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Amused Muse

Inspiring dissent and debate and the love of dissonance

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Master's Degree holder, telecommuting from the hot tub, proud Darwinian Dawkobot, and pirate librarian belly-dancer bohemian secret agent scribe on a mission to rescue bloggers from the wholesome clutches of the pious backstabbing girl fridays of the world.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

More Stupidity about Atheists from Newsweek

Yeah, we've never built anything. Right.

How about the Enlightenment?

How about evolutionary theory? (Now evolution's predicted "demise" is the year 2025. Naturally, I have my own ideas about that.)

How about women's rights?

Bad atheists, bad, bad! You don't believe in something that doesn't exist - it's an outrage! I'd rather vote for Paris Hilton or the JFK terrorist plotters than you. They should take your citizenship away!

And we can see by watching this video the kind of company that atheists keep!
Isaac Asimov
Carl Sagan
Richard Dawkins
Francis Crick
Marie Curie
Katherine Hepburn
Marlon Brando
Noam Chomsky
Susan B. Anthony
etc., etc., etc...

UPDATED: Yeah, it's not like this nation has its hands full with religious fanatics or anything...
SECOND UPDATE: Rev. Barking Nonsequitor takes on Chuck Norris! Rev. Barky is my hero! And did I mention that Rev. Barky is teh sexeh...? :-) (Sorry, Barky, is that okay?)

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Blogger Rev. Barking Nonsequitor said...

I'm not so sure the article was really that stupid - I think they are just pointing out that there is a division between soft and hard Atheists. I agree the Harvard hummanist professor is a sponge, so yea, he is kind do of stupid. What Hitchens, Harris and Dawkins are doing is being assertive about what is so obvious in our society - they are pointing to the blob monster and screaming - "look how ugly and smelly it is!" That's not fundimentalism - it's the truth.

You can't be soft on the religious right but they will accuse you of being what they are just to confuse the issue. Fundies!

June 13, 2007 5:08 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

Look, I'm a "hard" atheist - for pity sakes I'm a 7 on the God Delusion scale, which puts me as more vehement than Dawkins (he's a much nicer person than me), and didn't I just go on a rant about all these discussions that I've had with Jews and Muslims because I actually know some?

This was written by another little Ivory Tower get-along twit who has never done the hard work of having friends who in some cases will not speak to each other (and in some cases don't even know why they're friends with me).

"We need to build." Oh, give me a break! That set me off. Just because the religious believers steal their ideas (eventually) from atheists and parade them as their own inventions does not mean that we have to repeat their plagerism. Sometimes I think we need to stage a walkout.

Or put a registered trademark on certain phrases and ideas (yeah, I know you can't really do that).

June 13, 2007 5:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sam Harris said all that was needed in Letter to a Christian Nation and The End of Faith.

You may be a 7 - but I'm off the scale. I have not the slightest doubt that the religious will kill us all and they will glorify the process as they commune with their dear and fluffy lord.

There simply is no excuse - or use - for believers. The moderates empower the wild-eyed pistol wavers I mentioned yesterday.

The enlightenment is coming to an end and fear and superstition ARE the coin of the realm.

Don't believe me? Watch those R "debates" - be afraid, very afraid - of terror.

The war on terrorism is a war on a methodology - not an enemy. Nobody seems to bring this bit of reality up in any large public forum.

Money spent on military is money destroyed (what market exists to purchase an exploded bomb, fired shell, crashed aircraft?) - and thus more money must be spent, profits made and bodies piled.

Why do we kill - well, a major motivating force is the belief in an afterlife. If people had the guts to realize that you only get one life then there might be far less carnage.

But people are a frightened lot longing for a magical escape - and they readily buy (LITERALLY - how many really megabuck churches / mosques / temples / religious structures exist near you?) into the delusion by tithing.

Pie in the sky, by and by.... meanwhile, we'll drop more bombs and watch you die.

At root - all Christianity is is a death cult. And that goes for every religion I know of - everybody who creates a religion wants to get out of life without dying.

Heaven's Gate, the Mormons, The Assemblies of God, Christian Science, the Raleians, the Davidians, the Scientologists, Jim Jones and The People's Temple - how many cults, how many slices of the existential pie can be divided among the frightened masses and how many must die before we learn that this mythology is myth?

My answer: never comes the day.

If we haven't figured it out in the last 100 years we never will.

These people have 21st century weapons.......just imagine what Jim Jones could have done with 10 megatons. Hiroshima was slightly over 400 kilotons and more than 200,000 died instantly.

Have you ever had a person, in all earnestness, tell you that Satan controls doctors? Have you ever had a person look you in the eye and tell you how they talk with God - and / or Jesus every day?

Now, consider that each of the two people I mentioned have advanced degrees - one a Rhodes Scholar with Harvard and Yale degrees and the other a school teacher with six certifications, a MS and 30 years of teaching in PUBLIC SCHOOLS. These are pillars of their communities. They are in their 50's and they are not about to give up their beliefs.

Reality is a concept beyond the ken of the majority of the population and it isn't dependent on intelligence - there is a deep fear that drives these people and we will be at their mercy for the rest of our lives.

June 13, 2007 7:54 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

So, what do you suggest?

What's the solution? After all, you quoted someone to me yesterday, about not being a part of the problem.

Yes, I'm vehement, but the whole world is my expedition and I'm not content to live only in a small part of it. Religion is human; therefore I learn about religion. But "God" is not human and is also nonexistent. I care about people, all people, but not about God at all. That's what atheism means to me.

Have you ever had a person, in all earnestness, tell you that Satan controls doctors? Have you ever had a person look you in the eye and tell you how they talk with God - and / or Jesus every day?

Yes, and yes. As a matter of fact, someone close to me told me when I was a teen-ager that if I didn't believe the Bible I was going to hell.

"There's no excuse for believers." Okay, let's assume you're right (I'm not necessarily agreeing with you). But they exist. So what do you do about it?

I don't feel that I am at anyone's mercy. I'm sorry, I have accomplished way too much on my own without being mentored the way that the more privileged people I work with were, to feel helpless. If there's anyone who feels helpless it's religious people. They say and listen to how "God can do anything," and here I am believing that I can do anything that I've a mind to. I do things that they believe they can't. I do things that they could if only they would turn that imagination from God toward themselves. Maybe you could see religion as a symptom of that helplessness, which is a deeper problem and also, yes, part of religion's vicious cycle. Then, it is possible to talk about solutions.

June 13, 2007 8:18 PM  
Blogger Crandaddy said...

I think anonymous needs to take his meds...

You may be a 7 - but I'm off the scale. I have not the slightest doubt that the religious will kill us all and they will glorify the process as they commune with their dear and fluffy lord.

By "the religious" I assume you refer to theists. Would you care to explain just how belief in an immanent and transcendent deity necessarily entails murderous tendencies?

Of course there are religious extremists who pose a deadly threat to themselves and others, but to say that theistic faith is itself a deadly problem which should be done away with is terribly mistaken.

June 14, 2007 1:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The original article was yet another piece of pabulum - go along and get along. This doesn't work and Sam Harris illustrates how this kind of thinking only permits the radicals to thrive no matter how crazy their beliefs.

The golden temple in Tikrit was destroyed yesterday. Anybody who doesn't recognize the fact that the Iraq war has at the core religious differences between the Shia, Sunni and Kurdish factions there is either a fool or grossly ignorant.

Yes, we created the war - but the residents are jockeying for power along religious lines.

I gave extensive examples of how religion has plunged our world into chaos over the last two millennia and I showed that it was not limited to "theists" where Indira Ghandi - daughter of Nehru, mother of the Indian atomic weapons program, desecrator of the Sikh Golden Temple was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards.

Today the world faces a nuclear war between Pakistan and India - a Muslum state vs. a Hindu state.

The US is the world's greatest arms manufacturer and it is a high profit business. The US military has deep ties to Religion and today we know that the Air Force Academy is a hotbed of evangelicals and anti-Semitism is rampant throughout the chaplains in all branches of the US Military.

I submitted that Religion makes war and death palatable.

In, What's The Matter With Kansas, Thomas Frank pointed out how the city of Wichita was destroyed from within by single-issue voters opposing abortion rights - whose legislators rode into office on the religious single issue and then gutted city services.

To what extent has our government fragmented over religion? How much of our foreign policy is driven by religion? Education policy?

What is the new Pope doing? Well, among other matters he has recapitulated the doctrine that life begins at marriage - that nothing should prevent God's gift of children and any practicing Roman risks excommunication by practicing birth control. This leads to massive population issues in poor nations, the spread of AIDS in Africa and in predominantly Catholic populations.

Ultimately it leads to Sam Brownback coming out (last Sunday) against any contraception/abortion rights for rape victims - in deference to God's gift of an innocent child.

Religion exploits fear and there is little that we can do to fight the magical thinking of people who are afraid that they will die. They want a different life and will spend their one life preparing for "the next life" - to the detriment of those of us engaged with reality.

Would we have a Polio vaccine today? No Smallpox case has been found since 1977 - would we have been able to eliminate that scourge in light of the anti-science bent of today's evangelicals?

Why don't we have stem cell research at the level of the Polio project? The benefits to Diabetics and the neurologically impaired are manifest. "W's" first veto was pure religious bias to the detriment of all.

If atheists had any power, we would not have tolerated the stem cell debacle. Nor would we have permitted Reagan's gross neglect of AIDS research funding.

Taking action means understating where we stand and where changes can be made. We will never remove the fear of death from the majority of people - but we can demand that science be permitted to alleviate pain and suffering and refuse to continue to fund military funding / weapons research at a level greater than all other nations, combined.

How about the two goals? Cut military spending and increase medical research funding?

June 14, 2007 6:08 AM  
Blogger Kristine said...

Well, I’ll put my two cents in about your question, Crandaddy. I think that human beings will always kill each other for many reasons: territory, resources, greed, etc. It sucks and I hate it. But I do think that religion gives people a reason to kill each other for, well, no real reason. That is essentially Avalos’ argument. The way I look at it (I’m departing from Avalos now), religion is a consequence of language, and language can “create” things that really don’t exist. We can argue about whether or not God exists, but I tell you – having spent that week in a unique ecosystem – that language definitely creates these ideas – “I hate you,” “You’re ugly,” “You’re stupid,” “You’re worthless,” etc. – that definitely do not exist. They have no reality in nature. But for many people, they have a powerful reality.

What I’m getting at here is that 1) Language, as wondrous as it is, has a dark side in making things that are not real seem to be real, 2) We should talk about what is and is not real, such as God, and this discussion is what atheists are contributing, 3) Making things that are not real seem to be real is a fabulous tool for waging war.

I admit that I’m a seven. I think it’s better for me to admit that than to deny it, since it rather shocks me – in fact on some level it disturbs me – and on principle, I try to emulate Dawkins in claiming that number 6 – I cannot finally “know” God doesn’t exist but I live my life as if He doesn’t – because that’s the rational response. I keep talking about the scientific method, about rationality, because these are a check and a balance on me, on what I feel inside, as well. Frankly, I don't know where I would be if I didn't have this rational voice talking calmly inside of me to mitigate my vehemence. And as I stated at RD’s forum, I ironically can empathize with the person who says, “I just know there’s a God!” because I feel the same way, but think the opposite! And perhaps that makes me the atheist fundamentalist that everyone is talking about but I think that my effort, and my attempts to empathize with that ardent believer (who also is not necessarily a fundamentalist him/herself), actually saves me from fundamentalism.

Okay, so I assert that religion makes possible the possibility of human beings killing each other over words. However, after mulling over what Avalos said I have come to the conclusion that language can empower other destructive forces in the same way. Perfectionism is a destructive force that has no reality in nature. After the kind of day that I had at work on Tuesday, I realized that someone’s relentless perfectionism is a myth that nevertheless abuses and hurts people. Is perfectionism related to religion in some special way? I don’t know, but is it a coincidence that this person attends church?

(I’ve never understood Christian perfectionists. If they believe that we are sinful, then why get so mad when people are not perfect? Are they mad at God? Then why take it out on other people? Why doesn’t their Christianity place a check on their drive to criticize and abuse people for not being perfect? I walk into a church and I guarantee you, at least five women that I’ve never met will sneer at me and put me down. Dirty secret – gossip in the church. Take it from a church secretary’s daughter, if believers got their arms around the hurtful speech in the church, they would solve a lot of related problems at the same time!)

I said something in another post about guilt and shame being at the core of a lot of destructive behavior. These are different than conscience and self-awareness. Could atheists use guilt and shame to oppress people? I think they could. Unfortunately, I know some atheists who are users and abusive, and they are not my friends. (Rev. Barky knows about this, too.) Such behavior has led to schism and could potentially lead to other wars – more wars over words. That’s something to think about, Anonymous!

I agree with funding medical research but not with cutting the military - ordinarily I would - but the budget would just be cut on the backs of our already strained troops. Man, I tell you, I am scared about all this talk of the military being strained. Really, truly scared.

I'm scared about global climate change.

I'm scared about the level of scientific illiteracy in this country.

These things frighten me and I'm trying to do at least something about it. I'm not just trying to be mean.

June 14, 2007 10:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


You say you are a 7 on the Dawkins' scale of theistic belief, but you seem almost apologetic about it. If my perception is correct, let me relate why it is that you needn't be.

While I respect Professor Dawkins and we are largely in agreement concerning most topics, the idea that we can't disprove the existence of gods is one notion on which I part company with the good Professor.

Dawkins is, of course, correct when he suggests that from the standpoint of science, an interventionist god like the one from Christian bibles who modifies natural law to favor those who believe in said god, should be detectable by straightforward statistical methods. If believers have life outcomes that are more in accordance with their prayers than statistical randomness, the divine intervener could be perceived. Through that mechanism of delving into the existence of gods, that is, by treating the question as a science only one, we are left hefting about the idea that "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence," and, since we as finite creatures cannot possess all possible evidence to assess the veracity of our hypothesis that no god exists, the scientific approach forces us, regardless of the volume of evidence supporting our claim, to fall short, perhaps even vanishingly so, of a Dawkins' seven, leaving us that hair's breadth away from our atheistic position. But, there is another approach which for me is more fruitful and more satisfying than being required to accrue an infinite amount of evidence before making a truth claim regarding the proposition that no god exists.

The approach is this simple: I never need to prove or disprove truth claims made for fiction: fictional fabrications of the mind start out disproved. None of us needs to disprove the existence of Harry Potter or Hogwarts, for example. They were inventions of mind; they never existed, and, as depicted, they never will. Is anyone required to disprove the existence of Darby Shaw from Grisham's "Pelican Brief"? NO! How about Billy Pilgrim from Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse Five"? If someone tells us that Billy Pilgrim was real, that he really existed, are we under any obligation whatsoever to commit resources to the disproving the claim. No. Why? The idea of Billy Pilgrim began in the imagination of Vonnegut, only the idea is real, not the person. Even if Vonnegut himself suggested that Billy Pilgrim or Montana Wildhack were real people, no disproof would be necessary since they are fictions. So, it goes with religious writings and subsequent truth claims.

Today, despite thousands of years of often murderous interference from religions, we know the origins of the myths, legends and fables of the world's religions. They are all of human creative origin. The holy and/or sacred books of the world's religions were written by men with vivid imaginations. We know the societies and traditions from which the stories were handed down. We know their systems of justice and social control and how those ideas were woven into the fabric of the legends. That's it. We need nothing more to know that disproof is unnecessary. The claims of the Bible, for instance, were disproved from their imaginative beginnings. Nothing to refute. No different than Dr. Seuss' "The Cat in the Hat."

We are born into this world as atheists. That is our natural theistic belief state. At birth, no gods exist for us. We are all sevens, dead on, Kristine. Completely and unapologetically, sevens. That is what we get from the natural world. It is only through socialization amongst the religious that people are forced away from our natural state, away from our innate sevenness. On the Dawkins' scale, different from seven always means being something less than what you were at birth.

Embrace your inherent sevenness, Kristine. Our lives are short enough that each day should be considered something special. Our consciousnesses will cease at some point, and unless it truly adds joy to one's life, not a great deal of time should be dedicated to the senseless overhead of unproductive attempts to disprove what was flat out disproved from it's outset.

Be a seven.


June 14, 2007 5:41 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

But you're assuming your conclusion, Russ. How do you "know" that Slaughterhouse Five is fiction? The same way that we "know" that the Mona Lisa was "designed"--we can name the author and the painter.

But what about the Iliad? Wasn't that assumed to be fiction until Troy was actually unearthed?

I am a 7. I'm not apologetic about it - but I'm cautious about it. I think that's right and good. In myself I'm comfortable with myself. But in society I want to utilize reason. Because I think other people may actually be comfortable with themselves (or not), and I want to know if this is so, and if so, why.

A lot of the theories of the origin of religion strike me as dismissive myths in their own right. I really want to find out.

I'm not sure that we're all born atheists. I'm sure I was - but we're not blank slates. I haven't read Pinker's books yet but I would like to. If it were just a matter of socialization I would be an ardent Christian, but I have not been since age 9 (and maybe even before). If we are born blank slates then I would not have been alone with my atheism all those years.

I'm not apologetic about it, I'm curious about it. And I'm always trying to find some way to empathize with someone completely like me because it's terrifying (and something in me likes being scared, blown away, surprised), because it's the unknown, because I'm a writer and I believe that writers have to be fearless explorers. I like the fact that there are others out ther like me, but I don't want to just talk to other sevens. I'm a rebel, even among atheists.

So I do embrace it, but that's not enough for me. Something in me needs to step back and apply reason, to question and even doubt myself. It is a challenge and a discipline. I'm not wavering between theism and atheism, but between my gut and my head.

June 14, 2007 8:15 PM  
Anonymous brad said...

Newsweek: "3% say they are atheists" - even in the USA I find that hard to believe...
...hmmm.... maybe I have something on this... I'm more afraid of telling my own mother (I am a 24 year old university student) that I am not a Christian then the idea that there might be not a God. Simplified: my evangelical mother scares me more than the genocidal God of the OT.

Isn't there something sad about that?h

June 15, 2007 2:09 AM  
Blogger Joshua said...

Reading Greg's comments saddens me, because I like Greg. I met him at a couple of events up in Boston, and he's a really great guy. Very friendly, listens to anything you have to say. I'm sure he does a great job in his role as Harvard's humanist chaplain.

But apparently he thinks I'm the moral equivalent of Jerry Falwell simply for having the audacity -- the nerve! -- to suggest that maybe religion is more harmful than helpful most of the time. God forbid.

I paid $90 for the privilege of listening to a bunch of fundraising pitches at the Harvard Humanist Conference this last Spring. I was glad to do it, because I think we nontheists need to stick together, given the contempt that general society holds us in. And I also believe that nontheists should have access to the same kinds of counseling and guidance and other services that religious organisations provide.

But I'm not going to give another penny to somebody who says that I am, in effect, emboldening the enemy or on the same level as the fundie hatemongers simply because I refuse to grant automatic reverence to outdated, harmful ideas.

Why is it that the fucking "appeasers" are the ones who draw the lines in the sand? Why is it that the "fundamentalist atheists" are the ones who want the big tent, where there's a place for Ken Miller and Richard Dawkins together to make common cause in defence of science, when the "nice guys" are the ones who say that never the twain should meet?

Bah, humbug.

June 15, 2007 3:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Want to show support for the troops? BRING THEM HOME.

Look at any military budget - funds spent on troops comprise 25% of over half a trillion dollars.

The US spends approximately 47% of the world's total military spending.

That obscene sum is all taken from our tax money and more than 3/4 of it is used for goods and services that have nothing to do with troops.

We are the weapons developers and merchants to the world. Why do we continue to spend our tax funds to develop advanced weapons systems only to allow private transnational companies to sell weapons systems?

Religion allows us to be the planet's merchants of death. The self-contradictory positions of the religious are nowhere clearer than in the world of war. Show me the bomb that does not kill the innocent unborn child.

Explain why "supporting the troops" means leaving them in harms way - and usually facing weapons we sold to the other side.

In Iraq, prior to the latest invasion, UN Weapons Inspectors headed by Hans Blix knew the location of every weapons stockpile. We could have targeted them as a part of the opening waive of the invasion. We didn't.

"IED" is just another example of doublespeak. There is nothing improvised but the delivery system. The "IEDs" are US manufactured howitzer shells. 60 Minutes actually showed these on their Memorial Day weekend show about the Iowa Guard unit that they followed.

If atheism means anything, it means fidelity to reality. It means that there are ethical norms derived from rational principals and not deities. It means that the vast trade in weapons cannot be countenanced. It means that medicine and education and quality of life are higher priorities than war profits.

It means that killing our troops and reassuring the families that the dead are in heaven is unconscionable.

June 15, 2007 5:49 AM  
Blogger Kristine said...

Brad! I know what you’re talking about. Please read this, please!

Yesterday I had to finally tell someone something that I was scared to say, too. I have been feeling like crap for years about myself in front of this person, feeling bad about my job performance, feeling judged, feeling intimidated, even bullied. Finally, yesterday, I said something, and not to my boss this time – to her, the person I was having a problem with.

And it was OKAY!

We actually TALKED!

For the very FIRST TIME! :-) I found out that she doesn’t look down on me. I found out that she felt bad about herself, too. I found out how much I really cared about her and was worried about her. I told her that. And she told me that she knew that she had to work on a few things about herself (just as I have to work on a few things about myself).


Didn’t I just post something about the human capability of self-transformation? You don’t have to try to change your mother, or she you. You don’t even have to like each other. But I bet you still love each other.

Tell her. Please. What’s the worst that can happen? That your mother will say, “Well, I know this is just a phase, and that you’ll be a Christian when you grow older,” as my mother did? ;-) I just chuckle at that now. She means the best.

Really. Talk to her. Maybe she’ll be mad at first, or maybe not. But you know that cliché about how when you face something scary, it’s never as bad as you think it is? Well, it’s true! People are amazing. They just fucking amaze me with their complexity and ability to change and to like each other, despite everything. Who knows, maybe your mother will surprise you.

Joshua, Greg is playing that “You can’t support the troops without supporting the war,” game. I would love for Greg to read this post and these comments here. He is the one not doing the hard work of trying to find ways for people to respect each other, despite their faith, instead of just “respecting your faith.”

Anonymous! I agree with you!

Bring them all home to me – will dance for vets for free. Bring my soldier sisters home for the biggest sister shimmy party ever! And get counseling for our vets. Remove the stigma of PST. There isn’t one "weak" bone in their bodies.

June 15, 2007 9:04 AM  
Blogger breakerslion said...

"Epstein called the popular writers Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins "atheist fundamentalists." "He accused the best-selling authors—he now includes Christopher Hitchens among them—of being more interested in polemics, in tearing down and waging war on religion than in doing anything positive"

Yes, and I'd rather walk to school than carry my lunch. False dichotomy asshat!

June 16, 2007 1:23 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

False dichotomy indeed. How ironic that Epstein makes that charge about Dawkins, who in his book The God Delusion recounts all of the similar criticism that people like Epstein leveled at Albert Einstein!

Pretty flattering to be put in the same camp with Einstein, though of course I've already made that association for Dawkins. ;-)

There is actually more than a little insult directed at religious people in Epstein's comments. He is emphasizing doctrinal correctness - rather like political correctness - over cultivating a respect for people.

John is reading a book called Them: Adventures with Extremists in which the (Jewish) author hangs out with anti-Semites, white supremacists, militia members, etc., and discovers the incredible ability of human beings to like each other despite everything.

I also recommend to Epstein the film "Sherman's March" which is an adventure through the south in the 1970s, during which the filmmaker comes into contact with Mormons, separatists, Christian Dispensationalists, etc. Yes, they're people - they're very likeable people.

Epstein seems to think he deserves a gold medal for saying only nice things. He should read my comment above about how I discovered how much I cared about somebody when I allowed myself to express anger to her. Politeness is a sign of respect in certain social situations, but not in others! In some situations, as when we withhold our true opinions about God and reality and evolution and education, politeness is actually an insult to the people who disagree with us.

I mean, for pity's sake no one is going to die or collapse to learn that there are people out there who don't believe in God. People just aren't that fragile. We are all towers of strength and we have to learn to fight properly with each other. Respect for people - not smiling silence "respect" for doctrines (it's not respect, anyway) - is the key.

Maybe if we modeled the proper way to fight with each other for our young people, they wouldn't be killing each other.

June 16, 2007 2:13 PM  

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