Novak, Michael 1933-

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NOVAK, Michael 1933-

PERSONAL: Born September 9, 1933, in Johnstown, PA; son of Michael John and Irene Louise (Sakmar) Novak; married Karen Laub (a painter and printmaker), June 29, 1963; children: Richard, Tanya, Jana. Education: Stonehill College, A.B. (summa cum laude), 1956; Gregorian University, Rome, Italy, B.T. (cum laude), 1958; attended Catholic University, 1958-60; Harvard University, M.A., 1965.

ADDRESSES: Office—American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, 1150 17th Street NW, Washington, DC 20036. Agent—Donald Cutler, Sterling Lord Agency, Inc., 660 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10021. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER: Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA, assistant professor of humanities, 1965-68; State University of New York, Old Westbury, associate professor of philosophy and religious studies, 1968-73, provost, Disciplines College, 1969-71; Rockefeller Foundation, New York, NY, associate director of humanities, 1973-74; Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY, Ledden-Watson Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies, 1977-79; American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, Washington, DC, George Frederick Jewett Scholar in Religion and Public Policy, 1978—. Visiting professor at Union Theological Seminary, 1966, Carleton College, 1970, Immaculate Heart College, Hollywood, CA, 1971, and University of California, Santa Barbara, 1972; visiting W. Harold and Martha Welch Professor of American Studies at the University of Notre Dame, 1987-88. Senior policy advisor to R. Sargent Shriver, 1970; speechwriter for R. Sargent Shriver, 1970, 1972, and for Edmund Muskie, 1971; member of staff, George McGovern's presidential campaign, 1972. Fellow of Institute for Society, Ethics and the Life Sciences, 1969—. Advisor on programs in medicine and ethics, Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., Foundation, 1971. Judge for National Book Awards, 1971, and DuPont Broadcast Journalism Award, 1971-80. Founder and member of board of directors, Ethnic Millions Political Action Committee, 1974; chief of United States delegation to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, Geneva, Switzerland, 1981 and 1982; member of Presidential Commission on Cultural Diversity, 1978-84, Board for International Broadcasting, 1984—, and Presidential Commission on Ethnic Justice, 1985-87; U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, 1981.

MEMBER: Society for Values in Higher Education (member of central committee, 1969-72), American Academy of Religion (program director, 1968-72), Council on Foreign Relations, Council on Religion and International Affairs.

AWARDS, HONORS: Kent fellow, 1961; named "most influential professor" by the senior classes at Stanford University, 1967 and 1968; Hastings Institute fellow, 1970-76; Templeton Prize for progress in religion, 1974; "man of the year" citation from the city of Johnstown, PA, and Faith and Freedom Award from Religious Heritage Association, both 1978; Medal of Freedom and Friend of Freedom commendation, both 1981; theology award from Catholic Press Association, 1987, for Will It Liberate?: Questions about Liberation Theology; Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, 1994. Honorary degrees include LL.D., Keuka College, 1970, LeMoyne College, 1976; L.H.D., Davis and Elkins College, 1971, Stonehill College, 1977; Litt.D., Sacred Heart College, 1977, Muhlenberg College, 1979, D'Youville College, 1981, and Boston University, 1981.


The Tiber Was Silver (novel), Doubleday (New York, NY), 1961.

A New Generation: American and Catholic, Herder & Herder (New York, NY), 1964.

The Open Church: Vatican II: Act II, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1964, revised edition, Transaction (New Brunswick, NJ), 2002.

(Editor) The Experience of Marriage, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1964.

Belief and Unbelief: A Philosophy of Self-Knowledge, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1965, 3rd revised edition, Transaction (New Brunswick, NJ), 1994.

A Time to Build, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1967.

(Editor) American Philosophy and the Future, Scribner (New York, NY), 1968.

A Theology for Radical Politics, Herder & Herder (New York, NY), 1969.

Naked I Leave (novel), Macmillan (New York, NY), 1970.

The Experience of Nothingness, Harper (New York, NY), 1970, revised edition, Transaction (New Brunswick, NJ), 1998.

Ascent of the Mountain, Flight of the Dove: An Invitation to Religious Studies, Harper (New York, NY), 1971, revised edition, 1978.

Politics: Realism and Imagination, Herder & Herder (New York, NY), 1971.

The Rise of the Unmeltable Ethnics: Politics and Culture in the Seventies, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1972, 2nd revised edition, Transaction (New Brunswick, NJ), 1996.

(With wife, Karen Laub-Novak) A Book of Elements, Herder & Herder (New York, NY), 1972.

Choosing Our King: Powerful Symbols in Presidential Politics, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1974.

The Joy of Sports: End Zones, Bases, Baskets, Balls, and the Consecration of the American Spirit, Basic Books (New York, NY), 1976.

The Guns of Lattimer, Basic Books (New York, NY), 1978, revised edition, Transaction (New Brunswick, NJ), 1996.

(Editor) Capitalism and Socialism: A Theological Inquiry, American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (Washington, DC), 1979.

The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1982.

Moral Clarity in the Nuclear Age, Thomas Nelson (Nashville, TN), 1983.

Confession of a Catholic, Harper (New York, NY), 1983.

Freedom with Justice: Catholic Social Thought and Liberal Institutions, Harper (New York, NY), 1984.

Will It Liberate?: Questions about Liberation Theology, Paulist Press (Mahwah, NJ), 1987.

(Editor) Liberation Technology and the Liberal Society, American Enterprise Institute (Washington, DC), 1987.

(Coauthor) The New Consensus on Family and Welfare: A Community of Self-Reliance, Marquette University (Milwaukee, WI), 1987.

Taking Glasnost Seriously: Toward an Open Soviet Union, American Enterprise Institute (Washington, DC), 1988.

Free Persons and the Common Good, Madison Books (Lanham, MD), 1989.

Catholic Social Thought and Liberal Institutions: Freedom with Justice, Transaction (New Brunswick, NJ), 1989.

This Hemisphere of Liberty: A Philosophy of the Americas, National Book Network (Lanham, MD), 1990.

Toward a Theology of the Corporation, University Press of America (Lanham, MD), 1990.

Choosing Presidents: Symbols of Political Leadership, Transaction (New Brunswick, NJ), 1992.

The Catholic Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Maxwell Macmillan (New York, NY), 1993.

Awakening from Nihilism: Why Truth Matters, IEA Health and Welfare Unit (London, England), 1995.

Unmeltable Ethnics: Politics & Culture in American Life, Transaction (New Brunswick, NJ), 1996.

(Editor) To Empower People: From State to Civil Society, American Enterprise Institute (Washington, DC), 1996.

The Future of the Corporation, American Enterprise Institute (Washington, DC), 1996.

Business As a Calling: Work and the Examined Life, Free Press (New York, NY), 1996.

The Fire of Invention, the Fuel of Interest: On Intellectual Property, AEI Press (Washington, DC), 1996.

The Fire of Invention: Civil Society and the Future of the Corporation, Rowman & Littlefield (Lanham, MD), 1997.

On Corporate Governance: The Corporation As It Ought to Be, American Enterprise Institute (Washington, DC), 1997.

Is There a Third Way? Essays on the Changing Direction of Socialist Thought, IEA Health and Welfare Unit (London, England), 1998.

(With Jana Novak) Tell Me Why: A Father Answers His Daughter's Questions about God, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1998.

On Cultivating Liberty: Reflections on Moral Ecology, Rowman & Littlefield (Lanham, MD), 1999.

(Coeditor) A Free Society Reader: Principles for the New Millennium, Lexington Books (Lanham, MD), 2000.

God's Country: Taking the Declaration Seriously, AEI Press (Washington, DC), 2000.

Three in One: Essays on Democratic Capitalism, 1976-2000, edited by Edward W. Younkins, Rowman & Littlefield (Lanham, MD), 2001.

On Two Wings: Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding, Encounter Books (San Francisco, CA), 2002.


Leonard Liek and David Hawke, editors, American Colloquy, Bobbs-Merrill (Indianapolis, IN), 1963.

Edward Schilleback, editor, Concilium Dogma, Volume I: The Church and Mankind, Paulist Press (Mahwah, NJ), 1964.

William Birmingham, editor, What Catholics Think about Birth Control, Sheed & Ward, 1965.

Daniel Callahan, editor, Generation of the Third Eye, Sheed & Ward, 1965.

Voluntary Associations: A Study of Groups in Free Societies, John Knox Press (Westminster, MD), 1966.

Mitchell Cohen and Dennis Hale, editors, The New Student Left: An Anthology, Beacon Press (Boston, MA), 1966.

Elwyn A. Smith, editor, Church-State Relations in Ecumenical Perspective, Duquesne University Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1966.

Sister M. Charles Borromeo, editor, The New Nuns, New American Library (New York, NY), 1967.

Bernard Murchland, editor, The Meaning of the Death of God, Random House (New York, NY), 1967.

Conspiracy, Harper (New York, NY), 1973.

H. Wheeler, editor, Beyond the Punitive Society, W. H. Freeman (New York, NY), 1973.

Television As a Social Force, Praeger (Westport, CT), 1975.

Marvin Barrett, editor, The Fifth Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Survey of Broadcast Journalism, Crowell (New York, NY), 1975.


Columnist for Forbes, 1989—. Contributor to scholarly and general publications, including Commentary, Harper's, New Republic, and Commonweal. Contributor to the Washington Star, 1976; syndicated newspaper columnist, 1976-80, 1984—. Associate editor, Commonweal, 1966-69; contributing editor, Christian Century, 1967-80, Christianity and Crisis, 1968-74; member of editorial board, Motive, 1966-68, Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 1967—, Worldview, 1971, and National Review. Member of board of advisors, American Report, 1970. Founder and member of editorial board, The World, 1982—; co-founder of Crisis magazine, 1982; publisher, 1987—.

SIDELIGHTS: Social philosopher Michael Novak told the New York Times that he tries "to interpret the American experience in theological terms" in order to produce "a philosophy-theology of the American way of life." Novak, who is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., writes books, articles, and newspaper columns that examine the relationship between the principles of democratic capitalism and Judeo-Christian teachings. He is one of the few Catholic scholars who defends capitalism on theological and moral grounds and who finds capitalistic societies most conducive to human spiritual growth. Washington Post Book World contributor Harvey Cox felt that Novak "has demonstrated his capacity for astute theological analysis" through more than twenty books dealing with such diverse subjects as ethnic identity, sports, nuclear arms, economics, and liberation theology. As William McGurn noted in the Wall Street Journal, Novak enters a "heated debate" as "a bridge between two groups who often do not realize how mutually dependent they are. He is at once a theologian who appreciates how wealth is generated and sustained, and an economist who understands the moral virtues that make this possible."

Novak was born and raised in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, the grandson of Slovak immigrants. He was devoutly religious from an early age, and at fourteen he became a junior seminarian in the Congregation of Holy Cross. Planning to enter the priesthood, he attended Stonehill College in Massachusetts and then the Gregorian University in Rome, earning Bachelor's degrees in philosophy and theology. Shortly before his ordination in 1960 he obtained a dispensation from his religious vows in order to continue his studies in the secular community. Novak told the New York Times contributor that he left priesthood training because he wanted to be a writer and "didn't see how I could do the independent thinking and travelling I wanted to do, and do it in community and under obedience." Still, the Catholic church remained his major early focus; his first novel, The Tiber Was Silver, takes place in Rome, and his journalism of the period concerns American Catholics' opinions and the church reforms set in motion by Vatican Council II. While working on his Master's degree at Harvard, Novak wrote several books, including the essay collection A New Generation: American and Catholic, and a firsthand account of Vatican II, The Open Church. In 1965 he went to Stanford University as an assistant professor of humanities.

At Stanford, Novak was a popular instructor and became involved with protests against the Vietnam War and other radical platforms. His writings from 1965 through 1970 analyze the mood of alienation and disorientation prevalent in that era and propose "a new inwardness of human experience and a new belief in man which despite all setbacks makes us struggle to change community," to quote Christian Century reviewer Charles C. West. Having undergone personal crises of faith himself, his books offer a case for Christian theism as one avenue to self-knowledge. Works such as A Theology for Radical Politics, The Experience of Nothingness, Belief and Unbelief, and Ascent of the Mountain, Flight of the Dove: An Invitation to Religious Studies are, according to Sidney Hook in Commentary, honest attempts "to meet the challenge of naturalism without sacrificing or diluting . . . faith." New York Times Book Review correspondent J. M. Cameron found Belief and Unbelief "a moving and perceptive account of the difficulties of a Christian in the present climate of opinion....It expresses, without mitigating, the perplexities of those Christians—roughly, the 'progressives' in any Christian establishment—who are faintly astonished to find themselves closer to unbelievers than to their believing fellows on a variety of crucial moral issues, typically today those concerned with civil rights and warfare." In a Chicago Tribune Book World piece on The Experience of Nothingness, Charles Frankel called Novak "a philosopher of the rising generation [who] makes the effort to explore the current mood . . . , to speak for that mood, and to go beyond it to the expression of an ideal which might turn this mood from a purely negative one into an affirmative program."

From 1968 to 1973 Novak worked as an associate professor of philosophy and religious studies at the State University of New York, Old Westbury campus. During those years his focus was broadening to include social, political, and cultural questions. He served as an advisor and speechwriter for several Democratic politicians, including R. Sargent Shriver, Edmund Muskie, and George McGovern. Concurrently, he published a controversial book, The Rise of the Unmeltable Ethnics, in which he praised ethnic diversity and called for a "new cultural pluralism" to challenge the established "elite Protestant politics." Chronicle Review contributor Richard W. Fox found the work "an impassioned plea for a new liberalism based on a recognition of cultural diversity in white America....It remains the most illuminating introduction to the personal, communal, and political meanings of 'the new ethnicity.'" Some reviewers reacted adversely to the level of passion Novak employs in The Rise of the Unmeltable Ethnics. In the New York Times Book Review, Garry Wills wrote: "There is something dismaying about an immoral book written by a very moral man.... Nothing is quite so strange as a naturally pleasant person who feels it is his duty to be unpleasant, to call civility an Anglo-Saxon deceit." Wills concluded that the book serves as a contribution to the "rapidly growing literature on the social uses of hatred." American Political Science Review essayist Lawrence H. Fuchs also suggested that in The Rise of the Unmeltable Ethnics "the passion gets out of hand occasionally," but added that few students of the ethnicity of American politics "would quarrel with many of Novak's major assertions: political unity depends in part upon cultural pluralism."

Choosing Our King, published in 1972, and The Joy of Sports: End Zones, Bases, Baskets, Balls, and the Consecration of the American Spirit, published in 1976, both offer analyses of the religious and psychological symbolism behind secular American institutions. Choosing Our King "refers to the President as king, high priest, and prophet," according to George E. Reedy in the National Review, with special emphasis on the failed 1972 campaign of George McGovern. In The Joy of Sports, to quote New Leader reviewer Ben Yagoda, Novak reveals "that the limits and disciplines of sports, like the formal rituals of religion, can momentarily free us from the irredeemable impurities of earthly life." Fox felt that these two works, along with The Rise of the Unmeltable Ethnics, have marked "the emergence of a thinker who [is] reflecting deeply upon the American experience and searching for a voice and style with which to speak not only to the 'educated,' but also to ordinary Americans like the members of Eastern European ethnic groups, from whose world he came." Reedy likewise concluded that Novak's work "serves the highest purpose of writing—to make people think."

Novak was doing some intense thinking himself in the mid to late 1970s. In fact, he underwent a fundamental ideological metamorphosis from a supporter of socialist ideals to a defender of democratic capitalism. "I used to think socialism was a good idea, but nobody has made it work yet," Novak told a Time magazine reporter. "I moved to the realization that the idea itself is wrong." Novak faced economic reality, he said in the Rocky Mountain News, and then had to admit that socialism "doesn't work very well. In politics, it produces tyranny; in economics, it produces poverty." Anne Husted Burleigh noted in Modern Age that Novak's change of ideology has altered his theology as well. "Novak's movement from left to right across the theological spectrum, documented in a superb and sober . . . book, Confession of a Catholic, corresponds to the change of heart he has undergone in politics and economics," Husted Burleigh wrote. "One supposes that, as he grew in his understanding of how a limited government-free market political economy works and how it can protect moral-cultural values, he became increasingly disenchanted with the pronounced gnostic and Marxist tone assumed in the last twenty years by a substantial wing of the church." This theme is elucidated in Novak's more recent books, including The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, Moral Clarity in the Nuclear Age, and Freedom with Justice: Catholic Social Thought and Liberal Institutions.

Published in 1982, and translated into more than a half-dozen foreign languages, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism remains one of Novak's best-known books. The work "pronounces democratic capitalism the best of all political-economic systems, in ideal as well as in results," according to a New York Times reviewer. Furthermore, Novak states, despised though it is, capitalism offers the best actual hope for alleviating poverty and suppressing tyranny—it allows even the humblest citizen to improve his or her station in society. "Novak argues that democracy and a free economy are the natural embodiment of the ideals of liberty and individual worth that are the foundation of the Judeo-Christian tradition," Walter Isaacson wrote in Time. Isaacson concluded: "The marriage of pluralism and productivity best realizes the Christian ideal of caritas, or the compassionate love of fellow human beings." Novak's thesis takes into account the inherent dangers of democratic capitalism—materialism and greed—but concludes that the system is the only one that "renders sinful tendencies as productive of good as possible." New Republic essayist Charles Krauthammer called The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism "a sophisticated and often original defense of Western democratic capitalism, and a hymn to its spirit of freedom and pluralism. Novak's book is certain at least to inspire those now just beginning to lay siege to the heretofore sacrosanct citadel of liberation theology and its claim that 'Christianity is the religion of which socialism is the practice.'" Isaacson similarly concluded that Novak's "carefully woven theological and political argument succeeds in its overall mission: to remind readers that democratic capitalism is not only a system that truly works but at its best is a living embodiment of its own ideals."

Moral Clarity in the Nuclear Age, Freedom with Justice, and Will It Liberate?: Questions about Liberation Theology are all meant to influence international Catholic thought on such issues as socialism, national defense, and human rights. According to Walter Goodman in the New York Times, Novak's "plain objective is to provide ammunition to those within his church's hierarchy who oppose Marxist-tinged doctrines, exemplified by the liberation theology movement that is enjoying considerable influence in Latin America." New York Times Book Review contributor Aaron Wildavsky likewise observed that Novak "aims to describe Catholic social thought in modern times, to make manifest the contributions as well as errors of popes and theologians, revealing their ready acceptance of political rights and their halting appreciation of economic productivity, to critique 'liberation theology' and to begin the task of devising a Catholic economic theology." Most critics agreed that Novak's arguments in support of democracy, capitalism, nuclear arms as deterrents to war, and limited central government have influenced the tenor of several controversial pastoral letters from Catholic bishops in recent years. To quote Commonweal essayist R. A. Schroth, Novak's assertions on public policy and theology have "helped transform the church."

Novak concentrates on the intersection of democracy and capitalism in Business As a Calling: Work and the Examined Life, a work that picks up where The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism leaves off. Less religiously based that the former, Business As a Calling expounds on the idea that thriving free-economy capitalism is necessary for a healthy democracy. Capitalism is the best way for individuals to realize their self-worth and to allow people to escape from poverty. More than a way to make money, engaging in business is a way to serve one's community, says Novak. But the book does not deal with some of the stark realities of capitalism: recessions, layoffs, and a safety net of health insurance, for example. The book is upbeat in tone; Novak upholds Andrew Carnegie as a role model for capitalists and urges labor unions to become "service corporations" that more easily adapt to the changing needs of the workplace. Indeed, the tone is so upbeat that William J. Byron of America wrote that "Novak is nothing less than rhapsodic in singing the praises of capitalism," yet his portrayal of capitalism "is all so idealistic as to be of little help to those searching for a solution to the economic troubles of our time." "Always a romantic," wrote Eugene McCarraher in Commonweal, "Novak once again demonstrates that his romanticism inspires both his virtues and his faults." McCarraher concluded that "Novak's hosannas to 'creativity' drown out the noisy historical struggles of ordinary people against the expropriation of their knowledge and skill." But Gilbert Meilaender of the Christian Century found Business As a Calling to be "engagingly and provocatively written," and he thought it "both fascinating and important that Novak, a Roman Catholic, should have become perhaps the principal advocate of the view that business can be a calling."

Novak collaborated with his twenty-something daughter Jana in Tell Me Why: A Father Answers His Daughter's Questions about God. In question and answer format taken from a fax that Jana originally sent her father, she asks hard-hitting questions about why religion matters, issues pertaining to sex and birth control, and how to reconcile the world's different religions. Both father and daughter aim for a respectful tone throughout the book, with Michael Novak expressing his views in a nonjudgmental manner that he hopes will encourage his daughter to explore religion further in her life. Novak also expresses his thoughts on Catholicism and its spotted history and explains why he remains true to its tenets. He also backs up his beliefs with quotes beyond the Bible from religious thinkers such as C. S. Lewis. In the end, said a reviewer for Publishers Weekly, "Novak does an excellent job of creating a 'learning atmosphere' for his daughter by providing her with a solid foundation of biblical principles and Catholic traditions to contemplate." John J. DiIulio, Jr., writing in the National Review called the book "intimate, intellectually challenging, and artfully organized."

The central metaphor of On Two Wings: Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding is the American eagle, which, according to tradition, takes flight under the equally important powers of reason and faith. The book argues that though the founding fathers of the United States were students of the Enlightenment, they were not godless or without faith. Novak states that the trend toward separating religion from the events surrounding the American Revolution is revisionist history and not representative of the truth; secular life and religious life were not set in opposition during the eighteenth century. Furthermore, the Constitution is not a "godless" document, as some have claimed, but rather it was created with religious freedom in mind. Thus, Novak argues, religion was central to the ideals that formed the country, and without the faith of the founding fathers, the Republic would have been doomed. Judaism in particular—a "Hebrew metaphysics," Novak calls it—inspired those who came to America, because of its idea of a "promised land" free from tyranny and persecution. Novak explores how allusions to Hebrew figures and allegories figure in the deeds of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison, among others, and how their religious sensibility combined with the theories of John Locke to create a wholly new concept of a state.

The book received good reviews. Even though Gordon S. Wood, writing in the New York Review of Books remarked that "we don't live in the eighteenth century anymore, and we may need a wall of separation between the state and religion in ways the eighteenth century did not," he nevertheless complimented "Novak's earnestness and sincerity." Jan Blodgett of Library Journal said that Novak is "clearly passionate about his topic," and Wilfed M. McClay wrote in the journal First Things that it is "a lively, marvelously accessible, and infectiously enthusiastic book.... [That is] both a restorative and a touchstone." More temperate praise was offered by Charles R. Kesler of the National Review, who wrote that the idea of "plain reason" lacks a sufficient definition. Thus, wrote Kesler, "the excellence of individual parts shines through, but the whole disappoints because the parts are too various."

In addition to his books, Novak writes a syndicated newspaper column, a regular column for the National Review, and numerous articles for periodicals. He is a founding director of the Ethnic Millions Political Action Committee, and he has entered public service as chief delegate to the 1981 and 1982 sessions of the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva, Switzerland. Novak, who sees himself primarily as a teacher who can excite learned debate, lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife and three children. Although his work has sometimes been criticized for its opinionated tone, most observers concede that Novak's influence as a political/theological philosopher has been considerable. Fox concluded: "Michael Novak is a writer of rare versatility and power....His work is rivaled by few contemporary authors—not just in sheer volume, but in range, in diversity of form, and in depth of insight."



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Novak, Michael 1933-

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