Sunday, December 27th, 2009

The End of the 00s: So Lax, by Katie Bakes

The Duke Case

I can't say for certain, but there is an excellent chance I have been, behind my back, erroneously labeled a lacrosstitute.

I say "lacrosstitute" because that is the epithet of choice for a girl in a sundress who, for whatever reason, chooses of her own free will to consort with a bunch of louche loudmouths in Hawaiian print board shorts and mesh practice pinnies that announce "SUNS OUT, GUNS OUT" and cover neither chest hair nor beer guts (both being marks of proud distinction among their bearers).

I can see where the confusion would lie if you knew me from like 2001-2005 though. True confession: I had friends on the lacrosse team.

You probably hate those guys. I kind of hated them too, whenever I was not busy loving them. Isn't that kind of the way we feel about all our friends? But I loved them most of the time. Of course, I was naïve: this was before I moved to New York and became exposed to all the wildly chivalrous and unbendingly considerate flower-senders and door-holders there.

I say "erroneously labeled" because the suffix in lacrosstitute implies a certain barter system in which I took no (fine: little) part. Partially because the laxers were my friends-but mostly because I knew too much-I avoided becoming a character in their trumped up kiss-and-tells, although I'd usually hear the lurid details of their "trips to jackhammerville" the next day during a Burger King run. This was the era of the Shaq Pack, mind you, and those cheese fries were delish.

My buddies in college were funny and brash and fiercely competitive. A casual game of backyard bocce once escalated into a high stakes showdown of shouted expletives and shrieking egos (in a good way though!) and one time I picked up a remarkable amount of social currency by balancing on the back two legs of my library chair for the longest out of anyone.

A number of my friends drove Wranglers, and one of them was named Tap. (The driver of the car, not the car.) Several were man enough to be in a cappella groups. One guy had a sub named after him by a local pizza parlor. Most of them have since been laid off by investment banks.

Many of these guys were surprisingly creative but opted to use their powers for evil. A girl who always looked tanned and thin and smoking hot the first few weeks of school but lost her luster as the semester progressed was declared the "Mackinaw Peach." I mistakenly assumed for years that the nickname "Chrome," bestowed upon one of my classmates, had something to do with the color of her hair. I was wrong. "Her face looks like she's missing a chromosome," someone explained. (I have to say, he had a point.)

Only with hindsight do I see the cumulative toll that such prolonged exposure to these stories and one-offs has taken on my psyche. If this is how these guys talked about those girls, I now consider, what on earth would they have to say about me?

So when I first heard the rumblings that some laxers at Duke had assaulted a stripper, I wasn't entirely surprised. I hadn't heard the details, but I nodded at the timing: during spring break as the team idled, bored on an otherwise empty campus. I had heard vague stories of similar parties with similar supplemental entertainment that had taken place on my own campus and been populated by my own friends, and these vague stories had included vague details that suggested that not every person in attendance had behaved as a perfect gentleman should.


The Duke Lacrosse rape incident wrapped up, into one very ugly and heavy burlap package, so many of the things we know and hate from the last ten years of our lives. Race, class, sex and sports? A raging and judgmental group of academic elites? A salivating media corps? A vengeful prosecutor with suspicious political motives? All this and more.

Nine days after the exotic dancer, Crystal Mangum, went to authorities with the ever-changing details of her ordeal, 46 of 47 members of the team provided DNA swabs to authorities per a court order (the 47th, who was black, was exempted from the trip).

I imagined my own friends, in their various permutations of athletic warm-ups, filing into the police station as if it were a stadium. The whole team would have been present in that scenario: all of them were white.

NANCY GRACE: OK, wait a minute. Wait a minute. … David Foley, if they're innocent, why not cooperate? Why stall? Why did they have to have a court order for 46 or 47 lacrosse members to give DNA? It's very simple. You take something that looks like a Q-tip. You swab the inside of your mouth. It's nothing more than like a doctor looking for a sore throat. Why? Why wouldn't they give their DNA? Let's think about it, Dave Foley! Give me your best shot.
DAVE FOLEY, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, Nancy, in terms of this, we're dealing with young people, OK, who are not necessarily familiar with the law, number one. So they need to have their legal rights…
GRACE: You're kidding, right?
FOLEY: No, I'm not kidding.
GRACE: Because, you know, at age 17, you know where my father was? He was on a fighter ship halfway around the world, representing his country, about to die for his country. You know what? Don't talk to me about how young they are, all right?
FOLEY: Well, they're…
GRACE: These are the elite members…
FOLEY: … lacrosse players at Duke.
GRACE: … of the lacrosse team.
FOLEY: … But the bottom line is they're not familiar with legal procedure, and so forth. As we know, they have to produce driver's license, identification and so forth, but they don't have to give statements or answer questions regarding these matters. And they could potentially be charged if they gave false information or misleading information, so…
GRACE: Well, why would they do that? Why would you go to a cop in an alleged gang rape case, say, and lie and give misleading information? I don't know — where's that coming from? You think they're…
FOLEY: Because, Nancy, you'd be nervous, and some — especially when you're dealing with people, let's say…
GRACE: I think you're nervous.
FOLEY: … trying to protect their friends, and so forth. So…
GRACE: You seem nervous to me. You're nervous. And you know why? Because there's really no good reason why, if you're innocent, you won't go forward and go, Hey, you want my DNA? Take it. I insist.

Nancy Grace is hardly proxy for the media at large. But the above interview took place on the very same day that the more levelheaded Times writer Selena Roberts penned her own scathing missive against the Duke lacrosse players, comparing them first to "drug dealers and gang members engaged in an anti-snitch campaign" before settling on "a group of privileged players of fine pedigree entangled in a night that threatens to belie their social standing as human beings."

By mid-April two of these questionable human beings, Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann, had been picked out of a photo lineup composed entirely of members of their team-defense attorneys later likened it to "a multiple choice test with no wrong answers"-and formally charged with first-degree rape, sexual offense, and kidnapping. Not good news for their social standing! Nor was making the cover of Newsweek.


In the weeks that followed, a second round of DNA results found no conclusive matches to any of the 46 lacrosse players. (DA Mike Nifong had shrugged off the negative results of the first test: "Maybe they were wearing condoms.") Further bolstering the defense's case was the near minute-by-minute alibi, backed up by phone, ATM and Duke access card records, that rendered Seligmann's involvement all but impossible. Several writers and bloggers, Brooklyn College history professor KC Johnson chief among them, began meticulously outlining the prosecution's various inconsistencies and transgressions.

Nifong, meanwhile, won the Democratic primary for reelection and then called a press conference to announce the indictment of a third player: team captain David Evans.


The guys I knew actually were criminals.

The high score list on the Photo Hunt machine at our beloved local hotel bar was so hotly contested that one night my friend Nate smuggled the entire terminal out a side door and into the getaway Dodge Caravan, a hand-me-down from his mom. I knew his mother well: she appeared at every game, festooned in various regalia bearing his number, and she always set up hoagies outside the locker room and sent me home with a Gladware full of brownies.

Anyway, we no longer had to leave the lax house to play Photo Hunt after that night.


As with most collegiate sports, the lacrosse world is fairly small. My best friend Sarah, herself a laxer in college, had just been introduced to a "super nice" Long Island family with five children and was set to spend the summer as a nanny for the two youngest girls before she went off to med school. The family was the Finnertys, as it turned out. Collin was their middle child.

"People think that I have the toughest time," Collin would tell a Raleigh Metro reporter, "but it's harder for my mom. I'll be happy to see her sitting on a beach or some place, not having to think about this. When it's over, I'll be happy to see my whole family relieved, but especially for my mom."

"Dude," exclaimed my friend Brendan over the phone after the names of the accused hit the news. "I know Reade Seligmann from Delbarton. He's seriously the best."

I murmured sympathetically.

"No, I'm serious," Brendan said. "Like, genuinely the nicest dude. The nicest dude. He's so nice he makes ME look like an asshole. And I'm not an asshole!" He paused. "Wait. Am I an asshole?"

Brendan was not an asshole; he would never hurt a fly. But he would grab pizza off a strange girl's plate after way too many drinks, take a giant chomp, throw the remnants back down… and then smack her on the ass. I'd seen this happen more than once.

"Lacrosse players at Duke have generally excellent grades, almost always graduate and often find jobs waiting for them on Wall Street," conceded Newsweek magazine in the "Sex, Lies and Duke" cover story. And…

But they have a reputation for swagger and rowdiness, according to The Chronicle, the student newspaper, which wrote last week, "Players frequently walk around with girls-sometimes called 'lacrosstitutes' by their peers-in tow," and have been known to kick in doors and urinate out windows. History professor Peter Wood, who often has lacrosse players in his course on Native Americans (who invented the game), complained that team members sometimes signed in to class and then walked out, without bothering to sit down.

Setting aside the fact that a great many college students who have neither heard the phrase "long stick middie" nor tried to use it as an innuendo have themselves been known to kick in doors and urinate out windows and bounce from class (I've done at least two of the three myself, and I don't even think I was "in tow" at the time), this characterization is, as they say, not wrong.

There's conduct unbecoming, though, and then there's allegations of violent, strangling, 30-minute gang rape perpetrated by as few as two and as many as 20 members of a team, depending on when you asked.

A year after the first indictments were handed down, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, calling Nifong a "rogue prosecutor," dropped all charges against Finnerty, Seligmann and Evans. "We believe that these cases were the result of a tragic rush to accuse and a failure to verify serious allegations," Cooper said. "And in the rush to condemn, a community and a state lost the ability to see clearly."

In June of 2007, Seligmann was one of several people who testified at the formal ethics hearing that would ultimately lead to the disbarment of Mike Nifong. Voice breaking, he described the moment (at the 4:40 mark) that he learned he'd been identified by the accuser.

"The first thing I thought about was, you know… how am I going to tell my mom?"

Katie Bakes writes on the Internet.

56 Comments / Post A Comment

kiamatthews (#2,192)

All of this and fine and good and I'm sure most lax guys are upstanding gentlemen of high breeding – but I'd bet all my Apple brand computing devices that there are sexual assaults a-plenty with that team of douche nozzles.

(Ok, as a Terp I may or may not hate Duke with every fiber of my being and that may or may not biasing me.)

ohwell (#2,756)

Nope, sorry. The definitive female perspective on the Duke rape case was published in Rolling Stone's "Sex & Scandal at Duke" a few years ago.

This reads like a slightly more thoughtful version of one anonymous co-ed's opinion of the case: "many female students at the university don't have much to say on the matter. They are keenly aware of the situation, of course — some might say obsessed with it — but most are "reserving judgment," as one woman tells me. Many of the women I spoke to say they are deeply concerned for the lacrosse team, whose "lives have been totally ruined." They are not overly concerned for the victim, who, many girls point out, was a stripper. The boys, they add, were the kinds of guys who could get any girl they wanted. "They don't need to stoop to that level in order to have sex with somebody," one girl, a junior, tells me."

katiebakes (#32)

That reminds me: an interesting storyline in the whole thing was the response by the women's lacrosse team. There's a pretty comprehensive, if a bit too laudatory, summary here:

fek (#93)

"Nope, sorry." Assholes! They breed on the internet.

Who said Katie was trying to write the "definitive female perspective" of this case in the first place? And why do you even feel the need to compare this piece to that story published in Rolling Stone?

The Rolling Stone story takes an entirely different perspective on this case – it's all about drunken sex involving Duke lacrosse players. (Here's a link, by the way, since you failed to provide one:

More importantly, that piece was published in mid-2006, BEFORE the Duke players were exonerated – back when most of the media assumed the players were guilty. And judging from the tone of the Rolling Stone story, its author – Janet Reitman – seemed to be assuming the accused were guilty, too.

Dear "Nope sorry": Nope, sorry, the definitive moronic comment by someone who kept him or herself willfully ignorant of the context of the words upon which he was commenting was written in like 1996 on like Slate or Salon or some shit.

lumazur (#1,806)

"I kind of hated them too, whenever I was not busy loving them. Isn't that kind of the way we feel about all our friends?" word. and nicely put.


kneetoe (#1,881)

And why not throw in family alongside friends, although there's not always the love part.

LolCait (#460)

The fact that Nancy Grace called in sick to work the day the kids were cleared, letting some replacement apologize for her witch hunting, is just so telling.

She thought it was an entertaining, open-and-shut case and thoroughly had fun loudly braying about it, factlessly, every day. And then she realized she was talking about real people and real consequences. Oops!

ae38 (#1,097)

My perspective of this is colored by having been roofied in college by a bunch of your typical aggro/douchebaggy guys I thought were friends (though thankfully, having had the sense to make sure I had a sober friend with me at parties) and having watched the documentary 'Raw Deal' shortly after it came out in 2001. I guess I've always imagined what happened with the Lacrosse boys to being similar to what happened with Lisa King at UF w/ the frat brothers than being inclined to clear them of all wrong doing – but clearly I have my biases. I think white men in college, especially the expensive and private kind, have an overwhelming sense of entitlement that when mixed with alcohol and mob-mentality can lead to some really shitty things happen. So in a way, while she can be tasteless and way off, I thank the Nancy Grace's of the world for shedding light to these things when possible so that women, like myself, know the importance of having the proper safeguards in place so they are not caught up in precarious situations.

Fredrick (#268)

Probably the worst part is that the accusations were truly false, because guys like we've been talking about will go, "See, bitches be lying!" There are real rapes that go unreported, then there's shit like this, and it's really bad for everyone.

crotchety (#594)

Not just white men in college. Maybe it's got something to do with athletics.

Women should know the importance of having the proper safeguards in place, it's true. But men should also. I know that if I'd have been a parent of one of the lacrosse players my first question to my kid would have been why he exposed himself to such accusations in the first place.

brianvan (#149)

But what about Kobe Bryant? Whose story is pretty much the opposite of this, and is just as regrettable a memory from this decade.

Fredrick (#268)

YOU write it. You're #149; that's like VIP or something.

Pintonator (#2,236)

God. It's amazing, isn't it, how thoroughly that vanished? Back on video game spots, back on Nike spots. Tiger Woods, though–who is alleged to have raped exactly zero people–is endorsement toxin.

Between seeing Kobe Bryant on that stupid video game ad all the time, there actually being some kind of debate on Roman Polanski, the terrible high school gang rape in California, and abortion rights getting hocked in the health care negotiations, this fall just felt like one long scream of cultural misogyny to me. I mean, even more so than usual.

What a great, thoughtful piece.

I'd forgotten all about the Duke "rape" story. And I agree that, having happened smack in the middle of the decade, it kind of sums so many of the things that were wrong about it.


When the Duke case went down I had that weird double pang of recognition too. I grew up around similarly entitled, raucous league of white boys. Most I knew to be decent, a couple I thought were dangerous (ie Hollywood). There was also a fear that there was going to be a severe rush to prosecute and more lives would be destroyed.

What was so infuriating about the case –that you mentioned here– was that if a girl was indeed gang raped then the the case should be taken incredibly seriously with rigorous investigation rather than lassoing in as many possible culprits. And to dole out punishment swiftly but without certainty.

I think this piece thoughtfully highlighted how impulsiveness can be detrimental to justice and what hysteria can manifest when sexual crimes cut across racial and sexual lines.

Fantastically done.

kneetoe (#1,881)

Also, the potential for politics to seriously screw things up. The fact that the guy was running in the primary at that moment and could scapegoat a group of people to his political advantage b/c (1) they were generally disliked by the locals (ond often, I'm sure, for good reason) and (2) non-voters no doubt greatly added to the fucked-up-ness of this prosecution.

MatthewGallaway (#1,239)

I agree with Mr. Hippity and NVC. For me, the appeal of this piece is that Katie Bakes wrote about it through the prism of her own experience as someone who for better or worse (and in this regard, she admirably expresses ambivalence) hung out with jocks, which is the opposite of so much tedious and small-minded 'journalism' (and clueless comments) that attempt/s to extend the personal/isolated to the general, with the misguided effect of adding to the frenzy and illuminating nothing.

karion (#11)

So, so good. Loved every word of this, and the tone is amazing.

fek (#93)

STRONGLY AGREE. Worth noting: John Patrick Shanley's DOUBT won the Pulitzer for Drama a little under a year before this happened, though, whereas priests do have a well-cultivated reputation for being molesters, LAX players' reputations as rapists wasn't something people thought about until this happened: they were just ostensibly guilty, power-corrupt mostly white jocks. And as it turned out: they weren't. Imagine that. So…Where'd the schadenfreude come from when this was happening? The liberal voices in America – civil liberties proponents, too – wanted these guys burned at the stake until they were proven innocent. Why?

Abe Sauer (#148)

My comment is completely technical. Is this Katie Bakes the same as Katie Baker a sportswriter re: Yale LAX amongst many other Deadspin etc. stories. And if so, why write about things tangential to the above (such as the Roethlisberger rape allegations and the Erin Andrews scandal) under the name "Baker" and then this under "Bakes" with little transparency as to these two authors being the same person. I don't get it.

Unless they are NOT the same people, in which case, bizarre coincidence.

Bakes and Baker are the same person. It comes out of the Before Time when we all had commenter handles and a certain level of informality. I generally go by Natasha VC because it's neater and hyphens mess up code etc. Bakes is a nickname we have thrust upon Katie Baker. (Better than 'chick in sundress')

She's actually written a piece for The Awl under her real name too:

Hopefully "Iced Out With Katie Baker" is a series, and we'll see another installment soon?

Side note of Iced Out: I watched the preliminaries for the women's ice skating competish. OMG, it's going to be an absolute BLOOD BATH. A blood bath wrapped in spandex and schlacked in GLITTER.

katiebakes (#32)

Wow, someone actually reads my Mediaite columns!

Fear not, there is no threatening conspiracy afoot. My Tumblr and Gmail and IM and everything handle is "katiebakes" and so that is just how the Awlers That Be put up the post I presume.

fek (#93)

Abram Sauer : Katie Baker :: Abe Sauer : Katie Bakes

I miss doing those. I wish I had more opportunities to do more of these

Abe Sauer (#148)

If so, you should probably find another opportunity to practice because you're doing it wrong.

infiity (#2,761)

I really liked reading the wiki article about Mike Nifong. Their lawyers are still going after him, to extract their legal fees.

Ceep (#2,759)

Ahh, the Duke lacrosse case. Even after four years, I'm surprised to read such a well-written, lucid reflection on it.

I arrived at Duke as a freshman in the fall of 2006, to a community still reeling from the haranguing given it by the national media and attempting rather desperately to rebuild frayed relations with Durham. The faculty and student body had already plunged head first into almost three years of masochistic self-analysis (seriously, pick up any issue of The Chronicle from 2006 to spring, 2009), and it seemed everyone had developed a siege mentality, which I soon adopted.

This piece captures incredibly well the ambivalence most of us there felt in the aftermath: anger at a media that was virtually salivating to indict these students and, by extension, the entire campus and recognition (in my case spurred by that uniquely southern brand of white, liberal guilt) that the accusations, however untrue, revealed serious problems with our campus culture that we needed to address.

That's the tragedy of this entire situation, I think (aside from public flagellation of three innocent boys). In one-upping itself with tales of alleged atrocities committed by these privileged, white young men, the media created a lurid, national spectacle of something that could have been treated soberly, harmed relatively few people and provided true fodder for productive self-examination.

Of course, now that basketball season has started, lacrosse is the farthest thing from our minds.

petejayhawk (#1,249)

Having been a member of a lax-heavy fraternity at KU (see username plz) and a resident of the Illinois State rugby house, and as one who counts amongst his friends alumni of both organizations, I am qualified to say that rugby players are much more fun than lax players, at least at midwest state schools. Your experience may vary, and that wasn't the point of this article anyways, so yeah…

Great jorb on all your writins' this weekend, Katie. It's made this post-holiday awfulness much more palatable.

mickeyitaliano (#2,202)

Great post, but the lesson is this…we can not arrest or throw the book at someone for just being an asshole. You have to catch them in the act. The jails would be full of these nefarious, A&F looking guys.

jails = my dreamz.

Tulletilsynet (#333)

Jails full of suburban athletards — you know what? This is not really something that would bring down our society. — Maybe you can't (oughtn't) arrest somebody for being a fratty jock asshole, but you can be alert. Also, you can try to do a better job of not systematically rewarding young men for being self-indulgent pricks.

Dan Kois (#646)

This was really interesting.

timfuck (#931)

I didn't know Duke students were "privileged." Harvard students seem privileged, yes. But I wouldn't consider Duke students as being part of the priviliged class. Only somebody who has dirt floors and a zinc roof would think Duke students are "privileged." That just seems like a very odd thing to say.

ae38 (#1,097)

Are you serious?? Okay, I am deciding to assume you speak with heavy sarcasm so my mind isn't blown. (And if you're serious, get a clue. I would bet good money that Harvard has more students who qualify for Financial Aid than Duke does.)

oudemia (#177)

Yeah, either sarcastic or a Tarheel.

katiebakes (#32)

This Wall Street Journal article (about a girl who went to my high school!) might be of interest to you guys.

According to one news piece I read, one of the accused Duke Lacrosse players was the son of a New York City Fireman.

katiebakes (#32)

Hippity: I think three were!

sigerson (#179)

Try to remember that something like 3 out of 4 Americans have never attended college, much less graduated from a top private university with strong post-grad placement at bulge bracket Wall Street investment banks. Perception of "privilege" is all relative and most of our countrymen would look at a Duke graduate with some mixture of respect, envy and hatred.

Tulletilsynet (#333)

Thanks for that dash of reality, Sigerson.

Parrish (#2,766)

We learned nothing from the lax case except that human nature never changes. In 1931 nine black men were charged in Scottsboro with rape by two prostitutes who wanted to avoid getting into trouble with the law. Society believed them, because the stereotypes (virtuous white women, rapacious poor black men) convinced them that the accusations had to be true.

Fast forward 75 years, and change the colors. Now it was “white privileged jocks”; and merely to describe their alleged offense was enough for society to be convinced of their guilt.

In fact the accused didn’t fit the stereotype. The father of one was raised by a black family, making his putative grandparents black. The father of another was born poor, but when he made his fortune he spent a portion of it building medical clinics in Africa. The scions of such homes don’t usually turn into racially insensitive brutes. (But no matter; in some cases, as with Scottsboro, society demands a guilty verdict, “because some cases are too important for innocence to be allowed as a defense”.)

We all need to remember that humans are too individually unique ever to be meshed into any “group”; and that stereotypes asphyxiate both truth and justice. And that we too are too frail to permit ourselves the temptation of watching a lynch mob–because we just might succomb and join in.

(author, “The Duke Lacrosse Case: A Documentary History and Analysis of the Modern Scottsboro”)

bb (#295)

right, and the obvious miscarriage of justice bolstered a growing movement of people no longer willing to endure their race's subjugation, making the case a milestone in a civil rights movement to develop over future decades…
oh, wait.

A post gets the comments it deserves. Thanks to both of you!

son of spam (#1,163)

Small world indeed. When I heard that Colin Finnerty was name as a suspect, I knew the charges were bullshit. I know the family well. Yes, his mother is as nice as they come. The family is a very grounded, considerate, charitable family and anyone who has met them picks up on it immediately. Anyway, fuck you to Nancy Grace, fuck you especially to Selena Roberts, who wrote a column attacking the players after it was absolutely clear that the charges were BS, and fuck you to all those people who still try to prove some point on the backs of the innocent people. Nifong, for all of his worthlessness, is the only one who has paid for his sins, but fuck him too.

ronald (#2,767)

Um, how about fuck Crystal Magnum, the worthless crackhead prostitute who started this whole mess?

son of spam (#1,163)

She's got enough problems without me hating on her.

son of spam (#1,163)

(Meant to reply to ronald. Fuck me.)

sigerson (#179)

Katiebakes — let me join in the accolades and encomiums on a great piece of writing. Bravo.

bb (#295)

this is so great because even though I hated the LAX players (in groups) during my east coast upbringing and education, and probably sneered at a lacrossetitute or two in my day too, no one can really deny that feeling when people you know come under judgment, and you are not 100% sure the charges are wrong, but you still love them.

NinetyNine (#98)

I hate almost this entire comment thread (not the post!). But I'm glad it's proving the Internet is as mean as ever.

StetAtkins (#279)

Enjoyed the post, but I have to take issue with Katie's definition of an asshole.

Anyone who grabs a stranger's pizza, takes a bite, and then thanks them with a smack on the ass, sounds like the worst kind of asshole. He also starts sentences with "like" and says "seriously" too much. That's three strikes against Brendan, which, by the way, is a name reserved exclusively for entitled assholes.

Maybe I'm confusing privileged pricks for entitled assholes again, but I don't think so.

SpeedyGonzalas (#3,348)

This was nice.I couldn't help but defend those guys myself. It just seemed so off from day 1 and I have to say I hate Screamin' Lady Grace.

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