Global Warming: Man or Myth?

Scientists can also wear their citizen hats

A Side of Rat Feces? (A History Lesson)

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Government as a Guardian “… of the people, by the people, [and] for the people”

Guest post by Kelly A. Mandia, Lecturer of History, St. Joseph’s College, NY.

The reason there are little to no rat feces and vermin parts in the food you are putting into your mouth every day is due to government oversight.  Do you think the food packing industry is looking out for you?  Those who bemoan government regulation as the antithesis to capitalism (e.g. carbon emission reductions) have failed to understand the history and full scope of this issue.  Historically there’s been a failure on the part of business to provide their goods and services for the good of the people and for its employees, while in the late 19th century, justifying their unethical practices with such “social theories” as the Iron Law of Wages and Social Darwinism.  There are many instances, a few which I will outline, where government has stepped in to serve as a “guardian of the people” in order to stop businesses from hurting – and in some cases killing – members of its citizenry.    

The Jungle

We are all familiar with Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, an exposé of the unsafe, unsanitary, filthy conditions as well as the illegal practices and corruption within the meatpacking plants of Chicago.  Sinclair thus was elevated to the rank of “muckraker”; an investigative reporter who enlightens the public about the ills of the second industrial revolution (i.e. political corruption, trusts, unsafe living and working conditions, public safety issues, child labor, environmental concerns, et. al.).   The Jungle came upon the heels of the little-known “United States Army Beef Scandal” during the Spanish-American war: 

“.. most of the meat arriving in Cuba was found to be so poorly preserved, chemically adulterated and/or spoiled that it was toxic and dangerous to consume. The meat caused an unrecorded number of illnesses and death from dysentery and food poisoning, having an especially deadly effect on the thousands already weakened by the epidemics of malaria and yellow fever which were ravaging the unprotected American troops and would eventually kill twice as many men as the bullets of the Spanish.”  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Army_beef_scandal)

The Lobby vs. Pure Food and Drug Act

A well-funded lobbying association composed of the meat trusts and drug companies quickly organized.  Sound familiar?  (The drug companies were gaining addicted consumption communities since they laced their patent medicines with substantial doses of alcohol, cocaine, heroin, cannabis, and morphine while making false, unsubstantiated claims that these concoctions healed all kinds of ills.  Poisons in some medicines were actually killing consumers).  These lobbyists pressured Congress to abandon legislation, crying it was unconstitutional and the antithesis to laissez-faire capitalism.  These lobbyists garnered the support of several southern congressmen.  Nevertheless, due to public pressure, the work of social activists, scientific support by the chief chemist to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Dr. Harvey W. Wiley, and pressure by President Theodore Roosevelt, Congress passed the Pure Food and Drug Act on June 30, 1906.  This was the first of numerous pieces of legislation to protect consumers from unscrupulous businesses who viewed the “bottom line” as paramount to the safety of their products. 

Provisions of the Pure Food and Drug Act include the following:

  • Creation of the Food and Drug Administration, which was entrusted with the responsibility of testing all foods and drugs destined for human consumption;
  • The requirement for prescriptions from licensed physicians before a patient could purchase certain drugs;
  • The requirement of label warnings on habit-forming drugs. (http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h917.html)

Present Day Foodborne Illnesses

Currently, illness from contaminated food, ranging from minor stomachaches and queasiness to life-threatening E. coli infections, are a serious public-health threat in the U.S., resulting in 5,000 deaths and 325,000 hospitalizations each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)   (http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1969259,00.html#ixzz0hAgMGxWZ).  A new study by a former U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) economist estimates the total economic impact of foodborne illness across the nation to be a combined $152 billion annually  (http://www.physorg.com/news186816532.html).  This substantial risk to public health has further validated the Senate’s pending food safety legislation, in addition to legislation that has increased the scope of the FDA’s regulation in the past year.  “This report makes it clear that the gaps in our food-safety system are causing significant health and economic impacts,” says Erik Olson, director of food and consumer product safety with the Pew Health Group   (http://www.physorg.com/news186816532.html).   

The Triangle Shirtwaist Company Fire

Five years after the publication of Sinclair’s The Jungle, a New York City garment company, The Triangle Shirtwaist Company, witnessed one of the worst industrial tragedies in its “sweatshop”.  This tragedy contributed to states and the federal government enacting safety laws and providing guidelines for employers to protect their workers.  “In 1911 workplace deaths were common and increasing as the United States industrialized. For example, 13,228 miners were killed in U.S. coal mines between 1906-1911”  (http://www.asse.org/about/history.php).

The Triangle Shirtwaist Company employed around 500 workers; most of them were expendable unskilled immigrant women who could be paid a fraction of what employers would pay white, native males at the turn of the 20th century.  In order to protect their “bottom line”, the company would lock its doors during the workday in order to prevent decreased productivity; i.e. workers taking self-imposed breaks or the possibility of worker theft.  With no working fire escape, a mere 46 buckets of water, locked doors, and doors that only opened inward, a deadly fire claimed the lives of 146 of the 500 workers (6 unidentified as the bodies were burned beyond recognition).  Loss of life was attributed to smoke inhalation, burns, and to the fatal injuries incurred from jumping out of 9th story windows and down elevator shafts in an attempt to escape.

The March 27, 1911 New York Evening Journal revealed, from a safe distance, the horrifying reality of the blast of fire and falling bodies.

The fire symbolized the helplessness of industrial workers in the face of dangers over which they had little control and to which the law had hitherto, for the most part, simply abandoned them. It made clear in a new and powerful way that industrial accidents had causes whose roots lay in employers’ near-total power over the workplace environment; causes which government had the capacity and the responsibility to address (McEvoy, 1995). Because businesses did not take it upon themselves to protect the health and safety of the very workers responsible for their profits, pressure by unions, politicians, and worker advocates instigated government involvement.

Department of Labor

In 1913, the Department of Labor (DOL) became a cabinet-level department in the federal government.  The DOL administers a variety of federal labor laws including those that guarantee workers’ rights to safe and healthful working conditions.  “Frances Perkins, later to become Secretary of Labor under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, watched the Asch Building burn, an event that influenced her decision to become a lifelong advocate for workers. Perkins assisted in the factory investigation from her position as executive secretary of the New York Committee on Safety.”  (http://www.ilr.cornell.edu/trianglefire/narrative6.html)

A division of the DOL, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), is the first comprehensive federally legislated organization in the United States to inspect, cite, and penalize employers for infringements of the right of workers to labor under safe and healthy conditions (Donnelly, 1982).

Child Labor

With their main goal of maximizing profits, it is not surprising that 19th century factory owners sought to decrease the incidences of unionization and labor strikes; to offer the lowest pay possible; and to create a more “manageable” and subservient work force.  To meet these ends, factory owners hired children and paid them a fraction of what adults would be salaried.  Even orphans were employed as slave labor.  By the early decades of the twentieth century, the numbers of child laborers in the U.S. peaked (http://www.continuetolearn.uiowa.edu/laborctr/child_labor/about/us_history.html).  Working class families needed their children to help support their families and thus education was considered a luxury.  Nevertheless, although only a handful of states passed legislation to limit the workday, set the minimum age of child laborers, and to require even a few hours of compulsory education, children were exploited and forced to endure unsafe and oppressive working conditions. 

The National Child Labor Committee (NCLC), established in 1904, worked at the state and national levels to eradicate child labor.  The Committee believed that with enough evidence, rational Americans would make rational decisions, and they did not believe that allowing children to be worked to illness, and often times death, was rational.  The public was exposed to the plight of child labor through the efforts of various labor organizations as well as the muckrakers who used the media to call attention to the abuses of big business upon the nation’s youth.  In 1906, the NCLC hired Lewis Hine, a teacher, photographer, and social activist, to help them in their struggle to implement laws prohibiting child labor.  The idea was to use Hines’ photography as a tool for social reform.  Hines took more than 5,000 photographs while documenting multiple abuses of many children throughout the United States.

Faces of Lost Youth: Furman Owens, 12-years-old. Can't read. Doesn't know his A,B,C's. Said, "Yes I want to learn but can't when I work all the time." Been in the mills 4 years, 3 years in the Olympia Mill. Columbia, South Carolina.

It was at least partially due to his work with the NCLC that laws protecting children were enacted. He photographed children in fisheries, factories, and farms that included short descriptions of the subjects about their  difficult working conditions to ensure that there was no ambiguity about the horrors of child labor (Smith-Shank, 2003).

The United States Children’s Bureau  has been absorbed into the United States Department of Health and Human Services.  The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 prohibits the employment of minors in “excessive child labor.” The FLSA’s child labor provisions are designed to protect the educational opportunities of minors and prohibit their employment in jobs and under conditions detrimental to their health or well-being (http://www.stopchildlabor.org/USchildlabor/fact1.htm).

Toyota Brake Scandal

Presently, federal safety officials have now raised the number of deaths due to sudden acceleration in Toyotas to 52 (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/03/02/business/main6258603.shtml).  It is suggested that Toyota knew of the issues with their sticky brakes but did nothing; requiring Toyota executives to testify before a Senate hearing committee.  This is not a new issue; there have been complaints about this issue within the past decade.  Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Tuesday his agency may recommend that every new vehicle sold in the U.S. be equipped with brakes that can override the gas pedal. “We will not rest until these cars are safe,” LaHood told the Senate Commerce Committee. (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/03/02/business/main6257664.shtml).  It is likely that the Big Three automakers were aware of this safety issue from their top competitor for quite some time and yet nothing was done to ensure it could not happen to their own cars.  Furthermore, now that the safety issue has been publicly outed and a fix has been found, why are the Big Three automakers not immediately making this a standard feature and promoting such in mass media? 

GHG Emissions

There are numerous other examples of where business’ bottom line drove the decision- making even when those decisions were harming the public.  Businesses today are repeating history by continuing to release massive amounts of greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere even though there is overwhelming evidence of the harmful effects of increased GHGs.  It is foolish to think that these businesses will see the error of their ways and make the corrective changes.  Once again, government will have to step in to protect us before it is too late.  The solutions include: Carbon Fee & Dividend, Emission Trading (a.k.a. Cap and Trade), or Carbon Tax.

Business leaders, lobbyists, and politicians are reluctant to accept any of these choices and would prefer a business as usual approach with regard to GHG emissions claiming that any other course of action will hurt their bottom line and “wreck the US economy”.  These claims are without merit and the costs of doing nothing certainly outweigh the costs of doing something.

Please see:  The Copenhagen That Matters by Thomas L. Friedman in the NY Times

An excerpt:

Although it still generates the majority of its electricity from coal, since 1990, Denmark has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 14 percent. Over the same time frame, Danish energy consumption has stayed constant and Denmark’s gross domestic product has grown by more than 40 percent. Denmark is the most energy efficient country in the E.U.; due to carbon pricing, through energy taxes, carbon taxes, the ‘cap and trade’ system, strict building codes and energy labeling programs. Renewable resources currently supply almost 30 percent of Denmark’s electricity. Wind power is the largest source of renewable electricity, followed by biomass. … Today, Copenhagen puts only 3 percent of its waste into landfills and incinerates 39 percent to generate electricity for thousands of households.

Surely if Denmark can do the right thing and still be profitable, so can the United States, Canada, and others!

Cap and trade has also worked in the US with regard to sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions. SO2 emissions lead to acid rain and during the 1980s, acid rain was devastating lakes and forests in the east.

Forest damage caused by acid rain.

In 1988, Congress passed a cap and trade scheme to reduce these emissions by 50%. By 2004, regulated polluters reduced their emissions by 40% more than required! The Dept. of Energy estimates that the cost to limit emissions ended up being a mere 0.6 percent of the polluters operating expenses.

Your comments are greatly appreciated.

References:

Donnelly, Patrick G.  “The Origins of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.”  Social Problems, Vol. 30, No. 1, Thematic Issue on Health and Illness (University of California Press:  Oct., 1982), pp. 13-25.  <http://www.jstor.org/stable/800181>  Accessed: 28/02/2010.

McEvoy, Arthur.  “The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911: Social Change, Industrial Accidents, and the Evolution of Common-Sense Causality.”  Law & Social Inquiry, Vol. 20, No. 2 (Blackwell Publishing:  Spring, 1995), pp. 621-651.  <http://www.jstor.org/stable/828955&gt; Accessed: 28/02/2010.

Smith-Shank, Deborah L.  “Lewis Hine and His Photo Stories: Visual Culture and Social Reform.”  Art Education, Vol. 56, No. 2, Why Not Visual Culture? (National Art Education Association:  Mar., 2003), pp. 33-37.  < http://www.jstor.org/stable/3194019>  Accessed: 28/02/2010.

Images: 

http://www.historyplace.com/unitedstates/childlabor/

The History Place:  Child Labor in America (1908-1912)

Photographs by Lewis W. Hine

http://www.ilr.cornell.edu/trianglefire/photos/photo_enlargements.html?image_id=20&sec_id=3&image_type=photo

The Triangle Factor Fire

Cornell University

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Written by Scott Mandia

March 4, 2010 at 8:42 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

18 Responses

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  1. Cross-posted from Scott’s GW Fact o’ the Day page:

    Very good. There are a couple of things that are interesting. One is that Upton Sinclair’s purpose was to tell of the exploitation of the workers, but the outcome (the 1906 Act) was an almost unintended consequence. As Sinclair noted, “I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach.”

    Another important point is that the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act was a lot weaker (at least from the drug side) back then. It took several amendments (following several scandals) for the current targets (safety and efficacy) to be put into place. Regulations do evolve, and relatively weak regulations are strengthened over time; certainly a certain momentum is involved.

    David Cassatt

    March 7, 2010 at 4:56 pm

  2. Yes, Sinclair’s intentions were met with different consequences.

    Government regulation actually began in 1887 with the Interstate Commerce Act (which created the ICC, or Interstate Commerce Commission). The intent was to prevent the big railroad trusts from rate discrimination and unethical business practices that put farmers and the general public at the “economic mercy” of these railroad giants.

    Kelly A. Mandia

    March 7, 2010 at 5:47 pm

  3. i think we can agree that government regulation is necessary in many cases over a broad spectrum of topics. but, regulation of co2 because of agw is not cut and dry at this point in time. co2 is not a pollutant in and of itself – to regulate it as such is a dangerous and slippery slope. and to regulate based on science that has not been conducted in an open and forthright manner is even more troublesome as a scientist.

    if one wants to change the energy policy, fine. but please do not use a 30 year warm period, within the realm of natural variability, as the the reason to do so. that is not a robust policy.

    jfr117

    March 10, 2010 at 8:58 am

  4. Here is where I agree:

    The impacts of AGW are not cut and dried.

    Here is where I disagree:

    The cause of AGW is pretty close to being cut and dried.

    Science has been conducted openly despite the CRU email hack. Scientists are human and we do make mistakes and a few papers do get through peer-review that should not. The system is very good but not perfect.

    A 30 year warm period is not the justification for AGW. There are multiple lines of evidence to support increased CO2 as the cause and there is little evidence that these last three record warm decades has had a natural cause. We debated this before so let us both just agree to disagree here. Are you ok with that?

    Most projections show that climate change will happen faster than humanity can adapt and with dire consequences. Here are a few quotes that sum up my feelings:

    Historian of science, Naomi Oreskes of UC San Diego, states:

    “Scientific knowledge is the intellectual and social consensus of affiliated experts based on the weight of available empirical evidence, and evaluated according to accepted methodologies. If we feel that a policy question deserves to be informed by scientific knowledge, then we have no choice but to ask, what is the consensus of experts on this matter.”

    We all know what the scientific consensus is.

    We built an entire foreign policy based on responding to even the most remote threats. Shouldn’t we apply the same thinking to a threat that is a virtual certainty? – Daniel Kurtzman, polical satirist

    I also believe that President Obama gave Congress a few chances to pass some type of carbon mitigation bill and they refused. He was left with no choice but to use the EPA to do what Congress had no spine to do. You snooze and you lose.

    Scott Mandia

    March 10, 2010 at 10:23 am

  5. JFR 117, in an ideal democratic government, yes, the legislator’s votes represent the will of the people. Unfortunately, we certainly do NOT have an ideal government in that respect.

    What do you do when people’s understanding of the science is lacking? Therefore, the will of the people is actually going to end up hurting them.

    In the 1920’s and 1930’s, advertisers actually promoted certain brands of cigarettes as “healthier” than their competitors. One brand actually showed a child smiling while smoke was all around him/her! So people were led to believe that smoking was good for them and the second hand smoke was good for children! Therefore, the “will of the people” would certainly NOT have approved of any legislation to regulate tobacco. This is analogous to global warming today: the average person does not understand the science and, apparently, neither do their legislators.

    Kelly A. Mandia

    March 10, 2010 at 4:18 pm

    • i don’t know. i think the general population has an intrinsic feel for what makes sense and what doesn’t. when the scientists scream gloom and doom, have to resort to unverified climate models and statistical defenses (you need 15 years for a trend, when we are only at 12)…then people naturally become skeptical. i think people have a hard time grasping how this is the warmest period ever. it just doesn’t jive with their experiences and education (true or not). also, co2 as a pollutant, just doesn’t make a lot of common sense.

      this whole field is covered with this kind of elitism (the attitude of: just trust us, we’re smarter than you), which has destroyed any kind of open dialogue. people don’t even what to ask climate questions anymore! to ask a question is to be labeled now. that is a sad state of science.

      jfr117

      March 10, 2010 at 4:43 pm

      • Scientists have not been screaming doom and gloom. One must separate what appears in the press from what appears in scholarly journals and the IPCC reports. If anything, scientists have not screamed enough about the dangers of climate change and the IPCC reports appear to have been too conservative in several key projections: sea level rise, emission rates, and ice melt.

        Scientists are the experts and when there is such a consensus among experts, are we to trust them or the public? There are many reasons why US citizens are so uninformed not the least of which is the well-orchestrated (and well-documented) anti-science campaign that has been waged by those opposed to fossil fuel regulation.

        It is precisely because of this knowledge gap that I launched my Global Warming: Man or Myth? Website. As a group, scientists have been pretty bad about communicating the science while the anti-science group has been brilliant. I think the tide is turning in our favor because as each year passes, climate change becomes more and more obvious to the public.

        I know that you do not give much weight to the appeal to authority in this post but I respect the experts. I usually do not second-guess my doctor when she tells me why I am sick. If I am suspicious, I will consult another and another. When they all tell me the same thing, I have to believe they are correct – even if I deplore the diagnosis.

        Scott Mandia

        March 10, 2010 at 5:38 pm

  6. Hansen uses some pretty extreme rhetoric…and he is head of the GISS! There is plenty of scaring done by the IPCC. And the IPCC has had carte blanche support from the US media. The international media has been all over Climategate but the US MSM has absolutely not. I’m not sure what other platform you need, you have an international consortium (IPCC), generous funding and an accepting MSM media. The general public doesn’t read conservative think tank blogs, they are too busy and don’t care to.
    Again, I think the general public has a BS alarm. If one has to scream that blizzards are now proof of global warming, then it starts to go off. That is why the message doesn’t get through, it is not consistent. CA wildfires are proof, no; CA floods are now proof. Lack of snow is proof, no; blizzards are proof.
    And if I was a nurse or physician assistant, I would feel qualified to QUESTION a diagnosis. I am a meteorologist and environmental engineer and having observed the weather (now climate since I’m older the 15 years) I am not convinced of certain things. And again I’m not sure the consensus is as robust as you think – there is a fear to ask questions.

    jfr117

    March 11, 2010 at 9:03 am

    • Dr. Hansen is one man at one global temperature measuring center. You are exhibiting classic cherry-picking.

      There is a good post over at RC right now about how the IPCC is conservative while the press complains about the IPCC alarmism. Take a look please.

      Scott Mandia

      March 11, 2010 at 11:30 am

      • that is classic deflection. Hanson is not just one man at one climate center. we both know that.

        where is the press US press complaining about alarmism? that RC post was good, agreed. i feel that with respect to paleoclimate T reconstructions, the ipcc has erred on the alarmism side.

        if it shown that the past 30 years are not unprecedented in their warmth (we already know that they are not unprecedented in the magnitude of the anomailes (see the cold negative anomalies around 1900)), where does that put us? to me, that proves we are within the realm of natural variability and we should understand nature more. no politics or regulation need apply!

        jfr117

        March 11, 2010 at 12:21 pm

  7. Best comment on this is from Angry Bear….

    Eventually, the Army has a spec that indicates even situations that a rational person would say – “This makes no sense. Everyone knows that.” But the rational person wouldn’t realize that when the Army specifies that no sawdust is to be used in making flour, or that no more than X parts of per million of rat droppings will be in the cookie, that the Army has a damn good reason for having that in there, namely that some upstanding leader of the community who waves a flag and is a member of the local Kiwanis actually tried to pass such things off on American military personnel. And of course, that upstanding leader of the community who waves a flag and is a member of the local Kiwanis is happy to lecture one and all about how much more efficient the private sector is than the public sector – exhibit A being the Army’s specs on making a chocolate chip cookie.

    Eli Rabett

    March 18, 2010 at 10:13 am

  8. I love how this article is a blatant attempt to justify the regulation of carbon emissions. It’s so transparent that it’s actually pretty damn funny.

    Mandia: Um, that IS the point of the article. Read the first paragraph again for the thesis statement.

    Who’s paying you to publish this?

    Mandia: Nobody. My wife wrote this free of charge and neither one of us gets any finanacial support from ANY source remotely related to climate change or carbon mitigation/trading. I am a full-time teaching faculty member and my wife is part-time. No grants at the moment either. We do this because we have a conscience – unlike those that oppose action.

    bkdude

    May 2, 2010 at 2:11 am

  9. bkdude: We know who’s paying Prof. Mandia: his university — but for teaching, not for this. Who’s paying you? I hope someone is, otherwise your post is pure opinion? Go watch as a real scientist refuses to take this crap lying down.

    When people say “CO2 is not a pollutant” (e.g, jfr117 above), ask them to explain to you what a “pollutant” is. If they can answer correctly, see if you can still argue that CO2 is not a pollutant. It will be like arguing (as many did on the NYT blogs) that we don’t need to worry too much about the April 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill “because crude oil is natural”. Sure it’s “natural” — but that doesn’t mean I am going to drink two glasses with my breakfast.

    Mark

    May 2, 2010 at 8:07 pm

  10. There is not nearly enough conclusive evidence on either side of the argument to sway my opinion, however, seeing the mass hysteria revolving around this “Global Warming” phenomena, I question its validity more-so, and using a connection between government-regulated rat feces and CO2 is enough to cause an alarm in my head to go off. The same alarm went off when I overheard Al Gore’s electric bill.

    If anything, the government cannot regulate CO2, Period. People in other nations will continue to burn carbon-based deceased life-forms to fuel their economies.

    bkdude

    May 2, 2010 at 9:55 pm

  11. [...] A Side of Rat Feces? (A History Lesson) – authored by my wife, Instructor of History at St. Joseph’s College. [...]

  12. For those who think that saying CO2 is not a pollutant is a killer argument. Having a killer argument means that there need not and should not be any regulation or restriction on its use, its production or its release. Sounds good.

    Rainwater is not a pollutant. True. But that doesn’t stop governments regulating how businesses and householders store, redirect or release that same rainwater. Why would they do that? Well, because redirection and release can flood land and undermine roads or house foundations.

    Plants are natural, they’re not pollutants, surely. But there are regulations aplenty about trees in suburbia and weed control in farmland. And just try telling the local constabulary that your marijuana crop is OK because “It’s natural.” Natural doesn’t matter if there’s a law against having that plant in that place.

    Being “natural” is no reason why anything should or should not be subject to regulation, restriction or banning. Whether that legal control arises from land, drug, industrial, agricultural or pollution regulation is a mere detail.

    adelady

    September 9, 2010 at 9:16 pm


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