One L(ove)

January 31, 2009

A Whopper Whore to a Whopper Virgin: You’re Not Missing Much

Filed under: Uncategorized — galileehitchhiker @ 4:18 pm
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Let’s face it. There are a lot of horrible commercials out there. Some fall within the specter of complete lunacy and others within total absurdity. I’m not bashing on commercials for their creativity but am referring to those that send out a horrible social message. Media studies is relatively a new academic field in the intellectual world. Some academics within the study are hell-bent on analyzing and deconstructing social myths and stereotypes that are perpetuated by films, advertisements, and other mediums employed by the media. One such example of a study is Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and the Media by Ella Shohat and Robert Stam (who were heavily influenced by Edward Said’s Orientalism), which explored how films made by the “Occident” perpetuated social myths and stereotypes associated with the “Orient,” in order to show (and justify!) the superiority of the former over the latter. The book also explores the insurgency of the Third World towards these myths with their own films.

As mentioned, academics explore how advertisements play a crucial role in not only perpetuating social myths on the domestic level. Now the question arises: how do these advertisements perpetuate these myths?  They are made to appeal to the concerns/fears/insecurities of a group of people in society – thereby hoping that that group which the advertisements are marketing their products towards, will buy those products and instill those myths within them, thereby, in a sense, continuing the production of those social myths. (Once again, please keep in mind that I am not referring to all advertisements, but to those that can be reasonably interpreted to send out a harmful message.) I believe it was Sandra Bartky, in her book Femininity and Domination: Studies in the Phenomenology of Oppression, who said that the advertisers of cosmetics appeal to women to make them feel guilty of the way they look so that they could buy the products. In other words, Bartky argues, that the advertisers of cosmetics instill in women a sense of that they are not perfect and that the only way to be “delivered” from this feeling is to buy the products which will make them perfect. Bartky says that this practice is analogous to the church which creates a sense of guilt within a person for some acts and sends out a message that the only way to overcome that guilt is to turn towards the church – to confess. Bartky points out that these institutions instill within the person a sense of worthlessness and then claim that the only way out is through them. This would then only create a vicious cycle where the institution profits over the person who walks away with illusory happiness, and when that happiness is over, the latter runs back to be “saved.” Whatever may be the flaws of Bartky’s conclusions, I think she has a great point—especially when it comes to advertisements.

I think a major area where advertisements can send out a strong sense of social message is when it comes to food. Yes, this basic necessity of life has such a power of influencing the way we identify socially. Of course there are other factors that contribute to the overall social personality of a person and the way he forms his identity, food can foster a sense of national, ethnic, gender, and (even) religious identity. There’s a great essay on this topic which a vegan friend of mine gave to me when she saw me eating meat a couple of years ago. It is called “We are What We Eat: Feminist Vegetarianism and the Reproduction of Racial Identity” by Cathryn Bailey and appears in the Hypatia journal.

I have been thinking about this ever since I watched Burger King’s “Whopper Virgins” commercials. In those commercials, Burger King basically goes around to different remote areas (usually where tribal and nomad people are known to live) in order to give them a bite of Burger King’s Whopper burger. According to Burger King’s reasoning, these remote groups who have been isolated from the now globalized culture are certainly deprived since they have not ever eaten at Burger King. Burger King labels these social and uncultured noobs (from Burger King’s perspective) as “Whopper Virgins” – who should be immediately “deflowered” with a Whopper burger. Now, the word “virgin” has a total different meaning than it did a long time ago in our society. The word “virgin” used to carry a sense of respect, something that must be protected, chastity is sacred, etc. (although this type of approach can be dangerous also to a degree in the sense that, in its extreme, it becomes wholly fascinated with and monitoring a woman’s sexuality and sexual relations—thereby, equating her honor only with her sexuality—which often ruined women’s lives if they acted “loose” in some cultures…this practice still continues in some places today). Now, there is a sense of stigma if a person is still a virgin. This person must be deflowered immediately! (ha-ha!). I gather that it now has a sense that a person is depriving themselves of something good. So a virgin is someone that is depriving him/herself of something nice. In Burger King’s case, they are suggesting that these remote groups (with their own culture, beliefs, and mores) are in a sense deprived by not experiencing what is good (i.e., haven’t eaten a Whopper burger in their life…Heavens forbid!). This type of commercial sends out a message that these “virgins” are uncultured in that they have not heard of Burger King. The only solution to this grave problem? Stick a Whopper burger in them so we won’t have to feel sorry for these people. “Certainly, these people must be deprived for not ever having eaten Burger King before!” Of course, Burger King wants to send out a message to us to come to their restaurants and buy their products, but one cannot escape thinking that it’s sending out a message that a certain remote group is depriving itself of what we (Americans) are taking for granted. It sends out a message that another group because they do not eat a certain way are, in a sense, deprived.

Another commercial that I watched recently is the Nutrisystem commercial. In it, Dan Marino and Larry the Cable Guy talk about how they lost weight by eating Nutrisystem’s products. The foods that are displayed in the commercial all have meat in them and appear to be ridiculously fatty. But here’s the catch, Marino and Larry claim that they are not fatty at all and that they help you to lose weight. They claim that this is food for “men” – implying that these foods with meat in them are “men’s” food. Although Nutrisystem does have separate commercials with women in them and feature the same food (although in these they are in a fuzzy background), they are not featured prominently as in the commercial with Marino and Larry in them. This type of commercial only suggests that meaty and hearty food are inseparable for men’s diet and what better way to send out that message by having some two manly men say that it is and that they have lost weight doing so? I don’t know remember whether it was Bartky or Bailey who wrote the article that my vegan friend suggested I read who said that in our culture when men turn vegetarians or turn m0re “green” in their eating habits; they are chastised as being weak – implying that they are not “manly.” And if we look at women, we expect them to eat less and have a small amount of food on their plates in social gatherings; and if they do have a lot of food on their plates, we expect them not to finish it all. We also expect them to chew in small amounts and thoughtfully for Christ’s sake! – as thought by those horrible bourgeois etiquette classes. These social attitudes instill a sense of them being watched and if they are not watched, hopefully they will monitor themselves…they become their own personal Panopticon with their own personal surveillance in order to conform to a behavior that is expected from them. This leads us to “Exhibit C”.

The next commercial that I came across was the 100-calories Oreo commercial. In it, a bunch of women go, for a lack of a better word, insane. They all collectively start running towards something. We soon find out that it is a truck that has 100-calories Oreo packs. Although there is a man in a commercial (standing next to the woman at the bus stop who reacts as if it has just been announced that there’s world peace), he does not participate in the excited mob and is utterly confused. This commercial is blatantly sexist. It shows that Oreos are now in a 100-calories pack and that if women eat this, they won’t balloon out of proportion – because, otherwise, that would of course be a tragedy. It sends out a message that women should be concerned with their weight and therefore should buy their product because it won’t make them fat. This type of commercial, where only women run after the truck, send out a message that women should be concerned about their form and should do their best to monitor their weight in order to be attractive (to who?), thereby indubitably reminding women and pressuring them to remember their “duties” and “obligations.”

Besides the interplay of food and identity in the global context (i.e., the Burger King commercial) and gender identity (i.e., the Nutrisystem and 100-calories Oreo commercials), food and identity also are acquainted in the national and religious context.

On the national scene, a country’s food is an integral part of its identity. Nations take pride over their food and eating habits. They then take offense if a person of their own group disparages or shows a particular dislike towards his/her own national food. Of course the response (or the lack of it) may vary across different countries as it depends upon the makeup of each country. If the country is highly multinational, then the response may be less strong (although it may be a different story when it comes to the ethnic response), however where the makeup is homogenous, then the response may be a bit sharper. By abandoning the food of one’s country, a person risks of being castigated for not being proud of one’s heritage. Food plays a great role also when it comes to marriage! I know personally of some Pakistani families, who when they go to the home of the woman’s family (the former is looking for a wife for their son), are interested in wanting to know how the woman cooks and this includes traditionally national or ethnic food. Nationals of various countries also mock one another for the way the other eats. A case in point would be how some ignorant Pakistanis think they are somehow socially and culturally superior to Bengalis when they claim and make fun of Bengalis by saying how the latter always eat fish and does not have a variety in their meals as the former does. Of course, this is entirely false but it’s something that is supposed to elevate a false sense of superiority of one group over another.

In another way food and identity play a role is in the religious context. Religions of various worlds have their own set of guidelines for what is permissible and non-permissible for their respective believers to eat. And if one violates these set of rules, then this person is not a good believer in the minds of the holy. For example, if a Muslim eats pork or eats meat of an animal that is not killed in the religiously sanctioned way, then that person is not a “good” Muslim and has committed a sinful act. The same thing goes for restrictions in the Jewish, Hindu, Jain, and other great faiths. Food can generate a different type of religious identity within a religion itself. For example, the Western Church and the Greek Church dispute over which bread should be used in their liturgical services. Another example would be when a Muslim declares himself to be a vegetarian and is faced with outright admonishment by some members of his faith because the others think he is going against the eating practices of Prophet Muhammad (and also meat plays a great role in the religion such as the ritual slaughtering of animals for religious holidays or joyous occasions); and if that person is avoiding meat for ethical reasons, some of the faith would chastise him for thinking that his way is superior or more ethical than the practices of the Prophet Muhammad, which of course would be outright insulting, if not blasphemous.

As we can see, food and identity are linked together in that the former can have a strong influence upon the development of the latter. Identity then maintains and perpetuates a certain eating habit that is particular to it. This, of course, is not to say that the way we view food determines the way we identify ourselves – other factors are involved as well. To think of how putting some type of food in our mouths that we are particularly fond of might have some social implications underlying it may sound asinine at first. However, when we see the exploitive efforts used by advertisers t0 take advantage of social myths and stereotypes in order to market and sell their products, we then realize how true it can be in certain instances. 

Currently listening to: Mozart – Piano Concertos 20, 21, 23, 24, 25 (performed by Vladimir Ashkenazy and the Philharmonia Orchestra) 

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January 23, 2009

Poetry Fridays: Don’t Ask Me for That Love Again

Filed under: Uncategorized — galileehitchhiker @ 1:51 pm
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The great Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz

The great Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Sorry for being MIA for the past two weeks. I have been incredibly busy with school (yes, the 9th circle of hell opened on the 12th of this month) and also with work. So after I get home, I rarely have the strength to post something. But I will try my best to do so regularly.

Yesterday night, I read a review of a new book that is coming out (or already has come out) about the life of Arthur Rimbaud, one of my favorite poets ever. The book focuses mostly on the stormy affair between Rimbaud and the poet Paul Verlaine. After reading the review of the book (which the critic panned), it made me realize how long it has been since I’ve read poetry — or a single poem for that matter! For this reason, I’ve decided to dedicate this blog on Fridays to poetry, thereby forcing me to read a poem. I’ll post poems that are my favorite ones and that have in a sense moved me, thereby hoping that they’ll have the same kind of impact on you. So to start it off, here’s a poem that was written by a Pakistani poet that will always be dear to my heart:

“Don’t Ask Me for That Love Again” by Faiz Ahmed Faiz

That which then was ours, my love,
don’t ask me for that love again.
The world then was gold, burnished with light —
and only because of you. That’s what I had believed.
How could one weep for sorrows other than yours?
How could one have any sorrow but the one you gave?
So what were these protests, these rumors of injustice?
A glimpse of your face was evidence of springtime.
The sky, wherever I looked, was nothing but your eyes.
If You’d fall into my arms, Fate would be helpless.

All this I’d thought, all this I’d believed.
But there were other sorrows, comforts other than love.
The rich had cast their spell on history:
dark centuries had been embroidered on brocades and silks.
Bitter threads began to unravel before me
as I went into alleys and in open markets
saw bodies plastered with ash, bathed in blood.
I saw them sold and bought, again and again.
This too deserves attention. I can’t help but look back
when I return from those alleys –what should one do?
And you still are so ravishing –what should I do?
There are other sorrows in this world,
comforts other than love.
Don’t ask me, my love, for that love again.

A good analysis of the poem is found here.

Currently listening to: John Coltrane – Giant Steps

January 10, 2009

The Yassa and Bankruptcy

Filed under: Uncategorized — galileehitchhiker @ 8:05 pm
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Genghis Khan

Genghis Khan

I’ve recently become interested in bankruptcy law. I guess it came while updating and reading some excerpts from Professor Resnick‘s Collier volumes that are in one of the libraries in the firm. I guess it also came when I found out that one of the attorneys in the law firm I work in is going to be teaching at Hofstra this semester on debtor and creditor rights. Feeling a little pressure within me to narrow down my interests and figuring out what field in law I want to adopt when I graduate, I became curious about bankruptcy law in the United States and started googling some information about it. I came upon this Web site about Yassa, which is a secret code of law created by Genghis Khan, the founder of the Mongolian Empire. The Web site contains some excerpts from historians about the Yassa. One of them I found particularly interesting. It is that of the famous 14th/15th century Egyptian historian al-Maqrizi, who, knowing that the task of analyzing the Yassa would be too great since no copies of it were made available (since it was a secret yet the principal law of the land), made a list of what the Yassa entailed:

1. An adulterer is to be put to death without any regard as to whether he is married or not.

2. Whoever is guilty of sodomy is also to be put to death.

3. Whoever intentionally lies, or practices sorcery, or spies upon the behavior of others, or intervenes between the two parties in a quarrel to help the one against the other is also to be put to death.

4. Whoever urinates into water or ashes is also to be put to death.

5. Whoever takes goods (on credit) and becomes bankrupt, then again takes goods and again becomes bankrupt, then takes goods again and yet again becomes bankrupt is to be put to death after the third time.

6. Whoever gives food or clothing to a captive without the permission of his captor is to be put to death.

7. Whoever finds a runaway slave or captive and does not return him to the person to whom he belongs is to be put to death.

8. When an animal is to be eaten, its feet must be tied, its belly ripped open and its heart squeezed in the hand until the animal dies; then its meat may be eaten; but if anyone slaughter an animal after the Mohammedan fashion, he is to be himself slaughtered.

9. If in battle, during an attack or a retreat, anyone let fall his pack, or bow, or any luggage, the man behind him must alight and return the thing fallen to its owner; if he does not so alight and return the thing fallen, he is to be put to death.

10. Chingis Khan decided that no taxes or duties should be imposed upon fakirs, religious devotees, lawyers, physicians, scholars, people who devote themselves to prayer and asceticism, muezzins and those who wash the bodies of the dead.

11. He ordered that all religions were to be respected and that no preference was to be shown to any of them. All this he commanded in order that it might be agreeable to Heaven.

12. He forbade his people to eat food offered by another until the one offering the food tasted of it himself, even though one be a prince and the other a captive; he forbade them to eat anything in the presence of another without having invited him to partake of the food; he forbade any man to eat more than his comrades, and to step over a fire on which food was being cooked or a dish from which people were eating.

13. When a wayfarer passes by people eating, he must alight and eat with them without asking for permission, and they must not forbid him this.

14. He forbade them to dip their hands into water and ordered them to use some vessel for the drawing of water.

15. He forbade them to wash their clothes until they were completely worn out.

16. He forbade them to say of anything that it was unclean, and insisted that all things were clean and made no distinction between the clean and unclean.

17. He forbade them to show preference for any sect, to pronounce words with emphasis, to use honorary titles; when speaking to the Khan or anyone else simply his name was to be used.

18. He ordered his successors to personally examine the troops and their armament before going to battle, to supply the troops with everything they needed for the campaign and to survey everything even to needle and thread, and if any of the soldiers lacked a necessary thing that soldier was to be punished.

19. He ordered women accompanying the troops to do the work and perform the duties of the men while the latter were absent fighting.

20. He ordered the warriors, on their return from the campaign (battle) to carry out certain duties in the service of the Khan.

21. He ordered them to present all their daughters to the Khan at the beginning of each year that he might choose some of them for himself and his children.

22. He put leaders, (princes/bogatyrs/generals/noyans) at the head of the troops and appointed commanders of thousands, hundreds, and tens.

23. He ordered that the oldest of the leaders, if he had committed some offence, was to give himself up to the messenger sent by the sovereign to punish him, even if he was the lowest of his servants; and prostrate himself before him until he had carried out the punishment prescribed by the sovereign, even if it be to put him to death.

24. He forbade military leaders to address themselves to anyone except the sovereign. Whoever addressed himself to anyone but the sovereign was to be put to death, and anyone changing his post without permission was also to be put to death.

25. He ordered the Khan to establish permanent postal communications in order that he might be informed in good time of all the events of the country.

26. He ordered his son Chagatai to see that the Yasa was observed.

While there is no doubt that most of the demands made by the legal prescriptions of the Yassa are barbaric, for our purposes read #5 again. Under Genghis Khan’s law, the debtor would be put to death if he “files” for bankruptcy for the third time! This certainly would have made the life of the counsel for the creditor much easier. At times, it is really frustrating to comprehend that the law is not immutable, that it can change at any time (I am willing to bet that if there’s anything that people want to be permanent and unchangeable in society, it would be the law. The reason is because there are so many interests at stake when the law changes. That’s why people get worked up over the decisions made by the Supreme Court and who’s going to sit on the bench when a spot is available). However, reading about the codes like the Yassa make you grateful that the law is alterable and flexible. It’s not disastrous or catastrophic when the law changes (that is inevitable since we change over time in our ideas about ourselves, our existence, how we relate with one another, and how we should be governed — essentially, the law changes when we change and the argument that the law should be immutable since it is anchored in morality is futile since morality also gets weathered by the deluge of time and by the progressiveness of human thought; in other words, there’s no such thing as the law or morality if there are no humans [what good are law and morality if there are no humans? How can we talk about these concepts if there are no humans?], and since we are creative beings, the law and morality are bound to change). When the law changes, it’s rather an opportunity, a blossoming of society to become more humane or, conversely, more mad.

Currently listening to: Karl Böhm & the Wiener Philharmoniker – Beethoven’s Symphonie no. 9

January 8, 2009

Love is so strange because

Filed under: Uncategorized — galileehitchhiker @ 2:28 am
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Inez forever watches over us and that makes me incredibly sad.

Currently listening to: Mission of Burma – A Gun to the Head: A Selection from the Ace of Hearts Era

January 4, 2009

Lightness v. Weight

Filed under: Uncategorized — galileehitchhiker @ 7:32 pm
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The writer Milan Kundera

The writer Milan Kundera

I found this following excerpt to be rather interesting. It’s Part I, Chapter 2 of Milan Kundera’s novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being:

If every second of our lives recurs an infinite number of times, we are nailed to eternity as Jesus Christ was nailed to the cross. It is a terrifying prospect. In the world of eternal return the weight of unbearable responsibility lies heavy on every move we make. That is why Nietzsche called the idea of eternal return the heaviest of burdens (das schwerste Gewicht).

If eternal return is the heaviest of burdens, then our lives can stand out against it in all their splendid lightness.

But is heaviness truly deplorable and lightness splendid?

The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But in the love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by the man’s body. The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life’s most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become.

Conversely, the absolute absence of a burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into the heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant.

What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?

Parmenides posed this very question in the sixth century before Christ. He saw the world divided into pairs of opposites: light/darkness, fineness/coarseness, warmth/cold, being/nonbeing. One half of the opposite he called positive (light, fineness, warmth, being), the other negative. We might find this division into positive and negative poles childishly simple except for one difficulty: which one is positive, weight or lightness?

Parmenides responded: lightness is positive, weight negative.

Was he correct or not? That is the question. The only certainty is: the lightness/weight opposition is the most mysterious, most ambiguous of all.

Currently listening to: The Doors – Morrison Hotel

January 2, 2009

Walking with al-Ghazali through the storm

Filed under: Uncategorized — galileehitchhiker @ 8:47 pm
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For the past two years I have been experiencing a spiritual crisis within. It’s not that I had given up faith but I felt as if my devotion was built on shaky foundations. I didn’t feel anything through my devotion — to the point that I felt I was only complying with my lips but not with my heart. I felt as if the world all around me was a serene ocean and I had extracted energy from it only to expedite the storms brewing within me. With these storms, I unleashed their terrible fury upon all that I loved and cared about. And after the damage was done, did I truly benefit? And when everything’s in rubble, why do the storms remain? And where will they go to satiate their hunger after all’s been destroyed and lies in ruins? On the first day of the Islamic calendar, I started reading al-Ghazali’s The Deliverance From Error (his spiritual autobiography which a friend gave to me), and finished reading it on the first day of the Gregorian calendar. Within this period of emptiness and unchartered territory, a space no one claims, I felt I had a rebirth within me. It was so refreshing to read al-Ghazali’s words. It’s amazing when a small book can communicate a wealth of information. It’s like being in a never-visited-before garden, running around madly with arms outstretched parallel to your sides, feeling the sadness of the petals brush against your fingertips, and then you stop when one flower catches your eye. You look at it and say to yourself that certainly another flower within this small garden cannot be prettier than the one you now behold in your hands. You gently tear this one from what you perceive to be its loneliness, and as you exit, you realize that you were wrong. There is another that is prettier. You tear that one and then it goes on — until there’s nothing left but stalks which reveal the painful subtleties underneath the beautiful wonders hidden within your hands. The same goes for al-Ghazali’s book. Within it were flowers of blossoming ideas and when you took them and tried to understand them, you realize the pain al-Ghazali went through to overcome his spiritual crisis. I found someone I could relate with and have a dialogue with. Even though there are some points of his that I felt are outdated, laughable, erroneous, and weak, I know that I’ve found a companion that’ll be by my side for the rest of my life. (What good are your heroes if you can’t laugh at and pity them?) After reading al-Ghazali’s spiritual autobiography, the storms have gone away and I feel as serene as the ocean I once manipulated. All I hope is that what I’m feeling within me is the opening of an eye of new understanding, and not the eyes of my hurricanes. Insha’Allah.

I think the next posts I’m going to do are going to be on al-Ghazali’s views on a handful of topics that he covers in his The Deliverance From Error. Three to be exact: philosophy, Sufism, and prophecy. Although al-Ghazali does talk about kalam (Islamic scholastic theology) and the Ta’limites (the Isma’ilis, I believe), I’m not going to cover them in those posts because I feel as if I’d truly had a dialogue with al-Ghazali on the three topics mentioned above. I’m now reading Shaykh Abdul-Qadir Jilani’s Revelations of the Unseen. I hope to have the same life-changing dialogue with him as I’ve had the one with al-Ghazali.

P.S. I watched Godard’s film Le Mépris (English: Contempt) today. I have eternally fallen in love with Brigitte Bardot (even though she’s not a big fan of Muslims), but I wish deep inside that I had also fallen in love with and had picked up a video camera when I was younger. Instead of being in law school, I should be in a film school somewhere mixing my love for art, philosophy, literature, poetry, colors, waves, the breeze that comes after the rain, music, the desert, parking garages and lots, a leaf struggling through the cracked concrete together with my thoughts, desires, boyish romances! & dreams! & fantasies!, hopes, and tears.

Currently listening to: Cat Power – You Are Free

January 1, 2009

A Really Good Joke

Filed under: Uncategorized — galileehitchhiker @ 5:00 pm
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I found this joke to be really cute:

Man goes to doctor. Says he’s depressed. Says life seems harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world where what lies ahead is vague and uncertain. Doctor says “Treatment is simple. Great clown Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go and see him. That should pick you up.” Man bursts into tears. Says “But Doctor…I am Pagliacci.”

– From Rorshach‘s journal in the Watchmen book, Chapter II.

Happy New Year’s, guys!

Currently listening to: The Strokes – First Impressions of Earth

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