The King of One’s Castle

Over the weekend photog posted a nice little post on his blog, Orion’s Cold Fire, with the title “The Western View,” a clever bit of double entendre:  it’s about both the view of the western end of his property, and the Western view of republicanism—independent self-government.

It’s appropriate that photog used his home as the centerpiece—the “hook,” as he put it—for a short essay on the nature of liberty and republicanism.  At the most basic level, one’s home—one’s land, property, and the people that reside there—is one’s guarantee of liberty.  That scrap of land and the house upon it is one’s castle, and every man is the king of his little estate.

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TBT: On Ghost Stories

Today marks the first day of October, perhaps my favorite month of the year.  We’re already getting that first crisp coolness in the air here in South Carolina, and it’s feeling more and more like autumn every day.

So with Halloween just thirty days away, I thought it would be fun to look back at a post from last “All Hallowe’s Eve Eve,” as I wrote at the time:  one all about ghost stories.

I finally finished slogging my way through The Penguin Book of Ghost Stories, thanks in no small part to quarantine.  It’s an excellent collection, and I stand by my recommendation from last October, but there are a handful of stories that are way too long—or dense.

I’m now reading through a more accessible, far lighter read:  the classic Tar Heel Ghosts by John Harden.  It’s a collection of North Carolina-based ghost stories published in the 1950s, so it has that pleasing sense of implicit patriotism and love of place that is now so sadly missing from our cynical, cosmopolitan writing of today.  Like The Story of Yankee Whaling, it possesses a refreshing innocence about and love for its subject:  no hand-wringing over now-unfashionable ideas, no condemnation of a lack of diversity, no talk of “marginalized” groups being “unrepresented.”

I picked up the book sometime in my childhood on a family trip, but I don’t think I ever finished the collection.  I’m rectifying that all these years later, and I’m thoroughly enjoying it.  I also plan to reread Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree, one of my favorites to pull out this time of year.

Here’s hoping you find some spooky tales of your own to curl up with on these cold, October nights.  Here’s October 2019’s “On Ghost Stories“:

It’s Halloween!  Well, at least it’s All Hallow’s Eve Eve, but that’s close enough for some ghoulishly delicious ghost stories.

I love a good ghost story.  The Victorians did the genre best, but many writers since have honed it further, adding their own unique twists and scares.  Even Russell Kirk, the great conservative philosopher, was a fan of ghost stories.  Indeed, his bestselling book was a ghost story.

For the Victorians, ghost stories were told at Christmastime.  This timing, while peculiar to modern readers, makes sense intuitively—Christmas is a time for remembering the past, in part (perhaps especially) our honored dead (just ask Washington Irvingif he comes by to haunt you).  The “ghosts” of departed loved ones linger closely during those long, frosty nights.  The inherent nostalgia of Christmas and the winter season—and bundling up next to a crackling fire—sets the perfect mood for ghostly tales.

Nevertheless, what other time of year can beat Halloween for a good tale of witches and werewolves; of monsters and mummies; of ghouls, goblins, and ghosts?

As such, I’d encourage readers to check out “Nocturne of All Hallow’s Eve,” a deliciously frightening, blood-soaked tale of the supernatural and the macabre from Irish-American author Greg Patrick.  Alternative fiction website Terror House Magazine posted it back in September, and I’ve been saving it to share on the blog until now.

Patrick’s style conjures the dense verbiage of Edgar Allan Poe.  Indeed, he overdoes it a bit (see his more recently published “The Familiar“).  But his subject matter is pure Halloween—the tenuous space between the natural and the supernatural, the mysterious rituals, and on and on.

If you’re still in search of some ghostly reads, check out The Penguin Book of Ghost Stories.  It’s the collection I’ve been reading since my trip to New Jersey this summer.  It’s a truly spine-tingling collection that covers some of the great—and many of the undeservedly unsung—writers of the genre, the men and women who truly created and molded what makes a good ghost story.

So wherever you find yourself the next couple of nights, curl up with a good book, a warm fire, and a good ghost story (and maybe someone else, if you’re so inclined).  You and the ghosts will be glad you did!

Ghost

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Lazy Sunday LXXX: Big Ideas

So many of the West’s problems are fundamentally spiritual in nature.  Our politics are no longer the pedestrian, earthy wranglings over how to maintain the roads (clearly not) or what the marginal tax rate should be.  Even the most mundane of political discussions become theological battles about the nature of Truth itself.  It’s ironic given the Left’s wholesale embrace of postmodernism’s rejection of Truth.

As such, it seemed like an opportune time to dedicate a Lazy Sunday to posts about big ideas.  It’s easy to get bogged down in the details—the Devil is in them, after all—but it’s also important to grasp at the makeup of the entire forest, not just its diversity of trees.

With that, here are some of my own stabs at understanding the dark forest in which we moderns find ourselves:

  • What is Conservatism?” & “TBT: What is Conservatism?” – This post kicked off the first run of my History of Conservative Thought Class, in which begin exploring the ideas of Russell Kirk.  So much of what Americans consider to be “conservative” today is really an abstract ideology, whereas Kirk’s conservatism varied from one society to the next.  It did, however, contain some similar elements across cultures.  Kirk is mostly forgotten in conservative circles today, which is unfortunate; it would behoove us to know more of his thought and work.  
  • Resist the Black Pill” – It’s easy to get discouraged with the state of the world at present, especially here in the United States. Even with the efforts of President Trump and his MAGA cadre, there are long-term concerns for the future of our country.  The nomination of Amy Coney Barrett is one sign of hope, though whether or not the Court will return to true constitutionalism is still an open question.  What we can know is that nihilistic despair is a sin, and our hope comes from the Lord.
  • What is Civilization?” – This post dealt with a lively discussion between Milo and a couple of groypers, Steve Franssen and Vincent James, about the future of civilization.  It’s an intriguing debate about whether or not abandoning the cities to progressive destroyers represents an abandonment of civilization itself (my answer would be no).

That’s it for this brief Lazy Sunday.  Here’s hoping these posts give you something to chew over as you head into your week.

Happy Sunday!

—TPP

Other Lazy Sunday Installments:

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Lazy Sunday LXXII: Forgotten Posts, Volume I

I’ve been blogging daily for over a year-and-a-half now, with a smattering of posts going back to 2009 (on the old Blogger version of the site, which I call TPP 1.0).  While I think I have some decent posts—my buddy fridrix of Corporate History International once told me my material was in the top ten percent in terms of quality on the Internet—I’ve written a lot of garbage, too, including placeholder posts for times I can’t really get something fresh posted.

Of course, I’ve written essays that I think are excellent—or, at the very least, very important—that get virtually no hits.  Then I’ll write throwaway posts, like “Tom Steyer’s Belt,” that blow up the view counter.  That one at least made sense—I was one of the first sources to write about his goofy belt, and his ads were so ubiquitous in late 2019, people searching for his belt got my blog.

What’s interesting to me is that forget some of the things I’ve written.  It’s another reason we shouldn’t be so fast to crucify television personalities who posted something incendiary on their blog fifteen years ago.  Views change, although I think sometimes folks in the hot seat exaggerate how much they’ve “evolved” on an issue.  Then again, we’re responsible for what we put out there.

That’s all a long way of saying that I’m doing some deep dives for an indeterminate number of Sundays into some forgotten posts.  These are posts that don’t immediately spring to my mind when I’m referencing my own work.  These posts may or may not have had high or low hit counts; they are just posts that don’t linger strongly in my memory.  They’re the red-headed stepchildren of my churning mind.

To find these posts, I just looked back at months in 2018 and 2019 to see what didn’t leap out to me as familiar.  You’ll notice that February 2019 is heavily-represented here, as that was early in the process of what became my goal of one year of daily posts.

With that, here are some forgotten posts of yesteryear:

  • Reality Breeds Conservatism” – This post isn’t totally forgotten, but it’s one of those keystone essays that, for whatever reason, I don’t link to frequently (unlike “Progressivism and Political Violence,” which I have probably linked to more than another other post).  I also wrote this post before diving into Russell Kirk’s ideas about conservatism, which themselves reflect Edmund Burke’s notions of “ordered liberty” and the organic nature of a healthy society.  It’s a decent, if lengthy post from 2018 (TPP 2.0 era), and it explores the influence of risk upon one’s political affiliations and leanings.
  • Twilight Zone Reviews on Orion’s Cold Fire” – My blogger buddy photog undertook a project in 2019 to watch and review every Twilight Zone episode.  He’d obtained the full box set, I believe, and set about his task, initially with daily reviews, which he then scaled back to a few times a week.  He’s now writing reviews of Shakespeare in Film, which I will confess I have not followed as closely, but is in the same spirit as his TWZ project.
  • The Good Populism” – This post was one in which I mused about running the first iteration of History of Conservative Thought.  The essay explores a post from classicist Victor Davis Hanson entitled “The Good Populism.”  I enthused at the time about how I would “definitely include” this essay in the course.  Oops!  The best-laid plans of mice and men oft go astray, eh?  But it is a great essay, as VDH delivers keen analysis once again.  In an age in which populism has newfound purchase on the American political imagination, it’s worth understanding that not all populism is the wicked machinations of demagogues swaying the rubes.
  • More Good News: Tom Rice on the State of the Economy” – I completely forgot about this short post, which features a YouTube video of my US Represenative, Tom Rice, discussing the good economy.  That was in The Before Times, in the Long Long Ago, before The Age of The Virus, when things just kept getting better and better.  Just can the headlines at Zero Hedge and you’ll see pretty quickly that we’re headed for multiple financial cliffs if we don’t cease with all this shutdown nonsense.  Yikes!

Well, that’s it for this Sunday.  I’m looking forward into further deep dives over the coming weeks.

Happy Sunday!

—TPP

Other Lazy Sunday Installments:

TBT: Ideas Have Consequences – Introduction

Yesterday was the last session of the Summer 2020 History of Conservative Thought course.  This summer marks the second run of the course, and it was a fantastic class.  I had three young men enrolled, all quite eager to dive into the material.

I try to avoid lengthy lectures in HoCT, giving the basic background information and scaffolding necessary to put the readings into context.  I want the works to speak for themselves, and for the students to the do the heavy lifting of sussing out meaning and the author’s ideas.  Each week students wrote a short essay or answered a few different guided questions, then we would come in and discuss the material.

With this summer’s group, that model worked very well, as two of the young men in particular loved to plunge into discussions and ask questions.  One of the students was concurrently taking a colleague’s popular Terror and Terrorism course, which leads off each summer with the French Revolution.  That always dovetails nicely with our discussion of Edmund Burke, as we read several excerpts from his Reflections on the Revolution in France.  Burke comes on the heels of our discussion of Russell Kirk’s conservative principles, and helps frame the early portion of the course in the Burkean tradition.

In July, we left the nineteenth century and began looking at the modern conservative movement, with a heavy emphasis on William F. Buckley, Jr., and the notion of fusionism.  Buckley’s National Review catches a good bit of flack on the Right these days, including from this blog, but it truly shaped conservatism in the second half of the twentieth century.  Before National Review, conservatism was a disorganized, disunited hodgepodge of various ideologies, movements, and issues—it was, as Lionel Trilling put it, a “reactionary impulse,” a grumpy attitude about the way things were, but without a cohesive understanding of how to combat the dominance of New Deal liberalism.

For all its noodle-wristed hand-wringing and desperate virtue-signalling today, National Review created the modern conservative movement by giving conservatives their voice, their publication.  It also gave conservatism a politically viable platform of issues that could win in national politics.  That focus on nationalism certainly cuts against the Kirkean/Burkean mold of organic, ordered liberty, but it was the reality of post-war American political life.

We ended with another mid-century conservative, but one fitting far more into the spiritual and moral mold of Burke and Kirk, and far less in the neoliberal and materialist mold of Buckley-style fusionism:  Richard Weaver’s seminal Ideas Have Consequences, which I consider one of the greatest books ever written.  Indeed, I’m a bit of a Weaver fanboy, as he’s been featured twice on my Summer Reading Lists, first in 2016 for Ideas Have Consequences, and again in 2020 for his collection of Southern Essays.

For the course, we just read the “Introduction” to the book, which I try to read every August before school resumes.  It reminds me why I teach, and what is at stake.  Reading Ideas Have Consequences—first published in 1948—today reads like prophecy fulfilled.  Weaver’s core focus on William of Occam as the source of modernity and its related ills might seem a bit far-fetched, but that’s merely the germ from which the analysis of modernity’s fallen view of the world grows.

The real heart of Ideas Have Consequences is the abandonment of the transcendental—of God—in favor for navel-gazing particularism, a constant focus on lower, material concerns.  Unbound from any obligation to or belief in a transcendental moral order, men are left adrift in a world full of isolation, alienation, confusion, and meaninglessness.

I’ll let the rest speak for itself.  Here is 29 July 2019’s “Ideas Have Consequences – Introduction“:

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History of Conservative Thought Summer 2020, Week 2

The second week of History of Conservative Thought 2020 is in the books.  We did another Google Meet session, as I’m still supposed to be quarantining, but we should be able to meet in person next week.  My fever is virtually gone, and I’m finally feeling normal again.

The bulk of today’s discussion centered on Russell Kirk’s “Ten Conservative Principles,” which expanded a bit upon the six conservative principles Kirk wrote about in the “Introduction” to The Portable Conservative Reader.  It was a great discussion, and it was interesting to read the students’ papers before class to see how their answer to the question “What is Conservatism?” changed after reading Kirk.

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TBT: What is Conservatism?

I’m still struggling with fever and migraines, although both seem to be improving and growing milder.  Fortunately, I received word today that I do not have The Virus.  So now I have to get to the bottom of whatever malady plagues me.

Yesterday I launched the Summer 2020 session of History of Conservative Thought online; you can read about our discussion here.  As such, it seemed a good time to look back 2019’s What is Conservatism?,” the first post from the Summer 2019 run.

The post here details Russell Kirk’s “Introduction” to The Portable Conservative Reader, which has also been repackaged as “Ten Conservative Principles.”  It’s an important essay that details the general principles and attitudes of the conservative as he attempts to make sense of the world.

It’s influential, too, though Kirk’s influence has suffered somewhat versus Buckley-style fusionism.  The Z Man dedicated an entire podcast to the essay a few weeks ago.

It’s well worth a read.  But for now, here’s my summary of it in “What is Conservatism?“:

Today I’m launching a summer class at my little private school here in South Carolina.  The course is called History of Conservative Thought, and it’s a course idea I’ve been kicking around for awhile.  Since the enrollment is very small, this first run is going to be more of an “independent study,” with a focus on analyzing and writing about some key essays and books in the conservative tradition.  I’ll also be posting some updates about the course to this blog, and I’ll write some explanatory posts about the material for the students and regular readers to consult.  This post will be one of those.

Course Readings:

Most of the readings will be digitized or available online at various conservative websites, but if you’re interested in following along with the course, I recommend picking up two books:

1.) Richard Weaver‘s Ideas Have Consequences ($6.29):  this will be our “capstone” reading for the summer.
2.) The Portable Conservative Reader (edited by Russell Kirk):  we’ll do some readings from this collection, including Kirk’s “Introduction” for the first week.

Course Scope:

I’ll be building out the course week-to-week, but the ultimate goal is to end with 2016 election, when we’ll talk about the break down of the postwar neoliberal consensus, the rise of populism and nationalism in the West, and the emergence of the Dissident Right.

After the introductory week, we’ll dive into Edmund Burke, then consider the antebellum debates about States’ rights.  I haven’t quite worked out the murky bit during the Gilded Age, but we’ll look at the rise of Progressivism in the early twentieth century, then through the conservative decline during the Great Depression and the Second World War.

After that, it’s on to Buckley conservatism and fusionism, as well as the challenges of the Cold War and international communism.  Paleoconservatives like Pat Buchanan and (if I’m feeling edgy) Sam Francis will get shout-outs as well.

Week 1:  What is Conservatism?

That’s the basic outline.  For the first day, we’re going to look at the question in the title:  what is conservatism?  What makes one a conservative?  Feel free to comment below on your thoughts.

After we see what students think conservatism is, we’ll begin reading through Russell Kirk’s “Introduction” in The Portable Conservative Reader.  It’s an excellent overview of the question posed.  The first section of the lengthy “Introduction” is entitled “Succinct Description,” and it starts with the question, “What is conservatism?”

Not being one to reinvent what others have done better—surely that is part of being a conservative (see Principle #3 below)—I wanted to unpack his six major points.  Kirk argues that though conservatism “is no ideology,” and that it varies depending on time and country, it

“may be apprehended reasonably well by attention to what leading writers and politicians, generally called conservative, have said and done…. to put the matter another way, [conservatism] amounts to the consensus of the leading conservative thinkers and actors over the past two centuries.”

Kirk condenses that grand tradition into six “first principles,” derived largely from British and American conservatives.  To wit:

1.) Belief in a Transcendent Moral Order – conservatives believe there is higher authority or metaphysical order that human societies should build upon.  As Kirk puts it, a “divine tactic, however dimly descried, is at work in human society.”  There is a need for “enduring moral authority.”  The Declaration of Independence, for example, draws on the concept of “natural law” to complain about abuses of God-given rights.  The implication is that a good and just society will respect God’s natural law.

2.) The Principle of Social Continuity – Kirk puts this best:  “Order and justice and freedom,” conservatives believe, “are the artificial products of a long and painful social experience, the results of centuries of trial and reflection and sacrifice.”

As such, the way things are is the product of long, hard-won experience, and changes to that social order should be gradual, lest those changes unleash even greater evils than the ones currently present.  Conservatives abhor sudden upheaval; to quote Kirk again:  “Revolution slices through the arteries of a culture, a cure that kills.”

3.) The Principle of Prescription, or the “wisdom of our ancestors” – building on the previous principle, “prescription” is the belief that there is established wisdom from our ancestors, and that the antiquity of an idea is a merit, not a detraction.  Old, tried-and-trued methods are, generally, preferable to newfangled conceptions of how humans should organize themselves.

As Kirk writes, “Conservatives argue that we are unlikely, we moderns, to make any brave new discoveries in morals or politics or taste.  It is perilous to weigh every passing issue on the basis of private judgment and private rationality.”  In other words, there is great wisdom in traditions, and as individuals it is difficult, in our limited, personal experience, to comprehend the whole.

It’s like G. K. Chesterton’s fence:  you don’t pull down the fence until you know why it is built.  What might seem to be an inconvenience, a structure no longer useful, may very well serve some vital purpose that you only dimly understand, if at all.

4.) The Principle of Prudence – in line with Principles #2 and #3, the conservative believes that politicians or leaders should pursue any reforms only after great consideration and debate, and not out of “temporary advantage or popularity.”  Long-term consequences should be carefully considered, and rash, dramatic changes are likely to be more disruptive than the present ill facing a society.  As Kirk writes, “The march of providence is slow; it is the devil who always hurries.”

5.) The Principle of Variety – the “variety” that Kirk discusses here is not the uncritical mantra of “Diversity is Our Strength.”  Instead, it is the conservative’s love for intricate variety within his own social institutions and order.

Rather than accepting the “narrowing uniformity and deadening egalitarianism of radical systems,” conservatives recognize that some stratification in a society is inevitable.  Material and social inequality will always exist—indeed, they must exist—but in a healthy, ordered society, each of these divisions serves its purpose and has meaning.  The simple craftsman in his workshop, while materially less well-off than the local merchant, enjoys a fulfilling place in an ordered society, one that is honorable and satisfying.  Both the merchant and the craftsmen enjoy the fruits of their labor, as private property is essential to maintaining this order:  “without private property, liberty is reduced and culture is impoverished,” per Kirk.

This principle is one of the more difficult to wrap our minds around, as the “variety” here is quite different than what elites in our present age desire.  Essentially, it is a rejection of total social and material equality, and a celebration of the nuances—the nooks and crannies—of a healthy social order.  “Society,” Kirk argues, “longs for honest and able leadership; and if natural and institutional differences among people are destroyed, presently some tyrant or host of squalid oligarchs will create new forms of inequality.”

Put another way:  make everyone equal, and you’ll soon end up with another, likely worse, form of inequality.

6.) The Principle of the Imperfectibility of Human Nature – unlike progressives, who believe that “human nature” is mutable—if we just get the formula right, everyone will be perfect!—conservatives (wisely) reject this notion.  Hard experience demonstrates that human nature “suffers irremediably from certain faults…. Man being imperfect, no perfect social order ever can be created.”  An Utopian society, assuming such a thing were possible, would quickly devolve into rebellion, or “expire of boredom,” because human nature is inherently restless and rebellious.

Instead, conservatives believe that the best one can hope for is “a tolerably ordered, just and free society, in which some evils, maladjustments, and suffering continue to lurk.”  Prudent trimming of the organic oak tree of society can make gradual improvements, but the tree will never achieve Platonic perfection (to quote Guns ‘n’ Roses:  “Nothing lasts forever, even cold November rain”).

Conclusion

Kirk stresses in the rest of the introduction that not all conservatives accept or conform to all of the six principles again; indeed, most conservatives aren’t even aware of these principles, or may only dimly perceive them.

That’s instructive:  a large part of what makes one conservative is lived experience.  “Conservatism” also varies depending on time and place:  the social order that, say, Hungary seeks to preserve is, of necessity, different than that of the United States.

Conservatism, too, is often a reaction to encroaching radicalism.  Thus, Kirk writes of the “shop-and-till” conservatism of Britain and France in the nineteenth century:  small farmers and shopkeepers who feared the loss of their property to abstract rationalist philosophers and coffeeshop radicals, dreaming up airy political systems in their heads, and utterly detached from reality.

If that sounds like the “Silent Majority” of President Richard Nixon’s 1968 and 1972 elections—or of President Trump’s 2016 victory—it’s no coincidence.  The great mass of the voting public is, debatably, quietly, unconsciously conservative, at least when it comes to their own family, land, and local institutions.  Those slumbering hordes only awaken, though, when they perceive their little platoon is under siege from greater forces.  When they speak, they roar.

But that’s a topic for another time.  What do you think conservatism is? Leave your comments below.

–TPP

First Day of History of Conservative Thought 2020

Today marked the first day of the Summer 2020 session of my History of Conservative Thought course.  Because I’m sick and awaiting COVID-19 test results, we held the inaugural session on Google Meet, discussing the big picture question “What is Conservatism?

The session went quite well (and I was pleased to see that even with a fever I could last around 75 minutes).  The students hit upon these concepts as being key to conservatism:

  • Fiscal responsibility
  • Constitutionalism (in the American context)
  • Limited/small government and States’ Rights
  • Traditionalism in a cultural and religious sense
  • Opposition to Progressivism itself (certainly a feature of Buckleyite fusionism
  • Peace through Strength
  • Strict immigration enforcement

To that list I added the classically liberal concept of natural rights and the Burkean idea of “ordered liberty.”  We also talked about how the earliest conservatives of the Enlightenment Period were largely monarchists, and explicitly rejected the concept of natural rights (at least, rejected the concept as Americans understand it; that is, that all men are created equal and God gives them their rights).

They’re reading Russell Kirk’s “Ten Conservative Principles” for next week, and we’ll check Kirk’s principles against their list.

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On Ghost Stories

Yesterday’s post about Father Robert Morey’s courageous stand for the unborn really took off.  Thank you to readers for sharing the post, and thanks to those of you who left comments.  Please continue to keep Father Bob in your prayers.  —TPP

It’s Halloween!  Well, at least it’s All Hallow’s Eve Eve, but that’s close enough for some ghoulishly delicious ghost stories.

I love a good ghost story.  The Victorians did the genre best, but many writers since have honed it further, adding their own unique twists and scares.  Even Russell Kirk, the great conservative philosopher, was a fan of ghost stories.  Indeed, his bestselling book was a ghost story.

For the Victorians, ghost stories were told at Christmastime.  This timing, while peculiar to modern readers, makes sense intuitively—Christmas is a time for remembering the past, in part (perhaps especially) our honored dead (just ask Washington Irvingif he comes by to haunt you).  The “ghosts” of departed loved ones linger closely during those long, frosty nights.  The inherent nostalgia of Christmas and the winter season—and bundling up next to a crackling fire—sets the perfect mood for ghostly tales.

Nevertheless, what other time of year can beat Halloween for a good tale of witches and werewolves; of monsters and mummies; of ghouls, goblins, and ghosts?

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