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July 09, 2005

Jeanne d'Arc:
Come back, Sister Virginia, come back

Having first heard about evolution forty-odd years ago, in Catholic school, I've always been confused by the fundamentalist concept of an unbridgeable gap between faith and science. I'll admit the way I was taught conjured some odd images. I remember a nun saying that of course evolution explained how human beings got to be human, but as Catholics we had to believe that at some point God intervened and implanted a human soul. As a fifth grader, I imagined God watching each stage of development, marching in order like in those old Time-Life illustrations, thinking --

Definitely not human.

Not quite human.

Ooh. Very close. Maybe a little less hair.

Yeah, that's it. That's my human.

And then he zaps in the soul.

Which is really what it looks like Michelangelo thought he was doing anyway: Zap.

And the image is no stranger than the idea that my half of humanity is nothing but an overgrown rib.

A couple of days ago, Christoph Schönborn, the general editor of the Catholic Church's Catechism, who once could have been a contender (and maybe still will be), had an op-ed in the New York Times which seemed to suggest that evolution was not "compatible with Christian faith."

This would come as a great shock to a lot of Catholics.  The Church's comfort with teaching evolution was only recently reconfirmed:

The heated evolution versus creationism controversy is one battle in the culture wars that U.S. Catholics can watch from the sidelines. As church officials recently put it: "The church does not need to fear the teaching of evolution."

That clear evaluation came in a letter from Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo of Richmond, Va., chair of the Committee on Science and Human Values of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The sidelines appear to be getting a lot closer.

A recent -- although before the fall -- editorial in the Jesuit magazine America put it well, I think:

Genesis and Darwinism are not alternates, but complementary. They are talking about different things in different ways. Genesis uses the figurative language of creation myths to teach one supreme truth: The universe and all it contains was created and is kept existing and developing by the absolute and incomprehensible God. The Bible does not intend to explain how present complex forms descended from earlier and simpler ones nor how long this process has taken. Evolution, on the other hand, describes the ways in which this unfolding took place. Science does not and cannot answer the question of why there happens to be any universe at all.

I read Cardinal Schönborn's piece twice, trying to figure out if his point was less incendiary than it first seemed. Perhaps he was merely evoking Sister Virginia's old caveat: Study the mechanism, but don't forget that God is part of the process. It seemed to be going well beyond that, but I didn't want to over-read it.

But it turns out the background on how the op-ed came to be is even more disturbing than the essay itself:

One of the strongest advocates of teaching alternatives to evolution is the Discovery Institute in Seattle, which promotes the idea, termed intelligent design, that the variety and complexity of life on earth cannot be explained except through the intervention of a designer of some sort.

Mark Ryland, a vice president of the institute, said in an interview that he had urged the cardinal to write the essay. Both Mr. Ryland and Cardinal Schönborn said that an essay in May in The Times about the compatibility of religion and evolutionary theory by Lawrence M. Krauss, a physicist at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, suggested to them that it was time to clarify the church's position on evolution.

The cardinal's essay was submitted to The Times by a Virginia public relations firm, Creative Response Concepts, which also represents the Discovery Institute.

Mr. Ryland, who said he knew the cardinal through the International Theological Institute in Gaming, Austria, where he is chancellor and Mr. Ryland is on the board, said supporters of intelligent design were "very excited" that a church leader had taken a position opposing Darwinian evolution. "It clarified that in some sense the Catholics aren't fine with it," he said.

Glenn Branch, deputy director of the National Center for Science Education, says it looks like Cardinal Schönborn has been reading the talking points on the Discovery Institute's web page, and now that he mentions it, the essay does sound a lot more like that than like anything anyone has learned about evolution in Catholic schools in the past forty years or so. And it looks less like an attempt to clarify the Church's position than another swoon into the arms of the Christianists.

It's really sad when a 2,000-year-old Church starts going through a mid-life crisis and following its offsprings' fads.

 

--------------------

July 08, 2005

Greg Saunders:
Shameful Context

I dunno about you guys, but I find it embarrasing to think that we live in a country that's so self-obsessed that every mass tragedy is followed up with a story about how many Americans were affected. Knowing the national identity of the people affted by yesterday's mass murders changes nothing about the way I feel. Every death is tragic.

Jeanne d'Arc:
"Ideas intended to help Americans resist abuse spread to Americans who used them to perpetrate abuse."

If you've been wondering why the same torture techniques seem to turn up every place our military holds prisoners, Jane Mayer may have the answer in this week's New Yorker. Behavioral scientists working in the SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) program, used since the end of the Korean War to help American military personnel withstand torture, have been working with interrogators to teach them some of the techniques we feared American soldiers might face if they were captured.

The article expands on recent reporting on the role doctors and mental health professionals have played in interrogations at Guantánamo. And it clarifies a great deal about the techniques used:

[T]he program is a storehouse of knowledge about coercive methods of interrogation. One way to stimulate acute anxiety, SERE scientists have learned, is to create an environment of radical uncertainty: trainees are hooded; their sleep patterns are disrupted; they are starved for extended periods; they are stripped of their clothes; they are exposed to extreme temperatures; and they are subjected to harsh interrogations.

Sound familiar? There's another coercive devise we've recently heard a lot about in the SERE toolkit:

One component of the training program, called the "religious dilemma," parallels Guantánamo detainees' chronic complaints about Koran abuse. At SERE, trainees in the Level C course are given the choice of seeing a Bible desecrated or revealing secrets to interrogators. "They are challenging your faith," the SERE affiliate explained. "The Holy Book is torn up. They say they'll stop if  you talk. Sometimes they rip up the Bible and throw it in the air." The goal is to make detainees react emotionally to the desecration. Some trainees who are devout Christians become profoundly disturbed during the exercise.

The SERE program also uses waterboarding, continual bombardment by loud noise, and sexual humiliation.

Several sources told Mayer that psychologists trained in SERE techniques had advised interrogators  at Guantánamo and elsewhere.

One of the most disturbing things about the article is its suggestion that what started out as a stupid means of getting information evolved into pure sadism. As a retired colonel who attended a SERE school as part of his Special Forces training said, "If you did too much of that stuff, you could really get to like it. You can manipulate people. And most people like power."

Worse, when you get to like it, you start finding ways to convince yourself it works. The Boston Globe recently reported on a conference of "spooks, lawmakers, gadget geeks, and military interrogators" that gives a discouraging insight into some of the attitudes prevailing in the intelligence business (and yes, I do mean business). In addition to casual racism, nostalgia for imperialism, applause for references to torture, and basic contempt for ethics and civil rights, you'll find this frightening admission from a private contractor who works for the Army:

Tierney said that for an interrogator, "sadism is always right over the hill. You have to admit it. Don't fool yourself - there is a part of you that will say, 'This is fun.'"

Tierney also talks about the need to "control" those impulses, but he does so in a room full of people who applaud the suggestion of electrocuting detainees, and who clearly believe their favorite forms of sadism are also useful and right.

Mayer's article isn't available online yet, but the author has done interviews about it here and here. And this week's issue of The New Yorker is well worth buying if you don't already subscribe.

--------------------

July 07, 2005

Tom Tomorrow:
Reminder

Andy, promoting "flypaper," back in the day:

If the terrorists leave us alone in Iraq, fine, he said. But if they come and get us, even better. Far more advantageous to fight terror using trained soldiers in Iraq than trying to defend civilians in New York or London.

Tom Tomorrow:
In other matters

One of the things keeping me busy today, apart from London, has been a full-pager for the Village Voice on the upcoming Supreme Court battle. So imagine how delighted I am to discover, after finishing the piece and turning it in, that Rehnquist is holding a press conference tomorrow morning.

If he's not announcing his love for Katie Holmes, I've got some rewriting ahead of me...

Billmon:
London Calling

You knew it was coming even if you didn't know where it would hit. And while the shock isn't as great as 9/11 (how could it be?) the feeling of being trapped in a nightmare that just won't end is even stronger now. Because you knew.

The cold blooded murder of Londoners is no more horrifying than the murder or New Yorkers or Madrilenos -- or Baghdadis. But today's target has a special hold over my emotions. If your mother tongue is English, and you loved stories as much as I did as a child, then London is the city of your imagination, of Mary Poppins and David Copperfield, of London-bridge-is-falling-down and the prince and the pauper. And if you've been there, and visited the places you dreamed about as a boy, and ridden the tube to Picadilly Circus, and climbed the stairs of the Tower of London, and strolled through Hyde Park in the morning fog, then what happened today hurts more than maybe it should, logically.

We are all New Yorkers, we are all Madrilenos, we are all Baghdadis. But I was a Londoner from the time I learned how to read. I know it shouldn't make any difference, but it does.

And so we return to the real war -- the one that can't be fought with F-16s and Abrams tanks, the back alley war of sleeper cells and pipe bombs and coded messages left on Internet chat boards. Of paid informants and "extraordinary reditions." Of torture and hit squads. The dirty war.

The next few days would probably be a good time to stay away from the TV. On top of the televised gore and the stunned faces of the survivors, we'll have to endure the canned Churchillian rhetoric of Messrs. Blair and Bush. Blitzes will be remembered; blood, sweat and tears promised, ultimate victory predicted. The babbling heads of cable news will babble even louder. Conservative con artists will figure the angles and work out the attack lines to use against the liberals -- whatever it takes to drown out the fact that, nearly four years after 9/11, Bin Ladin still lives and Al Qaeda is back in business. Mission unaccomplished.

The same old nightmare, in other words, this time with an English address. And the same sinking feeling as before. Because you know it will happen again, even if you don't know where.

Tom Tomorrow:
Multiple deadlines

No Little time to blog today. The rest of the gang should feel free to chime in if they want. (Otherwise visit their sites...)

Tom Tomorrow:
London

Bad news, for those of you just waking up...

...good coverage from the Guardian here.

--------------------

July 06, 2005

Greg Saunders:
Contempt of Congress

Rumsfeld has some homework to do (via Kos) :

Under a little-noticed provision of the defense spending bill passed by Congress in May, Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld has until July 11 to send Capitol Hill a "comprehensive set of performance indicators and measures of stability and security" two years after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

If and when it comes in, it could do much more than the president's Tuesday night speech at Fort Bragg to provide a factual basis for judging how close we may be toward reaching our goals in Iraq.

In that address, Bush once again demolished a straw man, denouncing any talk of a deadline for withdrawal of U.S. and coalition forces and any timetable for phasing them out. While public support for a pullout has grown, almost no one in Congress is advocating such a step.

What serious people are asking of the administration is a set of yardsticks by which the situation is Iraq can be realistically measured -- and accountability established for a strategy to reach those goals. That is something the president has refused to provide.
. . .
The information required is specific and detailed. It includes measures of the security environment, including the number of engagements per day, the count of trained Iraqi forces and more. It orders up indicators of economic activity. It directs Rumsfeld to provide -- either in public or in classified annexes -- an estimate of U.S. military forces needed in Iraq through the end of calendar 2006 and the criteria the administration will use to determine when it is safe to begin withdrawing forces.

It should be reiterated that the failure to provide this information is a federal crime. That is, assuming that the Congress is serious about ensuring that the Bush Administration keeps their promise to provide metrics by which we can judge their performance. Considering the partisan irresponsibility of the current leaders of the legislative branch, I think its safe to assume that this deadline will pass without notice. After all, we're still waiting for them to start Phase II of the pre-war intelligence investigation.

--------------------

July 05, 2005

Tom Tomorrow:
Mail

If there's something you really need me to see, do not "cc" me or send it as part of a group mailing. My mail program automatically sorts out messages not addressed specifically to me and dumps them in a seperate inbox. Given that I receive literally thousands of emails a week, the vast majority of which are spam, I miss a lot of stuff that gets dumped there. (One of these days I'll start over with yet another "clean" email addy, but they never last long...)

Jack Hitt:
A Brief History of Caucasians

Note--in addition to his duties as a member of the League of Sporadic Bloggers here at TMW, Jack Hitt is a contributing editor at Harper's magazine. He's written a long folio on race (and archeology and the creation myths of our continent, among other things) for the current issue, from which the following excerpt is taken. (He's currently travelling, so I'm posting it for him.) --Tom

Does race exist? Of course it does. We see it every day. Guy steals a purse, the cop asks, What did he look like? You say, He was a six-foot-tall black guy, or a five-and-a-half-foot-tall Asian man, or a white guy with long red hair. As a set of broad descriptions of how people look, race exists as a set of visual cues we all recognize—skin shade, nose shape, eyelid folds, cheekbone prominence, etc. We hold these vague blueprints of race in our heads because, as primates, one of the great tools of consciousness we possess is the ability to observe patterns in nature. It’s no surprise that we’d train this talent on ourselves.

Here’s some fun: My grandmother was Weinona Strom. Her first cousin was Strom Thurmond, which makes the late senator my first cousin, twice removed. It also makes his half-black daughter, Essie Mae Washington-Williams, my second cousin once removed. This is Essie Mae, recently photographed beside her attractive daughter:



For those of us who have had to contend all our lives with Strummy-boo (that is the family nickname), looking at Essie Mae and seeing the senator’s face gazing out from her own is a kind of thrilling shock. But what’s far more interesting is Essie Mae’s daughter. Because Essie Mae married a man our pattern-seeking brains would recognize as black, the evidence of Strummy’s whiteness is practically gone only one generation later. I suspect that among the great grandchildren, Strummy’s presence in the Washington-Williams family will be as washed away as the Fulbe tribe is in me.

Yet the notion of race as an unchanging constant through time is as old as the Bible. When Noah’s Flood receded, the three boys Japheth, Shem, and Ham went out into the world to engender white people, Semites, and all others, respectively. This doesn’t quite shake out into the later notions of white, black, and yellow, but you get the idea. The boys are still with us. The early word “Shemitic” settled down to become “semitic.” And among amateur chroniclers writing in the ponderous style of the town historian, it’s not hard to find references to the “Hamitic race” as a way of saying “black folks.” Japheth never became a common adjective, perhaps because of that thicket of consonants.

More likely, though, it’s because whites appointed themselves the Adamic task of naming the other races. It was not until the Age of Reason that scientists tried to figureout empirically what race meant and how it came to be. The signal year was 1776, with the publication of a book called On the Natural Varieties of Mankind, by German biologist Johann Friedrich Blumenbach. At the time, Blumenbach’s theory had a certain symmetry that made it the very model of good science. These days, his theory seems insane. He argued that Native American Indians were the transitional race that eventually led to Asians. (Don’t try to work out the geography of this: it will make your head explode.) And another group— which Blumenbach simply conjured from a faraway people, the “Malayans”—evolved over time to become Africans. (Again, if you’re puzzling out the geography, watch your head.) At the center of all this change was the white race, which was constant. Blumenbach believed darkness was a sign of change from the original. All of mankind had fallen from perfection, but the darker you were, the farther you had fallen. As a result, the best way to locate the original Garden of Eden, according to Blumenbach, was to follow the trail of human. . . beauty. The hotter the women, the hunkier the men, the closer you were to what was left of God’sfirst Paradise. Here is Blumenbach explaining the etymology of the new word he hoped to coin:

I have taken the name of this variety from Mount Caucasus, both because its neighborhood, and especially its southern slope, produces the most beautiful race of men, I mean the Georgian. . .

Blumenbach’s theory is totally forgotten today by everybody (except maybe Georgian men). All that remains is a single relic, the word he coined for God’s most gorgeous creation—“Caucasian.” The word itself is lovely. Say it: Caucasian. The word flows off the tongue like a stream trickling out of Eden. Its soothing and genteel murmur poses quite a patrician contrast to the field-labor grunts of the hard g’s in “Negroid” and “Mongoloid.” Caucasian. The exotic isolation of those mountains intimates a biblical narrative. You can almost see it when you say it: the early white forebears walking away from paradise to trek to Europe and begin the difficult task of creating Western Civilization.

The number of races has expanded and contracted wildly between Blumenbach and now, depending on the moodof the culture. The basic three have gone through scores of revisions, growing as high as Ernst Haeckel’s thirty-four different races in 1879 or Paul Topinard’s nineteen in 1885 or Stanley Garn’s nine in 1971. Today, we nervously ask if you’re white, African American, Native American, Asian, or of Hawaiian or Pacific Islander descent.

But it wasn’t that long ago that the question would have turned upon races only our great grandfathers would recognize. Let us mourn their passing: the Armenoids, the Assyroids, the Veddoids, the Orientalids, the Australoids, the DaloNordic, the Fälish, the Alpines, the Dinarics, the Fenno-Nordic, the Osteuropids, the Lapponoids, the Osterdals, the Cappadocians, the Danubians, the Ladogans, the Trondelagens, and the Pile Dwellers.
In the meantime, science has made its discoveries. The mystery of race has been solved. For the longest time, scientists were stymied by a contradiction. Surely skin tone had something to do with colder climates creating paler shades, but then why weren’t Siberians as pale as Swedes, and why were Eskimos as dark as equatorial islanders? The answer was announced in 2000, but it’s so tedious hardly anyone noticed.

Skin pigmentation changed long ago not only to protect skin from different levels of sun exposure—that’s obvious—but also in order to regulate the amount of vitamin D3 manufactured by the sun just under the skin. This is the theory of Professor Nina Jablonski, a paleoanthropologist with the California Academy of Sciences. So when the first swarthy inhabitants of modern Scandinavia confronted a lack of ultraviolet light, their kind quickly selected out for paler children whose skin would manufacture enough vitamin D3 to keep them healthy. Meanwhile, Eskimos arrived in the Arctic dark-skinned. The local cuisine of seal and whale is rich in vitamin D3, so the skin was never summoned into action. Evolution has one big rule. If there’s no pressure on the system to change, then it doesn’t bother. So Eskimos remained dark. When we look at the different races, according to Jablonski’s theory, what we’re actually seeing is not “superiority” or “good people” or “race.” All that we are seeing, the only thing we are seeing when we look at skin color, is a meandering trail of vitamin D3 adaptation rates.


Tom Tomorrow:
Plaming Karl

Slowly, the corporate media begin to pay attention. There's the Newsweek story, of course, which is less specific than Lawrence O'Donnell indicated each week, but still alludes strongly to Rove's involvement:

Now the story may be about to take another turn. The e-mails surrendered by Time Inc., which are largely between Cooper and his editors, show that one of Cooper's sources was White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove, according to two lawyers who asked not to be identified because they are representing witnesses sympathetic to the White House. Cooper and a Time spokeswoman declined to comment. But in an interview with NEWSWEEK, Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, confirmed that Rove had been interviewed by Cooper for the article. It is unclear, however, what passed between Cooper and Rove.

It also got a mention in the Times over the weekend, though admittedly buried deep in a story about Bush's July 4 travels:

Karl Rove, his senior adviser, rode the flight from Washington to West Virginia but did not respond to requests for an interview over his reported role in a controversy that threatens to put two reporters in jail. Newsweek had reported over the weekend that Mr. Rove had talked to Matthew Cooper of Time magazine for an article about Valerie Plame, a C.I.A. operative whose name was illegally disclosed by an unidentified White House official in a case now under investigation.

The Newsweek article did not identify Mr. Rove as that source, but Bush critics have been eager to tie him to the leak. Outside the presidential rally in Morgantown, one protester made reference to the case, holding a sign that read: "Jail Karl Rove."

The Times also had a story this morning about Wilson and Plame which doesn't mention Rove at all, but I wouldn't read too much into that just yet. The Times is always initially reluctant to acknowledge other people's scoops, and anyway, the piece reads like something that was in the can last week so somebody could take the holiday weekend off (it's datelined July 1).

* * *

One of the most giggle-inducing talking points of this scandal came early on, as right-wing bloggers in places like Tennessee and Wisconsin began to suddenly pose as well-connected Beltway insiders, assuring their readers that "everyone already knew that Valerie Plame was a CIA agent!" Well, I'm not as in-the-know as our right-wing blogging friends, but I did have coffee not long ago with a writer whose name you would almost certainly recognize (given that you are the sort of person who visits online magazines like this one), and interestingly, this writer--who is genuinely privvy to DC insider gossip--did not put Rove at the very top of the suspects list. Which is only to point out that Rove's guilt in this matter has apparently not been the conventional wisdom in DC that you might suppose. So who knows what surprises await us?

* * *

While I'm on the topic, I'm reminded of the second most giggle-inducing talking point regarding Wilson, which was the argument that Bush did not specifically mention Niger in the State of the Union address in which he famously warned of yellowcake uranium being funnelled from an African country to Iraq. The implication apparently being that the yellowcake allegation was true, it just wasn't coming from Niger, but rather some unspecified other African country...the name of which, despite all the grief the Bush administration took for incompetence and/or lies in the runup to war, was never announced, leaked, or even hinted at by the Administration or any of its apologists.

Occam's Razor is in no danger of being blunted due to overuse by these people.

* * *

Update...more from O'Donnell, who clearly wants to own this story:

(Rove's attorney) Luskin then launched what sounds like an I-did-not-inhale defense. He told Newsweek that his client "never knowingly disclosed classified information." Knowingly. That is the most important word Luskin said in what has now become his public version of the Rove defense.

Not coincidentally, the word 'knowing' is the most important word in the controlling statute ( U.S. Code: Title 50: Section 421). To violate the law, Rove had to tell Cooper about a covert agent "knowing that the information disclosed so identifies such covert agent and that the United States is taking affirmative measures to conceal such covert agent's intelligence relationship to the United States."

So, Rove's defense now hangs on one word—he "never knowingly disclosed classified information." Does that mean Rove simply didn't know Valerie Plame was a covert agent? Or does it just mean that Rove did not know that the CIA was "taking affirmative measures" to hide her identity?

In Luskin's next damage control session with the press, let's see if any reporter can get him to drop the word 'knowingly' from the never-disclosed-classified-information bit.

Tom Tomorrow:
Kelo

Astonishingly, I agree with Tierney this morning. Responses to Kelo seem mostly to be breaking down on a liberal/conservative split, with liberals on the approving, or at least ambivalent, side. Which, I have to admit, puzzles me. Personally, I'm glad to see so many of our conservative friends finally beginning to develop a healthy distust of government/corporate collusion (now if only they'd extend it to, say, Halliburton's role in Iraq). I'm just not sure why anyone on my side of the fence would feel anything but disgust. Kelo is essentially a decision in favor of trickle-down economics: clear out the poor folks, bring in some businesses, and if all works according to plan the new tax revenue will make it all worthwhile. But these things often do not work according to plan:

Frank Bugryn Jr.'s family, for instance, owned about 30 acres in Bristol when the city told him in the mid-1990's that it wanted an industrial park on his property. Ms. Bugryn's parents had bought the property in 1939 and left it to him and his three siblings in 1970, he said. Mr. Bugryn, 83, a retired brass-mill foreman, planted about 500 Christmas trees on the property about 10 years ago and watched them grow 20 to 30 feet high. When the government officials came knocking, they told him they wanted to put a distribution center on his property. He was totally unprepared.

"I never though that this would happen," he said.

Mr. Bugryn fought the condemnation in court. When he lost, the United States Supreme Court would hear the case. The city paid $1.8 million for the property, and about $100,000 for the five-bedroom house Mr. Bugryn built, and then bulldozed it, he said. He now lives with his wife, Mary, in a one-story ranch house in Bristol.

"My sisters and I were hoping to live there until we passed away," he said. "I wanted to die there and give it to the kids."

Nothing has yet been built on the property. Jonathan Rosenthal, executive director of the Bristol Redevelopment Authority, said the legal battle with the Bugryns delayed the project. The anchor tenant, which had agreed to allow the Bugryns to live on the property for the rest of their lives as the industrial park was built, dropped out of the project while the fight dragged on, Mr. Rosenthal said. The authority received a $1.2 million federal grant to prepare the property for development and has been showing it to potential tenants, he said.

--------------------

July 03, 2005

Greg Saunders:
Business As Usual

Here's how the SCOTUS fight's gonna go down (via Matt) :

While some focused on whom Bush's choice will be, others mapped out strategy for the period after he decides. Senate Republicans made plans to begin hearings as quickly as possible after the nomination, focused not on the candidate's positions on hot-button issues but on legal credentials.

A Republican planning document provided to The Washington Post described the need to avoid disclosing the nominee's "personal political views or legal thinking on any issue."

This is the exact same tactic they've taken with the seven (of more than 200) judicial nominees that the Democrats blocked. In the face of perfectly acceptable questioning, they refuse to respond and declare the Democrats to be obstructionists. They'll probably get away with it this time too, since even when the Democratic cooalition is its strongest, there are still enough DINOs in the Senate to break a filibuster.

The only way the GOP can get the American people to go along with their plans is through lies, rhetorical misdirection, and stonewalling. Cowards.

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