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WESTROCK: Styx Frontman has a Christmas message for Canadians

Ernest Skinner interviews Gowan Gowan of Styx on his new Christmas single.

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Are you confused? Gowan Gowan? Yeah, well it happened like this. 

“Hello! Is this Ernest Skinner?” 

“Yes,” I responded. “Is this Gowan Gowan?” 

With a chuckle, Lawrence Gowan copied. “Yes !, this is Gowan Gowan.”

As you may know, the Styx lead singer had a very prosperous Canadian solo career back in the 80’s as one of his albums in particular – ‘Strange Animal’ – went triple platinum and during his tenure as a solo artist he was known simply as Gowan, and because I’m simple, I still think of him as Gowan. 

Now that we are over that, let’s get into some light Christmas action. The message Gowan has for us is in the form of a new Christmas/holiday song he has just released: ‘Can You Make It Feel Like Christmas’. 

Joining Gowan in the recording are three-piece alt-rocker Stuck On Planet Earth from Vaughn, Ontario, who themselves have had national and international success over the years. 

I first asked our Canadian friend how he was doing during this time of unprecedented uncertainty.  The genuinely humble vocalist responded the way anyone that knows him would expect.

“I’m doing surprisingly well. I qualify that with the fact that there are some people who are having a devastating time, so relative to them; I have absolutely nothing to complain about” 

When you listen to the song which has been streamed over 100 000 times since its release just last week (December 4), you may find what I and others have found. The song has a unique quality to it, but there is a bit of John Lennon style to it.

“Yes that is what I have been hearing and reading on social media and also the Beatles. I think though more of a Traveling Wilburys kind of vibe where the guys all come together with this great song that has a bit of dry humor in it. In respect to George Harrison, in the TW, I actually have a long connection to the Beatles. My album that I recorded in 1984. ‘Strange Animal’ was recorded at Ringo Starr’s home studio in England and that was the house that was sold to him by its previous owners, John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Since ‘Imagine’ was also recorded there, I have always had this sort of spirit following me around and I don’t mind the comparison at all and I couldn’t be more honored.” 

Before moving on, I would urge you to Google and research the history of the studio at Tittenhurst Park in Ascot England. Gowan and I chatted for a bit about it and many artists -including some of my favorites like Def Leppard and Judas Priest – have recorded there. I was told that the reason it took 6 months to record ‘Strange Animal’ was because the house had to be quiet by 8:00 pm. I was also told that Ringo would often pop into the studio which was just off of the kitchen and make a little funny comment and mingle with the boys or whoever was using the space at the time. There are a lot of home movies and videos on YouTube that show the making of the studio and recording in the studio that was put in by John Lennon when he originally acquired the house.

Getting back on track, I asked Gowan to sum up the history and the writing of ‘Can You Make It Feel Like Christmas’. 

I asked him about the references in the song to corporations, etc., and he responded that at this time of year, a lot of smaller businesses generate up to 50 per cent of their yearly sales because of the emotional charge generated from it. His message is that those things shouldn’t get in the way of the overall caring and emotional attempt to bring on this good spirit as “at this time of year there are many people who do not do well at Christmas whether it is because of something happening in their lives which affects them feeling left out and they feel distanced from it so I just wanted to encapsulate quickly and say ‘hey, businesses need to do what they need do at this time of year’, but let’s not let that get in the way of us generating those good warm feelings for one another.”   

“Well this year for sure has been a unique year and divisive. This is supposed to be the time of year whether you are religious or not, when we all put aside our differences and come together as fellow human beings. This year has been a kind of a year that has to some extent really pulled us apart ; but one thing we always agree on is that at the end of the year we strive to focus on this time to feel united and grateful and that we are alive, so this song had to be light and filled with hope and humor to some extent because we haven’t had much to laugh. That’s basically what the song is aiming at.”

How did the young guns at Stuck On Planet Earth great name BTW) get involved with this world class singer and songwriter you ask? Well, I was curious as well.  

“Well basically it started as a result of a former publishing company I used to work with who contacted me in early October and said hey, there is this really young band that had a great year and got some billboard success and were on the rise, but they’re kind of stuck right now. And they asked if I would collaborate and do a song with them.”

“That got my attention right away because everybody has been affect by this [COVID-19] but young people especially. I mean their lives are just getting started and this happens, so I said what would they like? So, their record/publishing company asked if I’d do a Christmas song with them. So I took a few days and after watching some of their videos and listening to their music I thought, ‘Wow’ ! these guys are great, and being a musician myself that was in the same situation they are in now, in my early career. I said ‘sure’. I then wrote the song and sent it to them and after a few changes here and there we recorded it with masks on in my home studio and that’s basically it.

Cover of ‘Can you make it feel like Christmas’

I will get to the Styx question. I couldn’t let the singer/keyboardist extraordinaire off the line without asking him about Styx and what are their plans for the New Year, and if they are working on a new album or anything. 

“Oh man, we’ve been really at it. Last week we released a Too Much Time On My Hands conglomerate video for the Pittsburgh Steelers, we’ve done an anthem for the NFL. We’ve finished recording our new album and it will come out when it comes out. That’s all I can tell you about that but …we’ve been really busy and are in touch with each other daily and we can’t wait to get back out there (tour), and we stay really connected with the 1.7 million people that are on the different Styx platforms on social media. We are as anxious as anyone to get back to playing live in front of people but in the mean time, we are using whatever digital technology is available to keep connected to our fans. “

Ernest Skinner is the WestRock Columnist for the Western Standard

Ernest Skinner is the WestRock columnist for the Western Standard. He has interviewed the likes of Bryan Adams, David Ellefson, Rob Halford, Adrian Vandenberg, and members of bands such as Motley Crue, Whitesnake, Buckcherry, Tesla, Styx, Cheap Trick, Genesis, the Scorpions and dozens and dozens more. He has been published in, Rocknation Magazine, MUEN Magazine, Montreal Rocks, The Rock Source Magazine, Wawa News, and many others.

Features

An Alberta company’s mission to make Bitcoin mainstream

Edmonton-based Bitcoin Well is expanding its ATMs across Canada in a bid to make the cryptocurrency more accessible.

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“I’ll have a large coffee and a bitcoin please.”

If Adam O’Brien has his way, those types of orders will soon become a normal transaction across the country.

O’Brien is the head of Edmonton-based Bitcoin Well and his mission is to teach Canadians about bitcoin cryptocurrency as an alternative to government-issue paperbacks.

“This is how you get financial sovereignty. This is how you can take control of your own money,” said O’Brien.

The world of cryptocurrency can sound intimidating and complicated than it really is. O’Brien says that he and his staff are there to help customers understand Bitcoin and help navigate their way through.

“Bitcoin is most closely related to digital gold – it has to be mined. It’s scarce and it holds its value,” said O’Brien, noting it’s easy to use. “If I want to pay a million-dollars with of gold, I would need a forklift. With bitcoin, I can do it in my pyjamas.”

All government-backed paper current in Canada is controlled by the five major chartered banks.

“Bitcoin is not managed by anyone. Bitcoin is accessible. Bitcoin never closes.”

A single bitcoin now sells in the area of $30,000 CAD. But you don’t have to break the bank to own some of your own. A bitcoin is sub-dividable, like cutting an old gold coin in halves, or quarters.

Adams’ favorite selling point is to give potential customers $5 and have them convert it into bitcoin at the ATM.

Bitcoin Well has a interactive map of all of its ATMs across Canada on its website,

The bitcoin market can be “volatile. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was trading around the $3,200/bitcoin mark. Today it stands at $30,00/bitcoin, and it can fluctuate by that $3,200 figure on any given day. He said daily drops and increases can be between 10-15 per cent.

Every bitcoin owner gets their own wallet with their balance sheet on it. Every single bitcoin transaction is made public, only the sender and receiver are kept secret. So unless you share your password, your Bitcoin account remains safe.

“Bitcoin has never been hacked,” Adams said.

One of the things the Edmonton businessman is most proud of is the fact his company is 100 per cent Canadian-owned.

“We bleed maple syrup!” his website reads. “Our team is handpicked and local. We are proud to employ a team of Canadians and aspiring Canadian permanent residents. We are Canadians, focused on the Canadian bitcoin and cryptocurrency culture.”

O’Brien started in the bitcoin business in 2013 and it was rebranded into Bitcoin Well. As in a well of water.

It now boasts of having bitcoin ATMS across Ontario and the West. Mainly in places like coffee shops and restaurants. Any place that is open for long hours works best. The number of bitcoin ATMS has grown by a staggering 242 per cent.

Bitcoin Well ATM

“With a bitcoin ATM, it creates a community in your outlet. People come in regularly to use them and stop and talk. Hosting an ATM is the best way you can dip your toe into the bitcoin pool.” said Adams.

“I’m not a salesman – I’m not trying to convince anyone to buy bitcoin. My purpose is to make people aware of it. It’s not our job to changes minds.

“My goal is to bring bitcoin further into the mainstream and educate everyday people about the benefits of decentralized currency. This is exactly the platform I wish I had access to when I first started to explore and learn about bitcoin in 2013.

“We are aiming to make bitcoin easy to buy and sell for many reasons. Bitcoin allows the average consumer to take power over their finances and ensure they are not susceptible to centralized-banking failure. We aim to educate and expose as many Canadians as possible to enable the dream of true financial freedom.”

Elon Musk

While stressing he is not a financial advisor, O’Brien is a proponent of having one per cent of a person’s net value in Bitcoin. “The one percent will outperform the rest of your portfolio,” he said.

O’Brien said bitcoin work for all ages and that the school system fails children by not teaching the basics of how money works, from tax bills to mortgages. He’s paying it back by setting up an internship program with Edmonton schools.

Leaders in the business world are standing up and taking notice of bitcoin.

Space pioneer Elon Musk on Sunday asked about the possibility of converting “large transactions” of Tesla Inc’s balance sheet into bitcoin.

Earlier this month, market analysts were stunned when the 170-year-old insurance company Mass Mutual invested $100 million USD in bitcoin.

“The institutional places are worried they are missing the Bitcoin train. It is arguably safer than cash and gold,” Adams points out.

Musk and O’Brien are both after the same thing for bitcoin – and they’re shooting for the stars.

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Features

The semi-communist European country you haven’t heard of

The Western Standard takes a closer look at what is going on in Transnistria – one of the last Communist hold-outs in the world

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By NIKOLA MIKOVIC

The era of frozen conflicts is coming to an end.

Recent clashes in Nagorno-Karabakh – Azerbaijan’s region that has been under control of ethnic Armenian forces for 26 years – as well as in Western Sahara – a disputed territory on the northwest coast in the Maghreb region of North and West Africa – suggest that some decades old disputes could soon be resolved through bloodshed.

Is Moldova’s breakaway region of Transnistria another point of confrontation between Russia and the West?

Transnistria – the tiny Eastern European self-proclaimed country, officially called the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (PMR), does not formally exist.

Map of area. Courtesy Wikipedia

It is unrecognized as a nation by any member of the UN despite declaring its independence in 1990.

The only three states that recognize Transnistria are also disputed territories – Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh, also known as the Republic of Artsakh.

PMR is sandwiched between Moldova in the West and Ukraine in the East. Although it is often described as a communist rule, this entity has more similarities with modern Russia than with the former Soviet Union.

Its economy is dominated by oligarchs, and despite tense relations with Moldova, Transnistria preserved strong economic ties with the Eastern European country.  

After Maia Sandu, a former Moldovan Prime Minister who is backed by the European Union, won the presidential election on November 15, Transistrian leaders warned that a peaceful outcome of the frozen conflict remains uncertain.

During the Soviet ere, Transnistria was the richest region of Moldova.

Nowadays, Moldova is the poorest European country, and the breakaway region is facing serious economic hardships. The average monthly salary is only about $200, which is why many PMR citizens immigrated to Russia. 

According to local analysts, there have been attempts from Chisinau to pressure Transnistrian banks, which is why some PMR residents, primarily pensioners, have to cross the border and go to Moldova to withdraw their money. The COVID-19 pandemic is making their travel even more difficult, and Moldovan authorities reportedly blocked the import of certain goods into the territory of the PMR.

In spite of that, there are no food shortages in Transnistria, and the unrecognized republic de facto gets free gas from Russia. According to the Russian energy giant Gazprom, Moldova owes $7 billion to the Russian company, even though $6.9 billion is a debt for gas supplies to PMR. That is why the Sandu recently announced that her country will not pay off the debts of Transnistria to Gazprom.

“The local authorities in Transnistria did not ask Chisinau if it was interested in gas supplies from Russia. They should pay off the debts themselves”, said Sandu.

Ministry of State Security of the PMR recently conducted combat training of the Cossacks-border guards.

Such a measure could mean that the breakaway region of Moldova is preparing for a potential conflict with Chisinau.

Transnistrian army has a force of 4,500. Moldova, on the other hand, has 5,000-7,500 active personnel.

Reportedly, 70 per cent of Transnistria’s budget is funded by Russia, which provides subsidized gas and worker pensions.

Russia has roughly 1,500 military personnel stationed in the PMR. The peacekeeping operation in the region started in 1992 after Transnistrian and Moldovan authorities, on the initiative of then Russian president Boris Yeltsin, signed a ceasefire agreement which ended a short war that resulted in the PMR’s victory.

Ever since, the truce has been holding and is being monitored by a joint peacekeeping force, which includes 402 Russian military personnel, 492 Transnistrian, 355 Moldovan and ten military observers from Ukraine.

Although previous Moldovan President Igor Dodon was often portrayed as a pro-Russian leader, unlike Sandu who is seen as a politician that is pushing for stronger ties with the West, including neighbouring Romania, there is no fundamental difference between them when it comes to the presence of the Russian peacekeepers in Transnistira. They both agree that the Russians must go, although Sandu emphasizes that more often. On the other hand, the head of the unrecognized Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic Vadim Krasnoselsky said that the withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers was out of the question.

“The problem remains, the Transnistrian-Moldovan issue is still open, therefore there can be no talk of the withdrawal of Russian peacekeeping forces,” Krasnoselsky stressed.

Russian troops in the breakaway region are stationed on a permanent basis, even in two forms – as the remnants of the 14th Army, now the Operational Group of Russian Forces in Transnistria, and also as the peacekeeping forces of the Russian Federation. Participants in the political format of the conflict regulation are the PMR and Moldova as parties to the dispute, Russia and Ukraine as mediators and guarantors, OSCE as a mediator, while the United States and the European Union are observers.

Prior to presidential election in Moldova, Russia accused the U.S. of plotting a “color revolution” in the Eastern European country. However, the voting process went smoothly and the transfer of power will almost certainly be peaceful.

On the other hand, the U.S. Ambassador to Chisinau, Dereck Hogan, recently criticized the conduct of the last parliamentary elections in Moldova in February 2019 over what he called “the organized vote and transportation of voters from the pro-Russian breakaway region of Transnistria.” This year such an action was reportedly prevented, which could be the mean reason why allegedly pro-Russian Dodon was defeated.

It is worth noting that several years ago Sandu announced that she would vote for the unification of Moldova with Romania, which is something that worries Russian and Ukrainian population of Transnistira.

Dodon, on the other hand, pushed stronger ties with Moscow, but unlike Transnistria that is a de facto presidential republic, Moldova has a parliamentary political system, which means that the government and the parliament have the final say on such important questions.

Still, both Igor Dodon and Maia Sandu firmly reject not only the possibility of recognizing the independence of Transnistria, but even the very settlement of the conflict on the Dniester River through the confederation or federation. Also, the two politicians agree that the section of the Transnistrian-Ukrainian border should be controlled by Chisinau, rather than by the PMR forces. 

Maia Sandu

After the 2013/2014 violent protests in Ukraine, which resulted in the overthrow of allegedly pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine’s border policy regarding Transnistria has reportedly become more aggressive, apparently in an attempt to prevent smuggling activities. Some authors from the PMR believe that Ukraine will soon join Washington, Brussels and Bucharest in an attempt to put a strong pressure on Transnistria. Such an action could eventually result in the elimination of the PMR’s de facto statehood, and could also weaken Russian influence in the region.  

“Squeezing Russia out of Transnistria is an integral part of the U.S. and the EU plans to create a ‘cordon sanitaire’ around the Russian Federation”, wrote Andrey Safonov, Transnistrian political analyst. 

However, it is highly uncertain if Moscow still intends to keep this small portion of Moldova in its geopolitical orbit. On Sept. 2, the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic celebrated its 30th anniversary, but it was never recognized by Russia. Also, a referendum in 2006 expressing popular desire for Transnistria to become part of Russia was quietly rebuffed by the Kremlin.

Still, if relations between the West and Russia decline further, in the foreseeable future the frozen conflict in Transnistria’s could turn into another hot war. 

NIKOLA MIKOVIC

Mikovic is a geopolitical analyst and freelance journalist specializing in Russia/Belarus/Ukraine issues.

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Global Warning is the must-watch documentary on the climate change debate

‘Global Warning’ explores both sides of the climate debate shaping our times, and its effect on Western energy workers.

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Calgary filmmaker Mathew Embry set out to make a documentary on global warming that was fair with people on both sides of the contentious issue.

With his 95-minute documentary Global Warning he has certainly done all that, and more.

“It’s a film I wanted to make since 2008 when I started seeing problems developing in the oil patch and in Calgary and how it was being portrayed in the media,” Embry told the Western Standard in an interview.

Embry met with producer Peter Beyak, who shared a similar interest, and after some fundraising, the project was underway.

The issue is not a new one for Embry; his fifth-grade science project on global warming was an early sign.

Embry and his Grade 5 project

But the father of two knew it was time to jump into action and Global Warning is the end of almost a decade of work.

“I want my kids to live in a world that is [as] good or better than the one I live in,” said Embry.

“People have to be realistic – cheap energy is part of our quality of life. We need energy to survive.”

Embry describes himself as a “social justice” filmmaker whose past projects have included a look at the opioid crisis and multiple sclerosis. Up next is a project on concussions.

The argument about climate change has been ongoing for years. Some scientists say the research is obvious that climate change is underway and that mankind is responsible. Other scientists disagree.

The documentary provides both sides of the argument and wraps up with a debate between University of Ottawa climate scientist Dr. Ian Clarke and Catherine Abreu, the executive director of the Climate Action Network, which represents more than 100 different activist groups.

Catherine Abreu

Abreu, along with the Pope, has been named one of the top 100 influential people on climate change in the world. Clark has devoted 30 years to researching the effects of CO2 on climate change.

The exchange comes at the end of a documentary whose maker travelled the world in his research.

It starts with an ominous warning from controversial U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

“The world is going to end in 12 years if we don’t address climate change,” AOC has said.

Embry notes the effect an international social media campaign has had in casting the Alberta oil sands in a negative light. Hollywood heavyweights, including Leonardo DiCaprio, have visited Fort McMurray and have been part of the campaign. DiCaprio said that the oil sands looked like a scene from Mordor in the Lord of the Rings.

Distressing scenes are shown in the film of the “chilling effect” of empty Calgary offices, and former politician turned radio talk-show host, Danielle Smith fighting back tears as she discusses a caller who was about to layoff 25 per cent of his workforce.

Calgary protest

About 25 per cent of downtown offices in Calgary sit empty after the world price of oil dropped because of a price war between Russia and the Saudi, and a chronic lack of pipeline capacity which effectively landlocks Alberta.

“This is not the city I grew up in,” says Embry.

Calgary environmental protests are recognized along with footage of a heckler being dragged away by Calgary police after interrupting a forum at the Global Petroleum Show.

But the oil industry is starting to fight back and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. – one of Canada’s largest producers – gave Embry “unprecedented access” to their oil sands operations to show what they are doing to help the environment.

Joy Romero, CRNL’s vice-president, Technology and Innovations, said the reclamation projects the company has done “look like national parks.” A CRNL worker is shown in front of a pipe discharging effluent into the notorious tailings ponds that have drawn worldwide attention.

Tailings pond

“It doesn’t look pretty,” admitted CRNL Manager of Mine Technical Services Todd Draper.

But looks do not tell the whole story, as Draper points out, detailing all the efforts made by CRNL are making on the environment protection side and cleaning up tailings ponds.

Embry said documenting the open pit mining by CNRL “was uncomfortable filming” and the scenes looked “surreal.”

“Mining is not pretty,” said Embry adding it’s difficult to show the 100 year difference reclamation will do for the environment in a single National Geographic photo.

Alberta mining site

Legendary oilman Gwyn Morgan – founder of EnCana – told Embry the energy industry is currently in “political purgatory.”

“Albertans are resiliant, they are hard to keep down,” said Morgan, adding he now senses Albertans have “lost hope.”

Gwyn Morgan

Embry argues the main problem Alberta is facing is the lack of pipeline capacity.

And while a large number of Indigenous groups support, and would benefit economically from pipelines, others are using treaties signed by the federal government in the 1700’s to make their case against them.

“It’s the white guys who make the rules,” said Raymond Owl, founder of the Traditional Ecological Knowledge Elders.

Raymond Owl

“We mean business. We’ve been too timid. What would you do if you had the government by the balls?

“Science is a farce, a theory. It’s not a fact.”

Embry notes the large quantities of oil imported into Eastern Canada because of the lack of a cross-Canada pipeline.

Embry drives across Texas, where close to one million wells are pumping and firing the state’s economy. The U.S. is now on course to be the biggest oil producer in the world.

Abreu is shown attending a UN climate change conference in Germany. She told Embry most of the information she uses are from the independent UN group Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Abreu is shown attending a UN climate change conference in Germany. She told Embry most of the information she uses are from the independent UN group Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

One of the key interviews in the film is with Dr. Patrick Moore, one of the original founders of Greenpeace.

Moore proudly shows off photos of the Greenpeace Zodiac getting between whaling ships and their prey, along with a photo of him protecting a baby seal from being clubbed in Labrador.

Dr. Patrick Moore

But Moore has now left the organization after it turned from a volunteer group to an international business with more than 2,000 staff.

He describe some of Greenpeace’s work now on climate change as a “racket” and have “manufactured a climate crisis.”

“I found it surprising a well known environmentalist has a counter position to the current environmental argument,” said Embry.

The University of Ottawa’s Clark noted there have been warming periods every thousand years, from the Roman era to the Middle Ages, to now.

“The science is never settled. Open debate is what we need to have,” said Clark, adding there is “zero evidence” of CO2 emissions causing climate change.

Dr. Ian Clark

“The hysteria is inbred and ingrained in the younger generation. They don’t have a clue what they are talking about.”

German climate scientist, and wind power expert, Dr. Fritz Vahrenholt told Embry climate action benefits countries like Russia, China and Saudi Arabia who don’t play by the rules.

Dr. Fritz Vahrenholt

He said it will lead to “exploding” energy prices and increasing blackouts around the world.

“The real players need to be at the table,” said Vahrenholt. “Other countries just won’t follow Canada.”

Embry said the part of the film that strikes with him the most is seeing all the wind farms across the length of Germany. “There is a vastness to it that is hard to capture.”

Geopolitical author John Perkins argued that Canada faces the real threat of falling into a crisis like the one that Venezuela is currently experiencing.

Embry argues a third way of thinking, a middle-way approach, is needed to help address the issue in Canada, which has the third largest energy reserves in to the world and some of the best “clean energy” technology.

“We can show the world how it can be done,” said Embry.

The documentary ends with Clark and Abreu arguing passionately their side of the story. Both agree, their hearts are in the right place. They want what’s best for their children and grandchildren. And that’s what Emry says he wants for his children.

“I hope people on both sides of the issue take the time to watch the documentary,” said Embry.

Global Warning is a must watch for people on both sides of the debate.

You can watch a trailer and buy the VOD here: www.globalwarningdocumentary.com

The main trailer is on Youtube at https://youtu.be/-W29sxthdME

It’s also available on SuperChannel in Canada.

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