Saturday, January 16, 2021

New details make the riot look worse. That's bad for Trump's chances in the Senate.

 A federal court filing against Jacob Anthony Chansley, better known as the “QAnon Shaman” or Jake Angeli, hints that Capitol rioters had more in mind than just protesting or cheering on members of Congress who were raising objections.

By TapTheForwardAssist - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,


The brief in support of detention describes Chansley as “one of the insurrectionists who entered the Capitol building.” The document is worth reading just for its description of Chansley:

Chansley wore horns, a furry coyote tail headdress, red, white and blue face paint, and tan pants. He was shirtless and carried a bullhorn and a six-foot-long spear with an American flag tied just below the blade.

A previously unknown fact relating to the riot was that Chansley left a note on Vice President Pence’s desk while he was in the Senate chamber. The note read, “It's only a matter of time, justice is coming.”

In a January 7 phone call to the FBI, Chansley denied that the note was a threat but expressed no remorse for his actions. He called the rioters “patriots” and said that he would like to return to Washington for the inauguration.

“I’ll still go, you better believe it,” Chansley told FBI agents. “For sure I’d want to be there, as a protestor, as a protestor, fuckin’ a.”

In a television interview, Chansley said that he responded to President Trump’s call for “patriots” to come to Washington, adding, “The fact that we had a bunch of our traitors in office hunker down, put on their gas masks and retreat into their underground bunker, I consider that a win.”

His lawyer also seems to be using the claim of incitement by Donald Trump as a defense, saying, “He took seriously the countless messages of President Trump. He believed in President Trump. Like tens of millions of other Americans, Chansley felt — for the first time in his life — as though his voice was being heard.”

At this point, Chansley is charged with two felonies and four misdemeanors. The felonies are obstructing law enforcement officers and corruptly obstructing an official proceeding of Congress.

Another insurrectionist, retired Air Force Lt. Col. Larry Rendall Brock Jr. of Texas, was among those who carried zip-ties into the Capitol. Prosecutors note that Brock seemed to have more sinister plans than just protesting that day.

“He means to take hostages. He means to kidnap, restrain, perhaps try, perhaps execute members of the U.S. government,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Weimer per KTLA.

Court documents also show that Brock was planning for a civil war and favored secession.


Further charges may be added against Chansley, Brock, and the other insurrectionists. Politico reported that the Justice Department is considering sedition and conspiracy charges against those arrested for breaking into the Capitol. Such charges could carry a 20-year prison term.

The more information that comes out about the riot, the worse it looks. What seemed like a spontaneous riot looks more and more like a coordinated attack that used the demonstration as cover. And the worse the riot looks, the worse things look for President Trump in his Senate trial.

As we have discussed before, Majority Leader McConnell has said that he has no plans to bring up impeachment before the inauguration. While some view this as slow-walking the impeachment to keep Trump in office, the strategy really does not do the president any favors.

The best scenario for the president would be a quick up-or-down vote similar to the one that acquitted him a year ago. As we saw in the House this week, most Republicans are still sticking by Mr. Trump at this point and another acquittal would be likely.

However, if the trial is put off for a month or two, the situation is a lot less certain. With all that we know after only a week, there is no telling what details will have emerged after several months of discovery. President Trump won’t have the benefit of friendly cabinet officials to stonewall the coming congressional investigation either, which means that Trump’s second trial will be a completely different ballgame.

Another factor is that Trump may not have as strong of a grip on Republican senators after he leaves office. Granted, Trump’s base will still largely overlap the Republican congressional base, but there are signs that the two groups are already moving apart.

While Trump’s loyal base will probably never desert him, traditional Republicans might be nearing the end of their ropes now that Trump is no longer useful to them. Nate Cohn of the Upshot noted that Trump’s approval is already seeing a sharp decline. The president’s average approval among Republicans is now at 60 percent.

FiveThirtyEight has unveiled a new impeachment poll tracker that shows majority support for impeachment among all Americans. The average of polls currently stands at 52.8 percent in favor of impeachment, which, it should be noted, is already about three points higher than the plurality that favored impeachment on the president’s first time around. Different polls phrase the question differently but many ask the question to include both impeachment and removal.

The one thing that politicians can be trusted to do is to plan for re-election. If public opinion on impeachment becomes a groundswell that threatens their next term, senators may find themselves growing more willing to split with Trump. This is especially true in purple states or those with large suburban voting blocs. The fate of David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler is fresh in every Republican senator’s mind.

With the continual dribble of salacious and seditious details emerging for the next few months, Donald Trump’s approval is sure to drop further, and the popularity of impeachment is likely to rise. It may turn out that Joe Biden, who wants to focus on his political agenda and not be distracted by impeachment, becomes Donald Trump’s new best friend.

From the Racket

New restrictions are going around Facebook - Here's why

 Friday afternoon, people on Facebook started getting upset. Users were seeing their access to groups restricted to block posting and commenting. As it turned out, I was one of those users.

I opened Facebook like normal and posted one of our Racket links to a political group that I’m in. Then I laughed briefly at a friend’s post on my newsfeed. The lady, who has a lot of cats, had posted that she was restricted and I jokingly commented, “I didn’t know cat pictures were against the Terms of Service.” Afterward, I tried to post in another group and got the message below.

Facebook screenshot by David Thornton

I knew that I had not posted anything bad so my thoughts turned immediately to the inauguration. This morning my suspicions were confirmed when the woman that posted the restriction shared a link to a blog post by Facebook titled “Our Preparations Ahead of Inauguration Day.”

The blog post explains that Facebook is taking two broad measures ahead of the inauguration. The first is to block “the creation of any new Facebook events happening in close proximity to locations” where events associated with the inauguration will take place. The company says that it is also “conducting a secondary review of all Facebook events related to the inauguration and removing ones that violate our policies” as well as “continuing to block event creation in the US by non-US based accounts and Pages.” The second measure is “restricting some features for people in the US based on signals such as repeat violations of our policies.”

It is the second measure that is causing consternation among Facebook users. Another lady I know thought that she had been banned for posting a Bible verse since that was her last post before she was notified of the restriction.

To be clear, the restrictions are not a ban and they are not necessarily related to any recent violation of the Terms of Service. Affected users can still post on their own wall and the walls of their friends. They just can’t create or comment on posts in groups, Pages, or events. And even that restriction is not complete. I set up posts for two pages that I admin, the Racket News and the Common Sense Conservative, and those posts were published as normal.

The restrictions seem to target people who have been in trouble with Facebook moderators before. A few days ago, I described a couple of run-ins that I have had with the platform’s moderators so I clearly fit this description even if it was unintentional.

However, I’ve also heard from some restricted Facebook users who say they’ve never been in trouble for violating the Terms of Service. While these claims are impossible to verify and may represent selective memory, it is likely that other triggers for restrictions are at play as well. The “such as” qualifier in the Facebook post is a tell that there are other triggers for the restrictions.

It is worth noting that the restrictions seem very broad and not focused on conservatives. I can still visit various groups and I’m seeing lots of new posts in pro-Trump groups while some liberals and Trump critics are reporting that they are restricted. The new restrictions do not fit the narrative of an attempt to silence conservatives (or Republicans or Trump supporters). In fact, one of the new posts that I saw this morning in a conservative group perpetuated the stolen election myth, although it did not use the “Stop the Steal” phrase.

Even though the Facebook restrictions seem to be overly broad and impact me personally (and for no good reason, I might add, since my posts usually call for unity and peace while debunking conspiracy theories and lies), I maintain my previous position that Facebook is within its rights to set its own standards and enforce them as it sees fit. There is no constitutional right to post on Facebook or Twitter.

And Facebook’s actions are not without cause. There is a growing body of evidence that the Capitol insurrectionists used social media and other websites to plan the attack in the weeks before January 6 as well as for relaying tactical information such as routes to take to avoid police or how to pry open doorsFacebook was among the platforms that were used.

And the danger is not over. Right-wing (I’m not going to call them “conservative”) groups are planning additional “armed march[es}” over the next week.

It’s also important to remember that restrictions, especially those with a defined end date, do not necessarily equal tyranny. That’s especially true when the restrictions are rules imposed by a private company with numerous alternatives. I’ll add that the people who have asked for a more equitable application of Facebook rules seem to be getting their wish here.

The lesson here is that freedom requires responsibility and people are held accountable for their behavior. When freedoms and privileges are abused by some, especially in a violent manner, it often leads to restrictions on people who have done nothing wrong. This is unfortunate but often necessary.

That’s something to consider going forward as well. Many states have enacted liberal (meaning “lightly regulated”) gun laws that allow open carry and concealed carry. If these laws are abused and lead to violent protests, they could easily be replaced with more restrictive gun laws.

I, for one, would hate to see that.

From the Racket

Thursday, January 14, 2021

When good Christians go bad

 This morning I heard from an old friend in a roundabout way. One of my wife’s Facebook friends called to tell my wife about someone she saw in a Facebook group that had launched into a rant about being banned from a local youth sports complex. This amateur Facebook detective noticed that she had a mutual friend with the woman in question: Me.

The woman turned out to be a friend of former coworker and the story, as I received it, was that she had refused to wear a mask at a basketball game where her young sons were playing. She allegedly caused a scene and told the officials that she was within her rights not to wear a mask. The officials then instructed her to exercise her rights somewhere else and not to come back.

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The woman’s husband was a good friend when we worked together. We had a lot in common and enjoyed flying trips together. We were both Christian, conservative, and liked to explore the outdoors on layovers.

On the other hand, we had some differences as well. He and his wife were anti-vaxxers, for example, and when Donald Trump became a candidate in 2016, he quickly boarded the Trump train. As most of you know, I never did.

2020, and it seems 2021, have not been kind to Christians. Not only have we had to deal with the fringes of our religion that have fought simple public health measures such as wearing masks and reducing crowd sizes in a pandemic, but, after last week, we have evidence of a militant faction of Christian nationalists that are ready to engage in political violence.

David French and others have mentioned seeing Christian flags flying among the Trump and Gadsden flags in the attack on the Capitol. I’ve personally seen video of one of the rioters inside the Capitol holding what appears to be a Bible straight up a la Donald Trump at the BLM riots.

I have to wonder what makes good Christian people like my friend’s wife and the rioters do such bat-poop crazy things. It is not hyperbole to say that this sort of behavior is unchristian.

All of you must obey those who rule over you. There are no authorities except the ones God has chosen. Those who now rule have been chosen by God. 2 So whoever opposes the authorities opposes leaders whom God has appointed. Those who do that will be judged. 3 If you do what is right, you won’t need to be afraid of your rulers. But watch out if you do what is wrong! 

Romans 13:1-3a

But why are so many Christians going off the deep end?

I have to believe that the root of the problem is that too many Christians today worry less about what they put into their mind than what they put into their stomach.

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20

The Bible tells us that our body is a temple. Many of us try to eat healthy and exercise but pay far less attention to the garbage that we shovel into our brains.

When I was growing up the Southern Baptist church, we talked a lot about discernment. That word doesn’t come up nearly as much in today’s church, but it essentially means that we shouldn’t take everything at face value. That’s a huge problem today with the evangelical right.

As Paul wrote:

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 

Ephesians 5:6


For the time will come when they will not tolerate sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance with their own desires

2 Timothy 4:3

In other words, don’t be deceived. Don’t just listen to people who tell you what you want to hear, but seek out the truth, even when that truth is unpleasant and bursts the bubble of deeply-held beliefs.

The Trump era has been a case study in tickling ears. We knew that Donald Trump was truth-challenged, in the politically-correct vernacular, when Republicans nominated him, elected him, and then nominated him again. Nevertheless, much of the country, Christians included, has allowed their ear to be tickled over and over. Too many of us have not been discerning.

For a long time, our lack of discernment didn’t matter that much. Then, in 2020, the pandemic hit. In the midst of a viral emergency, lack of discernment and concern for the truth led to hundreds of thousands of needless deaths.

The lies that got people killed are too numerous to mention. Among the greatest hits are the claims that COVID-19 is no worse than the flu, that masks don’t work, that hydroxychloroquine is an effective treatment, that the pandemic was a hoax designed to impose tyranny, and that it was all a plot to destroy Thanksgiving and Christmas. Those claims have all been debunked. If you still believe them, you believe a lie.

Then the election came and things got worse. Donald Trump laid the groundwork for the lie that the election was stolen with claims months before Election Day that undermined faith in the electoral process and absentee voting. Since the election, Trump and his surrogates have emitted a steady stream of baseless disinformation that does not stand up in court.

Whether it meets the legal test for incitement or not, there can be absolutely no doubt that Trump’s endless claims of a stolen election over a two-month period provoked last week’s attack on the Capitol. Sadly, the evidence shows that many Christians were in the middle of this assault on the Constitution and federal authority.

The root of the problem is that we have created a system in which we can live in a bubble that gives us an alternate reality. If you only take in news from Fox News, OANN, Breitbart, and the like then you probably were not aware that President Trump’s legal team not only had zero and fifty-something record in their legal challenges but that they did even make their fraud claims in court. Those spurious allegations were reserved for right-wing media.

If this is you, you have not been discerning. You have not treated your mind like the holy place in God’s temple. As a result, you have allowed yourself to be deceived. If you don’t think this is possible, refer to Matthew 24:24.

Being deceived won’t cost you your salvation, but it can cost you in other ways. The Capitol Hill rioters may have truly believed that their country was being stolen from them, but that is not stopping them from being arrested and prosecuted and sent to prison.

God is a forgiving and understanding God. Federal prosecutors? Not so much.

Likewise, sincerely believing that the pandemic is a hoax and that you don’t need a mask won’t prevent you from getting sick with COVID-19. Or worse, infecting someone you love and having to live with the knowledge that you caused their death.

As Christians and conservatives, we owe it to ourselves, our families, our country, and our faith to be discerning about the media that we take in. We need to stop falling for fake news so that we do not find ourselves being used as pawns in a coup attempt and that we do not make the Gospel a laughingstock through our actions.

And while I’m on the subject, when we screw up, we need to take our medicine like adults. The social media purges going on are not an attempt to suppress conservative thought. They are a response to the fact that many so-called “conservatives” used social media to conspire against the federal government and plot a violent insurrection. These people deserve to be banned.

People are not being persecuted because the post Christian or conservative things. They are being banned because they used social media platforms to engage in a conspiracy to overthrow the duly-elected government of the United States.

If you obey the rules on social media, you will almost certainly be fine. If you feel the need to plot violence or make threats on social media, then there is no site where you are safe. And if you are going to act like a heathen on the internet, please do not claim to be a Christian.

Christians of all political persuasions should be denouncing political violence and the lies that lead up to it. Yet, far too many have learned nothing from last week’s tragic events. All over conservative media I see people rationalizing (“they had it coming”), minimizing (“it wasn’t really an insurrection, it was mostly peaceful”), using moral relativism (“what about the BLM riots?”), passing the buck (“the media and Democrats are to blame”), and even praising the attack.

Too many Christians have lost their moral compass and substituted political strategy for Biblical truth.

God was in control during the Trump years. God is still in control in the Biden years. But the harsh truth is that maybe God’s plan for America wasn’t what you thought it was.

What we can be sure of is that God wants us to love both our neighbors and our enemies. That means working to help the sick and keep others from getting sick. It also means we should not be bashing police officers in the head with a fire extinguisher.

Originally published on The First

and the Racket

Conservative thought is not under attack

 A common theme lately is that conservative accounts are being purged from Facebook and Twitter. The recent wave of bans has many on the right decrying the attacks on the freedom of speech and censorship by the social media companies.

In reality, the truth is not so simple.

Bermix Studio/

When I looked up the most popular political Facebook pages in the United States, I found that the top 10 was dominated by right-leaning pages. Here is the list according to

  1. Occupy Democrats

  2. Donald Trump for President

  3. Secure America Now

  4. Conservative News Today

  5. The Political Insider

  6. Patriots United

  7. Supporting Our Veterans

  8. Cold Dead Hands

  9. Blue Lives Matter

  10. Trump & the Great America

If you ask me, it’s pretty hard to make a case that you are being censored and have no freedom of speech when nine of the top 10 Facebook pages represent your side of the ideological spectrum. (The veterans page is the only one that I wouldn’t consider a right-wing political site.)

But Dave, you might argue, those are old numbers. Those pages have probably been banned and deleted by now. In reality, the only one of the pages on the list that is no longer accessible is the Trump campaign page. The fact that these sites are the largest sites on Facebook also undercuts claims of shadow banning.

If we trot on over to Twitter, Social Bakers also has data for political tweets. The most popular accounts in the US are:

  1. Barack Obama (@barackobama)

  2. Donald Trump (@realdonaldtrump)

  3. President Trump (@POTUS)

  4. Hillary Clinton

  5. Joe Biden

  6. Melania Trump (@FLOTUS)

  7. President Obama (@POTUS44)

  8. Kamala Harris

  9. Bernie Sanders

  10. Bill Clinton

There is a bit more liberal competition on Twitter, but Donald Trump still has two accounts in the top three (or did until last week). Again, Trump’s personal account is the only one that is not accessible. As I write this, I was even able to see the @POTUS account.

So why do so many people on the right believe that their freedom of speech is under assault and their views are being suppressed? I think there are a several reasons, all of which play a role.

First, people on the right are being told that there speech is under attack. In their bubbles of confirmation bias, right-media, pundits, and politicians are telling folks that they are being censored and they take it for granted that those claims are true. Like the classic example of everyone hating Congress but voting to re-elect their representatives, people think that MY speech isn’t being censored but apparently everyone else’s is.

As a result, many on the right have suppressed themselves by packing up their Twitter and Facebook accounts and setting off for the greener pastures of Parler, MeWe, or wherever. If you move your social media presence from a big platform to a smaller one, you are going to lose some of your reach.

Second, right-wing social media users bring down a lot of heat on themselves. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen people in conservative groups post inflammatory content with a caption like “I’ll bet this gets me zucked.” If you push - or flout - the boundaries of the Terms of Service, you are going to have problems.

I can testify to the truth of what I’m saying. I’ve administered a conservative Facebook page, The Common Sense Conservative, for more than a decade. In that time, I’ve only had a couple of posts removed and been subjected to only one 24-hour ban. At the same time, I’ve had friends in other conservative groups who go from one ban to another like Otis Campbell coming and going from the Mayberry jail.

I think that the difference is that I attempt to keep my page clean and civil. I publish memes that are funny but tend to steer clear of those that are simply insulting. I don’t do obscene, profane, or sexual content.

The one meme that I can remember having removed was one that showed “genders” and showed the male and female symbols above another label that said “mental disorders’ with the nonbinary gender symbols. You can see the meme here.

While I disagreed with that decision, I disagreed with my ban more. Facebook told me that I had violated their standards, but didn’t tell me which posts had done so. I appealed and their decision was upheld.

My real problem here was the lack of clarity. It would be nice to know how I ran afoul of the moderator algorithms. That might help me to avoid similar problems in the future.

But, as I wrote a few weeks ago, the decision is ultimately Facebook’s to make. If I don’t like it, I can vote with my feet… err, keyboard, and go post on Pinterest or LinkedIn or Instagram. I don’t have a constitutional right to make myself heard on Facebook.

The third problem is that we have dumbed down and expanded the phrase “conservative” so that it is almost meaningless. “Conservative” has become synonymous with “Republican,” but the two have different meanings. That is especially true these days.

The definition of “conservative” is “averse to change or innovation and holding traditional values.” In the political context, it means “favoring free enterprise, private ownership, and socially traditional ideas.” If you disagree with these definitions, your complaint is with Google, not with me. Word definitions are objective, not subjective.

In contrast, “Republican” is a partisan adjective. Some Republican people, policies, and ideas can be described as conservative and some cannot. While there is overlap, the two words describe different ideologies. You may have noticed that I’ve frequently used the term “right-wing” in this piece rather than “conservative,” and that is why.

A lot of what passes for conservative thought these days is really Republican or anti-left. Again, there is overlap, but there is a difference between advocating for limited government, free market, constitutional ideas and advancing Republican ideas that are sometimes at odds with the Constitution and traditional conservative principles. (Does any real constitutional scholar believe that the Framers intended to give the vice president veto power over the Electoral College?) A lot of “conservative” content is nothing more than attempts at “owning” the left.

Many - or possibly even most - of the people of the who have been banned are not conservative in either sense of the word. Before the Capitol attack, one of the biggest social media controversies I can remember was when Alex Jones was banned from Twitter in 2018. Jones is a conspiracy theorist rather than a conservative, but he was defended by many conservatives.

There is nothing wrong with defending people who don’t share your beliefs. John Adams famously defended British regulars accused of murder in the Boston Massacre trial, and I agree with Voltaire’s sentiment that “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

But the difference here is that Alex Jones still has the right to espouse his conspiracy theories about gay frogs or whatever. He still broadcasts his conspiracies today. On his own websites.

A lot of well-meaning people these days are confusing freedom of speech with access to social media. No one is preventing people like Alex Jones from speaking, but social media companies don’t have any sort of legal or moral duty to allow people access to a privately-owned megaphone or podium.

That’s the case with the post-insurrection bans as well. When I look at some of the examples of posts that have gotten people banned on Twitter and Facebook or that were cited in Amazon and Apple’s abandonment of Parler, I don’t think, “This is conservative speech that must be protected.” I think, “This is a cesspool and the people behind these rantings are either evil or seriously unwell.”

As I’ve noted before, it’s pretty ironic to be able to have an argument about censorship on the very platform that is accused of being the censor. The very fact of the discussion is proof that the claim is wrong on its face.

I can go on Facebook and say, “Mark Zuckerberg is against the freedom of speech.” On Twitter, I can say, “Jack Dorsey is wrong to ban tweets.” What I cannot say is something along the lines of “Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg should be killed for their violations of free speech.” Criminal conspiracies and threats are not protected speech.

Threats and plotting to break the law should not be permissible speech on any platform and that is what many of these people were doing. Other claims, such as the lie that the election was stolen, were also provoking violence and were legitimately removed.

People like Sidney Powell, Lin Wood, and Donald Trump who advanced the lie about the election violated the Terms of Service, especially where they promoted violence. In Twitter’s view, Trump’s tweets were a “violation of the Glorification of Violence Policy.”

And Twitter owns the platform. It’s their call, just as making decisions about behavior in your house is your call.

Lin Wood went even further, tweeting as the riot occurred, “There will not be another chance… TODAY IS OUR DAY!”

This was not a conservative political tweet. This was a call to war.

I’ll stipulate that the social media companies should do a better job of policing violent speech from the left, but that is a different argument. I’m not going to agree to the notion that the right should be allowed to post death threats and calls to violence just because some on the left do it and get away with it.

My recommendations going forward are that conservatives should self-police their own movement. We should not line up behind conspiracy theories or people who tickle our ears with things that we like to hear. We should be careful who we align ourselves with because association with bad and crazy people undermines the credibility of the entire conservative ideology, not to mention the Gospel.

Second, we need to recognize the difference between speech and access to private platforms. If you aren’t being prevented from speaking or typing your message by the government, your rights are probably not being infringed.

If we try to force social media companies to carry a particular user, then we make the same error that the left made in trying to force bakeries to make same-sex wedding cakes. The right does not have the legal or moral authority to bend private businesses to its will any more than the left does.

It doesn’t matter that the social media companies are impersonal, large corporations that generate less sympathy than bake shop owner. The facts are the same, regardless of how they make you feel.

Finally, the Christian, self-proclaimed-conservative, “law and order” crowd should be modeling civility online rather than insurrection. A lot of the people I know who went to Parler were Christians. One used to be my pastor. Yet what I see from Parler - and “conservative” groups on Facebook - is some very unchristian, unconservative conduct.

The anonymity of the internet makes people do things that they wouldn’t normally do. At least, I hope they wouldn’t act that way in real life. In that way, it’s similar to being part of a mob.

We need to remember that there are real, living people who are created in God’s image on the other side of our keyboards. If you wouldn’t say things like “hang that n—r” in real life - and you shouldn’t - then you shouldn’t be saying it online.

My sense is that, if you do the right thing on social media, then you have little to fear from the moderators on Facebook and Twitter. On the other hand, if you don’t do the right thing, then no social media site is going to be safe.

A good rule of thumb is to remember what your mom probably told you when you were growing up: Jesus is always watching. If that doesn’t work or if you don’t believe in Jesus, just remember that the FBI is watching as well.

From the Racket