"Rational vs. Emotional" = Sexism

Ladies, I hate to be the one to break it to you, if you hadn't heard.
But a lot of men think we are "naturally insane."
They may not tell you this. But they're thinking it. 
Have you seen this popular video, "Wife Zone Chart," online? Even if you haven't there's a good chance someone you know has heard of it. 
It's got 1,873,088 views as of this morning.
The guy in the video purports to give advice to other men as to how they can reliably choose a life partner.
His beginning premise? Some women are attractive and some women are not. But one thing you can be sure of is that all women are "crazy."
"This is the universal hot-crazy matrix, it's everything a young man needs to know about women. I've developed this on my own after 46 years of living on the earth. This is how it works. You have your crazy axis and your hot axis. Hot is as usual measured from 0 to 10, we're all familiar with that. Crazy is measured from 4 to 10 because of course there's no such thing as a woman who's not at least a 4 crazy."
I share this information, although I'm sure it isn't new to most of you, for a couple of reasons.
The first is to acknowledge, in a public forum, that the stereotype does exist. That it is not only common but pervasive. Even overwhelming. And that although it may be tempting to doubt yourself -- because we are so very good at doubting ourselves -- please do not do it. 
Because insane people do not know they are insane. In fact, being out of touch with reality is the very definition of insanity. ("Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result," as the popular saying goes.)
The second is to share a word of caution. Insanity is not only a legal defense. It is also a weapon, regularly used to discredit people. It is a tool of sexism. Lots of literature available on that.
Third, there is a connection between sexism, and other forms of class warfare (for example racism and classism) and actual disconnection from reality. Again, you don't have to look very far - voluminous evidence. 
We are so used to popular movies, and television shows, with their images of emotional-meaning-irrational women. Contrasted with images of men, who are composed and logical thinkers. 
We've gotten used to the seeming dichotomy, the polar opposites, represented loosely as "feelings" versus "thought."
But the truth is, as an increasing amount of studies show, that it is the synthesis of emotional literacy and ordered thinking (linear or not linear) that represents a higher level of human intelligence. 
I would add humility as the third element to that mix. You just don't know what you don't know, do you?
So here is intelligence:
  • The ability to feel, to take in those feelings, to process them. Without the feelings overwhelming you.
  • The ability to think, to explain how you got from Point A to Point B, without getting frustrated when other people disagree or misunderstand.
  • The ability to admit that you do not know all things and that your capacity for knowing is limited.
If you have all those things, I think, you're a very smart person indeed.
And if you're smart, you don't put down women -- or men -- or anyone.
Photo by Petras Gagilas via Flickr (Creative Commons). Meme via Quickmeme. All opinions are my own and do not represent those of my agency or the federal government as a whole.

On The Incredible Gift Of Being Misunderstood

It happened a few years ago. And as usual I was fully unprepared.
"I do all the work. I take it all on. And I never say anything," she whispered, trying not to have our office neighbors hear.
A long time ago I had a manager who said, "At work you should have Valium and some tissues in your desk at all times."
In the old plywood desk I rummaged around and grabbed a wrinkled coffee shop napkin that looked like I had used it already. Very classy but soon there would be snot running down her face and then who would be embarrassed?
"Here," I said, handing it to her.
She held onto it instead of wiping her eyes. She started shredding.
Then waved her hands in front of their face as women do when they are trying to hold tears back. My mother used to call it "the waterfall," as in "here comes the..."
You see how I get a little bit cold when confronted with other people's real feelings? I am really, really uncomfortable about that. I don't know why, because people feel like they can be honest with me. They can. I'm not judgmental.
But emotion is very tough for me to react appropriately to. And usually, this leads me to stick my foot in my mouth.
This time was no different.
"Why don't you just open up your mouth and say something?" I asked. 
She looked at me like I had slapped her in the face. Like I was somehow disabled from having normal human feelings. If it was that easy, she wouldn't be talking to me, right?
"I can't just do that," she said, articulating the obvious so as to keep the conversation from being awkward. "I read your blog every day, and you're pretty out there."
"Oh," I said, not sure how to respond to that.
("Out there," she had said. The words rang in my head like bells.)
"I just don't like confrontation," she said.
I snapped back to the reality of this conversation. This moment. It is challenging for me to be present, because I tend to take in environmental stimuli and they get me thinking a million thoughts at once.
"It's a little scary to take the risk."
I thought about my own tendency to speak frankly when something bothers me. And how incredibly difficult the process is. How painful the moment of interchange, when the other party clearly either does not know what I mean or does not care how I am feeling about it.
Sometimes, they are actually mean.
"Dr. Absconti says you will be misunderstood your whole life," my mother once told me.
I was eight or nine years old at the time. I had a facial tic that wouldn't go away, on my right side. She'd hauled me into a therapist's office.
My mom was very into therapy, psychology, and self-help and she had an entire library full of those kinds of books. We watched Phil Donahue together, and Oprah, too. Not to mention Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, which was always inspirational but not exactly allowed in my religious Jewish world.
"He says you are years ahead of your peers in terms of eye-q. They're not gonna like you for it."
"Peers." I liked the sound of that word, and at the description of myself in comparison to them. "Eye-q."
That was nearly forty years ago and I was so young then. In my naivete, I underestimated the gravity of the fork in that particular road.
As directly afterwards, year after year after year, I took all this shit from the kids at school.
I got skipped up more than one grade. And the older kids really hated me. I was awkward, and bigmouthed, and not anything they understood or could categorize.
I reported the abusive teachers, and debated the competent ones. And the niceties of language always somehow escaped me.
"You schmuck," I once said to a fellow student, and promptly landed in detention.
Why did I choose to do this, and not simply check out, as would have been more logical? Why engage when it wasn't worth it?
Knowing when to speak up and when to shut up was a fine filter possessed by my more socially intelligent peers.
Oh did my father get endlessly pissed about this. 
Eventually I chose the life of an artist. I would be a fashion designer, I decided. I would stick to the stage.
For where people in the real world didn't understand me, the world of performance was far more forgiving. Artists, in fact are supposed to be weird. I had seen Fame.
It was a sensible choice for a personal brand, except...when I actually spent some time around weird people, I could not tolerate how weird they actually were.
So here I am. Here you are, wherever you are, by some choice or maybe chance or happenstance.
And you've been rejected, more than once, by people who totally did not get you.
But I'm here to tell you: "Let your freak flag fly."
When you take the risk of being yourself, when you put yourself out there, you make it okay for others who are "different" to also be.
Just be.
So that their "personal brand" lives squarely within the world of home, and of work. It lives everywhere.
So they can walk through the world, all the time, always being one and the singular same. 
Don't waste your time worrying about other people who don't get you. Maybe they diss you. Maybe they spend all their time thinking of ways to put you down.
As a very smart person once said to me, "You should not take rejection personally. It is their problem, and a sign that they've got some personal issue to deal with."
I can't tell you that my friend felt any better after our conversation. I can't tell you that there is some magic pill that will save you from every awkward moment of life.
But I can say with confidence that victory is not where you think it is. It's not the end point.
It is the process, the daily process, of simply being yourself.
Photo by Pedro Ribeiro Simões via Flickr (Creative Commons). All opinions are my own and not those of my agency or the federal government as a whole.

"Skinny Oreos," Broken Brand

Brand Essence: Noun. A feeling. The instinctive, unconscious emotional reaction people have whenever they encounter you.

Today I learned that Oreos are going on a diet.
Despite the fact that 50% of Oreo consumers split the cookie apart before eating it, the Associated Press reports, there will soon be a new version called "Oreo Thins" (on the radio they're calling it "Skinny Oreos") that - due to its slimmer cookie profile - make such activity impossible.
"And since they're for adults, Oreo says they weren't designed to be twisted open or dunked. That's even though about half of customers pull apart regular Oreos before eating them, according to the company."
It didn't take me long to figure out that the decision must be about expanding market share. Of course.
But in my view, trying to build financial equity by destroying basic brand equity is misguided. For the essence of the Oreo brand is really "simple childlike American indulgence" - a luster that can be applied to myriad products (look at M&Ms!).  
By offering "sophisticated adult not-particularly-American semi-indulgence" the company which owns the brand is guaranteed to lose a lot more money in the long term.

Brand Cannibalism: Noun. The practice of chewing off your arm when you are hungry, rather than choosing a nutritious food source external to your body.

If you've made a financial decision to make a destructive brand move, at least have enough respect for your customer to honor them with an explanation that takes the brand essence into account. For example:
"We know that Oreos represent childlike indulgence to many Americans. But we wanted to make another version available to those who might want to try a different version of the cookie, perhaps as an ingredient in a sophisticated dessert."
That would have been fine! But instead, here is what we actually heard about the loss of dunking:
"If people want to do that, it's clearly up to them."
Up to them! Up to them! WHAATTT????
The fact that I never eat Oreo cookies, but this response provokes such a visceral antagonistic emotion in me, tells you how attached I am to this brand. As "Don Draper" ("Mad Men") might put it, "Oreos are part of our collective memory bank."
You don't torch my baby pictures lightly. You don't tell me we have to leave that album and run, unless there is a very good reason to do it.
In a way, this situation brings to mind a child confronted with parents who announce they are getting a divorce. One of the parents says they are getting remarried. 
"No, this can't be true," the child thinks. "I want Mommy and Daddy to stay together. I don't want you to go with (her or him)."
The emotional health of this child depends very much on how the parents handle it. I can only imagine the trauma this conversation would inflict:
Child (tearfully): "But what about bedtime? You guys used to always tuck me in together! And sing me a song!"
Parent: "If families want to do that, it's clearly up to them."
Perhaps I am being too emotional about this. Perhaps I am misguided. After all, look at Coca-Cola, and its spinoff, Diet Coke. The "lite" product was released more than thirty years ago, and they're doing just fine, right?
I would tell you, I would tell the head of Coca-Cola, that no matter how much money it makes, "Diet Coke" poses a similar brand challenge to the corporate brand. That no matter how much money it's made for the company, THERE IS NOTHING LIKE A CLASSIC CAN OF SUGARY SODA MADE WITH THE SECRET FORMULA.
This is the same thing I would tell Howard Schultz, if I were ever to run into him at Starbucks, regarding the decision to offer instant "Via." And I have said this in a blog post, awhile ago. THE BRAND WAS BUILT ON A PERFECT CUP OF HAND-BREWED COFFEE, AND YOU ARE DESTROYING IT BY OFFERING A PROCESSED INSTANT VERSION.
Every time you cannibalize your brand for the sake of market share, you are cutting off your hand to spite your face. It is only a matter of time before your brand dies fully, chokes to death, in a matter seemingly sudden and unprompted.
A worse kind of brand cannibalism than this occurs even before the brand gets off the ground. And that is, the company decides to be all things to all people. So that there is no ability to build a brand essence in the first place.
This, too, is a wrongheaded move built on a kind of greed, and I've seen it in action. One day you're all about A, then next day it's B and then C and then D, and by the end of the year you're like someone who's hooked up with the entire senior class. 
You have to know what your brand is. You have to choose a personality and stick with it. And this personality will be completely intangible - visible only in its symbols, its sounds, its colors and its effects - impossible to measure, standardize and automate.
Do you know how I choose a song to preview, if I choose to preview a song? I look at what the band is about, what the lead singer does, and if I like that singer's brand I will break out of my habit of listening to the same preferred tunes over and over again and give it a chance. Maroon 5 is one. Billy Joel is another. James Taylor is a third. Lately, Taylor Swift. Lady Gaga.
By the way, would you rather hear a news report or a song? Of course, you want the song. Because you don't want to think every minute. It's a huge cognitive load. The music gets you to a good place, quickly. And that's exactly the same function provided by a brand.
If it's hard for a starting-out brand or an established one to focus, that's understandable since there's a lot to lose. But you've got to think of risk in the bigger picture. If you're a good brand you're going to piss somebody off. You're definitely going to lose market share. But the more you stay very close to the ground, the more you plant your feet firmly in your little patch of soil, the more profitable your brand will be. 
You want to know who I think does this kind of branding well? Hollywood comes to mind, because L.A. is so good at packaging people and serving them back to us in very specific categories that fill very specific entertainment needs. Not everyone would want to watch the Roast of James Franco on Comedy Central, but a certain audience absolutely will, and they will like it so very much they'll likely watch it again and again. Melissa McCarthy is so funny. Simon Cowell is so acerbic: As soon as he left American Idol the show was dead. 
The Four Seasons also comes to mind. I think I've stayed there once in my entire life. But the white-glove service they provided, the way every single representative of the hotel literally stopped to pick up my tissue when I sneezed, has never been duplicated anywhere. (They could save money with "Five Seasons Cheap" but you can imagine my reaction.)
Bounty Paper Towels cannibalized their product with a cheaper version of the brand called "Basic." Do you know what? Basic sucks! It doesn't work as well! And do you know why? BECAUSE IT ISN'T "BOUNTY!"
If you're an ordinary person and not involved in making decisions about the brand, terms like "brand essence" and "brand cannibalism" are very easy concepts to understand. But if it's your head on the stake and you're scared to make a misstep, this can lead you to be confused, to cogitate, endlessly and over again. And perhaps even to screw things up a bit.
Believe me when I tell you I'm not standing on a brand soapbox. I live in the world, not an ivory tower. And these decisions are extraordinarily hard, both in bringing people together theoretically and in the practice of actually doing the work. 
I know that great brands are normally polarizing. It was only yesterday that somebody said to me, "Google! Don't get me started about them!"
Facebook can provoke a similar reaction.
But building a brand is not an exercise for the faint-hearted. 
You've got to plant that seed in the ground.
And then defend it against all thieves, murderers and plundering invaders.
All opinions are my own and do not represent those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. Photo credit: Caden Crawford via Flickr Creative Commons.

3 Ways For "Nice Girls" To Get The Raise They Deserve

It may be hard to believe as we approach 2016, but working women do still get paid significantly less than their male counterparts.
According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (U.S. Census data, 2013) women over the age of 15 working in the United States, full time, earn just 78 cents for every dollar a man earns. Other figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests it’s narrower – more like 82 cents – but this is still statistically and financially significant.
Pay equity is often viewed as a feminist issue, but the consequences are distributed across the spectrum of American families, because women are the main source of income for 40% of them.Here are three things women can do to increase their perceived value and elevate their income:

1. Get technical. Despite all the talk about rampant sexism in Silicon Valley, a recent survey by tech job site Dice.com, reported on in Forbes, shows that there is currently no pay gap between women and men in tech fields when you compare people with the same job title, the same education and the same level of experience. Where there is a discrepancy, the cause is dissimilar credentials.
2. Don’t assume that a degree will save you. Higher education credentials do enhance women’s earning power, notes Novant Health VP and Chief Diversity Officer Deborah Ashton in Harvard Business Review. But it also enhances the earning power of men, and the pay gap between women and their equally educated male counterparts persists. On-the-job experience can make the difference.
3. Get over the fear of asking. Women’s career coach Carolyn Ghosn tells Fast Company that there is a huge stigma around women simply having “the conversation.” In a survey of 10,000 women by her company, Levo, nearly all women (90%) admitted they had never surfaced the question – nor had they requested more responsibilities or feedback.
The bottom line? Women can earn just as much as men, and many do. While sexism does still rear its ugly head, women have far more freedom than ever to make a solid case for pay equity.
So - learn to get technical with the best of them. Take on a variety of tasks to become a well-rounded, competent contributor. And then, when the time is right, assemble your credentials and make your case.
Ultimately, it is possible to raise one’s “brand equity” at work - no matter what the perceived disadvantage.
The key is to focus on overcoming them - one step at a time. 
Copyright 2015 by Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. All opinions are the author’s own. Photo byWOCInTech Chat via Flickr (Creative Commons). No endorsement expressed or implied.

3 Stupid Things Women Do To Handcuff Their Earning Potential

It's no secret that working women still get paid significantly less than their male counterparts.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2013, females over the age of 15 working full-time in the United States earned 78 cents on the dollar compared with men. (Institute for Women's Policy Research.)
(Bureau of Labor Statistics data, via Fast Company, suggests the pay gap is more like 82% - narrower but still statistically and financially significant).
Like every issue that's been branded "feminist" as though it "only" hurts women, pay inequity is a harsh reality for all genders: Women are the main source of income for 40% of American families.
The picture is worse for non-Caucasian, non-Asian women. Compare the median annual income of the following groups to that for men overall ($50,033).
  • Asian-American women: $43,124 or 86.1%
  • White women: $41,398 or 82.7%
  • Black women: $34,294 or 68.5%
  • Hispanic women: $30,209 or 60.3%

Does the persistence of income inequality mean that women are inherently powerless?

The news headlines might have you think so: "Gender pay gap stubbornly persists." 
The government might have you think so: The U.S. Department of Labor stated in a blog post that "economists generally attribute about 40% of the pay gap to discrimination – making about 60% explained by differences between workers or their jobs." (I could not find the original source of this assertion.) 

But as the second President of the United Stats, John Adams, once said, "facts are stubborn things,"
In the case of gender-based income inequality, the facts demonstrate that women have a lot more power over their economic health than they may have been told - or may be telling themselves.

In the hope of encouraging other women to be smarter about their careers than I was as a young woman, here is a list of 3 stupid things we do to limit our own income prospects.

1. We don't ask. Former McKinsey analyst Carolyn Ghosn founded Levo to help women in the early stages of their careers. She notes in Fast Company that there is a huge stigma around women simply having "the conversation." This is not to discount the sexism that brands assertive women who ask for a raise as aggressive - in fact women who ask for equal pay get a positive response less frequently than men do, and they're socially penalized on top of it. Nevertheless, there's no way around the need to communicate with your supervisor directly about your right to be paid what the job is worth.
2. We believe education makes all the difference. The act of attaining a degree does enhance women's earning power, notes Novant Health VP and Chief Diversity Officer Deborah Ashton in Harvard Business Review. But it also enhances the earning power of men, and the pay gap between women and their equally educated male counterparts persists.
3. We don't study technical subjects. Despite all the talk about rampant sexism in Silicon Valley, a recent survey by tech job site Dice.com, reported on in Forbes, shows that there is currently no pay gap between women and men in tech fields when you compare people with the same job title, the same education and the same level of experience. Where there is a discrepancy, the cause is dissimilar credentials. 
The list of self-limiting factors could stretch far further than this. But the bottom line is that individual beliefs, behaviors and commitments make a lot more difference to a woman's earning power than many women think.
Even if it's an unpleasant subject that brings to mind images of loneliness (another factor that limits women from facing their financial situation), women really need to think about earning a fair and decent salary. As most of us already know, the divorce rate in the U.S. is somewhere between 40-50%, and year of first marriage in this country is significantly delayed or even nonexistent.
Even if you dislike the subject of money, you will want to know about this.
Think about all the bills that you will pay over the course of your lifetime. You want that to be a simple and easy process, right?
Not to have to call your dad, your husband or your ex and ask for money.
Photo credit: Paula Satijn/Flickr. Source for table: Institute for Women's Policy Research. Source for screenshot: CNN Money. Source for President Adams quote graphic here. All opinions are my own and do not represent those of my agency or the federal government as a whole.

Humans of New York Captures Needless Suffering Of A Child, In The Process Unites Humanity

I am supposed to be working now, because...well, don't I always work? But at the moment I can't avoid my feelings sufficiently to sit at the computer and think work thoughts out.

Because right now my mind is with the child below, whose photo appeared on the Humans of New York Facebook page (unnamed, as with everyone so pictured).

He is quoted as saying, "I'm homosexual and I'm afraid about what my future will be and that people won't like me."

That quote broke my heart.

For reasons I do not understand, the photo was nearly instantly removed by Facebook after posting. It's there again because the photographer, Brandon Stanton, put it back, and probably also because of the social media outcry that ensued.

I'm guessing that it's the age of the child that concerned Facebook. They probably didn't want to get sued by his parents. Or perhaps they were afraid that people would complain the photo was offensive because it pictured a minor, e.g. "someone not old enough to make these choices," making a comment that could be construed as the social media site "encouraging" other children to be homosexual.

And homosexuality is considered to be immoral by some.

Yet as Mark Shrayber (writing at Jezebel) has pointed out, even if the reason was potential offensiveness, "How is this photo more awful than some of the other things posted on the site?"

Um, yeah, to put it mildly. Or as someone said the other day, literally:

"I'm really sick of all these boobies showing up on my Facebook page. How do I delete them?"

Actually one could argue that social media survives mostly on things that are offensive. After all what would we do without Instagram butt selfies and the debates they engender? Some NSFW?

In any case, demonstrating either tremendous caring or an incredible radar for what the public wants right now, no less a figure than Hillary Clinton got involved - directly. She personally wrote a comment to the child, a screenshot of which appears below.

As the New York Times points out, Humans of New York is wildly popular even without Clinton's endorsement. But there was something so touching about that photo and its content, and something so on-target about her reassurance to him, that this post in particular went incredibly viral, and fast.

As of this writing, nearly 600,000 people have "liked" the photo and more than 50,000 have shared it on their own timelines.

From a communication point of view, it's a paradox, certainly. Clinton is obviously uncomfortable with people. But on social media, or any medium where she can take a little distance, there is a warmth and caring that clearly comes through.

Perhaps it is just a campaign strategy - it's true. But that would be one hell of a falsehood, wouldn't it? A lifetime of living in the public eye, coupled with extensive personal humiliation - just to pretend to care about other people.

But that's besides the point, and this is not a campaign endorsement.

The issue here is the needless psychological suffering of a child, a suffering that many people carry silently into adulthood and which causes untold pain for themselves and everybody else they come into contact with.

Having a sexual orientation that differs from most people should never be a source of shame. But people have made it into that, even though society has come a long way with respect to its beliefs about diversity and inclusion.

Actually this conversation goes deeper: There are many more issues that remain the subject of deep and bitter secrets. Here is an excerpt from "Friends in Trouble," an outstanding article on the subject by fellow "Brandergist," the recruiter Vincent Wright:
"Are you sitting alone in your room or your office, thinking you are the only one facing alcoholism, loneliness, DUI charges, drug abuse, a child in trouble, malicious siblings, elderly parents, disabled family members, a disability of your own, a dysfunctional family, alimony, child support, a failing business, a failing career, a struggling job search, divorce, trial separation, incarceration, lack of education, missed deadlines, project overruns, project failures, cheating spouses, misunderstandings, abandonment....I've heard so many people share their stories about the above list with such personal pain that often I wish there were a way to share with them how many others are telling the same stories that's causing them to hurt so much.  None of them are alone in the pain they are experiencing. " 
The feminist movement told us a long time ago that "the personal is political," meaning that there is no distinction between injustice in the bedroom and injustice in the boardroom. Patterns of systematic oppression show up as seemingly small personal inequities and are repeated and magnified over and over again in bigger and badder ways until they become catastrophic.

Think about it.

How many women are underpaid, routinely beaten, provided a lesser quality of healthcare, given less food, left uneducated, and daily raped? Read this story and try not to throw up when you learn about a 4-year-old girl in a Syrian detention camp raped by some filthy pig who will likely never, ever be punished. Read about this American woman who barely escaped her abusive marriage after "doing the right thing" and staying home to raise her kids while her husband ran around, threw household objects at her, and stole her money so that she couldn't leave.

Normally, women don't discuss such matters. They don't want to share what feels like their personal shame.

How many men are suffering from domestic abuse?

How many children, male and female, are still being sexually assaulted by people who know them, who are supposed to be caring for them, who are instead using that child's vulnerable position and their own status of power to get away with torture?

How many people go to work every day and have to put up with a sadistic supervisor protected by an enabling system? Here's a funny and touching and important TV show starring Laura Dern, "Enlightened," that speaks to this very subject.

How many of us feel like we're helpless slaves to the system, caught inside something much bigger than ourselves, forced to uphold a superstructure that has way to much power over the individuals stuck inside it? Here's a great new TV show starring Christian Slater, "Mr. Robot," that shows what one such person might be going through.

Adults are children in grownup clothes.

Shame should be reserved for people who inflict pain on other people and should know better.

We must act now to create a better world which sustains and promotes the humanity of the people living in it.

I can't tell you that I know the way to get there. But I do know we can start by ending the needless suffering that people experience every single day.

Let's end toxic guilt, and fear, and shame. 

Let's stop judging ourselves as bad. 

Let's stop judging other people.

Let's focus only on doing what is right, and part of that is giving ourselves the privilege of living in the light. Taking care of and nurturing our too-often beaten and battered spirits.

Here's a 1-minute video that helped me get started on a better path.

Hope it helps you in some small way.

All opinions are my own and do not represent those of my agency or the federal government as a whole. No endorsement expressed or implied. This is not a campaign ad or a product placement, either overtly or in disguise.

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