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Response to PUNISHER #1 Review

Another response to my PUNISHER #1 review:

>> To say that Mr. Ennis didn't expect a reaction similar to yours to surface would be silly, I guess. <<

I'm sure he did. Luckily, I can back my position with both factual evidence and logical arguments. Too bad he can't.

>> I myself reviewed issue #3 of the same series on my own site (www.destroy-all-monsters.com) and, although I was not particularly enamored of the book either, it was for the exact opposite reason...i.e., I felt the book was not violent enough. <<

Would it help if the comic came with a free Saturday Night Special or switchblade? Why not, since kids with good parents won't misuse these weapons and kids with bad parents will lash out no matter what? According to you, that is.

But I agree with you. It's a shame Daredevil didn't pummel the Punisher, then take him in for murder. We can attribute that omission to Ennis's admitted disdain for superheroes, his unfamiliarity with DD's superior abilities, and his deteriorating writing skills. See my review of PUNISHER #3 for more on the subject.

>> as a child (my parents were very liberal about such things; my dad, being Filipino, thought nothing of letting us watch ultra-violent Japanese Chambara films, which I thank him for even today), but somehow I seem to have turned out all right. <<

This is an incredibly old and tired argument. The short answer is that you don't represent all of society. For more on the subject, visit The Evidence Against Media Violence.

>> The reason is that my parents raised me to know the difference between reality and what is on the screen. <<

That all parents can control all children is another old and tired argument. Again, I've already addressed it. For more on the subject, visit Are Parents Responsible for Their Kids' Violence?

>> Now, given, many children today are not raised to know this difference. <<

Let's assume parents are the only problem—which they're not. What's your proposed solution?

>> But, by removing such 'harmful influences' as these from our surroundings, we are merely treating the symptom, not the disease. <<

As any doctor will tell you, if you can't treat the disease, at least treat the symptoms. Do what you can, IOW.

People will keep killing
>> When people are still killing each other and we are left wonder 'Well, what do we do now? We got rid of all the 'bad things' and people are still violent shits...' <<

I'm waiting for the day when you implement whatever it is you think will make bad parents into good ones. You'll be left to wonder, "Well, what do we do now? We made everyone a perfect parent and people are still 'violent shits'...."

>> Maybe then we'll be forced to deal with the real issues which create violence...poverty, lack of education, the inability of parents to deal with/control their children's behavior. <<

I'm dealing with the first two problems by stumping for liberal policies and voting Democratic. What are you doing about them besides wishing for more violent comics? As for the third problem, I'm jawboning parents to look more closely at their kids' comics. I await your solution with bated breath.

>> Is it JUST possible that we could raise our children not to be complete assholes? <<

You tell me, and tell me how to do it. While you're at it, explain why this generation of parents is so allegedly bad. If today's parents are to blame for today's children, isn't the previous generation of parents to blame for today's parents? How is any other answer possible if you blame a child's problems on his parents?

Yawn. I already addressed this argument too—at http://www.bluecorncomics.com/punish1.htm. If you can come up with an original answer, please feel free. I'm tired of people who offer sound bites ("blame the parents") without thinking them through.

>> Every time a study is released that shows the harmful effects of video games, I scoff. <<

I scoff at non-intellectuals who are unwilling to see the evidence in front of their faces. But then, Americans are well-known for their disdain of intelligence. That's why someone (Mencken, I believe) coined the phrase "Boobus Americanus."

>> Everyone I know plays video games, and pretty violent ones, too. But I have yet to see a single one of my acquaintances turn to violence. <<

I'm talking about a society of 265 million people and you're talking about you and a hundred or so acquaintances? Can you say "irrelevant"?

>> Most of them are well adjusted, make good incomes, and have very good home lives. <<

So who are these bad parents you're talking about, if all your acquaintances are such model citizens? If you claim "bad parents" exist, you also admit your sample of acquaintances is unrepresentative of society as a whole. For which I thank you kindly.

Violent people have "screw loose"
>> Those whose seek satisfaction in acts of violence have got to already have a screw loose somewhere before any given film, video game, or comic book will 'push them over the edge'. <<

Uh-huh, sure. If violence is caused by "loose screws," why doesn't the same violence happen the world over? Are we Americans—I mean the white Anglo-Saxon Protestants who keep shooting up our schools—genetically inferior to people in other countries? If that's your theory, it's a novel one, but I'm willing to consider it. Please elucidate.

>> Violence has been with humanity for all of our history. It pre-dates comic books, movies, video games...any form of media you wish to name. <<

Violence varies from era to era and from location to location. It's much worse in the US today than almost everywhere else. But golly, I've addressed this argument already too. Check it out in Is Violence Endemic to Humans?

>> Matter of fact, I would hazard to guess that there are fewer homicides per capita now then, say in 19th century London. <<

I'd hazard to say that's irrelevant. Meanwhile, we know there are fewer homicides in London today than in any major American metropolis. What does that suggest?

Should we require US parents to go to Britain for training? What about eliminating the private ownership of guns, as Britain has done? The British and other European governments are more socialist than our, so could that be the answer? Pray tell.

>> Comic books like the Punisher do not cause violence, and more than music, television, or books. <<

I've never said media violence causes real violence. In fact, you can find a half dozen disclaimers to that effect on my site. What I have said is that media violence desensitizes us to violence, and thus encourages it. That's a subtle but real distinction.

>> Violence is the result of a failure to be taught how to deal with adversarial situations, and this responisbilty lies with the parents of this nation <<

Once again, what caused this failure in our parents? Once again, why shouldn't we blame their parents for not raising them right? When you have an answer to any of these questions, please let me know.


The debate continues....
>> Hey, Rob! I thought you hadn't gotten my e-mail. Thanks for responding. <<

I generally respond, especially to polite people like you. But I can't spend too much of my time debating old comics. Hence the long delays.

>> Okay, he put a sort of 'disclaimer' in the back of the first issue, but from what I understand of Mr. Ennis, he's a somewhat apolitical guy, and I really don't think that The Punisher is intended to be any sort of essay on the causes or effects of violence. <<

It's not an essay, but I'd call it a statement. As you noted, Ennis took a page in the back to explain himself. In particular, he called people who disagreed with him "morons." I'd say that's someone who's throwing down a gantlet, spoiling for a fight, making a case.

>> Claiming that Ennis can't 'back his argument' seems a little specious, as I don't think that he is trying to start one. <<

I have to disagree with that. He's staking out a position, telling us he's right and we're wrong. If he's going to do that, my response is "Prove it."

>> I think his only intention was to write an entertaining book <<

An entertaining book that advances his agenda that violence is acceptable, even beneficial, in our society. Which bolsters him and his career because that's what he specializes in, writing violence. Convenient, no?

>> on which count The Punisher was somewhat lackluster. <<

"Somewhat" is putting it mildly, unless you consider killing entertaining.

>> I've never seen a 'drive-by-reading', have you? <<

Obviously not. But as I wrote to another correspondent:

In truth, any one violent comic book probably does very little harm. Similarly, littering one paper cup does very little harm. Cutting off one car in traffic does very little harm. Being rude once to your spouse or coworker does very little harm. Shoplifting one pack of gum does very little harm. Etc.

I trust you see my point. You won't find many studies linking one example of media violence to real violence or one act of shoplifting to a life of crime. Yet we don't see people writing in defense of littering, rudeness, or shoplifting. People instinctively realize these things are wrong.

95% = brain-dead zombies?
>> Who, then, are 'most people'? I get the feeling you assume that 95% of the world's population are brain-dead media zombies capable of committing acts of violence at the drop of a pin. <<

Recall that I said you don't represent "all of society." You may well represent most of society, since most of society doesn't commit violence. Point is, we need to worry about the segment of society you don't represent. That's not the majority, but it's not one lone wacko who goes postal, either.

Who am I talking about? Well, let's go to my site for some of those stats:

"An ABC network study found 22 to 34 percent of young felons imprisoned for violent crimes said they had consciously imitated crime techniques learned from watching television programs."

So 22-34% of young felons are part of the problematical group.

"Media violence not only increases aggression among young viewers, it breeds a callousness toward violence directed at others."

So young viewers in general are a problem. They may not turn violent immediately, but they become callous and insensitive, which may eventually lead them to violence. Even if 99% remain stable, it only takes that 1% to "go crazy" and hurt someone.

"In a survey of 10 to 16-year-olds, 62 percent said sex on TV influences their peers to have sex when they're too young."

So 62% of 10- to 16-year-olds are also part of the problematical group, if we assume sex is as much a problem as violence.

You see? People out there aren't as invulnerable to media sex and violence as you are. We need to worry about them because they can hurt us: by shooting us or by impregnating our daughters. Telling me that you yourself aren't violent doesn't move me, even if it's true.

>> Course, 'ol Horn Head DID resort to shooting Frank Castle. Hmm... <<

I explained why PUNISHER #3 was a phony scenario in my review of it.

>> Still, Ennis' writing skills do seem to be on the wane. The last story arc of Preacher has really been tired. <<

I've read the first three PREACHER TPBs. The third one trailed off enough that I wasn't inspired to buy the fourth.

>> I don't think the parents of this country are solely responsible for the violence in our culture. Good parenting can surely curtail violence, that's what I'm getting at. <<

Curtail yes, eliminate no.

How to handle violent products?
>> But I am left to ask, how should we handle books such as 'The Punisher' or movies like 'Reservoir Dogs'? What is your 'real world' solution for dissuading creative artists from producing this kind of work? <<

These days I don't make up new answers. I've debated this subject so often I simply refer to my old answers.

You can find my general response to what causes violence and what to do about it at the end of America the Warrior Society. It's based on the thoughts of that paragon of wisdom, that intellectual giant, Dr. Joyce Brothers (of all people).

My specific answer is unfortunately not that specific. You can read it in Jawboning as the Best Solution. The problem is that violence is a deep-seated, long-term cultural value, so we need equally deep-seated, long-term change. I don't think we should or even can do anything about individual products such as the PUNISHER comics. But we have to start somewhere, and PUNISHER is as good a place as any.

>> Anyway, once again, how do you propose to 'treat the symptoms'? By 'symptoms' I take it you are referring to Ennis and his ilk...how do you suppose we deal with Mr. Ennis? <<

We can criticize him and his employers, not buy their products, and buy other products instead. Sounds pretty simple but, as many examples have proved, public pressure works. Ennis may not care what people think of him, but Marvel Comics does. A company will take only so much heat before it caves in.

>> But I think its a better argument to say that better parents make better kids than to claim that isolating children from any and all forms of violent media will make better kids. <<

I'm still waiting for your recommendations on how to improve parenting. I've explained how my approach would work—will work, if enough people join in.

>> Does removing all sources of so-called 'desensitizing' violent media make better kids? <<

The evidence from other countries and our own past seems to suggest it.

>> I don't know; no amount of research has ever been done to test the theory. <<

Right, because it's basically impossible to do a valid study on groups as large as "American families" or "countries." We're left guessing at the right answer based on fragments of data.

>> You can argue all day that kids exposed to violent cartoons tend to be more violent <<

I could argue all day, but I think 15 or 30 minutes would be more than enough. <g>

Cartoons were way more violent
>> After all, cartoons were WAY more violent 20 years ago, and we sure didn't seen any school shootings then. <<

We're influenced by a lot more than cartoons. And comics. And the nightly news. I summarized a list of influences in my Warrior Society posting, which you've probably read by now.

>> I'd argue that your average nightly news broadcast has a thousand times more violence that your average comic book or cartoon, and ITS REAL to boot! I say we ban the news media... <<

No, let's jawbone them not to feature crime and disasters more often than they actually occur. The danger-drenched news creates a climate of fear, which leads people to strike out in response. Jawboning is what critics do, and they have the right approach.

>> Hmm, is this a snide insinuation that I am one of these so-called 'non-intellectuals'? <<

Would I insinuate that?

>> How does one become one of these 'intellectuals'? Is it by reading some of them book things I've been hearing about? <<

I don't like to use the word "intellectual" to describe myself, but I haven't come up with a better word. I'm sort of a "pop intellectual," or an "intellectual lite." I welcome any suggestions.

>> Then again, I get the feeling that you consider anyone who disagrees with you a 'non-intellectual'. <<

Let's recall that Ennis started this by calling anyone who disagreed with him a moron. I merely responded, "Where's the evidence, Garth?" Who's disparaging whom in this exchange?

>> "It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to practice either of them." Mark Twain (1835-1910) Ha, I can quote smart people too! <<

Probably a friend or a dog helped you.

>> I ask, what constitutes a good cross section of society? How many people would I have to know to have a valid opinion on this? <<

You need to know something about the problematical groups I mentioned above, that's all.

Correspondent votes Libertarian
>> As for what I am doing besides 'wishing for more violent comics', my answer is that I vote Libertarian. <<

A defender of the conservative status quo who's a Libertarian? Whoa, I'm shocked.

We could get into a whole political discussion here, but I'll resist. Let's just say it's fortunate we'll never elect an ivory-tower Libertarian who has no idea how the real world works.

>> Well, I sure don't know what to make of that, do you? People in the UK are exposed to a lot less violence in media than we are <<

They're being exposed to more American movies, comics, and other value-laden products than ever before. I'm not surprised they're becoming more violent. It would be more surprising if they were becoming less violent despite the increasing Americanization of the world.

Anyway, that's my theory. What's yours? Mad cow disease? Bad parenting virus on the loose? Mass hysteria over Princess Di's death? What? I find your lack of a counter-theory revealing. You're pretty sure exposure to violence isn't a problem...but you don't know what the problem is.

>> I'd have to say that violent criminal acts perpetrated in this country are less caused by a desensitization to violence than they are by factors such as poverty, urban sprawl, etc. <<

Since it's impossible to quantify these things, I can't exactly disagree. What I can do is repeat what I said earlier. Let's deal with all the problems, not just a select few.

I'm not saying to ignore poverty, lack of education, urban sprawl (?), and society's other problems while we concentrate on media violence. Just the opposite. I'm saying to tackle them all, in order of priority. And not with phony "free market" solutions like cutting taxes for the rich.

>> The so called 'culture of violence' in our society is a boogeyman propped up by the political establishment for purposes of control. <<

No, it's a long-established reality. That is, we have a long history of aggressive or violent responses to problems. Unless you think the vast left-wing conspiracy extends far back, "political control" isn't the issue.

>> It sounds really conspiratorial. Oh well...I guess I'm a paranoid freak. <<

You're a Libertarian. I understand.

>> I thought you had the answers. As you pointed out, I'm a dim boob who doesn't read books or take meaningful political action. Please guide me, learned scholar. <<

I've given you some answers. I still don't see any answers from you. Poverty, education, urban sprawl? We're working on them...the Democrats more assiduously than anyone.

But good parenting? You can't prove parents have gone bad, can't explain why they've gone bad, and can't suggest how to make them good again. Considering how rational most Libertarians think they are, you're operating on a whole lotta faith.

So where does that leave us? I guess we'll have to let all those bad parents run wild and infect their kids with violence cooties, since you've yet to address the problem you deem important. Right?


The debate continues....
>> I still think he's not really trying to make a statement with the book. But I must say, after 7 issues, I am curious as to the message Ennis is promulgating. <<

After 12 issues, what do you say?

>> If you're still with the series, you'll notice that Ennis has introduced a handful of 'copycat' killers that seek to emulate his methods. <<

I'm not with the series. I read #1 and #3 and skimmed #2.

>> As the series moves forwards, Ennis seems to be questioning the application of violence as a tool for social change, which I take it you are also against. <<

Yes, I'm against it, unless the violence is absolutely necessary. If Ennis is finally questioning the application of violence, he's only about seven issues too late. If that were part of his story, it should've been evident from #1. If you tell a story badly, you deserve a scathing review.

>> He has not painted the picture of a righteous angel wreaking vengeance on his enemies, but rather a deranged psychopath who has no qualms about using bullets to express his anger. <<

What's the difference between a righteous angel and a deranged psychopath?

To me, the obvious difference is that psychopathology is a mental illness that makes functioning difficult for most people. If Punisher is still killing without consequences, Ennis is glorifying his so-called psychopathology.

Since you called Castle a deranged psychopath, let's compare him to another well-known comic book character who's psychopathic: the Joker. The Joker kills a lot of people, including his criminal opponents. Does that mean he should star in his own glorious 12-issue maxi-series with painted covers?

Maybe, but the difference is this: Batman almost always foils the Joker's schemes. At best, the Joker suffers a humiliating defeat but escapes. At worst, he's back in Arkham Asylum. Either way, he pays a price for thwarting society's rules. He doesn't simply get away with it as Ennis's Punisher has.

Punisher's gotten worse
>> Before, the Punisher's actions were always justified and sanitized. Now we are shown the true face of the vigilante, someone who takes on the role of judge, jury, and executioner. <<

Right. So the previous portrayals were bad enough, but this one is much worse. We can agree on that.

>> All the same, I never hear about Japanese teens cutting their elders or classmates to pieces in school. <<

You aren't paying attention. See The Evidence Against Media Violence for one example. I answer this point in more detail in another Response to PUNISHER #1 Review.

>> But, I have to ask if we are to curtail our right to artistic expression for the sake of public safety <<

Nobody's talking about curtailing anyone's rights. As the expert who disputed Freedman said:

Those who fear censorship of violent content find any criticism of media violence research a convenient device to aid in their battle. What is lost in the shuffle is that most media effects researchers, myself included, do not support governmental censorship of media violence, even in the face of the overwhelming evidence of its harms.

The prevailing view in the scientific community is to encourage greater sensitivity to the issue by producers, and to provide tools to parents to help them identify the content that poses a risk of harm for their children. What troubles social scientists, however, is when those who oppose censorship of media violence attack the veracity of the evidence that violent depictions have any harmful effects.

>> especially when there is no evidence to support the notion that doing so would in any way stop violence from occuring. <<

Since the evidence is overwhelming that media violence causes real-world aggression and violence, it follows that curtailing media violence would curtail real-world aggression and violence. And yes, studies have confirmed this. Stanford researchers recently reported that people can unlearn aggression if they reduce their exposure to violent media.

Should we ban Kubrick?
>> Should Kubrick's film have been banned in the interest of public safety, even though it brought up very pertinent issues directly related to social control to prevent anti-social behaviour? I don't think so. <<

No one is talking about banning anything, much less works that accurately portray violence and its consequences.

>> So we adjust the content of our media available to 100% our population because 1% are creeps? <<

I don't know that 1% is an accurate figure. But yes, it wouldn't hurt to adjust a huge portion of the gratuitous violence in today's media.

>> Where did people learn violent behaviour before television, music, and comic books? <<

So? If other influences were a problem, they're still a problem. And now the media is an added problem. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Let's tackle all the problems, including the media. That includes media violence, the media's emphasis on a woman's body type, and advertising in general.

>> I'm assuming that you are not arguing that these things CREATED violence. <<

It's probably most accurate to say they create callousness and insensitivity. Aggression stems from that, and violence stems from aggression.

>> Why then, if our media has gottem MORE violent over the last few decades has the incidence of violent crime in the U.S. DROPPED? <<

I answered that in my other message.

Crime down...can correspondent explain?
>> "In 1980, it peaked at 10.2 per 100,000 population and subsequently fell off to 7.9 per 100,000 in 1985. It rose again in the late 1980's and early 1990's to another peak in 1991 of 9.8 per 100,000. Since then, the rate has declined sharply, reaching 6.3 per 100,000 by 1998." <<

What's your explanation for the rises and declines? I'm waiting.

Among other things, these rates are affected by the proportion of the population that's young, the decreasing availability of guns, and the move toward proactive "community policing." So? All that tells you is that you can't compare "crime rates" to "media violence" in isolation. Even if crime rates have declined, they might have declined more if the media weren't so violent.

>> Well, okay, watching sex makes me horny. Guess I'm just wired that way. <<

I suspect studies have shown a link there too. I bet exposure to pornography and sex-for-pay increase rape fantasies and reduce civility to women.

We've talked about the Japanese. I read they produce something like 80% of the world's child pornography. They have lower crime rates against women, but they also have a flourishing trade of teenagers selling themselves for sex. And they have less respect for women's and children's rights.

Again, coincidence? If media sex and violence don't affect people, how can child pornography be a problem? Let's act like good libertarians and legalize it, so even our youngest tots can enjoy it too.

>> But watching someone get capped on TV doesn't make me go out and shoot someone. <<

To quote myself:

"So what if you don't become violent? I'm concerned about more than just THE PUNISHER's effects on you. Can you guarantee it won't effect any of the hundreds of thousands of people who pick up a copy of the comic over the next several decades? I don't think so."

>> Anyway, in that ish DD got a hold of one of Punnies pistols. Castle told DD he didn't have the stones to pull the trigger, which DD responded to by shooting Castle. <<

Daredevil shot to wound Castle, you mean. Which is probably what he would've done in PUNISHER #3 if Ennis had written it realistically.

Daredevil a killer?
>> DD made the decision that it was more important to put Castle away by any means necessary than let him run around killing folk. <<

Any means short of killing him, you mean.

>> So, DD has an established history of resorting to deadly force when the opportunity and need present themselves. <<

Force yes, deadly no.

>> But I don't think the Punisher is causing any violent behaviour, and I don't think it ever will. <<

Again, tell me why the US is more violent than other countries.

>> I've seen so many studies thrown out that purport to claim that media 'desensitizes' our children to violence, but not a single one has been able to attribute a single crime to any specific source. <<

You may have seen them, but you obviously haven't grasped their results. Ignoring science makes you what...unscientific? Illogical? Irrational? All of the above?

You want scientists to conduct a study in which they let people commit real crimes based on media violence? I can assure you no scientists will do that since that would make them accessories to a crime. Or as one article put it:

Social scientists have long maintained that it would be unethical to conduct experiments that would prove a direct link to real violence, such as a study in which they expose children to explicit entertainment and wait for them to commit a crime.

>> I must admit that I don't have a solution, I just don't agree with yours. Call this being 'non-constructive' but I guess that's just me. <<

It's non-constructive.

>> Mind giving me some of this evidence? I'd be very interested in seeing it. <<

Start with lower crimes rates and less violent media in the US in the past. Do you dispute these points? If not, what's your explanation, again? If Americans are inherently violent, why haven't US crime rates stayed constant? What's made them increase in the last 25 or 50 years?

>> You just said "The evidence from other countries and our own past seems to suggest it." The above paragraph doesn't do much to support this theory. <<

That's why I said "seems to suggest it" rather than "proves it," or something equally definite. <g>

Correspondent could agree more
>> The danger-drenched news creates a climate of fear, which leads people to strike out in response. Jawboning is what critics do, and they have the right approach. <<

>> I couldn't agree more. <<

Actually, you could agree more. Remember, your position is that the media have zero effect on people's behavior. The media include the nightly news. Why should you agree to jawbone anything, including the nightly news, when it has no effect on people according to you?

>> Actually, I found one of them 'book' things lying around my bookshelf. <<

If someone wrote The Idiot's Guide to Media Violence, would you read it? <g>

>> I hate dogs; I'm more of a cat person. Dogs strike me as being kind of bullish and retarded... <<

I agree with that. But Punisher fans favor big dogs, I'll betcha.

>> Actually, my theory on English violence is rapidly increasing unemployment and a general degredation of living conditions. <<

That may explain why English violence is increasing, but not why it's much lower than in the US. Another explanation for the increase is that we're corrupting English culture by flooding it with McDonald's, Baywatch, Disney movies, violent media products, and other items that make up American culture.

>> Once again, I agree. <<

You agree we should tackle media violence and other social problems?

>> By culture of violence I was speaking of the 'climate of fear' you mentioned above. And yes, for the large part, I do believe its a media fabrication. <<

If we have a "culture of fear," it came from somewhere. Where?

Libertarianism means having faith
>> Considering how rational most Libertarians think they are, you're operating on a whole lotta faith. <<

>> For someone who isn't trying to make this a political issue, you sure are hitting up the 'Libertarian' thing quite a bit. But I'll take the high road here and ignore the jibes. <<

They're not gibes, they're crushing retorts. Most Libertarians gush about how rational and "objectivist" they are, yet here you are saying scientific studies don't matter. You're aware crime rates are high, even if they've declined recently, yet you still offer no solution whatsoever.

So your position is, "I deny the rational evidence and have faith something will happen." Which leaves me curious: Is libertarianism a religion, or what? If the typical libertarian isn't religious, you sure seem to be, since you're essentially taking a religious position.


More on blaming parents
Why parents aren't fully responsible for how their kids turn out.
"Even Howard Stern would have totally approved."
Are Grossman's conclusions based on his own testimony?
"You're not addressing the real problem: parental apathy."
Are PUNISHER buyers "fools" who wasted their money?

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