Acting Guilty

Generally, when one is accused of a crime, and one doesn’t want to be thought of as guilty (whether actually guilty or not), said individual would be wise to not… y’know… act guilty.

Okay, I’m starting off on a snarky foot. Lemme backtrack just a bit here.

Within Robert Mueller’s indictment of 12 Russian intelligence operatives for election tampering, was a paragraph that explained those operatives were working with somebody connected to the Trump campaign.

That individual wasn’t named, but I think it’s a safe bet the Trump team will distance themselves from that person as soon as the name is revealed.

Once the specifics of the connection are publicly established, I would bet it wouldn’t take all that long to figure out how close to Trump the conspiracy gets. Special Counsel Mueller may already know that answer by now, or at least have a good idea.

I use the word conspiracy, as “collusion” is a largely meaningless term in a legal sense. But a criminal conspiracy charge (or something similar), seems increasingly likely to be directed at one or more people within the Trump campaign.

Now, this part alone makes the “witch hunt” mantra laughable. But what’s more significant is figuring how closely connected this individual is with Trump himself. To quote Senator Howard Baker, “What did the president know and when did he know it?”

That’s a question that deserves an answer.

To those who are screaming at Mueller and Rosenstein to “hurry it up,” and “end the witch hunt already,” I only have this to say:

*     It took two years and two months from the Watergate break-in to Nixon’s resignation.

*     Iran-Contra resulted in indictments of a dozen high ranking people, took six and a half years for the final report to be published, and arguably should have led to the downfall of both the President and Vice President.

*     Whitewater started as an investigation into a money-losing land deal in Arkansas in the 1980s, lasted eight years, and eventually transformed into a sprawling investigation that uncovered the fact that the president lied about an affair. Oh yeah, and there was no criminal action involved in the land deal.

*     Meanwhile, in the year 2018, Robert Mueller is investigating whether or not a successful American presidential campaign knowingly sought and received assistance from a hostile foreign power in order to improve their election chances.

With these things in mind, my question is, what’s your hurry?

I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to note that foreign election meddling is at least as significant to the American people now as Watergate, Iran-Contra, and Whitewater were in their days.

So why not wait and see where this goes? If one is a supporter of Donald Trump, isn’t it important to know whether or not he conspired with a foreign entity to defraud the American public? If it were a president I supported, I sure as hell would want to know the answer to that.

Innocent until proven guilty? Sure. But a hint of guilt requires investigation. And persistently guilty behavior warrants a persistent investigation.

If Trump wanted to prove he wasn’t in Putin’s pocket, he should probably stop doing his best to tear apart alliances that provide a counterweight to Russian influence. Like when he called the European Union “a foe” of the United States, or demanded that Russia be returned to the G7, or when he vaguely threatened to dismantle NATO.

It would probably help if he didn’t insist on meeting with Putin after Mueller’s fresh round of indictments, or stand on a stage with Putin and admit he believed Putin’s denials of election interference over the evaluation of the entire US intelligence community.

Oh yes, he did that. When asked directly about whether or not he would denounce Putin for the Russian election hacking, he rambled on about Hillary’s emails for awhile, then his rambles veered to the topic, and he said, “…With that being said, all I can do is ask the question, my people came to me, Dan Coats came to me, and some others, they said, they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this. I don’t see any reason why it would be, but I really do want to see the server, but I have—I have confidence in both parties.”

And then he rambled back over to Hillary for awhile longer. He does that often. But in the middle there, he did this other thing, where he said he believed a dictator of another country over the word of his intelligence chiefs. He did this right next to Putin himself.

Former CIA chief John Brennan described Trump’s meeting and comments with Putin as treasonous. While it’s true Brennan has made no secret of his personal distaste for Trump, is there an argument there? As I’ve written about before, Trump himself is no stranger to tossing around the word treason rather loosely.

As I described in that earlier piece, treason is described as (according to Title 18 of the US Code), Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States. 

Can we describe Russia as an “enemy?” Well, we know quite clearly that the Russian military intelligence coordinated and carried out extensive hacking operations against American political institutions, primarily those allied with the Democratic Party. We have solid evidence that they funneled money and assistance to Republican candidates, using groups like the NRA. And of course, we know of plenty of examples of communication between persons associated with the Trump campaign, and Russian government and business officials.

“If it’s what you say, I love it.”

Remember that gem from Don Jr., responding to Russian offers of dirt on Hillary Clinton, and the subsequent meeting, of which details have changed several times?

Remember the emails between Wikileaks and Roger Stone? Or the other emails between them and Don Jr.?

Remember George Papadopoulos bragging about his Russian contacts?

We know the Russians DID compromise both campaigns and actual voting infrastructures. We know Trump himself publicly requested these acts. We know members of the Trump campaign sought out Russian (and others) assistance.

We know quite a lot.

As of this writing, July 16, 2018, we don’t know for certain if Donald Trump knew what was happening with Russian interference, while it was happening.

There are those who might know. There are those who do know, one way or another.

Whatever the truth is, it’s clear that Trump doesn’t know one thing in particular: It’s better to swallow his ego and acknowledge what everyone else knows, than to act guilty.

He was willing to stand on a stage in Finland, and tell the world he trusted a dictator over his own intelligence officials.

I don’t know for certain Russia is an “enemy” in the sense the Founders intended. But any nation that seeks to undermine free and fair elections in another is – at the very least – a foe. There should be no question that they attacked the US in 2016, and seek to continue those attacks two years later.

And for a national leader to blatantly support such a foe certainly feels wrong, if not specifically treasonous.

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Yesterday, I penned a brief missive on my Facebook page regarding pleas for civility in the political world. I’m not sure I said everything I wanted to in that initial post, so I’m going to spit out a quick follow-up. I hope this makes some degree of sense…


Less than two years ago, a famously vulgar man managed to eke out an electoral college win in the US Presidential election, despite frequently uttering crass language, owning a long history of racism and misogyny, and frequently calling for violence against his opponents. Oh yeah, and that whole… whaddyacallit… constant lying thing.

And believe it or not, despite this, I have previously found myself agreeing with those on the left (and some of the more genteel pundits on the right) who argued that Trump opponents would be best to avoid sinking to his level. Michelle Obama famously exhorted the Democratic Convention to “go high, when they go low.”

Nearly two years after that convention, Donald Trump is president. And to list the failures and harmful acts of his administration in a comprehensive manner would now take many thousands of words. Hell, it took me almost 6,000 words just to list his faults and failures BEFORE he became president.  If one has been paying attention (and has avoided trapping themselves in a self-sustaining media bubble), they likely already comprehend the disaster that has been the Trump presidency.

Suffice to say, while a lack of civility has been a good way to describe the atmosphere of this administration – it isn’t even close the root of the problem.

Yes, Donald Trump frequently tweets insults about people he feels have wronged him – usually celebrities, politicians, and members of the media. Yes, he famously bragged about sexually assaulting women with impunity. And he certainly implored his supporters to physically harm those who opposed him.

Donald Trump is an uncivil man (to be extremely generous). And doing the same things he does back to him would be a pointless and unfortunate endeavor. I personally don’t recommend it.

But lately, something else has been happening, thrown under the larger umbrella of “uncivil” behavior. Citizens opposing the words and actions of the President have been pushing back with more than just scathing thinkpieces, or participation in the occasional subuded march down their local Main Street.

The White House press secretary was asked (politely and discreetly) to leave a restaurant. A senior policy advisor and the head of Homeland Security were both heckled at other restaurants. The Florida attorney general – a prominent Trump supporter – was heckled at a movie theater. A comedian called the press secretary a liar to her face. A Democratic congresswoman expressed support for the aforementioned shenanigans.

Naturally, politicians and pundits on the right have had a field day with this. “So much for liberal tolerance” is basically a reflex statement for many American conservatives. Yet, those snowflakes have been blowing up at every perceived transgression against them for ages now, so it’s not like there’s any surprise recent events have, um… triggered them.

But now, prominent centrists, and even liberals have also been aghast at the perceived poor manners of those opposing Donald Trump. There seems to be a reflexive urge among some to treat “civility” as an overarching principle that must never be compromised.

But this definition of civility has such a narrow scope.

When I mentioned near the beginning of this piece that I agree it’s best not to behave like Trump in opposing him – that’s not the same as saying “confrontation should always be avoided.” Telling a liar to their face that they are indeed a liar isn’t what I would call uncivil. Allowing a harmful lie to spread and be accepted by the populace as fact – well, I think that’s far more harmful to civil society.

Being polite and attempting to stick to the old norms clearly isn’t working. The Trump Administration doesn’t care about facts and rational debate.

I’m not saying we have to act as though norms are meaningless. But we do need to understand that only one side cares about them anymore, and if we ever want them to exist again, we may have to stop pretending that David Brooks and Thomas Friedman represent the modern conservative consensus.

Sarah Sanders is the propaganda spreader. She parrots the lies of her boss – and the rest of this corrupt and incompetent administration.

Kirstjen Nielsen is in charge of an already highly problematic law enforcement organization that exists primarily as a massive overreach against supposed threats to national security. Much of the blame for the manufactured humanitarian crisis of forcibly separated refugee children lies at her feet.

Stephen Miller is an avowed white nationalist, and is the primary architect behind explicitly bigoted policies like the anti-Muslim travel ban.

Pam Bondi, as Florida Attorney General, solicited and (then received) a bribe from Donald Trump in order to back away from prosecuting his tax fraud.

All of them have supported and defended (and in 3 cases, worked for) a man who has averaged more than 6 public lies a day for the past five hundred plus days, who is a confessed sexual predator, and whose administration is guilty of providing aid and comfort to dictators, disrupting global trade, badly crippling the chances of slowing climate change, worsening economic inequality, rapidly increasing the national debt, and disenfranchising millions of voters (to name but a few misdeeds).

Why are we allowing the conversation to shift to civility?

Let’s look at it another way:

Have you ever pointed at something in front of a dog? Generally, the dog doesn’t look where you’re pointing. They usually look at your finger. They miss the… um, point.

That’s what we’re dealing with here.

Worrying about civility is completely missing the point. If protesters physically harmed Nielsen or Miller, or the restaurant owner gave other customers Sanders’ home address – or if something equally wrong had occurred – THEN we could talk about the need for civility.

That’s not what happened. But what did happen isn’t what’s important here.

People who have been entrusted with running the American government are committing long-lasting harm against this country, and its people. They’ve managed to cause harm to people who aren’t even citizens.

For months, they’ve been HOLDING CHILDREN HOSTAGE for the sake of scoring a potential legislative victory.

Why should we allow them to be comfortable about this? Why should we, as citizens – THEIR BOSSES – allow them to cause the harm they’ve caused without some pushback? Sarah Sanders, Kirstjen Nielsen, Stephen Miller, and Pam Bondi are supposed to be accountable to the citizens of this land. Americans exercising their right to protest is something that only strengthens our democracy.

Protest isn’t always “civil.” So what? Why is that suddenly the point? Why is the party of “Grab them by the pussy” so worried about people playing nice? And why is the opposition so worried about offending the pussy grabber?

Why the hell are we looking at the finger, and not the problem that its pointing to?

I do my best to be civil in my personal affairs. I say please and thank you, and do my best not to interrupt. I try to avoid using personal insults. When all things are equal, I think this is the best way to operate on a daily basis.

However, things are not equal, and have not been equal for some time.

Push aside talk of civility. Don’t let them distract you. There are serious problems we need to talk about. If it takes making the causes of these problems a bit uncomfortable from time to time, so be it. Sometimes that’s what it takes to force change. Being nice certainly hasn’t helped.

Sarah Sanders had to take her dinner to go. Her boss instituted a policy of taking children from their parents as they came to the border to seek asylum, then held them in detention in order to force a vote on his pipedream of a border wall.

Why are we focusing on Sarah’s dinner?

Posted in immigration, Politics, Social Justice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Hiking Report – Dog Mountain

And now for something completely different…

The world of politics, diplomacy, refugees, and climate change isn’t going away.

But, once in a while, a vacation is helpful.

This is going to be the start of what I hope to become a (semi) regular series… I want to talk about hiking and climbing. In particular, I want to actually hike a trail and/or climb a mountain, and then talk about it here. These pieces won’t necessarily be trip reports in the same vein as what you might find on or But they will be my personal thoughts on the experience of these trails.

Last October, I moved to Portland, Oregon from Kansas City, Missouri. The move was for work, but I’ve always loved the Pacific Northwest, and always hoped to end up here. In particular, I loved the mountains and the hiking. This is – for my money – possibly the most beautiful part of the United States. And since hiking and climbing are already among my favorite activities (apart from online rabble-rousing), I was excited for the chance to spend time wandering around this area. So, I decided to give myself a birthday present. I took the day off work, and set out along the Columbia River for my first serious Northwest hike in about a decade.

I knew I wanted elevation, but I also knew I’m in mediocre shape – and now closer to 40 than 30. It would be wise to build myself up before trying to tackle something serious. So, after some research, I came up with Dog Mountain, in the Columbia Gorge, on the Washington side. Fairly steep and strenuous, but not particularly high, long, or dangerous. The vistas look lovely, and every trip report seemed to be enthusiastic. If Dog Mountain proved to be something I could handle, then perhaps in a couple weeks, I would look across the Gorge at Mt. Defiance – a hike nearly twice as long and twice as high.

So, emboldened by this research, just this past Friday morning, I set out from my home in Portland, and headed east down the river. Dog Mountain is just past the town of Stevenson – about an hour from downtown Portland. The trailhead is a wide gravel parking lot right off of Highway 14. It tends to get busy on the weekends, so I made sure to be there on a weekday, relatively early. At the time I arrived, there were only a couple other cars in the lot.

An information/pay station stands near the start of the trail, as well as this sign:

Dog Mountain Trail Start

Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

3.8 miles to the top? Piece of cake.

Mmmm… cake. Dammit, now I’m hungry.

Okay, where was I? Right… time to start walking.

At this point, it was about 8:15. I originally wanted to show up earlier, but a warm bed slowed me down just a bit that morning.

Speaking of walking, I have to emphasize that a good pair of hiking shoes is invaluable. Maybe something with some ankle support. You’ll appreciate that – especially on the way back down.

The trail gets steep right from the get-go. It starts off wide and is initially mostly gravel, but gradually turns into dirt – albeit with a healthy amount of fist-sized rocks scattered along the way.

There’s a pair of restrooms (compost toilets, no sinks) just a few hundred feet from the start, but then after that, it’s just you, the trail, and the woods. And possibly many other hikers, though at just past 8 AM on a Friday, the trail was mostly empty.

Dog Mountain Trail lower trail

Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The trail inclines steeply, with plenty of tight switchbacks through the woods. Now and then, a gap will appear, providing lovely (but still low) views of the Columbia Gorge.

Dog Mountain Trail early - view through the forest

Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

And now and then, obstacles – usually trees – dot the path.

Dog Mountain Trail - a tree in the trail

Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

You’re going to take this path for the first 0.7 miles. And I will admit, after scoffing at “only” 3.8 miles at the start, I quickly gained respect for that whole gravity thing. Walking 0.7 miles on level ground with a smooth surface is pretty easy. Doing it uphill on dirt and rocks is… well, less easy, especially if you don’t pace yourself. Despite the 55 degree Fahrenheit temperatures, my hoodie came off pretty quickly. Stylishly wrapped by the arms around my waist, of course. I felt kind of silly even bringing it, as I was quickly dripping with sweat. And now I looked like a scruffy imitation of an 80’s preppy teen bully.

Dog Mountain Trail - Early switchback

Look – a switchback! Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

As one heads up the trail, it’s highly recommended to stay on the trail. Poison oak abounds, and an attempted shortcut between switchbacks might end up being rather… uncomfortable.

Dog Mountain Trail - a tree off the trail

Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

But the vegetation is lovely, even from the trail. And animal life is plentiful, although they make themselves heard more than seen, as birds chirp overhead, and the branches shake with squirrel gladiatorial games being waged in the canopy.

Well, that’s the mental image I had. Maybe hiking alone was a bad idea.

But I digress.

Meanwhile, after those 0.7 miles that feel just a teensy bit longer – you come to a junction. This is the “difficult” path versus the “more difficult” path. Every guide I’ve read tells me there isn’t actually a huge difference in difficulty between the two paths – but the merely “difficult” path to the right (a newer and shinier one, I might add), is vastly more scenic, running along the edge of the mountain closer to the Gorge.

Dog Mountain Trail - Fork in the road

Decisions…  Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

I’m more than willing to take the advice of people who’ve already been there – and I did kind of show up for the vistas. So, about 25 minutes into the hike, I took the path to the right, and plunged into the woods.

I noticed the wind was picking up a bit, but I was still warm enough to justify the hoodie remaining firmly around my waist. But my now sweaty legs were objecting to my choice of wearing jeans, instead of something lighter and looser.

As I pushed forward – and up (mostly up), I found myself in a wide forest, where the path was mostly straight, and the forest was filled with evenly spaced, mostly bare trunks. The effect was surprisingly spooky, but also quite serene. At this point, I had only encountered one other pair of hikers on the path, and they were on their way down. I had the mountain to myself, and it was exactly what I was hoping for.


More switchbacks!   Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Look up! Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Oh yeah, and there was also the spooky hut. It showed no sign of recent occupation, although my expertise in these matters is limited. Also, my urge to suddenly re-enact Scooby Doo was powerful at that point. I let out one Zoinks!, and moved on.

Finally, 1.2 miles past the juncture – and about an hour into the hike – I came out of the forest to a clearing – the lower lookout. There were views of the Gorge in both directions, and it was absolutely stunning. It was also fairly windy up here. The hoodie ended up coming back on.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


It’s me, being stoic. Or, maybe just silly. Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

After some time enjoying the view, I headed back up the trail, back into the forest.

The trail was noticeably steeper at this point, and the bare lower branches of the trees at this point were covered in moss. They looked kind of like broken green ladders.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

At 9:30, I reached the point where the “More Difficult” trail met up with my bunny slope. A sign very kindly informed me of my progress:


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The sky had darkened at this point, and a mist had started to fall. I’m not sure what the difference is between fog and a cloud, but I was in a light version of one of them.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

At around 9:50, I finally caught a glimpse of the summit meadow, just above me. The trees were now mostly behind (and below), and the trail was more exposed. Also, the cloud/fog/poison mist was pretty heavy, and I couldn’t see the gorge, or even much of the mountain below – which was admittedly disappointing. I was hoping the covering would be on its way before I reached the summit. I did get a brief glimpse of the gorge below through a fleeting gap in the clouds, and it felt like a bit of a tease.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The wind was also picking up strength. I rounded a bend to the left, and there was the old fire lookout point, also known as Puppy Dog Lookout. It was just about 10 AM. At this point, the view was still pretty minimal, but I could tell I was up high (2525 ft), and quite exposed. It appeared that the final push to the peak was starting here. So, I rounded the bend, and trudged into the wind and mist through the meadow.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The next sign on the trail was not all that useful.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The meadow became steeper on both sides, until it turned into a ridge, complete with some rocky outcroppings. The steepness of the path, the limited visibility, and the high winds, all combined to create a disorienting effect. I had to slow down. I can’t say I felt like I was in danger, but the conditions were harsher than I had anticipated.

Finally, as the trail narrowed, it switched back one more time, and then up to the top of the summit meadow. There were some wildflowers left, but not like some of the photos I’ve seen from late May and early June.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The path itself started to level, no longer heading steeply up. This was a bit of a relief.

The wind, however, was stronger than ever. I’m not a great judge of guessing windspeed, but a very rough estimate of 30-40 mph seems about right. Gusts maybe closer to 50. The grass and the flowers were dancing with some enthusiasm. A few hundred feet past the last turn, there was a spur up and to the left, that went hundred feet or so. It ended up in a dirt covered clearing, with a small ring of trees at the top. This was the summit. Further behind the summit were much larger trees, towering over me. I recognized that they started behind the ridge, much lower, but it was a strange effect, to be at the top of a mountain, looking up at treetops.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


I lingered for a few minutes, but the view wasn’t improving, and a couple pairs of hikers were appearing on the summit with me. I headed back down the spur to the main path. I had the option of returning the way I came, or heading forward down the path.


The summit grove. Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

According to the maps and guides, this would take me back to the fire lookout through more forest.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

I figured I should see as much as possible – and maybe the forest would help block some of the wind.

It was only a few hundred feet from the summit spur to the start of the forest, but I quickly discovered that this was much denser and heavier than the woods on the lower part of the mountain. The rain had made the leaves wet, and the ground mushy. At points, the vegetation was so heavy that I couldn’t see where my feet were stepping – which is not a good thing when walking down an unknown (to me) trail 2900 feet above the ground below. I didn’t last long. Pushing through the brush, stepping off the trail repeatedly, and having to duck beneath branches that would make Danny DeVito do the limbo was more than I felt like dealing with. At least the path back had the potential to be scenic – and more importantly – I could see where I was going. So I turned back. I found myself back on the summit meadow. I even ran back up the spur to the summit itself, hoping that maybe, just maybe, the clouds would start to clear. But… not yet.

At about 10:35, I decided to start heading back. Back down the meadow, back to the switchback and the ridge on the west side of the summit slope.  Then, as I glanced to my right, I could start to see a shimmer through the clouds. It was clearing up! And I could began to see this great view everyone raved about.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

I followed the path down the ridge, heading back to the fire lookout. More people were now popping up on the trail. I was grateful I started out when I did, so I was able to enjoy the first half in solitude.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

The winds were still strong, but they were blowing the clouds away, so that was something. Just before 11, I made it back to the lookout. And by then, the clouds had largely cleared. Just in time.

Yeah, a written description couldn’t do it justice. The photos really don’t, either, but it’s closer. Please enjoy these, and consider taking a trip to Dog Mountain, yourself:


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

Below is me again, pointing at my next target – Mt. Defiance. If the image were better, you could get a better view of the peak of Mt. Hood just poking over the ridge.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

After a few minutes of photos and gawking, I turned back down the way I came.


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018


Hunter Breckenridge – 2018

No longer fighting gravity, the path was quicker… but I also failed to tie the top part of my hiking shoes, and I kept rolling my ankles on the rocks in the trail. Part of the problem was me being clumsy, and part of it was my rubber ankles… Still, to the poor souls slogging through this, make sure you have good hiking shoes, and make sure you have ’em laced up all the way. Because ouch. My ankles are still sore, two plus days later.

But I kept staggering downhill, now muttering hello to hikers coming up the other way every few minutes. Definitely glad I started early.

Funny thing was, despite my general disinterest in interacting with strange people, I was pleasantly surprised to note that there was a sense of camaraderie among my fellow hikers. People asked me how the hike was, if there were flowers on the upper meadows, even just how I was doing. It was all pretty normal stuff – but for me, it was a good feeling. I stopped to chat briefly with a couple groups as I made my way down, and I didn’t hate it. And that seriously is a big deal for me.

Just about 4 hours after starting, with aching ankles, I clambered down to the trailhead.

I’m not an expert hiker. I’m not all that experienced. But I’m now living in an excellent area to become more experienced. If things go well, I’m going to do this again in a couple weeks. Dog Mountain got me hooked. It was long and intense enough to feel like I made a real effort, but it also wasn’t so grueling that I couldn’t handle it. The views were stunning and the environment was just lovely in general. And even the people I encountered were universally friendly.

This was a good day, and I hope to share more of them in the future.


Posted in Adventure, Series | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Political Hostages in Texas


U.S. Customs and Border Control – public domain

When I discuss current events, I do my best to do so in a logical, fact-based way. It’s important to make sure the truth is told. Emotions can cloud that truth. Getting angry about a situation frequently leads to overreaction and overreach.

That said, Spock was (somewhat) wrong. Emotion isn’t necessarily the antithesis of logic. One’s emotions can positively inform one’s logic, and vice versa.

So I’m going to embrace some emotion right now, and let that feed into my thoughts on current events. Change is tougher if one doesn’t feel outraged from time to time. And right now, at the American southern border, there’s plenty of reason to feel outraged.

First of all, let me just start this off bluntly:

Donald Trump is holding thousands of children hostage in order to solidify his political base.

Whew. That felt slightly cathartic to write. At the same time, I feel sick to my stomach, knowing this is our country now.

Okay, deep breath. Let me take a few steps back.

It’s no secret that Donald Trump ran for the White House on a platform of demonizing immigrants. His kickoff campaign speech included an explicit claim that immigrants from Mexico were primarily criminals. One of his first executive orders was an attempt to ban the entry of all persons from seven majority-Muslim countries. Much of the success of his election campaign came from stoking the fear of the Other among white Americans. Donald Trump made it abundantly clear that “Making America Great Again” was a dogwhistle to white people who were afraid that progress for marginalized groups meant a loss of status and influence for themselves. Black and brown people moving in from other countries with weird religions and strange languages  were a danger to the comfortable white supremacy they were used to. And that supremacy wasn’t always explicitly racist in the hood-wearing sense of the word (although it sometimes was that). The supremacy that Trump harkened back to was often a more recent one where white people felt comfortable watching Will Smith movies, and occasionally voting for a black city councilperson. But beyond the occasional token nod to the existence of others, this was still a world where white people – particularly straight, white, cisgendered men – still remained the American default position.

Donald Trump didn’t create that longing among America’s whites – but he did help give it strength. He gave it a voice. He was the backlash to the white fear of losing dominance. Because to many, losing dominance doesn’t mean equality. It means subjugation. It means suffering through what you’ve been dishing out all these years. And that idea – misguided as it was – is scary.

I digress a bit.

Yes, Donald Trump scared white people, and he certainly pushed for a harsh immigration policy. Hardliners on his team like Jeff Sessions and Stephen “Uncharismatic Dracula” Miller have been the primary architects of the worst of the Trump immigration policies, including the (shhh… don’t call it that) “Muslim ban.”

Then came March 2017. The Trump Administration – still new and flailing – considered implementing a policy that they described as “deterrence.” They would separate children from their families when those families arrived at the border. The idea was that such a harsh practice would scare families from even attempting to enter the US, thereby reducing immigration. At least, in theory.

By October, the Trump Administration was ramping up border enforcement, and had already started the practice of family rupturing – although they attempted to keep it quiet at that point. Between October 2017 and April 2018, more than 700 families had been broken up at the border. Many of these were asylum-seekers – basically refugees from dangerous and sometimes desperate lives.

On May 7th, the administration officially announced their “zero-tolerance” immigration policy. Attorney General Jeff Sessions declared that all undocumented entries would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law – including families with children. This was a notable change from the previous practice of allowing families, children, and people deemed non-threatening to find a place to stay with friends or relatives while awaiting processing.

This was where the Trump team officially admitted they were taking children from their parents and holding them indefinitely. They also claimed that a pilot program instituted in El Paso from the previous year had met with great success – and as always with this bunch – it turned out to be a massive lie.

From then on, the Trump Administration engaged in constant obfuscation and contradiction regarding what was happening at the border. Jeff Sessions would admit that family separations were taking place, and pushed the “deterrence” theory as an excuse. He pretty much blamed his boss for the current situationHe would also cite the Bible – Romans 13 – as a justification for the separations. It should be noted that Romans 13 was used by the American right to justify slavery and later Jim Crow. So there’s that.

But at the same time, Donald Trump himself would make the remarkable claim that “a Democrat law” was forcing the administration’s hand. He didn’t want this to happen. These poor kids deserved better. All that needed to happen was for the Democrats to “fix their law.” If only that mean old marginalized minority party would use their 47 votes in the Senate and go along with all of Trump’s personal demands on border policy, then those kids could be reunited with their parents. Back in Mexico, of course, but reunited nonetheless.

Oh yeah, and somewhere in there, the head of the Department of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, flatly claimed there was no such policy of family separation.

Well. There’s a lot to unpack here. I’m not entirely sure where to begin.

When in doubt, use bullet points. They make for less unwieldy (more wieldy?) reading. Especially when one is slogging through my paragraphs.

So here goes:

  • Trump’s position(s) is a lie. As always. There is no single law that mandates children be separated from their parents at border crossings.
  • The Democratic Party has been in the minority in the Senate since January 2015, and in the minority in the House since January 2011. They cannot make or change any laws alone.
  • The Democratic Party (in the Senate, anyway) has actually unanimously agreed to support a bill banning the practice of separating families at the border.
  • There has been one law in particular cited by Trump defenders and surrogates to defend the position that “the Democrats did it, too.” In 1997, the Flores settlement obligated the government to release children as soon as possible into their parents care when said families were detained by immigration authorities. This claim was used to argue the opposite of reality. The Flores settlement simply was not a law that mandated the separation of families. It was essentially the reverse.
  • The Obama administration’s policies are frequently brought up by Trump defenders. This part requires its own section. *cracks knuckles*
    • The Obama Administration’s record on immigration was decidedly mixed. DACA was a real accomplishment, but the Obama Administration also oversaw 2.8 million deportations over 8 years. And family detention became a major controversy in 2014 during a surge of immigration that nobody seemed ready for. However, the Obama team attempted to reverse course on the old harsher detention and deportation policies – with inconsistent results.
    • Obama seemed willing to learn from his mistakes. There was a slowness that could be frustrating, but efforts were made to reduce the harm done to those at the border. Enforcement of immigrants with criminal records became the priority, and the much vilified “catch and release” returned – kind of – where children, families, and those seeking asylum were allowed to remain in the States while their cases were processed. Obama represented imperfect and belated attempts at humanity on the southern border. Trump’s response was: why bother with humanity?
  • Right now, as of June 19, 2018, nearly 2000 children have been separated from their parents at the southern border over the last six weeks – and around 2700 since last October.
  • The current rate is around 45 children separated per day.
  • They are being held in absolutely appalling conditions. There are multiple hoops to jump through, and many of the children themselves have largely been kept in the dark. There is little guarantee that they will be reunited with their parents. And the process of finding them homes is taking more than a month at a time. Imagine you are a child. You may not speak much (or any English). Your parents have just dragged you along a harrowing journey toward the prospect of a better life after years of fear, poverty, and violence. And then police forcibly take you from your parents, place you in tents and cages, and prevent you from knowing what the hell is going on, or where you’ll end up. That’s what’s going on right now.
  • All of this is just what’s recent. In total, more than 10,000 immigrant children are being held without their parents in detention centers across the U.S..
  • It’s important to note that those who use the policies of previous administrations to defend Trump are engaging in blatant whataboutism. Even if their claims about the earlier administrations were completely true (and they usually aren’t), they’re still making the argument that mistreating children is okay because someone else used to do it.

There are plenty more points to make, in both bullet and mortar form. But I believe the basic point is becoming clear here:

The endgame of the Trump team is to try to force Democrats into voting for his proposed immigration reforms. He’ll agree (he claims) to legislation banning the practice of ripping apart families in order to get his border wall, and to be able to drastically limit legal immigration.

That’s what this whole thing is about. Donald Trump is holding 2,000+ children hostage in order to be granted full Congressional blessing to wall off the country from foreign invaders. Remember when I talked about Trump fanning the flames of fear and resentment in white people? That’s what the whole point is. He wants white people to think that scary brown people from other parts of the world want to come in to the States, leach off our (rather tattered) safety net, and get away with all manner of crimes.

The narrative of immigrant criminality has been one of the constant themes of Trump’s political career. And it’s been one of the most thoroughly debunked. Study after study has demonstrated that first generation immigrants, both legal and otherwise, commit far less crime than their more established neighbors. Good information on this can be found here, here, here, here, and here. They pay taxes, yet receive fewer services. They contribute mightily to the economy, and take jobs that native rarely want.

But remember, from the beginning, Donald Trump has wanted you to know that people don’t come to the United States for a better life – they’re here to rape and pillage. And the only way to fight the melanin menace is to institute draconian border laws, and turn the United States into a fortress.

And he’s willing to place children into internment camps in order to get his way,

If your first reaction to criticisms of Trump breaking apart immigrant families is, “Obama did it, too,” then your problem is that partisanship is more important to you than morality.

If you’re told that children are being placed in cages for months at a time without their parents, and you respond, “they should just come in legally,” then congratulations – you just dehumanized thousands of refugee children.

Okay, still with me? I’m almost done here.

Thus far, I’ve taken over 1800 words to say what should have been one simple paragraph:

The safety and comfort of children should never be used as a political bargaining chip. No immigration policy is worth the suffering of children, whether it be honest policy, or like Trump’s – policy built entirely on lies. No child should have to spend night after night in a cage somewhere in southern Texas, not sure if they will ever see their parents again. This is sick and cruel, and should be beneath any human capable of comprehending the situation. We as humans have a near endless capacity for dehumanizing others – but I desperately hope that most people would be willing to put aside ideology for the sake of the defenseless and the innocent.

I fear my hope may be misplaced – at least in Trump’s America.

This is a humanitarian crisis, and our reactions to it over the coming days and weeks will go a long way towards helping us as Americans figure out just what kind of people we want to be. Do we want to take forward steps to a more humane future… or (apologies to Godwin) goose steps… back to a more barbaric past?

Posted in foreign policy, Governance, History, immigration, Law Enforcement, Media, Politics, Rant, Social Justice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Space Days!


The Pale Blue Dot – NASA

Time to shift gears a bit…

The primary focus of this blog has been politics and current events. Occasionally I muse about other topics, but I definitely have skewed my writing toward the political world. I’m not going to stop doing that any time soon. However, I would like to redirect my focus now and then, specifically toward topics that actually provide me with some optimism. Politics, especially American politics over the past few years, generally does the opposite.

Soooo… let’s talk about space!

I want to start a regular feature discussing space topics. But it will probably end up being more sporadic and random than it will be regular. Of course, if people read it, then it may become a bit more regular. In theory.


I’m going to cover subjects ranging from overviews of objects in our solar system to musings on space exploration (both past and future), and then on to the wonders of exoplanets, and eventually to the possibilities of alien life.

These will be topics that interest me. I will provide information as accurately as I can, and I will endeavor to make it entertaining. But I do need to stress that I have almost no formal scientific training. Everything I write is information I’ve researched myself. So it’s possible this stuff will be riddled with errors. It may even be as ridiculous as my political commentary – shocking as that sounds.

Growing up, more than *almost* anything else – I wanted to be astronomer. Even if I never physically left Earth, I wanted to explore the cosmos. As a kid, I followed the final planetary legs of the Voyager missions (Voyager 2 reached Neptune when I was 7), I watched every episode of the original Cosmos, read up on every shuttle mission, visited Powell Observatory in Louisburg, Kansas to watch Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 smash into Jupiter, and hung out on a roof of the University of Missouri-Kansas City to look through telescopes on summer evenings.

My formal schooling largely ended after high school, but I continue to educate myself as best I can into adulthood. I have been a member of the Astronomical Society of Kansas City, and am a frequenter of many blogs and publications. There are a ton of good resources on the interwebs for learning about space and science in general. I’m going to list a few of my favorites below as just a small sample of what’s available out there.

I would advise anyone who’s interested to check out these links. And maybe even if you aren’t interested… perhaps a new passion might take hold.

In the meantime, I’m going to continue to blather on about the world of politics and current events. I’ll occasionally vent about pop culture, and toss some boxing musings out on my other blog. It’s a big universe. There’s room to talk about… well, everything.

I better get started. – It’s not affiliated with NASA – but it does, um, watch it. – General space and astronomy blog. It’s one of the older ones still being regularly updated. – The official site of the Planetary Society. – A blog discussing the possibilities of interstellar travel. – A fun personal blog that officially ended in October 2017 – but the archives are still available dating back to January 2008. – Astronomer and writer Phil Plait’s current space blog, hosted by SyFy. – Phil Plait’s blog from 2012 to 2017. – Phil’s blog from 2008 to 2012.

Finally, for just a little more Phil Plait, here’s his first episode on YouTube of Crash Course Astronomy. These short (10-12 minute) episodes are educational and addictive.


Posted in Quick post, Science, Series, Space, Technology | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

One Dares Call It Treason

According to Merriam Webster, the primary definition of the word “Treason” is:

“The offense of attempting by overt acts to overthrow the government of the state to which the offender owes allegiance or to kill or personally injure the sovereign or the sovereign’s family.”

From a legal perspective, the US Constitution defines treason thusly:

“Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.”

Seems pretty clear. Treason is a serious crime. An actual charge of treason will get someone the death penalty in most countries. And in the United States, the burden of proof is higher for treason than for other crimes. Good thing, too, since an individual committing treason has literally become an enemy of the United States.

This is no small thing. Accusations of treason should not be thrown around loosely.

Now that we’ve established the gravity of this topic, and the seriousness and delicacy it requires, let’s bring in that master of verbal finesse, Donald Trump.

American political rhetoric is rich in hyperbole. Grandiose accusations of horrible malfeasance committed by political opponents is commonplace here. Many Americans just tolerate the theater as part of the game. We accept that politicians campaign as though the other side is an actual danger to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

That said, it’s rare that a significant national political figure casually tosses “treason” out into the conversation. It’s even more rare to hear a President speak in such stark terms. A better researcher than myself could give me a specific answer, but I can’t think of any time where Presidents Obama, Bush, or Clinton referred to a mainstream political rival as “a traitor,” or accused them of committing actual treason.

So, for a less-than-smooth segue, once again, let’s talk about President Trump. The 45th President is notoriously sloppy with facts and accuracy. Most online fact-checkers have awarded him some of the lowest marks for honesty from his public statements.

Beyond general dishonesty, he’s also known for dramatic, and even apocalyptic rhetoric.

Trump’s habit of enthusiastic slander has become commonplace, and it seems that many Americans (including those in the media tasked with calling out his excesses) have become somewhat numb to it all. It’s the boy who cried wolf on steroids. When every problem is the worst problem ever, one stops caring about the problem itself.

So with that in mind, let’s look at what the Dissembler-in-Chief said during a speech in Cincinnati today. He was referring to the tepid reaction he received from congressional Democrats during his State of the Union speech from last week.

“Even on positive news — really positive news, like that — they were like death and un-American. Un-American. Somebody said treasonous. Yeah, I guess, why not? Can we call that treason? Why not? I mean, they certainly didn’t seem to love our country very much.”

Now, those who pay attention to his pronouncements may notice one of his little rhetorical tricks. Rather than acknowledge a claim is coming from him, he’ll refer to some vague third party, where he heard about a statement. “Somebody said.” This helps insulate him from those who accuse him of directly lying. He can just claim somebody else said it, and he’s just repeating it like gossip. In fact, he’s done exactly that when called out on his dishonesty.

But he also made it clear he agreed with the notion of equating a lack of enthusiasm for one of his speeches with treason.

It’s well known that Donald Trump is not exactly a scholar on history, public policy, or governance. He likes to brag about being an expert on these things, but when grilled, he almost always demonstrates a frightening ignorance of pretty much any topic important to his job. But even with that in mind, it’s difficult to believe he doesn’t understand the gravity of something like treason.

Or maybe he really doesn’t understand, which may be an even scarier concept. Either way, what he’s saying is that publicly disagreeing with him is analogous to betraying the nation or giving support to its enemies.

Plenty of people smarter than myself have noted Trump’s authoritarian instincts. He has made it clear that he expected the presidency to provide him far more power and authority than it actually does. Most presidents find themselves frustrated with the political limitations of the job. But Trump is unique in that he frequently expresses a wish to limit the press, reduce access to voting, and curtail dissent. He has praised the policies and actions of brutal dictators, and of course is being investigated for allegedly working with the famously oppressive Russian government to manipulate the outcome of the 2016 Presidential election.

If Barack Obama were to have responded to the outburst from South Carolina Republican Representative Joe Wilson (You lie!) with an accusation of treason, I find it likely that many in the Republican leadership would have called for his resignation. It’s almost certain there would be a powerful political backlash.

But with Donald Trump – somebody who has repeatedly longed for more power – the reaction should rightfully be at least as severe as what Obama would have seen in that scenario.

I completely understand why people are already getting Trump fatigue. There’s been so much wrong and terrible with what has happened under his leadership, that it’s easy to ignore statements that don’t involve baiting unstable nuclear powers. But something like this really matters, and I want anyone who reads this to think long and hard about it.

Donald Trump received almost zero applause from Democratic Congresspersons during his first official State of the Union speech. The speech was full of his usual dishonesty and demagoguery. He’s immensely unpopular with Democrats. Enthusiasm was never likely. But regardless as to whether one agrees with him or not, free speech still matters. The right to dissent still matters.

Referring to polite dissent from political rivals as treason is dangerous.

Were the situation reversed, it’s very likely the backlash would have been extreme against a Democratic president. Time will tell if anything comes of this from a political standpoint. His comments are less than a day old as of this writing. But I strongly implore any readers of this piece not to dismiss this incident as yet another stupid statement from a political dilettante. The United States president has referred to a lack of applause as treasonous behavior. He equated a mild demonstration of disagreement with the highest possible crime against the nation.

Words matter. The meaning of terms like “treason” matters. It is vital we hold the president accountable for his reckless assault on our language, for his threats against our basic freedoms.

Dissent is not treason.

We need to remember this.

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It’s the end of the year as we know it

…and I feel ambivalent.

That doesn’t rhyme. With apologies to Michael Stipe and Co., nothing else has occurred in any sort of rational way in 2017, so why should I come up with a clever lyrical parody? I’m just trying to figure it all out.

So here it is. The end of a really weird year.

Am I wrong for thinking there’s more than a hint of despair in the air? Like there’s a decline occurring in our society that we’re all powerless to stop. Maybe after the roller coaster crashes, we can dust ourselves off, and try to figure out what to do next. But applying the brakes and making sense of the ride while en route feels futile.

On the other hand, it’s possible that the despair is overstated. I’ve written about this before. The world is, for the most part, getting better, not worse. On a worldwide scale (as well as at most individual national levels), war, disease, crime, poverty, child mortality, oppression of women – all of these factors have improved greatly over the last century. The trend lines have shown them to have improved over the last 50 years, the last 20, the last ten… Only in the last two or three years have certain indicators turned negative, particularly involving warfare between and within nations. But this uptick, when viewed from a distance, is likely part of the usual cycle of spikes and drops within the larger downward slope of worldwide violence.

It must appear somewhat cold and callous to seem to write off bloodshed, chaos, misery, and suffering in Syria, Egypt, Myanmar, Venezuela, South Sudan, Iraq, North Korea, Ukraine, and other hotspots around the world as a mere historical blip. Indeed, these are very real problems. Problems that require concentrated attention from diplomats, humanitarian aid workers, and the bureaucracies of several powerful nations – all actually working with some alacrity to address these crises. But when a relatively privileged American views these emergencies on the news, they all tend to blend together into a red blur. A certain despairing malaise takes hold, and many feel a sense of general unease about the world. It’s no wonder many people retreat into the open arms of the blunt orange instrument inarticulately railing about the horrors of the modern world. The only solution, he proclaims, is to wall ourselves off, keep the people with that religion from getting in, and to strike a belligerent tone to scare others away. When everything in the world seems terrifying in a somewhat generic and slightly-scripted sort of way, there’s comfort in locking our doors and telling the neighbors to go away.

That’s precisely why I try to acknowledge the real problems of the world, while still taking the long view. Even with the Fearmonger-in-Chief in Washington, we still do live in perhaps the safest, securest, healthiest, and best-educated era in the history of humanity. Yeah, we’re likely going to see the negative blip grow a bit more, and we may backslide some, at least until we can get the Dorito stains off the nuclear football… but there’s no reason the world has to backslide all the way back to the Dark Ages. No reason, despite what Fox News tells you when they show pictures of battlefields and terror attacks half a world away.

But work is required to prevent that backslide. Just because it doesn’t have to happen doesn’t mean it can’t.

It’s a good idea to at least take a quick look at the damage of 2017.

In charge of my home nation is a man who appears to have a superpower – he can deny and resist objective reality. His weaknesses involve people telling him the truth, which is why he seems to prefer his advisors with spinal columns pre-removed, to improve their sycophancy rate.

How does one resist a man who simply denies the facts? Who proclaims lies true? Who proudly brags about assaulting women, then later claims the televised evidence is somehow a fraud? Who accuses his predecessor of treachery without providing any evidence? How does one combat misinformation when a significant percentage of the electorate becomes MORE convinced of their worldview when confronted with opposing factual information?

How do we resist a man who is staggering toward war with North Korea? The North Korean government, it should be noted, is propped up primarily by scaring its citizens into constant fear of the United States. If the US government decided tomorrow to leave Kim Jong Un alone, he would likely be deposed within a few years. But instead, we have a President who hurls childish insults toward the dictator via Twitter, and uses apocalyptic language when directly threatening to obliterate a sovereign nation.

I could go on. We could talk about Russian interference in American elections – a fact proven by multiple intelligence agencies – and alternately denied and dismissed by the one person with the most power to do something about it.

We could discuss the enormous rollback of environmental regulations. We could talk about the re-militarization of American police. We could discuss the return of voodoo economics. We could talk about the gradual sabotage of the Affordable Care Act. We can discuss the political party in power doing their damnedest to obstruct investigations into potential crimes committed by the POTUS. We can talk about constant, unapologetic corruption at the highest level of American government. We can talk about the fact that the current president’s primary interest seems to be dismantling every good thing his predecessor did, while accelerating the worst aspects of the prior administration.

And yes, I guess most of my personal sense of malaise and despair keeps dragging me back to the same stupid topic – Donald Trump. Well, Trump, and the 63 million people willing to play Russian Roulette with our government.

I swear, I know other things happened in 2017. Even though he would hate to hear it – not everything in America (or the world) centered around the Tantrum Tangerine.

From a cultural and social standpoint – we’ve seen massive conflict in the US… right wing extremist groups are on the rise, but being countered hard by anti-racist and anti-fascist movements, as well as enormously increased political participation by women, Democrats, liberals, leftists, LGBTQ citizens, and people of color. The #METOO movement exploded, seemingly out of nowhere – although not really from nowhere (for those who don’t benefit from systemic misogyny).

The Russian government continues to ratfuck everyone and everything. Syria is still essentially collapsed. Robert Mugabe resigned. The EU is still suffering from self-inflicted austerity-reinforced wounds. Democracy has backslid in nations like Turkey and the Philippines. The government of Myanmar is committing ethnic cleansing of a large minority population. Big chunks of the Arctic continue to melt. Puerto Rico was pummeled by a massive hurricane, and then intentionally neglected by the federal government. One of the best movies of the year was about one of the worst movies of the century.

And Francisco Franco is still dead.

I don’t know if 2017 has definitively been more chaotic than other years. That’s likely difficult to quantify – and it’s easy to become hyperbolic about it all.

But this shit has been weird.

Even with positive long-term trends, we live in a world that feels less stable. Uncertainty is in the air. Social change is occurring at a rapid pace. The role of the United States in world affairs is in increasing doubt.

Hell, even in my personal life, everything has changed. I moved from Missouri to Oregon, started a new job, and kind of rebooted my life. I started writing more fiction (possibly to be posted here some day).

But life continues. We still hurtle around and around through the void. The sun still does its giant nuclear reaction thing. And all these little, self-important creatures running around on this tiny speck in the suburbs of a medium-large galaxy continue to drive each other crazy.

I don’t think I can predict what’s gonna happen next year. But I plan to still be here, writing about it all. With any luck, I’ll be able to talk about it all again this time next year.

Good night, and happy new year.

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