The Myth of the ‘Reasonable’ Discussion

I get tired of the dynamic of Kleinheider says something, I point out how stupid it is, he points out that I’ve pointed out how stupid it is, etc., etc., etc., but today he wrote something not so much stupid as nefarious.

And that’s this column which is, in essence, about how reasonable people can agree about certain facts about immigration, if only we got beyond our binary political thinking.

It’s pretty clever, actually, how it works. Tiny Pasture gets to set the terms–“On the flip side, conservatives tend to think that if progressives are amenable to something like guest worker programs or other fixes short of outright restriction, then it must be a backdoor ploy to throw open our nation to the world’s undesirables.” for instance–and, if you balk at the whole idea of calling any groups of people “undesirables,” balk at even setting the debate up in terms that treat groups of people like garbage, you’re being unreasonable, unwilling to compromise. You’ve proven yourself unworthy of participating in the discussion.

And think about how this idea that we should have ‘reasonable’ discussions about immigration basically rules out participation by the people most affected. If it’s you who’s about to be stripped of your mother, who is being sent back to a country she hasn’t lived in since she was three, you’re not going to feel very reasonable, very calm, and collected.  You’re just not going to have the right tone for a reasonable debate.

This idea that good people, if we would just be reasonable, can find some acceptable compromise is a way for us to abstract the wrong we do. We can take policies that destroy the lives of our neighbors and make the discussion somewhat theoretical so that we don’t have to face the real effects on our community members.

Calls for this kind of discussion are just ways of reinforcing the idea that our community is made of up of people capable of having “reasonable” discussions about immigration, and, if you can’t, maybe because it hits too close to home, then you aren’t really a part of the community and it’s not the community’s job to look out for you.

If you stand against treating immigrants like they’re outsiders who don’t belong in our community, then how can you possibly participate in a discussion like this, where the whole point is to establish that some folks don’t really deserve a say?

If that’s what “reasonable” is, then I’m happy to be unreasonable.

36 thoughts on “The Myth of the ‘Reasonable’ Discussion

  1. I’d also add that there are a lot of things that are just wrong in that column, but I’d hope by now that I don’t have to point them out.

  2. Pingback: Can’t We All Just Get Along On Immigration? : Post Politics: Political News and Views in Tennessee

  3. Aunt B.,

    So if one believes that there should be any limits on immigration, one is disqualified from this discussion?

    What about the idea that there should be some legal process from immigrants to become citizens?

    Or are you saying that if you can get here, you get citizenship?

    Do American citizens get any say on this or are we just required to sit back and say “welcome?”

    By the way, are people like the woman in San Francisco who’s husband and sons were murdered by an illiegal that the city refused to deport him just not part of the community?

  4. […] an illiegal that the city refused to deport […]

    what, you think the SFPD should’ve driven him to the city limits and told him to keep walking? because municipalities do not deport people from the country as a whole. you meant to say something rather more complicated and failed; please try again.

  5. Likewise, the idea that a civic body is obligated, prospectively, to deport anyone that might in the future commit a violent act is…well, Mark, you first.

    Is this the right time to observe (cough, straw felon, cough) that US citizens are far and away the most ruthless killers of US citizens? Do you have an argument without the “bloody shirt” (aka, appeal to emotion)?

  6. NN,

    Even the left-wing nutburger of a Mayor there now wants to deport illegals who are accused of felonies.

    Bridgett,

    No. And I didn’t say that. Besides that was tangental to my earleir questions.

    Do you think that there should be a mandatory process for citizenship that includes an understanding of American History and a mastery of American language?

    Or do you think that anyone who can get here automatically qualifies for citizenship?

  7. i don’t care what the mayor of San Francisco wants, he doesn’t get to deport people from the USA. that’s a Federal law enforcement function, and no city mayor gets to run such.

    the mayor of San Francisco doesn’t get to issue U.S. passports, or collect federal income taxes, either. he might want to, but he doesn’t get to; he’ll have to run for federal office first.

    and now i’m no longer sure you’re merely failing to clearly state some more reasonable idea; maybe you really are silly enough to believe what you’re actually saying. please prove me wrong.

  8. Do you think that there should be a mandatory process for citizenship that includes an understanding of American History and a mastery of American language?

    Hell, the signs at your tea parties prove that even people who are already citizens could use that.

  9. Do you think that there should be a mandatory process for citizenship that includes an understanding of American History and a mastery of American language?

    I think a rudimentary understanding of American English would be a good thing to have if you want to be a citizen. But our immigration populations have historically NEVER had a mastery of the English/American English language.

  10. Goldni,

    Fair point.

    Yet no one seems to be willing to step up and say whether they believe that the US should control its immigration and citizenship proceedures.

    If you don’t and want (what I interpret to be) Aunt B’s ‘y’all come’ approach, then there is no place for ‘reasonable discussion’ since that option leaves no room for compromise and places no value on national consensus.

    If you do believe that the US has some right and/or obligation to set controls on immigration and proceedures for citizenship, then there can be a discussion.

    NN and Bridgett,

    Is it just me or do I sense a curious set of priorities. This blog was justly alive with outrage over a woman being restrained during childbirth because she was illegal. When an illegal who had been convicted of a felony but wasn’t deported because of the ideology of the city government of San Francisco murders three people, not only isn’t there even a bit of anger, but one of ‘so what.’

    My sense is that victims of crimes by illegal aliens are somehow not part of your community and so they don’t matter.

    Now I know that isn’t really true but ‘straw felon’ is beneath you.

  11. If you don’t and want (what I interpret to be) Aunt B’s ‘y’all come’ approach, then there is no place for ‘reasonable discussion’ since that option leaves no room for compromise and places no value on national consensus.

    That’s clearly not what she’s saying though, only that it’s impossible to have this glorified “reasonable discussion” on solely political terms.

    Coble,

    I think a rudimentary understanding of American English would be a good thing to have if you want to be a citizen. But our immigration populations have historically NEVER had a mastery of the English/American English language.

    My great-grandparents (on both sides, my grandparents on both sides were the first generation to be born in the U.S.) all spoke Yiddish as their native language. But they learned English through their kids, who learned it through school. That’s what happened with every immigrant group to come through and is what’s happening now.

    And that’s my angle in this. Some of those on the “right” side in Kleinheider’s reasonable discussion almost certainly have grandparents or great-grandparents who said 100 years ago that the U.S. shouldn’t be allowing all these Jews and Poles to come in, they just don’t fit into our (white Protestant) American culture.

  12. The victims of crimes are victims of crimes regardless of the status of the perpetrator’s citizenship status. Further, one’s citizenship status is not an indicator of one’s criminal tendancies.* That people were murdered is a terrible thing. And the murderer should not go unpunished. I have seen no one (surely not here) make such a claim. But why is deportation on the top of everyone’s list? It is okay to send a murderer back to some other country instead of to jail? Even if everyone in this country had perfect paperwork, we would still have murders and other crimes. Decreasing crime is not a jusification for our current policies or practices of immigration. But, I think Bridgett already said that.

    *and the response that being here illegally is itself a crime is in fact not responsive to the point. 1) it does not signal a increased willingness to disegard the law in general and 2) is not the same kind of crime as murder, read the laws. Besides, few people are actually always concerned with prosecuting all crimes all the time. Simply using “it is a crime” is a terrible argument that people hide under to avoid a discussion about why it is a crime, what kind of a crime it is, how it should be punished, and even whether or not it should even be a crime anyhow.

  13. If you don’t and want (what I interpret to be) Aunt B’s ‘y’all come’ approach, then there is no place for ‘reasonable discussion’ since that option leaves no room for compromise and places no value on national consensus.

    If by “interpret” you mean “project?” QED. You’re just restating the thesis here.

  14. Goldni and KC,

    “I think a rudimentary understanding of American English would be a good thing to have if you want to be a citizen. But our immigration populations have historically NEVER had a mastery of the English/American English language.”

    “My great-grandparents (on both sides, my grandparents on both sides were the first generation to be born in the U.S.) all spoke Yiddish as their native language. But they learned English through their kids, who learned it through school. That’s what happened with every immigrant group to come through and is what’s happening now.”

    You both want to treat the current wave of immirgation as the same as the previous waves of immigration. Grnted that there are some similarities of shared religious and intellectual traditions and similar motivations of a desire for prosperity and freedom. But there is one huge difference, and that is water.

    Goldni’s ancestors crossed an ocean, implicitly choosing to leave one nation for another. So did the vast majority of other immigrants who came here, be they Irish, Polish, Chinese or Italian or others. Some did return home but only to stay.

    Today illegal immigrants come here and return with relative ease. Unlike the vast majority of earlier immigrants, they do not have to choose to assimilate and become ‘Americans.’

    Also today there is a powerful intellectual and political movement that advocates preserving the original language and opposes assimilation. While second and third generations today may learn English, are they assimilating the way Goldni’s parents did? And will the next waves even learn English as more and more services and forms of communication are offered in first languages?

    After all, no one here has yet suggested how many more immigrant we should legally allow. 10 million? 20 million? 30? And after what point will it be politically impossible to stop at your chosen number?

  15. Mark, your argument really comes down to “But what if they refuse to be like me?”

    That’s what this is about for you? Some ego thing? it hurts your pride if you can’t pretend that everyone aspires or should aspire to be like you?

    I don’t know whether to laugh at you or to try to comfort you.

  16. Unlike the vast majority of earlier immigrants, they do not have to choose to assimilate and become ‘Americans.’

    except that, historically, first-generation immigrants have not assimilated. their children and grandchildren have; the ones who come across the border typically retain their cultures, languages and traditions for life. they typically learn enough English to get by, but almost never assimilate far enough to pass for native-born Americans; their second-generation kids sometimes don’t assimilate that far.

    ones like myself, who end up willing to call ourselves hyphenated-americans of whatever stripe, are something of the exception. historically, first-generationers like myself would have been in the “salad bowl”; only the second- and later-generation descendants of folks like myself would have seen any “melting pot”.

    no one here has yet suggested how many more immigrant we should legally allow. 10 million? 20 million? 30?

    why on earth should we have a fixed number, carved-in-stone upper limit on the head count? that… i was about to say “that makes no more sense than the gold standard”, but (1) i think it actually makes even less sense, and (2) some folks are still daft enough to think the gold standard was somehow a good thing.

    still, limiting immigration to a fixed number of people makes no sense at all to me. please defend the rationale behind that notion.

    if i wanted to play devil’s advocate and put forward a really heinous nativist argument, i’d try for “no more than X percent of the permanent-resident population to be first-generation immigrants”, but that’s still not a fixed total number of people let into the country. and it wouldn’t make very much more sense on its own merits, anyway.

    (wordpress has noticed that i suck and it hates me, again. trying to distract it…)

  17. Do you think that there should be a mandatory process for citizenship that includes an understanding of American History and a mastery of American language?

    There is no American language.

    A basic understanding of American history and government is a fine requirement for citizenship (let’s face it, it would put the immigrant leaps and bounds beyond the average American). But I think few people dispute such a thing. Where I, and I think many others, have the problem is that the path to legal citizenship as it stands currently is outright impossible for many (even if they do everything they can correctly), and a extremely long, and often expensive process for those who can. Debating a history test for a potential citizen is like debating which brand swimsuit you should wear when you compete at the Olympics. It’s such a minor detail to the bigger picture that it’s hardly worth discussing til we get the MUCH MUCH bigger obstacles worked out.

    wasn’t deported because of the ideology of the city government of San Francisco

    Nomen has already pointed out to you a few times that city governments don’t have the authority to deport people. Are you simply intentionally ignoring him.

  18. A basic understanding of American history and government is a fine requirement for citizenship (let’s face it, it would put the immigrant leaps and bounds beyond the average American)

    er… i hope we’re all aware, here, that tests on American history, civics, and English language proficiency are, in fact, requirements of naturalization as a U.S. citizen? or at least they were as of two years ago, when i went through the process.

    (actually, i’m not sure what a deaf person would do for the language test. i assume either ASL or written English.)

  19. Aunt B.,

    “Mark, your argument really comes down to “But what if they refuse to be like me?”

    What do you think a society really is? Societies are built around things like shared values, shared customs and shared language. One would think that our success in blending so many different peoples into a relatively harmonious and stable nation would be enough. But, in your righteous wrath that not everyone share’s your values, you are arguing that we should dump the whole process and strike out into a new paradigm.

    More humorously, you sound like an advocate for some ‘Social Contract’ theory of government or a larval Libertarian. Take away the unifying aspect of assimilation through language and other elements and what do you expect? Various groups of ethnicities, languages and cultures negotiating about who’s group gets to how many seats in the Cabinet in return for their votes? Quebec on steroids? That is like John C. Calhoun’s wet dream, an America so divided by special interests of the deepest type that there can be no effective national government.

    NN,

    My point is that first generation immigrants who crossed the oceans traditionally had chosen to become Americans because they knew that they were not going back. Today’s immigrants can return far more easily, particularly if we open the borders. They will not have the same hard choice. That will reduce their need to assimilate.

    As for a set number of immigrants, are you ready for the impact of an additional 20 or 30 million people in the next ten years? And the impact of them bringing their families including the elderly who will not be part of the workforce?

  20. Professor,

    But if the authorities in San Francisco had turned the murderer over for his previous offense (not for being illegal), then those three people might well still be alive. But San Fran does not turn illegals over to the Feds even if they are arrested for serious crimes. Where is the logic in that?

  21. Mark, I admit, I’m a little baffled by your response here. Surely you know that, regardless of what you think should happen, there’s a difference between federal and state jurisdictions. And the state has no obligation to enforce federal laws. Plus, surely you must know that California and cities in California have a big (now court-supported) reason for not enforcing federal laws.

    And since we have a program that allows local authorities to act like federal authorities AND we don’t have lenient marijuana laws, what happens in California has little to do proving something about immigration across the country.

    Plus, even I don’t want to be like you, and you and I share a lot of things in common. So why should we insist upon immigrants being like you? It just seems strange.

    And really, what’s the worst that can happen? They force us to eat their delicious food?

  22. “And the state has no obligation to enforce federal laws.”

    I am a fairly big advocate for role of states and I don’t totally buy that. But the Tea Partiers will be thrilled with your support.

    “Plus, even I don’t want to be like you, and you and I share a lot of things in common. So why should we insist upon immigrants being like you?”

    And I am very pleased that we do share a lot of things. But that isn’t what I mean by assimilation. I love the ethnic diversity of neighborhoods in big cities and small towns. It amazes me to see various taquerias in places like Manchester and Jamestown.

    But the reason America has been so successful in absorbing millions of immigrants is that those immigrants came here choosing to become Americans. This wave of immigrants has far closer ties to the old country than previous groups ever dreamed of having. Preserving another national identity is esier, in some cases, even encouraged by their nation.

    Plus we have well-meaning people like you (and some not-so-well-meaning people) who encourage non-assimilation despite its traditional success.

    Look at what policies of non-assimilation have lead to in places like France and Britain. That is what you are going to get by discouraging assimilation.

  23. Mark, do you actually know any immigrants? Because I am the grandchild of four of them (and, as has been pointed out, they faced a sea of folks just like you hollering and screaming about how horrible they were, how they wouldn’t assimilate, how they would change our culture — and the response to their arrival was the most restrictive immigration policy this country has ever enacted, which is part of the cause of our immigration issues today). I have also taught large numbers of immigrants, both adult migrants and children brought over by their parents at a younger age. And I have worked with immigrants, including some of those who go back and forth to the old country on vacations so their children will know and love it. And one of the things my grandparents and these new immigrants have in common is their complete dedication to the country that has taken them in and to the form of government that lets them keep so much of where they came from and still be Americans. The idea that we don’t all have to have come from the same place so long as we work together here inspires them. We aren’t Britain or France; we have a completely different basis for national identity, and people by and large embrace it. France has problems because it identifies Frenchness with culture. Since we identify Americanness with participation in the polity, cultural assimilation is a far more peripheral issue here. Immigrants today are indeed becoming American in the ways that matter.

  24. […] first generation immigrants who crossed the oceans traditionally had chosen to become Americans because they knew that they were not going back.

    you really don’t know much about immigration to the USA, do you?

    when distant relatives and ancestors of mine left the old country to come work as miners and lumberjacks here, back around the fin de siecle and shortly afterwards, returning back home rich was an often stated dream and goal. it even happened on occasion. that a lot of them ended up staying was another thing; dreary reality often departs much from the dreams and aspirations that shape people’s decisions and choices.

    heck, those dreams of returning home rich was why not a few of them left home to begin with.

    of course they tried to fit in and act more-or-less American while here; how else would they have made any money? they didn’t dream of coming here so they could stand out like sore thumbs and get ostracized, after all. but the key is more-or-less American, and that’s the unique thing about immigrating to the USA, always has been — you’ve never had to blend in perfectly, flawlessly, with the native-borns here in order to be accepted and make money (maybe even fortunes) in America. you can earn citizenship and get elected to office here even if you’re a first-generation immigrant with an accent thick as a brick (have you any notion of how unique that is in the world? can you even imagine the impact that mere knowledge has on the mindset of immigrants here?) and noone will look too askance at you for not fitting in exactly perfectly.

    well, almost noone. there’re always a few of the natives who Just Don’t Get It. can’t expect even Americans to be perfect, after all.

    for that matter, returning back would not be significantly easier for me today than it would have been for those distant relatives of mine way back when. the main obstacles would be, now as then, uprooting a life and home i’ve built here and carrying back enough resources to reliably start another life where i began. the cost and difficulty of the actual travel would be large only if i didn’t compare it to that greater difficulty, just as it would have been then. the same goes multiplied several times over for folks who don’t have to cross an ocean to go back; it’s not the physical travel back that’s the main obstacle to returning, not even remotely.

  25. Societies are built around things like shared values, shared customs and shared language.

    i hear echoes of European nation-state theory, circa 1880 or thereabouts. National Romantic era in arts and music; national academies getting started everywhere, languages being standardized and majority languages (and customs) being imposed on minorities in the name of national cohesion and social unity. that was how people thought societies were — and should be — built, back around roughly then.

    i never could stand the national romantic composers, myself. Edvard Grieg was the least ridiculous of them, and at least had some decent tunes he fell back on; but don’t get me started on the overblown bombast of Sibelius.

    my point here is that that conception of what “nation” — or “state”, or “society” — does or should mean is almost a century out of date. it was never a good idea to begin with, it was tyrannous when its implementation was attempted, and it became totally unworkable after the world wars. we have shifted to a multicultural conception of nation and state, because we’ve HAD to; because that’s what our societies really look like, and theory must bend to the reality of actual people’s actual lives.

    if your theory prescribes something that doesn’t match with how real live human beings go about their daily lives, you should change your theory to match their reality, not attempt to change their lives just so your theory will look neater.

    there were wars fought over what language to speak, as a result of all that theorizing over nation-states. trust me, languages aren’t worth that.

  26. you can earn citizenship and get elected to office here even if you’re a first-generation immigrant with an accent thick as a brick (have you any notion of how unique that is in the world? can you even imagine the impact that mere knowledge has on the mindset of immigrants here?)

    Egg-zackly.

  27. Nomen, many conservatives are trying to pretend that the 20th century didn’t happen — it doesn’t surprise me that Mark’s using a concept of nation that depends on a mid-19th century idea of the volk and volkskultur.

    It would help if people who wanted to base their claims about immigration in immigration history had read any immigration history published since The Uprooted. Mark’s story makes for a convenient fairy tale but any immigration historian could tell you that it’s empirically wrong in most of the particulars.

    As others have pointed out, some immigrant groups considered themselves birds of passage — reaping the economic opportunities, then migrating back, or alternately moving some of the family (usually single men and women or men with young families that they left at home) to America temporarily to make money to sustain or expand family businesses and farms in Europe, Central America, or Asia. The phenomenon of reverse migration is well-studied and helps to explain why certain groups of people don’t exert too much effort in cultural assimilation or pursuing a formal change in citizenship.

    Assimilation typically has been a multi-generational strategy, with second-gen children much more assimilated than their parents and third gen then reclaiming some ethnic pride aspects of their culture of origin but insisting on full civic participation rights.

  28. This is one of these discussions where i get all caught up in the brilliance and passion of my commenters that I forget to chime in. But I just wanted to say, “Heck yes,” to a great many of you.

    Also, I would just point out that being afraid of Mexicans is like being afraid of your cousin. The people of Mexico and the U.S. have a shared history that goes back into the fog of time, far back before there were even Europeans here. We have been fucking each other and fucking each other over, trading, stealing land, fighting, making up, working for and with each other for as long as we’ve had history.

    Mexicans are not some Other we don’t know. Between them and Canada, they’re our oldest and closest kin as countries.

    Being afraid that Mexicans are somehow going to ruin our country is like being afraid that Uncle Ralph is going to trash your house. We’ve only let it become like strange thugs ransacking our house because we are, I guess, a nation of idiots with short memories.

    But it is a family fight, and I’d guess that’s why it’s so vicious.

  29. After all, no one here has yet suggested how many more immigrant we should legally allow.

    I missed much of this, but I can’t let this statement go.

    I think we should legally allow anyone who wants to come here and live an honest life.

    I’m all for giving everyone a chance. But if you sell drugs or blow something up or kill someone…back you go.

    The percentages of those who come to do nefarious things is soooo small compared to the percentages of those who come to have a better life. I was put here by the Grace of God. I have no desire to refuse the gift of grace to anyone else.

    As other people have said…close all the back doors, throw the front gate open wide.

  30. A book that Mark needs to read: “Strangers in the Land” by John Higham. Higham is of the Eric Foner school of big theory answers to American issues. The book details the explosion of Immigration from the Civil War to 1925 and the Nativist reaction to it.

  31. Aunt B.,

    Where did I say that I opposed immigration? I want orderly immigration with a focus on assimilation, what has worked for us for years.

    As to numbers, where are the jobs for a million new immigrants each year going to come from?

    Nomen,

    Did assimilation work in America or not? One really good test of that is the loyalty of immigrants from Germany, Japan, Italy etc during WWI and WWII and after. Given their treatment at various periods, it is refreshing that they assimilated so well and have been far more loyal to America than many others.

    A friend who used to teach History at Vanderbilt once remarked to me that Americans were probably lucky that we have a poor sense of History. Specifically he noted that here Greeks and Turks and Armenians and Serbs and Croats and so on could live together without keeping old wounds alive. That is not to say that they sit around singing ‘Kumbyya’ but they don’t kill each other.

    Is it odd that the one group that is most involved in the war back home is the immigrant group that has been here the longest, the Irish?

    Bridgett,

    Any idea of what the percentage of those who returned was in contrast to those who stayed? If 40% or so went back, I concede your point. If we are talking 5% or so, it would seem that becoming American was either an important goal or a popular change in plans.

    Your point on assimilation is well taken. Do you think that cultural attitudes in America may have been a major factor in that? After all, weren’t second and third generation immigrants pretty much accepted into the larger society?

    As I noted, do we really want to end up like England and France with large unassimilated minorities? One of the best arguments against the radical anti-Muslim groups in America is that here Muslims have been successful at mixing into the population.

  32. Did assimilation work in America or not?

    by many important measures, assimilation has never been tried in America. as has been noted several times over already, first-generation immigrants here tend not to assimilate much, if at all — never have. the “melting pot” never did touch them, certainly not anywhere nearly so much as their children.

    by a couple other, also important measures, assimilation does and always has worked wonders in America — first-generation immigrants are generally (with exceptions mostly based in racism) accepted as full and equal members of society, to the point where at least two such (that i know of) currently serve as state governors. i’m at a loss to think of another country so accepting of newcomers, and since this sort of acceptance speaks directly to what makes American society cohesive and unique, it is assimilation.

    so, at this point, i am forced to ask what you mean by “assimilation”. depending on what you’re talking about, the answer could as easily be “obviously not” as “clearly yes”.

  33. by many important measures, assimilation has never been tried in America. as has been noted several times over already, first-generation immigrants here tend not to assimilate much, if at all — never have. the “melting pot” never did touch them, certainly not anywhere nearly so much as their children.

    Was gonna say. There are ethnic minority communities in some major American cities that have steadfast populations of unassimilated immigrants. I was specifically thinking of upper Polonia, the million-plus Polish people who live in and around Chicago and who still “mówimy po polsku” when doing business, etc. And they’ve been there since the 1800’s, at least as long as many of the Irish immigrants who also landed there.

    But there are also thriving Koreatowns, Little Hanois, Ukrainian Villages… for years there were unassimilated Germantowns all over the country.

    Heck, there’s a Little Kurdistan right here in Nashville, consisting of some 15,000 people or so. Does this rip at the seams of our social fabric?

    And never mind the Dutch Amish, whose refusal to integrate into the larger American culture (in fact, their very rejection of it) is one of their most identifiable traits. Are these people failures as Americans because of their refusal to conform?

  34. Are these people failures as Americans because of their refusal to conform?

    we’ll truly know we have become bizarro world the day nonconformism becomes considered un-American.

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