11/29/2007                                                                                       View Comments

This I Believe!

It amazes me that so many otherwise intelligent people, who use reason in every other aspect of their lives, can believe the .

People who would never believe anything even remotely as far-fetched, somehow believe.

People who question the things they hear, see, and read everyday—and require concrete proof before making a judgment or decision—still somehow believe.

How can this be?



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11/28/2007                                                                                       View Comments

HAPPY WINTER LIGHTS FESTIVAL!!!

By Steven

What a drag. The "Hell o'days" are here and the baby Jesus (cast in authentic Chinese designer resin!) is on sale NOW at Rite Aid! Even before the post Halloween 50% off candy sale (IMPORTANT!!) was over...last years left over Xmas crap was dusted off and dragged out of the back room by miserable employees and diligently scattered around the drug store.

Overhead (by authority of The President) the torture is piped in...silent nite, away in a mangy, holly jolly Xmas...I would rather be water boarded than to hear F@%$!!#@ Jingle Bells one more time.

Years ago my pastor shocked the congregation with this statement from the pulpit...

"I see bumper stickers everywhere that read "Keep Christ in Christmas" I say leave him out of it!...Christmas is hopelessly compromised and we'd do better just to celebrate with a wonderful Winter Feast and think about the baby Jesus some other time" Needless to the old ladies were shocked.

I agree...get Christ out of Xmas, besides the Government unlawfully shuts down for Christian (ONLY!) holidays anyway. However! I think Pastor Howard was right about the Winter Feast.

As a non-religious person, I celebrate the longest night of the year with lights and candles, food and friends. It's called...

"The Winter Lights Festival"

I don't say Happy Holidays (HOLY DAYS) I say… Happy Winter Lights!

This is absolutely not related to Wicca or any other pagan crap… the longest night of the year is an astronomical phenomenon, known by humans for tens of thousands of years. It is just the position of the sun and planets… not magic.

It has always been dark and cold on that night… in the northern hemisphere. For eons, men have feasted and celebrated the coming of the light…the days begin to get longer the day after Winter Lights. Unfortunately, being ignorant, man just HAS to put some “magic” into it. No godz make the days longer, just nature. But we have always had some kind of feast at the winter solstice.

So this year I will have my Winter Lights party on Friday evening December 21.

I decorate with many candles and lights, give gifts to my friends, we have food. we party. We celebrate our friendship and remember how the truths of science have delivered us from the slavery of ignorance, religion, magick and stupidity. I live near South Lake Tahoe Nevada and if anyone wants to join me… RSVP soon! We start at sunset!

Happy Winter Lights!

11/27/2007                                                                                       View Comments

Gratitude - Only for Theists?

Reposted from the Freethought Café by J.C. Samuelson

Scanning the Internet for news and views on a variety of topics, and for how they relate to secularism, I frequently find myself shaking my head at the smörgåsbord of absurdity issuing from the keyboards of religionists. Both the ignorant and the educated get in on the act, the latter merely couching their vituperation in more sophisticated language. During the holiday season especially, their frequency and variety seems to increase. There are so many, in fact, I feel like a mosquito in a nudist colony - it's hard to know where to begin. Today, I'll be focusing on just one ridiculous idea - that non-theists literally have nothing to be thankful to. This particular chestnut makes the rounds every year around Thanksgiving, a uniquely American holiday with no basis in religious dogma or scripture, but with a culturally religious origin.

Many theists profess to believe, of course, that gratitude and appreciation are contingent upon the existence and providence of God. More specifically, they profess the belief that without an object to express those feelings to, somehow these things have less value. Because atheists do not have a deity to give thanks to, feelings of gratitude or appreciation are allegedly unfocused and meaningless, helping to deepen the existential and intellectual morass within which atheists are supposed to dwell, leading ultimately to despair. Though vexing (and vaguely insulting), I don't believe this constitutes any sort of meaningful attack on an atheistic worldview.

Ken Connor, an attorney and founder of the Center for a Just Society, is just one of many who've asserted something about secular gratitude this year. He asks, almost rhetorically, "[w]e know what we are thankful for, but to whom do we owe our thanks? What is the meaning of Thanksgiving without God?" The answer is, of course, a confusing mix of nothing. According to Connor, that is.

Some atheists argue that it is inappropriate to thank a "God" who does not exist. And, they acknowledge that it is less than satisfying to thank the Law of Gravity or the Second Law of Thermodynamics for all they have made possible for us. Hence, they argue, we should thank "goodness—the wonderful fabric of excellence created by individuals working together in human civilization to make this planet a better place." But does this really make sense? If the world is merely a product of random chance, if there is no Creator and no transcendent morality, can there be such a thing as "good"? And if this "wonderful fabric of excellence" is simply the result of cosmic accident, then is any thanks owed?

The sad reality of our secular society is that, while we retain many of our traditions, they are increasingly losing their meaning. Many "feel" thankful, but they have nothing to thank. Over time, as they continue to live out the logic of their position, they will eventually stare blankly into the abyss, their only feeling being one of despair.


Albert Mohler expressed similar sentiments, saying the secular vision of Thanksgiving feels "empty and false" to him. But since Mr. Connor goes into more detail, it makes more sense to address them both through this one article.

It's difficult to know to whom Mr. Connor is referring in the first sentence from the quote. Most atheists I know, myself included, would likely regard thanking a non-existent (or extremely improbable) God no more or less appropriate (or silly) than thanking the Second Law of Thermodynamics, or any other abstraction. If a person derives some feeling of comfort from having expressed gratitude to one or more principles or concepts perceived as benevolent in some way, that's just dandy. In fact, if it helps a person focus on their feelings of gratitude in a way that helps them direct its expression, so much the better. What I would object to, if anything, is the idea that like Mr. Connor, I should be thanking that same extremely improbable God, or that currying favor with this God is more important than thanking the people that actually have (or have had) an influence on my life in some way, no matter how seemingly insignificant.

What I've just alluded to is the idea that it may be more appropriate to thank one or more of the many human agents involved in actually delivering whatever one is grateful for. This isn't always technically practical, but can certainly be more immediate and meaningful. At least the recipients inhabit the physical realm, and in that sense are more accessible. If one is grateful for one's fiscal success, for example, it's certainly reasonable to thank whoever it was who taught what was needed to succeed, be it parents, teachers, friends, or previous employers. One might also thank a current employer, or more broadly those who demand the employer's services, thereby creating the need for one's position. If one is thankful for children, there's no reason not to thank the person who helped with conception, or those involved in helping with labor and delivery.

But what if those to whom one is grateful are no longer living, or have moved on to other relationships? What if one is thankful to an animal, such as Binta Jua, that deserves appreciation for some reason? What if one or more of these potential recipients hurt you or someone you love deeply in some way, physically or emotionally? It doesn't seem impossible to be grateful to these recipients, even under these difficult circumstances. One can, for example, still be grateful to deceased loved ones, whose contributions to your life helped shape it. It's also possible to be thankful to a creature that perhaps saved a life. And, when it comes to those who've hurt us, gratitude isn't necessarily appropriate or easy to come by. Yet maybe we can be thankful to them also, if only on a limited scale, for what they've done also helped to mold our character, or otherwise provided us with at least something of lasting value. One personal example would be my ex-wife, without whom I would not have had the opportunity to experience fatherhood or know my daughter, and who, through her faults, helped me find (and correct some of) my own.

Is it also possible to be grateful for something widely viewed as negative or bad? Of course it is. One can be thankful for a divorce, a missed flight, an illness, an addictive drug, and even death on a massive scale. A victim of domestic violence - which is not expressly prohibited by scripture, by the way - might be thankful to the judge who grants a restraining order and later a divorce. Someone who misses a flight, or suffers from an illness that prevents the fulfillment of a binding obligation may later be grateful if it turns out that going on that flight would've meant certain doom, or that fulfilling that obligation would've required odious moral decisions. An addict might thank God for the existence of certain plants from which a drug of choice is extracted, or more immediately to those that provided the refined drug. A criminal can be grateful to those that provided functional tools or the skills required to commit crimes. Finally, it's possible to be thankful to and for those who have died fighting a war to preserve a particular way of life.

As for how our gratitude may be expressed, in an age of instant communication, it's not really that difficult to express one's gratitude. If it can't be directed to the intended recipient for whatever reason, then perhaps to someone close to or involved somehow with the recipient. An email may be all it takes. Alternatively, it's possible to express it in ways that don't involve the original parties at all. The principle of serial reciprocity (i.e., paying something forward), in which a person repays an initial good by directing future acts of kindness and generosity toward someone other than the original benefactor, is probably the best example of an alternative expression of gratitude or giving.

It seems that the list of potential candidates is virtually limitless, as are the possible reasons to feel gratitude and the ways it might be expressed.

At this point, we might infer a few things about gratitude. First, gratitude is most meaningful to the one feeling or expressing it. That is, a recipient is clearly not the primary beneficiary. This becomes all the more apparent when one considers that those who offer thankful prayers to God do not (usually) expect a response, and would likely scoff at the notion that God has an emotional need to feel appreciated. Second, gratitude isn't fixed to a specific morality. A tyrant or criminal can feel and express gratitude just as easily as a philanthropist or missionary, even if it offends the rest of us. Third (and perhaps last), it can be more satisfying to express our gratitude personally. Although a specific recipient is not a necessity (e.g., recipients aren't the primary beneficiary anyway, and abstractions can serve in place of material recipients), it is sometimes more gratifying to see our feelings acknowledged by our benefactor. A simple smile, or a note saying "You're welcome," may be all it takes for us to feel we've completed the cycle, or at least a part of it. This isn't really possible with an abstraction, of course, since it doesn't (or more likely, can't) say or do anything in acknowledgement. With this in mind, we return to Mr. Connor.

Once again, one wonders to whom he's referring when he mentions that atheists argue that we should thank "goodness" for our fortunes. From my perspective, thanking an abstraction is less useful and meaningful than thanking tangible agents, and I suspect that he's fabricated this model of atheism from his own twisted perceptions, even though I admit that there may be some who might offer the answer he suggests. Be that as it may, I'll take this at face value. Continuing, he extrapolates a ridiculous conclusion from the idea that the universe may be the product of chance (which, of course, it may not be, even in the absence of deity), in that a "wonderful fabric of excellence" can only be good if there's a God to declare it so. In other words, the absence of a purposeful Creator and a transcendent morality, he reasons, precludes any kind of "goodness." In another context, this assertion might be worth something. Yet in the context of gratitude, it amounts to confusing the estimation of value with the continuum of moral virtue. In either case, however, Mr. Connor hasn't considered the implications very deeply, and so may not like where this line of reasoning leads.

Essentially, Mr. Connor has just declared humanity devoid of the capacity to judge something as valuable or moral on their own. In this massive character assassination, Mr. Connor implicitly declares himself incapable of discerning what is moral from what is immoral, or of determining value, without a God to tell him what to think. That is, he only does what is right because God tells him to, rather than for the sake of others. He only loves, for example, because God says he should. The only reason to show compassion or kindness is because he read about it in the Bible. It's painfully obvious that Mr. Connor has but an immature conception of morality and value - perhaps he's merely a puppet - and should not be trusted in any position of responsibility.

One might hope that Mr. Connor would find the above deeply insulting, if he were ever to read it. One also hopes it is very far from the truth, but the plain fact is that we are on our own when it comes to judging worth and morality, and he would do well to acknowledge this and grant the same dignity to all of us. Even if we assume that there is a God, and a transcendent morality given from on high, we are left to our own devices to determine which course to take in any given situation. Turning to scripture, we do not see examples that tell us when lying might be appropriate, or when killing is justified, that slavery is wrong, or even that rape is always a punishable offense. Yet we celebrate those who lie to protect the innocent as heroes. We kill both the innocent and the guilty while prosecuting a war, calling those who got in the way "collateral damage." Homosexuals are to be executed, as are girls whose hymens are torn or missing, but we don't do those things either, having found scriptural Law wanting. We judged slavery itself to be wrong, even though scripture approves of the practice. And we find the idea that a man who rapes a woman should only suffer a small fine - paid to the girl's father, of course - to be repugnant. Clearly, we do not rely on scripture to make our moral judgments or assign things as valuable. To my mind, it's a good thing we don't.

Returning to the question of gratitude, as was hinted at before, it does not require a functional moral compass. A criminal, whose moral compass is presumably on the fritz, can still feel and express gratitude. So can a brutal tyrant, executioner, a narcissist or anyone else one considers lacking in moral judgment. Hitler, for example, publicly gave thanks to God on more than one occasion. Though his sincerity might be questioned, we cannot know he was insincere. What we do know is that he expressed gratitude. Presumably, he at least understood the concept. My grandfather might be another example. A deeply religious man, he fervently thanked God many hundreds of times, yet was later informally diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder, a condition in which gratitude (along with many other sympathetic emotions) is suppressed. Because of his condition, was he perhaps less sincere in his expressions of gratitude? Was he really thankful only to and for himself? We'll never know, but what's important is that the gratitude these men expressed did not depend on a transcendent concept of universal "good."

Turning now to the question of whether any thanks is owed for existence, Mr. Connor does have a point, although it's not as important as he thinks it is. Mr. Connor's assertion here touches the fringes of the cosmological argument, but it's not necessary to dwell on that topic. Although an atheist does not assume a prime mover for existence (giving his point the minimal validity it has), this does not preclude the appreciation of life, or giving thanks to appropriate agency. Parents, doctors, peers, and even strangers are all potential benefactors that may deserve our gratitude. It's not remotely necessary to regress back to the beginning of life, the universe, and everything to find something or someone to give thanks to.

By now we have hopefully dispensed with the notion that, for atheists, there can be no meaningful expressions of gratitude. When we look around us, there are many things we might be grateful for, and people we might be grateful to. We must all eventually stare into that abyss, but feelings of despair needn't trouble us if we've led a full life, meaningful at least to us if not someone else. As I lay on my death bed, I do not intend to look forward. Rather, I intend to look back on the people, places, and things that helped make my life what it was, and whisper a final thank you to all of them. It was a wonderful life.

So, while Mr. Connor reserves his Thanksgiving wishes for those who agree with him, without reservation I offer a belated "Happy Thanksgiving" to him, his friends and family, and all those I may have missed last Thursday.

Peace.

Evolution's evolution

A little blast from the Daily Show's past.
The Daily Show (currently The Daily Show with Jon Stewart) is a Peabody and Emmy Award-winning American satirical television program produced by and airing on Comedy Central. The half-hour long show premiered on Monday, July 22, 1996, and was hosted by Craig Kilborn, who acted as its anchorman. In 1998, Kilborn left the show and was replaced by Jon Stewart in early 1999. -- Wikipedia
Great Moments in the Evolution Debate - The Scopes Monkey Trial
(0:58)
Clarence Darrow asks William Jennings Bryan if he's ever spent time with men of learning at the Scopes Monkey Trial.

Evolution's Evolution
(2:58)
On the final night of The Daily Show's special evolution week, Jon examines human attempts to intelligently design nature.

Evolution Schmevolution - A Heritage Tour
(4:16)
In the first stop on his "Evolutionary War" tour, Ed Helms visits Dayton, TN, site of the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial and full-fledged anachronism.

Back in Black - Evolution, Schmevolution
(4:09)
Lewis Black explains how dinosaurs were perfectly equipped to hunt down and kill plants and how the Hoover Dam makes a great altar.

Recap - Evolution
(1:35)
Jon recaps the evolution debate and speculates on how the world is going to end.

The complete four-day Daily Show coverage of evolution was first broadcast in 2005 and is available here: "Evolution Schmevolution."

11/25/2007                                                                                       View Comments

Replacing the rituals

By Sharon

Three things I missed about Christianity when I first left were church music, prayer, and church attendance. Much to my surprise, I have derived much satisfaction from building new routines and rituals into my life.

For the vocal benefit of prayer, I have substituted talking to myself or reading aloud to myself. For the meditative aspect of prayer, I have substituted gazing out onto some horizon or body of water in nature. For the intentional aspect of prayer, I throw coins in the fountain in the park, or just sit by it pensively in wintertime when the water doesn’t run.

I didn’t think church music would be easy to replace, because the experience of it was one that would stay with me for hours after each service as I bounced around my house singing the familiar church songs that rang in my head. But now that I have the freedom to explore other music genres besides gospel, my everyday life – not just Sunday’s – is permeated with music. I have enjoyed singing since I was little, and I always had a talent for singing, but now the scope of that enjoyment is much bigger, and the scope of that talent more versatile. The more I sing, the more I realize that church music lifted me because of the physiological effect of music on the body, not because of any special inspiration from "on High."

For the Sabbath rest benefit of church attendance (setting aside one day of the week for rest), I simply make sure I set one day aside (not necessarily Sunday) to conduct myself in a more laid-back fashion than I do on the other six days. For the socialization aspect of church attendance, I simply make sure I build into my life ways of connecting with people - such as working out at the gym, hanging out with friends at the local women’s center, or chatting with people I see each day as I take public transit. For the worship aspect of church attendance, I have substituted the sanctuary of my body for the physical building – by paying attention to my physical needs on a more ongoing basis.

As a Christian, I was taught that my body was an appendage of myself. Nothing but a pesky nuisance when it broke down with disease. Nothing but a stumbling block for righteousness when appetites for food or sex emerged. And nothing but an inconvenience when unfitness kept me from reaching my full potential “in service for the Lord.” Now I know that my body is “me,” not just an appendage. It needs attention all the time, almost like an infant. It needs honoring, nurturing, and pampering. It needs me to honor it by noticing when it’s sore, hungry, tense, or tired and by taking care of those needs. It needs me to nurture it by eating well, getting quality rest, and providing protection from the elements with suitable clothing and a cozy roof over my head. It needs me to pamper it by using it as a canvas for self expression by dressing exactly the way I choose - not according to the dictates of some church. It needs me to pamper it by giving it the rich experience of an occasional warm soak in a tub, or by affirming its worth by smiling at myself when I look at myself in the mirror in the morning – maybe not before the splash of water on my face but definitely after.

I love the new rituals and routines I’ve discovered through replacing prayer, church music, and church attendance, I don't miss Christianity anymore, and I love my new Post-Christian way of life.

11/23/2007                                                                                       View Comments

A truthdig debate

Part I:


Part II:


Part III:


Part IV:

Sam Harris and Chris Hedges debate one another at UCLA's Royce Hall in Los Angeles. Truthdig editor Robert Scheer moderates.

From Wikipedia:
Truthdig is a Web magazine that provides a mix of long-form articles, interviews, and blog-like commentary on current events, delivered from a progressive point-of-view. The site is built around major "digs" led by authorities in their fields, who write multi-faceted pieces about contemporary, often controversial, topics.

Truthdig was co-founded by Los Angeles entrepreneur Zuade Kaufman, who serves as publisher, and journalist Robert Scheer, the website's editor, who also writes a weekly column for the site. Its most significant articles from the 2005-2006 period are "An Atheist Manifesto" by Sam Harris,[1] and "President Jonah" by Gore Vidal, which compared President George W. Bush to the biblical Jonah.[2] Other significant contributors include Chris Hedges, Larry Gross, Sheerly Avni and an anonymous cartoonist who uses the moniker Mr. Fish.

In 2007, Truthdig was nominated for three Webby Awards in the categories of News, Politics and Political Blog. The site won the judges' award as well as the people's voice awards for Best Political Blog.

Which century are we in?

By Billy Braun

Is it my imagination, or are we seeing a rise of ignorance in our culture? In spite of all the recent successful books supporting the rationalist viewpoint, there seems to be a fresh revival of superstition and gullibility among the general public. The mass media is saturated with programs promoting the notion that accepting the claims of psychics, mediums, ufologists, evangelists etc, is scientifically supported and reasonable.

Are we (at least in America) seeing a re-birth of the Dark Ages? Will this "push-back" of stupidity grow in the near future?

I'd be curious to see how readers gauge this situation, so, use this poll to vote your estimation of the urgency of the situation.

Also, do you see things getting better or getting worse?

Thanks.

Note to Christians: I DO NOT want your opinion on this issue. If you understand the question, you will recognize that it places YOU as part of the problem, so, please resist the urge to "help".

 

11/21/2007                                                                                       View Comments

11/20/2007                                                                                       View Comments

11/19/2007                                                                                       View Comments

Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial -- now online



This two-hour program is divided into 12 chapters. Choose any chapter below and select QuickTime or Windows Media Player to begin viewing the video. If you experience difficulty viewing, it may be due to high demand.


Chapter 1

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A TOWN DIVIDED

The rural community of Dover, Pennsylvania is torn apart in the latest battle over the teaching of evolution, and parents file a lawsuit against the town's school board in federal court.

running time 10:50
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Chapter 2

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WHAT IS EVOLUTION?

More than 150 years ago Charles Darwin developed the theory of evolution to explain how the diversity of life arose, laying the foundation for modern biological science.

running time 7:04
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Chapter 3

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INTRODUCING INTELLIGENT DESIGN

The Dover School Board attempts to introduce into science classrooms the idea that life is too complex to have evolved naturally and therefore must have been designed by an intelligent agent.

running time 8:47
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Chapter 4

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THE TRIAL BEGINS

The court is asked to decide whether the School Board promoted religion or had religious motivation, and whether intelligent design is science.

running time 9:32
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Chapter 5

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THE FOSSIL RECORD

A 2004 discovery in the arctic of a transitional fossil from fish to land-dwelling animals is the latest substantiation of Darwin's theory of evolution.

running time 8:36
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Chapter 6

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A VERY SUCCESSFUL THEORY

The ongoing scientific quest to investigate the unknown has led to some of the strongest evidence for evolution, including findings in modern genetics and molecular biology.

running time 9:26
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Chapter 7

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THE NATURE OF SCIENCE

After experts point out that supernatural causes cannot be tested scientifically, the defense begins its case for intelligent design.

running time 8:24
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Chapter 8

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EXAMINING INTELLIGENT DESIGN

In court, biochemist Michael Behe argues that the concept of irreducible complexity is evidence for intelligent design, while biologist Ken Miller points out the weaknesses in that concept.

running time 9:11
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Chapter 9

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FAITH AND REASON

As the legal teams battle it out in court, the clash between evolution and intelligent design takes a toll on the Dover community.

running time 7:25
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Chapter 10

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SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE

The court looks at evidence that the Dover School Board was motivated by religion.

running time 9:49
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Chapter 11

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A CULTURE CONFLICT

Some proponents of intelligent design would like to see the theory permeate our religious, cultural, moral, and political life.

running time 8:52
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Chapter 12

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CLOSING ARGUMENTS

After six weeks, the trial concludes with closing arguments that were as divided as Dover itself had become, and Judge Jones renders his unequivocal verdict.

running time 10:38
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