Friday, June 8, 2018

Gang or Mob as Cult?

I met my first real "syndicate mobster" almost 40 years ago, long before seeing Martin Scorcese's eye-opening "Goodfellas" and "Casino." She had been a high-class madam and drug dealer in a southeastern city so well-known for such entertainments at the time that it later became the location of a stylish and wildly popular, Friday-night TV "cop show" series. She had also been the romantic partner of a very mysterious character who disappeared for months at a time. I learned years later that her father was a major figure in the top echelon of the syndicate in a mid-western city. So it was no surprise (again, years later) that her daughter suddenly announced one day that she was getting into the porn business. The ensuing drama left me with the seedling of a life-long interest in the psychology of big-time organized crime.
Eight years later, I went to work for an ostensibly legitimate firm that (again, much later) I discovered was laundering ill-gotten loot in various business enterprises (for which two of my superiors were ultimately indicted years later). Involved as I was at that time in recovery from drug and alcohol abuse in another sunny locale, I suddenly found myself welcomed into a subset thereof populated by several "charming thugs." None of them were "made guys" (as none were Sicilian), but the Henry Hill style was rife throughout.
By that time, I had also come to know a very beautiful young lady with a Sicilian last name who revealed that she had been the wife of one of the members of a western crime outfit central to one of Scorcese's movies. As well as another with a very wealthy Sicilian mother from New Jersey who -- she claimed -- was no less than "Uncle Carlo's" niece. Dots were beginning to connect on the heels of other involvements in several human potential cults on the west coast, but not quite yet to these "odd encounters." One thing began to stand out, however: Upon reflection, all of these people had behavioral characteristics and belief systems that were like those I have seen in higher level cult members, including a rather reptilian and calculating -- but selective -- instrumentalistic coldheartedness; unusual comfort with risk-taking; and the absolute certainty of their questionable convictions typical of malignant narcissists.
Fast forward to the mid-2010s. Digging into such as Flo Conway & Jim Siegelman, Arthur Deikman, Mark Galanter, Steve Hassan, Eric Hoffer, Joel Kramer & Diana Alstad, Michael Langone, Robert Lifton, Joseph Martin, Joost Meerloo, Richard Ofshe, and Margaret Thaler Singer to edify myself about my lingering confusions about my cult experiences, I wondered on occasion if the sort of gangs I had run into in my youth operated on any known cult dynamics. Indeed, of course, they did. (ISKCON in the '70s is one of the foremost examples; I was blessed to meet one who had been right in the middle of that.) But it wasn't until I ran into Madeleine Tobias & Janja Lallich that I began to grasp how effectively the "wise guys" of the truly "big-time" Italian-Jewish-Irish syndicate appear to have utilized many of the recruiting and "membership maintenance" techniques reported in their 1994 book, Captive Hearts Captive Minds.
I was instantly online looking at several articles, including this one and this one to see if -- and how well -- the shoe fit. In fact, of course, it fit very well. Of Ofshe's "four key factors" and Lifton's "eight themes," only items one of the former, and items one and four of the latter were absent.
Ofshe
  1. The reliance on intense interpersonal and psychological attack to destabilize an individual's sense of self to promote compliance
  2. The use of an organized peer group
  3. Applying interpersonal pressure to promote conformity
  4. The manipulation of the totality of the person's social environment to stabilize behavior once modified
Lifton
  1. Control of communication
  2. Emotional and behavioral manipulation
  3. Demands for absolute conformity to behavior prescriptions derived from the ideology
  4. Obsessive demands for confession
  5. Agreement that the ideology is faultless
  6. Manipulation of language in which cliches substitute for analytic thought
  7. Reinterpretation of human experience and emotion in terms of doctrine
  8. Classification of those not sharing the ideology as inferior and not worthy of respect
A review of applicable elements of Hassan's BITE Model (see below) adds weight to the above.
Behavior Control
Promote dependence and obedience. Modify behavior with rewards and punishments. Exploit you financially. Restrict leisure time and activities. Require you to seek permission for major decisions.
Information Control
Deliberately withhold and distort information. Forbid you from speaking with ex-members and critics. Discourage access to non-cult sources of information. Divide information into "insider" vs. "outsider" doctrine. Use information gained in confession sessions against you. Encourage you to spy and report on others’ “misconduct.”
Thought Control
Instill black vs. white, us vs. them & good vs. evil thinking. Change your identity, possibly even your name. Use loaded language and cliches to stop complex thought. Allow only "positive" thoughts. Reject rational analysis, critical thinking, & doubt.
Emotional Control
Instill irrational fears (phobias) of questioning or leaving the group. Teach emotion-stopping techniques to prevent anger, homesickness. Shower you with praise and attention (“love bombing”). Shun you if you disobey or disbelieve. Teach that there is no happiness or peace outside the group.
A review of Hassan's complete list in this article makes it clear that "the mob" -- as we know it from books and films, at least -- refrains from many of the more obvious and irksome techniques used by the large, mind-control cults. But in the newly emerging, eastern European and east Asian crime organizations, there's evidence that some of the elements eliminated from the list above are in use, including...
Dictate where and with whom you live. Restrict or control sexuality. Generate and use propaganda extensively. Use information gained in confession sessions against you. Gaslight to make you doubt your own memory. Require you to report thoughts, feelings, & activities to superiors. Induce hypnotic or trance states to indoctrinate. Teach thought-stopping techniques to prevent critical thoughts. Promote feelings of guilt, shame & unworthiness. Threaten your friends and family.
The degree of "fit" with the 10-Level Pyramid Model of Cult Organization also struck me.
The "Seekers" need not be middle-class adolescents and young adults looking for "spiritual meaning." They can be welfare- and working-class people looking for some means of escape from the poverty and maltreatment.
The "Samplers" need not be "explorers" looking for "answers." They can be abuse victims looking for some empowerment.
The "New Recruits" need not be YUPPIES looking to climb the corporate ladder more quickly. They can be street kids looking for a fast buck.
The "Committed" need not be religious or philosophical "converts." They can be desperados looking for some respect.
The "Wonderbound" need not be "starry-eyed true believers" willing to do whatever to sit at the feet of the guru. They can be imitators of their own earlier abusers prepared to take risks to earn more... respect.
The "Lab Rats" need not be "converts" to codependency. They can be enthusiastic participants in capers that prove them to be worthy of further consideration.
The "Gluttons for Punishment" need not be obvious sadomasochists who sell themselves out for a brief moment of significance to the guru. They can be "tough guys" ready and willing to show just how tough they are.
The "Willful Slaves" need not be tiring plowhorses. They can be "sharp dressed men" prepared to do whateveris asked of them, including whack any troublemakers in or out of the "crew."
The "Cynics" need not be the relatively obvious thugs one sees near the top of most cults. They can be charming schnooks masking reptilian personas like the late Benjamin Siegel, Lefty Rosenthal, Eddie Mannix and Johnny Roselli.
The "Sociopaths" need not be wealth-power-adulation-and-sex-addicted gurus like L. Ron Hubbard, David Koresh, Charles Dederich, Jim Jones or Swami Prabhupada. They can be respected men like the late Sam Giancana, Carlos Marcello, Meyer Lansky, Raymond Patriarca and "Uncle Carlo."

Links to Articles on Cult Dynamics


References
Conway, F.; Siegelman, J.: Snapping: America's Epidemic of Sudden Personality Change, New York: Dell Delta, 1978.
Deikman, A.: The Wrong Way Home: Uncovering the Patterns of Cult Behavior in American Society, Boston: Beacon Press, 1990.
Deikman, A.: Them and Us: Cult Thinking and the Terrorist Threat, Berkeley CA: Bay Tree, 2003.
Galanter, M.: Cults: Faith, Healing and Coercion, New York: Guilford Press, 1989.
Hassan, S.: Combating Cult Mind Control: The #1 Best-selling Guide to Protection, Rescue, and Recovery from Destructive Cults, South Paris, ME: Park Street Press, 1989.
Hassan, S.: Freedom of Mind: Helping Loved Ones Leave Controlling People, Cults & Beliefs, Newton, MA: Freedom of Mind Press, 2012.
Hoffer, E.: The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, New York: Harper and Row, 1951, 1966.
Kramer, J.; Alstad, D.: The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power, Berkeley, CA: Frog, Ltd., 1993.
Lalich, J.: Bounded Choice: True Believers and Charismatic Cults, Berkeley CA: U. California Press, 2004.
Lalich, J., Tobias, M.: Take Back Your Life: Recovering from Cults and Abusive Relationships, Berkeley CA: Bay Tree Publishing, 2006.
Lalich, J.; McLaren, K.: Escaping Utopia: Growing Up in a Cult, Getting Out, and Starting Over, London: Routledge, 2017.
Langone, M., ed.: Recovery from Cults: Help for Victims of Psychological and Spiritual Abuse, New York: W. W. Norton, 1993.
Lifton, R.: Methods of Forceful Indoctrination, in Stein, M.; Vidich, A.; White, D. (editors): Identity and Anxiety: Survival of the Person in Mass Society, Glencoe, IL: The Free Press of Glencoe, Illinois, 1960.
Lifton, R.: Revolutionary Immortality: Mao Tse-Tung and the Chinese Cultural Revolution, New York: Random House, 1968.
Lifton, R.: Cult Formation, in The Harvard Mental Health Letter, Vol. 7, No. 8, February 1981.
Martin, J.: The Kingdom of the Cults, Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1985.
Meerloo, J.: Brainwashing and Menticide, in Stein, M.; Vidich, A.; White, D. (editors): Identity and Anxiety: Survival of the Person in Mass Society, Glencoe, IL: The Free Press of Glencoe, Illinois, 1960.
Meerloo, J.: The Rape of the Mind: The Psychology of Thought Control, Menticide, and Brainwashing, orig. pub. 1956, Unknown: Progressive Press, 2009.
Ofshe, R.; Singer, M.: Attacks on Peripheral versus Central Elements of Self and the Impact of Thought Reforming Techniques, in The Cultic Studies Journal, Vol. 3, No. 1, 1986.
Ofshe, R.: Coercive Persuasion and Attitude Change, in Borgata & Montgomery: Encyclopedia of Attitude Change, Vol. 1, 2nd Ed., New York: Macmillan, 2000.
Singer, M.; Goldstein, H.; Langone, M.; et al: Report of the APA Task Force on Deceptive and Indirect Techniques of Persuasion and Control; New York: American Psychological Association, 1986.
Singer, M.: Cults in our Midst: The Hidden Menace in our Everyday Lives; San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1995.
Singer, M. T.; Lalich, J.: Crazy Therapies: What are They? Do they Work?, Hoboken NJ: Jossey-Bass Div. of Wiley, 1996.
Tobias, M.; Lalich, J.: Captive Hearts, Captive Minds: Freedom and Recovery from Cults and Other Abusive Relationships, Alameda CA: Hunter House Publishing, 1994.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Psychopaths as Gurus... and Vice-Versa

I'm using the Hare Psychopathy Checklist to look at ten at least temporarily "successful" gurus at level "11" on the cultic pyramid including
After extensive reading (see the bibliography below, plus articles in many periodicals and online), and watching videos of these men -- as well as direct experience in three of these cults -- I'm offering the following observations in the interest of generalizing the behaviors of such people so that they can be more easily spotted by the general public, as well as potential members. Others are welcome to chime in -- especially those who have been members of these cults or have observed them closely -- and add other names to the list along with their own observations of the first ten here.
1. GLIB and SUPERFICIAL CHARM: smooth talking, verbally agile, a psychopath is rarely stuck for something to say. They are not in the least bit shy. In fact, they are not afraid to say anything.
Erhard seems to me to have been the smoothest and most verbally agile, but Corriere was a close second, and Raniere looks to have been "on the podium" closely followed -- at least in his early days -- by Koresh. None were shy, save possibly for Jeffs. But all -- save for Rajneesh at times -- were careful about what they said on an open mic most of the time, and rarely spoke directly to any news media reporters other than through prepared statements.
2. GRANDIOSE SELF-WORTH: they have an opinion on everything, they boast and brag about the things they have done, their skills and abilities. They have enormous egos, plenty of confidence and arrogance and consider themselves superior. One psychopath said that he preferred to hear himself talk, because what he said was more interesting than what other people had to say.
While Hubbard was publicly outspoken on many topics in the '50s to early '70s, most were not, although they were all typically very opinionated and self-certain in front of their flocks. Corriere was everlastingly smug and supercilious. Only he and Rajneesh could have been called "braggarts" in the common sense of the term, though Koresh went over the dam into psychotic self-appraisal. All were righteously self-certain and arrogant, though Raniere, Jones and Jeffs toned it down more than the others. Miscavige was exceedingly strident on stage, but only obliquely a "glory hound."
3. SEEK STIMULATION or PRONE TO BOREDOM: they like to be doing new and different things, always looking for excitement and entertainment. They take risks in what they do as well as what they say. For example, cult leaders, in a subtle way, may explain to their victims how exactly they are manipulating them. They rarely engage in activities that they find boring, or they don't finish the job.
Erhard liked women and race cars. Rajneesh and Koresh liked women, regardless of their marital status. Corriere, Hubbard and Miscavige were inveterate workaholics. And -- thanks to several documentaries -- we all know now what Jeffs and Raniere were doing in their spare time. Moon and Jones were ciphers in this regard, though Jones did have, and use, "priestesses" much like the Bhagwan.
4. PATHOLOGICAL LYING: their ability to lie is stunning, even when they know there is a high probability of being caught. Lies can be cunning and sly or unscrupulously manipulative.
To their flocks, they all said whatever it took to get them over. (The skilful guru knows what his patrons are seeking at every level of "development" on the cultic pyramid. And adjusts his fabrications accordingly.) To the rest of the world, most were more self-limiting. Erhard, Hubbard and Jeffs, IMO, were the "chilliest" and most instrumentalistic liars. Rajneesh, Corriere and Miscavige danced on the pickets with their codependent flocks. Jones, Koresh and Moon may have been "true believers" who could not see the lies as lies. And Raniere certainly started out that way. But all of them routinely asserted "facts not in evidence."
5. CONNING AND MANIPULATIVENESS: they deceive, cheat, con, bilk, trick or defraud others for personal gain. This is separated from no. 4 to the extent that the subject shows "callous ruthlessness," that is, a lack of concern or pity for the suffering and feelings of their victims.
That Erhard and Hubbard set out to create what they did rather like MBAs writing business plans is no longer secret. (Erhard did time in Scientology and a major publishing MLM to study with "the masters.") Jeffs was his guru predecessor father's son. And Miscavige was blatantly positioning himself to take over the CoS by the time he was old enough to vote. But all the rest seemed to have come to callous ruthlessness over time, even if they began as "well-intentioned" and/or "true believers."
6. LACK OF REMORSE OR GUILT: despite their words they experience little emotion or concern for the pain and suffering of their victims. They are unfazed, dispassionate, coldhearted, and unempathic. There is often a disdain for the victims, and they may even say the victims deserved it.
Again, my sense is that some -- like Corriere, Jones, Koresh and Moon -- may have been conventionally moral in their earlier days, but that others, like Erhard, Jeffs and Miscavige seem to have been unabashed "devils advocates" from the git. (Do think Al Pacino's character in that film with Keenu Reeves and Charlize Theron.) I cannot say for sure about Hubbard, Rajneesh and Raniere, although it is clear that all of these men had no remorse or guilt in their heydays.
7. SHALLOW AFFECT: emotional poverty or very shallow feelings, coldness towards others despite seeming very friendly.
Hubbard, Jones, Moon, the Bhagwan, Corriere and Raniere were all reported by outsiders (including media interviewers) to be charmers on many occasions. All the rest certainly created images that "worked" for those on the first four levels of the pyramids involved. But by the time many got to levels seven and eight ("gluttons for punishment" and "willful slaves"), direct interactions with all of the ten made the guru's actual emotional poverty increasingly clear, even if only indirectly... as most of the gurus used their henchmen at levels eight and nine to be "the bad guys."
8. CALLOUSNESS and LACK OF EMPATHY: a general lack of feelings towards other people. They tend to be heartless, contemptuous, indifferent and tactless.
Public tactlessness doesn't get a guru very far, and none of the ten were widely known for that save Miscavige when the stress caught up to him and he started beating on people. For me, anyway, Erhard was the personification of "a general lack of feelings towards other people." Being the most "corporate" of the ten cited here, he maintained a masque of other-worldliness and studied lack of concern in a manner unique to my experience. Behind closed doors, however, considerable documentation suggest that every one of them was -- at times -- "heartless, contemptuous, indifferent and tactless," especially with their ultra-convinced, hyper-loyal, pyramid level seven to nine flunkies and "enforcers."
9. PARASITIC LIFESTYLE: they will intentionally manipulate and exploit others for financial gain. This goes along with poor motivation and little self-discipline and no sense of responsibility in terms of earning their own living.
Does this not "go without saying?" With possible exception of Koresh -- who was quite possible the most psychotic and least cynical of the ten -- these guys were no less parasitic than any syndicate don. Though, it's fair to say that Hubbard and Rajneesh were by far the most publicly ostentatious about it. That said, none of these con artists were anything remotely like "lazy slackers." If anything, they were all (variously) sex, wealth acumulation and control freaks.
10. POOR BEHAVIORAL CONTROLS: there may be sudden expressions of annoyance, irritability, aggression and verbal abuse. There may be sudden outbursts of anger and temper and they may act hastily.
Under such pressure as their lives induced, several were given to fits of temper. Miscavige has been -- by all reports -- a card-carrying rageaholic at times. Corriere certainly had his moments, but seemed as intentionally sadistic as he may have been frustrated or angry. Erhard, Jeffs and Raniere were reportedly models of restraint in this regard, albeit all managing by subtle terror and understated intimidation. The rest seem to have had moments, but were neither "cold fish" nor "uniformly hot-headed." Needless to say, most such "outbursts" tended to occur in the presence of eighth and ninth pyramid level ultra-loyalists who could rationalize both the guru's abuse and their submission to and acceptance of such.
11. PROMISCUOUS SEXUAL BEHAVIOR: they may have many brief encounters, many affairs while married, and may be indiscriminate in selecting partners (heterosexual and homosexual relationships) and even maintain several relationships at the same time. There is often a history of attempting to coerce many people into sexual relationships and they may take great pride in discussing their sexual conquests.
While Raniere is currently the best known for his philandering (and sadomasochism), Koresh set himself up to use virtually every attractive female in his cult (married and underage or not) to mother his "children of god." And Jeffs -- like Smith and Young before him? -- seems to have had sex with every submissively conditioned, instructed, socialized and normalized FLDS female he could lay his hands on. Like so many of the southern Asian gurus, Rajneesh seduced (and in some cases, made "priestesses" of) many women in his group, and encouraged orgies. Corriere openly promoted sexual over-exercise and "cross pollination" but was evidently circumspect about his own participation in it. Of the remaining five, Erhard was a known "cheater" on his wife, Ellen, but the scale was relatively small... which seems also to have been the case with Jones. It's more difficult to get a feel for what Moon, Hubbard and Miscavige did or didn't do in this respect, though both the UC and CoS frowned upon and ostracized such behavior.
12. EARLY BEHAVIOR PROBLEMS: there is often a history of antisocial behavior before age 13, including lying, stealing, cheating, vandalism, bullying, truancy, sexual activity, fire-setting, substance abuse, and running away from home. Cruelty to animals or siblings is particularly ominous.
This is the single most difficult realm to investigate because of the immense and intense dis-information campaigns conducted by the larger cults, as well as the reluctance and often outright refusal of the gurus' families to discuss such issues. (Was or is intimidation involved? IDK.) In general, it seems honest to say that very little evidence of "early behavioral problems" has come to the surface thus far.
13. LACK OF REALISTIC, LONG-TERM GOALS: while they talk about big plans, they show an inability or persistent failure to execute long-term goals; then may drift from one place to another lacking any real direction in life.
While Charles Manson and other, mostly small-time "wannabes" can be cited here, every single one of the ten listed here were skillful organizers and manipulators capable of executing their plans to a very considerable point. Hubbard, Erhard, and Moon especially so.
14. IMPULSIVITY: many of their behaviors are not premeditated and seem to be unplanned. They seem unable to resist temptation and urges or to delay gratification. They may not consider the consequences and so they appear reckless, foolhardy and unpredictable.
This is clearly not the case with any but (on occasion) Miscavige, Koresh and the Bhagwan. Premeditation, planning, delayed gratification, and an unusually disciplined ability to keep their seatbelts on was characteristic of Moon, Erhard, Hubbard, Raniere, Corriere, Jones and Jeffs, in more or less that order of demonstrated capacity. Miscavige's widely reported temper tantrums and intimidating rage attacks became the single most destructive component of Scientology's recent decline; Koresh's early sure-footedness slipped away as his semi-psychotic narcissism emerged; and the Bhagwan's widely reported lust for possessions was a major factor in his loss of standing with formerly faithful.
15. IRRESPONSIBILITY: they will repeatedly fail to honor commitments or obligations, in school, work, family or social situations. The fail to turn up, don't pay bills, fail to honor contracts etc.
While irresponsibility is rife among my ten examples, the manifestations are more on the order of pecuniary and other self-gratification obsessions, to the exclusion of any real concern for or about those at pyramid levels six to eight where the most -- and longest lasting -- damage tends to occur. All of the ten left wakes of (mostly upper level) followers who'd been "drowned in the propwash," but far more as the result of relentless and effective manipulation. Errors of considered and cynical commission were (and still are) more often the case in this regard than errors of thoughtless ommission.
16. FAILURE TO ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY FOR OWN ACTIONS: it seems like it's never their fault or their responsibility. They have little or no sense of duty or conscientiousness and often deny their responsibility. And in denying, they will even try and manipulate others.
Does any malignant narcissist take responsibility for his own actions? Corriere's original partner in the CFT cult walked away when he saw the saw the handwriting on the wall before the cult folded, but never owned up to the mis-application of his Ph.D.-level psychotherapy training. Corriere and Raniere won't talk about anything. Hubbard, Jones, the Bhagwan went to their graves without revelation or contrition. Erhard continues to rationalize his "occasional mistakes" on the way to "saving the world." (His doubletalk can be positively numbing at times, rather like Raniere's.) And Jeffs (in the clink at this time) and Moon (still out walking around... because the Moonies are so successful?) continue to do their thing. (In this and several other regards, Moon may be the paragon of self-discipline. But, after all, he is Korean, and -- if one subscribes to R. J. Lifton -- Korea is where all this stuff came from.)
17. MANY SHORT-TERM MARITAL RELATIONSHIPS: inability to maintain a long-term relationship because they are inconsistent and unreliable.
Save for Moon (married twice), Miscavige (whose estranged wife has reportedly been out of circulation at the Gold Base near Hemet, CA, for years), Jeffs (four acknowledged wives, some at the same time) and Erhard (twice), "short-term marriage" was not an issue that I know of for the others. Considering the availability of willing partners and the disdain for entrapment with partners who were not as "evolved" as themselves, why would they want to be married? (Koresh "married" every female he could, but not in any manner most "normies" would recognize as "marriage.")
18. JUVENILE DELINQUENCY: behavioral difficulties between the ages of 13-18. Typically behaviors that are crimes or are clearly manipulative, aggressive and callous.
See item 12 above. We just don't know enough documented facts to be able to say. The nuclear families of origin and even the aunts, uncles and cousins tend to zip their lips even if they're not in the game themselves. And those who have bailed and landed on their feet thus far (e.g.: Jenna Miscavige-Hill) haven't revealed much of the developmental histories of the gurus... or don't actually know much. We do know this, however: Jeffs and Miscavige grew up in the cults, with parents who were at least major players, if not (as in Jeffs's case) the gurus themselves. If any among them had some "suspect" nature in their backgrounds before engaging in their adult delinquencies, Corriere seems to be that one. (I'm all eyes and ears for what anyone else here knows about the earlier lives of any of these men. And if you can document your assertions, will add them to this article with citations.)
19. REVOCATION OF CONDITION RELEASE: they may have had their probation revoked for technical reasons such as failing to appear, carelessness and so on.
Ditto the above.
20. CRIMINAL VERSATILITY: unlike other criminals who may specialize in one area, they are often involved in diverse activities, taking great pride at getting away with crimes.
While all of the ten here either hotly denied ever being criminals or refused to comment, it's clear that most -- at least -- seem to have enjoyed "getting away with crimes" in their known careers. That Jones could order his minions to murder a US Congressman and several others before the Kool Aid party points to how far the righteous criminal will go to try to cover tracks he rationalizes as being for "the best of mankind."




References & Resources

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Deikman, A.: The Wrong Way Home: Uncovering the Patterns of Cult Behavior in American Society, Boston: Beacon Press, 1990.

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