Archive for December, 2009


Madeleine Kunin: I Don’t Agree with Howard Dean

Monday, December 21st, 2009

By Madeleine Kunin

I don’t agree with Howard Dean. Yes, we are from the same state and he was once my Lt Governor, but, unlike Howard, I say vote for the bill and dramatically expand health insurance now. His assumption in asking Democrats to kill the Senate bill is that next time around, we’ll get something better. I think we’ll get nothing at all.

Experience tells us that ever since Harry Truman asked for universal access to health care, the refusal to compromise has doomed such legislation. Even Bill Clinton now regrets that he did not compromise with the Republicans on health care in 1992. We had to wait seventeen years for a second chance and in the meantime, costs went up, and millions of Americans were denied health care. Some paid for this delay with their lives.

Flawed as it is—with no public option and restrictions on abortion—if it makes it through the next tortuous votes—it will be a huge achievement. More than 30 million Americans will have health insurance coverage for the first time, and millions more who were denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions will be able to be insured.

We must remember that Social Security, now the most popular government program, was slowly expanded and improved. We can expect a similar progression with health care.

If you have doubts about the bill, just put yourself in the shoes of a family who has no health insurance. Think about the kids, about the parents—the anxiety and insecurity they must feel. They’re afraid to go to the doctor or the hospital until they are seriously ill. Having a health insurance roof over your head certainly must make it easier to fall asleep at night. Those of us who have insurance cannot deny those who do not, simply because we don’t like the whole package. The best Christmas present anyone without insurance could receive is a package placed under the tree marked “health insurance for you and your family.”

 
Madeleine M. Kunin is the former Governor of Vermont and was the state’s first woman governor. She served as Ambassador to Switzerland for President Clinton, and was on the three-person panel that chose Al Gore to be Clinton’s VP.

Celebrate the Winter Solstice by Using Windows to Heat Your Home

Monday, December 21st, 2009

By James Kachadorian, author of The Passive Solar House, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Complete Guide to Heating and Cooling Your Home

Most people think that solar heating involves some sort of complicated roof top add on feature to a home. In a passive solar home, windows are the primary means of collecting free solar energy. South faced windows are extremely efficient solar collectors. Clear dual glazed (double pane) windows allow up to 91% of the incident sunlight to pass through them. Once the sunlight is in the home and strikes an object, the sunlight turns to heat. The heat is then trapped in the house. This is referred to as the “greenhouse” effect. The greenhouse effect, as it relates to our planet, is written about extensively as a negative effect but the greenhouse effect is quite beneficial to a passive solar home. A passive solar home works without any mechanical assist; that is, a passive solar home collects solar heat and stores the heat for use when the sun goes down. The low angle of the winter sun “turns” vertical south faced windows “on” as solar collectors and the high angle of the sun in summer “turns off” south faced vertical glass in summer. Today is the winter solstice which means that the sun is at its lowest angle in the sky. At north latitude 40 degrees, a south faced window collects more than twice the amount of solar heat in December than it does in June. As can be seen in the solar home pictured, the low winter sun will penetrate the home 22’ at solar noon on December 21 and conversely will only penetrate inches in the same home at solar noon, June 21.

All the home owner has to is face the home true south and properly size the amount of south faced glass. Too much south faced glass will actually overheat a solar home in winter. Too little glass will make the home dark and cave like. The idea is to have just the right amount of glass for the size and location of the home.

We can expect a passive solar home to be about 50% efficient in northern New England and the 60 – 70% efficient in Virginia. This means that up to half the heat needs to come from another source. Recently wood pellet stoves have become a popular way to provide the balance of the heat needed in winter. Wood pellet stoves are an attractive option for several reasons:

  •   Wood pellets are made from wood products that normally go to waste.
  •   Wood pellets burn very clean and are a renewable source of energy.

The stove pictured has a rear hopper into which the pellets are loaded. The stove has two small electric blowers – One to circulate the heat and one to feed the pellets into the burn chamber.

Another nice advantage of the wood pellet stove is that it runs automatically. Slight disadvantages are that you can hear the small electric motors running and the stove does need electricity to run. A stove such as the one pictured will use about 100 watts an hour to run amounting to pennies a day in electrical cost. For those of you that are using my book, The Passive Solar House, to calculate the amount of wood pellets needed per season, select the wood back-up heat option on the included CD. Determine the number of cords of wood needed and multiply it by 2/3 to obtain the number of tons of wood pellets needed per season.

What Chávez Was Talking About: How the Rich Are $#!**ing on the Planet

Sunday, December 20th, 2009

I regret that I have but one country to give for my life.
—Phil Ochs

You may recall the article I posted earlier about Hugo Chávez reading from one of our books, How the Rich Are Destroying the Earth by Hervé Kempf. I figured it may have peaked your interest, so here’s the preface, reprinted in its entirety.

The following is an excerpt from How the Rich Are Destroying the Earth by Hervé Kempf. It has been adapted for the Web.

I had just finished writing a story about the “soldier of the future,” and I was on the bus to Heathrow Airport when I heard the news on the radio. The reporter explained that, according to Swedish experts, a high level of radioactivity that could have arisen from a nuclear-power station accident had been detected in that Scandinavian country.

It was April 28, 1986, the day after the Chernobyl accident. For me, that news suddenly reawakened a feeling of forgotten urgency. Ten or fifteen years before, I had read Ivan Illich, La Gueule ouverte (“Open Mouth,” the first environmental magazine, founded in 1972), and Le Sauvage (another ecology magazine, associated with Le Nouvel Observateur, that came out in 1973) and had been enthralled by ecology, which seemed to be the only real alternative at a time when Marxism was triumphant.

Then life pushed me in other directions. As a journalist, I was immersed in the microcomputing revolution. At a time when Time magazine crowned the computer “Man of the Year,” I, along with my colleagues from Science et Vie Micro, was discovering the arcana of the first Macintosh, Minitel’s messageries roses (literally, “pink messages,” an online service of France Telecom) that prefigured adult Internet forums and chat rooms, and the adventures of a young guy named Bill Gates who had just concluded a smoking deal with IBM.

Then suddenly, Chernobyl. There was an overwhelmingly obvious need: to think about ecology. And there was an exigency: to report about it. I began to do just that. Since then, I have always been guided by two rules: to be independent, and to produce good information that is precise, pertinent, and original. Also, I held back from doomsdayism. While I was among the first to write about climate issues, the genetically modified organism (GMO) adventure, and the biodiversity crisis, I have never exaggerated. It seems to me that the facts, presented with tenacious attention to such obviously important subjects, are sufficient to speak to our intellect. And I believed that intelligence would be sufficient to transform the world.

However, after having believed that things would change, that society would evolve, and that the system could improve, today I make two observations: First, the planet’s ecological situation is worsening at a speed that the efforts of millions—but too few—of the world’s citizens who are aware of the drama have not succeeded in slowing down. Second, the social system that presently governs human society—capitalism—blindly sticks to its guns against the changes that are indispensable if we want to preserve the dignity and promise of human existence.

These two observations led me to throw my weight—however minimal it may be—onto the scales by writing this book, which is short and as clear as possible without oversimplifying. You will read an alarm here, but above all, a double appeal upon which the future success of everything depends: to ecologists, to think about social arrangements and power relationships; to those who think about social arrangements, to take the true measure of the ecological crisis and how it relates to justice.

The comfort in which Western societies are immersed must not conceal us from the gravity of the moment. We are entering a time of lasting crisis and possible catastrophe. Signs of the ecological crisis are clearly visible, and the hypothesis of a catastrophe is becoming realistic.

Yet, in reality, people pay little attention to these signs. They influence neither politics nor the economy. The system does not know how to change trajectory. Why?

Because we don’t succeed in seeing the interrelationship of ecology and society.

However, we cannot understand the concomitance of the ecological and social crises if we don’t analyze them as the two sides of the same disaster. And that disaster derives from a system piloted by a dominant social stratum that today has no drive other than greed, no ideal other than conservatism, and no dream other than technology.

This predatory oligarchy is the main agent of the global crisis—directly, by the decisions it makes. Those decisions aim to maintain the order that has been established to favor the objective of material growth, which is the only method, according to the oligarchy, to make the subordinate classes accept the injustice of the social situation.

But material growth intensifies environmental degradation.

The oligarchy also exercises a powerful indirect influence as a result of the cultural attraction its consumption habits exercise on society as a whole, and especially on the middle class. In the best-provided-for countries, as in developing countries, a large share of consumption answers a desire for ostentation and distinction. People aspire to lift themselves up the social ladder, which happens through imitation of the superior class’s consumption habits. Thus, the oligarchy diffuses its ideology of waste throughout the whole society.

The oligarchy’s behavior not only leads to the deepening of the crises. Faced with opposition to its privileges, with environmental anxiety, with criticism of economic neoliberalism, it also weakens public freedoms and the spirit of democracy.

A drift toward semi-authoritarian regimes may be observed almost everywhere in the world. The oligarchy that reigns in the United States is its engine, using the fear that the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks elicited in U.S. society.

In this situation, which could lead to either social chaos or dictatorship, it is important to know what is right for us and for future generations to maintain: not “the Earth,” but “the possibilities of human life on the planet,” as philosopher Hans Jonas calls them; that is, humanism, the values of mutual respect and tolerance, a restrained and rich relationship with nature, and cooperation among human beings.

To achieve those goals, it is not enough for society to become aware of the urgency of the ecological crisis—and of the difficult choices that preventing the crisis imposes, notably in terms of material consumption. What is necessary is that ecological concerns be articulated in a radical political analysis of current relationships of domination. We will not be able to decrease global material consumption if the powerful are not brought down and if inequality is not combated. To the ecological principle that was so useful at the time we first became aware— “Think globally; act locally”—we must add the principle that the present situation imposes: “Consume less; share better.”

Raw Milk: Dairy Farmers Fighting Back in Wisconsin

Sunday, December 20th, 2009

By David E. Gumpert

From his blog, The Complete Patient.

The on-again-off-again enforcement activities by Wisconsin regulators against distributors of raw milk over the last four years have left at least two dairy farmers facing “a Hobson’s choice,” in the words of the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund.

The legal defense organization invokes that phrase in a new suit filed in state court against the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP), on behalf of Kay and Wayne Craig, owners of a dairy farm and store in New Holstein, WI.

The suit asks the court to force DATCP to allow the Craigs to distribute raw milk from their store (open only to members of a limited liability company), without need for a retail license. The suit also seeks an injunction against DATCP to prevent it from enforcing its expanding ban on raw milk distribution against the Craigs. A court victory would strike a huge blow against DATCP’s tough campaign launched earlier this year against raw dairy producers in the state, following several years of allowing a few producers permission to distribute, and turning a blind eye to dozens and possibly hundreds of farmers selling raw milk directly to consumers.

According to FTCLDF lawyer, Gary Cox, “The suit seeks declarations that nobody is selling raw milk in violation of the law, and that the LLC store does not need to possess a ‘retail food establishment’ permit in order to operate. “

The FTCLDF essentially argues that the state since 2005 has been entirely inconsistent in its approach to allowing the dairy and store to sell raw milk—first explicitly allowing sales by the Craigs and then this year, reversing itself and refusing to renew the store’s retail licence. Now, in threatening to prohibit raw milk distribution, DATCP gives the Craigs “a Hobson’s choice, i.e., either comply with an unlawful interpretation of a statute or ignore the unlawful interpretation and face the possible consequences of noncompliance.”

Wayne Craig told me in November that he thought he was “next on DATCP’s list” for the lifting of his raw dairy license. This suit most immediately represents an effort to forestall such an effort for the Craigs, but if it’s successful, for possibly hundreds of Wisconsin dairies selling raw milk, now deemed to be in violation of state law.

Among those previously targeted have been Scott Trautman, a dairy farmer, and Max Kane, the owner of a buyers club, who has been ordered to appear in state court on Monday to explain why he shouldn’t divulge his customer list to DATCP. A number of protests are planned that day, including a courthouse rally prior to his appearance before a judge.

***

Separately, oral arguments of the appeal in the case involving Barb and Steve Smith’s Meadowsweet Dairy in upstate New York is due to be heard Jan. 13 before the state’s supreme court Jan. 13. The case has been dragging on for nearly two years.

***

These legal actions follow on the heels of the okay yesterday of raw milk in Framingham, MA, and a rescinding of potentially onerous rules in South Dakota, which I wrote about a few days ago in my posting about John Sheehan’s imaginary job performance review. Suddenly, it seems like lots of action on the raw milk legal and regulatory fronts.

***

A very incisive review of The Raw Milk Revolution (admittedly, I’m biased) from the popular site, Treehugger. But I appreciate it when reviewers are pleasantly surprised, per this comment:

“I entered this book expecting a treatise whose pages would be turned only by a compelling curiosity on the issue of raw milk. Instead, I found 228 pages packed with interesting and personal stories, knit together by an overarching philosophical question: can individual choice survive when the agents of government raise their sights against a minority practicing their beliefs?”
Photo: Wayne and Kay Craig, and family, at last month’s Weston A. Price Foundation conference.

Tax the 1%

Saturday, December 19th, 2009

By R.J. Ruppenthal

From the Community Blogs

TAX THE 1%. With all the problems we are having in this country and the inability of government to pay for needed programs, it’s time to get serious about the real source of the problem. It’s time to get serious about raising some revenue, and I know just where to start. TAX THE 1%.

In 2001, the top 1% of the nation’s population owned 39.7% of the financial wealth, which is more than the 32.5% of wealth that the bottom 95% owned. In 2004, the Top 1% owned 42.2% of the financial wealth compared with 31% for the bottom 95%. In 2007, the top 1% owned 48.4% of the wealth versus just 20% for the bottom 95 % of the population. These numbers are based on the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances, which is conducted every three years, subtracting the value of peoples’ homes from the figures (homes are a different kind of wealth). TAX THE 1%.

The middle class is vanishing. It’s been sucked up by the 1% and enabled by their political wing, the Republican Party. Now they are busy bleeding the rest of the country dry and preventing needed reforms of the health care, financial, and energy systems in this country. No one is effectively standing up to them because no one in politics is talking about the root cause of this problem: greed. TAX THE 1%.

Greed cannot be outlawed or eliminated; it is a part of human nature. But greed can, and must, be regulated by the US government. Deregulation worsened this mess. And when the economic balance has shifted so radically askew that the Top 1% own twice the wealth of the bottom 95%, serious change is needed. TAX THE 1% and fund some needed social services programs for our Third World lower class, which is growing by the day. TAX THE 1%.

The politicians aren’t listening to us now, but if we spread the word and get people excited, we can force change. We need a simple concept that normal people can understand, and it’s “TAX THE 1%.” If we can raise revenue, then worthy programs can follow, and the balance can begin to shift again in a more equitable direction. TAX THE 1%: spread the word. Put it on a bumper sticker, send out some chain e-mails, let others know: TAX THE 1%.

Sustainable Living Coalition Partners to Bring Green Books to Iowa Libraries

Saturday, December 19th, 2009

Chelsea Green and the SLC: spreading the word.

The Sustainable Living Coalition is doing some outstanding work, bringing green books to public libraries and spreading the values of sustainability to a wider audience. Chelsea Green is proud to be a part of it, along with our partners in this endeavor, the fine folks at Clipper Windpower and New Society Publishers.

From the Sustainable Living Coalition blog:

The Sustainable Living Coalition partnered with Clipper Windpower, New Society Publishers and Chelsea Green Publishing to bring Sustainable Living Book collections to the Iowa City and Cedar Rapids Public Libraries. The donation is a ‘green’ book collection focused on various aspects of sustainable living.

Topics include gardening, permaculture, renewable energy, green building, ecology, culture, politics, community building, conservation, simple living, sustainable business, and a host of other subjects. The collection includes DVDs and audio CDs, as well as titles for young adults and children — over 750 book titles in total!

Read the whole article here.

Cheesemonger Gordon Edgar Picks the Best Cheeses of 2009

Friday, December 18th, 2009

If you’re looking for an expert to put together a list of the top automobiles of the year, you go to a carmonger. We all know that. Want to know which movies of the past 52 weeks are worth a spot in your Netflix queue? Ask a moviemonger. So, logically, when the time comes to procure the finest, the most delectably fresh or distinguishedly aged, the heartiest, the creamiest cheeses in all of cheesedom, you go to—who else?—the cheesemonger.

Note: I may have made up a couple of words for the preceding introduction. Nevertheless…

From the SF Weekly food blog:

2009 is almost over, so the Weekly asked me to do a little cheesemonger reflection upon this past year in cheese. If you love the cheese, a few new cheeses and dairy trends have surfaced that are worth checking out:

1. The New Swiss: Because of changes in Swiss government dairy subsidies, a lot of milk that used to go to Emmenthal and Gruyère is now available for creative cheesemakers. My favorite among the New Swiss is Challerhocker, a cheese with all the amazing sweet, nutty, slightly pungent flavor of a well-aged Gruyère, but with a creamy, semisoft texture (and including those amazing aging crystals). Besides Challerhocker, a plethora of new Swiss cheeses are available in select Bay Area shops: Nidelchas, Scharfer Max, Brebis Rossinière, Selun, Försterkäse, Dallenwiller, and Heublumen, to name just a few.

2. Dunbarton Blue: Made by the Roelli Cheese Company in Shullsburg, Wis., this cheese is basically a beautifully aged farmhouse cheddar with blue veins running throughout. No blue out there compares to this, except for the accidental veining found at times in other traditionally made cheddars (like Neal’s Yard Montgomery or Fiscalini Bandage Wrapped). Sharp and earthy, with a mild- to medium-strength taste of blue.

Read the whole article here.

 

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Hugo Chávez Endorses Hervé Kempf’s Book at Copenhagen

Friday, December 18th, 2009

***Update: Jonathan has posted a translation of this excerpt from the speech in the Comments section. ***

At the international climate talks in Copenhagen this week, Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez railed against capitalism, saying that in order to change the climate we must change the system itself. It is the growth-centric capitalist system that squeezes out true democracy and allows for an iron-fisted global hegemony by a few powerful nations.

He then held up a copy of How the Rich Are Destroying the Earth (Spanish language edition), which was given to him personally by author Hervé Kempf in Copenhagen, and read from the author preface:

To the ecological principle that was so useful at the time we first became aware— “Think globally; act locally”—we must add the principle that the present situation imposes: “Consume less; share better.”

Chávez talks about the book and its conclusions for a full two minutes, beginning at around 5:20. (Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find an English translation of the speech.)

chavezdina16dic
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Visit DailyMotion here.

 

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LISTEN: Waiting on a Train Author James McCommons on Sierra Club Radio

Friday, December 18th, 2009

The state of passenger rail in the U.S. is pathetic, and not only because we have no high speed trains to speak of (sorry, Acela, your track conditions don’t let you go more than half your top speed, so you don’t count). But there may be a light at the end of the rail corridor.

Eight billion dollars in stimulus funds were made available for the purpose of developing high-speed trains. But that’s only a small part of the solution. States that would benefit from a good intrastate rail line—states like California and Texas—need to take the initiative. The federal goverment must subsidize rail and recognize it as a public good that’s just as valuable, if not moreso, than the highway system. Partnerships with freight rail companies should be established.

Author James McCommons, who spent a year riding the rails, was recently interviewed on Sierra Club Radio. He spoke to many people during his travels and is pretty much an expert on the subject of passenger rail.

Well I think, you know, the rail systems are not going to replace highway systems, but they can complement them, and again, it’s the department of transportation in these states that need to be looking at rail as a solution to some of their transportation problems. So instead of adding a lane to an interstate, you know, maybe it’s putting in a commuter train and investing with the freight railroads to expand the infrastructure…

What’s interesting is when $8 billion became available in the stimulus package from the Obama administration, there were a lot of states that were coming up with rail plans, and I think that shows that there is an interest out there. There just simply hasn’t been the kind of partnership between the feds and the states as there have been with highways. If you wanted to build a highway as a state you had to come in with ten, fifteen, twenty percent, and the feds would come up with the other eighty percent. Well, if that’s the kind of match we’re talking about, then the state’s naturally going to be more interested in building a highway than rail.

Listen Now

Visit Sierra Club Radio.

 

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This is not just about breakfast. These are my options. What are my choices?

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

By Caleb Barber, co-author of In Late Winter We Ate Pears: A Year of Hunger and Love

Options and choices play a very big role in all our lives. Perhaps this is more true today, when we have so many options available to us (at the mall or the supermarket, for instance, or on TV). For me the delicate part of the challenge has been to assemble as many good options as possible, and then choose, rather than settling for one good option among many bad or mediocre ones. Or, even worse, settling for the best of only bad options. This issue could easily result in many avenues of investigation, discussion and argument, covering topics ranging from one’s career to what we contribute to the waste stream each day. But for this moment, I am going to examine my immediate choices, the ones looking me in the face right now, this morning.

It is my Saturday morning and I am composing my breakfast. Deirdre is still fast asleep, and I am going to leave her to it, as it is the most productive activity she can engage in at the moment, given the intensity of her last 2 weeks. They were my 2 weeks, too, but I am up, and I am antsy and a little hungry. So I take a moment to assess my supplies for breakfast.

I fry some bacon, enough for Deirdre to have some too, once she’s up. I perform one of my favorite activities: carefully preparing half a grapefruit, cutting around each section and then the perimeter. I fry one egg in the bacon fat, with salt and pepper. I put a small slice of apple cake—a happy discovery in the fridge—on the edge of the plate. And I have brewed another espresso, and sugared it a little. Everything is ready and perfect…

Oh, no, I have done wrong by the egg! As soon as it hits the pan, I know the fat is too hot, because it’s spitting badly. I turn off the heat immediately, and then scoop out the egg, somewhat crispy and blistered, after barely a minute. At least the yolk is still runny. But I stand there at the counter, looking at it on the plate, bright white with it’s golden brown edges, and I know that most of the white is simply too overcooked. It takes at least 30 seconds for me to accept this conclusion. An ‘overcooked’ fried egg I can take, as long as it still falls within what I have slowly come to recognize as the spectrum of acceptability in fried egg aesthetics. I used to think a perfectly fried egg never had any crustiness whatsoever, but was tender throughout with a very runny yolk, whether sunny-side up or over-easy. This is not one of those eggs; this really is overdone, and there’s no escaping this demoralizing truth. But that yolk is still so runny, and it’s leaking across the plate. There must be a way. I must salvage this breakfast! Too much has been invested to walk away now!

(Here, in this composition, is that cinematic moment when we see a closeup of the battered warrior, or the boxer, or the bully’s victim, face down on the dirt, or the mat, or the floor, already beaten, crumbling at the threshold of defeat, and we see the bitter, self-loathing acceptance of the overwhelming power of their enemy in the exhausted and foggy eyes. We see them stop cold in the face of fate. And we see something change inside them. (You can use any and as many analogies as you want, and mix them as you wish.) In this moment of surrender we are witness to a subtle shift of the continents within the heart; the stirring of a slumbering beast; the birth of a revolution. We see, inside those eyes, the turning over of the final, relentless, flush-filling card; the re-loading of the empty gun; the last tumbler clicking softly, slowly, gently into alignment. An alignment of the planets. Impossibility reveals the merest mote of the possible, a flower of the only hope, a flicker of the flame among the smouldering coals. And we see them push themselves up again…Can you see it?! Where’s the phone? Get me the coast! No, wait, get me Rio, I want to talk to Jonathan Nossiter! (the never-say-die director of Mondovino, and author of newly released Liquid Memory, what I might call a dissertation on choices).)

Given my options, these are the choices I make: I taste a small bit of the white, then cut off most of it—the worst of it—and put it in the compost. I look at the plate some more, and I notice that the egg is now the same size as my slice of apple cake. I put the egg on top of the apple cake, and slide the cake into the puddle of yolk. I add the bacon to the plate, and the half of brilliantly red grapefruit. Ruby-red, snowy-white, golden-yellow and meaty-pink. These are the colors of my pennant of salvation, of redemption, of irresistible destiny. I eat it standing at the counter, while the egg still has some heat in it, down the coffee, and put everything in the washer. Deal done. And good options salvaged out of a small maw of momentary crisis. My choice was not to give up.

And now that Deirdre is up, we can discuss our options for lunch.


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