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Author Topic:   Death Penalty and Stanley Tookie Williams
RAZD
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Posts: 19819
From: the other end of the sidewalk
Joined: 03-14-2004
Member Rating: 10.0


Message 1 of 54 (268463)
12-12-2005 9:53 PM


The Death Penalty Is Not Pro-Life
By Marjorie Cohn
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Monday 12 December 2005

In 1960, Governor Edmund G. "Pat" Brown agonized about whether to grant clemency to death row inmate Caryl Chessman. Brown's refusal to commute Chessman's sentence haunted him for the rest of his life. He reversed 23 death judgments in the last 7 years of his term. Ronald Reagan, who defeated Brown in the 1966 gubernatorial election, used the death penalty as a weapon to unseat the incumbent governor.

Twenty years later, Rose Bird, one of the greatest chief justices ever to serve on the California Supreme Court, lost her confirmation election largely because of the way she voted in death penalty cases. In all 64 capital cases that came before her during her tenure, Bird voted to overturn every one. Her court as a whole reversed 61. Some of Bird's supporters advised her to affirm just one death verdict in order to win confirmation. Bird refused. She said, "It is easy to be popular. It is not easy to be just."

Republican Governor George Deukmejian and President Ronald Reagan both campaigned against Bird. "The defeat of Rose Bird was significant because it created a new danger in [California], the danger of politicizing a judicial branch that had not previously been subject to political pressures," Court of Appeals Justice J. Anthony Kline observed. Reagan's opposition to judges who "save the lives of killers" helped him in his bid for the presidency.

The fate of Stanley Tookie Williams now rests in the hands of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The governor is damned if he does and damned if he doesn't spare Williams's life. On the one hand, Schwarzenegger is under pressure from right-wing Republicans to refuse clemency. But there's also high-profile pressure on him in California to grant clemency and prove his campaign claims that he really is a moderate.

When Schwarzenegger denied clemency to Donald Beardslee, the governor was the subject of a mighty backlash in his native Austria, which has outlawed the death penalty. And he must deal with his conscience, much like Pat Brown did in 1960. Schwarzenegger said the Beardslee decision was "the hardest day" of his life.

If ever there was a condemned man who deserved clemency, Williams is the one. A co-founder of the Crips gang, Williams has undergone a remarkable transformation in the 24 years he has been in prison. The author of several children's books that decry gang violence (65,000 have been sold to schools and libraries), Williams has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

In 1993, Williams videotaped a message from death row supporting a truce between the Crips and the Bloods. He said, "Working together, we can put an end to this cycle that creates deep pain in the hearts of our mothers, our fathers, and our people, who have lost loved ones to this senseless violence." The videotape was shown during a peace summit meeting attended by over 400 gang members. If Schwarzenegger refuses Williams's plea, what message will it send to our children?

By granting clemency to Williams, Schwarzenegger would affirm the ideal of rehabilitation he claims to favor. A governor's pardon of Williams would signal that people can be redeemed, that mercy, not just retribution, is a worthy goal. "I have a despicable background," Williams said. "I was a criminal. I was co-founder of the Crips. I was a nihilist. But people forget that redemption is tailor-made for the wretched."

But even if Schwarzenegger pardons Stanley Tookie Williams, we must ask ourselves if we want to continue to engage in the state-sponsored killing of our people. "The reason to oppose capital punishment," the Los Angeles Times wrote in a recent editorial, "has to do with who we are, not who death row inmates are. The death penalty is inappropriate in all situations because it is unbefitting of a civilized society. Williams' case, though poignant, is irrelevant to this argument."

As it deliberates the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito, the Senate must also deal with what it means to be "pro-life." Alito, who claims to be pro-life when it comes to abortion, is pro-death when it comes to the death penalty.

During his tenure on the Court of Appeals, Alito has shown little solicitude for death row inmates bringing habeas corpus petitions, particularly claims based on ineffective assistance of counsel and racial discrimination in jury selection. His positions in these cases run contrary to recent Supreme Court decisions emphasizing the importance of both race-neutral jury selection and constitutionally adequate counsel.

In 2001, Alito voted to affirm the death judgment of an African-American man convicted by an all-white jury in Delaware. The prosecutor had struck all prospective African-American jurors from the jury pool. That same prosecutor had struck every prospective African-American juror in 3 other capital murder trials in the same county during the prior year. When Alito refused to infer racial discrimination from that pattern, he said, flippantly, "Although only about 10% of the population is left-handed, left-handers have won five of the last six presidential elections ... But does it follow that the voters cast their ballots based on whether a candidate was right- or left-handed?"

A majority of the full court accused Alito of "minimiz[ing] the history of discrimination against prospective black jurors and black defendants."

Stanley Tookie Williams, an African-American, was also convicted and sentenced to death by a jury cleansed of all prospective African-American jurors by the prosecutor, based on the testimony of paid police informants. Williams maintains his innocence.

If confirmed as a Supreme Court justice, Alito would have a powerful influence over whether many of our citizens live or die. In the past 5 years, the Court decided only 3 cases concerning abortion, but over 3 dozen involving the death penalty.

Capital cases are complex and often laden with error. A recent study at Columbia University found that 67 percent of death penalty cases had been reversed for serious constitutional error. Recurring features in these cases include prosecutorial or police misconduct; the use of unreliable witness testimony, physical evidence, or confessions; and inadequate defense representation. There is a growing number of cases where DNA or other evidence has proved conclusively that death row inmates are factually innocent. In some cases, that evidence has surfaced too late - after innocent people have already been executed.

The United States is the only Western democracy that still executes its citizens. In 2004, 97 percent of all known executions took place in China, Iran, Vietnam and the United States. Several major international human rights treaties eschew the death penalty. None of the 3 international criminal tribunals - the International Criminal Court, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda - permit the death penalty as a sentencing option for the most heinous of crimes over which they have jurisdiction.

Scientific studies have consistently failed to find convincing evidence that that the death penalty deters crime more effectively than other punishments, according to Amnesty International.

"The deliberate institutionalized taking of human life by the state is the greatest conceivable degradation to the dignity of the human personality," US Supreme Court Justice Arthur L. Goldberg wrote in a 1976 article in the Boston Globe. We must not be a society that rewards the meanest judges and elected officials. Let us choose and affirm life, not death.

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, President-elect of the National Lawyers Guild, and the US representative to the executive committee of the American Association of Jurists. She writes a weekly column for t r u t h o u t.

I've never understood the prolife\prodeath position.


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berberry
Inactive Member


Message 2 of 54 (268658)
12-13-2005 2:34 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by RAZD
12-12-2005 9:53 PM


I don't understand it either. What's more, it seems to me that even people who support the death penalty should be willing to limit its use to only those cases where physical evidence exists. Given the number of cases that have been overturned in recent years, such a limitation should be a no-brainer. But unfortunately it's not.
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Silent H
Member (Idle past 3930 days)
Posts: 7405
From: satellite of love
Joined: 12-11-2002


Message 3 of 54 (268674)
12-13-2005 4:15 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by RAZD
12-12-2005 9:53 PM


I've never understood the prolife\prodeath position.

You know I'm not prolife so I can't quite argue exactly why they hold the positions that they do. If they truly believe in all life itself being sacred then it seems that the death penalty is a bit odd.

However, being in favor of capital punishment I can tell you what I see as a difference between the two situations, using an assumption that abortion is wrong (which I don't actually have).

A fetus has not commited a crime and is not a likely threat to someone's life. A killer really has commited a crime and poses a threat to the lives of others. If one really holds that life is important, one could view removal of threats to life as justified.

It is not that they are prodeath as you put it, but that is the only guarantee they have of removing a greater (proven) threat to life, as well as punishing someone for having taken a life. And although one may say the latter seems inconsistent, I do not believe it is. If you cherish those that preserve life, then rejecting those that destroy it seems relatively consistent. In any case the former part (removing a threat) seems wholly consistent.

I will back berberry's statement that it is bizarre for anyone who is in favor of capital punishment... as I am... to not recognize the needs for stricter controls on its use. Frankly that could be said for any punishment. Our current system is more about wealth than about guilt or innocence of a crime when it comes to cases based on circumstantial evidence.

In this case it does appear that the death penalty makes little to no sense. Whatever he might have been he does not appear to be a threat to anyone now, and has been a force to grow peace and save lives. Gang killings in specific would be hard for me to push for the death penalty. They are pretty obviously socially driven phenomena, and not internal, compulsive drives to kill at any and all times.

This message has been edited by holmes, 12-13-2005 04:17 AM


holmes
"...what a fool believes he sees, no wise man has the power to reason away.."(D. Bros)
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RAZD
Member
Posts: 19819
From: the other end of the sidewalk
Joined: 03-14-2004
Member Rating: 10.0


Message 4 of 54 (268695)
12-13-2005 7:44 AM
Reply to: Message 3 by Silent H
12-13-2005 4:15 AM


doesn't make sense. He's dead.
You can be pro-punishment and pro-life by advocating life imprisonment as an alternative.

One either believes in the concept of rehabilitation or one doesn't, and it seems to me that personal rehabilitation is one of the basic concepts of religion.

You can be pro-redemption\rehabilitation and pro-punishment and still advocate a reduction in punishment for recognizable action demonstrating redemption\rehabilitation.

One also needs to balance positive contributions to society against negative to come to a just punishment.

http://www.buzzle.com/editorials/12-2-2005-82919.asp

Stanley Tookie Williams, 51, former co-founder of the infamous Crips gang, who like many inmates incarcerated in our judicial system is supposedly reformed and has found religion. Williams has authored several children’s books aimed at deterring young people from joining gangs, he has received several nominations for the highly coveted Nobel Peace Prize, was awarded the President’s Call to Service Award for his community service earlier this year and was featured in a cable television movie, "Redemption: The Stan Tookie’ Williams story.

Whether you are a death penalty advocate or foe, some facts speak for themselves. Williams’ books and anti gang messages are deterring many young people from entering the gang lifestyle. Others have denounced gangs and violence and are attempting to turn their lives around. There are still many who feel that belonging to a gang is the "in" thing and refuse to look for a positive life path.

Tookie Williams alive would continue to stem the flow of violence that will cause more deaths than those he personally caused.

There needs to be a reflection of redemption\rehabilitation in a reduction of sentences or it is just empty words. That message is conveyed by the execution of Tookie.

It's about revenge not punishment, and not justice.


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Parasomnium
Member (Idle past 807 days)
Posts: 2191
Joined: 07-15-2003


Message 5 of 54 (268698)
12-13-2005 8:03 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by RAZD
12-12-2005 9:53 PM


The United States is the only Western democracy that still executes its citizens.

Great country, America. The land of great opportunity opportunism.


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Silent H
Member (Idle past 3930 days)
Posts: 7405
From: satellite of love
Joined: 12-11-2002


Message 6 of 54 (268704)
12-13-2005 8:26 AM
Reply to: Message 4 by RAZD
12-13-2005 7:44 AM


Re: doesn't make sense. He's dead.
You can be pro-punishment and pro-life by advocating life imprisonment as an alternative.

Yes, or you can be that and be for capital punishment. If one believes that the loss of life is the worse thing which can be done/have happen to onesself, then execution is the strongest punishment.

I agree that if a person's actual position is that ALL life is sacred and must be maintained, that pro death penalty is inconsistent. But there is a difference between all innocent life is sacred, and all life is sacred. Once one is a criminal and specifically a criminal that enacts their own executions at will, that is a patently different thing than a growing fetus (or in their minds a child).

One either believes in the concept of rehabilitation or one doesn't, and it seems to me that personal rehabilitation is one of the basic concepts of religion.

I agree that punishment isn't a very worthwhile enterprise for a govt. Rehabilitation is something that should be the goal. Of course there is still the use of execution to remove an ongoing threat. I do believe that there are some people that there is no point in trying to rehabilitate.

It does not seem correct that you can tell others that personal rehabilitation is a basic concept of religion. There are many which not only allow for punishment but actually support revenge. That a person can get right before God is a completely different question of being able to get right as a human being or with their community.

Xianity would have some idea of repentance and some degree of rehabilitation. But that does not always mean one has become less of a threat or undeserving of punishment (for those that like that). Part of rehabilitation to them would be responsibility for ones actions, and that might be accepting the punishment due.

Schwarzenegger specifically cited Williams' lack of taking responsibility as a reason he did not overrule the jury's decision. And while I personally would have... I do not like circumstantial cases, and do not favor death penalty for simple killings (rehabilitation likely)... I think he had a viable position.

Its not like he found the guy guilty, or that he was judge of the case. A real jury did find the guy guilty and it had been upheld in appeal. Thus it is an extraordinary situation where an executive would overrule the decision of the PEOPLE.

He said he looked it over and found no reason to doubt their decision, and found no remorse from Williams for his actions, and thus he was not going to OVERRULE the decision of the PEOPLE.

Tookie Williams alive would continue to stem the flow of violence that will cause more deaths than those he personally caused.

Would he have? Even being against his execution I'm not quite sure I can say that. He wrote his books and they will do the good that they will do, whether he's dead or not. The damage he caused was irreperable. The families of the victims felt that this was justice and so was good for them.

Heck he didn't even seem that bent out of shape by this event. Maybe internally he felt it was just. I dunno.

In any case I'm not exactly convinced of a moral calculus where a person's crime is lessened by the good he does elsewhere and later when faced with sanctions.


holmes
"...what a fool believes he sees, no wise man has the power to reason away.."(D. Bros)
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Silent H
Member (Idle past 3930 days)
Posts: 7405
From: satellite of love
Joined: 12-11-2002


Message 7 of 54 (268708)
12-13-2005 8:34 AM
Reply to: Message 5 by Parasomnium
12-13-2005 8:03 AM


Great country, America...

Please no sarcasm from a nation that is enacting racist policies, and indeed has set up concentration camps... I mean deportation centers... and is so negligent that it allows its prisoners to burn while screaming for help.

Oh yeah, and then not doing jack about those that were in charge of these processes.

Oh yeah, and backing the US in every one of its odious endeavours in Iraq.

Oh yeah, and cutting its social programs while looking to invest in greater military programs.

Both the US and the Netherlands are going through the worst periods in their histories right now. Neither is in a position to be pointing fingers at each other in such a collective manner.


holmes
"...what a fool believes he sees, no wise man has the power to reason away.."(D. Bros)
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Parasomnium
Member (Idle past 807 days)
Posts: 2191
Joined: 07-15-2003


Message 8 of 54 (268711)
12-13-2005 8:39 AM
Reply to: Message 7 by Silent H
12-13-2005 8:34 AM


You're right.
Great country, the Netherlands...

(My apologies, Holmes.)


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Omnivorous
Member (Idle past 1079 days)
Posts: 3808
From: Adirondackia
Joined: 07-21-2005


Message 9 of 54 (268726)
12-13-2005 9:48 AM
Reply to: Message 2 by berberry
12-13-2005 2:34 AM


My changed mind
For the first 30-some years of my life I supported the death penalty in what I saw as appropriate cases.

My reasoning relied on the fact that some convicted killers kill again, even if imprisoned for life, taking as new victims fellow inmates jailed for property crimes, correctional officers, and citizens encountered after an escape. I argued that once they were proven killers, the State should prioritize the prevention of further taking of life.

The rub is in the world "proven".

My beliefs changed when I started paying more attention to the number of death row inmates cleared of their charges by repentant false witnesses, law school projects, DNA tests, etc., as well as the racial and class biases which have become increasingly evident.

I believe one of the noblest principles of our judicial system is the implicit tenet that it is better for some of the guilty to escape justice than for an innocent to be falsely imprisoned or executed.

The judicial system in general, and the capital punishment apparatus in particular, are too flawed to justify executions. When I could sincerely argue that executions of the innocent were extremely rare, I could continue to maintain that capital punishment is justified, though I was uncomfortable with it: I now believe that argument was naive.

The ever-increasing number of cleared death row inmates over the past few decades changed my mind.


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Silent H
Member (Idle past 3930 days)
Posts: 7405
From: satellite of love
Joined: 12-11-2002


Message 10 of 54 (268734)
12-13-2005 10:08 AM
Reply to: Message 9 by Omnivorous
12-13-2005 9:48 AM


Re: My changed mind
it is better for some of the guilty to escape justice than for an innocent to be falsely imprisoned or executed.

I agree, but the argument that since there are errors execution must be done away with is an extreme position. In fact I see you mention false imprisonment. Would you agree the even larger numbers of false imprisonment should end imprisonment?

It seems to me there is a very large problem with our justice system. It has not been commited to any specific doctrine (punishment, rehabilitation, restitution), nor has it been commited to procedural adjustment to produce accurate results.

I don't see how the adverserial process has proved itself useful at all. Indeed I think it is both costly and inaccurate.

That is not to mention police procedures have not been adjusted so as to produce accurate evidentiary results, but rather political results.

A postponement of death penalties makes sense until new evidentiary rules are set in so that mistakes will not be made again. That is not impossible.


holmes
"...what a fool believes he sees, no wise man has the power to reason away.."(D. Bros)
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jar
Member
Posts: 30936
From: Texas!!
Joined: 04-20-2004


Message 11 of 54 (268739)
12-13-2005 10:18 AM
Reply to: Message 1 by RAZD
12-12-2005 9:53 PM


I still oppose the Death Penalty on the simple grounds that to date, it is not reversible.

This message has been edited by jar, 12-13-2005 09:18 AM


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Omnivorous
Member (Idle past 1079 days)
Posts: 3808
From: Adirondackia
Joined: 07-21-2005


Message 12 of 54 (268743)
12-13-2005 10:24 AM
Reply to: Message 10 by Silent H
12-13-2005 10:08 AM


Re: My changed mind
it is better for some of the guilty to escape justice than for an innocent to be falsely imprisoned or executed.

I agree, but the argument that since there are errors execution must be done away with is an extreme position. In fact I see you mention false imprisonment. Would you agree the even larger numbers of false imprisonment should end imprisonment?

I would not argue that imprisonment should be abandoned; the difference is that imprisonment is reversible--execution is not.

I don't believe it is an extreme position to believe that because the process is not merely rarely flawed, as any human process must inevitably be, but is by the available evidence extraordinarily flawed, capital punishment should be abandoned.

It is a complex, difficult issue, and I have been on both sides of the fence. I certainly do not put any moral or ethical charge against those who disagree with me, but I see no clear benefit to capital punishment, and I do see repeated abuses and errors.


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crashfrog
Inactive Member


Message 13 of 54 (268764)
12-13-2005 11:26 AM
Reply to: Message 10 by Silent H
12-13-2005 10:08 AM


Re: My changed mind
I agree, but the argument that since there are errors execution must be done away with is an extreme position.

It's actually a very reasonable position. False execution is a moral outrage of a greater degree than not executing, but still punishing, a criminal who deserves it. On the other hand, false imprisonment is not a significantly greater moral outrage than the outrage of not imprisoning criminals who deserve it.

It really is just that simple. It's a quite simple moral calculus.

A postponement of death penalties makes sense until new evidentiary rules are set in so that mistakes will not be made again. That is not impossible.

I've never understood what allows you to say that. The idea that there's an evidentiary standard that can lead to absolute certainty is certainly not a self-evident position, nor is it indicated by any evidence or argument. In fact the opposite is true - the fact that we don't now employ such an evidentiary standard in any field is evidence that no such standard exists.


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Silent H
Member (Idle past 3930 days)
Posts: 7405
From: satellite of love
Joined: 12-11-2002


Message 14 of 54 (268778)
12-13-2005 11:54 AM
Reply to: Message 12 by Omnivorous
12-13-2005 10:24 AM


Re: My changed mind
I would not argue that imprisonment should be abandoned; the difference is that imprisonment is reversible--execution is not.

Its reversible? How? How do you give a person's time back that they spent behind bars? How do you grant a person's life back that died within prison?

The outrage of an innocent person being convicted of any crime is the same. Sentenced to any punishment is the same. There is no idea that "life imprisonment" is less of a death sentence in that the person is not going to die under our care anyway.

Sometimes antideath penalty advocates argue that life imprisonment is WORSE than the death penalty, so there is a bit of inconsistency from that side (though I realize you may not actually hold that position).

If the evidence is more than circumstantial and the person freely admits their guilt and is agreeable to be executed... what would be the problem with it in that case?


holmes
"...what a fool believes he sees, no wise man has the power to reason away.."(D. Bros)
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Silent H
Member (Idle past 3930 days)
Posts: 7405
From: satellite of love
Joined: 12-11-2002


Message 15 of 54 (268791)
12-13-2005 12:25 PM
Reply to: Message 13 by crashfrog
12-13-2005 11:26 AM


Re: My changed mind
False execution is a moral outrage of a greater degree than not executing, but still punishing, a criminal who deserves it.

That doesn't compute. False execution or false imprisonment is inherently punishing a person who does not deserve it and not punishing a criminal who deserves it.

Did you mean to say that imprisonment is at least a punishment for a criminal, but if found false would be a lesser outrage than a false execution?

In any case that is still not reasonable. To argue that there are currently errors in a procedure to detect guilt therefore a specific sentence based on guilt is wrong, is extreme.

There are two errors being commited within that. The first is holding sentencing culpable for errors within judging. The second is arbitrarily finding a singular sentence as culpable.

Fining someone is ALSO a punishment, but thankfully does not take time away from a person's life which can never be given back. And indeed it does not put one at risk for death while in captivity. Thus fining is a punishment for criminals, but if found false is less of a moral outrage than false imprisonment.

Shouldn't we then be arguing that there should be nothing but fines?

The idea that there's an evidentiary standard that can lead to absolute certainty is certainly not a self-evident position, nor is it indicated by any evidence or argument...

We've already been over this in an earlier thread. It ended with me defining a process after everyone challenged me to present one, and someone saying it was actually pretty good yet all my critics nowhere to be found.

I'll review: Absolute theoretical certainty is not required for absolute practical certainty. Absolute practical certainty is all that is necessary for executions to be operated and fulfill their practical role.

I will raise the same question to you as with omni. If there was solid direct evidence (not merely circumstantial) of a murder being commited by a specific person, and that person readily admits to the murder, and consents to the death penalty... what is the problem with execution in that instance?

In fact the opposite is true - the fact that we don't now employ such an evidentiary standard in any field is evidence that no such standard exists.

1) The fact that we do not have something now in no way at all provides evidence that no such standard exists. That falls directly under the "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence" umbrella.

2) While we do not use rule sets which involve absolute theoretical certainty, we certainly do use rule sets which involve absolute practical certainty. It is my guess that you do not deny the holocaust happened. And indeed it is my guess that during the 1940s (if you were in the US) you would not be questioning whether Nazi germany should be fought and its agents killed when found.

(As an added logical puzzle) Here is a moral dilemma which strikes at the heart of the dilemma RAZD raised in his OP. For those that believe war is necessary sometimes, how does one argue against the death penalty. War will almost inherently mean the loss of innocent lives. Yet at some point we generally will agree it is worthwhile as a course of action.

We can restrict executions to such a degree there would be no practical doubt that anything other than a criminal is being killed. The same cannot be said for war.


holmes
"...what a fool believes he sees, no wise man has the power to reason away.."(D. Bros)
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 Message 13 by crashfrog, posted 12-13-2005 11:26 AM crashfrog has responded

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 Message 17 by crashfrog, posted 12-13-2005 1:37 PM Silent H has responded

  
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