Sunday, September 20, 2009

But Is Golf A Sport?


The other day I was having a smoke at the office in the tiny shed we have allocated for those - like myself - who are addicted to nicotine.

In came one of my co workers – a young man who is by all accounts quite a college football fan.

During the course of our conversation, the question came up "yes – but is golf really a sport?"

"Golfers are not athletes" stated my young debating partner.

"Golf involves a precise movement of skill and agility to control the distance and aim over often substantial distances", I countered. "It ain't easy!"

"I don't consider any game you play while smoking a cigarette and maybe drinking a beer or two to be a sport!", countered my young elitist friend.

I stated my opinion that he was confusing sports with athletics, and my reasons why. And we left cordially agreeing to disagree.

My position on this topic has always been that the term "sports" has always been confused with the term "athletics". To me the matter has always been "what is the true definition of the term 'sports'"?

I have always defined sports as "the competition between two or more parties".

And I defined athletics as "the demonstration of a physical feat".

So by my definition – a spelling bee is a sporting competition. A weekly game of bridge would also be a sporting event. And yes, hitting a golf ball is a demonstration of an athletic feat.

The term "good sport" thereby meant one who competed fairly and never complained about the result of the matching of skill.

I always thought the word sport to be rather vague – and if you wanted to better categorize such sporting events – you would use terms "athletics" or "chance" – like a game of black jack - to better specify the type of competition.

But for all the debates, and for all my certainty that I was right in my stance – I never looked the words up in the dictionary or in the encyclopedia.

Until today.

The main definition of the word Sport comes closest to this explanation. This definition comes directly from the Merriam-Webster's dictionary:

"to amuse oneself : frolic <lambs sporting in the meadow> b : to engage in a sport"

Okay – nothing revealing about this. According to Merriam-Webster - it simply means to have fun.

So on to the Encyclopedia Britannica … how do they discuss the topic of Sport?

"physical contests pursued for the goals and challenges they entail. Sports are part of every culture past and present, but each culture has its own definition of sports. The most useful definitions are those that clarify sport's relationship to play, games, and contests. "Play," wrote the German theorist Carl Diem, "is purposeless activity, for its own sake, the opposite of work." Humans work because they have to; they play because they want to. Play is autotelic—that is, it has its own goals. It is voluntary and uncoerced. Recalcitrant children compelled by their parents or teachers to compete in a game of football (soccer) are not really engaged in sport. Neither are professional athletes if their only motivation is their paycheck. In the real world, as a practical matter, motives are frequently mixed and often quite impossible to determine. Unambiguous definition is nonetheless a prerequisite to practical determinations about what is and is not an example of play"


Well, that helps a little more.

But according the good German theorist Carl Diem – the term Professional Sports is a paradox, a contradiction unto itself?

I jumped over to Wikipedia to find out just who this Diem fellow is and why he is the authority used by such a prestigious reference as Encyclopedia Brittanica:

"Dr. Carl Diem (born June 24, 1882, W├╝rzburg – December 17, 1962, Cologne) was a German sports administrator, and as Secretary General of the Organizing Committee of the Berlin Olympic Games, the chief organizer of the 1936 Olympic Summer Games (sometimes referred to as the "Nazi Olympics"). He created the tradition of the Olympic torch relay, and was an influential historian of sport, particularly the Olympic games."


Okay – Mr. Diem was a Nazi with a bias towards amateur athletics. (My apologies to any Nazi's out there who think my terminology is insensitive).

But no place do I see the a correlation to the athletic prowess of the competitors in a sporting competition.

So I hold true to my own self concocted definitions stated earlier – that sport is merely a competition – and will add only that it is truly sport when those competing enjoy the activity.

So golf indeed is a sport.

You play golf. You might work on your game in practice – but you actually play the game when you are on the course.

How many times have you heard a professional golfer say that they would quit playing the day it wasn't fun anymore?

Why would you play if it wasn't fun.

And in any case – who is going to look me in the eye and tell me that Tiger Woods is not an athelete?

Is golf a sport?

Damn right it is.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

A Final Saturday Morning

The days of summer are winding down here in the northern hemisphere of our great blue marble.

As I enjoy the last summer Saturday morning out on the back deck with my faithful black lab Suzy demanding my attention, the sky is clear, the umbrella on the patio table is up, and the water churns ever so gently gurgling a calming rippling sound.

There is not a cloud in the sky – and the sky is the perfect blue.

But it's chilly.

I dug the windbreaker out of my golf bag to sit on the back deck with a warm mug of coffee and a deep sense of appreciation for the beauty of the day.

Saturday mornings are so great in the summer.

There are two large maple trees on the border of the yard – just the other side of the wooden privacy fence that defines the borders of our property, and acts as an expressway thoroughfare for the squirrels in the neighborhood. One is still completely green and lush – with only the scarce leaf turning a slight tinge of yellow.

But the other is more than halfway through the autumnal change with a fiery red wine color dominating to signal summers near end.

Obviously the trees disagree.

Next Saturday it will be fall.

Autumn.

And I will be on my way north to play in the company's annual golf tournament. A reuniting of the foursome I played with two years ago, which I wrote about in a story I called "I love golf". I look forward to it, but I have not held a club in my hand since late June.

I hope they don't have any expectations.

Ahhh, warm creamy sweet coffee.

The following Sunday my lovely wife Darlene and I head over to Detroit for the last regular season Tigers game against the White Sox. We splurged, and got the really good seats. My hope was that this game would be a mere formality to wish the Tigers well as they start post season play as the American League Central champs. But Minnesota is only three games behind them in the standings now – and they are playing each other this weekend. They play the Tigers seven times before the end of the season, and the Twinkies are tough to beat.

So I am nervous – as I knew I would be when I wrote about this series in the first weeks of August in a story called "There's a Big Storm Brewing". The storm started with last night's opener in Minnesota's dome from hell. And the boys lost three to a lousy nothing.

But today I will enjoy the deck, and the final days of the pool – even though I have no desire to go swimming. The lawns need cutting, the gardens need weeding, and the cars need a good scrubbing and a heavy coat of wax to endure the soon to come winter weather.

The coffee sure tastes good.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Twenty Years And Counting

My lovely wife Darlene constantly reminds me of her twenty years of medical experience.

She does. And it drives me nuts.

For every ailment that I endure – my lovely wife is there to care for me. It's a wonderful luxury to have such a medical expert at our avail.

But there have been many times in the duration of our matrimonial bliss that I have been forced to see a doctor or go to the walk in clinic – for things that are not issues worth medical attention – after being continually reminded by my registered nurse and lovely wife that she does indeed have twenty years of medical experience.

"That needs to be looked at …" may be the start of the conversation.

"It's nothing and it is not bothering me, it will go way", I commonly respond.

"Who is the nurse here", she will start. "Who has a medical degree with letters behind their name?", she will continue. "Who in this house has …"

"… twenty years of medical experience" , I will repeat back to her.

And then off I go to the doctor's office or clinic. And a morning is lost to a visit I didn't need to bother with.

So imagine my complete joy when my lovely wife Darlene, the Registered Nurse with letters behind her name and twenty years of medical experience – so I am told – made a startling discovery.

As you may recall from a prior story I have published here earlier this summer called "house full of kitty", we became the proud owners of two little kittens. A pair of female kittens my little girls named Misty and Spice Kitty. They were six weeks old and the offspring of a neighborhood stray.

We had taken the kittens to the vet for their vaccinations and had them registered. We had the paperwork – we had the expert look at the kittens – because the good veterinarian does indeed also have twenty years of veterinary medicine experience and has letters that follow his name.

One recent evening – upon returning home from the office – I found a salesman at the door discussing the state of the shingles on our eight year old home. As I worked my way between them to put away my briefcase and my car keys, I turned to find myself face to face with this persistent door to door agent of a local home renovations firm, working hard at his task to inform me my eight year old shingles – rated good for twenty years – were shoddy looking in comparison to those of my neighbors.

"My lawn is not as good as theirs either", I argued.

"I can't help you with that, but our metal shingles for the low cost of thirty thousand dollars …."

A shriek came from the family room downstairs. I was certain that my lovely wife Darlene had also heard this amazing low discount price.

In seconds my lovely wife came hurrying up the stairs, and I thought she was coming to my aide to help usher this lunatic out of our house … but I was wrong.

Darlene - a medical professional with twenty years experience, and letters after her name – was holding the kitten named Misty. She was carrying her as if she had just peed on the floor - under her kitty armpits – her underbelly facing me.

"Well don't let her pee on me too!", I shouted stepping back.

Dar turned to the lunatic roofing salesman and shouted "Look! Look!"

So we both looked.

"He has gonads!" she screamed.

"He?", I was surprised.

"He!" she screamed again. "Look".

"Huh", said the lunatic salesman, amused by my lovely wife's concern. "So you thought you had a female?"

"Yes!" she screamed again. "But look!"

"She's a he alright" I answered.

The salesman looked at me. "How did you not realize this was a male cat?".

"I never had a reason to look", I replied. "You see my wife is a …"

"I have papers from the vet that say Misty is a female!" interrupted my professionally registered wife. She dropped Misty to the floor who landed on her … his … feet and ran into the living room. Darlene shuffled through a drawer beside the fridge and took out a piece of paper.

"There! There see! Misty is a female!" she said a bit more defensively than I expected.

"So now Mr. Brill, this DVD will explain all the details …" said the salesman, returning his focus to the matter at hand.

"So
let me ask you…", I turned to the salesman, "… how many years have you been selling metal roofing?"

"Why I am proud to tell you I have successfully satisfying people's roofing needs now for twenty years." He held out a card with his name on it, and behind his name were some letters.

"I bet you have", I smiled. "Thank you sir, I will examine this DVD with all sincere investigation. But as you can see, we have quite an urgent kitty gender confusion issue that we must deal with immediately so I thank you for your time and we will likely be In contact with you soon, I have your card right here…", and I successfully shuffled the salesman out the front door to the porch, and closed the door behind him.

"A kitty gender confusion issue?", asked my still stunned lovely registered nurse of a wife with twenty years of medical experience to her name.

"Yes, my dear".

"But the vet said …"

"Yes dear".

So for the last several weeks I have had quite a bit of fun reminding my wife of the duration of her medical experience and her apparent inability to tell a girl from a boy. I will savor this event for decades yet to come, anytime my own judgment of my own medical condition is questioned by my lovely wife Darlene.

What a glorious day.

And now we call the kitten "Mister".

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Could it be? The Detroit Tigers Are Six Games Up?

Could it be?

I seem to have to keep looking at my newspaper this morning.

The sports section. The Major League Baseball standings tucked in the top left corner of the second page of the sports section.

There, in black and white – with the authority of an official news organization behind – sits the standings of the American League Central.

My beloved Detroit Tigers are leading the American League Central division by six games.

Holy mackerel!

I have watched every game on television or listened to every game on the radio. So I don't know why I am in such a state of disbelief. Joyous disbelief, but disbelief all the same.

Pat Caputo is on the radio again this morning urging people to finally believe in this team. With a team leading their division by six with twenty seven left to play. The magic number now set to twenty two games – combinations of Tigers Wins – or losses of Minnesota and Chicago. Pat can't understand why Tiger fans have been hesitant to believe the Tigers will win the American League Central pennant and have a spot in the 2009 playoffs.

Well, to start with, the Tigers were supposed to be a poor team this year – chosen by the pundits of national sports to finish near the bottom of the division. But we Tiger fans knew the boys wearing the old English D were not as bad as they appeared to be last year – when they did finish in the basement after being picked by those same national media pundits to win the World Series.

We knew our starting pitching rotation would not stink this year like they did last year. We knew guys like Polanco, Inge, Guillen, and Thames would step up to fill the shoes of game-by-game heros when our superstars like Cabrera, Ordonez, Granderson, and Verlander faltered. And we knew that the Tigers farm system was deep enough to supply great temporary support by sending up newcomers like Raburn, Thomas, and Avila would step into roles and play significant parts – before we even knew their names.

But the problem was the Tigers couldn't win on the road.

Their road record was atrocious until the last two away game series. They hadn't won a road series since May, until taking the Angels in Anaheim last week and know their current series with the Tampa Bay Rays this weekend. The final game of that series about to start in a few minutes.

But while the Tigers played poorly on the road, the Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox played worse.

Nobody beats Tampa Bay at Tropicana field.

But the Tigers have. And came from behind to do so.

The bats that were quiet are now awake.

The players that were slumping in clutch situations are now getting key hits. The pitching – when failing – has received enough run support to surpass the opposition. The defense has been tighter – and the Tigers Catchers – Laird and Avila – have been surpising in their ability to handcuff base runners by throwing laser accurate ropes to second – to the perfect spots where the runners slide into waiting gloves of Polanco, Everette, and Santiago.

A new confidence has arisen from the Tigers when they sit in the visiting dugouts.

If they score first they taunt the opposition to catch them if they can. If they fall behind in the course of a game, they charge back with determination and conviction to take the lead in the eighth or ninth innings.

And Tigers closer Fernando Rodney gives you tingles of fear comparable to a bungee jump made at a county fair – walking men or giving up hits to allow the tying run coming to the plate – only to get the poor bastard to swing at strike three and get out of the self-imposed jam. Rodney has scared us to death with every save opportunity appearance – but the statics show that in thirty something such opportunities – he has only let one slip through his split fingers.

But I am superstitious when it comes to baseball. I believe in jinxes.

And so that is why I still hesitate to declare decisively as Pat Caputo insists – that the Tigers will win the AL Central division.

Six game leads seem like a lot. Especially in September.

But there is a very scary road trip coming up – to visit both Minnesota and Chicago – at fields they don't typically do well in … so I reserve my right to hedge my complete and utter faith in the Tigers winning the pennant. Six games can dwindle quickly – especially if Minnesota and Chicago get hot too.

So I am still nervous. That's what makes a true pennant race like this one so exciting. I am hopeful – and trying desperately to be faithful. But I don't yet know for sure where things will sit when the fat lady sings in the first week of October.

I do know this. I will be at that final regular season game in October – against the White Sox. And whether it is a game of formality to simply cheer the Tigers into the post season – or whether it comes down to that final game to win our way into the post season – I don't know.

But it will be a great day that day.

Perhaps I will venture up to the press box to track down Caputo – and shake his hand – and share with him how truly great this season has been – pretending to be a pizza delivery guy – or a writer for the Schwartzville Times – Gazette – and simply point a thumbs up at him as he keys in his thoughts on the season.

Who knows.

But it has been a terrific ride that I hope continues strong for another twenty seven game days.

And I can honestly state that I am now a true believer – with only the fear that I am jinxing my beloved Detroit Tigers.

Could it be?

Yes it could.

Finding Our Way

The world is full of people that want to tell you what you can do, and what you can't.

Some are people who sit in stations in life that you might perceive to be above you. They certainly perceive their station to be above you.


Some are peers who simply can't help but give you their opinion of you as constructive advice.


Some are people that feel they must put you in your place.


Some are people that truly care about you – deeply - and want to help you avoid making the mistakes they have made.


In this list of people, I find only the latter to be worthy of consideration.


If you can weed out those people who truly care about you, then listen closely to their advice. You don't have to take it, but you certainly have to consider it.


I take their consultations seriously, for in many cases they may also have a stake in the paths I choose, and the outcomes those paths lead me to. They will be travelling these new unknown paths with me, and they will share equally in the rewards that result.


That is why it is so important to surround yourself with positive passionate people in your life – whose values closely match your own.


The people that I truly admire in this world are those that followed their dreams – undaunted by those who told their dreams could not be fulfilled.


It takes a certain discipline to move forward while others around you shout loudly how mistaken or foolish you are for choosing the path you're taking after you have committed to that direction.


In this lifetime, there is really so little time.


In the blink of an eye – opportunities we may think will exist forever evaporate like the morning dew of late summer, there until the sun moves overhead to absorb it back into the air.


We have to take these opportunities as they present themselves to you. You have to pounce on them quickly and decisively. Commit to them with the passion that brought them to your attention to begin with – for the next moment – they may be gone.


I would like to tell you that I am a rational man. Rationale with clearly thought out plans – drawn out into neatly diagramed specifications – each line clearly labeled to denote the relationships of each component of a solution to the problem at hand. In my profession this is true, but in life – my diagrams in my mind are much less detailed. But in my mind – as I think about the future moves that I will make in my life, I have only boxes to signify desires – passions – the things I would like to accomplish. And like a poorly designed system – these boxes that depict future ambitions often have no lines drawn between them to map out the avenues that I will take to move from one to another.


The future often seems to hold two possible paths.


One that is the series of clouds and black boxes that we have not yet drawn the lines between yet – let alone put a label to for clarity of the approach to reach each one.


The other is that path that looks quite clear – only because we have travelled it for some time already, and the line continues straight on to the horizon – with little changing – with few curves or forks in the road forcing decisions.


Perhaps the safest path to take moving forward is to stay on the straight line of known outcomes as long as needed until we find the opportunity to move closer to the paths with no lines yet drawn – and hope the lines will appear as the goals and objectives move closer into view. Perhaps the lines will be labeled like street signs, to give us confidence the roads we find ourselves on are the right roads to travel.


Perhaps.


To move in such a new direction takes confidence in our abilities.


But it also requires the odd leap of faith.


And as we know that each step we take forward to move towards such disparate goals and objectives – faithfully and confidently – we have to believe that we are absolutely right in our conviction – and know that self-doubt is but a passing milestone as we continue our journey – and that doubt will also evaporate as we near our destination.


Along the way the naysayer's voices will sound louder as we encounter them. Their consternation more biting as our confidence starts to waver, more convincing as our commitment comes into question.


But hopefully you, as I have been so fortunate, will have those that truly care about you cheering you forward and urging you on to make that next step. To go where the naysayers declare you have no place to be. They will drown out those chants of "you're not good enough" or "you must be crazy for thinking you can do that" with their own encouragements of "just a little further now" and "you must work harder now, you're almost there!".


I have had the experience in life to have made some of these journeys already. I have had more than several occasions where my leaps of faith have taken me to better places than I was before. They have brought me now to a place of contentment with a beautiful wife and two lovely little girls. To a beautiful home. A loving family.


But again this need to take yet another leap of faith will soon stare me in the face. And this time my family will join me – so there is more at stake than to simply follow my own heart. I must also ensure that their needs are being met, that their goals and objectives are as equally included in my decision making as my own.


Because they are my voices of confidence now. Their voices will cheer me on past the naysayers who have already come out of the woodworks to try to deflate my ambitions. And they need also to feel the reward of where I am going – even though I know not truly where that destination exactly is ... just yet.


This time we will be going there together – and when we arrive – after the long series of little steps along the way are behind us – we will look back together and realize we are there.


The destination is merely the outcome.


The journey is a road of new experience we will obtain as we approach the destination. And life is comprised of journeys – not destinations. And each step of this journey – as small as most steps will be – will each add to the legacy of experience that defines us.


We will be judged by how we travelled the journey through life – not by the destinations we reach. And I have a wonderful collection of travelling companions. Companions who - with their love and shared commitment - will drown out the shouts of the naysayers.


And I will need their support every step of the way. And they will need mine.


Because the world is full of people that want to tell you what you can do, and what you can't.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Staying Canadian

Recently – through facebook of all places – I have had the wonderful experience of reconnecting with a lot of my old high school friends.

And they tell me that they have enjoyed very much my stories of being a teenager in Lawrenceville, Georgia, and my adventure of moving back to the Great White North.

But – as they are Americans – and proud to be so – they often ask me why I stayed in Canada after school.

America is the land of opportunity you know.

I returned to Canada – as I have said before – simply to go back to school yet again – to get the education – to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I knew I didn't want to slug it out doing the hard work I did in Louisiana, delivering electrical supplies to all corners of that odd and interesting state, or managing grocery stores – and especially not digging any more damned ditches.

So I returned to Canada, land where I was born but had left when I was three years old. I was a Canadian citizen – but I was not really Canadian.

The personal computer had just arrived, but had not yet made its niche on every office desk like it is today. People were just trying to figure this new version of technology out. And I found that I understood the concepts of the mainframe and mini computers – their roles – how they worked – and how they fit into the schemes of what was then called data processing.

So I studied hard for several years – occasionally slipping back into those youthful desires to have too much fun – which got me in so much trouble in my previous attempts at achieving a higher education.

But my Uncle Fred – a wonderful man who I miss dearly now – and who I can never pay high enough tribute to – had this time instilled a work ethic in me.

"Keep your eyes and ears open – and your big mouth shut!" I was told over and over again.

I still have not learned that lesson.

After the second year of school, I was fortunate enough to land what was called a Co-op" position with Revenue Canada – in their headquarters in Ottawa, right across the street from the Parliament buildings – the very seat of the federal Canadian government. The Canadian version of the American House of Representatives.

On a fairly frequent basis, as part of my duties, I would deliver documents and reports to the Minister of Finance or a Deputy Minister in charge of this and that and what-not.

One of my Mom's cousin's – therefore a cousin of mine I suppose – was a gentlemen who represented the riding of Owen Sound – Mr. Stan Darling.

Cousin Stan had held that seat for a good number of years – as conservative as conservatives can be... in Canada – and was often seen on television standing just behind then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in Parliament sessions – and as the Prime Minister would speak – cousin Stan - sitting right behind the Honourable Prime Minister - would holler things like "here here" and "that's right" – in unison with his colleagues seated on both sides – pounding their fists on the table, face red and jowls jiggling.

A true back bencher.

"You should go visit your cousin Stan", Ma would tell me from her nice warm Pensacola paradise in Florida. "Just to say hi, and to tell him I said hi too".

So I tried, but he would never see me. Later at a family reunion, Uncle Stan claimed to my Ma that he had no idea I was in Ottawa, let alone trying to stop by to say hi.

Politicians are politicians – no matter what land you live in.

Canada, as you probably should know if you don't already, is a bilingual country. The French Canadians and the English have for years struggled in cooperating with each other. The best government jobs go to those who are bilingual, so mostly the French – who had little option but to learn English – hold the best cival servant positions.

So picture if you will – a young good old boy named Fred, still talking with a thick southern drawl, still driving his favorite little Mazda 626 with Louisiana license plates – still planning on returning to the sunny south of Florida when his degree was earned – totally French illiterate to say the least - working in a French Canadian office environment where French is the predominant language.

I made very few friends.

A beautiful girl in our office named Sylvie – who spoke only French when I was around – despised me. My nickname to her was not a French name I can repeat.

I understand it is a vulgar term .

In a second work term, I actually worked across the Rideau river in Hull Quebec. My luck there was better, but still not one that made me feel … welcome.

So I returned the following Fall to London. School started up and I had a very good school year.

My grades were all A's with the odd B here an there. When that semester was over, I decided to fly down to Pensacola to visit my Mom and Dad for Christmas.

Uncle Fred drove me to the Airport in Detroit. We crossed at the Windsor bridge – and I was pulled into customs for questioning. They examined my bags – and they asked for my identification – proof of citizenship. I pulled out my little green card – the one I had been carrying since I was three.

My picture was still that of a three year old boy.

A heavy set African American lady was the customs officer inspecting me. She watched as I pulled my green card out of my wallet and handed it to her.

"What was that in your wallet?" she asked.

Caught off guard – I held my wallet open. She pointed to my old security card from Revenue Canada – Customs and Excise. She recognized the logo. I pulled it out of my wallet and handed it to her.

"That's my security card from Revenue Canada in Ottawa", I said politely and proudly. "I worked up there on a co-op job for my schooling".

She looked at me, and her face went so sad. She told me that the terms of living in Canada and retaining my American green card meant I was not supposed to work in Canada.

"But … how was I supposed to survive if I couldn't work?" I asked. "This was part of my schooling – I had to take a co-op job for this program – for this degree!"

She actually started to sob, and told me she was so sorry she had to do this – that she wished she didn't.

I simply looked at my watch and knew I had to catch my plane.

In that blink of a moment, as this very sweet lady with a downtown Detroit accent cut up my green card while crying – I made the decision that I was going to stay in Canada after school.

Canada would be my home. I would be a Canadian.

I had already been honorably discharged from the United States Coast Guard for being Canadian. And I never really had any luck making anything work in the States.

So I thanked the lady. "Please don't be upset", I said. "You helped me make a decision I had been wrestling with."

She really was a very nice lady, and she felt much more horrible about this tragedy than I did.

I took my bag and my wallet and I turned to my horrified Uncle Fred who could not believe what had just happened, and we left for the airport.

In the car, Uncle Fred turned to me and said yet again, "how many times have I told you to keep your eyes and ears open and your big mouth shut!".

This time I looked at Uncle Fred and said, "It's all for the best".

America may be the land of opportunity, but it was clear to me that day that America didn't really want me there.

So I am a Canadian. And proud to be so.



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