Pareidolia and Anthropomorphism

A pareidolic Virgin Mary. Photo John Hanley/Sun Media

A pareidolic Virgin Mary. Photo John Hanley/Sun Media

Christopher Moreau, a 47 year old Canadian man, recently noticed the tree growing in his yard presents the image of “the Virgin Mary.” According to the Sun Media article in the link, the tree:

has left dumbfounded residents wondering if their neighbourhood has been divinely blessed.

Some have even been brought to tears by the surreal Mary in the tree.

Interestingly enough, Moreau, who stated he is “not a wacko” also said, “why do I need to go to church? I feel that God has come to me.”

This is interesting because it shows a classic case of pareidolia, where the human brain perceives a human image that fulfills some sort of expectation or fills in a pattern of recognition. In most cases of pareidolia, the subject knows that its an illusion. Take, for instance, the shape of a dog or horse in a cloud, or a sad face on a clock (below).

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New Domain for Breaking Spells

I’ve just set up a domain and imported this blog to http://breakingspells.net so if you have me linked you might want to update that link.

I’m using a web hosting and domain registration service called 1and1.com and I really like what they do. If anyone else has been considering moving their blog to its own domain (say from WordPress or Blogspot), and you have questions about the process, drop me an email. I’ll be happy to share with you what I did & how I did it. Also, if you’re shopping for a host and need a domain name, 1and1.com is the way to go. I looked at a lot of different companies and this was the simplest. I also got some good feedback from friends that have used them.

Militant Atheism

Vjack has a post on the label of militant atheism over at Atheist Revolution that is definitely worth reading. Be sure to click on the comments link and see what his readers are saying.

Creationists dealt a blow in Calif.

I was going to include this with the Sunday Cult Watch since creationism really is a cult (within a cult), fitting the definition leading the Cult Watch post quite well: the adherents of various creationist cults invoke a particular form of worship that involves special creation of humans; animals created as “kinds;” a global flood that exterminated all but two of each “kind;” a planet that is only a few thousand years old; etc. And such religious ideals involve a special sort of attention in the way of being anti-scientific and opposing reason and rational thought when it conflicts with their wacky and superstitious ideals.

So, the cults of creationism (Answers in Genesis, Discovery Institute, et al) were dealt a blow even they can’t ignore in California last week. A federal judge in L.A. ruled that the University of California can “deny course credit to applicants from Christian high schools whose textbooks declare the Bible infallible and reject evolution.” Followers of Christian cults, particularly those cults of creationism, objected to UC’s policy, suggesting that it was a policy of “religious discrimination.”

Among the courses rejected by UC is a history course called Christianity’s Influence on America which utilizes a text that, “instructs that the Bible is the unerring source for analysis of historical events” and evaluates historical figures based on their religious motivations.” Another course, this one in science, uses a text titled, Biology for Christian Schools and, “declares on the first page that if (scientific) conclusions contradict the Word of God, the conclusions are wrong.”

So UC doesn’t find cult school courses that preach inerrant “truth” to be favorable over those that favor free inquiry and evidence? The only thing questionable about that position is that it actually had to go to court. This is no more asinine than if the Flat Earthers forced the same litigation over refusing to give course credit for denying the sphericity of this two-dimensional planet; or UFO nuts demanding that their high school astronomy programs be accepted even though the first chapter of their textbook deals with the Roswell cover up and the Moon-landing hoax.

And what did the creationist nutters have to say about the ruling on their blogs and sites?

AiG can be quoted to say, “Ultimately, this case is representative of the public—and academia’s—continued refusal to acknowledge the role of presuppositions in shaping how we acquire knowledge, including in the scientific sphere.”

The tragic thing is, these nuts are serious. They assume that because they rely on presuppositions (i.e. that their mythology is assumed the literal word of an assumed god) that, therefore, no one else is capable of achieving objective reality. Which is utter bollocks. There is an objective, knowable truth that can be had more easily and quickly by applying the methods (as opposed to apply the methods of superstition). They presuppose that the Earth is only a few thousand years old based on a single source of information developed by stone and iron age goat herders, ignoring all scientific knowledge and evidence to the contrary because it doesn’t fit their preconceived and particular notion of god.

WorldNut Daily, through the dimwitted Johnathan Falwell, said, well… I’m not going to bother quoting that asshole. Suffice to say, he went on and on about how society pretends values diversity unless it’s his particular notion of god and how his superstitious and unfounded beliefs should be valued in the name of diversity, etc. It was all very nauseating to read. don’t believe me, click the link and see. Ugh. Falwell committed logical fallacy after logical fallacy in a very weak attempt to make a point that students are forced to accept an “atheistic” point of view.

Sorry pal. Call it what you will, no one is telling students they can’t believe in whatever deities, fairies, Jedi, or magic frogs they want. The University system is about gaining an education in reality and if they haven’t the proper scores in the proper prep classes, they’re going to have a difficult time of it, putting an undo burden on professors and making it unfair for the students who actually did obtain an education. Classes would have to be dumbed down, extra time spent on teaching the basics, and, perhaps, even spent on explaining the reality-based point of view versus the sub-natural one relied on by creationists nutters.

To be fair, the creationist nutters did make a fair point in a couple of the articles I read on their sites, which was that it cannot be assumed that because a student came from a school that used sub-standard texts that she wouldn’t be educated sufficiently in the sciences. But, if these same nutters actually bothered to RTFA, they might have noticed the the sentence, “students whose courses lack UC approval can remain eligible by scoring well in those subjects on the Scholastic Assessment Test.”
But, then, it isn’t characteristic of creationists to actually study, research and do their homework, so we shouldn’t be too surprised by their false assumptions. Indeed, the very title of Falwell’s article, “Christians Need Not Apply” at WorldNut Daily is fallacious even before the first paragraph. The unfortunate thing is, this sort of propaganda feeds quite well into the less-informed masses who happen to be religious and are being led to believe that if they accept science they’re denying their god.

Sunday Cult Watch

cult – n. A particular form or system of religious worship; esp. in reference to its external rites and ceremonies. -Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed. 1989

This is the recent cult news for the last few weeks.

The Catholic Cult

A 55-year old Delaware woman becomes the first female survivor of priestly sex abuse in the state to file a suit against the Catholic Church. She alleges that Rev. Leonard Mackiewicz, who died in 1994, sexually abused her, along with nine other children, when she was only 13 years old. Mackiewicz was removed from the ministry in 1987 and was one of 20 other priests with substantiated cases of sexual abuse. The Delaware woman also alleges that Church/cult officials knew Mackiewicz was abusing young boys and girls and did nothing to protect the children. When she reported the incident to her mother, which must have occurred around 1966, her mother slapped her and stated, “no priest would ever do something like that.”

In another part of the country, a priest hasn’t gotten off by simply dying. Rev. Raymond Kownacki is named as the defendant in a suit that goes to trial Monday in Belleville, IL, in which it is alleged that he molested a 13-year old boy. The Church has been obstructing justice at every turn, attempting to have the case thrown out, refusing to reveal internal church reports on the abuse in a timely fashion, etc.

Cult’s like this see cases of sexual abuse as “minor” when compared with their self-aggrandized place in society, placing them above the law (what they deem as “man’s law”) and, subsequently, the Church, in general, feels no remorse for the actions of a few no matter how heinous those actions may be. Pathetic. And sad.

The Purpose Driven Life Cult (a.k.a. the Cult of Rick)

Rick Warren hosted a discussion at his BFC in Lake Forest, California on Saturday. The idea was to give the candidates an opportunity to appeal to evangelical voters with their “values” discussion. McSame desparately needs them and has been criticized for intenet attack-ads that compare Obama to the so-called “anti-christ” -a mythical deity in the Christian cult’s pantheon. Warren is often described as “The Next Billy Graham.” Incidentally, that link has this quote: “John McCain recently visited him to pray for “God’s will to be done in the upcoming election”. But for the most part the prophet has retreated to the mountain-top.” Wow. Prophets and God’s will. It doesn’t get any better.

The Mormon Cult

Levi Barlow Jeffs, son of Warren Jeffs, jailed child rapist and polygamist, copped a plea with authorities last week. Basically he got 1 year probation for interfering with a public servant, which will be dismissed if he follows the terms of his probation. Nothing special there.

But if you want to walk away from this post shaking your head in amazement, watch the video below.

To give you a gist, 30 years ago this month marks the time in which a mother threw her seven kids off an eleventh floor balcony at a hotel in downtown Salt Lake City. Their father, Immanuel David, had just committed suicide two days before as the FBI was “closing in on him.” The mother jumped off the balcony just after tossing the kids over. One 15-year old girl survived and was severely injured. They belonged to a sub-cult of the Mormon cult which professed that Immanuel David was “God and Jesus” on Earth. The cult is now making its comeback with a new leader, Matthias David, who says of the suicide incident: “[t]hey couldn’t live without him. Can you imagine what kind of faith it would take for a whole family to leap from the 11th floor of a hotel? Can you imagine what kind of faith that would take?”

My question is, if Immanuel David was God and Jesus, then why would anyone want to follow a god that kills himself when mere mortal police are about to arrest him for God knows what (pun intended)?

That’s all I’ve got this week. I’ll try to do this a couple of times a month. Maybe I’ll start the post and add to it throughout the week, so if anyone has any cult news or views to share, send the links to me at ylooshi AT gmail DOT com and I’ll give you a hat-tip in the post.

The Need for Absurd Belief Among Fundamentalists

Why is there a “culture war” between science and religion?

Religionists, particularly the more fundamentalist of them, frequently object to scientific facts of evolution, geology, DNA, and so on. They very often assert that very paranormal and supernatural events described in Christian mythology are genuine and that these events occurred regardless of their unscientific and preposterous nature.

Examples include an Earth that’s thousands of years old instead of billions; the denial of evolution; the belief that the entire planet was completely flooded in a matter of days; that a man put two of every creature on Earth in a boat; that a man was born of a virgin and had magical powers (could heal the sick, rise from the dead, etc.); and they believe that wine and crackers can, if the right magic words are uttered by the right magic person, become the blood and body of the afore mentioned man who has been dead for over two thousand years if he was ever alive.

And these are but a few of the preposterous and absurd notions and ideas held, each contrary to scientific understanding and thought. To all or most of these people, these notions and ideas aren’t preposterous or absurd, but this is due to the fact that they were probably raised from childhood to accept them without question. It could even be that those that profess to believe in these notions realize the absurdity of them but refuse to entertain this beyond their own private thoughts and, even then, only in fleeting glimpses and brief moments of question or wonder. These glimpses and moments quickly turned away from since the spell of their religious belief and indoctrination effectively insulates them from actively questioning their beliefs.

Such people believe not so much in the “miracles” and absurdities of their religion but more so in belief itself. This “belief in belief” is discussed at length by Daniel Dennett in his book, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, and I recommend the book for anyone that is interested in the scientific study of religion and belief, which is one of the topics I try to concern this blog with. Indeed, you may have even noticed the similarity of the blog’s title to Dennett’s book.

Not a single one of the absurdities that these people hold to be factual is supported by science or reason, however. There simply are no good data or experiences of observation that support these ideas as true. And many religious believers no doubt recognize this, accepting these beliefs on “faith” rather than evidence. They hold these notions and ideas regardless of the lack of evidence or even in the face of evidence to the contrary.

Why?

I think one of the main reasons is that accepting the scientific and reasoned perspective over that of their religious doctrines and dogma -in other words, discounting the Biblical accounts as allegory, poetry, literature, or just plain myth- will, for many of these people, invalidate their entire system of beliefs. Just as a house of cards is precariously balanced and fragile, so, too, is the system of Biblical belief, which ultimately informs the political agenda of so many people. The political investment that fundamentalist Christians have in the Biblical compendium is such that should a single story be shown or accepted to be just a myth, the entire Bible would then be in question. And, indeed, it is.

Science, history and archaeology have, time and again, brought Biblical “facts” into question, invalidating them. I think conservative, fundamental Christians realize this so they deny, obfuscate, confuse, ignore, and otherwise bring into question facts of science, geology, archaeology, anthropology, psychology, neurology, biology, chemistry, astronomy and many other sciences that have shown information contrary to Biblical belief to be true. For The conservative Christian to accept, for instance, that evolution invalidates the literal truth of the Bible as told by Genesis, then what reason would those same conservative Christians have to continue excluding homosexuals or other groups with whom they disagree? And that is but a single example. One could also draw into question conservative positions on end of life, stem cell research, the Middle East, etc.

But there is and abundance of evidence that shows vertebrate life on the planet millions of years ago; that the planet itself is billions of years old. The evidence one might expect to see, which would support a global flood just a few thousand years ago simply isn’t there. There is no evidence to support the notion that virgins can be impregnated without help from a male sperm donor. There is no evidence to support that one human can heal another simply by placing a hand on them -and they certainly cannot correct blindness this way. There is no evidence that someone can truly be dead then arise from their grave 3 days later. Either you’re dead or you’re not. There’s no evidence that the planet was brought to a stand-still with regard to its rotation, as the bible says occurred for 24 hours.

Religious adherents would be quick to say that neither can these things be disproved or that there’s evidence to the show that any of these things couldn’t occur. But I’d say this is only partially right. Sure, there’s no way to prove gods don’t exist or that these improbable things couldn’t occur. But there is evidence that is to the contrary. And that evidence is the distinct lack of evidence that supports any of them.

The spell of belief among adherents of Christianity will not easily or willingly be broken. The best we can do, for now, is to keep up the “fight,” as it were. Continue to be voices of reason and rational discourse and to value each and every believer that has a rational epiphany that causes them to begin to question their system of beliefs.

Eventually, perhaps, the spell of religion will be broken.

Is the United States a Christian Nation

Is the U.S. a Christian Nation

Is the U.S. a Christian Nation

One of the problems with Yahoo! Answers is that once you answer a question, if someone else comes along and follows up with an answer that you’d like to respond to because it is factually incorrect, you can’t. You only get one shot at answering. So, if anyone at Yahoo! Answers sees this and would like to copy/paste it verbatim to this question, I give my permission and hereby declare this post to be in the Creative Commons. Anyone is free to copy/paste it anywhere else as long as credit is given as a link back to this blog. Also, you are free to modify or add to the post as long as the intent of the post isn’t changed.

Anyway, at Yahoo! Answers, a question was posed: Is the USA a Christian Nation. I responded. Then a Christian responded just after me with a laundry list of quotes and misquotes that lacked any context or completeness. Below is my response to this laundry list, completing johninjc’s list and putting his quotes and misquotes into context. Ironically, he begins with a pseudo-criticism of “[p]eople [using] quotes and misquotes.”

—————————————-

“I see this question all the time. People use quotes and misquotes all the time defending their position. I will give you links to each item I use. The links come from government websites and websites of major universities.”

Let’s look at these more closely, shall we?

Proclamations of Thanksgiving, Fasting, and Prayer
johninjc provides a several quotes from a linked images of single pages of a single Congressional proclamations in the year 1776-1779. The proclamations call for days of “solemn thanksgiving and praise” and prayer and use the religious language of the day.

What johninjc doesn’t bother with is the dissenting voices of the Founding Fathers to this type of proclamation. More than one of these proclamations were entered into Congressional record. And more than once they were opposed by names that carry far more Founding weight than E. Thompson and M. Weare.d

James Madison expressed several objections to such proclamations of thanksgivings and fasting in his Detached Memoranda [1][2]:

They seem to imply and certainly nourish the erronious [sic] idea of a national religion.

And Madison concluded with:

The idea also of a union of all to form one nation under one Govt in acts of devotion to the God of all is an imposing idea.

Indeed, Madison also questioned in that document the practice of including chaplains in the Congress:

Is the appointment of Chaplains to the two Houses of Congress consistent with the Constitution, and with the pure principle of religious freedom?

It’s also important to note that the proclamations as well as the chaplains were traditions that were started well before The United States became a nation, so johninjc was in error in using this as evidence for his “Christian nation.”

James Madison wasn’t the only Founding Father to object to proclamations of thanksgiving and fasting. Another, very notable, Founding Father, likewise, had his doubts about the wisdom of embracing any one religion or religion in general. That was none other than Thomas Jefferson.

In a letter written to Samuel Miller, Jefferson said:

Certainly, no power to prescribe any religious exercise or to assume authority in religious discipline has been delegated to the General Government. …But it is only proposed that I should recommend, not prescribe a day of fasting and prayer. That is, that I should indirectly assume to the U.S. an authority over religious exercises which the Constitution has directly precluded them from [...] [my sense of reason] tells me that civil powers alone have been given to the President of the U.S. and no authority to direct the religious exercises of his constituents.

Another important detail is to note that even those Founding Fathers who were opposed to issuing these types of proclamations occasionally found themselves using religious beliefs for political purposes. Yet it doesn’t imply that they felt Christianity was either important or necessary in Founding the United States.

Quotes From Founding Fathers

George Washington

Next, johninjc proceeds to provide several quotes by Founding Fathers, leading off with George Washington and his inaugural address in 1789. In that address, Washington uses terms like “Almighty Being” and “invisible hand,” but he never once uses any Christian terminology. Indeed, he never says the word “God.” This should be painfully obvious to the Christian and, at the very least, concerning. Why wouldn’t Washington recognize their religious beliefs directly and specifically.

The reason, of course, is that he was a Deist not a Christian. Bishop White, Washington’s pastor, wrote in reply to Rev. B.C.C. Parker of Massachusetts when the good reverend was eager to learn of Washington’s “Christianity [3]:”

I do not believe that any degree of recollection will bring to my mind any fact which would prove General Washington to have been a believer in the Christian revelation further than as may be hoped from his constant attendance upon Christian worship, in connection with the general reserve of his character

I’ve no hyperlink to this book. Sorry. You may need to visit a library if you wish to verify the text. In such a trip to the library, one might probably encounter several of Washington’s contemporaries directly state that he “was a Deist.”

John Adams

Next, johninjc includes a quote by John Adams in a letter to Abigail regarding the manner in which the newly formed nation should celebrate its independence. In the letter, John writes to his beloved, “It [Independence Day] ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty.” This is the most religious text of the document and johninjc, as well as a few desperate others, present this as some sort of evidence that Adams was a Christian.

What are we to make of this? Is Adams saying or implying that he is a Christian? Or is he acknowledging, as the agnostic and Deistic Founding Fathers frequently did, that religion is a good thing for the common people; that religion is present among the common people. If Adams is acknowledging that he is a Christian, then it will be a simple matter to find other quotes which more specifically and explicitly state as much. If, however, Adams is merely acknowledging that the common people hold religious beliefs and that it is expected that these religious language and superstition be included in significant events.

We don’t find explicit and direct admissions of religious belief among John or Abigail in their writings. We only see the vague and subjective use of religious language quoted above, which is used as the legal language of the day. Indeed, what we can readily find are quotes such as these [4][5]:

The question before the human race is, whether the God of nature shall govern the world by his own laws, or whether priests and kings shall rule it by fictitious miracles?

The priesthood have, in all ancient nations, nearly monopolized learning…. And, even since the Reformation, when or where has existed a Protestant or dissenting sect who would tolerate A FREE INQUIRY? The blackest billingsgate, the most ungentlemanly insolence, the most yahooish brutality is patiently endured, countenanced, propagated, and applauded. But touch a solemn truth in collision with a dogma of a sect, though capable of the clearest proof, and you will soon find you have disturbed a nest, and the hornets will swarm about your legs and hands, and fly into your face and eyes.

Plenty of Adams’ letters and writings included religious language, enough, in fact, that that it might be logical to assume that, at least in his early years, he was a believer in the Christian God. It was clearer and clearer in his later years, however, that Adams’ religious views were more Deistic or perhaps even atheistic. Regardless, any scholar of Adams must admit that Adams opposed religious influences in government and was in favor of a distinct separation of Church and State. His signing the Treaty of Tripoli, more than any other document, demonstrates this [6]:

As the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen … it is declared … that no pretext arising from religious opinion shall ever product an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries. … The United States is not a Christian nation any more than it is a Jewish or a Mohammedan nation.

Thomas Jefferson

Finally, johninjc quotes two more Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson and . In each, he finds some spurious mentions of God and use of religious language, generally considered to be the legal language of the day. One is left to wonder if acknowledging only those quotes and speeches that confirm a conclusion already arrived at constitutes the sum of his learning. At the very least, it is the precise sort of “misquotes” johninjc pretended to have an objection to -snippets of writings and speech taken out of context or without consideration for opinions of the Founding Father that don’t match with his preconceived conclusions. Such Christians act and react without intellectual honesty, since information that doesn’t support their conclusions does not exist or is ignored.

Jefferson wrote this about Christianity [7]:

Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth. Let us reflect that it is inhabited by a thousand millions of people. That these profess probably a thousand different systems of religion. That ours is but one of that thousand.

Indeed, as I noted previously on Yahoo! Answers, Jefferson was in favor of a “wall of seperation between church and state [8]:”

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties

The writings and opinions of the Founding Fathers are clear: there was to be a division of church and state; the United States of America was not to be a “Christian nation” any more than it was to be a Muslim nation or a Jewish nation.

Austin Cline at About.com writes:

The real problem is that traditionally, Christians and Christian groups occupied a position of privilege which was not accorded to any other religious tradition in America. Today, however, more and more of that privilege is being lost, and even if they are not able to consciously articulate it, many Christians are acutely aware of that loss and aren’t happy about it. Unfortunately for them, there also isn’t anything which they can do about it, at least so long as they remain committed a free nation.

I agree with Austin on this point. The goal of the religious right in the United States is to obtain,maintain, and/or sustain power and status, depending upon how they see their current situation. I would add that it is also unfortunate for these Christians that their position is un-American and not consistent with the patriotism and sense of unity that the Founding Fathers originally envisioned and ultimately laid out in their official and unofficial writings.

I chose the quotes and references above for the express purpose of demonstrating that the Founding Fathers were decidedly against the idea of religion being involved in government or state affairs. There is two ways one can view the title question of this post, is the United States a Christian nation?: 1) is it comprised of a majority that is Christian? 2) is it a nation that should be exclusively governed with Christian values, principles and doctrine in mind?

In the former, we can answer “yes” in much the same way that we could have answered “yes” to the question of whether the United States is a “white nation.” Yet, we shouldn’t be proud to do so. The real question is the latter, and to that the Founding Fathers have generously answered. The U.S. is not a “Christian nation,” but one where church and state affairs are held necessarily separate to the advantage of all believers and non-believers alike.

References
1. Madison, James (1823?). Detached Memoranda. Library of Congress. Found online at: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/madison/images/vc14p1.jpg [image]

2. Madison, James (1823?). Detached Memoranda. University of Chicago. Found online at: http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/amendI_religions64.html

3. Wilson, Byrd (1839). Memoir of Bishop White. Philadelphia, p.193

4. Braden, Bruce (2005). Ye Will Say I Am No Christian. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books

5. Carey, George W. (2001). The Political Writings of John Adams. Washington, D.C.: Regnery, p. 440

6. United States (1797). The Treaty of Tripoli. Library of Congress. Found online at: http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=llsp&fileName=002/llsp002.db&Page=18

7. Jefferson, Thomas (1781-1782). Notes on the State of Virginia. Found online at: http://etext.virginia.edu/etcbin/toccer-new2?id=JefVirg.sgm&images=images/modeng&data=/texts/english/modeng/parsed&tag=public∂=all

8. Jefferson, Thomas (1802, Jan 1). Jefferson’s Letter to the Danbury Baptists. Library of Congress, found online at: http://www.loc.gov/loc/lcib/9806/danpre.html

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