Here We Are, by Stephen Sondheim and others.

This is being touted as Stephen Sondheim’s last musical, but it is not. The last musical he wrote which reached Broadway was Assassins. He wrote another musical which was called Road Show out of town and Bounce when it made it to the public theatre. This, which I saw last night, was an idea that never went anywhere beyond the first act. The second act has a single song and is basically a play version of Luis Bunuel’s movie “The Exterminating Angel.” The first act is more complete, musically, and is entirely based on Bunuel’s movie, “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoise.”

I’m not really sure why they decided to stage this unfinished mess. Even before they had a couple of staged readings, Sondheim had already stated in 2006 that he could no longer create.

And it’s apparent. I think if he had wanted to finish this, he would have. The first announcement that he was going to collaborate with David Ives was in 2014. There was a staged reading in 2016. Work stopped for awhile and then another reading with Nathan Lane and Bernadette Peters took place in 2019. Sondheim died in 2021 and then some producers and Joe Mantello decided to mount it in 2023. But why? It’s not finished. There’s very little music. But essentially I don’t think Sondheim or David Ives really got to the core of why this musical should exist. They might have, when the music was done and edits were made. The movies are clearly a criticism of wealth and bourgeois people. But this doesn’t come through, at least in the staging. In the exterminating angel part, you don’t get the sense that these people could leave through a wide open door but are unable to for no apparent reason. Eventually, in the movie, they accept that they can’t leave — that they are trapped. And once they have accepted their imprisonment, they become vicious and violent (in the movie). In this, they just are. They don’t deteriorate into violence and ruthlessness. They aren’t elevated. The young couple who kills themselves in the movie only joke about it in this staged version. Everything that was “Bunuel,” about the movie is lost in this staging, and at the end I really couldn’t say what I had watched. I watched a staged reading of a play that cost more than $100.

Now David Hyde Pierce was very good, and in the second act there was a lovely song called, “It’s the end of the world,” (as we know it) (I think.) Bobby Canavale and Denis O’Hare were also extremely good. Bobby Canavale, in fact, has gotten to be so much better of an actor than he was at the beginning of his career, it’s quite exciting to see.

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The Zone of Interest, by Jonathan Glazer, based on the novel by Martin Amis

I’m not sure if they actually released a movie poster for this film, but this seems to be at least a poster for the movie when it played at Cannes.

I’m not a Martin Amis fan so I have not read the book, but apparently Jonathan Glazer radically re-adapted this novel to fit his vision of what evil looks like. There are also a few flaws with his adaptation and one is that you have to understand something about Auschwitz in order to understand the movie.

Without an understanding of what the “ovens” meant, or “ash,” or random gunfire, trains heading toward a walled camp, and the barbed wire on those same walls, you’d probably not understand a thing about this movie.

I was pretty certain, and I was right, that horrible reviewers like Manhola Dargis would bring up the “banality of evil,” phrase that Hannah Arendt coined, but I don’t think this movie is about the banality of evil, but much more about how ordinary and perhaps — even more important — untalented people can blind themselves to the horrors that they are inflicting on, in this case, about 3,000,000 prisoners. And yet, are they blind? Or is there some moral flaw in the human mind that rationalizes the wrongs being committed in order to keep living in paradise. (The mother of this clan — Hedwig Höss — referes to their home as a paradise.)

Just to go back and do a plot summary, this movie is about Rudolph Höss, who was the commandant of Auschwitz death camp for about four years. He and his family lived in the southeast corner of the original Auschwitz prisoner camp and they apparently lived a very luxurious life, with a large garden, a small swimming pool, a backyard gazebo, and a lot of slave labor to help them maintain it. The movie focuses solely on these people and their children. It never once shows us what’s going on inside those walls. Other than the slave labor, it doesn’t show anything except how this family ignores — but that’s not the right word — embraces maybe — the killing that’s happening on the other side of the barbed wire.

A small detail early on is when a prisoner pushing a wheelbarrow, comes through the camp to the back door of the commandant’s residence and drops off two sacks. They contain clothing, and one contains a full length fur. Hedwig allows her laborers to take whatever they want from one sack, but takes the sack containing the fur to her room and shuts the door. She tries it on to see how glamorous she looks and that single act, suggests she knows absolutely what’s going on and what she is participating in. A little later you hear some Polish or German women laughing about one of the slave laborer’s taking a tiny little Jewess’s dress and not fitting into it.

Auschwitz 1 is still there. It was originally a prisoner for Russian p.o.w.’s, but eventually, under Höss ‘s command, it became a death camp. The home is in the lower right in this google map photo. It’s labelled Don Komendanta obozu, which I think means The Commandants abode. In the movie, the garden and pool extended up NNW in that clear space which looks like a small field. Toward the top of the photo with the red arrow is the first crematorium. In the movie, this chimney is seen constantly smoking or burning orange and red.

When the Germans expanded their extermination campaign, other camps were built in the area — they have different names like Auschwitz-Birkenau, etc., and were march larger.

There are a multitude of reactions in this family to what’s going on in that camp. One girl has become a sleepwalker, and using a thermal camera the director captures her sleepwalking dreams which mainly consist of her gathering apples and leaving them in places for, presumably, the prisoners. A boy can’t stop staring at the flames coming from the chimney because he’s troubled by them. Most effective, however, is Hedwig’s mother, who has come to stay with them for an unspecified time, but it seems like it’s supposed to be a permanent move. She is horrified by the smoke (and when the wind changes direction the smell comes into the house in paradise and all the windows have to be shut) and without saying a word to her daughter or anyone else, she packs up and leaves. And Rudolph, when he is at some big gala in some town that is quite far from their home, calls his wife and tells her that he mostly spent the night thinking about how he would gas this crowd and explains that the ceilings are too high there.

Höss’s testimony at Nuremberg was creepy and horrifying. (The movie ends long before he is caught and tried.) Basically he admits that he killed and burned between 1.5 and 3 million people, but that he didn’t really keep the numbers. And basically, the psychology behind what happened there and elsewhere has occupied minds (like Sigmund’s daughter Anna Freud) and others for the last 75 years and is ongoing, as we can see with so many Trump/Maga people who are calling for the extermination of liberals and leftists and with Trump himself starting to use Hitler style language such as “infecting our blood,” and “vermin.”

But for me, that fur coat scene tells you nearly everything you need to know about how we blind ourselves to the evil we do. As long as the gifts keep coming, we can reduce people to others, and then never have to look at them again. And I for one, think this adaptation perfectly encapsulated how we commit evil by not seeing it.

Höss, like all cowards, tried to hide as a gardener. But he was found by a Nazi hunter, tried and was hanged. At the request of survivors he was executed at Auschwitz. He was the last execution in Poland. He wrote some interesting letters to his family after (after!) he knew he was going to be executed. He wrote that he had blindly believed in what his superiors said and their philosophy, and he told his son never to believe without questioning. (I’m paraphrasing of course.) But I have to take that contrition with a grain of salt, because he had basically been a career criminal before he ended up joining the SS. He was always on that path and probably always had murder in his heart.

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Saltburn, by Emerald Fennell

Another outsourced review of The Times by Wesley Morris gave this a terrible rating, and boring. It is anything but.

As I wrote about when doing my own review of Promising Young Woman, the question the writer is asking (of herself and of us, as watchers) is whether or not the main character is in love with a secondary character. In Promising Young Woman, if you look closely, you can see that she wasn’t just devastated by the suicide of her friend after her friend had been group raped, she was devastated by the loss of her love.

In this, Oliver (Barry Keoghan) appears to be in love with an upper class college student named Felix (Jacob Elordi). He gets himself invited to spend the summer at his family’s estate which is called Saltburn. And then he starts to get a little weird. It’s riveting and not at all boring. By the time you understand what is actually going on it becomes a little like the end of PYW when they find the locket. It all comes together in a kind of tied up package. Oh… he’s a clever psychopath. But the question still remains, did he love Felix? He even asks this question over and over at the beginning of the movie and then the camera cuts away suddenly, as if he finally realized the answer but the director decided not to let us hear him. Later, when we return to that room, we find out. The uber rich live like they have no predators… except one.

Anyway, the reviewer this time has (I’m quoting) has written about the moral force of civilian cellphone videos, Hollywood’s addiction to racial reconciliation fantasies, and the endangerment of romantic comedies. I don’t think he was the right person to review this very entertaining movie. Stick to articles about cellphones.

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I don’t think it’s necessary to add who wrote this.

This version was very helpful in that half of the book is the Oxford World’s Classics essay about the play. The play itself only takes up about less than half of the book, and a lot of that is footnotes.

What I was curious about with regard to this play — the last of his tragedies, presumably — is that people have said it is one of the “gayest” characters Shakespeare wrote, yet he is basically nothing but an extremely fierce and brutal warrior. I wanted to see what was so “gay” about him and, of course, there isn’t anything gay about him.

Except for the fact that Shakespeare, throughout, constantly equates battle with sexuality. One character even goes so far as to say that nothing could excite him more than going head to head with Coriolanus, even more than standing on the threshold of his bedroom with his new wife waiting for him. There’s a homoerotic feeling that pervades the entire play, but it is not explicit.

Anyway, I’m not qualified to write about Shakespeare, even though I tried at University.

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The Mandate

At first this post was about the British Mandate of Palestine and how Israel was created out of it after the second world war. But I decided that with all the various problems and opinions flying around, that it’s probably wrong to talk about Palestine and Israel at all.

In this region, historically, you have victims oppressing other victims. You have “white savior” syndrome in the manner of The Crusades (which I haven’t read a lot about, but which I have rudimentary understanding that it was Christians, circa 1100, starting wars to “take back” the land from the Moslems.) (not a spelling mistake). Even today, and I know some of these people, you have Evangelical Christians who are trying to get Jews to return to Israel in order to speed up the return of Christ.

But from 1921 — roughly — the entire area after World War I was designated as various mandates and administered by 3 European countries: England, France and Belgium. There were 16 mandates in all, and I don’t know the reason for them except that the world was still in the process of drawing the great big map. That’s still going on, for example, in Ukraine which is attempting to keep itself free and separate from the maw of Russia; and South Sudan, which I think is the most recent country to be created.

The Ottoman empire (also known as the Turkish empire) lasted until the end of the first world war and it extended throughout this territory, all the way down the west coast of Saudi Arabia. After WWI, the victors (England, France and Belgium and maybe the United States, although I don’t know for sure), created 5 mandates out of this region, one of which was never realized (The Mesopotamian mandate which instead became Iraq, a British Mandate.) The one that everyone is fighting over is the Palestine mandate.

Every writer, artist and poet knew, after the fighting of World War I stopped, that the issues had not been resolved. Everyone rushed into World War I thinking that it was time to get it over and settled. But it settled nothing at all. And 21 years later Hitler began it all again. It’s interesting to note that at one time, Hitler and his henchmen came up with a plan to deport all Jews to Palestine and Syria, but weren’t able to because of logistics. It wasn’t much later that they formalized their plan to murder all Jews in German-conquered Europe as well as neutral territories like Portugal, Switzerland and Spain.

In any event, it was in recognition of the fact that this horrific crime had been committed against the Jewish people (or the “race” of Jews, as Germany incorrectly called them) that Israel was formed from part of the mandate of Palestine and Britain gave up control. From here, I’ll say no more.

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Something wrong with The Times

Ever since A.O. Scott left, the Times’ reviews of movies has become extremely erratic. They didn’t like “Foe.” Said it was unintentionally laughable. And the review of “Cat Person” was similarly strange. “Foe” was reviewed by Ben Kenigsberg who has written for many publications but is on the young side, as I suspected. “Cat Person” was written by Claire Shaffer, who writes about a lot of things – is not strictly a movie critic or a movie analyst. Her biggest complaint was that Cat Person was based on a short story in the New Yorker and padded to make a full “popcorn” movie, I think she called it. Both of these idiots are wrong and I suspect The Times is purchasing these reviews from freelancers because they don’t have the resources to have their own reporters — who maybe may have studied film in college. When I took film studies at NYU it was with a guy named Jonathan Rosenbaum who had experience working with Jacques Tati and was initially an English major at Bard, intending to become a writer. Classes with him were eye opening. His lectures usually preceded the movie we were going to watch and then we had a second class later in the week with his partner which was in much smaller groups. One just doesn’t get the sense that any of these young people ever had an education like that. Shaffer, in fact, wrote a political review of what was an interesting and somewhat scary movie. Not having read the story or having the need for it to be left alone, I didn’t find it padded. Both should have been NYTimes picks.

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Anatomy of a Fall by Justine Triet

I wasn’t going to write about this or “Foe” either, but after thinking about it and reading the Times’s review, I think it deserves a mention. I think it deserved to be a Times “Pick” at the very least. But the reviewer did not like the fact that it wasn’t revealed at the end whether or not the main character did, in fact, kill her husband by pushing him off their balcony. And now I’ve just revealed the ending to anyone reading this.

But at the opening of the movie there is flashed, briefly, a link and so I knew right away that we weren’t going to get an answer. And whenever a movie or story ends without a resolution, which is sometimes called ambiguity, you have to ask why is the author leaving this unanswered? What does she mean by this? And I think we get told enough, and repeatedly, that sometimes there are no neat answers, it didn’t have to end this way. It’s kind of like being on the receiving end of a lecture from a parent about growing up. And in fact, there is a young boy in the movie (their son) who was in an accident in which he lost most of his vision, who is lectured by an adult on that very fact. Does the author know whether or not the character murdered her husband or that he fell. Yes. I think she definitely does. And the reason is because in one very important and dramatic fight they have, which is only recorded on some sort of voice app on the iphone the husband carries, we see almost the entire fight take place. Then she cuts back to the courtroom and we’re back to only hearing the remainder of the fight and the character’s testimony about what all those sounds were. There was no need to cut away from the filmed fight (and the only time we get to see the husband alive) except for the filmmaker’s need to ram home the notion that things can be hard to understand.

Still it has a lot of skill and the lead actors are superb. I think it deserved better from the Times.

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I’m weirdly upset that Netflix discontinued its Blu Ray and DVD business. It was inevitable of course. When I looked up their two businesses, which had been separated when streaming because so much bigger than the physical branch, the difference was something like 36,000,000 in streaming sales to 500,000 in rentals.

Funny that Blockbuster once had a chance to buy them but declined. Netflix put every local video rental

store out of business, including Blockbuster. Miss Kim’s used to be one of the best on Bleecker Street but that also succumbed after Netflix took over. But there are several other reasons that this is a sad day. I just sent my two last rentals back, even though they said we needn’t bother. Then I downloaded my entire rental history which goes back to 2009 I believe. I rented over 670 dvds. And the first one was The Mudge Boy with Emile Hirsch. I vaguely remember it but I have no idea why it was my first rental. But the Blu Ray unit had over 120,000 movies to choose from and I’m going to go through that list and see some of the stranger ones I rented. The streaming service has about 20,000 titles and because of the problems with the streaming business that haven’t been worked out in the capitalistic way we do thing, they’re always losing titles.

The much more ominous and pernicious and some would even say corruption of the entertainment industry is that they have always hated the fact that the law treats physical property as your own property. You may not show it for profit. You may not copy it for profitable reasons. But you can give it to someone. Loan it to someone. And you can play it over and over as many times as you want. The law does not treat “streaming” or whatever Itunes is as property. It is now their property and theirs alone. When I looked up the user agreements for music on both Amazon and Itunes, it was clear that you were allowed to play the music you bought on up to 4 devices for Itunes and 9 devices for Amazon. If you needed to change your computer or device, you had to get the new machine reauthorized by Apple. So now they’ve done the same to movies. And it’s like Disney’s “vault.” There are movies that are never going to be released ever again by Disney because they are embarrassed of the racism that was pervasive in their earlier works. Mickey Mouse, in fact, is a caricature of the black faced minstrel — especially with the gloves and shoes. Song of the South has never been released on any platform and won’t be. This is how the entertainment corporations have taken away people’s right to own entertainment and retained it for themselves — giving us permission to see it. Or hear it.

It angered me so much back when I used to buy Blu Rays that they would put on the box “Download your digital version,” when in fact, all you were allowed to do with “your” digital version is watch it on an app — one of the worst ever made — called Ultraviolet. I went along for awhile, until one of the studios deleted all the movies that were in my library and refused to put them back. That’s when I started copying the dvds I ordered from Netflix. Burning them to my hard drive. I have more than 450 movies on my passport drive (it’s a 4 terabyte drive I think, or maybe 8). But I’ll miss The DVDs and Blu Rays. The ones I bought are all going into storage because I’ve burned them to my computer library and can watch them from there. I imagine some day, well into the future, I’ll throw them out.

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Studies in Classic American Literature, by D.H. Lawrence

I almost always tire of Lawrence when I dare to read him, and this wasn’t an exception. Although I had wanted to read him for along time because of his interpretation of Moby Dick which I had read about somewhere. But what tires me about his writing is his sarcasm, I guess you could say. This is from a section on Walt Whitman


What do you make of that? I AM He That ACHES. First generalization. First uncomfortable universalization. WITH AMOROUS LOVE.! Oh, God! Better a bellyache. A bellyache is at least specific. But the ACHE OF AMOROUS LOVE!

Think of having that under your skin. All that!


Walter, leave off. You are not HE. You are just a limited Walter. And your ache doesn’t include all Amorous Love, by any means….


…. Reminds one of steam-engine. A locomotive. They’re the only things that seem to me to ache with amorous love. All that steam inside them. Forty million foot-pounds pressure.”


He comes off like one of those Amazon critics (I forgot their names — I think it’s the Vines) which make it a point of denigrating writers and insulting them as personally as possible. I have no idea why this phenomenon exists, but it has always seemed to me that writers in particular are subjected to vicious and exaggerated attacks because it is such an intellectually challenging art. People want to bring writers down a notch just because they are, generally, better thinkers than their critics. Certain writers, like Will Self, deserve to be brought low. But I’m reminded of the joke about Jackie Kennedy Onassis editing Gravity’s Rainbow and writing a note to “Tom” Pynchon, “Love the first line.” How do you edit Pynchon? And with Lawrence I find him to be protesting too much. Because he himself is guilty of idiosyncratic descriptions like “Blood-knowledge” and “upper” and “under consciousness;” “mind knowledge,” to name a few.

But he is most adamant about the fact that Americans believe themselves to be masterless, while he believes everyone serves some master or another. I really don’t know if I agree with that. I’ve heard it said many times before, but I’ve also heard it said that “everyone believes in a higher power,” and I don’t, unless you’re talking about the sun that makes every day possible.

Anyway, the main essay I wanted to read was about Moby Dick and I found that one to be enlightening. When he notes that the three main bowmen are a Pacific Islander, a large black man and a native American, he correctly points out that they (and the entire crew) are the symbolic representations of the crushed natives that Europeans suppressed. And Ahab is the white madman — making his own obsession into the obsession of everyone else on the ship. Lawrence sees Ahab’s desire as the death wish: the need to destroy his own whiteness and take everyone down with him. But I think Lawrence was or is a little too quick to judge America as a suicide and I think people in general are a little too quick to invoke Thanatos when judging other people’s behavior. I don’t think that people who cliff dive have a death wish. I think it’s possible they don’t see death in the way others do. And it’s not like most people go up Mt. Everest in order to jump off.

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I’m getting more ideas for a story. This one just involved a nightmare I just had. I went to a restaurant that was on the first floor of my old building. I had an appetizer and dinner, but weirdly, at least 3 different couples sat down next to me and had dinner and with each one, the man looked in a bag and yelled, “These tickets are for a musical!” And then the woman would say, “Yes but…” and then go into an explanation of how it was so good, etc.

Then I realized that I had tickets for a show, “Hairspray,” (though I couldn’t remember the name.) So since my bill still wasn’t there, I walked up to the waitress in the front room and asked her for my check. She looked at me strangely but I went back to my table. When she didn’t come again, it started to dawn on me that I might now have actually eaten there. So I much more cautiously walked up front and found her, interrupted her conversation, and said, “Did I actually have anything to eat.” “No,” she said. So I yelled at her, “Why didn’t you say so? Why did you let me sit there and sleep?” And she was just as angry and yelled back, “You didn’t.” I was confused, but because I had the theatre to get to, I left. I had my two dogs with me and I was trying to get uptown to get to the theatre, but there were no cabs to be had anywhere. I looked at my watch and all the numbers and dots were missing, but the hands sort of indicated 20 minutes after 6 or 7 — it was hard to tell. And I couldn’t remember if this show started at 7 or 8. So I decided to take the subway. With my dogs in tow I went down three levels to the very bottom level. (This is a recurring dream I have.) where I was on the wrong side of the train and had to jump through a very narrow opening and then scramble up onto the platform in order to get on the side where the doors open. Even then, the doors open and close so quickly that you have to jump during the tiny gap when they’re open in order to get in.

I managed to do that, but then the train only made it to about 34th street and construction on the tracks forced us to the top. Above ground, everything was a mess with construction. It was impossible to get around and then I couldn’t remember what street the theatre was on, or what name it was. And I could only remember the finale of the show, “You can’t stop the beat.” I pulled out an Ipad to try to look it up, but it only had an unresponsive set of pictures or icons and I couldn’t get it to go back to the main screen. So I finally decided to go over to 8th Avenue and about 43rd Street where there was an acting studio or acting classes. This building roughly corresponds to one where musicals hire spaces for the actors and dancers, especially, to work. I can’t remember the name of it but it’s real. It might be further over and higher. I went to the pitch conference there.

So I’m running all through the building trying to find someone to help. I couldn’t.I still had my dogs so I put them down. I kept looking at my watch and the dots and numbers were still missing but it looked like it was about a quarter to the hour. I finally found some people in a room and I begged them, “Please, I’m trying to get to that show with that song ‘You Can’t Stop The Beat,’ but I can’t remember the name of the theatre or the street it’s on. I left my dogs in the other room.” Well these guys were theatre lovers and they were both like, “Oh that show sucks, you’ll hate it.” And I said, “I know but I still have tickets,” so one went to look and then I remembered the theatre had been renamed recently and that’s why I couldn’t remember its name. I said to the guy who had stayed behind while the other went to look up the information, “Oh I think the theatre’s been renamed.” He smiled but was otherwise gay bitchy to me. Then finally the phone rang, and the bitchy gay guy picked it up and said, “Yes. Uh huh.” Then he put the phone to his shoulder and he said, “They can’t find your dogs.”

And then everything dawned on me. I said, “They don’t exist. In fact, I don’t think I have tickets for anything. If you look in my bag, I don’t have tickets.” He came over to me and looked in my bag — a kind of old and filthy New Yorker cloth bag — and there was nothing in it but crumpled up paper. He looked at what I called my “Ipad,” and it was just the screen of an ipad with a piece of paper taped to the front. He looked at my watch and the watch hands had been drawn onto the back of my wrist. And then I started to say aloud, “I don’t have dogs. My dogs died many years ago. I don’t walk them every day.” (An image came into my mind of me walking around my old neighborhood with a leash dragging behind me.) I don’t feed them every day,” (Another image set in where I had put down fifty or sixty cups of food — flies buzzing everywhere. And then a flood of images of my real life — me sitting in the restaurant pretending to eat while the staff looked at me, not certain of what to do. Those couples who had been seated next to me, staring warily.) And in an instant I realized I had lost my mind and that I had been living in a fantasy world for many months — perhaps six. And although I was lucid and reality had re-asserted itself, I could not think of what precipitated this — when this schizophrenia had begun. And then I thought, maybe it was New York City that did it.


So that was my nightmare. I woke and felt very frightened. But mostly I was aware of how fragile this world is and, as the Buddhists like to say, “Everything is perception.” I think that’s why Jung was so adamant that you have no right to say that someone’s predilections or peccadilloes are “wrong” or “immoral.” (Did Jung say that? I don’t know. But I know that if someone walked into a Jungian therapist’s office and said, “I am the greatest piano player in the world,” a proper Jungian therapist would not discount the possibility that it might be true.)

I will write about D.H. Lawrence and eventually Barbie next time, because I have a few thoughts that may not have been written about thousands of times over already.

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