30 Nov

Harries the Apostate

Lord Harries, aka Richard Harries, former Bishop of Oxford, suggests that the Koran should be read at the next Coronation. He says this will make Muslims feel “embraced.” Well, you hug who you like, Richard, and I’ll hug who I like.

This suggestion is a form of apostasy, a sin not unusual among the modern bishops – for the Coronation is a Christian rite and the holy oil with which the monarch is anointed is sacramental. Islam is an alien ideology. If Muslims want to feel embraced, then they had better embrace the traditions and customs of our Christian nation, for these and nothing else are our British values. We live under a political settlement which dates back to Elizabethan times when it was summarised by Richard Hooker: “Every man of England, a member of the Church of England.” This was not an onerous imposition, for it required only that people should attend church three times in the year and keep the peace. The Elizabethan Settlement instituted the monarch as head of both state and church. This arrangement has given us a decent set of political freedoms these last 400 years and when refinements were added to accommodate Dissenters (1828) and Roman Catholics (1829), it provided for a broad and tolerant society. Everyone in England has freedom under the Crown. This goes for Muslims, Jews, Hindus and atheists as well as for RCs, Methodists, Seventh Day Adventists, Christian Scientists and Scientologists.

If we are to read the Koran, then should we also read from Mary Baker Eddy’s barmy book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures or perhaps those passages about being “cleared” from our “engrams” by the charlatan L. Ron Hubbard who declared, “if you want to be seriously rich, start your own religion.” Which is exactly what he did.

When it comes to iconoclasm and the practice of godless materialism, Harries has got form. He is a strong supporter of embryo research, although this practice necessarily results in the death of the unborn. Harries justifies this on the grounds that “many embryos die anyway” – which is like saying that because some people are killed in traffic accidents, it’s OK for me to shove you under a bus. Harries, though formerly one of the most senior bishops in the land, is hardly a Christian at all. After murdering the unborn, he then announces that we should not use Our Lord’s words, “This is my Body….this is my Blood” in the Holy Communion. Why not? Why should we renounce the words of the Saviour? “Because visitors will think we’re cannibals. We should use phrases such as ‘angel bread’ instead.”

Chuck him out!

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25 Nov

Bad karma

We can always rely on the Labour party to come up with plenty of creative thinking. Here’s today’s dollop…

Britain’s private schools will lose £700m in tax breaks unless they agree to break down the “corrosive divide of privilege” and do more to help children from state schools, according to Tristram Hunt, shadow education secretary.

His logic is impeccable. It is as if I should argue that the local first class butcher should be fined unless he agrees to assist the filthy tripe shop on the next street.

On the department of education’s own admission, 43% of children leave state education, after eleven years of compulsory and expensive schooling, unable to read, write and count efficiently.

I taught for years in a bog standard comprehensive as a head of department and I know that state schooling resembles that filthy tripe shop. Half the teachers were themselves in need of remedial education. One maths master required every Monday morning the assistance of the PE man to add up his pupils’ dinner money. An RE teacher in my department thought that one of the gospels was written in the Middle Ages – by St Paul. An English teacher spoke of something as “mitigating against.”

Parents send their children to fee paying schools in order to escape a state system, so awful it amounts to child abuse. Moreover, most of these parents are not Russian oligarchs or wealthy coves such as Dave Cameron, and they scrimp and save, denying themselves and their families many of the good things in life, so desperate are they to avoid having to send their children to the state school dumps. And this payment off fees is over and above the extortionate amount they have already paid in taxes to support the useless comprehensives.

There be two sacred cows: the NHS and state education. Both receive more and more of taxpayers’ money as the years go by. And the result is that they relentlessly get worse. This is because state education and socialised medicine have grown so monstrously large and so overwhelming bureaucratised that they no longer exists for those they were set up to serve but for the hordes of highly unionised and politicised “professionals” who manage them.

I mentioned sacred cows and the phrase makes me think of bad karma. And that’s what state education is: “on a board untrue with a twisted cue and elliptical billiard balls.” 

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24 Nov

He’s behind you!

If you can’t wait for Christmas for the pantomime, I can tell you where you can see a performance today – but you’ll have to travel to Vienna for it. That’s where six of the world’s great powers – including our most wonderful allies Russia and China – are talking to the Iranian Islamic dictatorship about their project to build the atomic bomb. Sorry, I mean of course their peaceful use of atomic energy. I leave aside for the moment the question of why a nation which sits on more oil than water should require nuclear power to keep the lights on.

Today is the deadline when the current round of talks must conclude. The purpose of these talks, and the threat of sanctions against Iran, is not to prevent that country’s acquisition of the bomb, but only to fudge, delay and generally play for time and hope, in the words of the International Atomic Energy Commission, “…enough progress may be made to reassure Iran’s neighbours.”

Which, being interpreted, means to try to discourage Israel from a military attack on Iran’s bomb factories.

The IAEA  is referred to as a “watchdog.” It can certainly bark, but it has no teeth. The IAEA was powerless to prevent either Pakistan’s or North Korea’s obtaining the bomb. To what shall I liken this reliance on the IAEA? It is as if you should wake in the middle of the night and discover the house is one fire and, instead of phoning the fire brigade, ring The Guardian and ask them urgently to send round half a dozen of their finest journalists. The IAEA resembles the UN peacekeeping force, which is a wonderful institution – if you discount the fact that it has never anywhere or at any time kept the peace.

So what will happen when the deadline is reached? My guess is that it will be extended. More fudge, delay and playing for time. More ganging up of the great powers to cajole, falsely reassure and threaten Israel on the dire consequences which would follow any unilateral military operation on its part.

Will Israel accept an extension of the deadline? It’s hard to tell. But it should be emphasised that the matter for the Israelis is not theoretical, as it is for the great powers and their poodle the IAEA. For Israel the issue is existential, because the Iranians have threatened many times to wipe Israel off the map.

In June 1981, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) destroyed Iraq’s nuclear reactors at Osirak. At the time Israel issued a statement which set forth the so called Begin doctrine which stated that this attack should not be regarded as a one-off but as “a precedent binding on all future governments of Israel.”

So at midnight tonight when the deadline is arrived at, what should Benjamin Netanyahu do? Should be listen to the soft-soapers, the great powers, be reassured by the Job’s comforters in the IAEA and sheath his sword?

Or send in the IAF?

What would you do if you were ultimately responsible for your country’s security, its continuation or its destruction?

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18 Nov

Another first for the Church of England

It’s just one triumph after another for the General Synod these days. Yesterday they passed regulations to allow women to be consecrated as bishops by the end of the year. Today, another showstopper: they have invited Fuad Nahdi, a man with connections to Muslim terrorist organisations to be the first non-Christian to address the Synod. Nahdi has been associated with The Muslim Brotherhood which is classified as a terrorist group by security services and by many nation states. It is banned in Egypt. Nahdi has also been involved with Jamaal-E-Islam and he set up the Muslim pressure group Radical Middle Way following the 7/7 London bombings. RMW was part of the Labour government’s PREVENT strategy which was designed to promote discussions with “moderate Muslims” and the organisation received £1.2millions of public money. PREVENT was widely regarded as a catastrophic venture when it was discovered to be funding traditional Muslim antipathy towards homosexuals , the subjugation of women and rampant anti-Semitism.

RMW has hosted as speakers men such as Kemal-El-Halbawy, a supporter of Osama bin Laden who also has described Jews as “satanic” and praised that other terrorist outfit  Hamas as being guided by a “divine programme.”

Other speakers listed on the RMW’s website include preachers such as Jamal Badawi, Muslim Belal and Suhaib Webb.

Badawi, a Muslim Brotherhood cleric, has described suicide bombers and Hamas terrorists as “freedom fighters” and “martyrs,” and advocates for the right of men to beat their wives

Muslim Belal is a “performance poet” who composes nasheeds (Islamic songs without instruments) that promote fundamentalist Islam. One of his nasheeds expresses support for the Al Qaeda operative and convicted murderer, Aafia Siddiqui.

Suhaib Webb is an Islamic preacher who, according to FBI surveillance documents, spoke at a dinner in 2001 alongside Al Qaeda operative, Anwar Al-Awlaki, in order to raise £100,000 for the legal defense of Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin (aka H. Rap Brown), an Islamic fundamentalist who murdered two American police officers.

Even without RMW, Nahdi’s connections are troubling. In 1992, he founded Q News, an Islamist youth magazine that promoted Jamaat-e-Islami ideology. Nahdi’s colleagues at Q News included Fareena Alam, who would later also be involved with RMW while simultaneously working for Press TV, the Iranian regime’s propaganda outlet.

In 1997, Nahdi wrote an obituary for The Guardian of an Islamic scholar who was once a contributor to Nahdi’s Q News publication, Sayed Mutawalli ad-Darsh. Nahdi described ad-Darsh as “respectable, approachable and sensitive — he was the peoples’ Imam.” The “people’s Imam,” however, called for the killing of homosexuals and adulterers, and expressed justification for suicide bombings. He also denied that there was such a thing as rape within marriage.

I wonder if the Synod will invite Nahdi to say what he thinks on the issue of women bishops?

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17 Nov

Making it worse

Appalling car crash in Yorkshire. Five killed, including four sixth formers from the same school.

Then the head teacher comes on The Today Programme to be interviews by John Humphrys and all the now obligatory rigmarole starts: “Counselling…support…flowers…candles lit…books of condolence…no words to express our feelings etc”

Yes, there are words and I’ll come to what they are in a minute.

Post-Christian society cannot cope with the fact of death and so its only recourse is to sentimentalise it. And that does no one any good, because it is really an avoiding of the issue.

I have some experience in the deaths of schoolchildren. When I was eight, I walked into the school yard one morning and there was the dead body of one of my mates who had been climbing on the back of the milk lorry for the fun of the ride. He’d fallen under the wheels and was crushed. A teacher stood by the body over which he had thrown a blanket. He ushered us all through briskly. We were all disturbed and scared. In a very silent assembly the headmaster told us what had happened, said some prayers and cautioned us all not to climb on to the back of the milk lorry in future. The death of our friend had been a shocking lesson and none of us went near the milk lorry again.

Thirty years on from that event, I was myself a teacher, head of RE and chaplain in a downtown state secondary school in Bolton, Lancashire. There were two incidents of untimely deaths in the four years I was there. A brother and sister killed crossing the road on their way home from school. Then two boys drowned in a mill pond.

Naturally, on both occasions the whole school was upset. But no words? Yes there are:

“There has been a terrible accident. Two pupils have been killed. They were our friends and we shall miss them. We send our sympathy to their parents and brothers and sisters. And we pray for the repose of their souls, these our friends who are now in the nearer presence of God. Rest eternal grant unto them, O Lord: and let light perpetual shine upon them.”

The headmaster followed me on to the rostrum and repeated his warning about the dangers of running into the road without looking and of playing in the mill ponds.

The whole school walked out in silence and we got on with our lessons.

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12 Nov

Lily Allen and the bishop’s balls

A bishop has praised the pop star Lily Allen for her feminist songs and claimed that misogyny is “still very evident” in the Church of England. The Rt Rev’d Martyn Snow, our youngest bishop, said Allen’s lyrics on the single Hard Out Here “poignantly” capture society’s sexist double standards. He commends the song to his thirteen-year-old daughter.

The edifying ditty goes like this:

“If I told you ‘bout my sex life you’d call me a slut / When boys be talkin’ ‘bout their bitches no-one’s making a fuss… Forget your balls and grow a pair of tits / It’s hard, it’s hard, it’s hard out here for a bitch.”

Just the thing for the bishop’s pubescent offspring to sing along to.

Bishop Snow refers to Allen’s lyrics in what he calls an “essay” reflecting on his daughter, Roxanne’s thirteenth birthday. This “essay” is worth quoting at length, not least for its literary merits: 

“The passing of this particular landmark has caused me to reflect a little on the world my daughter is entering and in particular the effects of the so-called feminist revolution.  In 2010, Lily Allen won an award for her song The Fear which brilliantly captured the manipulation, insecurity and fear which is at the heart of consumerism. Four years and two babies later, Allen has returned with a song  which angrily and poignantly captures how far the feminist revolution has not brought us.  Allen highlights the double standards in private sexuality and public work. It’s fine for men to boast about their sexual conquests while women are blamed for being loose and free.”

He concludes: “None of this is new, of course. Indeed, it is depressingly familiar. But it is worth stopping to think about the way the feminist revolution, while bringing huge gains in some areas, has had almost no impact in others. Far more women may go out to work now than they did fifty years ago, yet a woman is paid £82 for the work a man will be paid £100 for. By now, you may be asking how a bishop in the Church of England would dare to write about feminism. After all, it has taken us twenty years to accept that women can not only be vicars but can also hold senior leadership positions in the church.  We are hardly the model of equality. And my female colleagues are very clear that even as the first woman is appointed as a bishop – expected in the next few months – misogyny is still very evident in the pews of our churches. So the church is no better than the rest of society but at least we are moving in the right direction.”

Can I play at teachers and pupils for a minute and mark the lad’s “essay”? 

First, it has not taken the church twenty years to get around to ordaining women. It took 2000 years and many wonder why it was ever attempted.

Secondly, the phrase “We are moving in the right direction” is a meretricious slogan where reasoned argument would be more meritorious: who says we’re moving in the right direction?

Thirdly, “It’s fine for men to boast about their sexual conquests, while women are blamed for being loose and free.” Hasn’t the lad noticed that scores of women journalists fill the papers with reminiscences of their sexual exploits, and get well paid for it? There’s a word somewhere for that profession.

Fourthly, has he considered the spectacular success of Lily Allen by which she becomes the living refutation of the feminist manifesto?

But the most amusing aspect of the lad’s “essay” is the remark about the church’s alleged misogyny. Hasn’t the lad also noticed that actually the church has become terrifically feminised? Or did I only imagine that I have had to sit through all those services – ululations, more like – conducted by women and featuring night lights, mawkish prancing about the chancel and God addressed as “She”?

What more can I say? Beta minus, Snowy lad.

And end by adapting a line from the great Lily Allen’s song: Forget this balls and grow… Grow what?

How about Up?

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10 Nov

Horatio’s back

I suspect some malign power has slipped something into our drinking water to turn us all stupid. Just cast your eyes over the following report:

Swiss researchers carried out an experiment to make artificial ‘ghosts’ They were investigating why some people feel a ‘creepy presence’ And in the research they found it was just a trick of the brain  The sensation was re-created by researchers using a robot to interfere with the sensory signals in the brains of blindfolded volunteers. The illusion came from a programmed delay between the brain’s processing of the body’s movements

“This confirms that it is caused by an altered perception of their own bodies in the brain,” said Professor Olaf Blanke.

No it doesn’t, Professor Blanke.

The fact that scientists can replicate artificially the experience of those reporting to have seen a ghost no more disproves the reality of ghosts than the artificial creation of the sensation of eating pork pie and mushy peas disproves the existence of real pies and peas.

The mistake is the confusion of ontology with neurology.

All our experiences take place in our brains, from the view of Mont Blanc to our acute dislike of Strictly Come Dancing. The relation between what takes place in the brain and what is out there – if there is anything out there, or even if there is an out there – is one of the most abiding problems of philosophy. And Professor Blanke and his mates have not solved it.

Please don’t compound the mistake by assuming that I’m arguing for the existence of ghosts. I’m not. I’m merely stating what ought to be obvious, even to neuroscientists and all materialists: that my (and your) neural activity neither explains nor explains away what actually is or might be.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Probably

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09 Nov

The cloud of witnesses

I have never been much  of a one for praying to the saints. Not that anyone should pray to the saints anyhow, but instead ask for their intercession. I do say the Marian prayers, such as the Ave Maria gratia plena. And I take much encouragement from the verse in the Epistle to the Hebrews which says, Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses.

And when I seek help from this cloud of witnesses, I don’t confine my search to the saints who occupy the Red Letter days. I talk to a great variety of dead people and I believe they talk to me and that:

The communication of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.

I have talked to Mozart since I first heard one of his piano sonatas when I was thirteen. And the music answers. I feel certain that Mozart is always close by and that he has been very close on many occasions in my life, for example at my Ordination in 1970. This took place in my own parish church of St Bartholomew, Armley, Leeds with 800 people in the congregation including many of my family and friends, people I had grown up with. It was, to say the least, an affecting occasion. All the more so then when I was handed a chalice brimful and told to administer it to a section of that vast congregation. I had to walk from the altar, down through the chancel and into the nave. I was doing pretty well until the choir began Mozart’s Ave Verum K.618 – the motet he composed in Baden, where his wife was taking the waters, in the afternoon of 5th July 1791. Fear and trembling. I managed somehow not to spill the sacramental wine.

I talk to St Augustine and he answers in the words of his Civitas Dei which are as pertinent to our age as they were in his for, as C.H.Sisson wrote, Augustine  attracts us because he lived through times which were very much like our times – and rejected them.

Dr Johnson tells me about the fear and love of God. R.G. Collingwood taught me metaphysics. Coleridge reassures me regularly that I am not alone in feeling frail. Schopenhauer comes along now and then and shows me how to make philosophical jokes. Shakespeare for terror and pity. Giotto for making visible what otherwise would have remained invisible: Christ on the cross. Eliot for holy dread in the rhythms of the English language: Come with me under the shadow of this red rock… 

Eliot for pretty much everything actually.

By the way, the original Greek word translated as witnesses in that Epistle to the Hebrews is marturwn – martyrs.

And not one of them a suicide bomber.

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08 Nov

Wimmins’ Hour

I try to listen to Woman’s Hour whenever I can for, beyond the political chit-chat of everyday, this programme keeps me in touch with the things that really matter, things that are dear to a woman’s heart. The other week, for instance, the programme fearlessly exposed the failure of so many of our local councils to provide adequate lavatory facilities for the transgendered. There’s a lot about rape and the rumours of rape. Intense debate about the 5:2 diet, or the stone-age diet or whatever Manichean foodie obsession happens to be in vogue. Wall-to-wall celebs, it goes without saying. Inanities and banalities by the bucket load: the soap operas of course, by the side of which real life is a mere shadow. Historical novelists whose own linguistic register is out of synch with the period they write about: Hilary Mantel, that disgorger and forger of the 16th century, is ever popular.

But the programme’s fondest obsession is pop music. Today, for example, Jane Garvey confessed she had been “weak at the knees” during her interviewing an aging punkster called Blondie and her side-kick, Chris. They play you blasts of the “music” unfortunately, but that’s not the worst part. The most sickening part is the way the Woman’s Hour wimmin go all gooey over this trash. Rock music has its place. It is for teenagers, to allow them to imagine they’re being cool and anti-establishment during that most uncomfortable part of growing up. Most do grow up, but many alas live on to stretch the folly of their youth to be the shame of age – as G.K. Chesterton put it. For goodness sake, gooey Garvey is fifty years old! Shouldn’t she have got past going weak at the knees at the sights and sounds of the past it perpetrators of audible filth and learnt to go weak at the knees at such as the Beethoven late string quartets?

I will keep listening though. What cheaper or easier way is there of keeping up with the sub-theatrical absurdities of the meedja world. Oh hell, if we really do get the media we deserve, then God help us!

I can’t help thinking that things would be better if the wimmin – all with impeccable leftie CVs – reverted to being women, or even ladies, and told us the secrets of jam-making and demonstrated the creation of net curtains by the forgotten art of croquet.

Those were the days, alongside Mrs Dale’s Diary, Top of the Form, Journey into Space and, new every morning, Housewives’ Choice. It was a far, far better thing they did than now they ever do.  

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06 Nov

Atheism by stealth

I get to read some very perverted literature these days. For example, I’ve been looking at the purpose and content of RE teaching in state schools as outlined by the Department of Education. As you would expect of all such documents devised by a bureaucracy, it is voluminous, so here’s an extract to give you the flavour: 

Aims of GCSE Religious Studies Specifications

This unit will provide students with the opportunity to:

  • develop their knowledge, skills and understanding of religion by exploring the significance and impact of beliefs, teachings, sources, practices, ways of life and forms of expressing meaning;
  • express their personal responses and informed insights on fundamental questions and issues about identity, belonging, meaning, purpose, truth, values and commitments.

Questions will be focussed on concepts and framed in an open-ended way that will allow candidates to answer with reference to the religion(s) they have studied. The Specification allows for the study solely of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism or Sikhism, or for a combination of any of these specified religions. This unit may be studied as a Short Course GCSE or may form part of a Full Course GCSE in Religious Studies when taken with another unit from this Specification.

Pic ‘n’ mix, in other words.

The guidelines for the teaching of RE, and indeed the whole syllabus, make it clear that the perspective entirely ignores the question of truth. So, for instance, to take one of the options generously allowed by the prescribing bureaucracy, the pupils are not taught how to be a Christian – or how to be a Buddhist if that’s your consumer-led choice in the supermarket of “faiths,” so admired by Prince Charles that he wants to defend them all. There is to be no attempt at inculcation or, to use that formerly benign word which is now only ever used pejoratively, indoctrination. Inevitably, this descriptive perspective must be secular. Pupils are not taught religion, but they are taught about religion. This approach is, of course, inimical to the character of religion itself.

As if we should teach maths without believing in numbers.

It was always bound to be like this since our lapse into relativism. Everybody has a right to their (sic) own opinion, however uninformed or plain stupid. And everybody’s opinion is declared to be as valid as everybody else’s. I repeat, this can only be done from the secular perspective which sets itself above all the various religions and presumes to evaluate them objectively.

So we see what follows from this: the contradictory ideology which declares that everything is relative, except the secular perspective which is held absolutely. If I may put this epigrammatically as a slogan: ABSOLUTE RELATIVISM RULES OK.

Thus there is dogma and there is indoctrination after all. The dogma is secularism and this dogma, by implication and method, is indoctrinated into the pupils. The secularists who devised this programme are convinced that only their perspective – the secular perspective – possesses objectivity.

But why believe that? I should like to see the same astringent scepticism directed towards the secular perspective as that which the secularists direct towards the claims of faith.

Only of course in a state where secularism is the religion, such scepticism is not permitted. The word for this is totalitarianism.

The proponents of this secular fundamentalism are not convincing. J.H. Newman in his The Idea of a University explains why this supposed objectivity is a sham. And what Newman says of the university applies to the school curriculum as well:

“A university is a place of teaching universal knowledge. It cannot fulfil its object duly without the church’s assistance; or, to use the theological term, the church is necessary for its integrity. A university by its name professes to teach universal knowledge: theology is surely a branch of knowledge: how then is it possible to profess all branches of knowledge, and yet to exclude not the meanest or the narrowest of the number?”

Of course, some argued in Newman’s time, as many more argue today, that theology is not a form of knowledge but only a matter of opinion. As we learnt from Newman, it is liberalism itself which has created this view. But Newman stoutly defends university theology:

“Are we to limit our idea of university knowledge by the evidence of our senses? Then we exclude history. By testimony? Then we exclude metaphysics. By abstract reasoning? Then we exclude physics. Is not the being of a God reported to us by testimony, handed down by history, inferred by an inductive process, brought home to us by metaphysical necessity, urged on us by the suggestions of our conscience?”

Moreover,

“In a state of society such as ours in which authority, prescription, tradition, habit, moral instinct and the divine influence go for nothing, in which patience of thought and depth and consistency of view are scorned as subtle and scholastic, in which free discussion and fallible judgement are prized as the birthright of each individual…all this I own it gentlemen frightens me.”

He was right to be frightened – as we are who inhabit the age in which this nightmare vision has come to be our daily reality.

But it is sometimes argued that pluralism and diversity of views are signs of a society’s health. This point was asked of Newman himself:

“A question was put to me by a philosopher of the day: Why cannot you go your way and let us go ours? I answer in the name of theology, When Newton can dispense with the metaphysician, then you may dispense with us.”

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