The Journal

1AC 101: Part 2

posted Oct 15, 2012, 6:05 AM by Anthony Severin

(the following is a continuation of the 1AC 101 series. If you haven't yet read the previous post, you can do so here.)


Purpose: To spike T-presses and explain any highly technical terms.

Likely, when you drafted your first one or two 1ACs, you simply copied and pasted in definitions from another case and went with that. While that's a good first start, doing so usually does not achieve the purpose of this section. I encourage you to think of this section with two things in mind: (1) How can I spike potential topicality arguments? (2) Are there any terms in your case that absolutely cannot be defined by their context, or with a short phrase describing the obscure term immediately following their use?

With these two purposes in mind, look at your case, and the definitions you currently have. Do you really need to define “United Nations?” Is the negative really going to contend that abolishing the UN would be insignificant? Is it worth giving a definition in the 1AC to spike a topicality press? Would your ten, fifteen seconds defining "foreign military commitments" be better spent explaining the rationale behind withdrawal from South Korea?

The number one thing that I usually ask when critiquing a case is: “Is a negative really going to argue against your interpretation on this word? Is a negative really going to say that your case for reforming the UNSC veto power is not a reform of the United Nations? If not, why spend 15 seconds on it?” Furthermore, are definitions important enough to warrant displacing another 30 seconds of analysis on your justifications? These are judgment calls that are very case-specific, but I strongly encourage you to think specifically about what definitions really need to be in the case, if any at all.


Purpose:To provide an explanation for why a problem exists or why advantages do not exist.

In much the same way as definitions, inherency gives you no offense. The name of the game here in the 1AC is to get in and get out. Prove what you need to, and move on to your important stuff. Now, that doesn't necessarily mean you can't provide some persuasive material here; in fact, I strongly encourage you to do so. This section is your place to present the status quo in as negative a light as possible while remaining 100% truthful. Incredulity is a powerful tool. Simply portray the status quo as crazy (which shouldn't be too hard, given the anti-government bias innate to our leagues). If your case is military withdrawal from Europe, quote some author talking about how absurd it is that we spend billiods of dollars protecting a continent because they don't want to take responsibility for their own defense. If your case is to eliminate UN peacekeepers, provide comparisons between how many conflicts we intervene in versus how many of those conflicts are resolved. Bring the word “absurdity” to the judges mind without explicitly making your arguments.

The Plan

Purpose: To clearly communicate exactly what your case does to make the world better.

This is the core of your case. This is what makes policy debate work. This is your plan. The number one rule here is that every word in your plan should have a purpose. The number two rule is that you should meticulously, painstakingly, carefully, cautiously, meticulously (my thesaurus is failing me), search your plan for every unnecessary word and throw it out. Simplicity is the holy grail of plans. Let me illustrate why this is necessary.

So there once was an affirmative team which, for some reason, decided to make their plan go into effect “a week after an affirmative ballot.” The negative, in this (completely hypothetical) real round decided to have some fun. So they read a counterplan, which was identical to the affirmative plan, except their counterplan went into effect immediately. Competition existed (you shouldn't enact duplicating legislation a week later...) and the counterplan produced a net benefit by achieving the advantages a week earlier than the affirmative. The negative won.

In sum? Every. Word. Must. Have. A. Vital. Purpose.

Similarly, make sure that your plan actually does what you say it does. A debater who shall not be named (ahem, me) once wrote a case that said the “United States will announce that it will share all relevant intelligence on terrorists with India.” That was it. Notce that the case never actually mandated that the Federal Government actually do the intelligence sharing. Thie moral? Don't get fancy with the wording, and above all, don't try to sound like you're writing a Congressional bill. You might actually write one.

And that would be horrible.


Purpose: To show how and to what extent your plan will make the world better.

I'm going in a strange order, if you are accustomed to harms-solvency cases. That's primarily because I prefer justifications cases, though I certainly don't deny that harms-solvency cases can be persuasive. The reason I generally like comparative advantage/justifications cases is simple: word economy and development of analysis. Instead of starting off with harm 1: justice, skipping down to harm 2: money lost, then skipping a few more minutes into the future and reintroducing both ideas separately, focus your 1AC. Switching topics always takes time to signpost, and that reduces the time you can spend impacting your arguments. Thus, the justifications outline is, at least for my case-writing style, significantly more economical and fluid.

A related note here is about the number of points you have. Not only does it take time to signpost and allow the judge to switch gears, increasing the number of arguments you introduce reduces the effectiveness of your other, more powerful arguments. A perfect example occurred two years ago. Our case had two justifications: one was not very significant, but completely rock solid-- literally unassailable. The other was very significant, but had major solvency issues. In this particular example, the negative talked about the one justification that was weak, completely ignoring our other harm. They had no disadvantages or other arguments. My 2AR basically consisted of spending a minute or three refuting the neg argument against our weak justification, and spent the entire last two minutes pounding the fact that the other justification went unaddressed and they had no disadvantages. The neg won, and all three ballots had essentially the same thing: “Neg clearly won justification 1, therefore I vote negative.” Even devoting the entire last two minutes of my rebuttal failed to impress our other justification on the judges. This was partly good strategy by the negative (recognizing a weakness and harping on it), and partly a failure to on my part: even though the justification was probably true, we couldn't prove it for sure. By spreading ourselves and associating ourselves with a weaker argument, we lost credibility and the judges lost focus on the strong point of our case. I should have dropped the justification in the 2AR entirely, or better yet, before the round. The moral? Make every justification within your 1AC the strongest point of your case.

Too often I hear something like this: “Harm 1 is billions of people die. According to John Smith in 1999, quote 'billions of people die.' But, if we fixed the status quo through our plan, we'd all live. Moving onto harm 2....” and so on. It's cases like those that really send shivers up my spine. Why? Because it's nothing but the aff speaker reading quotation after quotation. I doubt not that I've written many cases that end up sounding like that, however, upon becoming a judge, I've realized that although I certainly care about evidence, what I really want is analysis. I want you to give me your argument, then use your piles of evidence to give you credibility. One of the best pieces of advice I've ever been given is this: don't let your evidence make your arguments for you.

With that out of the way, remember, this is where you should be spending most of your time; this is where you win the judge with your persuasive argumentation. This is really where you get to prove that your plan is infinitely better than the status quo. A corollary to this is that you should give yourself enough time on each argument you present here to give real impacts. This is not the place to pull your punches. This is where you go all out-- don't just say “we'll convict more guilty people.” Say that “we'll be getting hundreds or even thousands of criminals off the streets, who otherwise would be plaguing businesses, harming families and disrupting society.” Don't just say “jobs will be lost.” Say, “unemployment will increase, driving an increase in violent crime, which will feed on itself and drive more people to jail or into a life of crime, harming families and destroying businesses.” Basically, pull out some legitimately big impacts to your arguments. I'm not necessarily saying that the last line of every harm should be “NUCLEAR WAR,” but some legitimately big impacts would be nice.


Purpose: To show why you believe that your proposed action will lead to your advantages.

There's not much to say here, but I'll talk as much as I can anyway. I saved this for last, but it's really among the first things you should think about. You claim big advantages? Make sure you can prove you solve for them. You claim nuclear war? Make sure your plan does something to reduce that risk. Less obviously, let's talk about how you prove solvency. Now, hopefully your case will be something that the judge looks at the harms, identifies the status quo is the cause, and can automatically connect your plan to the advantages. Hopefully. Sometimes, however, it's not that obvious. So then you should be prepared to present your logic behind it, in full. This is a critical part of your case on which the judge must be convinced, otherwise you risk losing the judge before the 1NC even starts. Even though solvency doesn't give you offense like justifications do, you want to spend as much time as necessary here.

Your solvency should not consist of a card saying “the aff plan will work.” All too often the solvency points are like “yeah, dude, this guy said that this plan will work, so yeah, it must work, dude.” More seriously, give the judge logic. Give the judge an argument to make his own, an argument that the judge will constantly come back to whenever the neg challenges. Don't just name drop: prove your case will work, then give the judge an advocate.

Closing thoughts

Well, I hope you enjoyed it. The one theme that you'll see recurring throughout all of the above sections is that you should go through two stages: think, then prove. First, think about what the purpose of a given section is, and what exactly you want it to do for you. Second, make arguments, don't just read evidence. Give your judge an argument, not a quotation from some dusty old professor.

To go back to the original point at the beginning of the essay: learn to tie your arguments together. The difference between your 1AC now and your final 1AC is the logical connections that you make clear to the judge. Learn to leave subtle hints throughout all of your non-offensive argumentation in your 1AC, so that when you get to your gigantic justifications, the judge is already there with you, and you're simply explaining the “why” to what he or she is thinking.

Finally, “I strongly urge an affirmative ballot” is not effective at anything. We know you're affirmative, and we know you want us to vote affirmative. A simple “thank you” or “Please vote affirmative” is far more impressive. 

As always, you can contact me with any questions or comments at  

1AC 101: Part 1

posted Oct 10, 2012, 8:18 PM by Anthony Severin

Congratulations! It's the start of the season. You've got a whole new year of debate to experience. Maybe you've read some articles, read a couple of sourcebook briefs, or written a few briefs yourself already. You've probably already got a case idea and done some research. You're now 2% of the way there.

At this point in the season, you've got a lot of information. If you've debated for at least a season, go back a couple months after you started thinking about the resolution and compare your brain from that time period with your brain after the season ended. You'll see a tremendous change; especially if you were new to debate. You had a ton of information. After all, even only a few months into the season you generally have built up a pretty good knowledge base. What changed between, say January and June?

What changed was your ability to interpret that information. Sure, you knew that Jackson-Vanik dealt with permanent normal trade relations with Russia, but did you think that the permanent normal trade relations status is linked to ascension to the WTO? And with that in mind, how many other things does WTO ascension impact that you can now link into a disadvantage against Jackson-Vanik? It's connections like these that develop over the course of the season as you learn not just facts, but also how those facts are interrelated. Connections.

I'll mention why all of the above is important later in the series. But with that in mind, let's begin our discussion on the 1AC. Most 1ACs go something like this:

The introduction is a random paragraph of interesting but somewhat irrelevant statements, usually mentioning something about “America's foundational values”, etc.


This section “provides clarity to the round” (riiiight) by defining basic words like “reform”, or “change.” Maybe it'll even define “the United States Federal government,” or the “United Nations,” just in case you didn't know what those words meant.

Inherency and harms look like the following:
Short tagline here

loooong block of evidence

(maybe a brief summary of the evidence)


Eloquently phrased, smoothly transitioned plan which has (hopefully) a lot of thought put into it.


Hi Judge. We're just going to restate our harms in different words, or maybe even use the same words. You can doze off while we read more stuff from people saying that our plan will work.

All of this is accompanied by random statements like: “Let's move to Observation Five-thousand eight-hundred and ninety-six: Advantages. Because no one's really counting.

Finally, the conclusion. Cue mentions of “justice” or “fiscal responsibility” every few words.

That description was fairly satirical, but I hope it made the point well: we throw in a lot of things that are irrelevant. You should understand the purpose of everything you put in your 1AC. Don't just copy-paste the “usual stuff” from another 1AC. Let me say that again in different words: every 1AC is unique. No part of a 1AC should be completely the same as another; each section serves a different purpose. So let's start from the top, discuss what should and shouldn't be done in each section and, perhaps most importantly: examine the purpose of each part of the case.

But before I get into that, I want to make a very clear distinction. There are two types of arguments: offensive arguments (disadvantages, topicality, counter-plans and the like-- things that make the affirmative a bad idea), and mitigation arguments (arguments that basically say that the aff isn't as good an idea as the affirmative makes it out to be, like significance and solvency.) Although this distinction is usually brought up when strategizing as a negative, it's equally important as an affirmative. You don't win judges by reading your definitions or inherency cards; those are there to help fulfill the burden of proof. The persuasive arguments in your case (the offensive arguments, that is) are your harms, justifications and/or advantages. Those are the arguments that win you the round. It's certainly necessary to prove solvency and inherency in some way but it's not what gets your judge out of his seat. Remember this whenever you're writing a case: focus on what is most persuasive.

I'll be posting additions addressing specific components of the case in the coming days. Until then, let me know if you've got any questions or comments at 

Seriously Awesome Article Series, Continued

posted Sep 8, 2012, 2:33 PM by Anthony Severin

After a long sabbitical, the Seriously Awesome Article Series marches on. This time, we're back with a Wall Street Journal article from Robert Kaplan, chief geopolitical analyst for Stratfor:

"Technology has collapsed distance, but it has hardly negated geography. Rather, it has increased the preciousness of disputed territory. As the Yale scholar Paul Bracken observes, the "finite size of the earth" is now itself a force for instability: The Eurasian land mass has become a string of overlapping missile ranges, with crowds in megacities inflamed by mass media about patches of ground in Palestine and Kashmir. Counterintuitive though it may seem, the way to grasp what is happening in this world of instantaneous news is to rediscover something basic: the spatial representation of humanity's divisions, possibilities and—most important—constraints. The map leads us to the right sorts of questions."

The field of international relations as a whole seems to have transitioned into a study of human nature and psychology. But Kaplan makes a compelling case that systemic factors (e.g. geography) have a significant (perhaps even a primary) effect on international actors.

Apologetics Toolbox

posted Jul 26, 2012, 4:29 PM by Anthony Severin   [ updated Jul 26, 2012, 4:29 PM ]

A friend of mine has been publishing the Apologetics Toolbox blog this summer. You should definitely check it out. A quick excerpt from a recent post:

The great thing about apologetics is that it deals with real-life questions about real-life issues. Ideas are everywhere people are. We know that competitive apol is supposed to help with real apologetics, but can I tell you a secret? It works the other way, too. Some of my best speeches used stories of actual people with whom I’ve shared the gospel or talked about spiritual matters. Seriously, go interact with unbelievers and have the courage and compassion to bring up the best news you could ever give them.

Wise words, they are. I got out of the habit of conversing with atheists and unbelievers right when I got into apologetics. Once I began doing so again, I immediately noticed my focus changed and my speeches became immensely more powerful. After all, that which we do in competition should be for the purpose of life outside of the competition.

Loosely Termed: Presidential 'Debates'

posted Jul 23, 2012, 8:57 AM by Anthony Severin

No caption is needed here.

Part Three of the Seriously Awesome Article Series: A Departure

posted Jul 22, 2012, 9:39 PM by Anthony Severin

This is somewhat of a departure from the usual, but I saw this and instantly thought I should post it here. A lot of ya'll are likely aspiring lawyers, or, at the very least, occasionally forced into reading legal opinions by debate research. Unlike scholarly articles, legal opinions are a little less intuitive, and it may be harder to divine the intent of the author. Thus, I bring you How to Read a Legal Opinion: A Guide for New Law Students, by George Washington University law professor Orin Kerr, which may be found here.

Law professors love the facts. When they call on students in class, they typically begin by asking students to state the facts of a particular case. Facts are important because law is often highly factsensitive, which is a fancy way of saying that the proper legal outcome depends on the exact details of what happened. If you don’t know the facts, you can’t really understand the case and can’t understand the law. Most law students don’t appreciate the importance of the facts when they read a case. Students think, “I’m in law school, not fact school; I want to know what the law is, not just what happened in this one case.” But trust me: the facts are really important.

I particularly like the point Kerr makes in this paragraph. What he says may be applied to any field-- science, mathematics, academic debate-- whatever the case may be, knowing the facts at hand can be the difference between properly applying a principle and grossly misinterpreting an idea. I can tell you to apply the Pythagorean theorem to find the length of the side of a triangle, but if I don't know that the triangle is not a right triangle, you're going to end up with an answer that's completely wrong. In academic debate, someone may argue that the Russians are enabling Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions. But, if you know that Russia's assistance is purposely designed to prevent Iran from acquiring the necessary nuclear material (since, after all, Russia doesn't want a crazy guy with nuclear weapons any more than the U.S. does-- particularly since they're right next door to Russia), then you're in a much better position to argue against the opposition's argument than if you didn't know the details of the assistance.

All of that to say: facts are important. Know them and know how to find them (more on that second part coming).

Seriously Awesome Article Series: Part 2

posted Jul 14, 2012, 9:30 AM by Anthony Severin

Didn't intend to turn this into a Saturday series, but I keep running across these good articles. It primarily focuses on multilateralism and military operations. Here's another one, this time from the Strategic Studies Institute. It's applicable to both resolutions. 

Since the end of the Cold War, the United States often has not  been able to obtain the cooperation it seeks from other nations, even  when applying its putative hegemonic weight-benignly through  providing economic, security, and prestige benefits to those who  cooperate, or coercively through applying punitive economic or  political sanctions, or wielding military power. Except in certain  specifically-defined post-September 11, 2001 (9/11), counterterrorism  projects, not very many countries have been all that ready to  coalesce under the U.S. banner-the "bandwagoning" response to  a hegemon's exertions of power. -Seyom Brown

Incidentally, I should be starting a three part series on research this coming week. Stay tuned!

The CSIS's Take On Multilateralism

posted Jul 7, 2012, 8:46 AM by Anthony Severin   [ updated Jul 7, 2012, 8:46 AM ]

I ran across this article yesterday from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (one of my favorite research institutions). I like it because it's a pretty good explanation of the foundations of the UN, foundations of multilateralism, and the current state of multilaterism in U.S. foreign policy. It'd be an excellent read for debaters of either policy resolution.

From the article's opening paragraph I take the following excerpt. I'm particularly fond of the rhythm the author seems to infuse into his writing.

"Among the organizations formed in the wake of World War II, the United Nations has been more welcoming to nations than most institutions, imposing little responsibility or criteria on its members. Both tyrants and democrats have a place at the table; human rights violators often sit alongside nations that oifer asylum and refuge to those being persecuted. And it is precisely because the UN was conceived as a community of nations rather than as a community of democracies that it has endured."

Have a good weekend!

Why the UN Resolution is Awesome

posted Jul 4, 2012, 3:15 PM by Anthony Severin

This past year at Baylor, I met people from all over the world. Spain. Singapore. Nepal. Mexico. Germany, and more. In a passing conversation with one of my friends from China, she said she didn't think her national government was intrusive at all. Hearing this as an American, I was appalled! How could she not believe her government to be a horrid, corrupt tyrannical regime that's eating away at the common people's meager profits? In short, she has different values than I do. Having grown up in a communistic and Confucianistic society, she has a culturally different perspective on what "good government" consists of. This example is a microcosm of what happens in the UN every day. The UN was created to be a forum where the global community could make decisions, develop consensus, and highlight the areas in which discord was present. You're probably thinking something along the lines of: "Everything you just said was meaningless. It's just talk." You're right. The UN is mostly talk. There is little the UN can do which is legally binding, much less legally enforceable. But there are only two options to persuade someone: communication or force. The UN was created as a forum for communication so that we don't have to use force. 

So, why then should we care about debating it? In rejection of the traditional baptist-preacher style three-point sermon, I have two points:

First, the UN is the best thing we've got for doing good things in the world. The Secretary General is often regarded as a mere puppet with no real authority or substance. Maybe. Consider, for instance, the genocide in Darfur.

In 2004, the Darfur conflict began to develop into a full-blown crisis. Sudan was "allowing" (you should read this as "aiding and abetting") the Janjaweed in their attempt to eradicate large numbers of Sudanese people, who fled to nearby Chad. Sudan was not admitting humanitarian aid workers into the country and was not cooperating with international pressure. Then, on late June of 2004, the Secretary General Kofi Annan arrived in Sudan. Three days into during Annan's visit, Sudan agreed to open up to humanitarian aid workers and signed an agreement with specific terms to alleviate the genocide. The story does not end there, however. Thirty days later, after the agreement was not met, the UN Security Council voted
The ICJ is the International Court of Justice
Pictured: Voldemort.
unanimously to place sanctions on Sudan and the Janjaweed. Of course, the genocide would go on to continue for years (and still to this day is hardly a place free of danger), but the key point is this: up unto Annan's visit, the UNSC did nothing. After Annan's agreement, the story was different. His visit was able to galvanize a previously ambivalent UNSC into action. His action and diplomacy would later lead to a cease-fire in 2007 and the insertion of 27,000 peacekeepers which led to clear improvement in the situation.

You're probably saying "yeah, that was three years later." And you're right-- it took the UN three years before it sent peacekeepers to stop a relatively clear case of genocide. But without the UN, there would've been no framework for intervention besides unilateral intervention by a superpower (which, in the aftermath of Iraq and Afghanistan, would be politically impossible) and the Sudanese crisis assuredly would've been much worse. There is no actor so well balanced as the United Nations to both accomplish a mission and respect national sovereignty. Like it or not, the UN is a vitally important actor in today's world, however slow and ineffective it may be. 

That's where this year's resolution comes in. You have the opportunity to enter into constructive discourse regarding this organization. The way in which we reform the organization will decide who has power and what they can do with that power. Pretty much everyone agrees that the UN needs reforming. But few agree on the manner in which we should do it. Innovative solutions discovered and discussed by debaters such as yourselves which will determine the future discourse on the UN, decide what conflicts the global community intervenes in, and how much we should value ideas like national sovereignty when genocide and other atrocities are taking place. In short, the UN does a lot of cool stuff and presents a lot of fun moral dilemmas which will challenge how you think and how you perceive the world.

Further reading on Sudan:

(As an addendum, the Secretary General has been called "the secular pope," which is fairly accurate. In this case, he doesn't have physical power so much as moral authority which can persuade. For additional reading, you may want to check out the third link. It's a book, but the Google preview gives you a pretty good defense of the label.)

Second, this resolution has nothing to do with the United States. In past years, cases could be impacted to liberty, freedom, economic prosperity, environmental protection, and the like. None of that is going to cut it under this resolution. This resolution is going to force you to impact your arguments to the people which your policy change will effect. You can't just say "this is good because it's democratic." Guess what? Much of the world isn't democratic. Much of the world doesn't care for capitalism. Some of the world doesn't care for basic human rights. Your arguments must recognize that not

It's like a large, expensive coffeeshop. Lots of
conversation, no real work gets done, right?
everyone operates off of the same value set, and show how your values are beneficial to those people.. If you're arguing about development programs, you're going to have to show me that your plan makes people better off-- not just that it encourages a value set that has benefited the U.S. You must learn to predict the actions of the major players in the international scene. Will China retaliate if the UN somehow manages to place Japan as a permanent member of the Security Council? How will India feel being used as a counterweight against China and Russia? Will Russian and the United States go rogue if the UN asserts control over the legal status of claims to the Moon, Mars, orbital slots and beyond? Answering these questions requires both the knowledge of the incentives that drive the respective countries, as well as an understanding of how you can propose a policy change (or argue against a policy change) to utilize those incentives in a positive manner.

This resolution should give you the understanding that foreign countries are real. America is one of the few places that you can live and never have to think about other countries. Studying  the international political scene will give you a revolutionary perspective on everything from interpersonal relations to domestic politics. Think American values are important? You can't just appeal to "freedom" and "liberty" and persuade someone in the UN, and any reform you propose must take other values into account. Similarly, throughout life you will meet people whose values do not line up with your own. You will meet people in business and social environments where you must understand how to make those values heard while still promoting your own. Such is the challenge with the UN. The diversity of ideas is the strength of the UN, but it must espouse the right ideas to be a success. It's up to you this coming year to propose changes which will be successful at the balancing act.

Further reading on the UN and its development:

I look forward to a fun summer of coaching and running debate workshops. Let me know if you've got any questions at Though it should be fixed now, I recently realized that my email was dropping some incoming messages. So, if you didn't get a response, please feel free to send again.

Stick to Your Guns

posted Jun 13, 2012, 3:04 PM by Anthony Severin

This is a continuation from my post yesterday, so if you haven't read that yet, you should check it out.

Whenever I checked the message board yesterday evening, as expected, I had a chorus of responses. Most of them attempted to show a false analogy between the belief in gravity and the belief in God. For instance, one may not know what gravity is, but even a simple experiment (like dropping a rock on your foot) shows that it exists. Based on this, one poster challenged me to point him to a "similarly immediate, compelling demonstration of the supposed fact of God's existence." The poster wanted me to get into a debate about proving God's existence. Knowing that such a debate would likely not be productive, I provided an alternate response:

Take our existence. If there is a possibility that we do not understand it in it's entirety (and I think we can all agree that we don't), then it is possible that it could be an effect of God; an obvious, immediate, and compelling one, at that. Note that this statement by no means proves God's existence-- but it does prove the possibility thereof.

Once you dodge a bullet, don't run right into the next one. I see a lot of debaters neatly dodge a cross-ex question, then, after receiving the follow-up, either get stuck fumbling for an answer or become even more evasive. Neither is an optimal response: you want to stick to your guns, say what you need to say. Speak the truth that you want the audience to hear every time, and you'll be seen as consistent, honest, and credible. The challenge is to figure out a way to say the same thing with different support.

As always, questions, comments or thoughts can be directed to me at .

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