Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

God Help Them

I think we're in serious trouble at MoJ when we are told we can 'read all about' something at Breitbart, of all places.  What next - Ann Coulter as news source?  Rush Libaugh?  'God help us' indeed.  For readers of MoJ who find ill-tempered hysterics over a putative 'widening assault' by '[our] own government' upon 'Christians and Christianity' an unfortunate intrusion into the more measured discussion that used to predominate at this site, I recommend reading beyond Breitbart on the matter to which Patrick refers.  A good start is with Ms. Quinn's column to which Breitbart condemningly links, which provides sufficient background to make plain that the military has good reason to consult many people, including this 'Mikey' fellow who so upsets Breitbart and Patrick, on how best to address divisive prosyletizing behavior on the part of self-appointed 'crusaders' in its religiously diverse ranks.  There one will find indications both (a) that 'Mikey,' though rhetorically adolescent, is exercised by a problem that appears to be real, and (b) that those who have thus exercised him are not 'Christians' qua Christians, but sundry ersatz and triumphalist 'Christians' of the Fred Phelps variety, whom 'Mikey' distinguishes from Christians generically considered.  Any serious effort to quarantine ugliness such as that will be effort well spent.         


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One would think that you would know you are in serious trouble as Christians when you know longer believe that Love Is desiring Salvation for one's beloved.

"He Is Risen!"

Posted by: Nancy | Apr 30, 2013 7:54:38 AM

One would think that you would know that you are in serious trouble as Christians when you know you no longer believe that Love is desiring Salvation for one's beloved.

"He Is Risen!"

Posted by: Nancy | Apr 30, 2013 7:58:45 AM

I appreciate your offering a response to Prof. Brennan and, as important, opening comments. I wanted to offer a response to him on his post, but let me offer it here. Although I agree with you that Breitbart is a poor primary source for news reporting, and indeed most of the story Brennan links to consists of irrelevant and unsourced matter, I think it only fair to try to treat the central facts reported in that story in and of themselves, investigating whether and to what extent they are accurate. After all, the language that Brennan quotes is indeed disturbing, and should be so for people of a broad array of religious beliefs or non-beliefs.

It is accurate that Weinstein is the head of a group that combats religious proselytization in the Armed Forces, although any sophisticated American knows that there are countless advocacy groups and many of them are far more vocal than powerful, often consisting of just a couple of staffers and a good deal of fundraising. It is also true that Weinstein wrote a couple of columns for the Huffington Post that are full of highly objectionable language. I think "rhetorically adolescent" is too kind. His writing is alarmist, hostile, rude beyond its most legitimate targets, hyperventilating, and self-aggrandizing. This is also surprisingly and unfortunately true of Brennan's own writing in the past several posts, but that hardly excuses Weinstein's ridiculous prose. It may make Brennan feel slightly better that on Weinstein's group's blog, some supporters of the group themselves criticized Weinstein's language. But I wouldn't blame him if he didn't feel much better. It is true that he uses the term treason and absolutely shouldn't have, although unfortunately many people overuse that word. In short, I found Weinstein unbalanced and his writing offensive. For that matter, I thought Quinn's column was a pretty poor piece of writing, close to incoherent.

It is also true, as any reader on the military knows, that proselytism has been a serious issue for sectors of the military, especially the Air Force and its academy. This is not what readers might think of as common peer-to-peer proselytization, in which the subject is free to accept or reject the proselytization. It is proselytization from on high, often from the senior ranks to cadets, often of an extreme nature, often linked to broader and disturbing sects of Christianity, and often accompanied by peer and official harassment. Even those who believe that proselytization is an essential part of both religious freedom and free speech ought to research the particular details of the kinds of conduct that exercises Weinstein, some of which is genuinely problematic. What Prof. Brennan, whose rhetorical style in these posts exaggerates what he finds worst and minimizes what he most favors, lightly calls "sharing the Gospel" is often far from what we might consider "sharing." Mandatory prayer for cadets, for instance, is not "sharing the Gospel." None of this excuses what I find Weinstein's offensive comments, but it does help provide some context, of which Brennan provides little or none. Let me add that, to its credit, the Air Force has spent a good deal of time over the past decade trying to address these questions in a way that avoids harassment or abuse of power by those in officer positions while making clear that cadets and officers must be able to engage in religious expression. In putting "religious toleration" in scare quotes, Brennan does a disservice to the actual efforts to ensure genuine religious toleration and avoid religious intolerance in the Air Force and elsewhere in the military.

Finally and centrally, there is the language by Prof. Brennan suggesting that Weinstein is an "official consultant to the Pentagon" and has been "retained by the Pentagon" to offer advice on forming policy. Perhaps Brennan has better sources than I do. The Breitbart story makes such assertions, but it links to the Quinn story, which does not. Weinstein's group's own website does not offer any such announcement, and believe me, it is not shy about trumpeting anything that might increase its visibility or assist in fundraising. As far as I can tell from Quinn's badly written story, and I am open to correction, Weinstein was one of several people invited to a listening meeting at a Pentagon meeting. With all due respect to Prof. Brennan, anyone who is not "naive, willful, or stupid" knows that such meetings are a dime a dozen, don't constitute an endorsement of the views of the attendees, and can mean as little as that a government office decided to mollify a vocal interest group with a meeting.

I think Brennan, without falling for all of the tripe with which the Breitbart story was filled, could easily and fairly have questioned whether Weinstein should have been invited to any such meeting. I question it myself, having read Weinstein's offensive columns. It is true that every White House and every government office regularly has people visit it whose views it does not endorse and whom many would find objectionable; this is a staple of alarmist reporting in every administration, Democratic and Republican. My own view is that such stories are rarely worth the pseudo-panics they involve, and that the fact that a Dominionist Christian or militant atheist made it into the door of a government office is rarely newsworthy in and of itself. But I'm sure everyone would draw a line somewhere, even those who believe that hearing from interest groups and constituents is a standard part of government procedure; I would be less than delighted if a neo-Nazi were invited to be part of even a meaningless meeting at the Pentagon, even if I didn't then jump to the conclusion that the government must be a fan of neo-Nazis.

So I think Brennan's concern that Weinstein was invited to such a meeting, no matter how insignificant or pro forma that meeting was, is reasonable, and I share it. Again, however, absent further details, that does not make Weinstein some kind of "official consultant to the Pentagon" in any meaningful sense in which anyone other than a lawyer would use those words. Condemnation of Weinstein's language seems right on target to me, even if there are genuine issues with respect to genuine religious toleration in the Air Force or the broader military. Concern that he was included in a meeting at all seems reasonable to me, even if knowledgeable people are aware that such meetings are common, include all kinds of people, and don't constitute an endorsement of the views of the motley crew that attends them. Relying heavily on such a poor source as the Breitbart story--and I am evaluating the story on its own merits, not on the basis of the larger Breitbart operation--seems unwise to me. And the general tone of Brennan's post, and his apparent contempt for anyone who views the matter in anything less than the alarmist fashion that he does, just seems hysterical--not wholly ungrounded, but hysterical.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Apr 30, 2013 9:06:46 AM

Lets focus on real problems out there.

Posted by: Joe | Apr 30, 2013 10:01:48 AM

Bob, did you read 'Mikey's' piece at Huff Po?

Posted by: CLS | Apr 30, 2013 10:03:50 AM

I think Bob is cheating a little bit here. It's an important issue to be clear about, because we all agree there can be harmful extremes going under the "Christian" banner. But the issue is *which* positions are extremist, and can we call man-woman marriage Christians and pro-life Christians extremist? Bob's comments leave open some troubling suggestions that I would appreciate clarity on.

Bob affirms a distinction between Christians "qua Christians," and "self-appointed 'crusaders" aka, "triumphalist 'Christians' of the Fred Phelps variety." Then he claims that Mikey makes this same distinction. Then Bob ups the anti by calling the extremist category of Christians "a problem that appears to be real," and more directly, "bacilli" that should be "quarantine[d]."

We all agree that Phelps can be categorized as hateful and justly subject to an effort "to quarantine bacilli." But this is not the issue. The issue is who else fits this category, and can we fudge those boundaries. Mikey's own words show with great clarity who he thinks fits in this extremist category. Mikey adopts the divisions used most infamously by the Southern Poverty Law Center, by which actively campaignings for man-woman marriage and even for the right to life of the unborn constitutes hateful extremist Christianity. Mikey names names, including the Family Research Council as an "ultra-fundamentalist." Mikey cites the ample funding of such groups. That funding is dwarfed by the ACLU's and Human Rights Campaign's funding, but it is much larger than the meager funding of Phelps. Phelps is simply not a cultural phenomenon, with followers in the military or politics or anywhere outside his bloodline; he is a side show. Focus on the Family, FRC, and similar groups are, however, a cultural phenomenon because they do represent a substantial number of Christians that think advocacy for man-woman marriage, the right to life of the preborn, and Christian religious liberty are important components of American Christianity.

So this is the question: is that the equivalent of "triumphalist 'Christians' of the Fred Phelps variety"? Is a Christian group that campaigns for man-woman marriage, the right to life of the unborn, and religious liberty against Americans United for Separation of Church and State, in the Phelps extremist category of bacilli to be quarantined including by the government? Or not? Bob suggests they are, without having the clarity to say so. He approves of Mikey's distinctions in general, and of the military consulting those distinctions in order "to quarantine bacilli." He issues this approval in the context of Mikey's actual statements.

Bob, is the Family Research Council in the same "bacilli" category as Phelps? If not, Patrick's complaint is basically justified, because Mikey says they are, and even you disagree with Mikey. But if you agree with Mikey and SPLC about who to cabin with Phelps, then your criticism of Patrick is unnecessarily indirect. It doesn't make sense to posture as if Patrick is complaining about a bogeyman, when you yourself adopt the line-drawing around advocacy of traditional Christian morality as such as extremist--which is precisely the think Patrick is raising the alarm about.

Please clarify who fits in the Phelps category.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Apr 30, 2013 10:48:07 AM

Bob -- with all due respect, I think that this post of yours is disappointing. It is entirely irrelevant that the link Patrick provided is to Breitbart (as it would have been if the link were to Rush Limbaugh). Certainly, plenty of MOJ bloggers have linked to left-leaning sites that I regard as partisan and only accidentally reliable. The issue is the story, not the site on which it appears. And, the story is troubling. "Mikey" is a bigot, and his claim that concerns expressed by many -- including many of us -- about religious liberty (why the "scare quotes", Mikey) are *really* just "new bags" for racism is offensive and wrong-headed. That he would be consulted on how the Pentagon should develop policy should be as troubling to you as it is to me (just as we would both be troubled if Fred Phelps were consulted). "Mikey" is not talking about the Fred Phelps-variety of "bacilli" -- he is, and clearly intends to be understood as, talking about, inter alia, the Catholic bishops.

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Apr 30, 2013 2:28:37 PM

I do have to say I found the use of the word "bacilli" disturbing, even as applied to Fred Phelps. I'm sure it was intended as nothing more than a metaphor, but it should be possible to strongly criticize, disagree with, and condemn others--in my case, including the Family Research Council--without using unnecessarily dehumanizing language.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Apr 30, 2013 4:50:52 PM

I concur with Prof. Horwitz. I don't like such dehumanizing language such as when criminals are labeled "animals" or such ... and that is much higher on the developmental line than bacterium.

Posted by: Joe | Apr 30, 2013 5:27:49 PM

Many thanks, Paul, Rick, Matt and Joe. Point on 'bacili' is well taken notwithstanding what seems to me a distressingly 'infectious' quality borne by Phelpsian and Breitbartian hate speech, so I have edited accordingly. Thanks again for that. With respect to Rick's points, I think Paul's first comment affords sufficient reply. (I disagree on the irrelevance of Breitbart as source, however, just as I would with anyone who faulted reliance on, say, Jon Stewart's program as news source rather than therapy session.) With respect to Paul's and Matt's points, there is not much with which I disagree, but I think that this degree of engagment with Patrick's post affords both it and 'Mikey' far more attention than they warrant. The best response to paranoid invective, in my view, is to repudiate it and request better. Perhaps I am insufficiently patient, but it seems to me there are screeds now abounding all round us, and this weblog is no place to amplify them.

Posted by: Robert Hockett | Apr 30, 2013 6:02:05 PM

'(I disagree on the irrelevance of Breitbart as source, however, just as I would with anyone who faulted reliance on, say, Jon Stewart's program as news source rather than therapy session.)'

This should have read: '(I disagree on the irrelevance of Breitbart as source, however, just as I would with anyone who defended reliance on, say, Jon Stewart's program as news source rather than therapy session.)'

The word 'faulted,' in other words, shoujld have read 'defended.'

Posted by: Robert Hockett | Apr 30, 2013 6:05:15 PM

Honest query: why is Breitbart not to be trusted? I must have missed the memo on that one.

Posted by: Thales | Apr 30, 2013 7:19:33 PM

"Breitbartian hate speech" really?

I think we now have Hockett's permission to start referring to "Huff-Potian," "Krugmanian," or "Dowdian" hate-speech.

If one does not like the tone of one's opponents, they are hate speakers. We have all learned important lessons here today, methinks.

Posted by: CLS | Apr 30, 2013 7:58:33 PM

"Hate Maps" are helpful things: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hgjI3wavx-I

Posted by: CLS | Apr 30, 2013 8:04:14 PM

Thanks Bob. But you've dodged the question again. You said Mikey is basically right about a Phelps extremist category existing. And Mikey said FRC is typical of that category. You refuse to embrace or repudiate that judgment--the judgment that campaigning for man-woman marriage, the unborn, and Christian religious freedom is categorizable with Phelps extremism. You strongly imply it, then you won't clarify. But that judgment is exactly what Patrick is concerned about. You say he's "paranoid", then you state your own general agreement with the very position you call a phantom. When asked to clarify, you won't say where you really stand on the issue of whether FRC and many Catholic bishops acting in concert with them are equivalent to Phelps extremists. It's a cop out. It's not caused by paranoia. It's caused by your own words of agreement with Mickey on this issue.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | Apr 30, 2013 11:58:22 PM

"Honest query: why is Breitbart not to be trusted?"

Because it's "hate speech", obvs. Just like Fred Phelps.

Posted by: Mike | May 1, 2013 12:38:34 AM

I suppose Bob is better suited than I am to discuss what his central point was, and Patrick is better suited to discuss what he thinks the gravamen of his complaint is. But while I think your questions to Bob are entirely reasonable, Matt, I confess I had a different sense of how relevant to the central point of both posts your questions about the FRC are. I took Bob's point to be that whoever gets lumped under the banner of extremists, Patrick's suggestion that Weinstein's rants demonstrated a widening assault BY OUR OWN GOVERNMENT on Christianity was misplaced. And I took Patrick's post to turn substantially on the idea that Weinstein's invitation to a meeting demonstrated that widening assault and a substantial government part in it. If he was mistaken about that, then I don't think his complaint would necessarily be "basically justified." Again, however, I may be misreading those posts.

I should add that I've already made clear what I think of Weinstein's language, which I find inexcusable. And I agree that Phelps is something of a sideshow. And I say both those things as someone who is not especially fond of the FRC. Although it is blandly true that many Americans think "advocacy for man-woman marriage, the right to life of the preborn, and Christian religious liberty are important components of American Christianity," I would venture to say that many Americans who think that do not believe and would not say, as leaders and representatives of the FRC have, that gays or gay activists "are engaged in activity, behavior, and an agenda that will destroy them and our nation," or that "[o]ne of the primary goals of the homosexual rights movement is to abolish all age of consent laws and to eventually recognize pedophiles as the 'prophets' of a new sexual order," or that the "homosexual rights movement has tried to distance itself from pedophilia, but only for public relations purposes," or that “I would much prefer to export homosexuals from the United States than import them." I'm only guessing, but I would think that some who share a strong interest in the issues you've named would consider such views and statements downright un-Christian.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | May 1, 2013 11:14:44 AM

Paul, it seems you are suggesting people are extremist un-Christians if they assert a connection between the homosexual "movement" and pedophilia, and are that even if asserting that connection is a small percentage of their main thrust which is to advocate for man-woman marriage, the unborn, and religious freedom. SPLC's "hate list" connects groups because of these characteristics, not because the mere sub-issue of pedophilia, and Mikey's and Bob's concern about their "triumphalist proselytization" refers to their daily advocacy on these basic questions. If instead you are saying that marriage, life and religious freedom advocacy does not constitute hate extremism, that's great, but it's not Mikey's position and therefore Bob has aligned himself with someone who disagrees with you if you think that. The fact that Bob did so align himself with Mikey's categorization of traditional Christian morality advocacy without distinction indeed justifies Patrick's concern, because even here he has found someone defining traditional Christian morality as extremist.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | May 1, 2013 11:52:21 AM

Thank you for your comment, Matt. To be clear, the primary point of my post was neither to praise nor to condemn the FRC. It was just to suggest that in my view, how one views that group was orthagonal to the main thrust of both Bob and Patrick's posts, and thus that neither post stood or fell on that basis (although, as I said, I thought it perfectly reasonable for you to ask for clarification for its own sake). Of course, those writers could speak better than I could to the main point of their posts, but that was how I read them.

I don't believe I said that anyone is an extremist un-Christian. I believe what I said is that although you are right that many Americans would identify with the policy goals that you stated in very broad terms, I suspect that some or many of that same group would be much less sympathetic to the statements I quoted above, and that some would consider those remarks un-Christian. I suppose that's an empirical question, but I didn't put it terribly strongly and I don't think it's a stretch.

As for the idea that there is a connection between "the homosexual 'movement' and pedophilia," again, I suspect that many Christian opponents of same-sex marriage would question such a connection and question the language used to suggest it, but that again is an empirical question about public opinion. For what it's worth, I personally think it is not accurate, in any useful sense of the word, to argue that "one of the PRIMARY GOALS of the homosexual rights movement is to abolish all age of consent laws and to eventually recognize pedophiles as the 'prophets' of a new sexual order," or that the "homosexual rights movement has tried to distance itself from pedophilia, BUT ONLY for public relations purposes." (Both statements seem a good deal stronger to me than asserting a mere "connection," but I suppose it depends on what you thought you meant.) You are welcome to disagree with me, of course! Certainly that does not seem reflective of the views of the gay people, gay parents, and activists or supporters of gay rights, whether gay or straight, that I know. They mostly seem like pretty good folks to me, on a personal level! But perhaps they have been misled. Human frailty and organizational tendencies being what they are, I suppose we would both agree that it is always conceivable that the leaders of any interest group (left, right, or other), public institution, or church could deliberately deceive their own supporters, from the "Human Rights Campaign" to the "Alliance Defending Freedom."

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | May 1, 2013 1:17:22 PM

Paul, I think the main issue in this discussion is indeed whether advocacy of traditional Christian morality against the left's sexual agenda renders one an extremist Christian to be suppressed, not just one to be disagreed with. The views of Mickey, the SPLC, and Bob (as Bob's own words express that agreement) on this very issue are, it seems to me, the thrust of what Patrick is complaining about. Do we just disagree, or is the Christian side to be stamped out. You think that Mikey wasn't really consulted so this example of suppression is overblown in its influence. But then Bob came along and said he basically agrees with Mickey. So much for Mickey's view being insignificant in its influence. The objection proved the accusation. Of course, Patrick points to many more examples than just this one consultation of a madman, so you saying this particular one was merely a technicality doesn't change the thrust of the dispute. At some point, denying the prevalence of this view in the Obama administration and the homosexual movement becomes tenditious. How many times does the SPLC have to be reaffirmed and support for man-woman marriage have to be called irrational bigoted animus before we admit this position weilds substantial influence in the levers of government?

Posted by: Matt Bowman | May 1, 2013 3:25:49 PM

Thanks again, Matt. Two points:
1) Although the last sentence of my comment above may have been accurate, I don't think on reflection that it was courteous or necessary. My apologies.
2) I agree that the administration clearly has advanced, if not consistently, a strong view on same-sex marriage and gay rights, including the view that opposition to same-sex marriage fails rational basis scrutiny. I'm not personally a huge fan of Romer/Cleburne-type argument, and I would prefer (obviously we differ here) for the administration and others to argue that laws classifying on the basis of sexual orientation ought to receive heightened scrutiny than for it to make arguments about animus. For that matter, I also agree that this administration has taken lines on religious liberty that I disagree with, sometimes (as in Hosanna-Tabor) strongly. And, of course, I have said I find Weinstein's language objectionable and that it would be reasonable to criticize his being invited to a meeting or consulting with government at all, although I think the import of such invitations is less clear and, on the whole, would rather that government be more rather than less open to opening the door to meetings with groups that it and I disagree with. (There were, of course, stories during recent Republican administrations about those administrations hosting people and groups whose views and statements upset the Democrats or liberal commentators. I am skeptical of such stories as well. Not every group that was invited to consult with those administrations could be counted as influential, and not all of those invitations constituted a blanket endorsement.) Where I disagree is about what kinds of evidence are most useful in establishing and describing the administration's views and actions, and what kinds of evidence are weaker, more tendentious, and therefore less useful and at least deserving of being approached with caution and skepticism. Having read the stories on which Patrick based his latest posts, and having tried to follow up and do additional investigation about them, I think he ought to have approached those stories more cautiously and skeptically and that he ended up overselling them--unnecessarily, from my perspective, since there are ample and stronger alternative grounds on which to criticize the administration on these issues. Others are welcome to disagree.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | May 2, 2013 8:40:22 AM

Paul, I don't remember President Bush consulting Fred Phelps. Unless Christians advocating traditional morality are the equivalent thereof. But of course that is the question. It does seem that we are not too far apart on recognizing that there has been an "advance[ment]" of position here on the social left.

Posted by: Matt Bowman | May 2, 2013 9:23:55 AM

Hi Mr. Bowman,

I realize that I'm late to this but I just wanted to expand on a couple of points.

First, I have the same problem that you do with the designation of those who are against SSM as hate groups. And I say this as an SSM supporter. I have never liked hate speech laws, either. I think the whole designation of hate in this context lowers the quality of the SSM argument. Plus, trying to eliminate or quash hate is pointless. You may as well try to eliminate breathing.

Second, I have no problem with religious believers in our military (remembering the old saying that there are no atheists in foxholes). What I object to as a tax paying citizen (however miniscule my contribution) is the use of religious allegory by those who would seek to use our military as a religious instrument. You saw this a lot in the run up to the invasion of Iraq. I once actually heard James Dobson on the radio (I was on the road in South Carolina on business and remember it like it was yesterday) actually say that removing Saddam Hussein was prophetized in the Bible. Not just that removing him was justified under Just War grounds but that the Bible said it was just. Take this and the comments from General Boykin about how the War on Terror was a battle between Christianity and Islam and Fisher DeBerry openly proselytizing his football players at the AFA and that's what makes me nervous. I want our soldiers to be serving the USA and not think that they're a part of a crusade. That's how we end up with getting into stupid wars like the invasion of Iraq. And when you have officers and authority figures doing it, that is more likely to make the soldiers think they have to follow along.

Also, remember the inquiry into the death of Pat Tillman? Remember this quote from one of the generals investigating his death:

"These people have a hard time letting it go. It may be because of their religious beliefs" and "When you die, I mean, there is supposedly a better life, right? Well, if you are an atheist and you don’t believe in anything, if you die, what is there to go to? Nothing. You are worm dirt. So for their son to die for nothing and now he is no more... I do not know how an atheist thinks, I can only imagine that would be pretty tough."

Let me translate that for you. Since Pat Tillman and his family were atheists, they really don't deserve any answers as to whether or not he died by friendly fire. As a person who is a Mass going Catholic, I could not object to that kind of an attitude (from a general, no less) any more strenuously.

Again, I don't compare you or any of the folks above to the ilk of Fred Phelps. Far from it. But I do object to the use of religious belief that take military service and the role of our military from what it should be into some kind of instrument of God's grace. And I think that has existed through the examples that I've cited and I don't think that one has to take up with the Mikey Weinstein's of the world (which I don't) in order to see this.

Posted by: Edward Dougherty | May 2, 2013 11:27:39 AM

To be clear, Matt, I don't remember President Bush consulting Fred Phelps either. I was making the narrower point that while everyone has breaking points about who gets to walk into a government office and who doesn't, I personally would draw the line fairly broadly, although I have my breaking points too; and I was also suggesting that I have tried (imperfectly, no doubt) to be consistent about this regardless of the party in power. Regards, Paul

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | May 2, 2013 1:55:23 PM