Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

I was flipping around the dial when I got home last night and I caught what I quickly identified as the begining of "The Spy Who Came In from the Cold". I'm not even sure I know how I recognized it-- I'm sure I've never seen it before. I've never seen any of the Alec Guinness "Smiley" movies either. "Spy" was, however, pretty unmistakable from the opening frames-- and really well done. It was later than I wanted to stay up, so I bailed out, with regret, just as Richard Burton was being recruited. That's all I have to say about that, since I wouldn't want to spoil it for anyone who might not be familiar with the story, but I think I want to have a little John le Carré film festival fairly soon.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

My brain isn't really hinged to see the humor in anagrams, but I was glad to see that someone took on the task of including Buffalo in the transit map anagram meme. Our office is between Her Teat and A Foul Nazi Pant. (Via Boing Boing Posted by Picasa

Friday, February 24, 2006

I don't think you could call me a John Updike fan, exactly-- as often as not I prefer to admire him from afar is more like it. A lot of the time the rewards he offers seem too small for my effort, and a lot of the time what is is writing about so effectively is painful stuff. Just because it is beautifully done doesn't mean that I am always in the mood to be bummed out. Still, if I give him three paragraphs he's usually got me, and that's all it took for the story in this week's New Yorker. I don't even know if what I took away from it was what it was supposed to be about, but there were some astonishing moments, including this little riff on religion:

"As for Unitarianism, it seemed so milky, so smugly vague and evasive: an unimpeachably featureless dilution of the Christian religion as I had met it in its Lutheran form-- the whole implausible, colorful, comforting tapestry of the Incarnation and the Magi, Christmas carols and and Santa Claus, Adam and Eve, nakedness and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, the serpent and the Fall, betrayal in the garden and Redemption on the Cross, "Why hast Thou forsaken me?" and Pilate washing his hands and Resurrection on the third day, posthumous suppers in an upper room and doubting Thomas and angels haunting the the shadier margins of Jerusalem, the instructions to the disciples and Paul's being knocked from his donkey on the road to Damascus and the disciples talking in tongues (aq practice at which the stolid churchgoers of Alton and its evrons did draw the line). Our public-school day began with a Bible reading and the Lord's Prayer; our teachers and bankers and undertakers and mailmen all professed to be conventional Christians, and what was good enough for them should have been, I think I thought, good enough for Unitarians."

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Even though a lot of the time you can cut the pretentiousness with a knife, my homie Ron Rosenbaum is nearly always worth reading, especially when he turns his attention to rock'n'roll. This week he has something to say about Neil Young. "I always feel that when an artist is obsessed with returning to one of his early works, it's worth our while to take the proper time to understand why," he says, then goes on to lay out some of the things that make Young important to him. "[F]or me, it'’s ...about the songwriting, the lyrics: Neil Young as master of epigrammatic Compressed Elliptical Wisdom. It'’s what'’s most distinctive about his songwriting. Dylan has it but tosses it off casually, almost too profusely--—there'’s so much to pay attention to that you don'’t give any one element its due. Neil makes you focus on an elliptical phrase by repeating it over and over until all (or most) of its resonances rise and emerge. When Neil gets hold of a phrase, he doesn'’t try to explain it, but rather exalts it through an almost trance-like incantation."

I find myself in a Neil Young place less often these days than I once did, but when the itch is on me, there's only one way to scratch it. Rosenbaum mentions a side I was unfamiliar with: "Road Rock Vol. 1", featuring, inter alia, an 18 minute "Cowgirl In The Sand". Christgau says it "rocks different than Crazy Horse". My interest is piqued. Young is indisputably part of the pantheon, and may be too often overlooked because for a long time it seemed like every time he was on to something he'd release something that was a complete departure. Dylan is the guy that has this reputation, of course, (and Miles Davis, and others) but you have to admit that Neil owns the title: "Trans"? "Everybody's Rockin'"? "Arc"? You can't name anybody (except maybe Miles) who would ever put out a side representing that sort of departure. Certainly there is nobody else in rock. Even Young's hippie-dippy mellow stuff is pretty great. Off the top of my head I can only think of two Neil Young songs I'd be pleased to never hear again ("Southern Man" and "Ohio". Please, no more.)

Rosenbaum focuses most of his essay on why he thinks the new Neil Young concert movie misrepresents the artist, or doesn't capture what makes Young great, but I'm still interested in seeing it, folkie "Harvest" material or no.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

My friend Karima Amin refers to February as "African American Artists Full Employment Month", and for retailers it's all about red and pink hearts, but when I was in Grade School the cork strip above the blackboard was decorated with silhouettes of Washington and Lincoln, the father and the savior of the country respectively. This morning-- Washington's birthday-- I had a cherry danish in commemoration. My mom used to make a cherry pie for desert, an event with deep significance since the ability to bake a cherry pie is one of the hallmarks of womanly virtue in the song "Billy Boy". I don't have a particular food memory associated with Lincoln-- the Rail splitter was from Kentucky, of course, and Illinois, but somehow both barbecue and deep dish pizza seem as inappropriate as the mattress advertisements that are now the totem of what has become President's Day.

Coming back from Albany yesterday my law partner introduced me to the audio book of Doris Kearns Goodwin's "Team of Rivals : The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln", and I am completely loving it. Read by Richard Thomas, Goodwin's somewhat overworking prose acquires a soothing eloquence which suits a narrative about the man Sarah Vowell has said is her favorite American writer. Even better, the familiar Lincoln story is told by describing his rivals for the Republican nomination-- William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, and Edward Bates. All of them were national figures, and Lincoln tapped all three for cabinet slots.

I wish I had a deeper knowledge of history-- but reading about it is frustrating. I am constantly distracted by digressive thoughts, and texts present a series of footnote rabbit holes to disappear down. What is the connection, if any, between Steward's guru, Thurlow Weed, and Weedsport, New York? Why was Horace Greeley so opposed to Steward, and why did he have a beard growing out of his neck?

For a long time I took the view that the Republican Party was the reform party in Erie County, but all it took was the election of Dennis Vacco (and later Joel Giambra) to disabuse me of that notion. When I think of the thugs, thieves, and outright villains that are running our national government today, it sickens me, so it is a jarring thing to find myself listening to this book and rooting for the Republicans. It is an exercise in cognitive dissonance that seems worthwhile: the United States can claim to be the first nation that was formed from a set of ideals, and Lincoln was and is important because he cared about and thought about those ideas. If he stands for anything, he stands for the importance of thinking about what we stand for.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Although I find Terry Teachout's blog to be self-absorbed and pretentious, I gotta admit that when he turns his hand to writing actual critisism he's among the very best working today-- and in the tradition of Edmund Wilson. Here he is on The Beatles:

"[T]he Beatles were the first rock-and-roll musicians to be written about as musicians. Elvis Presley, for instance, had attracted vast amounts of attention from the press, but for the most part he was treated as a mass-culture phenomenon rather than as an artist, and so were the other rock musicians of the 50’s and early 60’s (and the swing-era band-leaders and vocalists who came before them). Not so the Beatles. Almost from the time they began making records in 1962, their music was taken seriously—and praised enthusiastically—by such noted classical composers as Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, and Ned Rorem and such distinguished critics and commentators as William Mann, Hans Keller, and Wilfrid Mellers.

"Most of the Beatles’ hit singles were Lennon-McCartney songs, many of which would later be performed and recorded by other artists. It was the best of these songs that initially won them the respect of musicians who had hitherto been indifferent or hostile to rock-and-roll.

"Lennon and McCartney began to write together as teenagers. Their first hits—“Love Me Do,” “She Loves You,” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand”—were largely derivative of the lyrically naïve styles of the American pop stars of the 50’s whom they most admired, including Elvis, Little Richard, and the Everly Brothers. But even back then their music contained surprising glints of originality, in particular the modally colored tunes that would become one of their trademarks.4 Within a brief time it became evident that, for all their lack of formal training, they were naturally gifted composers whose fast-growing musical sophistication was reminiscent of the similarly rapid stylistic evolution of another self-taught songwriter of genius, Irving Berlin."

A couple of weeks ago I discovered that my hard drive was maxed out. After some investigation the light dawned and I found that I had gorged on music files, so I set about deleting artists who had more than two CDs worth of material from my iTunes library. I reasoned that the songs would remain on my iPod, and if I wanted them back, I could re-load them (since I have the cds). It didn't quite work out that way, which means that I have been listening to a different mix of random music: more Clifford Brown than Miles, more Ray Bryant than Monk, and a lot of miscelanious rock'n'roll rather than the Beatles. Nothing wrong with that, but CLA has been loading her Beatles library onto her iPod, and I'm going to have to restore them to mine as well.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Walking over to judge last night's Mugel rounds I thought about tax law, trying to get myself in the right head. Tax is what UB used to be known for, and was, actually, the only upper level required course. The dilemma back then was who to take: there were three choices, and each had merit. Bill Greiner, who later went on to become president of the university, taught a section that was popularly known as "Tax for Poets". If you were utterly cowed by the notion of tax, his class was a good choice. Ken Joyce, a jovial Irishman from Boston was the middle road: a leading scholar in the field, Professor Joyce was (and remains) a great favorite with the students-- personable, funny, and a great explainer. If you were a serious tax jock, though, you opted for Louis DelCotto's class. Professor DelCotto and Professor Joyce taught both Tax I and Tax II, and beyond that lay DelCotto's Corporate Tax, a heady realm where only the most dedicated acolytes dared venture. Although he was a stimulating and lucid lecturer, it was understood that the people who took Professor DelCotto's class were serious about the field, likely to go into it, and uncowed by his reputation as a tougher grader than Professor Joyce. He did not suffer fools, but could be patient if he saw that an effort was being made.

He was a hell of a guy, Professor DelCotto, dead nearly a year now. I knew that Tax was never going to be something I would ever be able to do, but since he was one of the superstars at the school, I figured I should sign up for his section. "Nobody ever did as well in my class understanding it as poorly as you did," he told me once. He meant it as a complement, and I took it that way. I was through with Tax, but I was a student representative to the faculty and we had occasion to hoist a few from time to time. Listening to his lectures, I thought last night, was like watching Penn and Teller. He could show me the trick, and I'd be amazed. Then he'd show me how it was done, and I'd be impressed-- but I would still never be able to do it myself, or probably even be able to explain it.

With the benefit of one round behind me, and a journal article I'd found, I felt like I had a handle on the problem last night. Professor Joyce's bench brief was a good example of his pellucid exposition, and I found myself actually thinking, for a moment, that I had a handle on the issues. Actually, I felt the way I used to in Professor DelCotto's class, and I remembered what he'd told me about my Tax chops. Sitting here writing this, I'm not so clear that I could describe for you what the hell the case was about. The taxability of contingent fees in non-bodily injury cases is all I remember, and Qualified Settlement Funds. Lou DelCotto could make an elephant disapear, then show you the mirrors, and the trick was equally impressive either way. Either way I just find myself sitting there thinking, "Huh. Elephant. No elephant. Elephant. No elephant".

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Although I enjoy judging moot court, I don't usually get asked to preside at the Mugel competition. Named for the late Al Mugel, an alum and a tax practitioner and a tax professor at UB, this competition, long a signature event for my law school, focuses on tax law. Once tax was the thing my school was known for; now I'm told it is not even a required course. Worse, perhaps, is the fact that the Mugel competition, Buffalo's claim to fame on the national moot court circuit, seems to be on the ropes. Entries were down, and the Moot Court Board was so strapped for judges that not only was I asked this year, I was asked to put the arm on as many of my friends as I could. I have no idea if my invitation to participate garnered any assistance, but this evening, just after I got home I got a call from my friend and clerk, coincidentally the Moot Court Board president, and was asked if I could come down tonight-- a day earlier than I'd planned, to fill an 8:00 o'clock vacancy that had just developed.

It's flattering to be asked to participate in this sort of thing at all, frankly, and to be the fireman was certainly more than I could turn down so I made the scene. Since I am not a tax jock, I was hoping that the other volunteers on the panel would do the heavy lifting on the substance. Usually there are three judges on a panel in the preliminary rounds, but tonight the cat who was supposed to fill out our panel never showed, so there were just two of us. The students who were competing were quite good, and my co-panelist, thank goodness, was a tax practitioner who was able to waltz them around the Code, even as I was trying to get my mind around the issues. In the end I think they had an experience that was probably pretty close to what actual appellate argument is like. I have to say, though, that I felt like I was working nearly as hard as they were.

I mention it because I am disappointed with every single person who got the invitation and didn't respond, as well as with the people who just bailed out. Frankly, the lawyers who were invited but couldn't make the time are not on my list of star members of our glamour profession either. It is a small enough thing to give up a part of a Thursday or Friday evening to help train the lawyers we'll be practicing with in the years to come. And it is an important thing, I think, to help promote the law school that made it possible for us to practice this pleasant living. Judging moot court is an easy way to keep your mind nimble, and I can't believe that in the whole Eighth Judicial District there weren't enough lawyers available to fill the bench for an event like this. Hell, it's not like it's work-- I learned something about the state of the law that I did not know this evening (and got CLE credit-- no small thing)-- and I had fun. I'm on deck for tomorrow, but I'd feel a lot better about my colleagues if I don't get the call.

I'm not sure where I take this particular gripe next. By virtue of my clerk's involvement, I have a pretty good idea about the amount of effort that went into recruting judges this year-- I've seen get out the vote drives that were less intense, and if it had come down to offering transportation I have a feeling it could have been arranged. The lack of support from the legal community on this falls right into the laps of our bench and bar-- and I'm embarrassed by it. We do our profession no favors this way, and I'm upset enough that I'm inclined to push the matter a little bit further.

I've had a little time to get involved in the work on SqueakyWheel's upcoming event, and I'm getting keyed up for it. Peepshow will be February 25th at the Hotel Lenox. The hotel's 8th floor will be dedicated to installation art, there'll be live music, and a peepshow-themed screening. It should be pretty nifty. Posted by Picasa

Monday, February 13, 2006

Cheney shooting a man in Texas is comic gold. My first thought was that he'd lured Justice Stewart on a hunting trip and shot him just to watch him die. Guns don't shoot people, vice presidents shoot people.

Friday, February 10, 2006

If it weren't so pervasive, I could find a quiet sort of humor in the spam names I sweep out of my inbox several times a day. Sumo C. Troopship. Mable Betts. Dewayne Seay. Juana Lake.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

These days it's unusual for me to wake up in the middle of the night remembering something I'd forgotten to do, but it does still happen sometimes, and it happened to me last night. I'm in the middle of working out an arbitration with a lawyer I've known for twenty years, but hadn't seen in probably ten years. The course of the litigation has gone pretty congenially-- I removed the case to federal court to get it out of the building where he is every day, but he never groused, and has been a perfect gentleman at every turn. We took a stab at mediation, and when that didn't work we worked out a plan to arbitrate that both our clients were happy with. Yesterday I roughed out a stipulation, and at 2:30 (I checked my watch) I awoke with the realization that I had left out an important concession. Today he faxed back some suggestions, including the point in question, and I called him to confirm that omitting it had been inadvertent on my point. "I woke up last night and thought of it," I told him. "So, you're losing sleep over this?" he replied. "No, no," I said, I went right back to sleep. I'm not that worried about it." "You went back to sleep after you took a piss," he replied, "That's why you woke up in the first place," confirming my belief that he knows exactly what my priorities are.

I've been thinking about this case in contrast with another I'm handling because the two matters are a study in contrasting approaches to professionalism. In the companion matter my adversary is a lawyer I have known for a comparable period. I have had many cases with this cat, and although I respect his abilities, I am struck by the way he turns everything into a clash of personalities. Phone calls go unanswered, and are terminated when he abruptly hangs up. Arguments made are rebutted by asserting that they are "misrepresentations". Everything is a snarl with this guy, and it can be frustrating, to say the least. I'm sure it is more miserable to be him than it is to deal with him, though, and for whatever it is worth, it doesn't seem to yield him better results than he would get if he were just as skilled and less of a puke. Funny how it goes-- I try to enjoy the work, and I think that's the biggest part of why I do. It's not such a bad way to make a living-- so why act like it is?

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

In an essay about cell phones in horror fiction Bryan Curtis quotes mystery writer Andrew Klavan: "If I had to pick two things that have changed the world of genre writing, one would be the fall of the Berlin Wall, which eliminated a whole genre of fiction. And the other would be cell phones. The question everybody asks about crime stories is, 'Why don't they just call they police?' And now, with cell phones, you have to come up with a pretty good explanation."

The solution, at least as put forward by Curtis, is to turn cell phones into instruments of horror themselves. The examples he gives-- notably the current Stephen King-- impress me as sort of cartoonish, but it is true that thrillers have had to address this issue. It's something that frustrates me as I try to rough out plots in my mind. Truth to tell, any sort of roadblock is enough to throw off the plots I try to sketch out in my mind. Maybe I should try to write something set in the 70's, but then I'd have to think about those clothes.

Leaving aside for the moment the fact that I never want to see large, uncovered poultry in my refrigerator-- and the fact that there does not appear to be any beer in there-- this is how it should be done. (Via Saute Wednesday. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The New York Bar Association is recommending changes in the way lawyers' advertising is reviewed. Back when I first moved to the Queen City of the Lakes I was involved with the Erie County Bar Association's Ethics Committee, and although there were a number of interesting and important issues that the committee took up, the question of lawyer advertising was a regular topic. People (other lawyers, mostly) would write in complaining about some lawyer's ad in the phone book or in a local pennysaver that said the lawyer "specialized" or somehow violated some other picayunee rule. One of the jokes on the committee was that what we really needed was a subcommittee on Bad Taste. Most of the stuff that the complainants were griping about would have fallen under the subcommittee's jurisdiction, and it sounds to me like NYSBA President A.Vincent Buzard should be considering a similar task force.

Lawyers don't like advertising for a number of reasons, I think. Part of it has to do with the old school image of ourglamour profession that many of us still carry around in our heads: leather upholstery, paneled walls, dignified, white-haired judges-- this is not the reality of the law for most people, or even most lawyers, but the bar association panjandrums charged with worrying about this sort of thing think that television commercials with flashing red police lights in the background make all lawyers look bad. Maybe they do, maybe they don't. It's commercial speech, and some limitations are appropriate, but most of the things that upset people are grist for the Subcommittee on Bad Taste. The other reason, I think, that many lawyers object to advertising is that it works. Ad execs joke that only 50% of advertising is effective, and that the good news is that nobody knows which 50%-- but make no mistake about it-- lawyer advertising is very effective. This means that a lot of people who thought they had a lock on a particular kind of work have discovered that suddenly they don't. I wouldn't pick a professional based on any sort of advertising, but that's actually how most people do pick lawyers. It'd be interesting to do a study and see if client satisfaction levels were the same between people who found their lawyer by way of advertising aqnd people who found their lawyer by way of referral-- I'd rather see the Bar Association looking into that.

Here's a delightful little time waster: 5ives, a daily list of five things. I'll get you started:
Five bad signs about the band onstage
1. Large gong behind drummer
2. > 3 guitar players
3. Teleprompters
4. Anyone wearing own band’s t shirt (bonus if it’s for the current tour)
5. Opening with a cover

Monday, February 06, 2006

Today is Aaron Burr's birthday. I am fond of Gore Vidal's novel, although I understand that it takes liberties; but I also love "A Friend to Alexander", so I suppose I'm conflicted. Does anyone read Thurber these days, I wonder?

Saturday, February 04, 2006

EGA writes:

"Do you mind being stared at all the time?" my friend Jiani asked me the other day. She's Cantonese, so no one gives her a second glance. I don't actually mind. It's hard for me to imagine exactly what Chinese people must think when they see me because I've always lived in relatively heterogeneous communities. My high school was mostly white, but certainly not as white as Beijing is Asian. That's the thing about America, isn't it? Yet it's taken so little time for me to become unused to seeing other white people. "God, there are so many laowai here," I marveled yesterday at the Silk Market.'

Friday, February 03, 2006

I've been meaning to write about the federal court ruling striking down New York's system for judicial nominations-- in a way it's an exciting development, even though, in another way it's still "Meet your new boss/Same as the old boss."

As I have argued many times before, there is no reason at all to elect judges democratically. For the most part a judge's job is to make rulings on the law, rather than to respond to popular opinion about what a ruling should be. You want someone to respond to popular opinion? That's what the other two branches of the government are all about. Judges should be selected on the basis of their ability to do the job-- but instead we pick them by virtue of their loyalty to their political party. I suppose the same could be said about the merit selection process for federal court judges-- but let's face it, finding a poor federal court judge presents a much greater challenge than finding an indifferent state court judge. As a purely empirical matter that has to tell us something. The judicial nominating convention system was particularly egregious, but I don't really see how judicial primary elections will improve things. I suspect that the cost of running a campaign just went up, and we are still placing the selection process in the hands of persons ill-equipped to properly evaluate the candidates. Party chairpersons ran the conventions (and will continue to control access to the primaries-- let's not kid ourselves). The party faithful vote in primaries. With all due respect (as we say when we are about to slam someone) neither of these groups have much of a handle on what makes a good judge. Party chairs know what make a good Republican or a good Democrat, but that is not at all the same thing. Party faithful are looking for a judge who will say, "I'll put crooks behind bars", but since that is a jury function, what you really have in such a candidate is a disingenuous character who is probably prepared to say anything if it'll get him on the public payroll.

Part of the problem with merit selection, I suspect, is that the most visible example of it we have is also the most disfunctional. The rigmarole surrounding the confirmation hearings of US Supreme Court nominees is not typical. Generally speaking the Senate Judiciary Committee does a respectable job screening district court and circuit court candidates. You couldn't say they do a great job-- Orin Hatch politicized the process during the Clinton years, and badly served the judiciary and the country in so doing; but I'd give them a "B". A "B" is a lot better than the system New York has been using-- if a federal district court judge says it's so bad it's unconstitutional, that's pretty bad.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Pathetically, at this stage in my life I read the annual Pazz & Jop poll mostly to see what I have no idea about. Much to my surprise, this year I know and like several of the sides on the Dean's List (including one in the top three-- whoo-hoo!). On the other hand, who is this Kanye West fellow? And how does he pronounce his name-- is it "Kenny"? "Ken-Nay"? I am reminded of the fact that although I have long been an admirer of Mariah Carey's album covers and in-store displays, I'm pretty sure I have never, ever heard a Mariah Carey song. I know for sure I couldn't identify one if you gave me a blindfold test.

At some point being a rock critic has got to reach an exhaustion point, don't you think? I really wonder when these guys have time to play whatever it is that they really love, instead of whatever it is that's new. There was a time when I could hardly wait to hear something new, but right now in my house there are a half-dozen CDs that A "won" at a fundraiser that I just haven't had time to get to. Christgau has been in this game since the 60's-- I'd love his record collection, but I'm not so sure I'd want his job these days.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

My mother, g-d bless her (she's not dead, so hates it when I call her "my sainted mother"), always used to say that she hated books and movies about dogs because they always die. Of course, this is also true of actual animals, but that's not the point. The point is that here is a very nice list of animal snuff literature, and except for the Steinbeck it doesn't even get into the rich trove of books in which the horsie gets it.

You may feel free to supplement your own most traumatic childhood animal book in the comments. I've got loads-- this was a staple subject of our childhood reading. Hey-- Ribsy made it through, didn't he? (Via Bookslut.)

There are a thousand nagging anxieties associated with travel, and experience is no balm . I don't usually use the check-in kiosk when I fly JetBlue, but the counter was empty when I got to the airport this morning for the red-eye, so I slid my card into the slot. The screen returned an error message, so I got on line, my stomach fluttering, mentally rehearsing what my approach should be. Had I booked the flight for the wrong day? Was I on some sort of new, bad list? As I stressed, a call went over the PA asking if there was a Notary in the house. The folks behind the counter at the next airline over were looking for someone to execute a document. "I'm a Notary," I said, stepping forward, feeling as though that ought to be a line from an "Airplane!" movie. Turned out there was a fellow who was going somewhere in the Caribbean-- except that he didn't have a passport. He had a birth certificate, but it had been issued by the hospital he'd been born in, 45 years ago, instead of having been issued by the county clerk, or some such. Apparently this is something the airlines run into, and they had a form that would authenticate the document, but the hapless traveler's signature had to be notarized. I felt like a hero-- "I'm a Notary!" and we both made our flights.

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