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July 21, 2008

Well Now That's A Completely Different Cracker, "Cracker"...

Interesting update to the "cracker" story Grim wrote about last week. For those of you who didn't catch it, a quick recap. The discussion began over here at VC. It continued over at Grim's place:

Cassandra is doing ethics today. I love ethics -- it is one of the most interesting branches of philosophy. Studying it, though, does require that you spend a few hours, or years, challenging things that might otherwise be bedrock principles of your life:

...if you put people into an ethics class, you are asking them to try using their minds to challenge ethical teachings. The concept is to reaffirm ethics by teaching them not just what is wrong, but why it is wrong.

That means they have to pose challenges to the principles. You're supposed to try to see if there are ways around the principle at work: then, if there aren't, you've found something solid.

Grim continues:

... momentary idiocy kept in the class can lead to a better, truer understanding of ethics to guide you through the rest of your life. That's the whole point of teaching the class.

If a student of ethics says something foolish, then, cut him some slack. If a professor of ethics says something horrible in class, he is probably trying to challenge the students in the other direction -- to challenge the principles they hold true, to force them to find a way to defend them. That, also, leads to a deeper understanding of the principles.

A professor of biology will have a harder time justifying himself.

...“Can anyone out there score me some consecrated communion wafers?”

...“if any of you would be willing to do what it takes to get me some, or even one, and mail it to me, I’ll show you sacrilege, gladly, and with much fanfare. I won’t be tempted to hold it hostage (no, not even if I have a choice between returning the Eucharist and watching Bill Donohue kick the pope in the balls, which would apparently be a more humane act than desecrating a goddamned cracker), but will instead treat it with profound disrespect and heinous cracker abuse, all photographed and presented here on the web.”

A lively discussion ensued. The blog princess was of the opinion that people tend to get rather confused on the question of censorship.

First of all, an employer has no duty to allow speech from an employee uttered while that employee is clearly performing the duties for which he is being compensated; especially when that speech places the employer in a bad light or is inconsistent with the image the employer wishes to project to the community at large (or to its paying clientele). During working hours, an employee is not acting as an individual, but as an agent of the employer. To force an employer to endorse (or give the appearance of endorsing) offensive speech exposes the employer to the risk of lost revenue (boycotts) and legal liability.

Secondly, those who want to call this censorship should be reminded that the Professor can desecrate the Host to his heart's content... as a private citizen. Of course, this is not what he wishes to do because as a private citizen, he would face risks that he is indemnified against as an employee of the university.

What is so attractive to him is the apparent endorsement of academia and the larger megaphone it offers him for his noxious views. Nothing prevents him from paying for a private web site and conducting these activities after working hours. But Professor Myers has nicely judged the moral squeamishness of the administration of the U. of Minnesota.

The truth is that, absent the protection of his employers, Prof. Myers lacks the courage to defend his intentionally inflammatory experiment. As I commented over at Grim's, stating you intend to desecrate the sacred symbol of another's belief is the type of speech the Supreme Court specifically exempted from the First Amendment's speech protections: what we commonly call "fighting words":

There are certain well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of which have never been thought to raise any constitutional problem. These include the lewd and obscene, the profane, the libelous, and the insulting or "fighting words" those which by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace. It has been well observed that such utterances are no essential part of any exposition of ideas, and are of such slight social value as a step to truth that any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality.

– Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 1942

Though recent court decisions have tended to restrict the fighting words exception to cases in which personal insults were exchanged, what makes it crystal clear Professor Myers intended to stir up hate and discontent rather than legitimate inquiry is his utter lack of intellectual consistency on the acceptability of desecrating religious symbols. You see, it's perfectly fine to desecrate the body and blood of Jesus Christ. That's just a cracker.

But don't you dare flush anyone's inner Koran, because that would be sacrilege:

The latest, via the Catholic League, from Paul Z. Myers, a professor at the University of Minnesota intent upon desecrating the Eucharist: "'I have to do something ... that shows this cracker has no power.'"

However, he condemned the abuse of the Koran, comparing it to desecrating a cemetery. But when it's a matter of the Body of Christ, he pronounces, "'The cracker is completely different.'"

Catholic League president Bill Donohue shoots back:

This isn’t the first time Myers has shown deference to Islam ... he was critical of the Danish cartoons that simply depicted an image of Muhammad. ‘They [the cartoons] lack artistic or social or even comedic merit, and are presented as an insult to inflame a poor minority.’ So now the Planet-of-the-Apes biologist has divined himself an expert on the artistic value of cartoons. So thoughtful of him. He even went so far as to say that Muslims ‘have cause to be furious.’ (His italic.) Worthy of burning down churches, pledging to behead Christians and shooting a nun in the back, Professor Myers?

The true issue here is not freedom of speech, but that respect for the beliefs of others, without which true discourse cannot take place.. Oddly enough, it takes an agnostic to point that out:

It is not “respect to a symbol” that is being demanded. It is respect for harassment-free religious assembly.

If a Catholic approached Myers on the street and offered him a piece of religious literature, or a statue of the Virgin Mary, or told him to bow and receive a communion wafer on his tongue, Myers would be within his rights to receive such items from the evangelist and then desecrate them on the Internet. He is equally free, any time he pleases, to go to a Catholic bookstore, purchase an item, and desecrate it on the Internet.

It would be uncivil and juvenile, but he could do it.

But what Myers is actually wanting to do is of a different order. He is going out of his way to procure, by deceit, within the confines of a church’s property, an object that Catholics do not share with nonbelievers. Period.

He is, in short, encouraging his readers to interfere with a particular people’s ability to practice their religion without interference within their own property boundaries.

And he is indulging a primitive and volatile human passion: iconoclasm (taking from a religious people, against their will, objects sacred to them for desecration or destruction).

This is an enormously serious breach of the liberal foundations of our society. We would not, for one moment, condone or tolerate an anti-Semite interfering in a similar fashion with a Jewish synagogue service, and we must not condone or tolerate an atheist attempting to interfere with a Catholic mass.

Tolerating such behavior threatens the very foundations of a liberal society.

Reverence and its polar opposite (contempt) are not peculiar to people of faith.

Scientists believe in certain ideas passionately. As a commenter points out, would a paleontologist who doubts the validity of colleague's work be within his rights to break into an exhibit and smash a fossil to make a point about a theory? Of course not. To find the things a person believes in deeply, trespass, and destroy private property are acts no university should countenance in the name of "speech". They are certainly not "discourse". They are not academic inquiry, they do not open minds to each other, nor do they further the cause of liberal education.

One begins to wonder what the value of an education is, when those who have studied so long and so hard cannot seem to find the courage or the wisdom to stand up for what is right.

Posted by Cassandra at July 21, 2008 08:51 AM

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Comments

Education (whether you study long and hard or skip class and party) has nothing to do with a person's ability or desire to stand up for what is right. If anything, they might be mutually exclusive (/broad generalization).

Posted by: HomefrontSix at July 21, 2008 10:13 AM

A symbol is just that, a represenation of a belief or act that elevates the believer.

However, to defile a communion wafer just to be iconoclastic is a waste of brain cells. It only becomes sacred when it becomes consecrated by the priest, and the faith of the person who receives it.

At that point, were someone to defile it, then that would be reason to take out the profaner.

Scripture is sacred because of the belief in the words by the believer...or the power we give it to have power over us.

Interesting conundrum, isn't it?

Posted by: Cricket at July 21, 2008 10:23 AM

I wonder about that too - a lot.

I wanted my sons to be educated so that they'd have the means to make good decisions. But sometimes, too much information inhibits good decision-making: one has a tendency to split hairs indefinitely rather than simply come down on one side or the other.

Posted by: Jean Fraude-Kerry, the Human Weathervane at July 21, 2008 10:23 AM

What was the update to the story, Cass?

Posted by: Grim at July 21, 2008 10:45 AM

Did I miss something you said in the first place, Grim?

That wouldn't surprise, me, as crazy as my schedule has been lately. One of my questions when reading your post was whether he would apply the same standard to Islam. The date of the linked post from Phi Beta Cons is July 15th:

“Myers was quoted yesterday saying, ‘I have to do something. I’m not going to just let this disappear.’ [Last Friday it was reported that he had acquired a Host.] He continued, ‘Something will be done. It won’t be gross. It won’t be totally tasteless, but yeah, I’ll do something that shows this cracker has no power.’

However, he condemned the abuse of the Koran, comparing it to desecrating a cemetery. But when it's a matter of the Body of Christ, he pronounces, "'The cracker is completely different.'"

Posted by: Cassandra at July 21, 2008 10:55 AM

PZ Myers is pathetically unable to see how illogical he's actually being.

Posted by: Donna B. at July 21, 2008 11:09 AM

Oh, no, you didn't miss anything. It's just that the "update" link pointed to me, and I wondered if something else had happened, or if I was the update.

Posted by: Grim at July 21, 2008 11:10 AM

HF6 pretty much nailed it.

You and the SU set the foundation for your own childrens' decision-making skills before they ever left the house with a brown-bag lunch...

Posted by: BillT at July 21, 2008 11:18 AM

Ah.

Well, I have not had much sleep this weekend, Grim.

I slept in this morning but apparently it wasn't nearly enough :p

Posted by: Cassandra at July 21, 2008 11:34 AM

Besides, you are a veritable feast of updatiness.

Posted by: Cassandra at July 21, 2008 11:35 AM

Yeah, I understand. I didn't get much sleep last night either.

Anyway, I just figured it was possible he'd managed to get his Eucharist yesterday, it being Sunday, and done something awful; so if today's story was that the local Catholic Students' Union had duct taped him upside down to a nearby steeple, I wanted to read it.

Posted by: Grim at July 21, 2008 11:48 AM

That made me laugh out loud.

Posted by: Cassandra at July 21, 2008 11:55 AM

I saw "cracker" and Grim in the same sentence and decided it would be to un-PC to comment. :)

Back to the Future!

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at July 21, 2008 12:34 PM

Now Don.

You know, it is not easy for me to arrange these little comedic moments. The least you could do is play along :p

Posted by: Cassandra at July 21, 2008 12:39 PM

Heh. My grandfather or uncle -- I can't remember which one -- used to call me and my sister "Georgia crackers" when we'd go up to visit them in Tennessee.

The term has a suprisingly honorable history. It's in Shakespeare, even.

Posted by: Grim at July 21, 2008 12:41 PM

"I saw "cracker" and Grim in the same sentence and decided it would be to un-PC to comment. :)"

You just made me inhale my Pepsi....

Posted by: Carrie at July 21, 2008 12:48 PM

Right is right and wrong is wrong. If there are shades of gray, you err on the side of right. In the case of the iconoclastic ivory tower challenged one, erring on the side of right means that he can't generate controversy.

Posted by: Cricket at July 21, 2008 01:33 PM

I used cracker to describe people long before I ever knew other people used it to demean white people.

I also used the shortened version of Japanese, long before other people started getting huffy that I "just couldn't let it go". Let what go? WWII? Don't put your PC crack on me.

The other thing about the cracker reminds me of William Tecumseh Sherman's letter to the Mayor of Atlanta right before he burned Atlanta to the ground.

Source

You have heretofore read public sentiment in your newspapers, that live by falsehood and excitement; and the quicker you seek for truth in other quarters, the better. I repeat then that, bu the original compact of government, the United States had certain rights in Georgia, which have never been relinquished and never will be; that the South began the war by seizing forts, arsenals, mints, custom-houses, etc., etc., long before Mr. Lincoln was installed, and before the South had one jot or title of provocation. I myself have seen in Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi, hundreds and thousands of women and children fleeing from your armies and desperadoes, hungry and with bleeding feet. In Memphis, Vicksburg, and Mississippi, we fed thousands and thousands of the families of rebel soldiers left on our hands, and whom we could not see starve. Now that war comes to you, you feel very different. You deprecate its horrors, but did not feel them when you sent car-loads of soldiers and ammunition, and moulded shells and shot, to carry war into Kentucky and Tennessee, to desolate the homes of hundreds and thousands of good people who only asked to live in peace at their old homes, and under the Government of their inheritance. But these comparisons are idle. I want peace, and believe it can only be reached through union and war, and I will ever conduct war with a view to perfect an early success.

But, my dear sirs, when peace does come, you may call on me for any thing. Then will I share with you the last cracker, and watch with you to shield your homes and families against danger from every quarter.

Now you must go, and take with you the old and feeble, feed and nurse them, and build for them, in more quiet places, proper habitations to shield them against the weather until the mad passions of men cool down, and allow the Union and peace once more to settle over your old homes in Atlanta. Yours in haste,

W.T. Sherman, Major-General commanding

Like CJ's anti-war people said, violence begets violence. Which is why we're still talking about and abusing crackers... right?

Posted by: Ymarsakar at July 21, 2008 01:45 PM

The proper punishment for this loose cannon is to make them burn Korans on public TV, with a YouTube personal confession about how he loves destroying religious items.

That is the one and true punishment, for it is the punishment he himself dished out to those with less power than him. He chose not to be merciful to them, he chose to destroy rather than to preserve, and thus we should destroy as well. We should make him destroy what he has always said needs to be destroyed. Since he won't do it by himself, a higher power needs to go make him do it.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at July 21, 2008 01:48 PM

I'd love to, but I'm stuck in Iraq.

Posted by: BillT at July 21, 2008 02:58 PM

You should have worked harder and gone to college. Then you could be desecrating the Eucharist with your betters.

Posted by: Grim at July 21, 2008 03:19 PM

B.A., English, Siena College, 1968 -- back in the days when you had to actually work for one and it meant something when you got it.

*sigh*

These days, it means you've mastered sixth grade English -- not necessarily including spelling...

Posted by: BillT at July 21, 2008 03:30 PM

Bill got a C- in desecrating the Host, Grim.

Posted by: Cassandra at July 21, 2008 03:47 PM

Oh, big deal -- so I forgot to floss that morning...

Posted by: BillT at July 21, 2008 04:08 PM

Ah, well. I have a M.A. in History, and I got stuck in Iraq too.

Actually, I went to interview once with one of the civilian agencies. The interviewer said, "We've never heard of your school. Are you sure it's accredited?"

"It's a state university. Says so right in the name."

"Well, yes, but still, I've never heard of..."

"Who do you suppose does the accreditation for universities? The state, right?"

They frowned and shuffled the papers, and I didn't get the job. Small Southern schools might as well not exist, state universities or not, as far as the civilian elite is concerned. Although I met a Major General who had his degree from Savannah State, which was smaller even than my school -- so once again, the rules are different in the military.

Posted by: Grim at July 21, 2008 04:14 PM

Wasn't it in the [shudder] South, though?

Posted by: Cassandra at July 21, 2008 04:23 PM

That's true. Not a good Yankee school like Bill's.

Posted by: Grim at July 21, 2008 04:27 PM

Did I miss this, or ignore it, trying to keep my blood pressure down? Doesn't matter, the fools at the university I used to go to are at it again. He's trying to start a fight, like the Fred Phelps clan, and I doubt that they'll do anything to or about him. The ethics of trying to provoke others I don't know about; I try to avoid doing so in my attempts to be a gentleman.

The Host, though, is an old problem that I discussed in Confirmation all of those many years ago. He can't get one; all he can get are crackers, loaves, and pieces thereof. The miracle is miraculously undone when such profane things are attempted, or if it's accidentally contaminated (dropped on the floor, ....)

(Profane, is that the right word? I'm not sure.)

Posted by: htom at July 21, 2008 04:33 PM

Yup, profane is the adjective -- to profane is the verb.

The Church hasn't exactly publicized the official teaching, but it's commonly-held that the Host remains sacred *despite* any human attempt at profanation.

Which doesn't stop dillweeds from diddling through their Black Masses (which weren't common in the Middle Ages and are probably even rarer these days, despite Hollywood's best efforts) and certainly didn't stop the witch hunts of the Inquisition.

Posted by: BillT at July 21, 2008 04:54 PM

To put it simply, Myers is engaging in an act of irrational pride, thinking of the Host as merely a magical object subject to his will.

It would be like me spitting into the daylight and proclaiming that I had succeeded in defiling the sun...

Posted by: BillT at July 21, 2008 05:16 PM

Actually, I went to interview once with one of the civilian agencies. The interviewer said, "We've never heard of your school. Are you sure it's accredited?"

What kind of 'agency' prefers Ivy League education over on job training, work ethics, and your ability or willingness to learn the special training you will need for the business?

Bookworm mentioned that lawyer firms are like that. If you don't come from Harvard or what not, you're like a zero.

They frowned and shuffled the papers, and I didn't get the job.

Not sure whether you'd be happy with that kind of work environment, anyways. Licking the boots of your social and edumacation superiors does get kind of old after all.

so once again, the rules are different in the military.

Yeah, the military takes most of the responsibility for training you. The exisgencies of war have a lot to do with that.

Even the recognition that being on the low totem pole in an officer graduating class would not be a career killer for those interested in combat field commands.

Results is what matters. Not titles or blood.

The ethics of trying to provoke others I don't know about; I try to avoid doing so in my attempts to be a gentleman.

People provoke others into a fight because they don't have the guts to swing the first strike.

People provoke others with shoving and disrespect, because they want you to attack them first, because they cannot get the courage up to fight unless you show aggression or fear first. Then they'll feel justified.

But when thinking of dissing the Islamic JIhad, they want nothing to do with those people, cause the JIhad don't get angry. They get your head. There's a big difference in that, and it's one people here know very well about.

Cowards are always easy to manipulate. All you have to do is to demonstrate that you have killed and that you will kill him, if he doesn't do what you tell him to do. And he'll do it. Cause he's a coward.

It would be like me spitting into the daylight and proclaiming that I had succeeded in defiling the sun...

Or launching a 50 nuclear MIRV missiles into a star and thinking you've given it a lesson it'll remember.

What you have really done is annoyed the sun, and if it is too annoyed, it'll go super nova on your arse and teach you what real thermonuclear fusion is all about.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at July 21, 2008 06:21 PM

Although, technically, a G type star usually undergoes nova, not supernovaes.

Course, to the guy on the terrestrial planet a couple of AUs from the star... it is not exactly like it'll matter.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at July 21, 2008 06:24 PM

I am unconvinced that a mere 50 would do the trick. Remember, this is a bloody STAR we're talking about. It burps and farts that much energy per microsecond.

Posted by: Gregory at July 21, 2008 09:29 PM

Many academics are like a dog that runs around the neighborhood biting people every day, but in the evenings comes home and expects to be fed.

Posted by: david foster at July 21, 2008 09:48 PM

It burps and farts that much energy per microsecond.

The former two is what the professor here wants to do, however. So obviously he wishes to challenge such folks with such methods.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at July 21, 2008 10:29 PM

People provoke others into a fight because they don't have the guts to swing the first strike.

Or because the ROE require it.

Posted by: BillT at July 22, 2008 04:33 AM

As an afterthought, I can't remember *any* time I swung the first punch, but I was usually the first to *connect* with one. And the last.

Getting stabbed in the leg doesn't count.

Ummmm -- either time.

Posted by: BillT at July 22, 2008 04:41 AM

"People provoke others into a fight because they don't have the guts to swing the first strike."
Pappy, being an old farm boy who fought in WWII in the Pacific had just a few rules concerning fighting that he would share with me:

- First he said, it never hurts to smile at folks (only much later in life did I understand this one).
- Do not be the last one talking when a fight breaks out.
- There is no such thing as a fair fight.
- Fight as if your life depends upon it...

Those words have served me well throughout life... except the one time that I tried to stop a brass knuckle with my left eye... 3/4 of an eyebrow later and another lesson learned.

Posted by: bt_checking-the-rape-&-pillage-handbook_hun at July 22, 2008 09:26 AM

Myers did indeed express his intention to desecrate the Koran. From his blog: "Since I now own one entirely superfluous copy of the Koran, it will meet the very same fate as the crackers. Thanks to all who have demanded that I treat that silly book with disrespect, I'll have to treat both equally."

Nor, despite what fightin' Bill Donohue may think, has he ever been deferential to Islam. In the same post in which he criticized the Danish cartoonists (not for attacking Islam per se, but for persecuting a religious minority), he also made very disparaging remarks about Islam.

Also, am I mistaken, or is the author of this article under the impression that Myers posts his diatribes on a web site affiliated with his University?

Posted by: Mark Borok at July 22, 2008 01:17 PM

Also, am I mistaken, or is the author of this article under the impression that Myers posts his diatribes on a web site affiliated with his University?

I was, at the time this post was written, Mark. Since then, I have read that the post is on a site the University linked to.

So, are you telling me that Myers never said any of the things attributed to him in the post (above)?

Or just that, now that he has been confronted with the contradiction, he has changed his tune?

Posted by: Cassandra at July 22, 2008 01:23 PM

As a frequent reader of his blog (not that I agree with him about the host desecration stunt), I would say that it is extremely unlike him to be deferential to any religion.

A quick search for "PZ Myers" and "Islam" resulted in this post from his blog, from a year ago: "I am appalled. A man in New York was arrested for throwing a copy of the Quran in a public toilet. He deserved arrest—everyone knows it is vandalism and criminal mischief to clog a public toilet with debris.

Oh, hang on — the guy was arrested for a hate crime? Are toilets now on the list of victims targeted by fringe fanatics? What's their slogan: "Bring Back the Open Trench!"? It is a shame to see innocent and useful toilets persecuted in this ghastly way …"

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2007/07/desecration_its_a_fun_hobby.php

If you read further, he considers various ways of desecrating a Koran in the privacy of his own home.

Posted by: Mark Borok at July 22, 2008 02:00 PM

I'll have to check that out when I have more time, Mark :)

I don't pretend to have done any in-depth investigation of Myers. I was only interested in the morality of encouraging others to desecrate a religious symbol (in case you couldn't tell, I'm agin it :p). I also don't think it's "censorship" for an employer to fire an employee, regardless of whether he uses a university site or not.

If he drags this nonsense into his classroom (and if I've misunderstood what happened, feel free to correct me) then he has involved his employer.

If he blogs about it and fails to disguise his identity and where he works, he has (again) involved his employer and I'm applying the same standard I applied in the Zoriah case (and the one I apply to my own behavior).

Posted by: Cassandra at July 22, 2008 02:22 PM

And I"m still unsure whether he said the things he is reported to have said regarding there being a difference between desecrating the Koran and the Host.

He may well have said things inconsistent with his having a problem with desecration in general in the past, but I'm not sure that 'disproves' his saying what he is reported to have said in the linked post. It is interesting, though!

Posted by: Cassandra at July 22, 2008 02:24 PM

Mark:

I was the author of that post, and I was in fact under that impression for the first few hours. The protest against him mentioned that his blog could be found through a link on the University's website; it wasn't clear at first that it wasn't part of the website. Once it became clear that was not the case, the post was updated to reflect that fact (as you will see if you click through the link).

Posted by: Grim at July 22, 2008 02:24 PM

If he drags this nonsense into his classroom (and if I've misunderstood what happened, feel free to correct me)

He has stated on his blog that he doesn't bring his anti-religious views into his biology classes (mainly, I think, because they have nothing to do with teaching biology).

Posted by: Mark Borok at July 22, 2008 05:14 PM

Liveleak talked the talk about Islam, same as Myers. When the bat came near to their knees, however, they bent their knees. If only for a few days until they felt "safe".

Posted by: Ymarsakar at July 22, 2008 11:43 PM

I believe that we should take the word "cracker" back and adapt it to a non-hateful meaning.

As part of that process I think I should be able to use the word "cracker" when talking smack with my homies but others should not be able to use the word "cracker" unless they are like me.

"Like me" means naked and on a unicycle.

Posted by: man riding unicycle naked at July 23, 2008 02:45 PM

Aren't you the guy who walked into my tail rotor at BWI while you were feeding the seagulls?

Posted by: BillT at July 23, 2008 02:57 PM

"Like me" means naked and on a unicycle.

Posted by: man riding unicycle naked at July 23, 2008 02:45 PM

Aren't you the guy who walked into my tail rotor at BWI while you were feeding the seagulls?

Posted by BillT at July 23, 2008 02:57 PM"

*Apply DOW Scrubbing Bubbles directly into ear canal. Lather, rinse, repeat until imagery disappears.*

If after four hours, the condition persists, call your nearest Alcoholic Beverage Distributor and request emergency deliveries of quantities sufficient to acclimate consciousness to Spin Cycle or until one leg upon floor does not stop room rotation.

Posted by: Hank at July 23, 2008 04:30 PM

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