Tag Archives: science

10 questions about drugs

1. Which is the most common rape drug?

2. Which drug is associated with the most violence?

3. Which drug kills most people?

4. What kind of drugs are responsible for the most overdose deaths?

5. Name two drugs that have never killed anyone.

6. Name two drugs that have no or very little addictive properties.

7. Name two drugs that break addiction.

8. Name two drugs that are used to cure depression, trauma and abuse.

9. Which drugs are legal?

10. Which drugs are the most illegal?

 

You’ll find the correct answers below the picture.

Photo: Drug questions by Ano Lobb on Flickr.
Photo: Drug questions by Ano Lobb on Flickr

 

There are obviously legal, country and time specific variations to these answers, but this is the general picture.

1. Which is the most common rape drug?
Alcohol is the most common rape drug. Many think that they need to be wary of people who want to spike their drinks with other drugs, but in the overwhelming majority of cases it is the alcoholic drink itself that is the rape drug. Victims and offenders are often drunk and even when there are other drugs in the mix, alcohol is almost always the main drug.

2. Which drug is associated with the most violence?
Alcohol is involved in most cases of violence. 70 to 90 percent of all violence (wars excluded) is directly linked to alcohol. This is as true for domestic violence as it is for violent encounters between strangers. There are a few other drugs (mainly ego enhancing and consciousness decreasing drugs) that are also associated with violence, but even in cases when other drugs are present alcohol is usually the main drug.

This diagram gives you a hint at how many deaths are attributed to different drugs in the UK 2011. It is however misleading since the tobacco part of the diagram only shows England, while the other circles include all of the UK. In other words, the tobacco circle should be far much bigger than it is in this picture.
This diagram shows you how many deaths were attributed to different drugs in the UK 2011. The very large circle represent deaths due to tobacco and the next biggest one is alcohol. In third place we find opiates and opiate substitutes, which are mostly found in legal medications. In fourth place are legal anti-depressants and in fifth are legal benzodiazepines. In other words, all the big killer drugs except for heroin are legal.

3. Which drug kills most people?
Tobacco is by far the most lethal drug. Tobacco kills more people than all other legal and illegal drugs combined. Alcohol is the second most deadly drug and in third place we find prescription medications. Science is having a hard time putting these in relation to each other, but estimates are that tobacco takes somewhere between two and fifteen times as many lives as alcohol.

4. What kind of drugs are responsible for the most overdose deaths?
Pharmaceutical drugs/prescription medicines are the most commonly overdosed with a deadly outcome. One reason is of course the availability but another very important reason is that medications often are highly toxic.

5. Name two drugs that have never killed anyone.
LSD, cannabis and magic mushrooms are a few non-lethal drugs, but there are certainly more. The doses needed to die from them are simply so ridiculously high that it is physically impossible to consume such quantities of cannabis or mushrooms. In the case of LSD it is probably possible to take that much, but you would need to take thousands of doses and as far as I know that still hasn’t happened. It is of course possible to die in an accident or such while on these drugs, but even so these are not drugs that typically make users accident prone. Science rather suggests that people using these drugs are usually more careful and considerate.

6. Name two drugs that have no or very little addictive properties.

Photo: Hícuri by Mierdamian Rondana on Flickr
Photo: Hícuri by Mierdamian Rondana on Flickr

Psychedelics generally have strong anti-addictive properties and are therefore fantastic for breaking addiction. Some such drugs are LSD, magic mushrooms (psilocybin), San Pedro/Peyote (mescaline), Ayahuasca, DMT, Iboga (ibogaine) and Salvia Divinorum. Another thing that several of the psychedelics have in common is that the user’s tolerance towards them increases rapidly, so even if a user would want to use it several days in a row it would quickly become meaningless to do so because the effects would vanish.

7. Name two drugs that break addiction.
LSD, magic mushrooms and Iboga are all well known in the treatment of addicts, but psychedelics of all kinds can be helpful. Before being made illegal LSD was among other things used to cure alcoholism. AA co-founder Bill Wilson was an advocate of using it specifically to treat cynical alcoholics by giving them a spiritual experience. Ironically LSD had a higher success rate of curing alcoholics than AA or any other program has ever had.

8. Name two drugs that are used to cure depression, trauma and abuse.
Again, psychedelics are fantastic tools for curing depression, trauma and abuse, especially LSD, magic mushrooms, Ayahuasca and San Pedro/Peyote. They make the user more aware of his/her situation and give insights and experiences that help the user deal with past trauma. Within a spiritual context the plants are especially helpful since they actually speak to the user in a way that an isolated substance cannot do.

Western chemical based medicine often uses medications such as anti-depressants but these medicines most often only put a lid on things and sedate the person. These medicines are also highly addictive and toxic, which makes them very dangerous in comparison.

9. Which drugs are legal?
Alcohol and tobacco are legal, although you need to be of a certain age to buy them. Prescription medications are legal as long as you have a prescription.

10. Which drugs are the most illegal?

Contrary to what many think today's drug laws are not based on science but on politics. For example, did you know that the push to make cannabis illegal was mostly based on racism?
Contrary to what many think today’s drug laws are not based on science but on politics. For example, did you know that the push to make cannabis illegal was greatly based on racism?

Class A drugs are defined as drugs that are especially harmful, have a high abuse potential and that have no medical value. Among these you will find heroin, crack, cocaine, cannabis, LSD, magic mushrooms and mescaline. Which class a drug is placed in is however a political decision, not a scientific one. From a strictly scientific point of view this classification is utterly absurd. Heroin and crack would definitely fall within the definition of a class A drug, but so would the legal drugs alcohol and tobacco since they obviously are extremely addictive, harmful and lack all medical value. The psychedelics and cannabis on the other hand are proven to have huge medical value and do very little harm, so they would be stricken if the list was based on science. It appears however that drug policies are among the least scientifically based policies today.

Main photo: fififififiesta! by Adriano Agulló on Flickr

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Psychedelics, plant teachers or whatever you want to call them

First of all it is important to point out that all words are made up. People have had a good think and come up with a word which in some cases has caught on. But understand this – they are all make-believe. Even the most precise of words with the clearest of definitions is made up by someone.

The meaning of a word is determined by the consensus people find around it. Some words have very precise meanings, such as the word centimetre. Other words have a general consensus, but can still be open to interpretation at some point, such as the word chair or forest. Yet other words are the cause of constant quarrel. What is art? Define love. Describe ego.

When it comes to words describing experiences and plants or substances with psychedelic properties there are many different words, but little actual consensus, in part because we are still in the process of trying to agree on them. There is often no exact right or wrong, but as with most things there are plenty of people with strong opinions on the subject. But just so that we are clear about this – those opinions are made up about words that are made up. In the end it is all make-believe.

Since there is still little consensus on these words it is important to ask the person using them what they mean by them, because what the words mean to them might be very different from what they mean to you. And if you are getting worked up about what they mean to you only to find out much later that they mean something totally different to them… well, it’s a whole lot of arguing about absolutely nothing.

It is also important to understand that the words and definitions we use are a reflection of what we need them for. A scientist needs very well-defined words, so the wording is very precise. This often leads to the words being quite complicated, because in the scientific world it is not a problem if a word is complicated, as long as it is well-defined.

I am not a scientist. My goal is not to be precise, but rather to be understandable. In order to help people I need them to understand what I am saying, which they won’t do if I use a scientific jargon. I need words that people at least have a clue about, and then we can take it from there.

So let’s talk about some of the words that are floating around out there.

Plants and substances

This is a distinction where there is much consensus, but which still causes confusion, especially for people who do not work with such things. A plant is something you will find growing in nature. It can be a cactus like the San Pedro or a vine like the Banisteriopsis caapi, which is used in the brew Ayahuasca. The psilocybin mushroom is by a biologist’s definition not a plant but a fungi, but for the sake of making this understandable I group it with the plants, because it is something that grows in nature.

A substance on the other hand is an isolated molecule or combination of molecules. It is something that a person has isolated, extracted or produced. Mescaline is a substance which one can get from San Pedro, DMT is a substance which can be found in Ayahuasca and psilocybin is a substance which can be found in certain mushrooms.

It is important, at least from a shamanic perspective, not to confuse these with each other. Eating a San Pedro cactus is not the same as eating mescaline. The San Pedro is a plant and as a plant it has a spirit connected to it. Or to put it in other words, it is alive and is able to communicate with us. Mescaline might give some similar effects, but there is no spirit there to communicate with.

Let’s take one of my favourite substances as an example. Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) is a substance in the meaning that it is an isolated molecule which does not have a spirit attached to it, in the shamanic sense of things. It is a very powerful medicine to work with and many of the effects might seem similar to mushrooms or cacti, but when working with it one is not doing so with the help of a spirit which is attached to the substance.

While all this is perfectly clear for people who work with such things, it is often very confusing for people who for example make and enforce laws. They often name a substance and confuse it for the plant, or the other way around. In a shamanic setting it is a world of difference and it is well understood that a plant cannot be reduced to a certain substance contained within it, because it will be missing the spirit.

What are these plants/fungi being called?

Madarchen hud by Nic Dafis on Flickr
Madarchen hud by Nic Dafis on Flickr.

When writing this I asked people for the words they use for such plants. One person simply replied Teacher. Short and to the point. This is a common perception and while it might be figuratively speaking for some, most who say it mean it literally. They see the plant as a spirit separate from themselves who teaches them things, and this is an understanding which has been around for thousands of years in the cultural settings in which such plants have been used. It is a term that not only conveys what the spirit does, but it is also a word which shows respect.

In that cultural setting it would be disrespectful to confuse for example the San Pedro cactus with the word mescaline. It would be disrespectful in the same manner as if you called your university professor Book. Your professor is as little a Book as San Pedro is Mescaline.

A similarly respectful and common expression is Master plant. It says with all clarity that this is no silly little spirit, but a spirit worth listening to carefully. It is also common to call the plants by what help they give, such as Medicine plant or Visionary plant. They are medicine. They give vision.

A few people called them Spirit helper or Spirit guide. It still conveys the sense of there being another intelligence, but for me those terms carry a different meaning that are not connected to a plant.

Sht my Dad paints by Ryan on Flickr
Sht my Dad paints by Ryan on Flickr

Other words that try to capture the essence of these plants and substances

The fact that we are dealing with both plants and substances which have similar properties does confuse the situation. While the plant spirits have been known in shamanic use for many millennia they are still quite new to us in the modern world. These things haven’t really been known to us for more than a century, and to a broader public only half that time.

One thing that we are very good at in this modern world is playing with words, so it comes as no surprise that there is a wealth of different words trying to describe these plants, substances and experiences. Some are quite good while others are awful. Many are catchy and accessible, while others confuse things even more. Here come some of the ones that I like better:

Psychedelics

The best thing about the word psychedelic is that it is well-known. People at least have a vague idea what it is, and even though the ideas might be off, it is a starting ground.

The term means “mind revealing” and is derived from the Greek psyche (soul, mind) and delein (to manifest). It was coined by the British psychiatrist Humphry Osmond in 1957. At the time he and Aldous Huxley were discussing what to call these wonderful plants and substances. Huxley sent Osmond a rhyme with the word he preferred: “To make this trivial world sublime, take half a gram of phanerothyme” (thymos meaning ‘spiritedness’ in Greek.) Osmond wrote back “To fathom Hell or soar angelic, just take a pinch of psychedelic.

I wanted to share that story with you to show the playfulness and ingenuity that bright minds have put into making these words up.

Personally I think it is a word which is very suitable and it can be used for plants and substances alike. They are truly soul and mind revealing. They put us in direct contact with our inner workings, with or without the help of a spirit.

It is also a word that is easy to connect with other words, such as psychedelic mushroom, psychedelic medicine or psychedelic therapy. In that way it is good for communicating, which suites me.

I have heard several negative remarks about the word. A shaman friend of mine dismisses the word because it somehow doesn’t take the plants spirit into account. It reduces the plant to a mere substance, is the argument. I do not agree. There is nothing inherent in the word which says that it refers to a substance or which excludes a spirit. Those restrictions are not in the word itself, but in the critics own head.

Hallucinogens

Psychedelicological III by Derrick Tyson on Flickr
Psychedelicological III by Derrick Tyson on Flickr

This is another word which I like, but which is often (mis)understood in ways that narrow it down to something it doesn’t inherently need to be. The word hallucination was coined by Sir Thomas Browne in 1646 from the Latin alucinari meaning “to wander in the mind”.

That word goes well together with the notion that a hallucination is a visual projection of what is going on in the mind, which many such experiences obviously are. But many visual effects on such plants and substances are not projections of what is going on in our mind, which leaves many feeling that the word is incorrect. Many visual effects are universal and people report similar geometrical patterns, energy trails and other visual experiences that seem to emanate outside themselves.

I find that the anthropologist Jeremy Narby explains this wonderfully in his book The Cosmic Serpent where he studies shamans of the Amazon and compares their knowledge to Western scientific knowledge. There he makes a difference between inner and outer hallucinations. Inner hallucinations are projections of what is going on in our own mind, while outer hallucinations are things that are really there, but which are normally hidden from us. These outer hallucinations can be things like auras, spirits, energetic patterns and the fabric of existence. It is all there even when we don’t see it and what the plants and substances do is open us up to being able to see.

If the word hallucination or hallucinogen is used to only mean “projections of your own mind” it is not a suitable word to describe these plants and substances, since it leads us to believe that what we are experiencing only originates from within. If the word is used to mean inner AND outer hallucinations, then I find it to be very accurate. The visual effects are projections of what is going on inside AND they also reveal other realities to us.

Entheogens

The word entheogen was coined in 1979 by a group of ethnobotanists who wanted to capture the spiritual aspect of the experience. This also comes from Greek and is made up of entheos (full of god, inspired) and genesthai (to come into being). An entheogen is a plant or substance which wakes the God within, which inspires us, especially in a spiritual way.

I like this word because it captures the spiritual aspect in a way that the other words don’t. These plants and substances are to a very high degree being used in spiritual settings and with spiritual intentions, so it is fitting to have a word which highlights this.

I once channelled information from the spirit world about how dangerous drugs are. After having a list of different plants and substances I noticed that some were obviously missing. There was no mention of mushrooms, LSD or DMT. When I asked why the answer was very clear. “Many people have completely misunderstood these plants and substances. They are not drugs. They are keys to speak to the Gods.”

I couldn’t agree more. That is the most common view among people who work with such plants and substances in a serious manner, and that is also why no amount of legislation can ever stop people from using them. It is simply ridiculous to think that people will obey laws that try to stop them from speaking to God or themselves.

Substances of essence

This is not an expression I have heard being used, but when I asked for words someone wrote this. I think it is a wonderful expression, because it shows that respect can be directed towards a substance too. While I have heard several in spiritual settings dismiss substances and molecules, they are also truly miraculous and hold as much healing power as many plants. I find such dismissal to be disrespectful and lacking in knowledge in the same way that others disrespect the plant spirits out of lack of knowledge.

A couple of words I think are really bad

Dr. Mom by Bart Everson on Flickr.
Dr. Mom by Bart Everson on Flickr.

Drugs/dope. No one who has the slightest knowledge on the subject would use such words about plants or substances with psychedelic properties. When you hear someone using these words it is a red flag clearly stating “I have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about”. Unfortunately drug laws are often written and upheld by people who haven’t a clue.

Phanerothyme. I’m just using this as an example among many similar words. It translates into “producing visable feelings”. The person who created this might have put a lot of thought into it and the meaning might be quite true, but trying to communicate it is horrible. It is bulky, hard to pronounce, hard to combine with other words and nobody has the slightest idea what it means. It might work with a scientific intention, but in everyday communication I wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole.

In conclusion

There are a lot of good words out there and there are a few bad ones too. Use the good ones and let the bad ones die. But perhaps more importantly, there are good and bad interpretations of the words.

If you meet someone who uses the words in a way that you don’t think you agree with, don’t take for granted that you don’t agree with one another. Simply ask them what they mean and have a friendly talk about your different choices in words. In many cases we get tangled up in trying to say that something is right and something else is wrong. When we do so we are missing the crucial point – it is all made up. Our language is make-believe. We often confuse the use of different vocabulary with being of different opinions.

Another point that I see in all this is that although there are several very good words out there, these plants, substances and experiences are so diverse and complex that they are hard to capture in a single word. Any way you choose to describe them you will automatically be missing other crucial points. The plant is a teacher, but is that all it is? Yes, these plants and substances help us sort out our inner workings, but is that all they do? Yes, they cause inner and outer hallucinations, but is that what it is all about?

I don’t think that the solution to all this is to make up yet more words, trying to capture that which cannot be captured. I think a good lesson is to simply understand that language itself is a limitation.

Main photo: A bumble bee hovering over a lavendar bloom by Steve Slater on Flickr

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Trapped in an unhealthy system of healing

We seem to be trapped in an unhealthy system of healing. We are so set on modern Western medicine having all the answers that we don’t see what else is out there. Alternative and traditional healing methods are being kept away from the public under the pretense of science, but with time there is coming overwhelming evidence that there are often far better treatments out there. But even with evidence the best treatments are often being opposed because they don’t fit in to our way of thinking.

Let me give you an example. Let’s say that we have a patient that is suffering from severe chronic pain, such as fibromyalgia. And let us say that we have four treatments which might help.
A. Painkillers.
B. Massage.
C. Cannabis oil.
D. Ayurveda.

Painkillers are a wonder of modern medicine and I think we should be truly thankful that we have them. When they work they are a great relief, but there are several very serious drawbacks to them. One is that they don’t always work, especially when it comes to more complicated conditions that modern medicine yet doesn’t seem to fully understand, such as fibromyalgia. While modern painkillers might be effective, they are far from 100 percent so. Another one is that these modern medicines come with a long list of side effects which are often worse than the ailment that they were first used to treat. Yet another one is that these medicines are addictive and possible to overdose and die from. People die every year from either unintentionally overdosing or mixing medicines which aren’t compatible, but also from intentional overdosing when committing suicide.

Some drawbacks are much less in alternative therapies, or altogether non-existent. Massage for example has much fewer side effects and counter indications, and I still haven’t heard of anyone killing themselves by overdosing massage. Hands on physical therapy is often effective for treating fibromyalgia, but the availability within the system of the modern Swedish health service is at best patchy. Many doctors will outright refuse to refer you to such treatment or even take your condition seriously. I have met a practitioner within the health care system that will give such treatment, but who will disguise it as something else in the paper work. And I have met others that are true miracle workers with their hands, but are written off as quacks by the health care system and thus excluded.

When the legal options are exhausted a few courageous people take matters into their own hands and try therapies and medicines which are illegal. Just yesterday I published a text by Andreas Thörn, a man who broke his neck and was paralyzed at the age of 15. He has suffered since and after having gone through the entire stock of modern medicines, except Methadone, he chose to try Cannabis. It turned out that it worked wonders for him, in a way that modern medicine hasn’t been able to for the last 20 years. Another person that I have featured here is Jens Waldmann who overcome his severe depression with the help of Cannabis. The doctors wanted to give him Bensodiazepin instead, fully aware that he had abused that medicine before and that it would not solve the underlying problem. Coming back to the subject of chronic pain Cannabis and Cannabis oil are well known for their ability to relieve pain, even such pain that painkillers won’t touch. In my experience smoking Cannabis is addictive, but definitely much less so than for example opiate painkillers. It might also have counter indications, but is less toxic than most medicines. It is actually physically impossible to die from a Cannabis overdose.

Ayurveda is a different thing all together. Food is the basic medicine in Ayurveda, since most (if not all) of our imbalances are a result of or can be alleviated with food. When you eat right you heal and stay healthy. It is a way of healing which requires dedication, but which also teaches you a great deal about yourself and how you can function better. Lifestyle changes are often fantastic medicine.

● ● ●

Going back to what I was first saying – there seems to be an unhealthy emphasis on one way of healing. When modern medicine doesn’t do the trick, we are left hanging with no help. And even then we are openly discouraged to seek other healing methods.

There is no one system which works for all. No one truth that holds true for all. The painkillers might work for some of the patients, but what kind of healing system seeks to heal some of the patients while leaving others stranded? By bringing in alternative and traditional therapy we could be healing close to everyone. We just need to find out what works for them.

Of course there will be areas where Western medicine will still keep its dominance, simply because it is superior. One such area is acute physical trauma. But there will also be areas where Western medicine will be obliterated, simply because it is inferior. An area where Western medicine would probably quickly lose credibility is mental health, since it has a great lack of knowledge about people’s inner workings. Why else would the system be mass drugging us with such medicines like anti-depressants, even though they don’t do much more than put a lid on things and lower our motivation to heal?

For the sake of the people who need to heal is time to get rid of this dominance that Western medicine has had, but to do so we will also have to overcome our white egos, our bullying tendencies and the paternalism that has come with it.

Photo: Lost in Field by Rudolf Getel on Flickr

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A letter to the politicians of Sweden

Today I sent a Swedish version of this e-mail to all politicians in the Swedish parliament and government, as well as some party board members, MEPs, party secretariat staff and the political youth party organizations.

● ● ●

Hello!

My name is Daniel Wilby and nine years ago I was literally about to drink myself to death. I was on the run from life and I accused everyone else for my pain. Around that time I began smoking cannabis, and at one point my pusher offered me some LSD. I bought it thinking that it would offer yet another escape from life.

Something happened during that first LSD trip. I was able to move outside of my body and from that perspective I could see that all the pain in my life, all the sorrow, all the hurt that I wanted to escape from was my own creation. When I saw that, I realized that the power over my life originated from myself, and just as I had chosen to feel bad and hurt myself, I could choose the opposite – to heal and fill my life with joy and love.

I came back to my body and decided to take responsibility for my life. My 13 year long and deep alcohol abuse ended abruptly that night. It took me another three months of intensive work, with the help of LSD, to heal a four year long very severe depression.

Since then I have worked hard to heal myself and sometimes also guided others. At first I thought that my recovery was unique. Gradually, I realized that it was not. Such stories are very common among people who work with psychedelics.

Meanwhile I naturally followed the Swedish drug debate, and I am frankly quite angry and deeply disappointed at the low level of it. Today’s drug laws harm a great many people and those that debate and legislate are obviously deeply ignorant. Science is replaced by a very damaging dogmatism, while healing and spiritual exploration is persecuted and stigmatized. The laws that should protect the individual’s right to health and spiritual freedom, are instead curtailing these rights in today’s simplistic and offensive drug policy.

Here are five blog posts that I wrote last week. I would be grateful if you took the time to read them, to nuance the picture given in the drugs debate. You are most welcome to get in contact with me if you have thoughts, concerns or questions.

People’s stories of having used illegal substances to heal and grow.

The consequences of today’s drug laws.

The problems with today’s drug laws from a spiritual perspective.

How we can get out of the dead end that today’s drug laws are.

Addiction treatment after the paradigm shift in drug policy.

Finally, I want to say that I hope that you and your political party in the future works for:
● a real change in how we treat the most vulnerable among our fellow humans.
● broadening the way society looks at and works with healing.
● people’s right to their own spirituality.
● correcting the image of different substances that are currently illegal and that many of them, if not all, are promptly legalized.

Sincerely

Daniel Wilby

Photo: Party leader debate between Stefan Löfven (S) and Annie Lööf (C) by Melker Dahlstrand.

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Devalue politics

I am quite skeptical that the political system is able to handle the drug issue in a sensible manner, because politics are essentially driven by opinion. We may think that our western democracy is very good, but the fact is that it has serious weaknesses. Today’s drug laws are a shining example. They are not based on science, but on opinions and moralistic lobbying. The legislation that it has led to is riddled with hypocrisy.

It creates a system where “democracy” is used to legitimize oppression. It punishes people who are sick. It chases people who use substances that are less harmful than the legal alternatives. It criminalizes healing and growing. Spiritual exploration is prohibited. It is a law that is discriminatory, unfair and used to persecute minorities.

The political system has similar problems addressing serious global environmental issues. Opinions and strong economic interests outweigh the survival of the human species. Despite several decades of political work at the global level, our politicians are not able to deal with the serious threats that humanity faces. Countries look to their own short-term interests and go their companies’ errands when they go into negotiations, rather than to see the bigger picture.

My conclusion is that the political system is not able to deal with certain issues in a balanced, fair and sustainable manner. The best we can do, I think, is to revoke the right for the political system to handle certain issues. Many of them should return to be determined by the people themselves, while others should be referred to expert groups. The drug issue and the environmental issue are two clear examples where the political system falls short, but there are several others.

It’s time to take back power from the politicians and the corrupt system that has been created.

Photo: Goethe Girl on Day 12 Occupy Wall Street September 28 2011 Shankbone 33 by David Shankbone on Flickr

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