piltdown Man was real (as I suspect Burroughs did, since it was not debunked until 1953)."
I would bet you a Kit-Kat that there are people who still believe it today--the debunking is never given the publicity of the Original Hoax.
[Evelyn also writes,] "Burroughs has a strange notion of how evolution works (worked). I do not mean just the notion of creatures evolving individually as they travel upstream. I am referring to the whole Caprona 'continent.'"
I suspect that Burroughs's notion of how evolution works (worked)-- in Caprona, and probably nowhere else--is the way it needs to work to make the plot work... [-tb]
Keith Lynch adds:
No stranger than Greg Bear in DARWIN'S RADIO, in which a new natural virus causes a constellation of new useful traits which interact as if they had been carefully designed. Olaf Stapledon got it right seventy years earlier in LAST AND FIRST MEN, in which future human evolution was very slow, with lots of backtracking, false starts, and dead ends. [-kfl]
Phillip Chee suggests:
I don't think Stapledon knew about punctuated equilibrium then. [-pc]
To which Keith replies:
On the contrary. He may have been the first to come up with it. Each future human species is pretty much unchanging, often for millions of years. But then a catastrophe comes along, the population crashes, and there's speciation. Generally all but one human species soon dies out. (There were also sapient monkeys for a time. And sapient Martians and Venusians, but both were wiped out by man.)
Thread crossover: Eventually, the descendants of mankind forgot that the long-destroyed Earth had ever existed. But still later they rediscovered the whole of human history in complete detail.
Anyone who hasn't read this should do so. It's utterly unique. It's not the only SF novel which depicts billions of years, but it's the only novel I've ever read which makes billions of years *feel* like billions of years. There's nothing like Clarke's poking around the ruins of Shalmirane, which completely ruined two of Clarke's novels for me, as it made what was supposed to be a billion years feel like about a thousand years. A billion years is a *seriously* *long* *time*. I pointed out to a friend who suggested that inscriptions on stone might last that long that if erosion amounts to just one millimeter per thousand years, he'd better carve the letters at least a kilometer deep. [-kfl]
David Friedman notes:
As my wife likes to put it, a geologist is someone who refers to the everlasting hills as a temporary surface phenomenon. [-df]
And Keith elaborates:
Indeed. One millimeter per thousand years is certainly an underestimate. The Appalachians have lost several kilometers to erosion even though they're less than *half* a billion years old.
I've always been a fan of deep time. About a half century ago I found some fossils dating to the Ordovician. The time since the Ordovician is to half a century about what half a century is to three minutes. So it's a long time, but not inconceivably long. Of course the Ordovician was more than 90% of the way from the beginning of our planet to the present. In other words, if the Earth was one year old, formed on January 1st and now it's the end of December 31st, the Ordovician would be near the beginning of December. And the dinosaurs didn't die out until after Christmas. Recorded history began a few seconds before midnight.
Phrased another way, if [rec.arts.sf.fandom]had the total accumulated volume it does, but it had built up not irregularly over 22 years, but regularly over the age of our planet, that would be just one post every four thousand years, i.e. one post during recorded history and over a million prehistoric posts. It would be an average of one line of text per century, one character every year or two, one bit every few weeks.
It's interesting that cosmology has come around to the same non-Newtonian view as religion -- that time had a beginning, and may have an ending. It's also interesting is that so many processes would take much longer than the whole of the past and perhaps the whole of the future too. The half-life of tellurium 128 is more than two trillion trillion years, i.e. 160 trillion times longer than the age of the universe so far. In that many years, you could reach anywhere in our galaxy if you travel at the speed at which a stalactite grows. After a century, you'd be less than an inch of the ground; after a thousand years, less than a foot. But you'd get anywhere in our galaxy before your tellurium power supply gave out.
But, as every programmer knows, it's trivially easy to accidentally write a program that would take enormously longer than that to complete. In about an hour I could write a program to factor RSA 2048 by trial division, but even if I ran it on the fastest computer ever built, all the tellurium in the universe would have long since decayed before the program was a trillionth of the way to completion. [-kfl]
Bell Labs, CAPTAN PHILLIPS, MIRACLE FOR SALE, EERIE TALES, "War of the Worlds" Tour, and Turner Classic Movies (letter of comment by John Purcell):
In response to the 11/01/13 issue of the MT VOID, John Purcell writes:
Many thanks for sending off the latest MT VOID. As always, it is appreciated and once again, there are a couple items of note to comment upon.
Somehow it does not surprise me that the birthplace of the cellphone is being turned into a shopping mall. This strikes me as a rather apropos demise, being that such a conversion is symbolic of the transience of modern society. Nothing lasts anymore, or at least is built to last for longer than a single generation, if even that long. Sometimes I wish the cellphone would be dis-invented, but that would never happen; it will simply be replaced by the next electronic communication doo-dad. The day will come when everybody will have communication chips implanted at the back end of the jawbone because of the proximity to the auditory canal and vocal chords. And people think that the NSA's actions are frightening. Just wait ... Worse is coming. Real. Soon. Now.
Interesting listing of movie reviews, especially the ones about CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (which I would like to see before it leaves the theaters), MIRACLE FOR SALE and EERIE TALES. I am going to have to plunk that URL you provided for EERIE TALES into the browser sometime and watch it. I am always on the lookout for rare films that sound cool, and this one foots the bill. Thank you, Mark, for the link.
Say, that "War of the Worlds" Tour you two had sounds like fun. What a great idea! That cafe likewise sounds like the place to visit when one is in Grovers Mill, NJ. Hiking that trail in Van Nest Park would be a good thing to do, and it brightens my heart to hear that the water tower survived its "attack" and is still standing. That's funny someone shot at it. I can just hear that farmer now: "Consairnin' Martian invaders! Take that!" BLAMMM!!
Wow. Did he actually hit it? The gullibility of people is something else, ain't it? Put the suggestion of practically anything in their heads and let imagination take its natural course.
So I thank you once again for filling my Friday morning coffee time with your MT VOID. It is always a pleasant read to start the day. Until next week, enjoy the movies on AMC and TCM. I've been digging the Thursday night Vincent Price films on TCM during the month of October, especially last night's line-up of THE HAUNTED PALACE (1963), THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH (1964), and THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES (1971). Fun stuph! [-jp]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
GALACTIC POT-HEALER by Philip K. Dick (ISBN 978-0-679-75297-4) is a later Dick novel, after he has had time to develop a distinctive voice:
"A man is an angel that has become deranged, Joe Fernwright thought. Once they--all of them--had been genuine angels, and at that time they had a choice between good and evil, so it was easy being an angel. And then something happened. Something went wrong or broke down or failed. And they had been faced with the necessity of choosing not good or evil but the lesser of two evils, and so that had unhinged them and now each was a man. ... Joe felt weak and unsure of himself, and ahead of him lay a terrible job--terrible in the sense that it would put inordinate demands on his waning strength. I am like a gray thing, he thought. Bustling along with the currents of air that tumble me,that roll me, like a gray puff-ball, on and on."
At first, the view of Muslims as crazed jihadist terrorists seems to pre-date 9/11 here: when the "Padre booth" is dialed to Allah, the first thing it says is, "Kill your foe." Yet it is also true that when Joe replies, "I have no foe. Except for my own weariness and fear of failure," the Padre says, "Those are enemies which you must overcome in a jihad; you must show yourself to be a man, and a man, a true man, is a fighter who fights back." In other words, jihad is not necessarily a war carried out against other people; as many have pointed out, it can be against personal shortcomings or other abstractions. (One criticism I have of the Padre booth is that for most of the settings Dick uses the actual theology or belief system of the religion, but for Judaism he resorts to the booth recommending a bowl of fatworm soup. One, that is cultural rather than theological, and two, worms of any sort would not be kosher. So he is not just ignoring the religion and treating it as "funny culture" but he is actually contradicting the religion.)
Dick is not strong on zoology either. He refers to "the life of an insect, a spider," implying that spiders are insects.
In JORGE LUIS BORGES: THE LAST INTERVIEW AND OTHER CONVERSATIONS (ISBN 978-1-61219-204-8), there is an interesting exchange between Borges and Richard Burgin. Borges is talking about an anthology that appeared in Argentina in which six writers each chose the best story they knew, and he said, "[One] took, I don't know why, a very disagreeable and rather bogus story by Lovecraft. Have you read Lovecraft?" And to Burgin's negative response, he said, "Well, no reason why you should." Given how many parallels and borrowings from Lovecraft that Borges made, as were pointed out in the book I reviewed last week, BORGES Y LA CIENCIA FICCION, this seems a rather surprising statement.
And in his prologue to the Argentinean edition of Ray Bradbury's THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES, Borges writes, ""Bradbury is heir to the vast imagination of the master [Edgar Allan Poe], but not of his 'interjective' and at times dreadful style. Deplorably, we cannot say the same of Lovecraft." For someone who copied Lovecraft as much as Abraham indicates, these seem odd sentiments. [-ecl]
Mark Leeper email@example.com Quote of the Week: A bad book is as much labour to write as a good one, it comes as sincerely from the author's soul. --Aldous HuxleyTweet
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