Archive for the ‘More Education than Judgement’ Category.

“Urban Renewal” and The Kakistocracy


Adventures in Buffaloland – Episode 1 – Tim Tielman in Niagara Square, downtown Buffalo

Urban renewal was the lethal marriage of progressive urban engineering with what Tim [Tielman] calls the “kakistocracy“—thieves who justify their crimes against place in the canting and condescending language of efficiency and inevitability.

New York’s Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, while being driven through urban-renewal-decimated Auburn, New York, “In the 1950s, with a progressive government and newspaper, you got into urban renewal and destroyed everything of value in your town. If you’d had a reactionary newspaper and a grumpy mayor, you might still have it.” Try to imagine Chuck Schumer or Kirsten Gillibrand saying something one-ten-thousandth as perceptive. (Confirming Moynihan, the largest American city to reject urban renewal funding was Salt Lake City, whose voters, following the lead of their delightfully cranky libertarian Mayor J. Bracken Lee, rejected the federal bulldozer in 1965 by a vote of 29,119 to 4,900.)

Moynihan had a soft spot for Buffalo, probably because it was filled with the ethnic Catholics who claimed his heart, if not always his head. His support was critical in saving Louis Sullivan’s terra cotta-ornamented Guaranty Building (1896) from senseless demolition. (In a 1961 essay in Commentary, Moynihan called Buffalo “a big, ugly, turbulent city.” I once asked him if that description caused any problems in his campaigns. He looked at me incredulously. “How many people in Buffalo do you think read Commentary?”)

Tielman says, “Absent the federal and state money, none of this devastation occurs in Buffalo or Niagara Falls.” He elaborates: “Where did this free money go? To the existing power structure”—whose acts of destruction were facilitated, I regret to say, by urban Catholic mayors, who sacrificed significant portions of their cities to the Greatest Generation’s Greatest God: Progress.

. . .

[T]he Canal District [in Buffalo] is now threatened by every parent’s nightmare: a children’s museum, a $27 million project, jointly funded by a state development corporation and corporate donors, with the city offering a $1-a-year lease for forty years.

Tim is not enthusiastic. “Did you know Buffalo is the largest city in the country without a children’s museum?” he asks in mock outrage. “We can’t let that stand!” More seriously, he notes that “children’s museums attract fewer people than cemeteries,” and that this one “has nothing to do with the Canal District—it could be anywhere.” (It could be anywhere—what an apposite caption for so many of the edifices that deface our cities: This could be anywhere.)

. . .

Jane Jacobs occupies the catbird seat on Tim’s bookshelf. He rhapsodizes Jacobsian over pre-urban renewal Buffalo, which was “dense with buildings and crowded sidewalks, where one could wander block upon block, past shop after shop, restaurant after restaurant, office building after hotel, without apparent end. Buffalo was a beehive, where all of life’s necessities, pleasures, and luxuries could be had within the square mile of its core.”

Its demolition was not the work of some invisible hand or inscrutable force but rather, in Tielman’s phrase, “social engineers” who destroyed the essence of the city.

. . .

Next time you’re in Buffalo—and you really ought to visit; the Buffalos and Lowells and Pittsburghs are so much better for the soul than Orlando or Myrtle Beach—take one of the Campaign for Greater Buffalo‘s open-air bus tours.

The Real Buffalo Rises: How one American city lost, and then reclaimed its destiny.


Adventures in Buffaloland – Episode 2 – Tim Tielman visits two office buildings in Buffalo


Adventures in Buffaloland – Episode 4 – St. Paul’s Cathedral and Sullivan’s Guaranty Building<

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“Politics is unalloyed idiocy”

[O]ne of the reasons why I so thoroughly detest politics: it insults my intelligence. Even overlooking all of its many other faults, politics remains insufferable because it’s so completely imbecilic. It traffics in assertions that are either hilariously false or utterly meaningless. Politicians and their operatives then expect those of us on the receiving end of their moronic assertions not only to believe these assertions to be true, but also to marvel at the amazingness of the politicians who, we are assured, regularly perform the unbelievable feats described by the assertions.

Politics is unalloyed idiocy treated even by – indeed, especially by – the intelligentsia as if it is a solemn and serious undertaking. But it’s not. Politics is overwhelmingly the domain of megalomaniacal frauds, liars, and con artists.

Politics – Don Boudreaux

For too many, politics and the the state are their idols.

Statolatry. Ozymandias.

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Ban Catholics from public life!

Those in England who have always worried more about Catholicism than any other religion seemed to spy in the [Pope] Benedict visit a chance to let out their fears. The railing against [Jacob] Rees-Mogg for diverging too heavily from modern values, and the suggestion he should be put out to political pasture, looks like another possible expression of such atheism-cum-anti-Catholicism.

That Rees-Mogg is being singled out for a more savage-than-usual Twittermobbing and media criticism is clear if one compares him with Muslim public figures. There are many Muslims in public life who hold similar views to his. But the likelihood of any Muslim ever appearing on the front page of the Guardian next to the word ‘bigot’ is literally zero. What we can see here is an extraordinary double standard on religion. A combination of a long-standing liberal fear and loathing of Catholicism with a censorious reluctance ever to criticise Islam, even traditional forms of Islam, means Catholics can be demonised far more harshly than Muslims for believing similar things on marriage and abortion.

Indeed, today we have the perverse situation where to criticise Islam’s repression of women is treated virtually as a speechcrime, as Islamophobia. So not only does the chattering class hold back on criticising Islam – it pressures everyone else to do likewise. How about we have a truly equal and secular form of freedom that allows all religion to be criticised, and all people to hold whatever religious beliefs they choose?

So, should we ban Catholics from public life?

See also:
– “Dianne Feinstein renews her decades-long crusade against Catholic judges
– “Dianne Feinstein and the Anti-Catholic Bigots
– “Concerns of ‘anti-Catholic bigotry’ as judicial nominee questioned about faith

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Euthanasia and the Culture of Death in Canada

Those who persist in denying that the Church is engaged in a culture war, the combatants in which are aptly called the “culture of life” and the “culture of death,” might ponder this June blog post by my summer pastor in rural Québec, Father Tim Moyle:

Tonight I am preparing to celebrate a funeral for someone (let’s call him “H” to protect his privacy) who, while suffering from cancer, was admitted to hospital with an unrelated problem, a bladder infection. H’s family had him admitted to the hospital earlier in the week under the assumption that the doctors there would treat the infection and then he would be able to return home. To their shock and horror, they discovered that the attending physician had indeed made the decision NOT to treat the infection. When they demanded that he change his course of (in)action, he refused, stating that it would be better if H died of this infection now rather than let cancer take its course and kill him later. Despite their demands and pleadings, the doctor would not budge from his decision. In fact he deliberately hastened H’s end by ordering large amounts of morphine “to control pain” which resulted in his losing consciousness as his lungs filled up with fluid. In less than 24 hours, H was dead.

Let me tell you a bit about H. He was 63 years old. He leaves behind a wife and two daughters who are both currently working in universities toward their undergraduate degrees. We are not talking here about someone who was advanced in years and rapidly failing due to the exigencies of old age. We are talking about a man who was undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments. We are talking about a man who still held onto hope that perhaps he might defy the odds long enough to see his daughters graduate. Evidently and tragically, in the eyes of the physician tasked with providing the care needed to beat back the infection, that hope was not worth pursuing.

Again, let me make this point abundantly clear: It was the express desire of both the patient and his spouse that the doctor treat the infection. This wish was ignored.

Canada’s vulnerability to the culture of death is exacerbated by Canada’s single-payer, i.e. state-funded and state-run, health care system. And the brutal fact is that it’s more “cost-effective” to euthanize patients than to treat secondary conditions that could turn lethal (like H’s infection) or to provide palliative end-of-life care.

. . .

But in Canada, a mature democracy, that utilitarian calculus among government bean-counters wouldn’t survive for long if a similar, cold calculus were not at work in the souls of too many citizens. And that is one reason why the Church must engage the culture war, not only in Canada but in the United States and throughout the West: to warm chilled souls and rebuild a civil society committed to human dignity.

It’s a Culture War, Stupid

Ozymandias

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Resistance….

[W]hat bothers most Americans is politics now defined as nonstop sermonizing in which a rich athlete, a Pajama Boy activist, a demagogic politician, or a quarter-educated billionaire movie star lectures less fortunate Americans on the various deplorable racists, sexists, homophobes, and Islamophobes among them.

There is a populist and growing resistance to the Orwellian idea that free speech is hate speech, that equality of opportunity is defined only by equality of result, and that identity politics determines the degree of government-mandated penance and reparations.

Sometimes individual voices of this far-growing resistance movement write credos aimed at the Google-mandated reeducation seminars. Sometimes a few faculty members simply do not show up at their required university diversity-indoctrination workshops.

Sometimes, millions of viewers flip the channel when jocks at ESPN lecture as if they were wizened philosophers.

Sometimes when multimillionaire athletes claim victimhood and won’t stand for the national anthem, viewers of NFL games never view again. And sometimes they vote for flawed candidates like Donald Trump, whose virtue of saying almost anything to anyone at any time is considered a sort of harsh medicine that targets the malady of identity-driven political correctness, a chemotherapy to stop metastasizing malignancy.

This rather different resistance is tired of Warsaw Pact–like drabness in which, like dead souls, they must virtue-signal one reality while in their private minds resisting the groupthink. Cynicism abounds, as it always does in egalitarian utopias like the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, Venezuela, or Cuba, because the Animal Farm commandments on the barn wall are pro forma, not reflections of revolutionary zeal.

The diversity trainers who contract with universities to profit from their captive audiences are in their second and third generations of treating self-created angst. Al Sharpton and Maxine Waters are about as radical as Amway sales people. The Southern Poverty Law Center issues “hate maps” that include Christian organizations — while it gins up millions of dollars in donations, some of which are offshored to Caribbean tax havens to ensure six-figure salaries to lawyers who can find few victims of hate and fewer hate groups to litigate against on behalf of the Southern impoverished.

Two Resistances

Many have made politics their idol. Politics is a false god. As is statolatry.

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The “sexual revolution” is part of the culture of death

If the loosening of sexual mores was a good thing, why do men and women, outside of their own marriages, spend so little time expressing gratitude or admiration for the opposite sex? Let’s suppose that you have two tribes, the Comanche and the Shoshone, and that before some particularly bloody battle, the Comanche used to say good things about the Shoshone, and the Shoshone used to say good things about the Comanche; and that they generally did so, though they did not always get along. Wouldn’t you conclude that the battle had poisoned their relations? Suppose the feminist insists that relations between men and women have never been better, because before she came into the world to enlighten us, all they did was quarrel and abuse whatever power the one had over the other. That’s absurd, but grant her the jaundiced view not only of history but of every single human culture that has ever existed and that exists even now, besides that of the feminist-influenced west. Fine; now we ask the feminist the obvious question. “If what you say is true, why don’t you spend most of your time expressing gratitude or admiration for men—for their accomplishments, their strengths, and their gifts to women? Why are you not in a tizzy of wonder? If your movement has sweetened everything, why are you so sour?” She is a walking and talking self-refutation.

Normal people want young people to get married, have children, and stay married. They may differ on what to do in the case of extremely difficult marriages, but at base they agree that marriage is a very good thing, and should neither be rare nor fragile nor subject to needless threats from without. Now, it is clear that in the aftermath of the sexual revolution marriage is in steep decline. Normal people would view that as at least worrisome and at worst calamitous. The question to ask, when the town sewer has backed up and water of dubious color is spurting out through everybody’s kitchen sink, is not, “How should we label our outhouses?” Anybody who would distract you from the main question, the pressing trouble, is either a fool or a knave. The question is, “How do we repair the town sewer?”

The question for us is, “What customs, and the laws that corroborate and promote them, give young men and women the best chance of getting married, bearing children within wedlock, staying married, and raising their children in a clean and sane household?” If, when the water is foul, somebody at your ear persists in asking about what to do with old paint or whether mixed-use zoning is a good thing, you will look at him as if he had lost his senses. “Now is not the time for that!” you would say. If he were at your ear saying that the new kind of water was really pretty good, and that only prejudice kept you from liking it, you would be sure that he had lost his senses, you would order him off the premises, and you would return to your task at hand.

Time for frank talk about the sewage, filth of the sexual revolution

The “sexual revolution” is part of the culture of death.

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Evil in This World

I fear that, except for a few of us remaining graybeards and some immigrants from the world’s manifold tyrannies and anarchies, most Americans are too young to remember, even vicariously, the ills that the world can inflict and the effort it takes to withstand and restrain them. They have studied no history, so not only can they not distinguish Napoleon from Hitler, but also they have no conception of how many ills mankind has suffered or inflicted on itself and how heroic has been the effort of the great, the wise, and the good over the centuries to advance the world’s enlightenment and civilization—efforts that the young have learned to scorn as the self-interested machinations of dead white men to maintain their dominance. While young people are examining their belly buttons for microaggressions, real evil still haunts the world, still inheres in human nature; and those who don’t know this are at risk of being ambushed and crushed by it.

Slogans, placards, and chants won’t stop it: the world is not a campus, Donald Trump is not Adolf Hitler, the Israelis are not Nazis. Moreover, it is disgracefully, cloyingly naive to think—as the professor hurt in the melee to keep Charles Murray from addressing a Middlebury College audience recently put it in the New York Times—that “All violence is a breakdown of communication.” An hour’s talk over a nice cup of tea would not have kept Vladimir Putin from invading Ukraine, or persuaded an Islamist terrorist not to explode his bomb. Misunderstanding does not cause murder, and reasoned conversation does not penetrate the heart of darkness.

Much as I revere Yeats, I do not share his theory that history is cyclical, with civilizations rising and decaying, until something new arises from the ashes. Perhaps it’s the ember of mid-century optimism still alive in me, but I can’t believe that “All things fall and are built again.” I don’t want to believe, with Conrad in his darkest moods, that “we live in the flicker,” that moments of enlightenment shine but briefly between the eras of ignorance and barbarism.

But who can deny that there are some truths that history has taught—the Copybook Headings, Rudyard Kipling calls them—that we ignore at our peril? Has not history’s recurring tale been, as Kipling cautions, that “a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome?” So beware of UN-style promises of perpetual peace through disarmament, which you’ll find will have “sold us and delivered us bound to our foe.” Beware of a sexual freedom that will end when “our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith.” Don’t believe that you can achieve “abundance for all,/ By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul,” because the eternal truth is, “If you don’t work you die.”

See No Evil? Then it will take you by surprise.

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High School and College Admissions and DECA

One thing that jumps out of the IHE article is that this proposal is a creature of elite prep schools. Most American high schools have, at most, a handful of students who are realistically competitive at elite universities, but elite prep schools aspire to place a substantial fraction of their students there. Alas, that college admissions offices expect to see grades puts elite high schools in the embarrassing situation of implicitly comparing their students to one another.

. . .

From 1898 to 1919, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton opened up their admissions requirements by adopting the College Entrance Exam Board and abandoning a Greek-language requirement. These reforms made admission more open to non-elite boys, who as a rule were unable to take the schools’ proprietary entrance exams and attended high schools that did not offer Greek. As a result, the Ivies saw a sizable increase in Jewish students, and Columbia even experienced WASP flight, which its peers dreaded. Although Harvard discussed an explicit Jewish quota in 1922, this proved unpalatable, and so between 1922 and 1926 the big three Ivies adopted admissions boards that gave a heavy emphasis to qualitative evidence of “character” (read: WASP culture emphasizing muscular Christianity, club membership, and athletics over book learning) as a pretext to limit Jews.

Decades later, the University of California system, within which both Karabel and I are sociologists, adopted a similar policy to ensure racial balance. Traditionally, about half of the UC class was admitted by a GPA and SAT formula. The beginning of the end of this policy came in 1995 and 1996, when a Board of Regents vote and ballot initiative barred the use of affirmative action at the University of California, without which the flagship campuses of the university admitted notably fewer blacks and Latinos and notably more Asians and “decline to state” as freshmen. (White students were stable.) In response, between 1998 and 2001, the university switched to a system of comprehensive review greatly emphasizing qualitative evidence of character, and this had the desired effect of bringing the undergraduate body a bit closer to the state’s overall ethnic composition.

Basing college admission on well-roundedness and character is both noisy and cumbersome. Anyone who regularly writes letters of recommendation knows that they consume an enormous amount of time to write, and anyone who regularly reads them knows that they typically convey minimal actual information, largely because by convention they are almost never negative. Admissions essays at the undergraduate level are even worse, serving primarily to demonstrate the insatiability of credulous admissions officers for bromides.

However, the time consumed by writing and reading the materials in the admissions packet is dwarfed by the effort that goes into shaping lives to fit them. One of the biggest impacts of the demand for well-roundedness is that making a well-rounded child is an enormous drain of time for families. Garey and Valerie Ramey’s NBER/Brookings paper “The Rug Rat Race” (72-page PDF) suggests that our culture of intensive parenting is driven by competition for college admissions. They find a pronounced rise in time spent on child rearing since the mid 1990s concentrated among college-educated parents. Tellingly, the pattern does not hold in Canada, which has a less hierarchical college system. Nor does the pattern apply to underrepresented minorities, whom colleges already seek and who experience diminishing marginal returns to résumé-polishing. To treat time spent raising kids as a problem sounds heartless, but when the increased time consists of chauffeuring kids from activity to activity or “helping” them with projects, this is a brutal war of attrition against rivals to the meritocratic elite, not quality family time. In the long run, this may lead not only to endless stress for parents and kids alike, but also to lower fertility, since if you make something more costly, you get less of it.

The sick irony is that giving great weight to well-roundedness and character is seen as egalitarian. Test prep serves the role of Satan in the theodicy of meritocracy, a ready explanation for the association between test scores and social class of origin. What this myth overlooks is that most scholarly studies of test prep estimate that it raises SAT scores by a piddling couple dozen points out of 1600. Nonetheless, our suspicion of the SAT’s well-known association with household income provides an egalitarian rationale for the regressive turn to all variety of precocious “achievement” as the basis of college admissions, as if test scores could be bought but résumé-padding could not.

. . .

If you want a vision of the future, imagine a plutocratic elite preening to college admissions officers about how sophisticated and nuanced it is, forever.

Elite High Schools Plot to Undermine College Admissions

For an alternative, see DECA:

– “Owning Their Future: The Joy of DECA, Part I

– “Inspiration in a Blue Blazer: The Joy of DECA, Part II

It is interesting to observe the moral preening among parents as they attempt to get their children into the “best” schools.

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“Science” and Power

The Indiana Jones heuristic — the search for fact is science, the search for Truth is philosophy — can go only so far in finessing the inherent conflict between science, which is organized around assumptions of objectivity, and the poisonous identity politics holding as its fundamental principle that everything is subjective.

. . .

But if it were really about science, we’d be hearing more from scientists and less from people who have batty, superstitious attitudes about modern agriculture and evidence-based medicine. You will not hear Democrats complaining about the fact that the Affordable Care Act clears the way for subsidizing such hokum as acupuncture and homeopathy. Seventh-day Adventists may make some claims about the world that sound ridiculous from the scientific point of view, but so do practitioners of yoga and sweat-lodge enthusiasts. The public adoration of Science isn’t about science.

. . .

The postmodernists were correct in one thing: There is some politics built into the scientific method, in that the scientific method assumes an environment in which people are at liberty to speak, debate, and publish — a liberty with which the American Left, particularly on college campuses, is at war. They are not interested in debate or conversation. They are interested in silencing those who disagree with them, and they have high-profile allies: Democratic prosecutors around the country are working to criminalize the holding of nonconformist views about global warming (some prominent activists have openly called for jailing “climate deniers”), and Howard Dean has taken up the novel argument that the First Amendment does not actually protect political speech with which he disagrees. (It is, he insists, “hate speech,” a legally null term in the American context.) Dean has argued that the federal laws governing the conduct of political campaigns could and should be used to regulate all public speaking.

The partisans of Science believe themselves to be part of an eternal war between Galileo and the Inquisition, but they have in fact chosen the Inquisition’s side. They have chosen the side of the Censor and the Index — so long as they get to choose who serves as Censor and who manages the Index. That is how they have reconciled Science and its claims of objective fact with identity politics and its denial of the same: They are engaged in neither the pursuit of fact nor the pursuit of Truth — only the pursuit of Power.

The Inquisitor’s Heirs

Statolatry and Ozymandias

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“Winning”

Even the sainted William F. Buckley derived no small part of his appeal from the fact that he could always one-up any condescending liberal egghead. That was a big part of his legacy. At a time when the media wanted desperately to paint conservatives as paranoid, anti-intellectual bigots in the George Wallace mode, Buckley’s sesquipedalian erudition served as a kind of reassurance.

But Buckley brought something else to the table: civility, self-deprecation, and a playful wit that could be intellectually devastating without being humiliating. Even when he explained that Robert F. Kennedy was ducking his invitations to appear on Firing Line — “Why does baloney reject the grinder?” — liberals had to chuckle in admiration.

It’s that touch which has largely gone missing of late. Intellectually, Buckley was a passionate believer that liberalism was the Enemy. But liberals themselves were merely the opposition (Gore Vidal notwithstanding).

Where did that come from? Again, much of it is a product of the times, stemming from new technology, economics, and other deep-rooted causes. But I want to focus on one. Over the last decade, conservatives have developed a severe case of Alinsky envy.

It is one of the oldest insights into human nature that envy corrupts the soul. (Aquinas defined envy as sadness for the good of others.) But Alinsky envy is corrupting in a different way. For years now conservatism has convinced itself that the Left wins by, in effect, cheating. They lie. They only care about power. They demonize and slander their opponents. I’m not going to sit here and claim that there’s zero merit to that argument. There’s a lot of merit, even if it’s often an exaggeration.

My objection is the conclusion conservatives draw from it: We’ve got to take the gloves off and play by the same rules! Alinsky’s rules! As David Kahane (eye roll) puts it: “Become what you behold.”

A whole cottage industry on the right has thrived around this argument, and on the whole, it’s grotesque. You cannot argue that your enemy is evil and uses evil means and at the same time argue, “We should do it too!”

It’s particularly hypocritical given that Alinsky envy blossomed alongside obsessions with conservative purity. It is a circle that will not square: Our ideology has a monopoly on virtue, but in order for virtue to triumph we must act like people we claim are virtueless. The effort to make this argument work is inherently corrupting because it inexorably replaces ends with means. “Winning” gets redefined before our eyes into anything that fuels our ecstatic schadenfreude over the suffering of our opponents. Whenever Trump did something indefensible the “defense” “But he fights!” would pour forth.

. . .

Bill O’Reilly grew up in Long Island before the city started to decline, but he is incontestably a product of the nostalgia-besotted working-class worldview that Giuliani tapped into. He doesn’t call himself a conservative, but a “traditionalist.” And his vision of tradition isn’t Burkean, Oakshottian, or Hayekian. He doesn’t harken to Russell Kirk’s Mecosta, but to Levittown. And to an extent that’s fine. America could use a bit more 1950s Levittown morality. Sean Hannity, born in New York City but raised in Long Island, is another who largely fits that mold. More broadly, as I’ve written dozens of times, Fox News was always more populist than conservative, but its populism is often infused with a New York sensibility.

This was always the core of Donald Trump’s act, even when he was a proud Democrat. A bridge-and-tunnel billionaire, he always had a chip on his shoulder about New York elites. It wasn’t quite the same Irish-Catholic chip that O’Reilly had, but the similarities are more interesting than the differences. O’Reilly’s intellectual insecurity drives him to churn out gimmicky histories, written by someone else. Trump’s spills out in boasts about his grades and his superior brain. They both insist they’re the smartest man in the room and that people who disagree with their meniscus-thin judgments are not just wrong, but bad or stupid.

Trump’s nostalgic appeal to Make America Great Again using common sense to defeat the pinhead elites combined with his implied promise to humiliate his enemies with his strength and will was simply a variant of O’Reillyism. Indeed, Bill O’Reilly was the John the Baptist of Trumpism long before Donald Trump appeared on the political scene.

I should say that I wish Donald Trump were a Rudy Giuliani, and I hold out the barest glimmer of hope that he could turn into one. But my suspicion is that he is a creature who mimicked the aesthetics and style of a Giuliani without anything like his discipline or expertise. And that in itself is a sign of the toxic corruption of celebrity conservatism that David French describes. Too many people think being a conservative is all about the public posture, the performance in front of the camera and not the performance on the job.

Bill O’Reilly’s Nostalgia Factor

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