May 31, 2012

Cardinal Dolan Paid Off Pedophile Priests

Cardinal Timothy Dolan is rapidly becoming the poster child for hypocrisy in the Catholic hierarchy. This crusader for morality, whose public posturing against gay marriage and birth control keeps him at the forefront of the culture wars, goes strangely quiet when it comes to the cesspool of sex abuse that literally bankrupted the Milwaukee Archdiocese. Asked about the possible payoff of a pedophile priest, he deflected the charge as "false, preposterous and unjust." But it turns out that when he was Milwaukee's archbishop he, in fact, authorized numerous payoffs to known pedophiles in amounts as high as $20,000.

Documentation came to light as a result of bankruptcy proceedings that the archdiocese was paying off known abusers so that they would not contest laicization, aka. defrocking, and go quietly away. But victims groups are not amused.

A victims advocacy group, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, sent a letter of protest to the current archbishop of Milwaukee on Wednesday asking, “In what other occupation, especially one working with families and operating schools and youth programs, is an employee given a cash bonus for raping and sexually assaulting children?”

. . .

The newly revealed document is the minutes of a meeting of the finance council of the Milwaukee archdiocese from March 7, 2003, which Cardinal Dolan attended. The archdiocese was facing a flood of potential lawsuits by people claiming abuse, and the church’s insurance company was refusing to cover the costs because it said the church had been negligent. The minutes noted that “unassignable priests” — those suspected of abuse — were still receiving full salaries.

. . .

The first known payment in Milwaukee was to Franklyn Becker, a former priest with many victims. Cardinal Dolan said in response to a reporter’s question at the time that the payment was “an act of charity,” so that Mr. Becker could pay for health insurance.

According to church documents, Mr. Becker was accused of abusing at least 10 minors, and given a diagnosis of pedophilia in 1983. The church paid more than $16 million to settle lawsuits involving him and one other priest.

Basically, they were stuck with known abusers on their payrolls because of the long, tedious process of Vatican approved defrocking. In that regard, Dolan was not alone.

What makes Dolan special is the stridency with which he deflects and obfuscates about his own archdiocese's payoffs and the degree to which it is matched by equally strident condemnation of the non-Catholic world for its "immorality." Dolan is a master of the Church as victim rhetoric that so defines its fight against marriage equality and, God help me, birth control. To hear Cardinal Dolan tell it, the Philistines are ever at the hedgerow, determined to drag the Church into the ways of sin.

Its a clever bit of jujutsu that constantly repositions the Church's attempts to dictate social policy as a defense of their own rights. Here, after making the preposterous claim that the government will force the Catholic church to conduct gay marriages, he outlines the reasons that the Church must fight gay marriage in society at large. In other words, don't force us to gay marry people. It's our responsibility to force our view of marriage down everyone else's throat. As I said here, the argument is always for their freedom to righteously control everybody else. Why? Because the Church always knows what's best and must protect society from itself. To tell them otherwise is somehow, magically, to trample their religious freedom.

The framing of the argument against marriage is always that it is somehow an attack on the institution of marriage, rather than simply a desire for a significant portion of the population to participate in that institution. Cardinal Dolan's warnings against gay marriage are some of the most hyperbolic available, frequently equating it with polygamy and, ironically, sex outside of marriage.

If you look at our pedigree of the faiths represented here this evening, you’ll note that we’ve been cogent in our defense of marriage against a lot of things — frivolous divorce, polygamy, adultery, forced marriages, cohabitation, just to mention a few contemporary threats to marriage.

Contemporary threats? That reads like a laundry list of Old Testament marriage standards. That he does not see the irony!
Cardinal Dolan has a gift for providing a patina of reasonableness to completely irrational arguments. He's smooth. But this time he was caught dead to rights in a lie about policies he authorized. Smoke your way out of that one, babe.

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May 30, 2012

The Dreaming Skin

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It has taken years and you have learned
To dream with your skin. A master now, you
Discard useless pieces of this growing brain;
Crumbs for the followers who stay behind.

You marvel at the effect of the moon as it
Guides your fluids, nourishing the ever
Changing parts of your new dream skin.
Your arms wither. Your bones melt together.

With the dolphins you swim the oceans of
Fantasy planets. But even this is a just an
Initiation; a preparation for your journey
To kiss the boundless belly of their sea god.
And then to join the throne of a new nation.

~ Neno Perrotta

The poem comes from The Penguin Review,Youngstown State's literary magazine. It's one that I've never been able to quite dislodge from memory. It sprang to mind this evening as I read this wonderful article on the spiritual power of tattooing.

Photographer Chris Ranier has contributed more than any to our understanding of tattoos as art in the truest sense -- as a medium of cultural communication. In the documentary culminating his two-decades of photographing tattoos in indigenous cultures, "Tattoo Odyssey," Ranier contends that tattoos in all cultures arise from "that basic human desire to belong, to be appreciated, and to go through some initiation process that gains an altered state of mind that says, 'I am who I am.'" In other words, tattoos often signify one's relationships, one's movement beyond her daily existence to another plane of reality, and a new awareness of a person's being-in-the-world. Tattooing, as art on the body, presents the bearer with several experiences that are rarely matched in the world, particularly the Western world.

. . .

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When a tattoo is affixed to a significant spiritual, relational or existential moment, the indelible ink is even more profound and can be powerful enough to return one to that state of spirituality. Like most significant experiences in one's life, the event of tattooing retains a place in our memory. We remember where we were and when the event occurred. Unlike these other experiences, however, tattoos retain their significance as visible reminders of an important, spiritual experience in our lives -- like footprints unaffected by the tides of time. Tattoos are fixed in living memory and thus they can serve as monuments, allowing one to retrace one's spiritual and existential pilgrimage.

. . .

It is in vogue to be "spiritual, not religious." Spirituality tends toward the immanent, the inward-focused experience of seeking enlightenment or communing with the Spirit. Religion tends toward the transcendent, the outward extension of oneself to God and neighbor. The irony of tattooing is that ink can erase this distinction. Just as art has always conjoined the spiritual and the religious, tattoos can combine the inward and outward expressions of a spiritual or significant experience, literally, as art on the body.

Ink has been on my mind of late. That may be due to recent discussions about the Biblical prohibition against tattooing and the fierce irony of an anti-gay activist sporting a Leviticus 18:22 tattoo.

"Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the Lord." ~ Leviticus 19:28

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What occurs to me this evening as I read about the role of tattoos in initiation and transformation rituals, is that in that little slice of scripture is another insidious tool to prevent people from experiencing a personal interface with the divine. As I wrote here on the second commandment and the iconoclast movements, suppression of religious art closes a key gateway to the ecstatic experience of the numinous.

Art is one of the most powerful and immediate ways to depict core mythologies and archetypes. And myth has the ability to, as Joseph Campbell put it, make us "transparent to the transcendent."

. . .

This, at least, is how I experience spiritual artwork. I have always had a certain fondness for religious art and iconography. But as my spiritual path has deepened, so has my love for images of angels, gods, goddesses, the Buddha, and, well, many other things in heaven above and on the earth below.

Me? I have no tattoos. I have my reasons. But I do have piercings and while those cuts were not for the dead, they are emblems of significant death/rebirth transitions. They marked dramatic eruptions of self-hood. There is much power in body modification; even the temporary acts of hair cuts and color changes. Those are rituals I've performed many times -- ecstatic moments that felt like shedding skins. But there is something marvelously brave about permanent markings.

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May 29, 2012

Mr. Deity on Rights

I haven't posted one of these in a while but this made me chuckle. It's certainly au courant. I particularly enjoyed the Romney quote at the end. Let's face it. Sometimes the satire just writes itself.

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May 28, 2012

The Vatican: Where the Bodies are Buried

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The Vatican is continuing its path toward self-destruction in spectacular fashion. The past week has brought the arrest of the pope's butler for airing dirty laundry, the ouster of the Vatican Bank director, claims from a prominent exorcist that  Emanuela Orlandi was kidnapped for Vatican sex parties, and another priest leading a double-life scandal from the Legionaries of Christ.

Let's start with that last one first because it's such a perfect illustration of how the Vatican makes its own problems with it's rigorous devotion to secrecy. For decades credible claims of outrageous abuses by Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado had been raised, only to be repeatedly dismissed. Previously discussed here and here, Maciel maintained a false identity, the better to keep multiple households with mistresses and children. He molested his own children as well as numerous, young seminarians. There were also financial indiscretions, but given that laundry list, who cares. It's only money. As Father Albert Cutié points out, he was beloved by Pope John Paul II and he got a pass.

Many of these stories were denied for decades by leaders in both the Vatican and the Legionaries, despite the fact that several credible sources, including former seminarians and Legionary priests, tried to bring this misconduct to the Vatican's attention. In 1997, however, a group of these men were fed up enough with the apathy and indifference they encountered within Church circles to organize and present real documentation of their specific accusations. While the institution still ignored them, they caught the media's attention.

The immediate reaction of Church officials, as always, was to deny these rumors as false and malicious. The accusers, who were concerned for the well-being of their Church as well as for possible new victims, were told to go away and be silent "for the good of the Church." Officials repeatedly said that nothing could be done because "the pope holds Father Maciel in high esteem."

And so it goes. Victims of abuse are thrown under the bus to protect the reputation of the Church. Child molestation is a lesser crime by orders of magnitude than rocking the boat. No action is taken until the press is involved and the first reaction from Catholic officialdom is to try to kill the messenger.

Enter Vatileaks, a salacious new book, and near daily eruptions of long buried scandal. "Criminal" screams the Vatican. And they will get to the bottom of it! Oh, not the molestation, the financial misdealing, or possible kidnapping and murder. The leaks!

It's a pattern Father Cutié knows well, having been jettisoned from the Catholic ranks, not after they learned of his affair, but after the paparazzi exposed it.

Like Father Cutié, the latest priest to be sacrificed on the altar of media exposure is a handsome spokesmodel for Catholicism whose vile sin was having consensual sex with an adult female.

In his letter to members, [Father Alvaro] Corcuera said that after he first found out that [Father Thomas] Williams had a child he asked him to "start withdrawing from public ministry" but admitted that the restrictions "were not firm enough" and Williams was allowed to continue teaching.

In fact, Williams continued to appear in public and teach at Rome's Pontifical Regina Apostolorum University.

He appeared as a consultant to a U.S. television network until 2010 and had a contract with the network until May 2011, when it was not renewed, according to a source with knowledge of the matter.

Corcuera said in his letter that he did not give Williams an "explicit indication to full withdraw from all public ministry" until March 2012. By that time it was an open secret to a number of television journalists.

See, the first thing I notice about that story is that no crimes were committed. No children were harmed, with the possible exception of a secret, love child. That can be hard. But no one was sexually assaulted, physically abused, or killed. You have to wonder how many of these scandals could be avoided if the Church would just let its priests get married like normal people. Would it cure the pedophilia problem? No. And there is a pedophilia problem. But it might attract more clergy of natural affections. And it might, just might, force the Church to acknowledge that there is a profound difference between a sex scandal and a child molestation scandal, instead of treating it all like "boys will be boys" shenanigans to be swept under the carpet.

As butler Paolo Gabriele and Vatican Bank President Gotti Tedeschi learned this week, its shaking the dust out of those carpets that will bring swift, immediate action from the Vatican. Both have been accused of leaking documents. Gabriele is cooling his heels in a Vatican jail and Tedeschi was forced from his job by a unanimous no confidence vote.

Tedeschi has been under investigation for possible money laundering but that's not why he was ousted. That investigation was deemed to be "motivated by outside political interests," according to USA Today. This is a theme that should be very familiar to followers of the sex abuse scandal. External investigations by secular media or legal authorities are routinely dismissed as malicious conspiracies against the Catholic Church. It takes a little more than being credibly investigated for criminal behavior to raise the ire of the Church itself. Damning public exposure? Yeah. That'll do it.

The bank, known as the Institute for Religious Works, issued a scathing denunciation of Gotti Tedeschi in a memorandum obtained Saturday by The Associated Press. In it the bank, or IOR by its Italian initials, explained its reasons for ousting Gotti Tedeschi: he routinely missed board meetings, failed to do his job, failed to defend the bank, polarized its personnel and displayed "progressively erratic personal behavior."

Gotti Tedeschi was also accused by the board of leaking documents himself: The IOR memorandum said he "failed to provide any formal explanation for the dissemination of documents last known" to be in his possession.

The lengths to which the Church will go to protect its dirty secrets is typified by the embattled Philadelphia diocese where evidence of crimes was kept under lock and key... and "alarms, safes, and computer security programs."

Evidence in a groundbreaking priest-abuse trial shows the men running the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia used elaborate methods to keep sex-abuse complaints from prying eyes.

. . .

One 1994 list shown to jurors Wednesday lists three diagnosed pedophile priests and 13 more deemed "guilty" of abuse, often because they had admitted it. Yet most remained active priests until the "zero tolerance" policy adopted by U.S. bishops in 2002. And some remained priests years later.

. . .

Bevilacqua ordered a top aide to shred Lynn's 1994 list of 35 problem priests, although a copy surfaced at the archdiocese this year, days after Bevilacqua died.

Other documents recovered from locked safes at the archdiocese contain handwritten notes about how to handle the mounting public relations crisis.

Bury the evidence. Manage the crisis. No man. No problem.

But now, Church secrets are being literally exhumed from a Vatican crypt, which bizarrely housed the remains of a Mafia don. I posted about the case of the mobster and the missing teenager here, and the story has just gotten stranger. Now come charges from a prominent Church exorcist that the fifteen year old Emanuela Orlandi was kidnapped by Vatican police, among others, for purposes of sexual exploitation. Father Gabriel Armoth claims that the answers to this decades old mystery are to be found within the Vatican.

'It has already previously been stated by (deceased) monsignor Simeone Duca, an archivist at the Vatican, who was asked to recruit girls for parties with the help of the Vatican gendarmes.

'I believe Emanuela ended up in this circle. I have never believed in the international theory (overseas kidnappers). I have motives to believe that this was just a case of sexual exploitation.

'It led to the murder and then the hiding of her body. Also involved are diplomatic staff from a foreign embassy to the Holy See.'

It's a somewhat outrageous story from a colorful figure who has also claimed that both yoga and Harry Potter are "the work of the Devil." But given the Church's penchant for sexual exploitation of minors and going to incredible lengths to conceal same, I don't know...

One hopes that there will at least be some resolution to the thirty year old crime now that the police have taken the extraordinary step of digging up bones on Vatican grounds.

Two weeks ago, police acting on an anonymous tip opened the crypt of a mob boss in the Church of Sant'Apollinaire in search of the girl's remains.

The Vatican had given investigators special permission to open the tomb of Enrico ''Renatino'' De Pedis following a 2005 phone call to a television program saying the truth would be found there.

Investigators found dozens metal boxes, all containing bones, inside the crypt that contained the remains of De Pedis.

Most are probably hundreds of years old but a source close to the investigation said some are much more recent.

The Vatican claims that it has always cooperated with investigations into the tragic disappearance of the pretty music student whose father was a prominent, non-clerical employee. Her brother says otherwise and along with hundreds of protesters urged Vatican cooperation. And, after all these years, the Vatican is, indeed, cooperating, having taken the unprecedented step of opening even its tomb. It's amazing what a leaked internal document and the glare of a television camera will do.

Today, the Vatican finds itself still in full damage control mode as fresh reports that it is leaking like a sieve hit the presses. And the possibility that a cardinal may be one of the leakers are being adamantly denied.

"I categorically deny that any cardinal, Italian or otherwise, is a suspect," [Vatican spokesman Father Federico] Lombardi said, adding that the pope was being kept fully informed of the case.

"He is aware of a delicate situation that we are living through in the Roman Curia. He continues on his path of serenity, his position of faith and morals that is above the fray."

That's a lot of fray to rise above but as long as His Holiness can keep floating above the fetid ground, I'm sure everything will be fine.

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May 25, 2012

Catholic Church Going to the Mattresses

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Catholic bishops have signaled their readiness for all out war against modernity and a pluralistic government that would compel them to respect the sexual and reproductive choices of non-Catholic employees and students. And there will be civilian casualties.

In a statement that would put most drama queens to shame, the Archdiocese of Washington had this to say about the issue:
“1. Our more than 600 hospitals nationwide, which will need to stop non-Catholics at the emergency room door and say, ‘We are only allowed by the government to heal Catholics.’
“2. Our schools, which will be required to say to non-Catholic parents, ‘We are only allowed by the government to educate Catholics.’
“3. Our shelters, on cold nights, which will be required to say to the homeless who are non-Catholics, ‘We are only allowed by the government to shelter Catholics.’
“4. Our food pantries, which will be forced to say to non-Catholics, ‘the government allows us only to satisfy the hunger of Catholics.’ ”
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York has already threatened that they will stop feeding the poor.

Yes, Catholic leaders would rather let people die than to passively, not interfere with access to birth control. The punchline, of course, is that the vast majority of the Catholics they will deign to serve, use and approve of birth control. Talk about being out of step.

The scorched earth policy of  the 40+ Catholic dioceses and institutions who have filed suit against the federal government has some bishops nervous.

The first public sign of the internal split came on Tuesday (May 22), a day after 43 Catholic dioceses, universities and other church institutions filed a dozen lawsuits around the country seeking to overturn a policy from the Department of Health and Human Services that requires employers or their insurance companies to provide free contraceptive coverage to employees.

In an interview with America magazine, a national weekly published by the Jesuits, Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Calif., warned that "there is a concern among some bishops that there ought to have been more of a wider consultation" regarding overall strategy before such aggressive legal action was taken.

To sum up, this could backfire. They could lose court cases and create precedents they don't care for. And they risk making the Church a pawn in a broader political war.

"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal." ~ 1 Corinthians 13:1

Mostly the Church seems to be planning its own obsolescence. And it seems more than willing to cut off its nose to spite its face. Catholic Charities, for instance, was more than happy to take tax-payer money but not to follow federal or state government rules. 

Roman Catholic bishops in Illinois have shuttered most of the Catholic Charities affiliates in the state rather than comply with a new requirement that says they must consider same-sex couples as potential foster-care and adoptive parents if they want to receive state money. The charities have served for more than 40 years as a major link in the state’s social service network for poor and neglected children.

The bishops have followed colleagues in Washington, D.C., and Massachusetts who had jettisoned their adoption services rather than comply with nondiscrimination laws.

. . .

Catholic Charities is one of the nation’s most extensive social service networks, serving more than 10 million poor adults and children of many faiths across the country. It is made up of local affiliates that answer to local bishops and dioceses, but much of its revenue comes from the government. Catholic Charities affiliates received a total of nearly $2.9 billion a year from the government in 2010, about 62 percent of its annual revenue of $4.67 billion. Only 3 percent came from churches in the diocese (the rest came from in-kind contributions, investments, program fees and community donations).

As Addicting Info points out, not only are our tax dollars being poured into these institutions, they also enjoy tax exempt status. That's a lot of money coming out of the public coffers only to have the Church retreat to its cloister and tell us all to get stuffed.

31When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: 32And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: 33And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: 36Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. 37Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? 38When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? 39Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? 40And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: 42For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: 43I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. 44Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? 45Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. 46And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal. ~ Matthew 25:31-46

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Rob Kerby Holds Forth on Gay Marriage

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Why, why, why, do I keep looking at the Beliefnet news feed? It only angries up the blood. Rob Kerby has become such a thorn in my side, I need to set up a tag just to track the lunacy.

That said, this was only a mild irritation. But since I can't leave comments on his news feed posts without being moderated down the memory hole, I'll have to respond from my own, ahem, pulpit.

So. What is this Christianist bigot blathering about today? Gay marriage of course. It is the topic du jour, isn't it. After first, quite rightly, rejecting the loathsome comments of Pastor Worley, he goes on to explain why it is a Christian duty to remain politically engaged in the fight against gay marriage. Says Kerby:

One very simple reason is that marriage is a ceremony most often performed by ministers.

Well, Rob, you just said it yourself. And I don't know how to tell you this but "most often" is not the same as "always." People can be married by various legal authorities such as justices of the peace, judges, and court clerks. State laws vary and it always comes back to the state laws. In fact, in some states, even clergy have to be certified by the state in order to marry people, and all marriages have to be registered by the state. The reason the marriage battle is being fought out at the state level is because marriage is a matter of state law, not religious doctrine. It's just that the states are good enough to recognize religious wedding ceremonies in addition to other marriages.

Kerby goes on:

Marriage was designed to reflect the gospel, the message of good news, which all ministers are entrusted to preach.

See, this is so Rob Kerby. In his myopic world view, marriage was invented by Christians. Note that in the previous statement, he doesn't even acknowledge rabbis, imams, or any other religious leaders as conducting marriage ceremonies --- only ministers. No one can be married unless they're Christian married. Marriage didn't even exist, apparently, until there was Christianity. Not even Jews were married. And I think it goes without saying that he wouldn't consider all those Native American marriages that included same-sex unions.

And on:

The Bible is explicitly clear that God designed human sexuality and marriage and that His idea for marriage is a union solely between one man and one woman as described in Genesis 2.

Except, no. That isn't clear at all. The Biblical view of marriage includes a whole lot of polygamy, not to mention female slavery. So no. But I've already covered this painful reality here, here, and here.

Okay. Just needed to get that of my chest.

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May 24, 2012

Defending Pastor Worley... and Genocide

This is cognitive dissonance. This is your brain on cognitive dissonance.

Cooper: Stacey, I know you're a defender of Pastor Worley and I appreciate you comin' on the program. Do you agree with his statements that he said on the pulpit that gays and lesbians should be put in, un, behind electrified fences until they die out?

Pritchard: Um, I believe that that was taken, I mean, yes, he said that, but of course he would never want that to be done. Um. Of course people are gonna take it and make it their own way and make it into what they want to. But I agree with what the sermon was and what it was about. [That's what he said, not what he meant. He doesn't really want to put anyone behind an electric fence.]

Cooper: But you're saying he doesn't want it done but he said he wanted it done on the, he said it from the pulpit. How do you, why do you interpret that's not what he wants?

Pritchard: I, uh, lessee, let me, let me try to say it a different way. Maybe um, maybe uh, that's what he felt like should be done. I mean it can be said either way, okay, just to make the short of it, yes I agree with him. If they can't get the message that that's wrong, then, um, you know, they can't reproduce and eventually they would die. [Okay... Maybe that's what he felt, not what he... and you know maybe killing the queers off slowly and painfully would teach them a lesson. So, yeah. Fence 'em up. Stop all the homo breeding that goes on.]

Cooper: So you believe only, that gay people are only born of other gay people?

Pritchard: I'm sorry, what?

Cooper: You're saying they can't reproduce. So therefore they would all die off.

Pritchard: Uuuh. (crosstalk) If man and man… [Wait... you mean killing all the homos won't stop the homos?...Not that we would ever do that...]

Cooper: Gay people get born to straight parents all the time, don't they?

Pritchard: No, that's not what I meant. If man and man were in the same fence and women were in the same fence, they can't reproduce together. That's what I mean. [See we'd be separating the men and women who don't want to have sex with each other anyway... so they can't breed... Wait...]

Cooper: Right, but that wouldn't eliminate all gay people. There would be more gay people born outside the fence to straight people, wouldn't there?

Pritchard: Exactly, but we were meaning the ones in there. See it's all taken outa context and twisted. The main point is always the same. [We only want to kill the ones we can catch and put behind a fence... except that we don't... See, it's called "a good start."... Stop twisting things!]

Cooper: So what is it about gay people that are worse than adulterers who Leviticus points  out and people who curse their mothers and fathers who should be put to death and promiscuous girls who could be put to death in Deuteronomy. What makes gay people worse than those people?

Pritchard: From the Bible, there's no difference. That is what he was talkin' about. [We'll talk about killing adulterers and mouthy teenagers another day... maybe... Let's talk about the homos!]

Cooper: So you believe people who, you believe adulterers should be put to death 'cause that's in the Bible.

Pritchard: Like you said. Like it was said. Uh, You know just not, not really whatever happened, but yeah, okay, I mean I'm not gonna, you know, keep answerin' the same question over and over. Yes. [Huh?]

Cooper: So, is it, does it seem Christian to you though to talk about putting people behind electrified fences and watching them die. 'Cause I've talked to a number of pastors in the last couple of days who say that just doesn't sound Christian. That just doesn't sound like the message of love that they hear in the Bible.

Pritchard: People keep once again harping, harping, harping, on electric fence, this and that. It's about the HOMOSEXUALS and it's WRONG. That's what it's about. [Stop talking about the electric fence. This is about the homos we want to put behind the electric fence. Not the fence we want to put them behind. Geez!]

Cooper: But you would understand why some people would be, would feel this is, this is wrong to say. I mean you say people are harping on it. Do you understand why some people might be concerned? I mean if some people were talking about putting Jews behind electrified fences I imagine that would be of concern to you.

Pritchard: Well, you know, it's not, it's, here we go again. Nobody's gonna put them behind an electric fence. [Why don't you understand that we'd never put them behind fences just because we really, really want to?]

Cooper: Well, actually, that has happened, Its called the Holocaust. It has happened. You said nobody's gonna kill homosexuals. Homosexuals are killed all around the world. It's happening right now in Iraq. It's happening right now in Iran.

Pritchard: Yeah, and this is 2012.

Cooper: Right. It's happening right now in 2012 in Iraq and Iran…

Pritchard: And you know, and you know what? This is a pastor that speaks the word of God. Anybody can take it anyway they want to. And if they don't like it they don't have to. They can turn around and go on.

Cooper: Stacey Prichard, I appreciate you being on the program. I know it's a difficult topic, so thank-you.

Pritchard: Sure, yeah. Thank you so much. [What. Ever. ::eyeroll::]

Any questions?

More on Pastor Worley's wild ride here.

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May 22, 2012

Whom Would Jesus Exterminate?

As stated, Leviticus 20:13 calls for gay people to be put to death. But where the Andy Gipsons and Bradlee Deans of the world like to talk about God's absolute justice, they flinch on the follow-through. No, they say. We would never call for the death of anyone. Not even the homos.

Not so with Pastor Charles L. Worley. Not only does he have the courage of his convictions, he has a plan. It involves an electrified fence, rationed food, and time. Students of international law will recognize his description as an act of genocide -- forced relocation, prevention of procreation, bodily harm, extermination... But that's cool. The Old Testament fully endorses genocide:

  • The worldwide flood at the time of Noah as described in Genesis, chapters 6 to 8. From the description, it almost completely wiped out the human race, with the exception of Noah, his wife and sons and their wives.
  • The Passover incident described in Exodus chapters 11 and 12, in which all of the firstborn of all Egypt were slaughtered. This included newborns, children, youths, adults, the elderly -- both human and animal.
  • The conquest of Canaan, in which God ordered the Hebrews to completely exterminate the Canaanite people -- again from the elderly to newborns and fetuses. This is described throughout the book of Joshua as occurring in Jericho and other Caananite cities.
  • The near extermination of the entire tribe of Benjamin by the remaining 11 tribes, triggered by the serial rape and murder of a priest's concubine by a few Benjamites. See Judges, chapter 20.

A little more digging from the folks at Good As You finds that this is only Worley's latest proposed solution to the homosexual problem. In 1978, it was lynching... "from a white oak tree."

Well, perhaps where Hitler failed, Worley will succeed... by the grace of God.

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What's the Matter with Missippi?

Missippi's literacy program shows improvement
Not Enough

I kid Mississippi. But then, the good citizens of Mississippi make it way too easy. Even the governor of the great state of North Carolina can't help taking pot shots at the ironically monikered Hospitality State. When her constituents voted overwhelmingly to enact a redundant ban on gay marriage, Gov. Beverly Perdue was quoted as saying:

People around the country are watching us, and they’re really confused. To have been such a progressive, forward-thinking, economically driven state that invested in education and that stood up for the civil rights of people, including the civil rights marches back in the ‘50s and ‘60s and ‘70s — folks are saying, 'What in the world is going on in North Carolina?’ We look like Mississippi.

Mississippians were offended, but when your state legislators are publicly calling for the execution of gay people, it's hard to call yourself a progressive state. Oh sure, Rep. Andy Gipson says he "never publicly or privately called for the killing of any people." But, yeah, he kinda did... when he cited Leviticus 20:13.

The trouble began when Rep. Gipson, who moonlights as a Baptist minister, condemned President Obama's support for gay marriage on his Facebook page.

Been a lot of press on Obama's opinion on "homosexual marriage." The only opinion that counts is God's: see Romans 1:26-28 and Leviticus 20:13. Anyway you slice it, it is sin. Not to mention horrific social policy.

I tire of saying this, but anyone who is pointing to the Bible as justification for legislating marriage as a one man, one woman contract isn't just sidelining the First Amendment. They're ignoring what the Bible actually says. There is no scripture that explicitly forbids the marriage of same-sex partners. There is lots of scripture that endorses polygamy and marriage as a form of female slavery. And the penalty outlined by Leviticus 20:13 for same-sex relations isn't refusal of marriage rights. It's death.

"If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them." ~ Leviticus 20:13

See, that seems fairly straightforward to me. Likewise, it was apparently clear to Christian rocker Bradlee Dean... until it wasn't anymore and he filed suit against Rachel Maddow for saying he said what he, in fact, said.

All of which brings us back to the question of cognitive dissonance, otherwise known as being at cross purposes with oneself. It's either that or a major reading comprehension issue. (See above)

Rep. Gipson, for his part, seems to be genuinely confused. When initially confronted about the incendiary nature of his citation, Gipson seemed to double down.

On Friday, Gipson posted: "I do not, cannot, and will not apologize for the inspired truth of God's Word."

So the death penalty for sodomites it is! But wait... no... This is all just a horrible misunderstanding caused by the liberal media! Or so saith Gipson in a public statement.

Since that time, a well-known radical liberal blog (The Huffington Post) ran an article falsely claiming that this Facebook post was a call "to kill gay people." Nothing could be further from the truth. I have never publicly or privately called for the killing of any people. I believe all people are created in the image of God and I stand firmly for the sanctity of all human life. All people are entitled to the protection of the laws of our nation and the state protecting human life.

Any reasonable person who reads the actual post can see that both scriptures were cited only for the proposition that same-sex marriage is morally objectionable - sin. I believe this reflects the values of the vast majority of Mississippians and the people of District 77 whom I represent.

On the plus side, he got the spelling of both Mississippi and Mississippians right. On the down side, he's still missing the point. If you quote scripture that calls for gay people to be killed, some people just might get the idea that you want gay people killed. Or as Zach Magee of GetEQUAL put it, "If that's not what he meant then why did he quote the scripture?"

It's not like Gipson didn't have other options. I mean, even if he wanted to quote Leviticus, which so many fundamentalists try to avoid, he could have found something a trifle less homicidal.

"Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination." ~ Leviticus 18:22

That makes the point... even if it does open up Leviticus enthusiasts to new levels of irony.

"Tattoo of Leviticus 18:22 forbidding homosexuality: $200
Not knowing that Leviticus 19:28 forbids tattoos: Priceless"

~ High on Quack

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May 20, 2012

Eclipse 2012: Random Views

Tokyo, Japan

Shibuya, Japan

Reno, NV

Albuquerque, NM

Lago Vista, TX

Courtenay Comox Valley, BC, Canada

Antelope, CA

Redondo Beach, CA

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Ring of Fire: Eclipse 2012

Later today an annular solar eclipse will be visible in parts of the US for the first time in nearly 18 years. The most complete view will be on the West Coast.

The western United States and eastern Asia will be treated this weekend to a rare solar spectacle when the moon slides across the sun, creating a “ring of fire.”

. . .

The solar spectacle will first be seen in eastern Asia around dawn Monday, local time. Weather permitting, millions of early risers in southern China, northern Taiwan and southeast Japan will be able to catch the ring eclipse.

Then, the late day sun (on Sunday in the U.S.) will transform into a glowing ring in southwest Oregon, Northern California, central Nevada, southern Utah, northern Arizona and New Mexico and finally the Texas Panhandle.

The Huffington Post has more on what, how, and where, including a handy chart of viewing times and locations.

As the moon revolves aroundEarth, it passes between our planet and the sun once every 29.5 days. Most of the time,the moon zips either above or below the sun, and no eclipse occurs. [Video: How to View the May 20 Solar Eclipse]

But if the moon is close to one of its orbitalnodes— the points where the orbits of Earth and the moon cross — the moon will pass directly in front of the sun and block its light. If the moon is also close to apogee,the point that marks its farthest distance from the Earth, it will not completely cover the sun, and we get an annular eclipse.

"Annular" comes from the Latin word annulus (ring) and refers to the fact that a ring of sun shines all around the moon.

They've also posted interactive maps and other viewing options. They're all kindsa into it at HuffPo. Good for them!

NASA has a list of when and where the can be seen, even in those locations outside the path of annularity. Check out the map below and click the yellow pins to see when the eclipse will be visible in that location, and for even more locations, click over to NASA's comprehensive list. (Hint: Here's a UTC time conversion table.)

. . .

If you're east of the Mississippi River, don't worry -- the Slooh Space Camera is broadcasting the event live, using telescope feeds from Japan, California, Arizona and New Mexico. Slooh's live feed begins at 5:30 p.m. EDT on Sunday.

And remember, kids. Never look directly at the sun. Not even during an eclipse.

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May 17, 2012

The Secret of Scamworld

"Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something." ~ The Princess Bride

Jason Jones does God's work. I became familiar with his brain child, The Salty Droid, when I was searching out information on James Arthur Ray and the horrible sweat lodge deaths that resulted from his hubris. I had found Ray to be one of the least interesting members of The Secret brain trust when I first began to publicly critique it. That Jason, aka Salty, had done his homework on this two bit, genie pimping conman, made his site a go to. And I enjoyed a lot of back and forth with that funny, little robot while I was blogging the sweat lodge trial.

The Salty Droid is brilliantly funny and has given me something of an education on the depths of  flim-flammery that infect a certain segment of this wacky new age arena I call home. Up to that point I had always thought of The Secret crowd and their ilk simply as purveyors of dangerously bad metaphysics. While I thought them excessively pecuniary in their focus, mostly I considered them ignorant. I was wrong. A number of them are grifters and The Secret is really just part of a long con.

The seamy underbelly of internet marketing is not really my beat... until it intersects with spiritual teaching. Then it is very much my concern. One of the things that initially caused me to break my silence on The Secret was the fact that I had clients beating themselves up for things like being sick. The victim blame inherent in that paradigm just makes people who haven't "manifested" the perfect life feel bad about themselves. Worse, it equates any form of adversity with spiritual failing. The part of this problem that I hadn't fully considered back then is that this really sets people up to have their pockets picked. And this is where the relentless "love and light" contingent of the new age meets the dark underworld of internet marketing.

It's a frighteningly good fit if you think about it. What do con artists do? They suss out your aspirations and your vulnerabilities. Then they leverage your vulnerabilities while holding out the promise that they can help you attain your aspirations: love, money, fame, and so on.

What do self-help products like The Secret do? They remind you of all the ways your life is not what you want it to be. That's easily accomplished by holding up an impossible standard of perfection. You may be miserable or you may be fairly content but, come on, we could all stand to improve something in our lives, right? They've done it and so can you!

In advertising it's called "created need." You didn't know you needed a pan that boils hotdogs and steams the buns at the same time until you saw it in an infomercial. And you didn't know that you needed a passive income stream that would make you a millionaire so that you could stop looking for a day job and have total financial independence -- and a yacht -- until you knew such a thing was possible. And you had no idea that you could order up the life you wanted from the giant catalog we call the universe until The Secret told you it was just that simple. But now that you know, you'd be a fool not to have a designer life.

People from all walks of life have heard of The Secret and many take its law of attraction message at face value. It's an idea with a very long lineage and whole lotta truthiness. Far fewer people are aware of the multi-tentacled reach of the internet marketing industry. Fewer still are aware of how the latter is suctioned onto the former.

It's fairly distressing how much of the self-help industry can be found canoodling with Frank Kern and the rest of his "syndicate." For instance, when Bob Proctor's associate Michele Blood isn't busy committing crimes against music, she can be found learning how to run her business "like the mafia" from the man himself.

It takes a giant pair of balls to be Frank Kern.

At about minute 6:00 in the Scamworld video, we meet Glen Ledwell of Mind Movies. Remember Mind Movies? It was one of many products James Ray was pitching to his email list even as he was standing trial in Arizona for the deaths of James Shore, Kirby Brown, and Liz Neuman. Because we all want advice on visualizing the perfect future from someone who's manifested death and destruction on that level... Right? Never mind. It doesn't have to make sense. Because the law of attraction works every time, except when it doesn't, but Mind Movies definitely takes it to a whole 'nother level.

Ray's email was light on the particulars of the product and heavy on the manufactured scarcity of "the launch." And for good measure, the man on trial for sweating people literally to death worked the word "sweat" into the pitch.

But here's the catch...

The team at Mind Movies are only able to offer the incredible Mind Movies 2.1 software at a MASSIVELY discounted price with all the extras to the first few thousand people to take big, bold, fast action.

. . .

So they're sweating it out, because there is a good chance they will sell out today.

From the Scamworld article in The Verge:

The purpose of lead generation is to be able to launch a product. This is what the Internet Marketer is after when they sell you a $20 book. The books and DVDs aren’t products — they’re relationship builders; a bridge to a customer’s credit card. The real “product” will be far more complex, and cost a customer a lot more money.

Unlike mainstream sales, where a product launch is an announcement, in Internet Marketing the product launch is a process. First, information about a new service or product trickles out slowly, among people in the IM community, creating hype and what marketers call social proof — essentially, "proof" that this is a quality product, not through actual evidence, but because the IM community’s echo chamber progressively reinforces the marketers’ claims. The product (again, there’s nothing of value here) is only available for a short period of time, creating a false scarcity that increases its perceived value. Affiliates in the IM community hammer their leads with ads for this "get rich quick" scheme, "magic bullet" business product, or whatever it is, hoping that a small percentage purchases it. The affiliate gets a small cut of the sale; the rest goes to the Internet Marketer selling the product.

Where the Frank Kerns of the world pitch, repackage, and pitch marketing tools, the James Rays of the world pitch, repackage, and pitch self-help tools -- their own and those of their syndicate. They offer up endless recastings of the same, tired law of attraction tools, each one promising to be the thing that finally turns your mind into a pure manifestation machine. And when it doesn't, there are all those seminars, each one promising to be the thing. All they need is your credit card number, because what's a maxed out credit limit compared to a future of total freedom. And if you should happen to die at one of those seminars, that's terribly unfortunate, but all sales are final. Because it's really an "investment" and investing in your future is always wise even when you don't have one.

The objective of internet marketers and the boiler rooms they funnel into is to "find out how much credit is available on the victim's credit card [and] take all of it." They do that by encouraging their marks to talk about their problems and fears and offering them hope for a hefty price. If anything, James Ray was more brazen. Using a range of techniques, he'd break people down -- public humiliation, sleep deprivation, food and water deprivation, intimidation. And the coup de grâce would come as tired, emotionally raw people were pressured to max out their credit cards, sometimes multiple ones, to pay for still more seminars that would fix the many things that were wrong with them. Sometimes they would finalize their transactions even as they sobbed over not being able to afford the expense.

For now, James Ray has been reduced from the gold mine that is Large Group Awareness Training (LGAT) to email pitches for members of his syndicate like the felonious Kevin Trudeau. That's because Ray is still in jail. And, sure, he's promised not to run dangerous events anymore but if the past is any guide, prosecution, and even incarceration, are only temporary inconveniences for these guys. They just keep on scamming.

Well. You gotta stick with what you know, I guess.

Salty has more on his participation in Scamworld and the reaction to it from, well, scamworld.

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May 11, 2012

God, Gays, and Cognitive Dissonance

In the political theater that has ensued since President Obama voiced his personal support for marriage equality, one of the more interesting sideshows has been the confrontation of the religious case against it. Obama's "spiritual adviser," evangelist Joel Hunter, has come out publicly against Obama's "interpretation" of the Bible on this issue. Of course I don't think a religious text has any place in the political debate over this issue. I'm very attached to the First Amendment. But something really amazing is happening that is making the public debate well worth it. Religious conservatives are being dragged into a theological debate about the actual merits of the Biblical case against gay marriage.

Last night on "Hardball," Chris Matthews and Barney Frank destroyed Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. Perkins, who has been tied to white supremacist groups, was well overdue for serious scrutiny from the media. But more to the point, it's past time for the Biblical argument against homosexuality and gay marriage to be called into question. Both Matthews and Frank did just that referring to points I seem to remember having made myself. First and foremost, the traditional view of marriage presented in the Bible isn't just "one man, one woman." It's one man and multiple women. Most telling on that point -- and sad -- was Perkins justification for the Mormon Church's change of doctrine to disallow polygamy after just having said that the definition of marriage should not change. Said Perkins, "They had to change their rules to become a state."

Oh well. That's okay then... that they accommodated federal regulations that were at odds with their religious beliefs and reading of both scripture and prophecy. It's not like they had a choice. So does Perkins think that polygamy is a perfectly fine marriage model? It's a little unclear. But he looked like he'd been hit with a hammer when Frank pointed out that Abraham took a second wife to bear  children and kicked her to the curb when his first wife finally, um, bore fruit.

Throughout this segment both Frank and Matthews kept confronting Perkins with his own words, words he kept trying to back quietly away from. But it was "The Word" that he really had trouble confronting on this issue... because it really doesn't support his argument.

Also confounded by the holy writ on which he claims to base his case was Representative Austin Scott of Georgia. Confronted by California Representative Loretta Sanchez with the fact that the Bible calls for homosexuals not so much to be loved in spite of their sinfulness as to be put to death, Scott countered that that was the Old Testament. Apparently in Scott's world, the Old Testament is not part of the Bible.

Sanchez's point? If we're going to protect the right of military chaplains to act on their religious belief that homosexuality is wrong and disallow gay marriage on military bases, what's to prevent them from acting on their Biblical belief that gay people should be put to death. Crooks and Liars has more.

As discussed, Christian rocker Bradlee Dean seemed to endorse that view a while back and then filed a lawsuit against Rachel Maddow when she quoted him word for word in context. But that is what the Bible says. So if the Bible is your argument against homosexuality, shouldn't you also call for it to be a capital offense?

Most of the time these outspoken Christian critics of homosexuality gloss over the scriptural basis for their claims, and simply present the gross conclusion that the Bible prohibits it as if this were obvious at face value. But it's really not. Aside from how many similar "abominations" escape the ire of the Christian right, even many of the clobber verses they embrace don't mean what they think they mean. A very good write-up here explains that much of what has been translated and interpreted as defining homosexuality actually pertains to things like anal rape during battles, child prostitution, and other genuinely disgusting practices.

Personally, I don't require a Judeo-Christian-centric argument on which to base my views, but for the very observant, it would make sense to really dig into the theology rather than blindly except that God hates gay people. Unlike Mr. Perkins, I don't believe the world is only 5,000 years old and its entire history and moral structure summed up in the Bible -- or even just the latter half of it like Rep. Scott. I believe that even the known history of the world is longer and broader than does Mr. Perkins. In this interview, for instance, he claims that marriage has always been between a man and woman. This, of course, completely ignores the many Native American tribes who allowed for various forms of same sex marriage. (Full disclosure: I worked for the publisher of Living the Spirit at the time of its release. Excellent book. I highly recommend it and would whether I'd worked for SMP or not.)

I'm just glad to see this trope about homosexuality and gay marriage being un-Christian finally being vetted in the media. It's just never been that simple and too many of these religious leaders have been given a free pass on this argument for years. That some of the loudest proponents of religiously based homophobia are finally having their feet held to the fire makes President Obama's announcement well worth it for me.

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Bishops to Girl Scouts: You're Not Bigoted Enough

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Catholic Bishops are attempting to crack down on the Girl Scouts of America. As previously discussed, the Catholic and Mormon Churches have a lot of sway with the Boy Scouts of America and have enforced anti-gay bigotry and intolerance for atheism. They have been less successful at preventing sex abuse in the organization but that should come as no surprise. Yet, the Church that has failed so miserably at protecting children from predators is determined to protect growing girls from modernity.

Long a lightning rod for conservative criticism, the Girl Scouts of the USA are now facing their highest-level challenge yet: An official inquiry by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

At issue are concerns about program materials that some Catholics find offensive, as well as assertions that the Scouts associate with other groups espousing stances that conflict with church teaching. The Scouts, who have numerous parish-sponsored troops, deny many of the claims and defend their alliances.

The problem for the Girl Scouts of America is that they have attempted to remain neutral through the raging culture wars. They allowed a seven year old transgender child to participate, for instance. Religious conservatives apparently think it's better to be cruel to small children for being different.

GSA disputes many of the charges that have been leveled against them. They are not, they say, associated with Planned Parenthood. (Heaven forbid.)

To the Girl Scouts, some of the attacks seem to be a form of guilt by association. Critics contend that Girl Scouts materials shouldn't contain links to groups such as Doctors without Borders, the Sierra Club and Oxfam because they support family planning or emergency contraception.

So not only must the Girl Scouts avoid hot button issues. They can't even link to neutral elements of organizations if those organizations also go in any way afoul of Catholic doctrine. And of course anything that in any way addresses the budding sexuality of adolescent girls must be stamped out, so their association with an international organization that includes countries not mired in a battle to turn back time is out of the question.

Many Christian conservatives are still smarting over a decision in 1993 to allow girls to use names for God consistent with their own religions, such as Islam or Buddhism. Get it? The organization must enforce Christian principles or else. Tolerance for other religious beliefs is out of the question. None of this crazy pluralism America is so famous for should be allowed in the Girl Scouts of America. It's very important to know which is the right God if you're gonna, you know, camp.

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