Talking ‘bout my Generation by Angela Rieck

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I believe that most of us are concerned about the legacy left by the baby boomers (and after baby boomers)…global warming, pollution, the national debt, polarized politics.  

But there is one legacy from my generation that I am extremely proud of.  

Equal rights.

The combination of the protest against the war in Vietnam, the “hippies” movement, civil rights, gay liberation and women’s rights inspired us to raise the national conscious to recognize that none are equal unless all are equal.  

We have made tremendous strides. 

In civil rights we went from a lynching in 1981 to a Black President 27 years later.  Despite tremendous hurdles, African Americans are an important force in politics, professional careers, and sports. In 2019 almost 8% of the students in medical school were black.

When I was in 5th grade, I announced that I wanted to become a physicist.  The entire class laughed. As one student said:

“Girls can only be housewives, teachers or nurses.”

Those barriers have been shattered.  Today over 50% of medical students are female. 

Women did not have access to safe abortions and birth control when I was young.  Today, women have full reproductive freedom.

When I was growing up, homosexual acts were illegal.  Today, gays and lesbians have the right to marry and enjoy full protection under the law.

Our society is freer and more accepting. Fifteen percent of today’s marriages are interracial. We have a Family Medical Leave Act that allows both mothers and fathers to take off from work to care for a newborn. We have eliminated barriers for the handicapped.

Asians and Indians move freely through our society. Twenty one percent of medical students are Asian.

Latinos are moving beyond manual labor jobs.  Six percent of medical students are Latino.

We offer programs such as Head Start to help children raised in less than ideal conditions.

I am exceedingly proud of our legacy.  We have given the next generation opportunities that women and people of color didn’t have when I was growing up.

But I am also fiercely protective of this legacy, with good reason.  

The backlash is always there. Black voter suppression, the 2016 election, anti-abortion state laws, the “wall” are warnings that there are those who conspire to take back our accomplishments.  

We mustn’t let them take away our legacy.

Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.

They Is… by Angela Rieck

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I have been an advocate for gay rights since my teens.  As a teenager struggling to fit in and equally uncomfortable with dating, I unconsciously sought to “date” boys who were gay.  Few admitted it at the time, but it was clear that we were each other’s “beard”.

My eyes were opened to the incredible injustice that gay men and lesbians suffered in 1969 (ironically, the same year as the Stonewall uprising). In my junior year of high school, I went to the University of Kansas to take summer classes in Spanish. There and I “dated” a gay man, who had come out to his friends but not to his family.  To help me understand his life, he took me to a secret gay bar. Hidden in a deteriorating house in a struggling neighborhood, there was no indication of the activity inside. A person guarding the door (from the inside) let me in when my date “vouched” for me. They didn’t care that I was only 17, just that I would be discrete. When I entered, I saw about 30 regular people sitting at the bar and at tables and I was struck by their ordinariness.  

“Everyone here is so NORMAL.”  I exclaimed in wonder to my date. 

Apparently, I said it loudly because the customers turned to look at me and saw an incredulous, young, naïve girl. They laughed and graciously came over to share their stories. 

I was surprised to learn that they were just like everyone else: schoolteachers, a principal, an executive, several military men, a salesman, nurses, women who worked in offices.  Some were married, others divorced, only a few had always been single. They had one thing in common. Absolute fear of being discovered.

At that time, homosexuality was considered a mental illness and was a crime in most states.  If they were discovered, they faced imprisonment, losing their jobs and humiliating their families. 

I never forgot how difficult their lives were and the injustice that they faced if they lived their truth.

As our nation has evolved, acceptance has spread to the transsexual community and to people who choose not to define themselves by gender (non-binary). “Non-binary” individuals do not wish to be defined as either male or female.  

This is where the problem occurs. The English language has never been great with indefinite pronouns. Traditionally, he or him has been the default pronoun for a person with nonspecific gender.

I have struggled with the use of the male pronoun, thinking that it was inherently (albeit unintentionally) sexist.  My solution has been to randomly interchange he/him or she/her for the indefinite pronoun. Not a particularly good solution.

The problem is solved by using “they” as a singular pronoun and “their” as the object.  Which brings us to the awkward “they is”.

Many colleges today ask incoming students to identify their pronoun: he/she/they.

Dictionaries have followed suit. Merriam-Webster, the Oxford English Dictionary, and the American Heritage Dictionary have recently added notes supporting the use of the singular “they” for a person whose gender we don’t know. 

Some usage is easy for me.  For example:

If Lisa or John had time, I would contact them. (The correct pronoun is “him”.)

In fact, “they is” solves a lot of problems.

But it just doesn’t sound right and I stumble when I try to use it.  Over 60 years of grammatical training cannot be undone so easily.

Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.

Fear for Sale by Angela Rieck

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Fear.  

Politics depends on it.  The conservative news stations sell it.  PBS and NPR give it away. Political Action Committees and Nonprofits thrive on it. Special interest groups milk it. 

It overwhelms us. It causes us to lose our ability to process rationally.

Why? 

We know that fear causes an automatic reaction by the limbic system. The thalamus, amygdala, cortex and hippocampus set up fear pathways.  Once the pathways are in place, our brain short-circuits more rational processing paths and reacts immediately. In this overactive state, we perceive and store events in biased fashion. 

Our world becomes a much scarier place. Our ability to regulate emotions, read nonverbal cues, and process information rationally is diminished. 

Continuous exposure to fear weakens our long-term memory and causes chronic feelings of anxiety; fatigue, chronic depression, accelerated aging and even premature death. 

But we don’t have to accept it. We can learn to control our response to it.  

That is not what special interest groups want, so they continue to ratchet up the fear, because it brings ratings, funding, votes.  

But what it really does is take away our humanity and makes us reactionary.

For example, I watch nature documentaries, but it seems that at the end of every show, I am bombarded with fear—extinction, elimination of environment due to climate, poachers, corrupt government.  

Ratcheting up this fear desensitizes me to the real challenges that we face. Climate change is real, there is no longer any debate about it, but it is also true that scientists are rewarded for attaching phenomena to global warming.  They are featured in documentaries, have papers published, receive necessary funding. Yet the trend to blame unusual events on global warming diminishes the very real threats that exist.  

On the conservative side, one of the most egregious simplifications is blaming immigration for the loss of jobs. It flies in the face of the facts.  Wall Street, our tax code, executive compensation, politicians, and an absence of business conscience all conspired to offshore millions and millions of jobs.  Blaming it on an easy victim doesn’t fix it, it only heightens our fear responses and prevents us from addressing root causes.

What do we do?  We have several choices. First, we can stop listening to fear-based stories, but that could cause us to ignore serious issues.  A better, more complicated option is to “feel the fear,”question the story (“is it accurate, is it an exaggeration, is it conjecture?”), search for the truth and make a plan to address it.  

For example, I am concerned about climate change.  I cannot fix it. But I can utilize the Buddhist principle that “a jug fills drop by drop.” So the little things that I CAN do both reduce my fear and help the environment. I can vote for candidates who prioritize climate change. I can turn off a light (that might not make a big difference, but what if everyone did it?). I now make weekly goals to help the environment.  This week my goal is to drive 10 miles less, turn up my thermostat, buy organic foods. Little things, yes, but imagine if everyone did them?

We cannot predict the future. But if we live in fear of it, we will not be able to address it. We will only become more polarized, less objective and continue down the dismal path that we are following.

Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.

On Mental Illness by Angela Rieck

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The New York Times recently reported that researchers were able to create some form of brain function in slaughtered pigs whose brain cells had been deprived of oxygen and nutrients for 4 hours. What type of brain activity, they don’t know. What are the implications for human brains? We don’t know.

But it highlights how little we know about the brain. Only in the past 40 years, with new scanning tools and new understanding of neurotransmitters that are critical for synaptic connection have we been able to gain some insight into our brains.  

As we learn more about the brain, it has also changed our view of mental illness and disabilities.  Which is good. When I was in graduate school in the late 70s, I chose not to become a clinical psychologist because at the time, Freudian psychotherapy was significantly flawed as a treatment model (especially for women and children) and an equally deficient operant conditioning model was gaining traction.  I saw both as seriously inadequate and, in the case of psychotherapy, dangerous.

By the early 70s psychotherapists had taken Freudian analysis to ridiculous applications with significant repercussions for women.  Mothers were blamed for most psychological and many physical ailments. Mothers were blamed for homosexuality, autism, schizophrenia and, wait for it, even autoimmune diseases such as asthma.  

I developed asthma before I was six months old, yet the belief was that my mother’s maternal care was to blame and NOT my exposure to secondhand smoke from my smoking father. (Not to blame him either, no one considered the impact of secondhand smoke at the time.)  Women who went through treatment sessions to help their mentally ill children tell horror stories of how they were blamed for their children’s conditions and desperately tried to change their mothering style, yet these “diseases” remained, and they were blamed.

The operant conditioning model promoted by Skinner and James was no better.  Especially in the case of neurotransmitter and brain malformation conditions where behavior modification has limited impact.

Fortunately, cognitive behaviorism and positive psychology have emerged and offer an effective and pragmatic tool for treating some conditions.  

More importantly, brain research has revealed that many people with mental illness (such as depression) have depressed levels of key neurotransmitters such as serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine.  Psychiatry provides expertise in medications that can aid in restoring the brain to normal levels. There are new treatments like TMS that utilize technology to restore brain function.

But there is still a lot we don’t know about the brain.  Mental illness impacts all of us. Almost half in the US will experience mental illness, usually depression, at some point in their lives.  46% of the homeless have some form of mental illness. Mentally ill individuals have been responsible for mass shootings. Seventy percent of youths in detention are mentally ill.  

Mental illness has been with us as long as we have recorded history. Arguably the smartest man in history, Sir Isaac Newton, is believed to have suffered from Asperger’s syndrome and bipolar mental illnesses. Many famous artists and musicians, such as Handel, were believed to be bipolar; and Freud, himself, who created the culture of blaming women suffered from depression and drug addiction.  Lincoln suffered from clinical depression; Charles Darwin was an agoraphobic and perhaps, Asperger’s syndrome; Van Gogh and Zelda Fitzgerald likely suffered from schizophrenia.

Many great historical figures have been successful despite or because of their mental illness.  Handel wrote the Messiah during a two-week manic episode.

The impact of mental illness on its sufferers, caregivers and society is enormous.  

There is good news. Our approach to mental illness has improved.  We recognize that these are diseases and not deficiencies of character. We have learned not to blame the victim.  We have made a lot of progress in the treatment and understanding of mental illness, and yet we have such a long, long way to go.

Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.

Our Time by Angela Rieck

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Our Time

 

It is disheartening to see the current presidential landscape. Both the Republican and Democratic front runners are senior citizens.  As a fellow senior citizen, I am disappointed.

In negotiating this thing called retirement, one of the hardest adjustments for me was giving up power.  Working gave me a financial reward, a social incentive, and, often, a major ego boost. As an executive and a board president, I found that frankly, just my showing up in a room was cause for celebration.  People listened to me, some admired me, but all respected me. I’ll admit, it was intoxicating. But throughout this time, I tried to remember that it was the position that was being respected and not necessarily the person.

Retirement, on the other hand, has proven to be a difficult adjustment, probably because it was unexpected and unplanned. (I retired to care for my late husband.) I had enjoyed my career; I couldn’t envision not having one.

I remember Bill Clinton’s lament after leaving office that his phone had stopped ringing. Retirement offers no harried schedule, no one to meet, no business trip to travel to, no conference to attend, no speech to give, no one to manage my daily activities and, no one to boss around.  

In retirement, our worth is not measured by a salary or adulation. It is measured by our ability to appreciate all that we have been given.

I believe it is critical that we retire and relinquish power to the next generation; to take time to reflect, to savor the things that we never had time to enjoy.  It is an opportunity to appreciate life, relationships and cherish them before they are taken away.

More importantly, it is our duty to give the next generation a chance to determine the world that they will live in.  They, not us, will live in a world with climate change, population growth, declining fossil fuel reserves and scarcer water resources.  They will fund social security and Medicare. They will suffer the consequences of civil and women’s rights being chipped away. And they will have to shoulder the burden of the rapidly accelerating national debt.

Our generation has the wealth, the connections, the privileges and the resources to remain in power.  But it is nobler for us to give this up, to let the next generation govern.

It is time to check our egos, step down and let the next generation determine its own fate.

Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.

Listening to Children by Angela Rieck

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HBO released a special on the Olympic Gymnastics and Michigan State child molestation scandal. Called “At the Heart of Gold”, it chronicles the triumph of these little girls over Dr. Larry Nassar, the Olympic team physician and Michigan State professor who pled guilty to child abuse. He is alleged to have abused 500 girls at Michigan State University, the local high school, gymnastic camps and programs, and friends.

What is tragic is that 17 brave girls reported this independently to Michigan State officials and were ignored, including one as early as 1997. This 15-year old victim refused to back down until the Michigan State gymnastics coach bullied and shamed her into doing so.  The coach then told Dr. Nassar, who shamed the athlete and continued to abuse her for another four years.

Michigan State has set aside $500 million to compensate the first 300 victims, since then another 150+ have come forward. The president of Michigan State resigned, by all reports an effective administrator who had more important things to do than to protect these girls.

As an adult and a mother, it is easy to get indignant and angry.  But what is lost is that pedophiles groom adults as well as they groom children.  So effectively, that in Dr. Nassar’s case, a 5-year old victim’s parents did not believe their own daughter when she confided to them about her abuse.  Her parents refused to pay for her therapy and demanded that she apologize to Dr. Nassar. Overcome with grief and depression after he was made aware of his mistake, her father committed suicide.  Even the FBI failed to act when the US Olympics finally got around to reporting abuse in 2015.

When I volunteered to be a Sunday school teacher at my Episcopal parish in NJ in the 1990s, I was required to take a two-day course on this topic.  I was annoyed, I had a big-time job, I was a mom, and I resented giving up two of my Saturdays to attend this course. But I ended up being grateful. I learned to recognize child and adult grooming behaviors.

Serial pedophiles like Dr. Nassar depend on our faith in our own judgement, they depend on our trusting nature.  Abusers are great guys, well liked, kind and in positions of authority. Adults can count on these men to help them out, to be a shoulder to cry on, to be that person that they can trust. And we believe that a “good person” would never do something like that.  These serial abusers manipulate our hubris, our false confidence in ourselves, they play us, just as well as they play our children.

In doing so, they make us suspicious of genuinely “good guys”.  They manipulate us into ignoring our children’s little voices. We know that children can exaggerate, manipulate, and even lie to get things they want.  A child’s world is different from ours; children are just beginning to put together the puzzle pieces to their life, we have found places for most of ours. So we learn to distrust children’s voices and set up systems to protect adults.  

One of the most frustrating experiences that I had on the Board of Education was our inability to bring tenure charges against a teacher who had allegedly made inappropriate comments to high school girls. We were appalled to learn that unless an adult directly witnessed the behavior (in our case a teacher overheard a conversation among teenagers), we could not bring a charge.  The legal system did not trust those small voices. (I am happy to report, however, that we were able to remove this teacher for things that he did to adults.)

As it should have, this travesty has brought down the Olympic gymnastics system which declared bankruptcy to protect itself from lawsuits. The head of the US Olympic committee resigned, and several Michigan State and Olympic authorities are facing charges of perjury and tampering with evidence.

Tough punishments against the enablers are critical. There need to be serious consequences for people in authority who refuse to listen to those little voices. But what we really need to do is to stop trusting only adult voices and learn how to listen and trust our children.  

Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.

A Daring Miles River Rescue by Angela Rieck

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This weekend, we were able to rescue a dog from the Miles River. It is an exciting story, but I think that you will see that I am actually telling another story.

Waldo

On Friday morning at 1 a.m., my friend’s rescue dog, ironically named Waldo, arrived from Alabama. He did not come as advertised. Instead of a sweet, quiet 10-month old puppy, he was a severely traumatized dog, terrified of the world, frozen in fear. Panicked, he jumped the fence and was off to the races and disappeared into the woods. Given his level of fear, he had become feral and would have to be trapped.

We knew that we were going to have to give this problem to the universe.

So she, her parents, and her young boys made signs, searched and waited.

The universe responded.

Every local St. Michaels store put up signs. Strangers searched for him.

Thirty hours later, an astute homeowner spotted him. We dashed to the scene, hoping to formulate a strategy. While she set a trap, I walked around the neighborhood, occasionally spotting him as he raced from yard to yard in panic.

Homeowners didn’t resent my going across their lawns and offered to help, pointing where he was last seen, offering their backyards for traps.

I walked over to someone who was staring into the river. She pointed to a tiny dot in the middle of the river, it turned out to be a dog’s head. She was looking out her window at just the moment a panicked Waldo jumped into a river and started swimming to nowhere. Waldo’s new owner found us, grabbed the homeowner’s kayak, and paddled quickly to the middle of the river. Her young sons waited patiently, watching, confident that he would be okay.

There was not enough time for the police or DNR to respond, so she lifted the drowning dog into the kayak without tipping it over.

In his panic, the dog bit her, hard. She paddled to shore with an arm that would require stitches. I put him in a crate, brought him to my house and she went to the hospital. He will need a long rehabilitation.

Now you tell me, is this just a story of a rescue? I think that it is a story of us. Kind people, who gave their time for people they didn’t know, to help a sad, scared little dog they had never seen. It is a story of the universe, where everything had to unfold just the way that it did to save this little dog.

These are the stories that don’t make the news. Our news is filled with stories of selfish, arrogant, entitled behavior.

But Waldo’s story is the story that I know, that I see every day, everywhere. When we trust the universe, we are trusting ourselves. Because I believe that we are a universe of kind souls who give just because we can.

Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.

Savor the Missteps by Angela Rieck

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Wedding season is approaching. That event where brides, bridegrooms and their parents sample a wide array of foods, listen to countless bands and DJs, study color palettes, learn about flowers, select the best venue, choose the ideal officiant, and of course, find the perfect wedding gown. All in their quest for perfection to memorialize a day that will mark the beginning of a new life, a new course and a special bond.

The quest for perfection is ironic, because the most memorable moments are the ones that aren’t planned.

I am a member of a large family, so we have had our share of weddings and despite endless preparation, substantial funds, our most memorable moments are the ones that we didn’t expect.

My brother married on the coldest Memorial Day. His beautiful bride in her sleeveless dress braved the weather, but the rest of us abandoned our summer attire quickly after the ceremony, opting for sweatshirts, sweaters or even jackets in our suitcases for warmth. Within an hour, most of us had changed to winter wear. It poured and poured and poured at my sister’s outdoor wedding and reception. The bridal party took advantage of a brief parting of the clouds to have the ceremony and run back. Rain was so relentless that an eccentric aunt tied garbage bags to her feet in an effort to stay dry.

My nieces and nephews (all outdoor weddings) have found a way to marry on days that were 90+ degrees with 90% humidity. It didn’t matter if they were in June, July, August or September. The guests congregated around the fans. At one wedding, the bridesmaids finally jumped in the pool in their dresses.

My closest friend watched the country club at her reception wheel out the wrong wedding cake. They had served her very expensive cake at another wedding, she was left with a cheap “store-bought” wedding cake.

My wedding had some mishaps, but it is most known as the wedding with the world’s worst wedding toast. My nervous brother-in-law to be repeatedly used the name of my husband’s first wife in toasting us. You could hear the gasping sounds from the guests. He was and remains mortified, but I thought it was amusing.

I am happy to report that all of us who participated in these weddings have been happily married (or widowed). When we talk about our weddings, we don’t talk about the perfect flowers, spectacular food or stunning wedding gowns, we laugh at the missteps.

So my advice to all of you wedding planners out there is to strive for perfection…but hope for a mishap.

Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.

The Belt by Angela Rieck

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I have fostered and rehabilitated many dogs over the years and I have learned a lot of tricks. One of them is a belly band for incontinent or un-housetrained male dogs. A belly band is a strip of cloth about 5” longer than the circumference of the dog’s belly. I sew Velcro strips at each end, place a urinary incontinence pad inside, wrap it around his private parts and voila! Any undesired urination goes into the pad. (Just remember to take it off when he goes outside!) When one of my elderly male dogs lost his flawless housebreaking, a belly band was a small price to pay to have one more happy year with him.

In an effort to move forward with my life, I decided to date. Since I had been out of the market for over 26 years, I was inexperienced, ineffective and confused. The numbers were against me as well. While over 60% of widowers are in a serious relationship within 2 years, only 19% of widows are. Some of it has to do with the numbers. Of the estimated 600,000 people who are widowed each year, 2/3 of them are women. There are a lot of great widows out there and my tepid desire to dating added to the challenges.

But, to my surprise, one day I saw a man out of the corner of my eye notice me at Target. I observed him follow me while I went shopping, but when I turned around to smile at him, he was gone. At the checkout stand and I saw him quickly maneuver to get behind me. I tried to muster my best unawkward smile and he returned it. He started to take the items out of his cart and then he saw it. I had come to the Target to buy urinary incontinence pads for my dog. The shrink wrapped bright green package was jostling all alone on the conveyor belt.
The man’s face instantly reflected a look of panic, trying to decide whether to go to another counter or ignore me. I had one moment to say something, but somehow, “they are for my dog” seemed akin to the “dog ate my homework.” He mumbled something, gathered his things and made a mad dash to the next aisle.

The bright green shrink-wrapped package continued its slow, bumbling journey down that belt. The check-out person waved it in the air and asked if I wanted a bag. I said no.
Potential date averted.

Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.

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