Under New Management

The taxonomy of contemporary conservatism isn’t simple; it’s more of a bush than a tree. Nevertheless, we can point to at least one major bifurcation — at the level of phyla, one could say — and that is the split between secular and Christian conservatism.

Christian conservatives, such as Pat Buchanan or Lawrence Auster, see Christianity as the bones and sinews of Euro-American civilization — the essential structural framework that has shaped and supported it throughout its history. To them the secularizing trend in the modern West, and with it the loss of the moral compass and social fascia that religion provides, is the key to understanding our culture’s decline.

On the other hand, Western Christianity has also arguably become, by its radical inclusiveness and universalism, an important force for the deracination and ethno-cultural deliquescence of Europe and The United States. (This is, of course, a hot topic on the religious Right.)

The West has not only been defined by Christianity, though; for most of Christian history it has also imagined itself to define it. This, however, has been changing, and Christendom’s center of gravity has been moving south: most significantly, to Africa and Latin America. As it has adapted to these places, it has changed a great deal, and has taken on many alien characteristics of local traditions: ancestor and idol worship, pantheism, and ethnic determinism of a sort that puts it, in many cases, in direct opposition to Western interests, and in particular those interests championed by Western conservatives. Christianity in its European form may soon be quite irrelevant.

At Alternative Right, Matthew Roberts discusses all of this in a substantial essay. Here.


  1. the one eyed man says

    The schisms and internal contradictions within what passes for conservatism today are so large that the religious issue is a sideshow.

    When the professed desire for limited government conflicts with right wing social agenda, the agendum in question takes precedence. A current example is the move by a number of state legislatures to make it impossible for health insurance companies to include abortion in their coverage. Someone who really believes in limited government would be aghast at state interference in the right of an individual to purchase a service from a private company for something which is entirely legal.

    Someone with the professed desire for fiscal responsibility would be aghast at supporting low tax rates in the face of a deficit. US tax revenue is the lowest percentage of GDP since 1950 (and corporate tax revenue, at one per cent of GDP, is at a 61 year low). The budget deficit is a spending problem and a tax problem, but any pretense of fiscal rectitude was obviated when there was enthusiastic and widespread support in continuing the Bush tax cuts for high income earners.

    Someone who believes that “government should get off our backs” would have no problem with euthanasia, gay marriage, women’s right to choose, or any of the other freedoms which supposedly freedom-loving conservatives try to squash in an attempt to force their views on those who have other values.

    And so forth and so on. There is no consistency between theory and practice. However, the real problem for conservatives is that their ideology was conclusively refudiated during the Bush years, when they held the levers of power. Lower tax rates changed the Treasury’s balance sheet from a surplus to record setting deficits, showing yet again that trickle down theory is voodoo economics. The enfeeblement of government resulted in Katrina. Financial deregulation of led to unprecedented crisis. The neocon dream of using military force to instill democracy led to the catastrophe of Iraq. Living by the conservative playbook for eight years has led to disasters too large to ignore.

    Except for the right wing, which refuses to look at the concrete results of their ideology, and instead tries to change the conversation by endlessly attacking the left and center. If you look at the policy agenda of the Republican Party, it’s either Bush redux or Bush lite. Until conservatives undergo an honest and unblinking reassessment of where their philosophy has led us astray, and what components of it are worth saving, it will remain a bankrupt and useless ideology.

    Posted April 11, 2011 at 12:51 pm | Permalink
  2. Dom says

    DId you see this, from a review of Niall Ferguson’s Civilization:

    He [I guess Ferguson] quotes a scholar from the Chinese Academy of the Social Sciences: “We were asked to look into what accounted for … the success, in fact, the pre-eminence of the West all over the world. We studied everything we could from the historical, political, economic, and cultural perspective. At first we thought it was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system. But in the past 20 years we have realised that the heart of your culture is your religion. Christianity.”


    Posted April 11, 2011 at 12:59 pm | Permalink
  3. Malcolm says

    Peter, you wrote:

    When the professed desire for limited government conflicts with right wing social agenda, the agendum in question takes precedence. A current example is the move by a number of state legislatures to make it impossible for health insurance companies to include abortion in their coverage. Someone who really believes in limited government would be aghast at state interference in the right of an individual to purchase a service from a private company for something which is entirely legal.

    There’s a reason for this: namely that if you think abortion is murder, you aren’t going to think of discouraging it as a meaningful infringement of liberty — any more than you will consider conventional laws against murder to be such an infringement. To a religious conservative, baby-murdering simply isn’t the sort of thing that anyone living in a decent society ought to want to be free to do.

    The same applies to the rest of it.

    I agree with you that any hope of solving the fiscal crisis will necessarily involve some tax increases, though I will point out that the US already has just about the highest corporate tax in the world, and any further increase in that will likely just drive business away, and drive net revenue down (not to mention costing jobs, etc.)

    The rest of your comment is just the usual conservatives-are-assholes-and-are-to-blame-for-all-the-world’s-ills whingeing, so I’ll ignore that part.

    I will also make no favorable comment about the GOP, who are generally a bunch of gutless, mealymouthed sitzpinklers.

    Posted April 11, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Permalink
  4. Malcolm says

    That’s a very interesting quote, Dom.

    Posted April 11, 2011 at 4:03 pm | Permalink
  5. the one eyed man says

    1) I certainly don’t think that conservatives are assholes, or that they are to blame for all of the world’s ills. However, the real world application of conservative ideology during the Bush years led to results which were uniformly catastrophic. You can’t just walk away and forget that New Orleans, the economy, and our moral stature in the world all collapsed, or assume that the policies which led to these fiascos would not lead to similar ones if applied again in the future. If conservatism is to have any intellectual rigor, it has to retool by using the experience of the Bush years to align itself with historical reality. Otherwise, it will continue to be the anti-Obama, and reflexively oppose his agenda without a clear or meaningful alternative.

    2) If one believes that abortion is murder, or is unable to distinguish between a baby and a fetus, that’s fine: everyone has the right to an opinion. However, nobody is forcing social conservatives to get abortions, while they are doing everything in their power – including nearly shutting down the government – to enforce their views on the majority of Americans who have different values. If you believe that the government has no right to interfere in private moral decisions, then to be intellectually honest you have to apply that right universally, and not just to those actions which you approve of anyway. Freedom for me, not for thee.

    3) The US has the highest nominal tax rate in the world. However, because of the copious contortions and loopholes in the tax code, its effective tax rate is at the lower end of the range.

    Posted April 11, 2011 at 4:06 pm | Permalink
  6. Malcolm says

    However, nobody is forcing social conservatives to get abortions, while they are doing everything in their power – including nearly shutting down the government – to enforce their views on the majority of Americans who have different values.

    Well, by that argument, you could say you have a right to kill your sister, too, and anyone who says you can’t is “enforcing his views” on you. To religious conservatives, killing unborn babies is murder. Yes, it’s legal, but in their view, until they can set the laws right there is no reason why they shouldn’t be able to express their view by doing everything they can to discourage it, including pushing back in any way possible through their elected representatives. That’s democracy. (It’s also why, as the diversity of views and attitudes increases, the less effectively democracy works.)

    I cannot see how the botched response to Katrina was anything other than good, old-fashioned managerial ineptitude. It was certainly not any sort of expression of coherent conservative principles; it was bungled all the way down the line, by Democratic and Republican administrators alike.

    Posted April 11, 2011 at 4:48 pm | Permalink
  7. Malcolm says

    You may be right about effective corporate tax rates.

    Posted April 11, 2011 at 5:19 pm | Permalink
  8. the one eyed man says

    No, because my sisters are real live human beings, and a fetus is a fetus. While as a society we universally condemn murder, we take an opposite approach to abortion, as most Americans think that abortion should be both accessible and legal. Abortion is a moral issue about which reasonable people may disagree, but it is by no means the a priori truth of the Sixth Commandment. Most people have no problem distinguishing between a fetus the size of a thumbnail and a live, sentient human being, and then drawing a sharp moral distinction between the two.

    Hence, abortion is legal in this country, albeit through judicial fiat and not popular vote (although if a referendum were to be held, one assumes that it would reflect opinion surveys and legalize abortion). As you say, that’s democracy.

    What happened last week was not democracy. It was a vocal minority trying to hold the country hostage using the completely extraneous issue of women’s access to health care (not even abortion, as federal financing is already prohibited by the Hyde Amendment) to shut down the government. Having lost in the court of public opinion, House Republicans tried to subvert the democratic process by threatening to cause the country grave harm if they were unable to get their way. In my view, it is treason.

    Katrina is emblematic of conservative philosophy insofar as it resulted from the push to defund government and “starve the beast” so it cannot support vital emergency services. No doubt incompetence played a role as well.

    Posted April 11, 2011 at 6:31 pm | Permalink
  9. Malcolm says

    But that’s just the point: as difficult as it is for you to imagine, for a very great number of people in this country, a fetus is a “real live human being”. You’re welcome to say they’re wrong, or just plain stupid, but to them abortion is no different from murdering your sister, as proscribed in the Sixth (Fifth, by some counts) Commandment.

    Of course what happened was democracy. (It certainly wasn’t “treason”.) It was a disagreement between elected representatives over what the nation’s policy should be. Both sides, as always, were stubbornly trying to get what they wanted. That’s how this thing always works: you propose legislation, I propose different legislation, and we argue about it until we can agree on something. The people who sent these members of Congress to Washington did so because they wanted them vigorously to pursue a conservative agenda, and that’s what they’re doing.

    (Actually, that isn’t what the Republicans are doing, by any meaningful measure of conservatism; the “historic cuts” lopped off only about four days‘ worth of spending — a paltry result to which the Democrats had to be dragged kicking and screaming, before they praised them as “historic”.)

    I didn’t hear you railing about “the court of public opinion”, by the way, when the Dem-controlled Congress was ramming through Obamacare against the wishes of a majority of Americans.

    None of the problems in New Orleans resulted from trying to “starve the beast”. (Lord knows if there was ever a Republican administration that didn’t starve that beast, it was Bush II.) It was just a massive government choke, at all levels from local to federal.

    Posted April 11, 2011 at 7:07 pm | Permalink
  10. the one eyed man says

    If the fight between the Republicans and the Democrats were about the budget, it would have been “a disagreement between elected representatives over what the nation’s policy should be.” This was different: it was an attempt to jam up the works by preventing a must-pass piece of legislation from passing by saddling it with extraneous riders.

    Put another way, if you want to have a policy disagreement, then have a piece of legislation which puts forth an agendum and can be subject to an up or down vote. Attaching irrelevant riders is the legislative equivalent of hostage taking.

    Posted April 11, 2011 at 7:20 pm | Permalink
  11. Malcolm says

    Attaching irrelevant riders is the legislative equivalent of hostage taking.

    No, it’s just business as usual, and both sides do it all the time. Getting all huffy only when the other guys do it is hardly sporting.

    Taranto’s take on the budget deal (long quote):

    *    *    *    *    *    

    On Friday, the federal government almost shut down over abortion, more than 38 years after Roe v. Wade was supposed to have settled the question. Politico reports on the Thursday-night negotiations over funding the government for the remainder of fiscal 2011:

    The low point may have come Thursday night.

    House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) had spent more than an hour meeting with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office, inching toward a deal to avert a shutdown, but he kept insisting that it include a prohibition against federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

    That was a nonstarter for Obama. As the meeting was breaking up, Vice President Joe Biden told the speaker, in no uncertain terms, that his demand was unacceptable. If that became the deal breaker, Biden said, he would “take it to the American people,” who would presumably punish the GOP for shutting down the government over an ideological issue.

    “They were faced with a choice–they would either have to give in or shut down the government,” said a senior administration official, describing how the negotiations went from there.

    A Bloomberg account has Obama telling Boehner during the same meeting: “Nope, zero. John, this is it.” And that was it. The Republicans did well in the negotiation overall: “Boehner agreed to a package of $38.5 billion in cuts, a significant victory for a man who said his goal was to extract as much as possible from the federal budget,” Bloomberg reports. But they yielded on the question of subsidizing Planned Parenthood, America’s biggest abortion provider. (How big? Timothy Carney of the Washington Examiner reports that “it performed 332,278 abortions in 2009, while serving 7,021 prenatal clients and referring 977 parents to adoption services.”)

    A news story in Saturday’s New York Times begins by observing that “the emergence of abortion as the last and most contentious of the issues” in the budget dispute “highlighted the enduring influence of social conservatives within the Republican Party.” It seems to us that this gets it backward.

    The Times, of course, views “social conservatives” as deviants and their opponents as normal–note how they’re seldom even termed “social liberals.” But if you look at the question from a more neutral point of view, there’s no escaping the conclusion that Democrats are more dogmatically pro-abortion than Republicans are antiabortion. It was the Democrats, not the Republicans, who were willing to shut down the government over subsidies to Planned Parenthood.

    Why? No doubt there is an element of cynical posturing (and that’s true on both sides). Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, for instance, said in a statement Friday: “The Tea Party is trying to sneak through its extreme social agenda. . . . They are willing to throw women under the bus, even if it means they’ll shut down the government.” Reid used to be against abortion; in 1999 he was one of only two Senate Democrats to oppose a nonbinding resolution saying rah-rah to Roe v. Wade. It’s always possible that his conscience led him to the politically expedient position, but we’re more inclined to think expediency is its own explanation.

    There’s also a financial angle. Planned Parenthood receives millions in taxpayer subsidies and spends hundreds of thousands on lobbying and campaigning. In February, OpenSecrets.org reported that Planned Parenthood’s political action committee “donated more than $148,000 to federal candidates–almost all Democrats–during the 2010 election cycle” and “spent more than $443,000 overall.” Planned Parenthood made an additional $905,796 in “independent expenditures” during the 2010 cycle–exercising its right to free speech pursuant to last year’s Citizens United decision.

    The biggest beneficiaries of Planned Parenthood money, according to OpenSecrets.org, were Sens. Patty Murray of Washington and Barbara Boxer of California. According to the Hill, both were also among “a defiant group of Senate women,” all Democrats, who “said Friday they’ll oppose any spending bill that would affect reproductive health funding”:

    “We are not going to throw women under the bus to give them an agreement to keep this government open,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said during a press conference at the Capitol.
    “We are determined to draw the line in the sand,” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) added. “There are moments when you must do that, and this is one of those moments.”

    Yet in contrast with Reid, Murray’s and Boxer’s sincerity seems beyond question. They’re not in it for the money; Planned Parenthood gives them money because it knows they are true believers.

    In some ways the dispute over Planned Parenthood funding is symbolic. The legal right to abortion is not at stake, and the subsidy doesn’t even pay directly for abortion, which the group is required to fund from nonfederal revenue. So why is it the Democratic Party’s No. 1 priority?

    Our best answer is identity politics. As we observed in January, for many liberal women, their sexual identity is bound up in their politics, and especially in the politics of abortion. Just about anyone who lives in a big American city has the experience of being told by a woman, probably a youngish college-educated woman, that she would never vote Republican because the GOP is against abortion.

    There are single-issue antiabortion voters as well, and our guess is that they are more numerous nationwide. Republicans have on the whole done better than Democrats in federal elections since 1980, when the parties first became polarized around abortion; and the Roe effect ought to give them a demographic boost.

    But single-issue pro-abortion voters are still a crucial component of the Democratic electoral base. As National Journal reported last week, President Obama is “struggling with every other segment of the white electorate, including younger voters,” with the exception of “well-educated white women.”

    His willingness to shut down the government rather than cut funding to Planned Parenthood is a strong show of support to this bloc of voters. How it will go over with the rest of the electorate is another question.

    Posted April 11, 2011 at 9:46 pm | Permalink
  12. bob koepp says

    It’s a bit perverse to say that calling the bluff of those threatening to shut down the government shows a willingness to shut down the government. The actual “arguments” on offer for defunding PP are so flimsy, and so dependent on misrepresentation of “facts of the matter” that they would almost certainly not carry the day if exposed to critical public scrutiny. In other words, the Republicans’ PP gambit was a bluff. It’s to his credit that Obama recognized it as such and played his hand accordingly.

    Posted April 12, 2011 at 9:08 am | Permalink
  13. the one eyed man says

    Attaching irrelevant riders to legislation is a common practice. Attaching irrelevant riders to legislation to keep the government open is not. I don’t recall the Democrats threatening to shut down the government to stop the war in Iraq.

    Taranto’s piece is filled with errors. The Times does not equate social conservatism with deviancy, and his justification for this charge is meaningless (the term social conservative has wide currency, but social liberal does not – therefore social conservatives are deviants? Huh?). Harry Reid’s objections were not about abortion, but rather because the cut-off of funds to Planned Parenthood would affect things like cancer screenings and family planning. Taranto either didn’t see Reid’s speech on the Senate floor, or he deliberately mischaracterized it. The weirdest statement in Taranto’s Alice in Wonderland world is “it was the Democrats, not the Republicans, who were willing to shut down the government over subsidies to Planned Parenthood.” This has it exactly backwards, as Father Koepp thoughtfully explains.

    Posted April 12, 2011 at 9:19 am | Permalink
  14. Malcolm says

    Well, I don’t know who was bluffing whom. It’s certainly true that the Republicans were the ones who blinked.

    Posted April 12, 2011 at 9:36 am | Permalink
  15. Malcolm says

    Funny how these threads wander off the original topic…

    Posted April 12, 2011 at 10:49 am | Permalink
  16. the one eyed man says

    Mea culpa maxima. If thread hijacking were a crime, I would be doing life without parole.

    Posted April 12, 2011 at 11:03 am | Permalink
  17. Malcolm says

    I forgive you, Pete.

    The Times may not come right out and call social conservatives “deviants” , but they sure don’t like ’em, and they make that pretty clear…

    Posted April 12, 2011 at 11:05 am | Permalink
  18. the one eyed man says

    I don’t think that is true of their news coverage. As for their editorial side: I don’t think the objection is to what social conservatives espouse per se. Rather, the objection is to the many instances when they try to force their views on those who think otherwise.

    Posted April 12, 2011 at 11:30 am | Permalink
  19. Malcolm says

    We disagree about their news coverage; it is often conspicuously slanted.

    As for their editorial position: “trying to force one’s views” is just politics. The NYT certainly doesn’t mind when liberals try to force their views on the other side; they stand there cheering.

    (Not that I care, mind you: everybody knows the Times is a lefty paper. But let’s call a spade a spade.)

    Posted April 12, 2011 at 11:44 am | Permalink
  20. the one eyed man says

    You might want to ask Bill Clinton if he thinks the Times has a liberal slant. The Times broke the story on Whitewater and tortured him for months on the front page, even though there wasn’t much there. If there is a more even handed newspaper in its news coverage, I’d like to see it. Maybe the Economist. But I’ll agree to disagree here, as I am basically an agreeable person. See below.

    However, I think it is fair to say that liberals are less insistent on imposing their views on others than conservatives. As one example, I think that the ambiguous wording of the Second Amendment allows much more severe restrictions on gun possession than we have now. (I’m waiting for originalist judges like Scalia to affirm that the Second Amendment protects gun ownership, but only flintlock muskets, which were state of the art at the time the Constitution was written.) However, I would not impose this view on gun owners (at least those who aren’t felons, terrorists, and so forth). Generally speaking, most generalizations are wrong. However, one generalization which I think is correct is that liberals are more likely to be live and let live types – perhaps originating in the left/right brain as discussed in thread a few days ago – while there is an authoritarian streak among conservatives which you are not acknowledging.

    Posted April 12, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Permalink
  21. bob koepp says

    As an anarchist, I think I’m pretty well positioned to be an equal opportunity critic — I don’t care whether those who want to impose their views on others call themselves ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative.’

    I think Peter is probably right about liberals being “more likely” to be live and let live types. But they are also more likely to make excuses for their fellow travelers who make ugly authoritarian noises. I’ve encountered self-identifying liberal intellectuals arguing that political realism requires that solidarity trump liberal principles. I wasn’t persuaded.

    Posted April 12, 2011 at 3:59 pm | Permalink
  22. Malcolm says

    Well, sure, liberals are “live and let live” types – that’s what “social liberal” means. Anything goes nowadays, and if you don’t like that, too bad; we are going to come down on you HARD.

    And maybe you don’t think standards and traditions should should be lowered or discarded so that everybody can exercise his or her “right” to be a police officer, firefighter, or a member of the military?

    Think you should have any say in whether the employees you hire for your privately owned business should come to work in drag?

    Think you should be able to run a bar where people can smoke, if nobody minds?

    Think college admissions and government jobs should be given solely on merit?

    Want to put a Nativity scene in your town square?

    Well, then you’re a pig, and we’re coming after you.

    Posted April 12, 2011 at 4:52 pm | Permalink
  23. the one eyed man says

    1) I don’t think standards should be lowered. I believe in equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome.

    2) It depends on the business. If you’re working in a customer-facing job: probably yes, because a proper appearance is a bona fide job qualification. If you’re working in a back office where nobody can see you: probably no, because I don’t think that employers should be able to discriminate on the basis of criteria which are irrelevant to job performance. The right of a private employer is not absolute, and there is a social value in having an economy which is based on merit and open to all. The reduction ad absurdum argument is that if this were not true, a private employer could mandate that all of his male employees wear French maid’s uniforms and all female employees dress like Lady Gaga. OK, bad example. That wouldn’t be so bad.

    3) If nobody minds, sure. If there is one person who minds: no. The health of an individual trumps the putative right to smoke.

    4) Absolutely.

    5) Of course not. It’s not a liberal or a conservative issue. It’s a First Amendment issue.

    Posted April 12, 2011 at 5:11 pm | Permalink
  24. Malcolm says

    2): And being in drag isn’t a “proper appearance”?? Why, you homophobe. See you in court.

    3): Well, you’re out of luck, at least here in NY. The liberals got there first.

    5): I don’t think Congress would be the one putting up the crèche, so no First Amendment problems there.

    Posted April 12, 2011 at 5:13 pm | Permalink
  25. the one eyed man says

    On the smoking thing: I have no problem if, for example, there are bars where smoking is allowed and it’s posted outside. If you don’t want to go in, then don’t go in. My point regards places which aren’t designated as such and the unsuspecting asthmatic has to either leave the restaurant or ask the man with the cheap cigar to step outside.

    Posted April 12, 2011 at 5:16 pm | Permalink
  26. the one eyed man says

    I’m not a homophobe. If pillow biters want to engage in their sphincter-expanding activities, and can handle the guilt feelings those disgusting habits must inevitably cause, then who am I to complain.

    I think Bloomberg made the wrong call on this (also the trans fat thing). If people want to go to McSorley’s and smoke, or order a chilibaconcheeseburger, that’s fine by me.

    Posted April 12, 2011 at 5:18 pm | Permalink
  27. Malcolm says

    Well, maybe there’s some hope for you yet.

    Posted April 12, 2011 at 5:22 pm | Permalink
  28. the one eyed man says

    Congress need not put up the plastic Jesus for there to be a constitutional issue. No public entity, or publicly supported entity (such as a town square), can have a display or action which favors one religion.

    You can, however, have a display which features all religions. As an atheist, I find this offensive. However, as a liberal, I’m willing to live and let live on this one.

    Posted April 12, 2011 at 5:22 pm | Permalink
  29. Malcolm says

    Hmmm… let’s see…

    Congress shall make no law…”

    I know, I know – you needn’t bother.

    Hard to be sure you’ve got all the religions covered, though; there are an awful lot of them. If you live in a town where there are just Christians and Jews, and you put up just a nativity scene and a menorah, and nobody complains, I’ll bet you’re good. If there are no Zoroastrians, nobody’s going to miss the Faravahar if you don’t include it.

    So it really becomes a matter of who complains. (Ahem… would that usually be conservatives, or liberals…?)

    All of this just illustrates the inverse relationship between liberty and diversity.

    Posted April 12, 2011 at 7:40 pm | Permalink
  30. the one eyed man says

    Hey, don’t look at me. I’m an atheist.

    I think what Nietzsche said – “In Christianity neither morality nor religion come into contact with reality at any point” – is just pietzsche.

    Posted April 12, 2011 at 8:46 pm | Permalink
  31. Malcolm says

    What happened last week was not democracy. It was a vocal minority trying to hold the country hostage using the completely extraneous issue of women’s access to health care (not even abortion, as federal financing is already prohibited by the Hyde Amendment) to shut down the government.

    I meant to respond to this previously…

    Money is fungible. If you are funding Planned Parenthood, you are funding abortion, which is by far their biggest outlay.

    Posted April 15, 2011 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

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