DATE December 6, 2002 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Filler: By policy of WHYY, this information is restricted and has
been omitted from this transcript
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Interview: Reporter Peter Arnett discusses covering the Gulf War
TERRY GROSS, host:
When the first American bombs dropped on Baghdad, Peter Arnett was on the
ninth floor of the Al Rasheed Hotel describing it all live on CNN. His fame
was instantaneously, but risking his life for a story was nothing new for him.
The Gulf War was the 17th war he covered. Arnett is now back in Iraq
reporting on the UN weapons inspections for the Southland Times, the New
Zealand paper where he began his career. Arnett is one of the CNN reporters
portrayed in the new HBO movie, "Live From Baghdad," which premieres tomorrow
night. I spoke with Peter Arnett in 1994 after his memoir "Life From the
Battlefield" was published.
You say in your memoir that you were afraid during the hours you were on the
air of sounding shallow. Do you remember the kinds of things you said and the
kinds of things you were worried about saying?
Mr. PETER ARNETT (Reporter): Well, the temptation was to compare the
violence, the flashing lights, the noise to what people identify with:
Disneyland, New Year's Eve celebrations and fireworks. And I'd been around
long enough to know that you cannot compare heavy bombing to any casual or
trivial incident in life or any sort of show, but the temptation was, of
course, to, in a sense, glorify what was going on and to start describing the
pyrotechnic effects rather than to remember that, you know, people were dying
in these bombs and the bombing was undertaken with a mission to, you know,
push back a belligerent.
GROSS: How much can you tell about what was happening outside of the hotel?
Mr. ARNETT: We were very fortunate. Our bureau was on the ninth floor of
the Al Rasheed Hotel. It was as high a vantage point as you could hope for
short of being in a helicopter. In addition, we had visuals from both sides
of the hotel because our suite connected to the northern part of the hotel and
we were looking south. We could race back and forth and see the impact of the
bombs. Now the bombs were directed against several tall buildings in the
Baghdad area which were government offices, political offices and security
centers. We could literally see these buildings going apart.
In addition, there was bombing of a petroleum production center along the
Tigris River which we could see, and there was just a lot of flares in the
air. There was a lot of light, and so we could actually describe with
considerable detail what was going on because we could just see it happening
GROSS: When the censors show up--the Iraqi censors...
Mr. ARNETT: Later than we thought. When the bombing began and we started
speaking freely on the air, describing everything we were watching, our
presumption was within a very short time, our minders--they were basically the
censors--our minders would appear on the scene and either terminate our
discussion or certainly control our discussion. What, in fact, happened was
that the bombing, even though it had been threatened for weeks, caught Baghdad
unexpectedly off guard. The city was not prepared. The air raid sirens were
delayed. All the officials in the hotel panicked and rushed to the basement.
The security people rushed to the basement. In fact, you know, most of the
press corp rushed to the basement. We stayed in our room because we had
communications. So we were able to speak freely. This went on all night and
for more of the next day and it was not till the following evening, 17 hours
after we started, that the decision was made by the Iraqi Information Ministry
to terminate our direct coverage. And they came up to our room and insisted
that we stop broadcasting. At that point in time, we told all you could
possibly tell basically about Baghdad. Censorship didn't come until that
Now a day after that, the second day of the bombing, we were told by the Iraqi
officials that future transmissions would be censored, that they read our
dispatches before we put them on the air and then would continue to restrict
GROSS: What were the guidelines that your censor gave you?
Mr. ARNETT: They said, `No military information of any kind would be
committed to be broadcast.' Now initially that information was understood by
the Iraqis to mean that any attacks on government buildings, on installations
which governments were using whether they were ministries, military barracks,
telecommunication centers, post offices, bridges--all this, they forbid us to
talk about. And initially they attempted to restrict us to information about
the prisoners of war which they'd captured, government statements giving their
version of the progress of a war, plus, visitations to areas where there were
GROSS: Did they ever try to suggest what you should be reporting and what you
should be saying?
Mr. ARNETT: They never at any point, you know, directly told me that I
should be putting a greater spin on the Iraqis side of the war, but simply by
restricting our visitation rights, by telling us that we could not talk to any
military man, that we could not even mention that we'd seen a military man,
and by taking us in the countryside to areas where there had only civilian
damage and preventing us from reporting damage that we'd see to military
installations, it was quite restrictive. And in that way, they were
controlling the information flow rather than by demanding that I report
information more favorable.
GROSS: Did you feel that by following their no military information
guidelines that you were sacrificing your credibility or integrity?
Mr. ARNETT: Not at all because similar restrictions were in place in Israel.
They're in place in the Gulf. And I knew they were in place because my
colleagues in Atlanta had told me the restrictions that the reporters were
under. My mission each morning was to try to expand the horizon or expand the
limitations that I was under, and I was very fortunate that in the first day
that I was on the air with a satellite phone because our major communication
link, the four wire hard line was ultimately blown out of existence and I
started using the satellite phone. I was very fortunate that when the anchor
in Atlanta started asking me questions and I responded, the Iraqi censors did
not object to my unscripted answers.
Now the way it worked was that prior to going on the air I would type out a
couple of minutes of script. I would hand it to the Iraqis. They would go
through it, check it out and then give it back to me and say, `OK. You can
broadcast that.' Now I was restricted from making any offhand comments, but
when I was talking to the anchors after each occasion, the Iraqis sort of
allowed me to do that. I told them that it was important to better explain
some of the details in my dispatch to inform the world and to better present
their side of the story. They went along with that and it reached the point
where I was able to speak off the cuff for a half and hour, 40 minutes at a
time. That was in addition to my two-minute scripted remarks. So in that
way, I think I was able to enlarge the degree of communication to a
GROSS: Reporter Peter Arnett recorded in 1994. Arnett is back in Iraq
reporting on the UN weapons inspections for the New Zealand paper the
Southland Times. Tomorrow night, HBO premieres the docudrama "Live From
Baghdad," a behind-the-scenes look at how CNN covered the Gulf War in 1991.
I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.
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Profile: Holiday gift ideas for people who love international
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Foreign intrigue is on book critic Maureen Corrigan's mind this holiday
season, specifically a bunch of mysteries set outside the United States. Here
are her suggestions for gifts that feature overseas suspense.
The detectives and lowlifes who populate the classic novels of Dashiell
Hammett, Raymond Chandler and James M. Cain almost always ended up drowning
their sorrows in whiskey or literally falling into the drink. But the
hard-boiled genre itself has learned to do a fine dead-man's float, one that's
carried it adrift around the globe. What I'm talking about is the spread of
homegrown, hard-boiled detective fiction in foreign countries, places that
xenophobes like Sam Spade and Mike Hammer would never have set food in. It's
a literary development that makes sense. The hard-boiled tale has always
flourished in fog, in moral or political climates that are ambiguous, gray.
No wonder then that writers from countries where the line between good and
evil has always been negotiable or society is undergoing dizzying change have
embraced the form as their own.
Three of the best non-American, hard-boiled mysteries I've come across
recently all featured depressive workaholic police detectives who are way too
smart for their own good. For two years now I've been pushing copies of Qiu
Xiaolong's first novel, "Death of a Red Heroine," into the hands of anyone who
has an interest in contemporary China and/or excellent mysteries. Now at last
I've got another wonderful novel featuring Inspector Chen of the Shanghai
police bureau to rave about.
Author Qiu Xiaolong himself was born in Shanghai, came to the US to study and
teach comparative literature, and decided for political reasons to remain here
at the Tiananmen uprising. But like most literary expatriates, Xiaolong
returns in fiction to the home he's left behind in life. The opening pages of
Xiaolong's second mystery, entitled "A Loyal Character Dancer," find Inspector
Chen, who's also a published poet and translator of T.S. Eliot, taking an
early-morning inspirational break in Shanghai's Bund Park. Chen's stroll,
however, turns out to be a busman's holiday when, among the sculpted gardens
and tai chi practitioners, he stumbles upon a corpse, one whose knife-hacked
body suggests a ritualistic triad or gangland murder.
The plot becomes as thick as a bowl of egg drop soup when that very same day
Chen is ordered by his Communist Party superiors to serve as police liaison to
a visiting female US marshal. The marshal is working on a case also involving
triads, and she's in Shanghai to track down the missing wife of a Chinese
informant. In between dodging triad assassins and his country's own secret
surveillance agents, Chen escorts his attractive American counterpart on a
dream tour of Shanghai, including five-star banquets, black market shopping,
common people's apartments and imported attractions like coffee houses and
karaoke bars. Naturally a little cross-cultural romance sparks amidst the
dumplings and disco beat.
As in all hard-boileds, the murder and mayhem in "A Loyal Character Dancer"
provide a cover story for a larger investigation of social mysteries, in this
case, the fate of educated Chinese whose lives were made a waking nightmare by
the cultural revolution and the future of Chinese communism itself. Being a
poet, as well as a policeman, the melancholy Chen knows that any solution he
arrives at to these and other mysteries is only temporary. Quoting lines from
the 11th century Chinese poet Su Dongpo, Chen sadly recognizes that `life is
like the footprint left by a solitary crane in the snow, visible for one
moment and then gone.'
Foreign detectives like Chen seem to prefer numbing themselves with food
rather than alcohol, and that's certainly true of Sicilian police inspector
Salvo Montalbano. The Montalbano novels, by Andrea Camilleri, are an
international hit, and the first in the series, "The Shape of Water," made its
paperback debut in English earlier this year in a bawdy translation by Stephen
Sartarelli. Inspector Montalbano knows how to tuck into a dish of steaming
baby octopus. He also knows a frame-up when he sees one. When he's called in
to investigate the death of a local bigwig who's found, pants down around his
ankles, sitting in a car parked in a local open-air prostitute market, he
smells something rotten in Sicily. The plot here is as deliciously circuitous
as a plate of rigatoni, and Montalbano, also an egghead like Chen, draws upon
his readings in philosophy to provide him with comfort and inspiration.
Another reason I loved "The Shape of Water" is that it carries on the
venerable hard-boiled tradition of obsessing about women's breasts. But
unlike, say, Mike Hammer, whose mammary ooglings are tinged with misogyny,
Montalbano demonstrates an Italian gentleman's appreciation of a fine figure.
Here's his sweetly funny description of a nearly naked suspect: `When she
moved, her miniscule panties peeped out, and so did one breast, which looked
as if it had been painted by a painter who understood women. The nipple
seemed to be looking around, curious about the unfamiliar surroundings.'
Detective Inspector Irene Huss, stationed in Goteburg, Sweden, has a pretty
good sense of humor, so she'd probably smile at that description. Otherwise,
there's not a lot to laugh at in her remarkable first outing, "Detective
Inspector Huss," by Helen Tursten, translated from the Swedish by Steven T.
Murray. The weather in Goteburg is lousy, Huss had problems at home with one
of her twin teen-age daughters who's decided to become a skinhead, and the
Swedish cuisine is so mediocre Huss and her teen nightly wolf down cold pizza
that I don't even have a corny food metaphor available to compare the plot
Huss, unlike most of her detective counterparts in other countries, is married
with the aforementioned children, so she's got the double-shift dilemma to
manage. She's also facing the crisis of turning 40 at the same time she's
trying to solve the murder of a prominent businessman who was tossed to his
death from his deluxe high-rise.
I don't mean to give the impression that Detective Inspector Huss is heavy on
the touchy-feely themes and light on action. Huss is a judo champion whose
quick moves and even quicker thinking rescue her and a male colleague from a
brutal death at the hands of Hell's Angels. But as with the best
hard-boileds, it's the more ambitious investigation of a world gone wrong
rather than the murder plot that lingers. The picture Tursten provides here
of Sweden's growing anti-immigrant resentment brought home in Huss' own
skinhead daughter imbues this novel with a chill of dread that can't be
attributed only to the subfreezing temperatures of Goteburg in winter.
GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She
reviewed "A Loyal Character Dancer," "The Shape of Water" and "Detective
Inspector Huss." More information about these books is on our Web site,
Coming up, the true story of the Soviet nuclear submarine that came close to a
nuclear meltdown during the Cold War.
This is FRESH AIR.
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Interview: Peter Huchthausen, author and retired Navy captain,
discusses his new book, "K-19"
TERRY GROSS, host:
The movie "K-19" comes out on video and DVD next week. In a time when we're
worried about the possibility of nuclear terrorism, the movie tells the story
of a nearly catastrophic nuclear accident during the Cold War. It's based on
a non-fiction book by retired Navy Captain Peter Huchthausen. He served for
more than 20 years as an anti-submarine warfare expert. He was the technical
adviser to the movie, which stars Harrison Ford as the sub's captain.
The K-19 was the Soviets' first nuclear-powered submarine to carry
nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles, missiles that had the capability of
striking the United States. During its publicized first mission, on July 4th,
1961, the sub launched missiles from a test site. On its return, it developed
a leak in the nuclear reactor's cooling system. Fire broke out in the
compartment containing the reactor, releasing high levels of radiation that
killed the men who repaired the leak. Had they failed to repair it, a nuclear
explosion would have released a massive cloud of radiation.
The book, "K-19," includes excerpts of the captain's journals, including
descriptions of what happened after the fire broke out in the compartment
containing the reactor. I asked Huchthausen to describe the captain's
Captain PETER HUCHTHAUSEN (Retired; Author, "K-19"): Well, Captain Zateyev
was an experienced submarine commander, and he knew that it was just a matter
of time before he was going to lose control of the reactor, and the reactor
would overheat and possibly cause a fuel meltdown and possibly a major
hydrogen explosion. So he had a very limited amount of time in which to come
up with a solution for rigging a backup cooling system, which did not exist.
And so as the crew were fighting the fire, he was forced into making a
decision whether or to send crewmen inside the shielded reactor space--which
was eventual death, and he knew it--to fabricate a system to provide cooling
water inside the reactor.
GROSS: You know, in the captain's journal, he writes regarding the men who
went to fix the system, knowing that they wouldn't survive. He writes, `It
seems what really determines the choices a man makes in critical,
life-threatening situations is still his inner conviction, his sense of
responsibility for the events around him, his personal conscience. This is
equally true of both the ones who send others to their death and the ones who
go.' What did you think about reading that?
Capt. HUCHTHAUSEN: Well, it shows that Captain Zateyev was a very thoughtful
man and a very intensive leader who had a great deal of moral integrity. And
as any commanding officer who's faced with a decision like that, he made the
decision, at least the best decision in his opinion, that would have saved his
men. But, of course, that was heavy on his mind, the fact that he was sending
individuals in who were certainly going to die. And the sad part of it is, is
that the men that he mentions went in voluntarily, understanding that it was
extremely dangerous, probably did not have a full understanding of nuclear
power and the radiation poisoning.
Unfortunately, we now know in that time in the Soviet navy, they had rushed
those ships and submarines to sea to keep up with the United States and the
West, and they didn't properly train them. These were engineers, most of his
young engineers, who had been taken from other submarines or from other ships
in their navy, given a modicum of nuclear power training and then pushed out
on a ship with inadequate safety precaution, inadequate casualty control
training, and just sent out there to demonstrate that they had a deterrent
capability to match the United States', and it was very sad, because these men
probably didn't understand how serious it was when they each entered to do
GROSS: Did the men from the submarine who tried to jury-rig a new cooling
system to make up for the one that wasn't working--did the new cooling system
Capt. HUCHTHAUSEN: Yes, the new cooling system did work. They achieved the
surface, they managed to get safely to the surface and, after several
attempts, it finally held and the temperature went down. But they were still
faced with a massive amount of radiation on board that had spread from not
just the reactor compartment, but throughout the submarine, and he knew that
prolonged exposure to this radiation was going to probably kill everybody on
board, so he was now faced with getting them home.
GROSS: Well, home was about 1,500 miles away.
Capt. HUCHTHAUSEN: Right. Some of his officers, who had a little bit better
understanding of the seriousness of the radiation poisoning, suggested that
they take the submarine and beach it at the nearest possible land, which
happened to be a Norwegian-owned island, Jan Mayen Island in the North
Atlantic, which housed a NATO ocean surveillance network(ph). His officers
came to him with that suggestion, and he opted for another gamble, which was
to try to rendezvous with another group of diesel submarines which had been
participating in the exercise, but this was a long shot, and he took that
gamble, and he actually succeeded in rendezvousing with another submarine, who
then helped him evacuate the crew, to decontaminate some of those who had not
been so severely irradiated, and actually abandoned his K-19 and bring the men
GROSS: Let's talk a little bit about the effects of the radiation. The men
who were actually in Compartment 6(ph), where the nuclear reactor and the
cooling system were, the men who were working to create a new cooling system,
they were exposed to massive amounts of radiation. They all died. What kind
of deaths did they face?
Capt. HUCHTHAUSEN: Well, it was extremely slow and painful. All who died
actually died several days after they got back to home port, so they spent a
good four days in extremely painful condition. They had been burned
internally because they actually ingested a lot of these nuclides as well as
being irradiated through the skin by being inside the shielded reactor space.
You know, there are different kinds of radiation, depending on what your
sources are. Some can be shielded just by holding up a piece of paper or by
wearing a shirt. Others can be washed off. But if you ingest these into your
body, the process becomes extremely fatal and those ingested nuclides will
cause your body organs to swell and be poisoned. They actually bled through
the pores of their skin, and their tongues were swollen, and many of them
actually eventually suffocated because their mucus membranes all were swollen.
It's an awful death.
GROSS: Captain, since you were involved in studying Soviet submarines and
trying to prevent them from doing any damage, what were some of the Soviet
submarine secrets that you most wanted to find out when you started to have
more access to Soviet records after the end of the Cold War?
Capt. HUCHTHAUSEN: Well, I think having been involved in anti-submarine
warfare most of my career, and then as a submarine analyst in the intelligence
business, and then ending up as attache in Moscow when the Soviet Union was
crumbling, and we began to hear the real stories behind what we suspected, I
think what I wanted to hear most was what really had happened during these
terrible accidents they had.
We had a pretty good idea in naval intelligence of some of these accidents,
but the Soviets were so good in the control of information that they had
managed to cover up for so many years major accidents--for example, the loss
of a battleship, 24,000-ton battleship in 1955 that exploded, capsized and
sank in a port in Sebastopol in the Black Sea, with the loss of 608 man. This
was the 20th century's largest peacetime naval accident in history, and they
covered it up. The only people who knew anything about it were those who
survived and their families, and this was not released into the world until 33
years later, when the former commander in chief of the Soviet navy died. I
was in Moscow then, in the US embassy, and we began to hear these stories from
survivors who began to step forward and tell their stories.
And the same was about the submarine accidents. We had a pretty good idea
that they had lost a number of submarines, but we didn't know how many men had
been lost, and now we know that during the Cold War, they lost a total of
eight submarines, and that's incredible, and the number of men lost was huge.
We had an inkling, we knew where some of those were, but we didn't know the
real cost and we didn't know the real causes. And I had experiences in Moscow
which you wouldn't believe, where people were coming out of the woodwork,
asking me if I would take this information and report it, because it told the
truth about the large number of people that were lost during the race to keep
up with us in the Cold War.
GROSS: Retired Navy Captain Peter Huchthausen is the author of the book
"K-19." He was the technical adviser to the movie "K-19" starring Harrison
Ford as the captain of the submarine. It comes out on video and DVD next
Coming up, David Edelstein reviews the new movie "Adaptation." This is FRESH
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Review: New movie "Adaptation"
TERRY GROSS, host:
Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and director Spike Jonze collaborated on the film
"Being John Malkovich." Their new movie, "Adaptation," is based on a true
story from Kaufman's own life. It tells a fictionalized version of what
happened when Kaufman was hired to write a screen adaptation of the
non-fiction book "The Orchid Thief," by New Yorker writer Susan Orlean. David
Edelstein has a review.
Let me clue you in to the ultimate fantasy of a certain breed of neurotic
Jewish American male: to turn a confession of impotence into a miraculous
demonstration of potency. For that reason, I am so in awe of Charlie
Kaufman's screenplay of "Adaptation." I don't find the movie as revolutionary
or even as entertaining as many of my colleagues, but rarely has
self-flagellation been administered with so much showmanship.
Kaufman was hired to adapt a very good but narratively spotty book by Susan
Orlean called "The Orchid Thief." In part, that was about Orlean's own
problems understanding the passion of her subject, an eccentric Floridian
orchid collector named John Laroche. When Kaufman couldn't get a handle on
the material, he injected himself into it, and so he decided to turn his
screenplay into the story of an up-and-coming, but painfully insecure,
screenwriter named Charlie Kaufman, played in the movie by Nicolas Cage, who's
hired to adapt a sprawling non-fiction book called "The Orchid Thief."
"Adaptation" begins with both Kaufman's self-doubt and his defiance. Here he
is sitting with Tilda Swinton as the elegant and sexy executive who hires him.
First we hear his inner monologue, then his assertion of artistic integrity.
(Soundbite of "Adaptation")
Mr. NICOLAS CAGE: I've got to stop sweating. Can she see it dripping down my
forehead? Oh, she looked at my hairline. She thinks I'm bald. She's...
Ms. TILDA SWINTON: We think you're great.
Mr. CAGE: Oh, wow. Thanks. That's nice to hear.
Ms. SWINTON: We all just loved the "Malkovich" script.
Mr. CAGE: Thanks. Thanks.
Ms. SWINTON: Such a unique voice. Boy, I'd love to find a portal into your
Mr. CAGE: Trust me, it's no fun.
Ms. SWINTON: So tell me your thoughts on this crazy little project of ours.
Mr. CAGE: First, I think it's a great book. I just don't want to ruin it by
making it a Hollywood thing, you know, like an orchid heist movie or
something, you know, or, you know, changing the orchids into poppies and
turning it into a movie about drug running, you know? I thought, why can't
there be a movie simply about flowers? I'm saying, it's like I don't want to
cram in sex or guns or car chases, you know, I--or characters, you know,
learning profound life lessons or growing or coming to like each other or
overcoming obstacles to succeed in the end. You know, I mean, the book isn't
like that and life isn't like that. You know, it just isn't. And I feel very
strongly about this.
EDELSTEIN: "Adaptation" has so many interwoven strands of reality and
fiction, the film itself is like a strange new breed of orchid and one that is
intoxicated by its own vapors. Kaufman, the screenwriter, not the character,
has shrewdly given his schlumpy hero a neat foil, a twin brother and wanna-be
screenwriter named Donald Kaufman, who is busy penning a wildly commercial
serial killer thriller and who preaches the gospel of that infamous real-life
screenwriting guru, Robert McKee, played in the film by Brian Cox. In an
almost parallel plot set three years earlier, Susan Orlean, played by Meryl
Streep, chases the orchid thief Laroche, played by Chris Cooper, through
Florida trying to understand why he and a posse of Seminole Indians have taken
to plundering the swamp at considerable risk to their health, freedom and
sanity. She, too, is in search of a way into her subject.
So Charlie Kaufman struggles to find his story, Susan Orlean struggles to find
her story, both resolve their struggles by making themselves part of their
stories, and then, in the last half-hour, "Adaptation" settles without fanfare
or ironic emphasis into just the sort of screenplay that Charlie Kaufman has
vowed not to write, a commercial thriller.
Now I wondered: Does this adaptation to Robert McKee-style screenwriting
represent failure or success? I don't have a clue. Like "Being John
Malkovich," the movie wants to have it both ways, to be transcendent and
bleakly cynical. And part of me wonders if this movie, so full of
self-loathing yet so pleased with its own cleverness, isn't a lively tap dance
over a void, if Kaufman didn't settle for being recursive because he basically
blew the adaptation. Now I wouldn't be so tough on Kaufman if I didn't think
he had a talent potentially as great of that as Albert Brooks, Christopher
Durang and maybe even Jon Blair. Compare "Adaptation" to Woody Allen's
recent, very lame and similarly self-conscious "Hollywood Ending" and you can
see that Kaufman is Allen's true successor, formed by Woody Allen but primed
to carry the torch a little farther into the swamp of his own neuroses. Now
he just has to stop making such a song and dance of his own self-hatred. And
for crying out loud, adapt.
GROSS: David Edelstein reviews movies for the online magazine Slate.
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
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