It's finals week, which can only mean one thing: dozens of students at a university with none-too-stringent admissions standards, a "the customer is always right" attitude toward student evaluation, and staggering grade inflation whining, pleading, or negotiating for higher grades. What follows is an actual email from a 19 year old freshman in a mandatory Intro American Government course. The last two sentences in particular are amazing (emphasis mine).

I received a (redacted grade) in your class. My grade is an error because of discriminatory inconsistencies in requirements between the separate breakout sessions. I was in (redacted)'s breakout session and though he was a great teacher, the work he assigned differed greatly from other breakout sessions. There were additional tasks assigned to my class that were inconsistent with the level of effort versus other classes. For example one TAs breakout session was based solely on attendance; I went to every breakout session, therefore i would have received a 100% in that class. If i was graded according to the other break out sessions i would have received a 100%. I expect my breakout session grade to be changed to 100%, due to the fact that i feel my grade my discriminatory. This grade is an error, and i expect this error to be corrected because of the points above, and due to inconsistent requirements.

A couple things.

First, the student did not bother to note that if I agreed to her request and changed the grade to 100, it would not make enough of a difference to raise her course grade. Right off the bat this entire exercise is a moot point, but I suppose Special Princess never learned how to do math.

Second, all grades from discussion sections are adjusted so that there are no discrepancies among different teaching assistants, each of whom has discretion over his or her own sections.

Third, nice attitude you've got there, asshead. In my response, I politely suggested that she reconsider her tone, phrasing, and attitude of entitlement when making such requests in the future. Frankly I'm just proud of myself for not finding her and hitting her over the head with a cast iron frying pan, cartoon-style.

I haven't been teaching long enough to say whether this type of thing is becoming more or less common. One thing is for certain, though; it happens a lot. Regularly, even. I read or hear things like this all the time and my mind goes to Joe Pesci in Raging Bull: Where do you get the balls big enough to ask me that?

By now we're all used to students who think that showing up entitles them to an A and every time they pester me I try to imagine what sort of sequence of events and influences would need to come together to make someone a douchebag of this magnitude. This is a truly awful human being, and she will make your life unpleasant eventually. She'll flip out, yell at the manager, and leave a 5-cent tip because you forgot her ranch dressing. She'll wait until you install her new carpeting and then refuse to pay for it because the color isn't right. She'll call tech support and scream at you because she's too stupid to figure out how to use her cell phone. She'll spend the greater part of what will only loosely be labeled "adulthood" suing or threatening to sue people – neighbors, employers, employees, family members, and random strangers. She will talk on her phone in movie theaters, cut you off in traffic, and fight with the Little League coach if Dakota and McKenzie don't play enough.

The scary part is that the student is taking this approach, most likely, because it has worked before. This is how some of these kids learn to get through life – their options are to attempt to solve the problem with money or flirting or, failing that, to threaten to have Daddy hire a lawyer. The world today makes more sense if you picture the adult version of this student on the other end of the phone the next time you try to resolve a problem.

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91 Responses to “BALLS”

  1. DB Says:

    Sifu Snafu,

    I characterized specific aspects of the post as conservative-esque; I didn't accuse Ed of being some sort of closet conservative. I think that everyone—myself included—has points on which they're unreasonable and/or dicks (which = conservative-esque in many cases), so I don't view my charge as casting much of an aspersion on him, since I think we're all guilty of it.

    As for the hyperbole and humor bit, fuck that shit; I'm sick of people playing that card as a way of deflecting criticism. I suppose the fact that his post was presented as a rant should be kept in mind here—but then again, when someone goes off on an over the top diatribe, a proper response is: "dude, chill the fuck out", and

  2. DB Says:

    my post was meant in that spirit.

  3. Senescent Says:

    The real question is where the hell did you ever get the idea that the world worked any other way?

  4. Death Panel Truck Says:

    By the time this coathanger gets around to having kids, "Dakota" won't be trendy enough.

    It'll be "Dakotah."

  5. Xynzee Says:

    @DB: you do make valid points. However, it's her petulance that's got her in trouble.

    Something like:

    Dr. X,
    I believe the grade I've received is incorrect. May we set up a time for me to come to discuss it and what I see as an unfair grading policy?
    Sally S.

    See a difference?

    Better yet, instead of firing off an email. Perhaps instead of going to the pool or bar she walked across campus and showed up for Ed's office hours. Showing concern and effort and displaying it by actions can speak volumes.

    If Sally is one of these students who also has to work two jobs so can't make Ed's regular office hours, that can be in the email why a time needs to organised.

    But the email as written will only serve to get anyone's hackles up. If you're going to send a letter of demand, and are too lazy to show up. F-off!

  6. bb in GA Says:


    you must work on your faux southern accent…:-)

    "respect mah authoritah," Uh-Uh

    Maybe "REspeck mah THAR-ty"

    but never, no way, no how "authoritah"


  7. Elle Says:

    you must work on your faux southern accent…

    Ooh, can I work on mine too? I feel that my life would be complete if I sounded like Tami Taylor in Friday Night Lights. Is there some kind of course I could go on?

  8. Sifu Snafu Says:

    DB, or Tenacious DB if I may – if Ed was truly being conservative-esque, he'd have featured the student's name, address, and details of her kitchen countertops prominently in the post.

    "Mockery is just masturbation, why don't you actually do something" is not an argument. It's one-size-fits-all posturing that can be easily adapted to whichever topic one feels is not being taken "seriously" enough for their taste at the moment, hence it's used as a broad-spectrum anti-humor injection in countless comment threads across the great and mighty intertoobs. It can't be read without instantly generating the mental image of a cartoon pouty face with arms crossed beneath it.

  9. Ben Says:

    (Here's my stab at faux southerninity)

    Ah think thaht DeeBeeh ahnd Hahld need tah DEEal width tha INTforMATEshin in tha powst.

    Theere ware proSEETsures to sahlve tha diff-rent kahnduct of tha claasis. Tha greyde wood remain uh Bee pluhs. Ahnd tha STU-dahnt deeMANdid tha greyde be chainged, ahnd ded naht ahhfor tah engaige Ehd innuh discuhshin bout tha greyde.

    Dahnt theese fahctors Ehd prahVIDehd in tha powst sahlve tha prawlbums y'all ha-yave witdth eht?

    (That's really the best I could do. I'm not trying to make fun of southern dialects. When I was writing that I had Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Texas, and Baltimore accents running in my head. I think Jim's impression of Stanley in The Office slipped in there at one point as well. The result probably reads like someone imagining a Dutch person speaking English she had learned from a New Zealander.)

  10. DB Says:


    Again, I'm not condoning what she did; I'm just trying to draw attention to the deeper issues at play here. I agree with you. Obviously, the tone and wording of her letter were both improper and misguided (even in relation simply to achieving her goal). Obviously, she could (and should, even from just a practical, self-interested standpoint) have gone about things differently.

    But the obviousness of those points is part of the reason why I'm getting my panties in a bunch about people dwelling on them. There are so many socio-cultural factors that are implicated in the student's behavior, and it would be so much more interesting and productive to talk about them instead.


    Yeah… I was just thinking Cartman—and then suddenly switched to some sort of hick voice…

    Sifu Snafu,

    Let me finish that first sentence for you: "'Mockery is just masturbation, why don't you actually do something' is not an argument" that I made.

    A. I compared moralizing to masturbation, not mockery. B. I encouraged people to approach the subject in a way that would better our understanding of it and lead to finding (i.e., identifying—not implementing, though the former is obviously a prerequisite to the latter) practical solutions (e.g., ending grade-obsession in conventional schooling); I didn't tell them to "actually do something about it" or dismiss their arguments for not doing so.

    As for the rest of your post, re: anti-humor, look, if Ed's post had just been along the lines of, "hai guyz, look at this stupid person's stupid email LOLOLOL," it would have been one thing—but he and some of the commenters went on to use it as an opportunity to get on a soapbox. At that point, they lost "we're just having lolz—lighten up" indemnity.

  11. botwot Says:

    I once taught a course that was required with a B grade minimal to satisfy prerequisite value ( for whatever reason). I got so many people announcing on Day 1 or 2 they needed a certain grade, already negotiating quite apart from any work yet done.

    I finally resorted to handing out a form on Day 1, Called the XX555 Pre-Negotiation Form

    Part 1 "I need to get grade __ " in this course because … followed by multiple choices like the common explanations (i will have to leave school, i have to graduate by etc. )

    Part 2 "I am afraid I won't get that grade because … followed by things like "I may die", "I am incapable", "I don't do this sort of thing well", stretching things to the ridiculous.

    Part 3 "If I don't get that grade " ….
    MY parents will disown me, etc. , outlandish but somehow possible.

    I told people to fill it out and go home and paste it on their refrigerator and quit acting like getting the grade was all about negotiation and not about course content whatsoever and, by the way, NEVER talk to me about these extraneous things. Do the work.

    I would walk out of the class mid=period on Day 1, warning them that a "Not Nice Person" was going to appear and I would soon return with the forms and a really grim attitude.

    All of which proved Very helpful and provided great advantage when final grades were given, and upon protest I could ask if they remembered that form ….. ?

  12. Major Kong Says:


    The "Respect mah authoritah!" quote is from a South Park episode. They did a spoof of "Cops" where Eric Cartman was acting as the town Sheriff (on his tricycle).

  13. Townsend Harris Says:

    @DiTurno and economic class:
    I can't tell if your analysis is correct, but it's intriguing. I've only adjuncted, and only at CUNY: mostly at a CUNY campus the Washington Monthly describes as "a dropout factory."

    When they're not racing off campus to earn a dollar, CUNY students will sometimes complain, especially the socially-promoted. They often think "B is bad" and the dopey ones don't read the syllabus, expecting I'll grade only for attendance. That's right, I've sometimes got freshmen and sophomores who imagine showing up 80% of the time guarantees them an A. Ouch.

  14. Isocrates Says:

    Not to dissent too much with the sentiments expressed I the post; but with hyper inflation of tuition compared to the practically non-existent or nominal fees for university in most of the rest of the world you can't totally blame students for having the "customer is always right" mentality. Look at it this way, you drop 10 000 on a car, that car isn't the colouration or doesn't have the features you want, youre not gonna "settle" for what, essentially you didn't pay for. Sorry Ed but until the US catches up with the rest of the civilized world in basics like higher education and healthcare, your stand against students is misplaced.

  15. bb in GA Says:

    @Major Kong

    Generation gap for me. Thanks for the cultural update – I haven't ever watched an episode of SP.

    The New York/Hollywood Axis of Weasels has been gettin' it wrong for a long time on that front.

    Thanks again,


  16. Mike Says:

    I dunno, I kind of agree with DB and Hold On.

    Of course the email is absurd. But it was the Very Serious adults who implemented a K-12 system where the only thing that matters getting a good score on the standardized tests, and which further incentivize teachers to "teach to the test."

    So if students get the message that the only purpose of school is to get the grade — well, that's the message that the Very Serious adults intended to convey.

    And then we expect them to go to college and magically acquire "critical thinking" skills.

    Also what Isocrates said. Here in Washington, the UW tuition has gone up 82% over four years, because the state no longer wants to subsidize the luxury of higher education. (

  17. JohnR Says:

    Ed's assignment for today: compare/contrast the attitudes toward pedagogy as shown by the posts in this thread. Use citations where appropriate, and where desirable, attempt to correlate poster's age with poster's attitude towards (a) students and (b) "grade-grubbing". As the sample sizes are so relatively minuscule, consideration of co-ed pron approaches will not be necessary (although perhaps some speculation on whether face-to-face negotiations would be aided by a southern drawl would not be amiss, in line with consideration of the effectiveness of (antiquated) in-person vs (normal) via-e-message negotiations).
    Personally, my only relatively apt contributions would be (1) that as a TA many years ago, I was always willing to stretch a point for students who came to office hours with questions (although these were usually the ones who had the most trouble mastering the material, no matter how much they worked at it). And, (2) a southern drawl in a woman is one of the most knee-weakening sounds I have ever heard. It takes a strong man not to add an extra point for a South Cowlina accent alone (and I speak from authority, as one who almost went to Clemson solely because of the way the departmental secretary answered the phone). For what it's worth, as well, a sense of "agressive entitlement" in students is as old as the hills, and sometimes is a manifestation of other troubles. I found that a relatively gentle response could, on rare occasions, uncover that the real problem was something like fear or poor social skills or something along those lines. These are still kids, after all, no matter how cocky they seem. I was dumb as dirt at that age, and many of my students weren't any better. It's often wise not to make assumptions, no matter how justified they seem to be. Of course, back then we were only overworked rather than overwhelmed; I can see where Ed is coming from. The education system more and more seems to be run for the benefit of the administration rather than the students or faculty. It seems like there are no more colleges in my state, for instance; even Joe's College of Barbecue and Auto Repair is now Joe's University of the Culinary and Mechanical Arts. God help us, every one.

  18. DS Says:

    An 87 is a B+? What the fuck is an A?

  19. sluggo Says:


    Haven't you learned the expression "Bless your heart"? It would have have been the proper response, and leave it at that.

    Translation for those of you who don't live in the south: "you are dumber than a box of hammers, and I hope drop dead today."

  20. mbl Says:

    There are places where an 87 isn't a B+?

    98-100 A+
    93-97 A
    90-92 A-
    87-89 B+

    Minus a bit of quibbling (92s vs. 93s being where A- ends, for example) that's been the grade scale at every school I've ever attended or taught at, except the ones that didn't acknowledge pluses or minuses at all– in which case As universally started at 90%.

  21. oldmunni Says:

    There are places which are not the US:

    90-100 A+
    85-89 A
    80-84 A-
    75-79 B+
    70-74 B
    65-69 B-
    60-64 C+
    55-59 C
    50-54 C-
    <50 F

    Australia (Well, certain universities….)
    80-100 HD (High Distinction)
    70-79 D (Distinction)
    60-69 C (Credit)
    50-59 P (Pass)

    And so on… key feature of these systems…. absence of grade inflation.

  22. ilse Says:

    This attitude is learned, and supported, by parents.

    Below is an excerpt from an email I received from a parent today regarding the 5-7 page English research paper I assigned to my honors high school seniors a month ago that's due in two weeks:

    "Could you please tell me in your own words why you are requiring this five-page paper? Right now, it only seems to be sucking out any
    remains of morale and heaping unnecessary STRESS on a kid who has been an "A" student in English all year long….I don't understand why these English students can't just complete this grading period, reading their last book, doing homework if they must, but just write an occasional paragraph or one- or two-page essay. For Pete's sake, many of these honors kids have AP tests to take, too, or at least other assignments to complete for other academic subjects…. why does this [paper] have to be five or more pages? Why wouldn't three pages be enough for that? It seems to me that it still would require a great deal of thought and organization….I hope you'll reconsider the length, or even the reason, for this end-of-year assignment."

    It took me over an hour to calm down before I could respond civilly.

  23. Major Kong Says:

    Academic tests in the Air Force were pass/fail with 80% being a passing grade. We always said "Anything more than 80% means you studied too hard".

  24. Xynzee Says:

    Just saw this via FB.
    A N. Carolina voter went to show ID to vote and was told she didn't need to as, "You have an honest face."

    Hmmm… or a late 40s, white female face would be the real sub-text.

    That is all, you may now return to telling the kids of today to get off your lawns and how thankful you were to even to have dirt to eat. :D

  25. DB Says:

    So, I've been thinking about my comments in this discussion, and I realized that if Ed were to have written a similar post on just about any other subject (e.g., some instance of conservatives acting like idiots), I would have just joined in on the fun of bashing the target of his wrath, and I wouldn't have brought up my whole "let's just try to understand the causes and context" spiel, even though it would have been equally applicable.

    Which is a long way of saying that although I stand by what I said, I realize that A. I'm a hypocrite and B. like most people, I see a need for a nuanced, fair, rational, empathetic, etc. approach only when it comes to my own pet issues.

  26. Elle Says:

    There are places where an 87 isn't a B+?

    Yes. At my university (I graduated in 2001), a B was between 60-69%. Students needed a B in second year to get into the final two honours years of the degree I took, and maybe half of people didn't get that. (Students taking arts degrees, as distinct from science degrees, had to take two level two courses in second year, so most people had a fallback honours class, as well as the possibility of taking an 'ordinary' bachelors degree. Honours history let you in with a C.)

    There were only two people in my undergraduate class who ever got a mark higher than 80% in our final two years, and they only managed that once each.

    My university is ancient, hard to get into, and all about academics. There is something amazing about getting an A from someone who is an authority in the subject you're reading, when you know that hardly anyone else did.

  27. Mike Says:

    DB: I just remember what an idiot I was at that age, and the number of times that I might have benefitted from the wisdom of an adult. (Not that I would have heeded it, in all likelihood.)

    … Whereas the parent that emailed Ilse should really know better. (Five pages???)

  28. Arslan Says:

    Obviously I can't stand the sense of entitlement. But on the other hand, if universities today are going to act more like businesses they might as well act like it.

  29. Larry Wilcoxx Says:

    Totally OT

    Hey Ed,

    I went to grad school at UGA and now I'm in Louisiana (egads). I'm going rafting on the Chatooga River in two weeks with a buddy and are planning on hanging out in Athens with a friend I haven't seen for ages. Where's a good place for dinner and to see a band now? It's been almost 20 years since I was there…Jeebus, I'm getting old.

  30. prosopopeia Says:

    1. Reading the post and some of the earlier comments, I was (once again) struck by the misogyny—first veiled, then all-too open—that sometimes characterizes this blog. I'm glad to see some later commenters pointed this out. In my experience, students pushing for better grades tend to be pretty obnoxious regardless of gender. I will grant Ed that this email is unusually offensive, demanding and entitled in its tone and language, but this does not seem to me to legitimize inferences about this student's name, family, socio-economic background, sluttiness, future plans in DC, or whether or not she has VD.

    2. I also have to emphasize, having taught many large lecture courses, that students are OBSESSED with fairness in grading, and that—as obnoxious as her tone may be—she has a legitimate complaint. I don't understand how it is possible that you are teaching a multi-section course in which you have allowed your TAs to adopt their own idiosyncratic grading procedures (100% for attendance, 0% for quality of work?). This sounds to me like a slam dunk case in favor of the student if it were brought to the Capricious Grading Committee that I chair. I don't see in what way grades could ever be "adjusted" to be comparable if TA #1 is grading essays based on their use of logical reasoning and clear, expressive language, while TA #2 is grading on the basis of the font used, multiplied by the number of times the word "polar bear" appeared in the essay.

    3. Finally, I understand very clearly the temptation to start a tumblr for "sh*t my students say," or to post the worst lines from their essays to Facebook, because—let's face it—this time of year can be very frustrating. Realizing how many students made it to college unable to learn the simplest of concepts or compose an even remotely readable sentence is demoralizing. I have a student this semester who did not know to answer a "why…?" question with something that included the word "because," and despite my efforts, has still not learned. But I do not post their bad answers to the internet for everyone to see, and I wince every time I see graduate students doing this on Facebook. It is a juvenile move to mock someone twenty years your junior for their lack of worldly knowledge, and a violation of Federal standards regarding student privacy.

    Ed, you should take this post down. If the student found it, you would certainly be sanctioned—at my university, you would probably be fired. Just because you can copy and paste something doesn't mean that it isn't a private communication between a student and her instructor. You have detailed her grade and posted it on the internet, which is a violation of federal privacy laws that protect students from having their grades publicized without their consent. If any of her classmates read this they would almost certainly be able to identify her, since even with the redactions, they would know what section she was in. Take the post down, and don't do this again. If you have to complain about a student (and God knows, I have to a lot, especially in May), keep it off the internet—and if you have to complain about on the internet, don't quote private emails and student papers.

  31. dave Says:

    Long time reader, I have to chime in and add to the critical comments.

    The American university system functions as a high-stakes employment sorting mechanism funneling into a shrinking pool of opportunities. Students know that the disempowered academic underclass can often be bullied into changing grades. Given the stakes, and the absurdity of the system, its stupid not to fight for every advantage.

    Don't hate the player, hate the game.

    Honestly, Ed, if the post-secondary student body were limited to kids who have a genuine intellectual curiosity about college-level subject matter, you wouldn't have an academic job at all.

  32. JohnR Says:

    Reading prosopopeia's post, my first reaction was: "misogyny"? She sees misogyny?! Wow – isn't that just like a woman… (*rimshot*) But of course that partly dates back to the time when I was at Brown and the whole "wymyn's" movement got active posting up random male students' names around campus as rapists (because, you know, they were male and probably would rape if they had the chance). You see what you expect to see, whether it's there or not. Personally, I suspect that Ed is no more misogynist than most of us, and maybe not even that much, given that he clearly treated the (female) student with all the politeness he would have given a male student. As for the rest of prosopopeia's post, my only official reaction is that I don't agree with it, and given my strong desire not to further antagonize someone whose feelings may be a trifle delicate (or who is a fine figure of a troll – I can't honestly tell which), I won't characterize it further.

  33. Ellie Says:

    First, what dave said – about the American university system as a high-stakes employment sorting mechanism, the absurdity of it, and how itt mainly "the game" that's to blame, etc.

    Second, yes, I agree that the student in question is clearly immature and foolish in her methods – she obviously doesn't realize that when you want something, it's usually a good idea (not to mention simply courteous) to at least TRY asking nicely first, before escalating to accusations and threats, if for no other reason than it helps you maintain an aura of reasonableness. She not only lacks manners, she lacks the self-serving political savvy that often passes for manners.

    But dave's point still stands. Raging at some student for taking what in context is the most sensible action – however poorly executed – is a too-easy target, IMO. Look at our entire sorting – I mean, "education" system, look at our brutal, zero-sum economy – what else would you expect, other than desperate grubbing for every advantage? Isn't there a much bigger problem here, that's more to the point?

  34. HoosierPoli Says:

    Wow, I'm late to the party. Just wanted to add that I always explain to students that I didn't pull up their essay assuming it was an A and look for things that were wrong. I pulled it up assuming it was a 0 and looking for things that were right. If you don't prove to me that you know something, I assume you don't. I felt that this was how I was graded (when the professor bothered to read my paper at all).

  35. Elle Says:

    Personally, I suspect that Ed is no more misogynist than most of us.

    I assumed she was talking about you, JohnR, and whomever referred to the student as a 'coathanger', and a shrew.

    Still, I'm sure that someone who managed to associate Prosopopeia with false accusations of rape, language policing, misandry, oversensitivity (hysteria?), and finish a fourteen line comment with a burst of derailing for dummies favourite 'are you sure you're not a parody?' faux concern, is definitely best placed to offer a clear-eyed gendered analysis.

  36. Kaleberg Says:

    Then again, sometimes the student is right. A friend of mine is taking an engineering course and worked a tough problem set. She got back her grade and saw she had gotten a major, multi-part problem wrong, so she downloaded the solution. With a few minor differences in the algebra and phrasing, there was the solution she had handed in. She went to office hours and spoke with one of the TAs who looked at her work and told her that she had been graded incorrectly, but that only the TA who entered the grade could change it – sort of the way Greek gods worked so no one god fix the bollix another god made. Of course, that TA was out of town for a few days. She finally confronted him. His response, "I have no idea of what I was thinking." She didn't get quite all the points she felt she deserved, but her grade was much improved.

    The moral of the story is that sometimes TAs burn out just like ordinary people, and that it is sometimes perfectly legitimate to argue about one's grade. You can argue all you want about why she considers grades so important, but there is also the principle of the thing.

  37. Spencer Says:

    I'm kind of surprised at how many people in this thread have suggested that Ed's student has a point about inconsistent grading practices from TA to TA. Apparently, they were so incensed by Ed's massive insensitivity that they were compelled to comment without reading the whole post – which means they likely didn't read this bit in the original:

    "Second, all grades from discussion sections are adjusted so that there are no discrepancies among different teaching assistants, each of whom has discretion over his or her own sections."

    In other words, there is a system in place that accounts for that already. Just because Susie Snowflake doesn't know that or understand how it works, that doesn't make her complaint any more valid.

  38. Mayya Says:

    Xynzee: IDs are not required to vote in North Carolina. One simply states one's name and address. I'm not sure what point the person telling the story was trying to make, but if the woman actually received that comment, the polling-place worker was pulling her leg; neither face-honesty nor ID are necessary.

  39. Ruthie Says:

    Slightly different view: IMHO, the idea that university "students" are "customers" can't die soon enough.

    As for the student's whining about discrimination, last time I checked, the terminally stupid were not a protected class.

    prosopopeia 05/10/2012 11:13

    "I have a student this semester who did not know to answer a "why

  40. Ruthie Says:


    "I have a student this semester who did not know to answer a 'why…?' question with something that included the word "because," and despite my efforts, has still not learned."

    There is no such rule. Why? It's superfluous.

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