Episcopal numbers games in greater LA

We are going to play a little numbers game for a minute, so please hang in there with me. The following is totally fiction, so please do not get hung up on the details.

Let’s say that a big, important, powerful body in Southern Baptist life — the Baptist General Convention of Texas, for example — did something really controversial that makes global headlines. Just thinking out loud, let’s pretend that the BGCT is run by right wingers (this is going to take lots of imagination) and that they pass a resolution calling for the impeachment of President Barack Obama.

Then the BGCT plans a big event in a media-friendly arena in, oh, Plano that seats about 30,000 people. By coincidence, or not, they schedule their event on the same day as the opening of a weekend of Tea Party events drawing in thousands of anti-Obama activists. Nevertheless, after doing their advance homework, Baptist leaders realize they cannot fill the giant hall — so they prepare to set it up for a crowd of 12,000, while opening the doors to all comers. Then the big event arrives and about, oh, 5,000 people show up.

My question: Would the press covering the event do the math and ask even the most basic of questions about the health and happiness of people — on both sides of the issue — in the larger body of the BGCT?

I know, I know. This is a very, very strained analogy. The key is the journalistic equation: Powerful group plus controversial issue plus big event plus big hall plus low attendance numbers, even in a downsized hall. Would this equation, under normal circumstances, yield the asking of basic journalistic questions?

That’s what I was thinking while reading the close-to-celebratory Los Angeles Timee story on the consecration rites for the two female bishops in the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, including the Rev. Mary Douglas Glasspool, the bitterly divided Anglican Communion’s first openly lesbian bishop who is living with a same-sex partner. The report opens like this:

There was a moment on Saturday when even the usually unflappable J. Jon Bruno, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, held his breath.

It was the point when the 3,000 people at the Long Beach Arena were asked if anyone had any objections to the ordination of the region’s first two female bishops, one of whom is the first lesbian bishop ordained by the Episcopal Church.

“I don’t think there’s anybody in this place who was more nervous than I was,” Bruno said a short time later in his sermon. But the moment passed in silence, and the two women — Diane Jardine Bruce and Mary Douglas Glasspool — were ordained to applause and cheers. Bruno said the church was “fuller and richer and more vital” as a result.

The story includes more than few details from the service, from the cheers of the assembled to the shouts of the few protesters who made it inside the large hall. Here is a sample of the color that was included:

Saturday’s four-hour-plus service combined the pomp of the Episcopal Church’s long tradition with a multicultural flair reflecting its modern California flock. There was hip-hop dancing, a mariachi band, Japanese taiko drumming and African vocals. It included a nearly hour-long procession led by a robed figure, known as a thurifer, swinging a ceremonial incense holder. Banners reminiscent of medieval England ringed the arena, each representing a church within the diocese.

That is basically it, as far as this report is concerned. It’s a pretty modest story for an historic event with local, regional, national and global implications. Then again, the rite received more attention in the British press than in the prestige venues of the American media (by all means click here), which could reflect the fact that the actions of the liberal Episcopal establishment are no longer very surprising.

Still, let’s discuss that math question. While 3,000 people is a nice crowd, it is interesting to note that the diocese made the following announcement on its homepage.

All are invited; no tickets are needed for admission. …

Location: Long Beach Arena — located in the Long Beach Convention Center Complex, 300 Ocean Blvd., Long Beach, California (90802). Seating capacity for the liturgy will be at least 6,700.

It would be pretty standard procedure for reporters to ask questions when a event in a giant, powerful city — an event with global implications — draws 3,000 when the room was set up for 6,700, inside an arena that holds 13,500 (a statistic that is easy to find). Let’s assume that the crowd estimate is accurate, by the way.

Here is another logical question. Did the diocese intentionally choose this venue in order to achieve some synchronicity with the start of a major Gay Pride Festival in the same complex and in the surrounding Long Beach area? Did this affect attendance in a good way or did it keep some church members, especially those who might not be enthusiastic about the gay-pride festival, from making the trip?

I can make a case for either of those interpretations. The key, however, is that — for good or ill — the question is relevant, if the crowd is less than half the size that the diocese had planned.

What does the smaller crowd mean? There is no one set answer to that question, either. Journalists would want to ask that question to people on both sides of this event that was a cause of celebration for many, but grief for others.

Journalists are trained to ask these kinds of obvious questions, right?

Speaking of obvious questions: A day or so after writing my earlier post (about the Baltimore Sun‘s puffy piece on Glasspool), one key detail in the story started nagging me like a low-grade toothache. Here’s the reference:

“The Diocese of Los Angeles is tremendously exciting to me,” said Glasspool, who spoke of the “very creative ways in which the church there does its mission and ministry,” and the fact that on any given Sunday across the diocese, the liturgy is being celebrated in some 40 languages.

Now, it would appear that Glasspool is the source of that amazing “40 languages” number. I started listing some obvious languages to be included in the mix, while also remembering that we are talking about trying to populate services — I assume using translations of texts from The Book of Common Prayer — for Episcopalians in one set region. I had trouble getting above a dozen languages. I mean, you could have services in Russian, Turkish, Greek, German or French, but who would be served by these rites?

Note, for example, that the homepage of the absolutely gigantic Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles lists Masses in 30 or so languages, and that includes “African-American focus” and “Native American focus” rites.

The Episcopalians need 40?

It appears not. The diocesan homepage (hat tip to Doug LeBlanc) includes the following:

Weekly worship opportunities in the diocese are offered in Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese, Taiwanese, Japanese, Korean, Tagalog and Vietnamese.

There is also a brief reference to activities for Native American women and young people, but this passage does not include information on rites in another language or languages.

So, does the Sun need to run a correction? Or does the new bishop need to issue a clarification?

Let’s face it, 40 is a really high number. Did that strike anyone at the Sun as strange?

Photo: St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral in Los Angeles, care of Wikipedia Commons. No, I don’t know how many people the cathedral seats.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://www.perpetuaofcarthage.blogspot.com Perpetua

    If the timing and location were chosen to correspond to the Long Beach Gay Pride event, the intention could have been to advertise the Episcopal Diocese to the gay community …. that it is a gay friendly welcoming denomination and diocese.

  • dalea

    The Los Angeles Unified School District identifies students speaking 91 languages (PDF warning0:

    http://search.lausd.k12.ca.us/cgi-bin/fccgi.exe

    Among them are Tigrynia, Chamorro, Mixteco and Lahu. I have never heard of any of these. Los Angeles is where New York was a century ago; it is the entry port for immigrants. So, 40 languages is somewhat plausible. But not very.

    • Stan Theman

      Except for (maybe) Spanish, it’s still overwhelmingly and Anglo church-more than 80% use English as a first language. And even more overwhelmingly middle class and middle aged-median age is over 45 and rising.

  • Martha

    “an event with global implications — draws 3,000 when the room was set up for 6,700, inside an arena that holds 13,500″

    You noticed that, too? :-)

    I hesitate to call it “spin” (oh, all right, I don’t really hestitate) but there is a certain, um, lightness of touch about the coverage from the official side (both links courtesy of TitusOneNine); this excerpt from the Episcopalian News Service, for example:

    http://www.episcopalchurch.org/79425_122244_ENG_HTM.htm

    “Two historic ministries were welcomed in a huge and joyous celebration May 15 as thousands witnessed Diane Jardine Bruce and Mary Douglas Glasspool being consecrated bishops suffragan of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles.”

    Well, yes, thousands, quite. Just not as many thousands as they were expecting, it would appear.

    And this in the Reuters report:

    http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE64F0CD20100516?feedType=RSS&feedName=topNews

    “Some 3,000 people attended the ceremony, said diocese spokesman Bob Williams. “The event was joyful and well attended,” he said.”

    Well-attended? Depends, I guess.

    It’s hard to know what to make of it. Either a lot of people in the pews weren’t too happy and chose not to attend, or this isn’t seen as such a big deal and even the supporters of same-sex equality in the church couldn’t be bothered to attend. Or on the third hand, it’s a symptom of the sliding numbers and declining attendance and membership in the Episcopal Church. I really don’t know.

  • dalea

    The language survey begins on page 25.

  • Martha

    That “forty languages” bit also struck me as unusual, but who knows? The ENS report mentioned “Representatives from the Tongva, Chumash, Tataviam and Acjachemem Native American tribes, upon whose lands the Los Angeles diocese is located, welcomed 3,000 clergy and laity, family and friends, and civic, ecumenical and other guests” so if we count up all the different dialects that may be spoken, they well might add up to forty.

    The important thing is how many speakers of each language attend those churches every Sunday? Ten or fewer for some languages means the numbers are not as impressive as they sound when you talk about “forty languages”.

  • TiredOfTheLeft

    For what it is worth, Upper South Carolina had an installation of a bishop, this weekend, too. They had an estimated 1,700. The membership of Upper South Carolina is 25,000 and the diocese of Los Angeles is 65,000.

  • http://rub-a-dub.blogspot.com Mattk

    I know this wasn’t the main thrust of your criticism, but this line struck me as odd:

    …swinging a ceremonial incense holder

    It made me wonder if the Episcopalians have non-ceremonial censers, or if it is the incense itself, not the censer, that is ceremonial.

  • dalea

    On the previous thread, The Reverend Canon Susan Russell
    Diocese of L.A. states that only one half of the arena was used for the service. The other half had a scuba diving trade show. So, this significantly reduces the number of seats to about 6,500.

    To get an idea of the vast scope of LA county keep in mind that the area is about the same size as the state of Connecticut. I live in the east San Fernando Valley. To go to Long Beach, which is in the south east corner of the county, it takes about one hour and forty five minutes of driving if traffic is not too heavy. Traffic is always heavy so it can take two or three or more hours each way. The arena is in a highly congested ocean front neighborhood filled with tourist attractions and beaches and the busiest harbor on the West Coast. Parking is very expensive and difficult. Additionally, there are Los Angelinos who live two hours north of me. Keep that in mind when looking at this story.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Dalea:

    My post quotes the diocese as saying 6,700. What is the problem?

    As for the traffic, parking costs, etc., please read the item at the diocesan site. They insist that they took all of that into account. At least, that was its stance BEFORE the event.

  • Passing By

    a robed figure, known as a thurifer, swinging a ceremonial incense holder.

    Funny, I saw the exact same thing Sunday morning in our little ol’ parish Mass. The “ceremonial incense holder” is called a “thurible”, hence the bearer is called a “thurifer” (see how it all fits together?) Sometimes there a kid carrying a little “boat” with the incense in it, hence the kid is called a “boat boy”, or “boat girl” as it happens.

    Sorry, but phrases like the quote above make reporters sound like real hicks.

  • susan russell

    My pet reporter peeve is when they write about “The Episcopalian Church” and then refer to our members as “Episcopals.” But some of us learned a long time ago — you can lead a reporter to information but you can’t make them think.

    (And … for the record … the choice of the Long Beach venue was dictated by what was available on the date the Presiding Bishop could come.)

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    susan russell:

    Did I miss a misuse of the adjective and noun forms? That’s a sore spot for me, as well.

  • Martha

    dalea, I raised the question over on another blog about why the heck everyone was having consecrations in convention centres and arenas and not in churches (because we Catholics do it too), and was told that generally it’s because the turn-out is greater than can be fit appropriately or comfortably into the old(er) churches.

    The diocesan website made a point of “Seating capacity for the liturgy will be at least 6,700″ (and as an aside, “at least” suggests to me expectations of maybe even more turning up). So they claim a membership of “some 70,000 Episcopalians in 147 neighborhood congregations” and were consecrating two new suffragan bishops (the second woman, Mary Bruce, seems to have been overlooked in all this), they hired a big hall with the expectations, it appears to me, of a big turnout – and they just about scraped half the attendance they estimated on the low side.

    Again, I can’t figure out if this is because (1) the ordinary pew sitters aren’t quite as enthusiastic as the Bishop and the administration (2) the ordinary pew sitters don’t care one way or another, so they felt no obligation to turn out as a gesture of support (3) this turn-out accurately reflects the real state of church membership/attendance/involvement and is one more sign of increasing loss of membership in all mainstream churches, and particularly the decline in the Episcopal Church which was always small even at its height, but is shrinking steadily (and some would say, rapidly) despite all initiatives.

  • Martha

    “the choice of the Long Beach venue was dictated by what was available on the date the Presiding Bishop could come”

    The Cathedral was mysteriously booked-up?

    Sorry, that’s snarky. But as I said, I can’t understand why churches don’t use their buildings instead of hiring a hall, hoisting a table onto the stage to act as an altar, and throwing a liturgy together. In this instance, it would appear that the Cathedral would have been plenty big to accommodate the actual attendance – they have two cathedrals, it would seem: the Pro-Cathedral of St. John and the Cathedral Center of St. Paul.

    I will be glad to be informed of seating capacity in both these buildings.

  • http://thebyzantineanglocatholic.blogspot.com/ Joe Rawls

    We were going to attend but decided against it when we learned the ceremony would not start until 1:30 PM. This meant that we would not return home to feed our dogs (much more important than bishops of whatever gender or sexual orientation)until late in the evening. It takes 2:45 hours to drive between Santa Barbara and Long Beach when the traffic is good, which is almost never the case even on a Saturday.

    I also find the claim about services in 40 languages to be bogus.

  • Jeffrey

    If an event like this that got planetary publicity can’t get as many people under a roof as a hockey game or a dog show, isn’t that ITSELF newsworthy?

    As Canon Russell pointed out in the other thread, this event didn’t have nearly the attention that came with Bp. Robinson in NH. They saw that as a good thing. While the event riveted the Anglican Right, it wasn’t quite the spectacle among Episcopalians and the Anglican Center/Left. 3,000 is a big crowd, larger than the number of people who attended the consecration of the LA Diocese last leader, according to Russell.

  • Sarah

    Great article and I’m glad someone noticed the lack of numbers. It’s quite clear — they expected over 6000 at their Grand Display and once they got nervous, enlisted Bruno to bang the gong about not needing tickets and all are welcome. 3000 of the True Believers managed to turn up for it. …

    It’s just too sweet — the whole thing.

  • Maria Lytle

    Canon Diane Bruce was also consecrated at this event. She was the first woman to be elected bishop in the Diocese of L.A. Given that Diane Bruce has lived and served in the Diocese of Los Angeles for many years, one has to wonder how many people showed up to support HER? With apologies to Susan Russell, it is not surprising that more people would show up for the consecration of TWO people than showed up for the consecration of Chet Talton, the former Bishop Suffragan.

    Source: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/79901_117534_ENG_HTM.htm
    The Rev. Canon Diane Jardine Bruce became the first woman elected a bishop in the Diocese of Los Angeles on Dec. 4. Bruce, 53, rector for nine years of St. Clements by-the-Sea Church in San Clemente, California, in the Los Angeles diocese… Bruce had served three years as associate rector of Church of the Messiah [Santa Ana, CA, Diocese of L.A.] before being called to St. Clements in 2000. She earned a master of divinity degree at the Episcopal Theological School in Claremont (ETSC), California, also known as Bloy House, in 1997 and a bachelor’s degree in linguistics in 1979 from the University of California at Berkeley, California.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    MARIA:

    You raise an interesting point that I had not thought of ’til now.

    The “seven sisters” of the liberal Protestant world are, at this point in time, heavily female in their Sunday in, Sunday out constituency — who shows up in the pews, who volunteers, etc.

    Thus, you could make a case that the consecration of TWO WOMEN would have drawn the largest possible crowd, in light of the demographics of that church today.

  • Maria Lytle

    I’m glad YOU raised that, Terry, In my post I actually changed TWO WOMEN to TWO people because I did not want to derail this thread into a discussion on women’s ordination – which is what usually happens at my favorite Episcopal blogs!

  • Dave

    I should think that scheduling a four-hour ordination of a lesbian bishop against Gay Pride Day would be expected to hold attendance down, not boost it.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Why? Other than the negative factor that I mentioned.

    Follow the link. It’s the start of a multi-day event.

    And supporters of the gay bishop and the early pride events would only need to park once.

  • Peter

    Do thousands typically attend these events? Is 3000 a good attendance? Seems before journalists chase this meme, those are the questions that need to be answered.

  • dalea

    tmatt; sorry for the confusion, I was going on the quoted capacity of the whole arena.

    Martha, I think the logistics of getting to and from Long Beach are the main reason. Plus a starting time of 1:30 is going to conflict with after church brunch for a lot of people who attended their own parish service. Getting out of church at 11 or noon makes the event impossible to get to for many people.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Dalea:

    The consecrations were on Saturday, not Sunday.

  • http://kingslynn.blogspot.com C. Wingate

    Just for comparison’s sake, 3000 people is 3/4s of the seating capacity of Washington National Cathedral.

  • pen brynisa

    Sorry, that’s snarky. But as I said, I can’t understand why churches don’t use their buildings instead of hiring a hall, hoisting a table onto the stage to act as an altar, and throwing a liturgy together. In this instance, it would appear that the Cathedral would have been plenty big to accommodate the actual attendance – they have two cathedrals, it would seem: the Pro-Cathedral of St. John and the Cathedral Center of St. Paul.

    The Cathedral Center of St. Paul is largely a conference center and office complex for the diocese. The worship space there is small. I doubt it could seat more than three or four hundred people.

    My understanding is that the large neo-gothic Cathedral which formerly served the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles was damaged beyond repair in an earthquake (in the early 1990′s?). Since the diocese had several other large neo-gothic churches, it was decided that rather than rebuild a massive cathedral, they would build a retreat/conference/office facility to better administrate the diocesan programs.

    I haven’t been to L.A. since 2005; I’ve never heard of the proto-Cathedral of St. John. If it is a new thing, then maybe it isn’t complete yet. But the Cathedral Center of St. Paul certainly isn’t a large enough venue for the consecration of a bishop (and certainly not for a controversial one!).

  • Jon in the Nati

    The Cathedral Center of St. Paul is largely a conference center and office complex for the diocese. The worship space there is small. I doubt it could seat more than three or four hundred people.

    This is quite right. However, large-scale liturgical functions are held across town at St. John’s Cathedral, built in 1925 and able to seat probably about 2000+. It is a very large, and very beautiful, church (at the time it was built it was one of the largest and costliest episcopal churches in the nation).

    I cannot, for the life of me, imagine why the diocese would not have wanted to have the consecration occur in the actual cathedral where the bishop would be sitting, unless of course they really did believe that there would not be enough room.

  • http://thebyzantineanglocatholic.blogspot.com/ Joe Rawls

    St Paul’s Cathedral was severely damaged by an earthquake in 1971 and was demolished about ten years later. St John’s was a regular parish until a few years ago when it was designated the Pro-Cathedral.

  • http://www.mormoninmichigan.blogspot.com John Pack Lambert

    Chamorro is the native language of Guam as well as the other Mariana Islands. Mixteco is a larnguage spoken in Mexico, I believe in Oaxoaxa.

    New York also has a huge language diversity today, Russians in the Rockaways, Many immigrants from India and China, Albanians in the Bronx, People from Senagal and Mali who speak French but also one or more languages such as Fanti, and so on.

    In the greater Salt Lake City area the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints holds services in English, Spnish, Portuguese, Vietnamese, Laotian, Tongan, Samoan, Chinese, Japanese, German, Karen and Swahili.

    Still, since the actually study of the web-site of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles identified only ten languages, the claim of 40 was way over the top.

    Having a speaker of a language and having religious services in that language are very different. Being a Latter-day Saint I can not say definitively about other religions, in the LDS Church technically you only need formal translation of two very short prayers to have a service in a language, so it is not hard. In reality you generally need at least eight people, and at least one needs to be an adult male, and that is the absolute minimum. My listing only reflects independent branches or wards, there are places where there are LDS meetings held in a foriegn language that are under the supervision of a ward or branch that conducts services in a different language and so they are harder to detect. Due to the methods I used to obtain my list, I can not rule out more languages in Salt Lake City. I do know in Arlington Virginia there is an LDS ward that does simultaneous translation into Mongolian from English.

    My guess though is that at least among Anglicans, it is the east coast cities like Philadelphia and New York, with their massive immigration from Africa in the last two or three decades that might offer linguistic variety of Anglicans. However I have no clue how many Anglican services are actually conducted in Neur, Bomoko or Xhosa.

  • http://www.mormoninmichigan.blogspot.com John Pack Lambert

    Tigrynia is normally spelled Tigrinia. It has nearly 7 million speakers. Most live in central Eritrea or in Tigray Region of Ethiopia, and in the US I would guess most speakers of this language live in Minnesota, since so many people from both Eritrea and Ethiopia have ended up there.

    A group of Tigray speakers known as Beta Israel have virtually all immigrated to Israel. Just to make sure you are confused there is also a Tigre language, spoken by the Tigre, who historically live in Eritrea as well, and only number about one nad a half million people. There are also Tigre immigrants in the United States.

    The Tigre at least are Muslims, which makes the media assumptions that Arabs are Muslims and Muslims are Arabs so disgusting. At least as of about 2000 30% of Atrabs in the US were Muslims, and only about 20% of Muslims in the US were Arabs. At that point both African-American Muslims and South Asian (Pakistani, Indian or Bangldeshi) Muslims outnumbered Arab Muslims. From my anecdotal and limited observation of Muslims as a student at Wayne State University in Detroit and other observations, my guess is that the percentage of African Muslims has risen since then.

    As the terms are generally used, African-American Muslims are people who have converted to Islam or whose ancestors converted to Islam after immigrating to the US. Today most people so described attend Sunni Mosques and embrace a theology that would be accepted by other Muslims.

    The National of Islam and other groups that were not really Muslim in more than name, at least outside of prisons, no longer have much following among African-Americans. This can actually be seen in the life story of the first Muslim in Congress. He was an African-American convert to Islam, who early on was part of Nation of Islam but later rejected the racist notions of that group.

    African-Mulims are non-Arab Muslim immigrants from Africa, or descendants of such people. The under-pants bomber would be in such a group, but as the Detroit News was quick to point out in an article he had not been to Detroit before trying to blow up the plane and had no connection with the Muslim Nigerian community in metro-Detroit, which even has its own Mosque.

    My main point is that increased diversity is present all across the US. This makes it quite sad that the media still talks of the black verse white divide, and that “Affirmative Action” activists can talk of declining black enrollment in a law school without being asked why they want to keep people with last names like Ghandi and Petel out of the law.

  • http://www.mormoninmichigan.blogspot.com John Pack Lambert

    If it was a free, no ticket required event, than how did they count attendance?

    Beyound this, it is odd that we have 3,000 in a situation where it was set-up to hold 6,700. Usually you get more precise as your numbers go down, not less. This indicates to me that 3,000 is a round guess, and I suspect an over-estimate at that.

  • http://www.mormoninmichigan.blogspot.com John Pack Lambert

    Tongva, Chumash, Tataviam and Acjachemem are all extinct languages. This is not to deney the right of people to claim these ethnicities, just to point out that no one speaks these particular languages.

    Chumash was actually multiple closely related languages, but all are extinct. Tataviam has been extinct so long that linguists argue about its classification because there is not enough known about it to classify it definitively.

    The Acjachemem are seeking federal recognition, so if all 60 of the band showed up it would indicate more taking advantage of a chance to act in a unified way with a group that was recognizing them as a distinct people, and would not in any way reflect belief in the teachings of the Episcopal Church or support for what was going on in the ceremony.

  • http://www.mormoninmichigan.blogspot.com John Pack Lambert

    First off a defence of using large arenas for some religios events. There are some religious events that happen once or twice a year, or even less often than that, that involve huge groups. In the LDS Church we have stake confrences once a year, that involvie the gathering of the members from about ten wards. Some of these are held in auditoriums rented from schools or such because it is hard to fit that many people in most church buildings.

    At least for a time there were also Regional confrences, involving 8 or so stakes, and these would be held in College Basketball Arenas or such and fill a good portion of them.

    It is much cheaper for a religious group to rent a facility for such one-time, rare use than to build and maintain a large facility. The LDS Church has largely since shifted to doing multiple stake conferences simultaneously with the same speakers in all of htem and the service broadcast to various chaples with satelite dishes. This cuts down on travel time for both speakers and listeners, and also eliminates the cost of renting stadiums or the like.


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