Not What The Mikado Expected

by Jimmy Akin

in Current Affairs

Bownumbertwo I'm sure most folks have seen the picture of President Obama bowing to the Emperor of Japan.

We'll it's not the first time he's done that with a foreign head of state, though this time it's even more impossible to argue (as some of his defenders, including his own press secretary, Spokesbot Robert Gibbs, did when he bowed to King Abdullah) that he was just bending over to shake the hand of a short foreign leader.

No, this was a bow–captured unmistakably in the photo from the side.

No doubt, he did it out of a belief that this is a polite way to greet people in Japan.

But one has to be careful about imitating the customs of people from other cultures, lest one send unintended messages.

For example: Does bowing to the Mikado convey politeness or subservience?

Knowing that kind of nuance is not part of a president's job requirements–but it is the reason he has a protocol office that is supposed to advise him about such things, and as Allahpundit points out, Obama's protocol office is "famously run by imbeciles."

I'm not instantly enraged at the idea of a president bowing to someone. Actually, I'm more disturbed by seeing American leaders dressing up in foreign garb at diplomatic events. But then presidents of both parties do that. I understand that it can be construed as conveying honor to another culture to adopt its dress, but clothing is so personal–and so much more perduring than a simple bow–that my preferred solution would be to have everybody show up in his own native garb (business suits for American presidents; plus formal attire for formal events).

There's always a question of how much to defer to local custom when in a foreign land, and a bow–like every gesture–has the meaning that is invested in it. It need not always convey subservience, and if there were a land where not bowing was insulting and in which their leader would reciprocally bow to our leader then I could understand.

But look at who's not bowing in the picture above.

And look at who's not bowing in the following video:

So. President Obama is made to look like a fool by what is clearly another protocol office mistake.

That raises a disturbing question: Why hasn't Obama learned his lesson from the protocol office's previous mistakes and replaced the appropriate individuals with more knowledgeable ones?

Thomas Sowell wonders what the real-world consequences will be of Obama making himself–and by the extension the United States–look weak in foreign eyes. And it does seem inevitable that this event would be read in light of Obama's tendency to apologize (in the "I'm sorry" sense) for the United States when on foreign soil.

Which brings up something else Allahpundit notes:

For another thing, and somewhat notably, Japan isn’t a stop on The One’s world apology tour. It could have been, but he declined the opportunity to turn it into one.

And he's right. Here's a case where–because of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki–the United States really does have something to apologize to Japan for. Defending ourselves in World War II was morally justifiable, but nuking cities to put pressure on the Japanese government was not.

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{ 62 comments }

JohnE November 17, 2009 at 8:54 am

I’m reminded of a trip we took to Japan many years ago. One of the people we were touring with bowed deeply (with hands prayerfully folded no less) to a fast-food worker on the other side of the counter after receiving his meal. I couldn’t help laughing. I thought he might break out the incense.
Of course, he wasn’t a world leader with a team of advisors consulting him on proper protocol.

JohnE November 17, 2009 at 9:02 am

I agree with your comment on dressing up in another culture’s garb. There’s something hokey about it. It would be along the same line as adopting a British accent when visiting the UK. Might be fun to do with friends of that culture you know well. Probably not something for heads of state though.

Tim J. November 17, 2009 at 9:26 am

Come on, SDG… it’s obvious that President Obama just dropped a cufflink or something.

JohnE November 17, 2009 at 9:48 am

It wasn’t a cufflink, but spare change that the Emperor dropped. We’ll need everything we can get if the health care bill passes.

JohnD November 17, 2009 at 11:25 am

What this may demonstrate is how insulated Obama is from the world around him.
Maybe he simply is unaware of the bowing backlash. How else could he flub it up twice? It seems likely that his staff is both incompetent and unwilling to bother Obama with criticisms from U.S. citizens.
It makes me wonder if, and to what extent Obama is aware that many people would like him to stop playing hide-and-go-seek with his original birth certificate.

maiki November 17, 2009 at 11:43 am

His pose just looks awkward. Bowing is an alternative to shaking hands in Japan. You wouldn’t bow and shake someone’s hand. That is just weird.

Jimmy Akin November 17, 2009 at 12:57 pm

Tim J: Who’s SDG?

Tim J. November 17, 2009 at 1:06 pm

“Tim J: Who’s SDG?”
Yow! That is hilarious, seeing as how it’s happened to me so often.
That should have been, of course, “Come on, Jimmy…”
In the words of Emo Phillips, “Is my face red…”

LianC November 17, 2009 at 1:17 pm

Geez, who cares? Mr. Akin should stick to his strength: Catholic apologetics. Or if it must be politics, at least issues that matter.

Jimmy Akin November 17, 2009 at 1:31 pm

I mean this in the nicest possible way. . . . My blog, dude.
(I wonder how many bloggers who have long-established eclectic blogging interests regularly get feedback that they should stick to a single subject matter.
Does Glenn Reynolds get that? Lileks? Other omni-subject bloggers?
And why does it tend to be politics that causes that feedback on my blog? If I write about sci-fi or movies or technology or just about anything else, fine. But if I say *anything* on the subject of politics or national issues I start getting “You shouldn’t talk about that” messages.
The USCCB talks about politics *way* more than I do, and their obligation to stay on-message when it comes to the faith goes *way* beyond any I have. I wonder proportionally how many similar messages they receive.)

Tim J. November 17, 2009 at 1:36 pm

You heard him, Jimmy! Back in your cell, and don’t come out without a complete treatise on something identifiably Catholic.
It reminds me a little of the Canadian Content rules, wherein every station had to carry a certain percentage of identifiably Canadian content.
Is that where we got Bob & Doug McKenzie?

LianC November 17, 2009 at 2:19 pm

Jimmy Akin,
Well, your blog can contain whatever you want, obviously.
What bothers me is that while I consider your apologetics the best of anyone, my view that some of the blog posts are a bit ridiculous with questionable sources makes me want to avoid everything sometimes. So I wonder how many people are dismissing your explanations on Catholicism, because if you’re simultaneously writing drivel, how trustworthy can you be?
Although they may speak a lot about relevant politics (which I think is great), I doubt the USCCB will be issuing a statement on Obama’s bow. Usually they stick to the bigger issues. Nor will they be quoting some unknown “Allahpundit.”

ken November 17, 2009 at 2:41 pm

Wake up on the wrong side of the political spectrum this morning, LianC? It is not drivel that many Americans are concerned about our president traveling around the world saying, “Hey, look at me!!!! I’m so sorry I’m an American.”

Tim J. November 17, 2009 at 3:27 pm

“It is not drivel that many Americans are concerned about our president traveling around the world saying, ‘Hey, look at me!!!! I’m so sorry I’m an American.’ ”
Or IS he an American??? Hmmmm…
(ducks) ;-)

JohnE November 17, 2009 at 4:18 pm

Interesting that someone would take the time to write the longest comment thus far on what he considers drivel, and make a weak case of it at that. LianC, there’s a life waiting for you. Go get it.

davidomaha November 17, 2009 at 4:58 pm

The word that comes to mind is “patronizing.” If you’re going to visit the leader of a foreign country, one should find out for certain what the proper protocol is (as Jimmy pointed out). But what has occurred is for Obama and his Protocol Office to simply assume what the proper action is, apparently based on popular media. If Bush had done this, we’d be hearing about it ad-naseum, with the implication that he is racist… I’m really sick of both sides, but the Democrats/”liberals” keep talking inclusiveness and diversity, then their golden boy acts like an idiot, and I’m not hearing much complaining from them.
I’m gonna find a rock to crawl under ;)

meilinPR November 17, 2009 at 5:27 pm

LianC,
This clearly has something to do with Catholicism. In fact, it may be that only someone with a Catholic mindset can fully understand how one head of state bowing to another is definitely not “drivel”-ish news. During Mass, Catholics bow, kneel, stand up, make the sign of the cross, etc. because we understand that what we do with our bodies has meaning. Similarly, bowing has a meaning. It varies with each culture, yes… and in Japanese, it means “gomen kudasai.”
That said, I too was kind of surprised by Mr. Akin quoting Allahpundit… but HotAir isn’t so bad (except for its comments section).
Re foreign garment: I think it’s pretty tacky too, not to mention that it’s always preferable to wear traditional garment from one’s land, so as to better represent it. This is why Pres. Bush should have always worn a business suit – with cowboy boots. But seriously, I think that in the picture linked it’s perfectly clear that he wouldn’t have been wearing those clothes unless forced to, he looks pretty unhappy. And, isn’t that Vladimir Putin behind him, in the same costume?? That settles it. They both look hilarious, what a humiliating job being a head of state must sometimes be.

Eileen R November 17, 2009 at 7:12 pm

Jimmy wrote:
>Does Glenn Reynolds get that? >Lileks? Other omni-subject bloggers?
I don’t know about Reynolds, but Lileks got so much of it that he started a new blog for political thoughts.

Skygor November 17, 2009 at 7:40 pm

Regarding meilinPR’s post:
When I first read this I couldn’t help but think of B16ths visit to the USA. You could tell immediately the standings of several middle and upper civil and government standing by how they greeted him.

Jeb Protestant November 18, 2009 at 5:21 am

I don’t approve of it, but not as bad as the pope kissing the Koran.

Tim J. November 18, 2009 at 6:01 am

Ah, Jeb… nice to see you.
And I don’t necessarily disagree with you, either. Both mistakes, in my view. I wish neither had happened, but I think the Koran incident more serious because, well, it was the Pope. Confusing for a lot of people.

The Sarge November 18, 2009 at 6:29 am

It would never have occured to me that this thread was an opportunity to bash Pope John Paul II. I guess I don’t have much imagination.

Terry November 18, 2009 at 7:41 am

I don’t agree that we have anything to apologize for in regards to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This was a fanatical regime who demonstrated on a daily basis that they would fight to the last man. The fire bombings carried out before the nukes killed far more people. Those nukes saved countless American lives including my father’s. He was done fighting Hitler in Europe and was waiting to be sent to the Pacific for the invasion of Japan. I probably wouldn’t be here today if those bombs weren’t dropped. Look up how many troops died in the invasion of Okinawa and multiply it by 10 at least for the invasion of Japan.

David B. November 18, 2009 at 7:51 am

I bet Jimmy doesn’t even know the capitals of all 57 states. Who does he think he is?!?! ;-)

Vince C November 18, 2009 at 8:00 am

This comment will probably get lost amid the reaction to Terry’s last comment, but just wanted to throw my two cents in about folks dressing up an another’s national costume. As an American of Mexican extraction, I find it condescending and cringe-worthy in the extreme when I see this happen in any cultural setting. In the present case, just think of what it might look like to see a bunch of visiting Japanese nationals going around dressed like cowboys, reverse the image, and you get the idea.

SDG November 18, 2009 at 8:07 am

In case anyone is wondering, Terry’s comment is from a new Terry. Not our friend Terry B. (I bet some of you had already figured that out.)

SDG November 18, 2009 at 8:11 am

In case anyone is wondering, the comment above is from a new Terry. Not our friend Terry B.

Mike Meledez November 18, 2009 at 9:35 am

I offer a general suggestion to commenters. If you like what Jimmy writes, tell him. He’ll probably write more of that. If you don’t like what Jimmy writes and tell him, I wouldn’t be surprised if wrote more of that as well.
Now that I’m not making any sense, I’ll be quiet.

Lucien Syme November 18, 2009 at 11:24 am

Off topic I guess SDG and Gecko are battling mono y mono I can’t post a response there?

SDG November 18, 2009 at 11:45 am

“Off topic I guess SDG and Gecko are battling mono y mono I can’t post a response there?”

No, that’s not it. TypePad seems to be having a bug. I don’t know why. I’m having the same trouble with that combox, and only that combox. Sometimes I can get in and add a comment, sometimes I can’t.
Try closing your browser completely and coming to the site fresh. Also try varying http://www.jimmyakin.org with just jimmyakin.org (without the www). Stupid little tricks like that sometimes help. Maybe there’s a server-specific bug and it depends on which server you hit.

The Masked Chicken November 18, 2009 at 12:56 pm

Maybe there’s a server-specific bug and it depends on which server you hit.
Which one can I hit? I have a hammer ready.
The Chicken

Jimmy Akin November 18, 2009 at 1:04 pm

I bet Jimmy doesn’t even know the capitals of all 57 states. Who does he think he is?!?!
I know all the ones the Animaniacs (well, Wakko) sang about!
Cue music . . .

Baton Rougue, Louisiana; Indianapolis, Indiana; and Columbus is the capitol of O-hi-o.
There’s Montgomery, Alabama; south of Helena, Montana; then there’s Denver, Colorado; under Boise, Idaho . . .

Now don’t get met started or I’ll sing Yakko’s World.

Jimmy Akin November 18, 2009 at 1:06 pm

BTW, SDG can testify. I can really do that.

SDG November 18, 2009 at 1:18 pm

Oo oo!! I can do it too!
Picking up where Jimmy left off…

<without Googling>
…Texas has Austin, then we go north
To Massachusetts, Boston; Albany, New York.
Tallahassee, Florida, and Washington, DC.
Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Nashville, Tennessee!
Trenton’s in New Jersey…

</without Googling>

I can do the whole thing! On “Wakko’s World,” though, Jimmy is the master. We’re not worthy!

Lucien Syme November 18, 2009 at 1:41 pm

Sarge,
Any topic of conversation is an opportunity for a Protestant to protest against the Church.
Obedience is not their speciality.

Tim J. November 18, 2009 at 2:55 pm

My daughter can do both, as well as They Might Be Giants’ “Alphabet of Nations”.
Bring it ON!!

David B. November 18, 2009 at 5:19 pm

I can do the whole thing! On “Wakko’s World,” though, Jimmy is the master. We’re not worthy!
Hmm, these waters are far too deep for my minuscule intellect. I can only do bits of Danny Kaye’s “the Maladjusted Jester.” ;-D

David B. November 18, 2009 at 5:26 pm

Well, not entirely out of my depth. Though the song mentions the “cities” in Salt Lake, Carson, and Oklahoma, it skips the “city” in “Jefferson City.” Very interesting.

Tom Simon November 19, 2009 at 2:04 am

It reminds me a little of the Canadian Content rules, wherein every station had to carry a certain percentage of identifiably Canadian content.
Is that where we got Bob & Doug McKenzie?

Why, yes, Tim. Yes, it is.
The story, as I’ve read it, is that when SCTV was first broadcast, U.S. regulations allowed two more minutes of commercials per hour than Canadian regulations. The CBC wanted extra material from the SCTV gang to fill those two minutes, and they specified that they wanted unambiguously Canadian content — not the kind of generic North-Americana that filled most of the show.
That got the cast’s and producers’ backs up — never a good idea with comedians. ‘They want Canadian content, do they? All right, we’ll darn well give it to them — and if they don’t like it, they can remember, they asked for it!’ So they brainstormed awhile to come up with a two-minute skit that would score off every stereotype and bad joke about Canadians that anybody could think of. Thus Bob and Doug McKenzie were invented — and that’s why those Great White North sketches were only two minutes long, and full of jokes about the amount of time they had to fill.

Steve November 21, 2009 at 7:53 am

Speaking of kissing and popes…
Why didn’t President Obama kiss the Popes ring when he visited with him? I mean, it is about cultural sensativity per his press secretary…

Eric R. November 21, 2009 at 12:02 pm

Wait a minute. President Bush kissed the King of Saudi Arabia, and he held his hand for more than 10 minutes. And Obama is getting harrassed for bowing? Strange world we live in!

SDG November 21, 2009 at 3:13 pm

“Wait a minute. President Bush kissed the King of Saudi Arabia, and he held his hand for more than 10 minutes. And Obama is getting harrassed for bowing? Strange world we live in!”

One man kissing another is not an act of subservience. One man bowing to another (and the other man receiving the bow) is.

Eric R. November 21, 2009 at 3:24 pm

Fair enough but I think President Obama was just trying to be respectful. Perhaps also he was making amends – in a small way – for the time we nuked Japan?

SDG November 21, 2009 at 4:48 pm

“Fair enough but I think President Obama was just trying to be respectful.”

President Obama is not a private citizen who is free to act in any way that seems appropriate to him. He is a head of state and has an obligation to the citizens of the United States of America. What he was trying to do is not the deciding factor; it is inappropriate for the head of state of one sovereign nation to make this kind of obeisance to another.

“Perhaps also he was making amends – in a small way – for the time we nuked Japan?”

I see no grounds whatsoever for making such a connection, and since a bow is a symbolic act, the intersubjective meaning of the act hinges on what people can be reasonably supposed to infer from it. Since there are no grounds for connecting it to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, no such inference can be reasonably made.

bill912 November 22, 2009 at 1:20 pm

I’m reminded of the 1936 Olympic Games. In the opening parade, every nation dipped its flag as its delegation passed Hitler–every nation except the United States. Our flag is dipped to no one; our president should bow to no one.

BobCatholic November 23, 2009 at 9:56 am

>Why hasn’t Obama learned his lesson from the protocol office’s previous mistakes and replaced the appropriate individuals with more knowledgeable ones?
Nope. He will never replace those individuals.
He had to put in someone for political payback. That’s how cronyism works. Job performance is not required.

John November 28, 2009 at 10:39 am

The United States has absolutely nothing for which to apologize to Japan. At least not until they admit their guilt in the Rape of Nanking and the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor.
The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki shortened the war and saved hundreds of thousands of lives, U.S. and Japanese. Otherwise, it would have been necessary to invade the 300+ home islands, and the Japanese would have fought to the last man, as they did on Okinawa, Iwo Jima, and elsewhere.
Jimmy, as for “apologies,” why not write about the recent report from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin, Ireland, which has admitted that it covered up decades of child abuse by pedophile priests and conspired with the Irish police.
No amount of cutsey brogue or blarney spin is going to cure that one.
I would be very interested to have your view on the Irish travesty.

MaryC November 30, 2009 at 7:27 am

So the ‘pope’ can have a spot placed on his forehead by a Hindu priestess, can bow to recieve an American Indian ‘blessing’ and can host a motley crew of schismatics, heretics, infidels and pagans at the city of St. Francis,yet let the president dare to extend to the Japanese emperor the courtesy of bowing, which in their culture is the equivelant of a handshake, then all hell breaks loose.

MaryC November 30, 2009 at 7:52 am

FDR knew in advance about the attack on Pearl harbour; he deliberately provoked it. I’m British, and I have no hesitation in calling Churchill a war criminal; Dresden anyone? Yes, Dresden where more people were killed than in the Nazi concentration camps (no, I don’t believe in the All Hallowed ‘Six Million’). Have you heard about Eisenhower starving 1 million German POW’s to death, or that Nagasaki was targeted because the population was largely Catholic? (Enter: Tim Jones frothing at the mouth).

The Masked Chicken November 30, 2009 at 10:24 am

Dear MaryC,
And your evidence?
The Chicken

SDG November 30, 2009 at 12:36 pm

MaryC,
Are you aware that you are bearing false witness against John Paul II? For instance, educate yourself on the supposed “Hindu priestess,” who is actually a Catholic.

bill912 November 30, 2009 at 6:07 pm

Why am I suddenly thinking about “The Caine Mutiny”?

bill912 November 30, 2009 at 6:44 pm

“(Enter. Tim Jones frothing at the mouth).”
Now that’s the kind of geometric logic that proves her case beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Tim J. November 30, 2009 at 7:28 pm

It happens that I am frothing at the mouth just now, but not on account of any looney conspiracy theories… I’m just having a beer and my moustache needs trimming.

SDG December 1, 2009 at 11:16 am

“Now that’s the kind of geometric logic that proves her case beyond a shadow of a doubt.”

“It happens that I am frothing at the mouth just now, but not on account of any looney conspiracy theories… I’m just having a beer and my moustache needs trimming.”

It’s a combox convergence! Looney conspiracy theories (shades of 2012 and the DFD combox), crackpot anti-Catholicism (shades of the McCarthy combox), and now beer and facial hair (shades of TLBC) … the circle is complete. Geometric logic indeed (to recall the Chicken’s defense of God’s mathematical consistency in the DFD combox)!
Now if only we could have worked magnetic monopoles in somehow …

bill912 December 1, 2009 at 11:26 am

Good Heavens! Doe this mean that a duplicate key to the wardroom ice box really does exist?

Tim J. December 1, 2009 at 11:50 am

Okay, bill, the way I understand it is that in at least one of the bajillion multiverses, out of which ours is only one tiny blip… there does exist a duplicate key to the wardroom icebox.
But in most of these parallel universes, the wardroom icebox itself exists only as a potentiality… that is, it simultaneously does exist and doesn’t exist (+/-).
Except on alternate Thursdays.
It’s all there, plain as day, in the higher quantum mathematics, for those who care to look.

The Masked ChickenT December 2, 2009 at 10:34 am

What was the DFD combox? I actually was thinking about writing an article on theorems apologists can use when confronted with Protestants or others (different theorems for different folks). That way, all you have to do is cite the theorem. Sola Scriptura? Hey, we’ve got the T Theorem (tradition); for Sola Fides, we’ve got the G theorem (grace + faith), etc. It will greatly streamline apologetical arguments, don’t you think?
The Chicken

The Pachyderminator December 2, 2009 at 11:10 am

I’ve always though theology should be more like math.

The Masked Chicken December 2, 2009 at 11:53 am

Ah, the DFD combox is the 2012 combox. Never mind.
But in most of these parallel universes, the wardroom icebox itself exists only as a potentiality… that is, it simultaneously does exist and doesn’t exist (+/-).
Except on alternate Thursdays.

On alternate Thursdays, it’s the exact opposite. The icebox is an oven, the wardroom is a jail cell, and the duplicate key destroys the universe. It’s all so simple.
I was going to explain all of this in quantum mechanical terms, but does anyone know how to print integrals in HTML?
The Chicken

The Masked Chicken December 2, 2009 at 1:55 pm

To be honest, I cribbed the comment about God and mathematics from a passage in, The Blue Cross, a famous detective story featuring Fr. Brown, which may be found in the detective collection, Innocence of Fr. Brown.
Fr. Brown has just caught up with a famous jewel thief (who will later become his friend), Flambeaux, who is disguised as a priest. Here, is the relevant passage (Flambeux is the tall priest; Fr. Brown was short):
[Long Quote Warning - It's in the public domain, however. SDG, feel free to delete it if in violation of Da Rulz]
The first he heard was the tail of one of Father Brown’s sentences, which ended: “… what they really meant in the Middle Ages by the heavens being incorruptible.”
The taller priest nodded his bowed head and said:
“Ah, yes, these modern infidels appeal to their reason; but who can look at those millions of worlds and not feel that there may well be wonderful universes above us where reason is utterly unreasonable?”
“No,” said the other priest; “reason is always reasonable, even in the last limbo, in the lost borderland of things. I know that people charge the Church with lowering reason, but it is just the other way. Alone on earth, the Church makes reason really supreme. Alone on earth, the Church affirms that God himself is bound by reason.”
The other priest raised his austere face to the spangled sky and said:
“Yet who knows if in that infinite universe—?”
“Only infinite physically,” said the little priest, turning sharply in his seat, “not infinite in the sense of escaping from the laws of truth.”
Valentin behind his tree was tearing his fingernails with silent fury. He seemed almost to hear the sniggers of the English detectives whom he had brought so far on a fantastic guess only to listen to the metaphysical gossip of two mild old parsons. In his impatience he lost the equally elaborate answer of the tall cleric, and when he listened again it was again Father Brown who was speaking:
“Reason and justice grip the remotest and the loneliest star. Look at those stars. Don’t they look as if they were single diamonds and sapphires? Well, you can imagine any mad botany or geology you please. Think of forests of adamant with leaves of brilliants. Think the moon is a blue moon, a single elephantine sapphire. But don’t fancy that all that frantic astronomy would make the smallest difference to the reason and justice of conduct. On plains of opal, under cliffs cut out of pearl, you would still find a notice-board, ‘Thou shalt not steal.’”
[snip]
“How in blazes do you know all these horrors?” cried Flambeau.
The shadow of a smile crossed the round, simple face of his clerical opponent.
“Oh, by being a celibate simpleton, I suppose,” he said. “Has it never struck you that a man who does next to nothing but hear men’s real sins is not likely to be wholly unaware of human evil? But, as a matter of fact, another part of my trade, too, made me sure you weren’t a priest.”
“What?” asked the thief, almost gaping.
“You attacked reason,” said Father Brown. “It’s bad theology.”

The Pachyderminator December 2, 2009 at 4:48 pm

Chicken,
You put in an integral symbol ∫ by typing &#8747. See here.

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