Patterico's Pontifications

11/15/2009

Protocol 101: Presidents Don’t Bow

Filed under: International,Obama — DRJ @ 5:32 pm



[Guest post by DRJ]

As noted yesterday, President Barack Obama bowed when he met Emperor Akihito in Japan. His Administration quickly announced he was only following protocol.

Via Hot Air, the College Republicans of the University of Connecticut blasted that as a myth with this composite of dozens of world leaders shaking hands with — but not bowing — to Emperor Akihito:

Maybe someone needs a new protocol officer because the old one is about to get the blame. (Either that or dozens of world leaders need new protocol officers.) But the reality is this was probably all Obama’s doing because — according to the New York Times, which weighed in 15 years ago when Bill Clinton suffered from his own bowing scandal involving the Emperor of Japan — protocol officers have been telling American Presidents not to bow to anyone for over 200 years:

“Guests invited to a white-tie state dinner at the White House (a Clinton Administration first) were instructed to address the Emperor [Akihito of Japan] as “Your Majesty,” not “Your Highness” or, worse, “King.” And in what one Administration aide called “some emperor thing,” an Army general was cautioned that he should not address the Emperor Akihito at all as he escorted him to the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery.

But the “thou need not bow” commandment from the State Department’s protocol office maintained a constancy of more than 200 years. Administration officials scurried to insist that the eager-to-please President had not really done the unthinkable.

“It was not a bow-bow, if you know what I mean,” said Ambassador Molly Raiser, the chief of protocol.

White House officials described Mr. Clinton’s tilt as something of an improvisation. Because Emperor Akihito broke with tradition in turn to raise his glass at the state dinner, some even said Mr. Clinton had managed something of a breakthrough.

“Presidents don’t bow, and Emperors don’t toast,” one official said. “So this was a little bit like the cultures meeting each other halfway.”

Emperor Akihito must think Americans are strange but at least the Obama Administration didn’t say “It’s not a bow-bow.”

Plus, there’s an added bonus from Hot Air: “Japan expert to ABC: Yes, Obama’s bow made him look like an idiot.”

— DRJ

74 Responses to “Protocol 101: Presidents Don’t Bow”

  1. We don’t bow and we don’t dip our flag in deference to other nations. Period. The morons on the left should know that.

    daleyrocks (718861)

  2. I just stumbled upon this site, and I was kinda looking for interesting political discourse; instead, from the above comment I see a reflexive, bilious, visceral hate of fellow Americans with opposing views.

    The noxious stink of Town Hall riff-raff was quite enough; I’ll be going elsewhere.

    Cameron (3be7ea)

  3. One comment that seemed to be perceptive was that you can bow or shake hands but doing both marks you as an ignoramus. Businessmen in Japan often bow to opposite numbers or shake hands but never both. Of course, obsequiousness has its own rules. I look forward to Hiroshima for another moment of embarrassment.

    Mike K (2cf494)

  4. Obama doesn’t know not to bow. Obama doesn’t know “Austrian”. Obama visited 57 states, needed one more to finish off the contiguous US, wasn’t permitted to visit Alaska and Hawaii. Obama’s gaffes (I could be in the special olympics with my bowling) when TOTUS is turned off or not present match Biden’s gaffes. Now, libturds, tell me how smart he is.

    John Hitchcock (3fd153)

  5. Thank you, drive-by idiot, for telling us you won’t be spilling your filth here, while at the same time spilling your filth here.

    John Hitchcock (3fd153)

  6. On President Obama’s Bow to the Japanese Emperor, An Academic Friend Writes That Both the Left and the Right Are Wrong

    An old friend — an academic with expertise about the Japanese Empire, and in general a supporter of President Obama — sends me the following note, relating to photographs of President Obama bowing to Emperor Akihito of Japan.

    “This picture shows two things,” my friend writes.

    “1) The ‘right’ is wrong about Obama’s bow.

    “2) The ‘left’ is wrong about Obama’s bow.

    “His bow is neither (1) unprecedented nor (2) a sign of cultural understanding.

    “At their 1971 meeting in Alaska, the first visit of a Japanese Emperor to America, President Nixon bowed and referred to Emperor Hirohito and his wife repeatedly as ‘Your Imperial Majesties.'”

    “Yet, (and?) Nixon gets the bow right. Slight arch from the waist hands at his side.

    “Obama’s handshake/forward lurch was so jarring and inappropriate it recalls Bush’s back-rub of Merkel.

    “Kyodo News is running his appropriate and reciprocated nod and shake with the Empress, certainly to show the president as dignified, and not in the form of a first year English teacher trying to impress with Karate Kid-level knowledge of Japanese customs.

    “The bow as he performed did not just display weakness in Red State terms, but evoked weakness in Japanese terms….The last thing the Japanese want or need is a weak looking American president and, again, in all ways, he unintentionally played that part.

    “BTW, Obama’s bow at Suntory Hall was much better. Correct angle, slight bow. His hands were wrong but the physical tone was correct and appropriate.

    “But if Obama can get the dollar to stop bowing to the Yen I take it all back.” -source, Jake Tapper, ABCNews.com 11/15/09

    DCSCA (9d1bb3)

  7. Here’s the link for DCSCA’s comment. It’s from a Jake Tapper post included in the final Hot Air link above.

    DRJ (dee47d)

  8. “At their 1971 meeting in Alaska, the first visit of a Japanese Emperor to America, President Nixon bowed and referred to Emperor Hirohito and his wife repeatedly as ‘Your Imperial Majesties.’”

    It looks like they were both bowing.

    Brother Bradley J. Fikes, C.O.R. (0ea407)

  9. Obama can say he’s just following Nixon’s lead. I can live with that.

    DRJ (dee47d)

  10. Plus, there’s an added bonus from Hot Air: “Japan expert to ABC: Yes, Obama’s bow made him look like an idiot.” It’s a bonus of ‘hot air’– and nothing more. No place in Tapper’s ABC.com posted story do the quotes from his ‘Japan expert’ friend refer to President Obama as ‘an idiot.’

    DCSCA (9d1bb3)

  11. That’s called commentary, and it was added by Hot Air as the link shows. You know what commentary is, don’t you? You do it all the time.

    DRJ (dee47d)

  12. I think some of the contents of my Barack Obama may have settled during shipping. There’s just not as much there as I was expecting.

    happyfeet (b919e7)

  13. Oh, that was good.

    DRJ (dee47d)

  14. The absurdly low bow was Obama’s attempt to give America sort of the extended middle finger, or a manifestation of what must have appealed to him during all those years of listening to Jeremiah Wright rave and rant about how horrible the US was and is.

    Given the raised eyebrows when Obama prostrated himself in front of the King of Saudi Arabia, he must be fully aware he’d get flak all over again for doing the same thing in front of Japan’s emperor. But Obama apparently is so intent on making both an ass and symbol of himself — as the US’s official apologist and naysayer — that he doesn’t care.

    Moreover, if Obama is aware of the following — of how even more inappropriate and foolish his sense of etiquette is — then it indicates he really is intent on making the point of “goddamn you, America, either you apologize and pay for your sins or I’ll do it for you!”:

    ”Kissing hands is something alien to our values and ethics, and is refused by free and honest souls,” he said, quoted by the official SPA news agency. “Moreover, it leads to bowing, which violates God’s law as the faithful bows only to the one and only God.” – Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, 2005
    Comment by Dave Surls — 11/15/2009 @ 4:32 pm

    Mark (411533)

  15. DCSCA: Tapper’s source clearly thinks Obama’s bow made him look like an idiot.

    “Obama’s handshake/forward lurch was so jarring and inappropriate it recalls Bush’s back-rub of Merkel.

    “Kyodo News is running his appropriate and reciprocated nod and shake with the Empress, certainly to show the president as dignified, and not in the form of a first year English teacher trying to impress with Karate Kid-level knowledge of Japanese customs.

    “The bow as he performed did not just display weakness in Red State terms, but evoked weakness in Japanese terms….The last thing the Japanese want or need is a weak looking American president and, again, in all ways, he unintentionally played that part.

    I.e. he looked like an idiot.

    Patterico (64318f)

  16. DCSCA – Why was the White House so incredibly defensive earlier this year over Obama’s “nonbow bow” to the King of Saudi Arabia if it was not considered a breach of protocol?

    daleyrocks (718861)

  17. […] The customary lively discussion over at Patterico’s. […]

    Gazzer’s Gabfest » President Bobblehead (b98ad6)

  18. #16- That’s a conclusion you are free to discern. But no place in Tapper’s ABC.com posted story do the quotes from his ‘Japan expert’ friend refer to President Obama as ‘an idiot’ or ‘looking like an idiot.’ But then it may appear ‘clear’ to readers who see, or want to see President Obama in a different light and from a different POV.

    DCSCA (9d1bb3)


  19. “…readers who see, or want to see President Obama in a different light and from a different POV…”

    Well, that is clear enough: you certainly want to see the man a particular way, despite your journalistic pretensions. Maybe Cronkite explained that to you. Or was it Von Braun? Or the NSA death squad in Libya? Or the guy who polishes your fleet of vintage Jeeps? Or…

    You get the picture. Ta pocka, ta pocka, ta pocka….

    Eric Blair (711059)

  20. #16- That’s a conclusion you are free to discern. But no place in Tapper’s ABC.com posted story do the quotes from his ‘Japan expert’ friend refer to President Obama as ‘an idiot’ or ‘looking like an idiot.’

    Nor has anyone said otherwise.

    Patterico (64318f)

  21. Moving away from the cheerleading of a serial fabulist, the point here is that, until now, no one has every really criticized this President.

    What is sad is, when the guy does mess up, there is a group of people who will defend whatever he does as being boss cool.

    Eric Blair (711059)

  22. Good thing Pu Yi and family are all gone, or else we would be treated to BHO kowtowing in Peking.

    AD - RtR/OS! (603f4e)

  23. Again, the interesting part is how willing the President is to appear obsequious toward hereditary leaders—except Western leaders who aren’t Leftist, it appears—and how unwilling he is to show respect toward his political opponents.

    The video shows it very clearly. And still the cheerleaders explain that the President is too very smart and not inexperienced at all.

    Eric Blair (711059)

  24. #21- Nor has anyone said otherwise. Anyone?

    “Japan expert to ABC: ‘Yes, Obama’s bow made him look like an idiot” – header posted at 7:45 pm on November 15, 2009 by Allahpundit

    Anything you say.

    DCSCA (9d1bb3)

  25. ^^^^ More humor from the Guy With a Crush.

    Eric Blair (711059)

  26. Comment by DCSCA — 11/15/2009 @ 7:43 pm

    I take it you don’t get over to Hot Air that much. Allahpundit is especially famous for his entertaining headline-as-commentary.

    I do confess I found the headline very entertaining, BTW. The incident itself, not so much.

    After too many of these protocol incidents (of which the Costco DVDs to Gordon Brown – wrong region, no less – was the pinnacle, am getting pretty weary of wondering which it is: is he just too lazy and apathetic to bother to demand his staff provide him with proper protocol (clearly not having experience enough to know it himself) or is he really trying to send some message of American subservience to Japan?

    Um, just noticed that was one sentence, wasn’t it? Take THAT, Gleeen! *slinks away embarrassed*

    no one you know (1ebbb1)

  27. The 2 photos on this blog say it all.

    Just call him President Ass Backwards: Showing apathy when he should be displaying a bit more thoughtfulness, and responding with way too much enthusiasm when he should be expressing restraint. Then again, this is merely the real inner self (which mind melds with people like Jeremiah Wright) of the current occupant of the Oval Office being unveiled to the public, and no one should be surprised by how screwed up it (and he) really is.

    Mark (411533)

  28. Reinforcing that Presidential protocol is not to bow to foreign leaders, the left has only been able to dig up one incident in the 40 years prior to Obama’s two gaffes demonstrating a breech.

    Good defense, DCSCA.

    daleyrocks (718861)

  29. How is deliberately, or by accident, insulting leaders around the World supposed to restore the stature and respect of America in the World Community?
    It must be that “I’m not Bush” thing.

    AD - RtR/OS! (603f4e)

  30. “…one incident in the 40 years…”

    Which conveniently is the person heading their “most hated” list prior to Bush-43.

    AD - RtR/OS! (603f4e)

  31. After bowing to Chavez and Castro, to help our respective cultures meet each other half-way, Obama can lead all assembled in a rousing chorus of “Everything Bad in the World is All America’s Fault (and Boy Should Those Americans Have to Pay for That Now).”

    Beldar (e9d144)

  32. Nice melody, but the lyrics just don’t flow.

    AD - RtR/OS! (603f4e)

  33. The noxious stink of Town Hall riff-raff was quite enough; I’ll be going elsewhere.

    Comment by Cameron

    I think that stink left with you. :)

    MIke K (2cf494)

  34. Obama doesn’t need anything to make him “look like an idiot”–he IS an idiot, a self-satisfied, narcissistic lightweight whose presidency is already a debacle, and we ain’t even at the one-year mark.

    Kevin Stafford (5d18a5)

  35. Ignoring the entire matter of whether the action was appropriate or not I don’t see quoting from a statement about a dinner at the White House as being at all applicable to the protocol for a foreign visit. I could easily imagine that the two situations are not the same.

    That given, however, Obama has messed up enough of these introductions that I almost have to wonder if we wouldn’t be better off with Biden in the top slot. At least everyone already knows he is an idiot and there is no need to pretend otherwise.

    Soronel Haetir (2b4c2b)

  36. ‘For one thing, his protocol office is famously run by imbeciles. They may very well have simply given him bum advice: “Be sure to hunch way the hell over and stare at the ground. They all do it that way.”’– Allahpundit

    That I have no trouble believing.

    Dave Surls (13e382)

  37. The protocol office, unless it has had a travel office makeover, has been doing this for decades. Believe what you want to

    Mike K (2cf494)

  38. Obama wants to teach us to bow to him.

    Alta Bob (e8af2b)

  39. Well, at least in his deep bow, he’s showing us his best side.

    AD - RtR/OS! (603f4e)

  40. If the President wishes to bow before another leader or potentate, so be it.

    There’s nothing to stop him and/or her.

    If the President believes that he should follow the protocols, norms and mores of another nation, well by goodness, good for him.

    Of course, the United States was founded on principles that pretty much say no one is better than another because of birth and the whole bowing bit is silly.

    Because, that’s America. Land of the free and home of the — well, didn’t we fight a revolution about this at some point?

    Ag80 (3d1543)

  41. In point of fact, Mike, the person running the Office of Chief of Protocol is a newby.

    “Ambassador Capricia Penavic Marshall was sworn in as Chief of Protocol of the United States on August 3, 2009.”

    You might remember her. She became rocket-scientist famous because she had a little trouble remembering to file her federal tax returns.

    I don’t have too much trouble believing she’s a bit of nitwit.

    Dave Surls (13e382)

  42. Also, isn’t the whole point of being a touchy-feely lefty; a by-god-we-are-smarter-than-anyone-else-type person is to speak the truth to power.

    And you do that by bowing to every second- or third-rate power that passes you?

    Wait, I forgot, speaking truth to power only counts when a Republican is the President.

    I guess that means only Republicans have power.

    Woohoo! The GOP wins by logical imperative.

    Ag80 (3d1543)

  43. It is not “speaking truth to power.”

    It is “speaking truth to bower,” per Mark Steyn.

    Nixon did something wrong (bowing to the Mikado) & that doesn’t excuse MC President bowing like a toilet attendant.

    steve miller (81db43)

  44. Comment by Cameron — 11/15/2009

    You don’t fool us, Greenwald–you’ll be back. 😛

    Another Chris (470967)

  45. DCSCA: “I do not have a very good sense of humor.”

    It’s there in the comments above.

    Right there!

    Patterico (64318f)

  46. Patterico, I missed the post where DCSCA states he does not have a sense of humor. But I am glad to see that admission.

    It is funny to watch the progression from the Left:

    1. Obama didn’t make a gaffe.
    2. It’s more complicated than it seems.
    3. Republicans have made gaffes too, and they are worse.

    And I am waiting for:

    4. And the gaffe is GWB’s fault.

    Eric Blair (711059)

  47. Mr. Soetero never misses the opportunity to demean the US on every trip abroad. If He is so ashamed of the Nation He can submit his resignation immediately with no protest from me. He is an embarrassment both at Home and Abroad.

    Old Trooper (c3dabf)

  48. He is just building relationship

    Stephen (38069f)

  49. I think we all know just how proud of American Michelle Obama will be once Barack is no longer the President.

    We will probably have 50 years to see just how little they like our nation.

    Dustin (bb61e3)

  50. I think the president may regret the precedent he’s set with his bows to King of Saudi Arabia and the Emperor of Japan. What will he do when he meets the Pope? Will he genuflect and kiss the ring? I know he’s not Catholic, but he’s not Saudi or Japanese either.

    iamaxian (156518)

  51. What’s a bow-bow? Did she mean bow-wow?

    Rochf (ae9c58)

  52. “It was not a bow-bow.”

    And Roman Polanski didn’t commit a rape-rape.

    the wolf (54094c)

  53. “look like”?

    mojo (8096f2)

  54. Comment by steve miller — 11/15/2009 @ 10:35 pm

    Nixon DID NOT bow to The Mikado.
    He bowed to The Emperor.
    They were not the same person.
    IIRC, there has not been a Mikado in Japan since the Meiji Restoration.

    AD - RtR/OS! (785778)

  55. This incident needs a mashup set to “Macarena.”

    Rick Ellers (890cbf)

  56. This incident needs a mashup set to “Macarena.”

    Comment by Rick Ellers — 11/16/2009 @ 9:54 am

    LOL

    This video set to that would be awesome.

    no one you know (196ed7)

  57. The President really does need to fire his protocol office. You either you do the introductions Japanese style (polite mutual bowing with appropriate Japanese style pleasantries) or Western style (polite handshake with Western style greetings) but you don’t do both simultaneously.

    Bowing etiquette in Japan is quite complicated, even for Japanese speakers such as myself, so if the President wanted to do it that way–which if done mutually is in no way inappropriate or indicative of subservience–his protocol people should have stage-managed it. What Nixon did would have been a good model, but there are mutual exchanges you can do as well.

    Also, the comment concerning the error in the angle is right on. About 45 degrees is the most you do in all but the most extreme situations (the depth and order of the bows are context, not status determined). Here, as two heads of state at a diplomatic meeting, the context dictates similar exchanges of respect, so a moderate mutual bow would have been a nice gesture of using Japanese customs. Again, Nixon is the example here.

    Blaming President Obama for this embarrassment as indicative of some personal defect is obnoxious and unfair. He’s not a State Department official, he’s an academic and former Senator from Chicago; there’s no reason he should be practiced in this stuff.

    Cyrus Sanai (3b1f29)

  58. “And Roman Polanski didn’t commit a rape-rape.”

    Yeah, and our little boy playing at being president isn’t a dolt-dolt.

    Dave Surls (91bc82)

  59. After the bow, Akihito turned to his wife and asked if she heard Obama mutter, “Domo alligator Tachikawa golf ball.”

    ropelight (797778)

  60. Blaming President Obama for this embarrassment as indicative of some personal defect is obnoxious and unfair. He’s not a State Department official, he’s an academic and former Senator from Chicago; there’s no reason he should be practiced in this stuff.

    Comment by Cyrus Sanai — 11/16/2009 @ 10:41 am

    Everything you said in the first part of your comment is very sensible and am inclined to agree. On this last, though, I beg to differ. After several embarrassing protocol mistakes which got major, major press throughout this year, a person who through no fault of his own is unpracticed in protocol, if he is concerned about the image of the US (not to mention his own image) would make it a priority to learn proper protocol.

    This means: spending the time to do it, and demanding a staff that teaches efficiently and competently so future gaffes aren’t made and the president’s time is respected.

    The apparent failure of Obama to do either is what he’s being blamed for, and rightly so IMO.

    no one you know (1ebbb1)

  61. I think he turned and went “wtf” in Japanese….

    I’d like to be the first to congratulate the President for his impact on internet freedom in China… oh, wait, they censored his comments from the web.

    That whole reach out your hand thing is going so well that the emperor is probably eyeballing Midway Is.

    SteveG (97b6b9)

  62. DCSCA,

    On another thread, you indicated that questions about Obama’s bowing to Emperor Akihito was a matter for the Department of State and its Office of Protocol, and not for the White House. I thought your point was correct and I updated the post, but apparently it was the White House:

    QUESTION: There’s been a huge amount of attention paid to President Obama’s bow to the emperor of Japan. I was wondering if you had any reaction to that.

    MR. KELLY: I don’t have any reaction to that. I mean, I’ve seen the reports on it, and I mean, I saw it for, I’m sure – for what it was intended, which is a sign of respect to the emperor. But I don’t have any reaction from the State Department on it.

    QUESTION: Did the State Department play any role in terms of protocol preparing the President in how he should greet the emperor?

    MR. KELLY: Well, I don’t know the specific answer to that. Of course, we do have an Office of Protocol here. But as far as preparing the President for this, I’m just not sure, frankly. I think you’d have to ask the White House.

    QUESTION: There have been some comments on the web that – even calling it a sign of treason.

    MR. KELLY: Well, that seems a bit extreme. I mean, again, it’s – I think it’s a natural response of the President the first time he meets the Japanese head of state to show a sign of respect. But I’m not going to try and characterize it for anything else than that.

    DRJ (dee47d)

  63. I think it is a combination of things. He doesn’t have much respect for the country he represents. I think we will learn that if and when he visits Hiroshima. He doesn’t know much about foreigners; we learned that when he thought Austrians speak Austrian. He is contemptuous of his countrymen because they don’t speak other languages even though he doesn’t speak another language. Maybe he speaks Malay and doesn’t want to let on.

    I don’t understand this man. That was a line from The BIg Country, one of my favorite movies.

    Mike K (2cf494)

  64. Respect is one thing, but Obama’s incorrectly performed bow is just a sign of ignorance, combined with an unwillingness to learn. He certainly has the staff to coach him.

    I linked the other day to a photo of Nixon and Hirohito. It certainly looked to me as if they were both bowing to each other.

    Brother Bradley J. Fikes, C.O.R. (0ea407)

  65. Nixon was not bowing. He was leaning down to talk to a much shorter person. That’s actually impolite. He should have stepped back instead for better eye contact.

    nk (df76d4)

  66. Look at Nixon’s face. That’s not a bowing to expression, it’s a smiling to expression.

    nk (df76d4)

  67. I hate to try to divine Obama’s mind but my feeling is that he simply won’t make time for protocol matters. That’s why the State Department doesn’t know about his protocol briefings and referred questions to the White House, despite the fact that the Chief of Protocol is part of the State Department.

    I also think Obama is overwhelmed with problems and an inability to make lasting decisions. Perhaps he thinks taking time out for lessons on how to meet other world leaders is not that important, which tells me the art of diplomacy (as opposed to the politics of diplomacy) is also on the bottom of his list.

    We’re gauche Americans so maybe protocol should be on the bottom of his list, but liberals shouldn’t act like Obama is so perfect and Bush is a clod. They’ve both had their moments and Obama’s done it in only 10 months.

    DRJ (dee47d)

  68. On the other hand, I don’t understand why he let this happen again after the response to his Saudi bow. He’s just not as smooth as his supporters think.

    DRJ (dee47d)

  69. Have you seen this video on the “official White House meeting” on the bow that is linked at Hot Air? It’s hilarious.

    DRJ (dee47d)

  70. The Chief of Protocol has the State Dept. rank of Ambassador.

    AD - RtR/OS! (785778)

  71. Yes, and the current Chief of Protocol was nominated by Obama. I assume all Presidents meet with the Chief of Protocol or a staff member, or gets a briefing book, before every international trip. I also assume members of the Protocol office travel with the President on every foreign trip. They provide the President with the names and protocol for how to address and greet the people the President will be meeting.

    DRJ (dee47d)

  72. Pres. Obama obviously is the worst kind of narcissist.Several experts on the subject have written about it. Not too many people have talked about this yet but if you go to information on narcissism, all of his actions and behaviors make sense. All that matters is that he gets his supply. His supply is attention via speeches,trips to other countries with the media hot on his tail,cameras always rolling etc. He will do anything to keep that supply coming in. He needs to be constantly told how great he is and can’t tolerate any criticism. Please read about Narcissism!!!

    suellen (3f6246)

  73. Blaming President Obama for this embarrassment as indicative of some personal defect is obnoxious and unfair.

    No, it isn’t, particularly if by “defect” you’re referring to his Jeremiah-Wright-ultra-liberal sentiments and sympathies. IOW, behavior born not out of true ignorance or social clumsiness but purposeful, calculated politics. Besides, excuses of ignorance or clumsiness don’t wash, not after the ruckus raised several months when Obama bowed before the king of Saudi Arabia, and certainly when he must have been aware of how that played in the public arena.

    Mark (411533)


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