October 29, 2009

Revolutionary Recipes: Mao's Red Braised Fatty Pork

[This inaugurates a new FotM series highlighting recipes associated with various revolutionary figures. I’ve only got a couple lined up, so I hope readers will chip in with their own favorites, or at least suggest some, or this will be a pretty short-lived feature.]

We’ll start with a recipe associated with Chairman Mao Zedong. Hong shao rou--red braised fatty pork--is reputed to have been among his favorite dishes, one he ordered before major combat, asserting that that he’d never lost a battle when fed on hong shao rou. It is also regarded in Hunan Province, where Mao grew up, as brain food.

Hunanese cooks traditionally leave the skin intact for maximum succulence (read: fat), and cut the meat into rather large chunks, perhaps 1 1/2 inches long. This recipe takes its color from caramelized sugar, which gives it a lovely reddish gloss, but many people just use dark soy sauce at home.

1 lb. pork belly (skin optional)
2 tbsp. peanut oil
2 tbsp. white sugar
1 tbsp. Shaoxing wine (or saki)
3/4 in. piece fresh ginger, skin left on and sliced
1 star anise
1 cup small to medium chestnuts, cooked and peeled (preferably real chestnuts-—water chestnuts can be substituted, but have more crunch than flavor)
4 dried red chilies (you can tone this down, although the late Chairman used to joke that the more chili you eat the more revolutionary you become)
a small piece cinnamon stick
shoyu (soy sauce) salt, and sugar
4 scallions sliced

1. Plunge the pork belly into a pan of boiling water and simmer for 3-4 minutes until partially cooked. Remove and, when cool enough to handle, cut into bite-sized chunks.

2. Heat the oil and white sugar in a wok over a gentle flame until the sugar melts, then raise the heat and stir until the melted sugar turns a rich caramel brown. Add the pork and splash in the Shaoxing wine.

3. Add enough water to just cover the pork, along with the ginger, star anise, chiles, and cinnamon. Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for 40-50 minutes.

4. Toward the end of the cooking time, turn up the heat to reduce the sauce, stir in the chestnuts and season with soy sauce, salt, and a little sugar to taste. Add the scallion greens just before serving.

Note: It is purported that vegetarian variations of this recipe can be made using garlic gloves, deep-fried bean curd, preserved mustard greens and water chestnuts as main ingredients. I wouldn't know.

This recipe is adapted from the one in Fuschia Dunlop’s Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook—-she features a picture of a bowl of hong shao rou on the cover.

[The second in FotM's Revolutionary Recipes series may be found here.]

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October 23, 2009

Black New Jersey: The community fights "Hollywood" Booker over right to water… Newark Wins!

Wednesday evening, October 21, hundreds of concerned citizens gathered to picket outside the Newark, NJ City Hall and moved the protest into the Council Chambers when the weekly City Council meeting began. Residents were indignant about illegal water terminations that had been going on for months in the city. The massive protest had been organized by a coalition of the People's Organization for Progress, the Newark United Tenants Association, the Newark Water Group, the New Black Panther Party, as well as other concerned community organizations and residents.

These water shut-offs were most surprising to tenants who rely on their landlords to pay the water bill. In a substantial number of cases, residents were up to date in rent (which, according to their lease agreements, includes heat and water) and didn't event know that the landlord hadn't paid the water bill. Likewise, many residents receiving Section-8 housing subsidies have no way of even knowing if their payments are up-to-date. Their caseworkers send paperwork that result in vouchers to landlords who then get money that the welfare recipient never sees. These transactions take place without any "client" involvement, supposedly protecting the money from being misspent. When these tenants have their water turned off, they are clearly blameless.

Like many People's Organization for Progress sponsored demonstrations, this picket and rally began with 30 or so POP & NBPP members and supporters, but these numbers quickly grew to hundreds and hundreds of angry tenants before moving inside to the council chambers. In reaction to this undeniable mass of angry citizens, the Newark City Council was compelled to reverse the draconian water policy. This was truly a people's victory of major magnitude. But a more complicated, deeper and truer analysis must examine the background that allowed this policy to have been enacted in the first place. In many ways, this was (and still is) a government-imposed crisis, and the paper trail leads directly to Mayor Corey Booker's office, but we'll return to this later.

Some Background:
Months ago, a dedicated, young idealistic nurse, whom we'll call Aisha, went on a home visit to an indigent mother with five children and found a nursing nightmare; an apartment with no running water. As Aisha recently explained, the rules community healthcare workers operate under require that she report children living under these circumstances. Had these rules been followed, the next step would have involved the County taking these youngsters away from their mother's care. Aisha is a Newark resident and an active member of the People's Organization for Progress, and this is how POP initially found out about this aspect of Newark's water crisis.

The general issue of the city selling the water supply to outside investors was something with which POP had already become involved. Newark was historically the east coast's Milwaukee because, contrary to popular wisdom, it has some of the best water in the entire country. This is why the breweries for the New York metropolitan area, and much of the east coast were historically located within city limits. Any corporate purchase of Newark's water supply is not simply an attempt to make money from a staple of life that should be guaranteed to all residents, it is an attempt to control the food production industries as well.

The People's Organization for Progress united against prior schemes to sell Newark's water. The current double-billing and shut-offs by by Mayor Corey Booker (Newark's celebrity mayor) to balance the city budget involves attempting to charge residents twice for their water . If the mayor's business administrator doesn't understand that these tenants being penalized don't pay their water bills directly, she certainly doesn't have the business experience her office demands. More likely, Director Thomas is "firing a shot across the bow" of businesses that are delinquent in water payments without hurting those key businesses directly. If so, this is precisely the sort of attack on residents that Corey Booker claimed to be running against when he was first elected mayor.

The battle lines were probably best explained by the protest's organizer, Andrea Hughie chairwoman of POP's Youth Committee. “We discovered many families that receive Section 8 housing vouchers that have been living in homes without water for weeks. These families are already financially compromised and it is disappointed the city of Newark refused to protect the rights of these tenants against the absentee landlords. We rely on city officials to help us, not hurt us." Because sister Hughie reached out to her friends first, "this movement to protect community water was led by young people." Faced with potential charges of money-laundering, Newark's Hollywood Mayor "would agree to anything to avert bad publicity."

But this issue if far from settled. The people's victory at the City Council merely gives tenants a temporary reprieve through the end of the year. "In January," Ms. Hughie informs us, "the water cut-offs may begin again."
Thanks to the chairwoman of the People's Organization for Progress Reparations Committee (and POP photographer) Ingrid Hill for pictures used with this report…

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October 21, 2009

NJ's People's Organization for Progress Celebrates the 150 Anniversary of John Brown's Heroic Campaign at Harpers Ferry

Dr. William W. Sales, Associated Professor at Seton Hall University, speaks at the October 15th POP meeting
On Thursday, October 15, the day before the Sesquicentennial of the Raid on Harpers Ferry, the People's Organization for Progress acknowledged this important event in African American history with a presentation by Seton Hall Africana Studies professor, Dr. William Sales. Before discussing the Harpers Ferry Raid itself, or John Brown's participation, before explaining the history of the abolitionist movement that Brown came from and became one of the most significant representatives of, Professor Sales began outlining the history of slavery in the United States, and its unique role in creating the wealth that underwrites U.S. capitalism (click here to view a portion of Dr. Sales' speech).
Dr. Sales went on to explain what was unique about John Brown. While many abolitionists of the 1800s opposed slavery, viewing unpaid labor as unfair competition to small farmers because large plantations undercut the influence of homesteading by "free-soilers," John Brown opposed slavery because, in Dr. Sales words, he "loved Black people." He moved his family to settle among free Black families in the community known as Timbuctoo in North Elba, NY. This attitude made Capt. Brown unique among white abolitionists.
And while many 19th century abolitionists viewed battling slavery as a "moral calling," requiring prayer rather than action, Brown had learned in Kansas that the slavers had no qualms about employing violence and terror. Dr. Sales explained that Brown had gone to Kansas after hearing that his son's farm was under murderous attack by the border ruffians. These pro-slavery terrorists came across the border from the slave state of Missouri to try and insure that the Kansas also entered the Union as a slave state. (Later, during the Civil War, many of these same irregular troops joined the special "bushwhacker" units of Confederate Army that burned farms, terrorized civilians and after the war became backbone elements in the Ku Klux Klan.) Units like Quantrill's Raiders, carried out the shelling and burning of Lawrence during the Kansas border wars. Brown played a major role in building the free state resistance in Lawrence.
Dr. Sales explained that Brown became involved out of "a sense of family responsibility, yes, but …because John Brown went to Kansas and fought the bushwhacker terrorists… he slowed down a process by which Kansas was about to be engulfed by pro-slavery sentiment, and by slowing it down, when the Civil War broke out Kansas could come into the war as a free state, a very important intervention on his part."
One cannot understand Brown, Professor Sales added, without grasping why U.S. society needs to portray him as "crazy." Brown was feared because he represented a key thing that both the slaveowners and many whites in the abolitionist movement feared most, a white person who could identify and find true unity with African Americans.
Despite bad weather and limited advanced promotion in the media, this People's Organization for Progress celebration, The Sesquicentennial of the Harpers Ferry Raid and the Legacy of John Brown, drew a sizable crowd. Perhaps, some POP members speculated, word of mouth is more powerful than an "Upcoming Events" listing in the Star Ledger. Perhaps area academics assigning students to attend Dr. Sales' lecture or the use of so-called "new media" like blogs and Facebook by POP members made the difference. No matter the reason, the gathering left POP members and supporters demanding more. POP Chairman Lawrence Hamm has proposed that Dr. Sales return to another meeting simply to have the question-and-answer segment that, due to a lack of time, never occurred. (click here, to see additional photos from this event)
Professor Bill Sales with POP's chairman, Larry Hamm salute John Brown

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October 14, 2009

From Kirke Mechem's Opera About John Brown

More anent John Brown, as the 150th anniversary of the raid on Harpers Ferry is upon us.

Last year, as part of a continuing focus on music inspired by John Brown, I posted a piece here at FotM on the opera by Kirke Mechem, John Brown, which had just premiered in a performance by the Lyric Opera of Kansas City.

Here is a more recent concert performance of one of the highlights of the opera, "Dan-u-el." Mechem describes it thus:

The scene is based on a real incident. In December 1858, Brown helped a slave family escape to Kansas from Missouri, and then led them to safety into Canada. During that time, the mother gave birth to a boy whom she and her husband named after John Brown.

Some of the words come from the spiritual, "Didn't My Lord Deliver Daniel?"; the others from my libretto. The music is original.
The fact that "Dan-u-el" seems to be entering the repertoire of adventurous modern "classical" pieces performed by college and university chorales is one more small but happy development in the reclaiming of John Brown as one of this country's greatest heroes.

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Open Letter to the World - International Front in Support of the General Strike in Puerto Rico

Open Letter to the World

To: All social, labor/trade union, feminist, environmentalist, and community groups

From: International Front in Support of the General Strike in Puerto Rico
frente.solidaridad@gmail.com and in Facebook “Frente Internacional en Apoyo al Paro (Huelga) en Puerto Rico

On October 15, 2009, labor unions, students, community associations, progressive religious groups, and environmental organizations have called for a 24-hour strike demanding that the Commonwealth’s Government stop the systematic abuse that for the last 10 months it has subjected all citizens, in particular public-sector workers, poor communities and college students.

With the passing, in March of 2009, of the Fiscal Emergency Law (Law 7 of the Commonwealth), Gov. Luis A. FortuƱo and an advisory board of the leading businessmen in Puerto Rico, have launched a “severance plan” that has meant firing more than 20 thousand public-sector workers. The current governor, from the Pro-annexation Party, is imposing the most blatant extreme right neo-liberal model in the history of the country, with the establishment of so-called “Public-Private Partnerships” (Alianzas Publico-Privadas - APP), the privatization of our natural resources and institutions and an unemployment rate of over 17 percent.

On the island we are preparing for a national strike called by the Broad Front for Solidarity and Struggle (Frente Amplio de Solidaridad y Lucha - FASyL), composed of over 30 organizations. The time for action has arrived. In Puerto Rico, class struggle sharpens and the street smells of resistance. We reject the mobilization of the Puerto Rico National Guard (part of the US military) and “Shock Force” (Fuerza de Choque – anti-riot forces) by the police against the workers, who are harassed and harried because constitute the main opposition forces.

Working people in Puerto Rico demand:

1. The repealing of the Fiscal Emergency Law 7 and the APP law and the restitution of all laid off workers.

2. To establish taxes on multinational corporations, and eliminating any benefits enjoyed by these multinationals under the US Federal Internal Revenue Act.

3. The immediate halting of the evictions of working-class and immigrant squatter communities and the halting of the expropriation of poor communities for development projects, and end to the political and military abuses to all, and the recognition of the right to equal housing for all human beings.

As workers of the world we face the same enemy. That's why we call for the solidarity of your organization or collective.

In solidarity,

International Front in Support of the General Strike in Puerto Rico

Let the rich pay for the crisis!
Workers of Puerto Rico in the streets and in struggle!
Let us support the General Strike!
Another world is possible!

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Puerto Rico General Strike Support in New York City

The Red de Apoyo a los Trabajadores, a coalition of labor, left, and community organizations from Puerto Rico with a presence in New York City is calling for a support picket on the General Strike in Puerto Rico, Thursday October 15th at 5pm in front of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration offices at 135 W 50th St. between 6th and 7th Aves. You can take the 1 to 50th St, the E to 50th St or 7th Avenue, the B, D, F, V to 47-50th Rockefeller Center or the N, R, W to 49th Street.

Puerto Rico: Ready for the National Strike
by Firuzeh Shokooh Valle

Free Speech Radio - Puerto Rico prepares for general strike

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October 11, 2009

Hackensack, NJ Monument to African Ancestors

On Saturday, October 10, 2009, Bergen County, NJ celebrated what is certainly the first monument to the Africans who perished during the Middle Passage in NJ. In fact, it may be a completely unique local memorial-stone in the entire United States. Earlier this year the Bergen County branch of People's Organization for Progress, together with the Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday Observance Committee of Bergen County convinced the County Executive, the Board of Chosen Freeholders and the county's African American Advisory Committee of the need for such a monument. In April it was placed on the Court House lawn. It shares the northwest corner with similar monuments to the Armenian Genocide, The Irish Potato Famine, and the Nazi Holocaust.
Lawrence Hamm, state Chairman of POP, along with other speakers spoke extensively about the history of slavery in NJ and its legal abolition after the Civil War. "Many people don't know that the NJ State Assembly voted to nullify Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, even though it didn't apply to New Jersey. The Emancipation Proclamation was a Union Army recruitment document and only freed slaves in the area under Confederate rule and then only those who escaped bondage and joined the Army of the Republic," Hamm informed the crowd at the Court House. Larry also discussed Perth Amboy and Camden's roles as major slave ports, "larger at one time than the Port of Charlestown in South Carolina!" Chairman Hamm also linked the struggles of African people in the U.S. to slavery's origins with the voyages of "Admiral of the Ocean Seas" Christopher Columbus, as the country began this Columbus Day weekend.
The crowd responded enthusiastically to Larry and all the speakers. There were also cultural presentations by local poets, spoken-word artists and musicians. Clif Arrington and Margaret White, Chair and Co-Chair of POP's Bergen County Branch, introduced other speakers including the former Bergen County Chairman of the NAACP, other Hackensack-area clergy, and others who spoke with intense passion about both the struggles of African-Americans in Bergen County history, the struggle to erect this monument and the ongoing battles for Peace, Justice, and Freedom.
This wan't simply a memorial event, it was an educational and agitational forum as well: Participants promoted a variety of upcoming events including POP's Sesquicentennial Celebration of the Harpers Ferry Raid and the Legacy of John Brown this coming Thursday evening in Newark.
The plaque on the new memorial stone at the Bergen County Court House reads (in part):
"In memory of the millions of African people who perished during the Middle Passage, suffered the horrors of slavery, and endured the inhumanity of racial segregation.
We also remember the heroes who have struggled and continued to work for freedom, peace and justice."
As both this commemorative monument and the ceremony on Saturday indicate, the Struggle Continues!!!

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October 9, 2009

A Bad Afternoon At Stella D'oro

It was a rough afternoon.

At 2:00 PM yesterday, I was standing in front of City Hall in lower Manhattan, serving as an extra at a press conference for the Stella D’oro workers. After winning an arduous 11 month strike against concessions, the workers have been fighting plans by new owners Lance, Inc. to move the 78 year old bakery from the Bronx to Ashtabula, Ohio and reopen non-union.

The press conference/mini-rally had been a good one, though major media was thin on the ground, Speakers from the plant, a range of union officials and other supporters gave short sharp statements, demanding that Mayor Bloomberg do something to save Stella D’oro and its union jobs. As we were about to break up, two of the workers got hasty phone calls from the plant. Managers had told the morning shift that when they left at 3:00 PM, the bakery was shutting down!

Maybe a quarter of the 100-plus at City Hall headed up to 237th Street and Broadway, where the arriving shift had been ushered into work to empty their lockers. They were still trickling out at 3:00 when the day shift came out en masse, carrying plastic bags with whatever they had had inside. The three dozen supporters and workers outside the gate clapped as they did and there were chants that had become familiar to all from almost a year of picketing.

Still, while some workers looked angry, many had tears in their eyes, and the majority seemed to be in shock, a few still wearing their production-line hairnets. You know how it is--even if you know that something bad is almost definitely coming down the pike, it’s still a shock when it hits. Now imagine this layoff hitting workers with decades at the company, men and women who maintained a picket line for eleven months without a single worker out of 134 crossing it, breadwinners who had been back on the job only since an NLRB decision in their favor in the summer ended management’s scab-herding.

The struggle isn’t over. There’s a rally at the bakery at 3 PM today, which should be well-attended, and there’s a legal
strategy to try and to stop the company from moving out equipment based on the City’s right to recoup the half a million in tax abatements given Stella to upgrade its equipment and keep it in the Bronx.

I know it sounds kind of cheeseball, but this is a blow not only to the Stella workers and their supporters but to the whole working class—and for several reasons.

The Stella workers, members of Local 50 of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union, a rather dozy outfit on the whole, had become heroes to rank and file labor activists in NYC and, indeed, around the country, over the course of their long strike, and had drawn the attention of the city’s trade union establishment. These officials eventually proclaimed it, as they did at yesterday’s press conference, the front-line battle for all unionized workers in NY. The media, drawn by the David and Goliath aspect of the battle, gave sporadic but generally favorable coverage, more than small strikes and other labor disputes generally get.

Then there’s the whole Goliath thing. Stella D’oro spent decades as a family-owned business with a solid presence in a regional niche market. After the founders’ deaths it was sold to Nabisco. In 2000, Nabisco was eaten by Kraft Foods, now the second largest food and beverage company in the world. Kraft screwed up the tiny Stella D’oro brand bad and then unloaded it in 2006 on a private equity firm called Brynwood, whose efforts to pillage it before reselling it included the concession demands which triggered the strike.

Once the NLRB ruling went against them, Brynwood’s partners (perhaps upset by picket lines in front of their swank suburban homes as well as the failure of their “operating expertise” to produce the expected shower of gold) sold to Lance, Inc. (Even so Stella can’t compete with Simmons Bedding, recently featured in a NY Times story about how it had been flipped seven times in 20 years by investment groups—read “looters”—finally winding up in bankruptcy.

Lance is a publicly traded low-end snack company based in North Carolina—with Goldman Sachs as a large and influential shareholder. Goldman Sachs is, of course, far and away the biggest winner so far in the feeding frenzy in the shark tank of global finance capital that was kicked off by the economic meltdown. Are they so fat and so arrogant that they can ignore the protests and media attention that come with screwing a handful of mainly immigrant workers? So far, it looks like their answer is yes.

I plan to hit the rally today and learn more about what the next steps in the battle may be. While the prospects are daunting, there are a few positive lessons that deserve to be highlighted. First, the small but dedicated solidarity committee did effective work throughout the strike and since. Any number of socialist groups had a presence, with comrades from Solidarity playing a noteworthy role in keeping things on track, but the most striking thing was how generally well-behaved cadre from such diverse and sometimes fractious groups as Progressive Labor, the ISO, Workers World, Revolutionary Organization of Labor and others were. As the small US left, with no hegemonic organization, faces the continuing meltdown, such behavior will be crucial in building the broadest possible resistance among the people.

Second, while broader support for the Stella workers, especially from the NYC labor and political establishments, has tended to be a day late and a dollar short, a sign that things may be changing for the better comes with recent weeks’ firestorm of protest in the Boston area following the Hyatt Corporation’s layoffs of over 100 veteran hotel housekeeping staff and their replacement with part-timers working for a subcontractor for $8 an hour and no benefits.

Hyatt had the housekeepers train their replacements before telling them they were canned! Hyatt management pleads the necessity of the economy, but it is exactly awareness of the meltdown that appears to be driving the ferocity of the response from area residents, politicians and unions. Hats off to the Boston Taxi Drivers Association who wrote the company stating that if the workers were not rehired, the 1700 member cab drivers would boycott the company’s three area hotels!

So support the Stella D’oro workers. Support the Hyatt workers. And get ready to throw your weight behind whatever battle erupts where you live as greedy or desperate bosses try to make workers shoulder the costs of the deepening meltdown.

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October 7, 2009

A Great Song About Harpers Ferry

The sesquicentennial of the heroic raid on the U.S. arsenal at Harpers Ferry led by Captain John Brown is fast approaching.

Following up on Rahim on the Dock's recent posting here about the planned observation of this anniversary by the People's Organization for Progress in Newark, NJ, this video is one slice of what may well be the single most moving and nuanced work of art about John Brown yet created.

, the longstanding duo of folkies Terry Leonino and Greg Artzner, released John Brown: Sword of the Spirit in 2000. It is a song cycle, call it a folk opera, entirely about the raid on Harpers Ferry. I have praised it here at FotM before, in the first of several posts over the last couple years on music about John Brown.

This one tune, and lorry nose I'm glad they finally got a video cut in time for the observance of the anniversary, only gives a hint of the extraordinary musical and lyrical power of the whole CD. "Goodbye To Old Ohio" salutes, verse by verse, members of Brown's band: the Coppoc brothers, Edwin and Barkley, white Quaker abolitionists who had tired of ineffectual moral witness; John Kagi, Brown's fight-hand man since Kansas; John Copeland and his uncle Lewis Leary, free Black men from Oberlin; and Aaron Stevens, an Ohioan with roots, like Brown himself and others of the band, in Connecticut.

Other songs pay tribute to others of the raiding party, to Brown's wife and to his daughter, and to other abolitionist fighters. All are fine, several are splendid.

You can order this CD from the usual big on-line merchants, but I expect that Greg and Terry will do a little better if you purchase it from them with a postage stamp and a check.

Do this thing!! You won't be sorry!

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October 5, 2009

Black NJ Celebrates the 150th Anniversary of Harpers Ferry Raid: Long Live John Brown!

On October 16, 1859 John Brown, fresh from a successful guerrilla war that kept Kansas from entering the US as a slave state, attacked the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry in today's West Virginia with a small force of armed men. Brown came to Virginia to carry the war against slavery directly to the slaveowners' doorsteps. His plan was to put an army of runaway slaves and abolitionists onto the Blue Ridge. He and his backers believed that this initial force would terrorize the slaveowners, embolden those still in captivity and liberate the South.

Brown's expectations were cut short when his small army was trapped and then captured in town by U.S. Marines led by Robert E. Lee.

The People's Organization for Progress will honor the 150th Anniversary of the Harpers Ferry Raid on Thursday, Oct 15, 2009, with a presentation by Dr. Bill Sales, Associate Professor of Africana Studies at Seton Hall University. To download a PDF version of the event poster, click HERE on this link.

For more information call (973) 801-0001.

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