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Academic takedown

One of the perennial gripes of the sceptic community is the failure of academics to rebut the wilder eructations of environmentalists. That being the case, it's welcome to see two residents of the ivory tower giving voice to their disdain for recent distortions by our green friends.

First up is Richard Betts, responding in the comments thread to a preposterous article in the Independent, entitled "Official prophecy of doom: Global warming will cause widespread conflict, displace millions of people and devastate the global economy":

I'm one of the authors of the IPCC WG2 report, and I think this article by the Independent is highly irresponsible, especially the headline.

The author of this article has chosen some juicy bits which back up the "climate doom" meme, but ignored other information. The headline writer has then done the same with the original article to come up with the headline of catastrophe.

They've also completely ignored all the important discussion in the report on adaptating to climate change and increasing resilience.

The upshot is a very biased, alarmist headline.

The problem is this then risks damaging the credibility of the report. There's much more to it than the impression given by this article, especially concerning other (non-climate) influences on human health, economies, etc.

Yes, anthropogenic climate change is real and poses major risks, but manufacturing scaremongering headlines by cherry-picking leaked reports is not at all helpful in informing a response to this complex situation.

I strongly encourage readers to read the actual report for themselves, and not rely on journalists who just want to get a scary headline.


And then there's James Verdon, who has been writing about the RSPB report on unconventional oil and gas, and finds all manner of misconduct by the authors:

In addition to the cherry-picking, there is also much in the report that is simply irrelevant to the UK setting, or taken wildly out of context. The induced seismicity section is almost wholly irrelevant, because this is predominantly an issue associated with subsurface re-injection of waste fluids, a practice that will not be conducted in the UK.

There is so much wrong with the report that it's hard to know where to begin.

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Reader Comments (57)

The public acknowledgement of media reports as being alarmist is truly welcome and a good indication that the science is becoming less constrained by 'the agenda' and more open to rational debate. Congratulations gents.

Mar 19, 2014 at 9:01 AM | Unregistered CommenterLord Beaverbrook

There were a few comments commending Richard when this was first mentioned in Unthreaded, here's mine:

Yes, well done Richard. I hope that more of your colleagues take the same line when they see exaggerated and alarmist headlines and copy in the media. I know that Tamsin took a strong line against the Times Encyclopedia Britanica's fallacious Greenland ice sheet maps, but instances like this are too few and far between.

The Independent has in many ways been worse than the Guardian for idiotic alarmist headlines over the last 15 years, and it is sad to see that Steve Connor is still at it, e.g. Fears of faster rising global sea levels as 'stable' Greenland ice sheet starts to mel.

Mar 19, 2014 at 9:14 AM | Registered Commenterlapogus

"There is so much wrong with the report that it's hard to know where to begin". Yes that is an excellent critique by James Verdon. The RSPB report should be consigned to where it belongs - the round green fiiling cabinet. At the least, the RSPB, the Angling Trust, the National Trust, the Salmon & Trout Association, the Wildlife Trusts and the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust should be asked to withdraw the report and desist in the future from producing such nonsense and stick to their original charitable aims.

Mar 19, 2014 at 9:15 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

There is nothing in Betts retort that is other than a repeat of the UK MO stance on AGW. His main criticism appears to be of the headline. The other crap in the article is well " a good report".

Betts is what Betts is. He won't and hasn't changes.

Whereas Verdun, well that's quite different. He has actually sought the facts against the article and provided them here as clear as is possible.

Lord Beaverbrook, please don't get carried away with this. It is not even a step forward. It's a step sidewise and certainly not a debate or an opening to a debate.

Mar 19, 2014 at 9:16 AM | Unregistered CommenterStephen Richards

And the next comment on from Betts' immediately calls him a liar with no context or evidence at all.

Mar 19, 2014 at 9:18 AM | Unregistered CommenterMorph

But for too many supposed "scientists", such dishonest alarmism is just "effective communications strategy to get a message across".

The whole scientific establishment is now in the dock. You created this monster and your representative institution like the Royal Society nourish it and support it.

I can give no pardon to those now feeling sooo queezy at this spectacle that they take the unprecedented and extreme action of posting in the comments of a (apologies to our host) minor blog.

Mar 19, 2014 at 9:19 AM | Unregistered CommenterGeckko

Wow. I didn't realise this global warming business was that serious.
It's certainly worse than I thought.

Mar 19, 2014 at 9:22 AM | Registered CommenterGrantB

Along the same lines, mathematical ecologist Robert Wilson takes on "industrial civilisation headed for 'irreversible collapse'" at the Guardian:

Mar 19, 2014 at 9:23 AM | Unregistered CommenterTamsin Edwards


Minor point. It wasn't the Times Encyclopedia Britannica – a curious hybrid – it was The Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World, yours for a mere £150.

Mar 19, 2014 at 9:26 AM | Unregistered Commenteragouts

Kudos to RB for having a go at the Indy and its scare-mongering. Unfortunately, he then climbs down from his high moral ground by saying:

"Yes, anthropogenic climate change is real and poses major risks"

If you really wanted to belay the fears of climate change you would probably have been better advised to have written something like: "Yes, there is some very minor anthropogenic component to climate change - and climate change is real and quite natural and may pose[s] some major risks."

Mar 19, 2014 at 9:26 AM | Unregistered CommenterHarry Passfield

The Useful Idiots have gone into Panic Overdrive now they see their dream of destroying Capitalism is fading.

The propagandists like Betts are damping things down because too much flailing puts off the Public.

The Realists know there is zero warming.

Some of the Politicians are switching sides, others are planning the new Gulag.

Mar 19, 2014 at 9:26 AM | Unregistered CommenterSpartacusisfree

Although having people criticise the MSM for producing alarmism is good, what have they done about it.

For example, I could not see any comments left at the Independent from Richard Betts at the end of the article, did he make any? Or has he just commented on the Bishop Hill thread?

Did Richard Betts write to the editor of the Independent and complained?

Recently, some people have said that Al gore's Inconvenient Truth was a little "over the top" or more political. How many climate "scientists" complaint about Gore' DVD at the time? Zero? I can't remember any.

Standing by and saying nothing when you see such blatant alarmism does not make you innocent!

Mar 19, 2014 at 9:39 AM | Unregistered CommenterCharmingQuark

I think we need to run yet another education campaign for alarmists.
This one will be about Cherry Picking.
There is no way a sceptic can really be accused of cherry picking because our job is to disprove stuff and a single counterexample is sufficient. The only people who can be accused of cherry picking are those trying to prove a point eg the planet is warming due to CO2. Look at 1975-1997!! (cherry picking)
Don't look at 1997-2104! (counter example which shows that the models have failed).

Simple example to be used on alarmists:
If you go out and seek out ten black cats and then use them as evidence that all cats are black then that is cherry picking.
If I refute your claim by bringing in a single white cat then that is not cherry picking it is a counter example and it is all I need to do to prove my point and destroy your claim.

Mar 19, 2014 at 9:41 AM | Unregistered CommenterKeith L

One day Richard will come to the realisation that just as there's nobody more at risk than a Muslim of being a victim of "Islamic" attacks, there is nobody more at risk of seeing his work and career ruined by Greenies than a scientist working in an environment-related field.

Mar 19, 2014 at 9:51 AM | Registered Commenteromnologos

I see no change in Dr Richard Betts point of view.

All he is concerned about is that the OTT headline "Official prophecy of doom: Global warming will cause widespread conflict, displace millions of people and devastate the global economy":"risks damaging the credibility of the report".

Mar 19, 2014 at 9:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterDon Keiller

I have made a journal entry on this matter where I post my climate articles- but I have left out crucial information, such as the fact that Betts is a pro-AGW scientist.

Fishing for comments from the low-information crowd there. We shall see how much they really know.

Mar 19, 2014 at 9:56 AM | Unregistered CommenterOtter

I should add, True Believers on that site snarl at me without the slightest regard for clicking on a link. Knowledge is less important to them than living in FEAR.

Mar 19, 2014 at 10:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterOtter

Far to late , and far to little . Meanwhile academics are more than happy to play the three wise monkeys on 'the Teams' very poor academic behaviour , accept that in climate ‘science ‘ the professional standards are lower than would be expected for an undergraduates essay in any other area and are more than willing to jump on 'the causes' funding gravy train . Frankly they have blown it and when the cause falls its will take much that we cannot afford to lose. Thanks to the inaction and actions of those that should have acted as gatekeepers but failed in their duty.

In short their kidding no one and only have themselves to blame. Its going to be a very hard landing for the status of science.

Mar 19, 2014 at 10:05 AM | Unregistered Commenterknr

James Verdun is up to his usual high standard of factual, documented and referenced writing. I have a lot of respect for his articles, he should be writing for a national newspaper on these topics. He is balanced, an expert in the field and writes very well. He deserves encouragment from BH readers so please leave comments on his blog.

Mar 19, 2014 at 10:08 AM | Registered Commenterthinkingscientist

A Climate Scientist complaining that Climate Change has been over sensationalized bit ironic.

Mar 19, 2014 at 10:11 AM | Unregistered Commenterjamspid

Still just voices crying in the wilderness.

Mar 19, 2014 at 10:21 AM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

If Richard and his fellow silent scientists paused for a moment, they might consider how they have contrived to create the public space where such a tiny teeny weeny deviation from the 'AAAAAAAARRRRGGGGHHHH! WE'RE ALL GOING TO BURN – END CAPITALISM NOW!' script can be considered a 'brave' act.

The time to stand up and say 'NO!'to the activists abuses was back in 2000-2005 when the 'denier' and 'science is settled' narratives were wheeled out. Did you not think those were bad? Where were your protests? Presumably buried under your lectures about the threats from 4 degrees of warming (!!!).

The fact that Richard is the best of a bad bunch tells you how amoral the rest are.

Mar 19, 2014 at 10:41 AM | Unregistered CommenterStuck-Record

Online Hiatus Conference
20 March, at 3 PM GMT/11 AM EDT. THURSDAY
by Warming Slowdown Journal Club @ Nature Climate Change and Nature Geoscience (magazines of the We are not always Wrong publishing group)

We’ll be taking questions posted here or using the hashtag #NPGjclub on Twitter. Get started now, and ask away all the way through the live event.
The Google plus link they give for debate
I just posted the full details on Bishop Hill's unthreaded page

Mar 19, 2014 at 10:44 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

I think this article by the Independent is highly irresponsible, especially the headline.
1.These are Richard's own words in his comment at the Independent — Charming Quark, please note.
2. He then came here and repeated the comment on Unthreaded, giving us a heads-up about the article and his response.
So the guy has done what we have been screaming for warmists to do for months if not years, namely to call out the media for misleading scaremongering stories and what do we do? Misunderstand what he said (it's not just about the headline) and continue to pile in because he hasn't totally renounced sin and the climate Anti-Christ and become an instant born-again Sceptic.
If it were me I would ask why I bother if all I'm going to get is dog's abuse for doing what I have been asked to do.

And the man who critted the RSPB report is called Verdon. People tend to get a bit up-tight when their names are spelt wrong, especially when the correct spelling is there in front of our eyes.

Sorry, guys, but there are times when I wonder what it is we really want on here and whether we really, really care about not shooting ourselves in the foot.

Mar 19, 2014 at 10:48 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Wow. Alarmists being alarmed about alarmists. Metalarmists?

Mar 19, 2014 at 10:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterSteve

"Still just voices crying in the wilderness" yep agreed they still have an awful lot of rowing back to do to get ack to credibiity, as they have always let outrageous claims go by unchallenged.
My guess is that focus group research shows climate claims have no traction at all wth the majority of the public as they have heard people cry wolf all too often. It seems clear from the viewing figures and comments for alarmist broadcasts that only True Believers watch them ..everyone else has been turned off so turn off.

Mar 19, 2014 at 10:50 AM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

I strongly encourage readers to read the actual report for themselves, and not rely on journalists who just want to get a scary headline.


Mar 19, 2014 at 10:55 AM | Registered Commentershub

Found out the other day that the Independent is now owned by some young 30 year old Russian Oligarch who lives in Chelsea and whose dad used to be a senior KGB agent.Same guy also owns the London Evening Standard.

Wonder what the Independent,s opinions are on Russia re annexing The Crimea ,yeah and Shale Gas.

Mar 19, 2014 at 11:04 AM | Unregistered Commenterjamspid

I think both are to be congratulated for trying to pull back the usual MSM ridiculous statements. I applaud anyone who seeks to bring reality and a calm appraisal to the debate.

BUT - Climate Science has only itself to blame. 25 years of exaggerated claims for the wonder trace gas CO2 have driven both politicians and the MSM (usually stocked with the religious believers) to "end justifies the means" style pronouncements. Richard Betts says that such reporting will damage the credibility of the science and the reports - well yes, but it is a bit late now, because climate scientists have already set that outcome in motion by allowing the IPCC to make the Policy summary more "alarmist" and more certain than the underlying science. I know one or two contributors have made this point in public, but it will never make the Independent or the Guardian will it?

I have said before that those that do their Climate Science by sitting at a desk staring at model output, should start by looking in the mirror instead. If one were doing science properly, long ago the fact that outcome does not match theory should have driven a change in the theory, instead climate science merely looks for another excuse, including the data must be wrong! It is the Sun must go around the Earth all over again.

Not only has any unfortunate data been ignored (and this is science?), but Climate Scientists have allowed the rabid end of the movement to claim things that are untrue without much protest (hurricane intensity and frequency for one small example). Some brave individuals have spoken out but often at the expense of their position in the "industry".

Climate Science has now driven politicians and the MSM well beyond the position of the average scientist. Our PM's pronouncements on typhoons in the Philippines for instance was not supported by AR5 published only a month before, and 15 minutes of web search showed that many bigger typhoons have occurred in the past especially back in the 17th century. It seems to me that reality is making the best in climate science adjust their view (as it should), leaving the activists and politicians high and dry to become ever more extreme. I guess when you have conveyed unwarranted certainty to get a result, it is difficult to pull back.

The other area where those in Climate Science need to speak out is the constant portrayal of "sceptics" as deniers. I have been ranted at only this week by someone who accused me of denying "global warming" and denying that CO2 was a GHG. This was in response to a statement of pure empirics.

Mar 19, 2014 at 11:13 AM | Unregistered Commenterretireddave


You say

'I have said before that those that do their Climate Science by sitting at a desk staring at model output, should start by looking in the mirror instead.'

Amen to that.

But even more importantly they could have/should have/didn't look out of the window. The essence of science is observation, not modelling. And when the observations don't match the models it is the models that are wrong. No amount of post-hoc rationalisation of arcane possibilities will change that.

This simple truth should be engraved above the door of every modelling institution in the world.

And, it occurs to me, giving some MSM journalists some basic education in scientific concepts might be a very helpful thing to do. Too many are Arts graduates in awe of anything that sounds even semi-scientific..and without the confidence or hinterland to challenge the greenocracy.

Mar 19, 2014 at 11:45 AM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

I echo the Bish Bravo.

Mar 19, 2014 at 11:55 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

"I strongly encourage readers to read the actual report for themselves, and not rely on journalists who just want to get a scary headline".

Go tell the policy makers!

Mar 19, 2014 at 12:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterMartyn

On the rare occasions when I've picked up The Imdependent - I have indeed found any 'climate' articles more alarmist even than The Guardian.

Independent..? I don't think so...

Mar 19, 2014 at 1:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterSherlock1

"And the next comment on from Betts' immediately calls him a liar with no context or evidence at all."

"Context", "evidence"?


Mar 19, 2014 at 2:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

"Yes, anthropogenic climate change is real and poses major risks"

1) The fact that you use "climate change" instead of "global warming" ruins your credibility Richard Betts. The argument was that more CO2 would result in a warmer plant, not a changing planet. The climate has always changed. It has never been steady state. The concept of "climate change" is the result of the failed prediction that "global warming" would occur. So the AGW Cult changed the name to buy them some time and make themselves a lot of money.

2) If humans caused warming up until 1998, why did it stop even as the amount of CO2 kept increasing?

3) There is no evidence of "major risks" that are credible.

Richard, get out of the AGW Cult while you can.

Mar 19, 2014 at 2:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterBruce

The Independent has always been a reliable source of information:

Mar 19, 2014 at 2:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterEl Sabio

'Global warming' is practically a forgotten promise, 'climate change' palls as it changes cooler; we're back now to 'tipping points' and 'weather wierding' as the primary propagandic talking points. It's all fear, guilt, and the imposition of the duty to obey 'real experts'. When will we ever learn? When will we eh, eh, eh, ehver learn?

Mar 19, 2014 at 3:32 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

By the way, Richard, thanks for holding up the 'STOP' sign. Hold, enough.

Mar 19, 2014 at 3:38 PM | Unregistered Commenterkim

The AGW social madness, just like the eugenics social madness, is already disgraced and disproven. The weather has not done what they claimed it would do. New factors that strongly influence the climate and weather are being discovered, showing that the models the AGw faithful relied on are crap. Eugenics, just like AGW, was all the rage in the so-called 'progresives of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. AGW losers, like eugenics losers, keep pretending thye have moral authority and science on their side.
In reality, all they have is their rent seeking bigotry.
Just like eugenics creeps, the AGW creeps are going to keep demanding even more control of policy until they can really hurt a lot of people and the rest of us finally put them down like the kooks and con-artists and haters they are.

Mar 19, 2014 at 4:52 PM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

Yevgeny Lebedev, proprietor of The Independent (of Reality) and its stablemate the London Evening Standard and Metro, has been weeping for the poor and dispossessed, green causes for some time, from his oligarch's high perch. The same writers for each and all young, left wing, and full of themselves.

The economics of the Evening Standard is the Double Standard. Half the paper is worship of have-nots, the other half is advertising to the haves - bars restaurants and impossibly expensive London property.

Prosecco Socialism and environmental narcissism are a potent combination. Millions of Londoners people read Metro/ES because its free. They won't pay a penny for The Independent. It's not dissimilar to the economics of the Guardian and Auto-trader, but with even less integrity

Mar 19, 2014 at 7:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterLondon Calling

If one visits the RSPB site one finds that on 10 March the RSPB published two documents, namely 1. Are we fit to frack? and 2. Hydraulic fracturing for shale gas in the UK.

The respective sub-titles are:-

Policy recommendations for a robust regulatory framework for the shale gas industry in the UK, and

Examining the evidence for potential environmental impacts.

On the RSPB site the 1st document is referred to as a summary report and the 2nd as an evidence report.

Thus the RSPB and its co-conspiritors have chosen å la the IPCC to publish a separate summary for policy makers directed at the gullible such as Goldsmith, Whitehouse and Munt and to isolate the difficult "science" in a second document.

The honest way of proceeding would have been to publish the two reports as one, unified document.

James Verdon has performed a public service in bringing to light the lack of candour that blights the second report.

Mar 19, 2014 at 7:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterKenneth MacLean

I echo Mike Jackson's comment.

Mar 19, 2014 at 7:40 PM | Unregistered Commentertimg56

The Robert Wilson piece referenced by Tamsin is indeed a very potent put down of Guardian-style alarmism.

Mar 19, 2014 at 7:53 PM | Unregistered Commenterbernie1815

I have some sympathy for academics who choose not to get publicly involved. It is not their job to spend time and effort contradicting the public excesses of colleagues, just as it is not sceptics responsibility to account for, say, the sky-dragons. There is, of course, a duty to be honest if asked for an opinion.

But once you make the Faustian bargain of running to the MSM as a self-promotional tool, then you will no longer have complete control of the message. You get to take the rough with the smooth. Or at least, that's what I always heard from others who comment on making use of the press for promotional purpose. And if you lie down with a dog.... then you may get fleas.

Mar 19, 2014 at 8:02 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

Did not Richard Betts previously state the following:

In September 2009, Met Office Professor Richard Betts predicted that global temperatures could rise 4C above pre-industrial baseline by 2060, and that Arctic, western Africa and south Africa temperatures could rise 10C by 2060.

Betts' prediction requires a 3.25C rise in the next 46 years, or 0.70 C/decade. Ho ho!

Now compare with the self-Laureated Michael Mann's recent SciAm *calculation* that temps will surpass 2 C above pre-industrial by 2036.
Mann requires a rise of 1.25C in the next 22 years, or a measly 0.57 C/decade.

Never mind that the most recent decade's temperature rise is, well, not.

As one who apparently proclaims more 'mainstream' temperature apocalyptions than Richard Betts, I eagerly await Michael 'Mayan' Mann's now overdue tremulous twittery take-down of the latest Guardian headline...

Mar 19, 2014 at 8:05 PM | Unregistered Commenterchris y

+1, Mike Jackson! Thanks.
And I am NOT 'piling on', but Mike expressed it much better than I can.

Mar 19, 2014 at 8:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlexander K

michael hart , the trouble is some are more than happy to not just say nothing but to get on board the AGW funding gravy train , has there has been some shocking papers that are bursting at seems in the way AGW has been clearly rammed into research is has no rightful place in.

Mar 19, 2014 at 9:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterKNR

chris y

In my 2010 paper "When could global warming reach 4 degrees C?", I wrote:

If carbon-cycle feedbacks are stronger, which appears less likely but still credible, then 4°C warming could be reached by the early 2060s in projections that are consistent with the IPCC’s ‘likely range’.

(IPCC AR4 projected a range of warming rates, the upper end being 6.9 degrees C by 2100, relative to pre-industrial - this was the projection for the high emissions scenario (denoted A1FI), high climate sensitivity and strongly positive climate-carbon cycle feedbacks).

Please read the paper for more details.

It would be good to re-do this with the latest models and latest understanding of climate sensitivity and feedbacks.

Mar 19, 2014 at 10:05 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Betts

I don't often find myself in disagreement with Mike Jackson (or His Grace); but, the view from here - so to speak - is that in this instance, it is difficult to refrain from observing Richard Betts' apparent exercise of a double-standard.

I'm one of the authors of the IPCC WG2 report, and I think this article by the Independent is highly irresponsible, especially the headline.

The author of this article has chosen some juicy bits which back up the "climate doom" meme, but ignored other information. The headline writer has then done the same with the original article to come up with the headline of catastrophe.[emphasis added -hro]

By all means let's all give a gold star to Richard Betts [and even extend it to the Met Office] for this somewhat rare, but very public, protestation.

Nonetheless, YMMV, but I'm having considerable difficulty reconciling this Betts' protest with the [now conveniently?] disappeared (albeit probably far less publicly visible at the time) passive promotion (and far too long sustained) by both Betts and the Met Office - "highly irresponsible especially the headline"** (not drawn from anyone's reading of the paper, but from an initially churned press release) which might have contributed to Mann's rather bizarre claim that Marcott et al's flawed paper constituted an endorsement of his iconic "creation" [h/t Joelle Gergis].

Or is it the case that some "highly irresponsible" headlines - not unlike the unsourced twin plums*** plopped into a recently cooked up Met Office hasty pudding - are more, well, defensible than others in Betts' books?!

** This highly irresponsible Met Office headline read: "New analysis suggests the earth is warming at a rate unprecedented for 11,300 years"

*** With no indication of the "tree" from which they might have been plucked, the cooks of this pudding saw fit to include not one but two identical declarations: "“With the warming we are already committed to over the next few decades, [...]”

Both are considerably less scary than the Independent's willingly over-hyped execution of the doom and gloom meme that Betts quite rightly criticizes. But, IMHO, neither the headline nor the plums could be remotely construed as being a repudiation of this particular meme.

Some observers might even conclude that they constitute a rather subdued echo of the meme. But I couldn't possibly comment ;-)

Mar 20, 2014 at 11:33 AM | Registered CommenterHilary Ostrov

Bishop Hill says: "One of the perennial gripes of the sceptic community is the failure of academics to rebut the wilder eructations of environmentalists".

I say: "One of the perennial gripes of the climate science community is the failure of skeptics to rebut the wilder eructations of deniers".

I look forward to a robust criticism from all here the next time someone argues that C02 is not a GHG, there's no rise in C02, it's not from burning fossil fuels etc etc.

Mar 20, 2014 at 1:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterMonty

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