Torturing children, the Constitution, and a teacher’s duty to protect children


This is the device Ohio teacher John Freshwater was using to shock students and brand them with crosses: A BD-10A high-frequency generator tester for leak detection, from Electro-Technic Products, Inc.:

   BD10ASV  OUTPUT: 10,000-50,000 volts at frequency of approx. 1/2 megahertz. Power 230 V, with a momentary ON/OFF switch

BD-10A high frequency generator tester leak detector, from Electro-Technic Products.  “BD10ASV OUTPUT: 10,000-50,000 volts at frequency of approx. 1/2 megahertz. Power 230 V, with a momentary ON/OFF switch”

As described at the company’s website:

  • Model BD-10A is the standard tester
  • Model BD-10AS features a momentary ON/OFF switch
  • OUTPUT: 10,000-50,000 volts at frequency of approx. 1/2 megahertz

The company also offers a line of instruments for teaching science — notably absent from that part of the catalog is this shocking device (literally).

Generally, this tester should not produce serious injury, even when misapplied. Standard middle school lab safety rules would suggest that it should never be used to “test” a human for leaks. Such voltages are designed to produce sparks. Sparks do not always behave as one expects, or hopes. High voltages may make cool looking sparks, but the effects of high voltage jolts differ from person to person. It may be harmful.

“We have instructions to warn people that it’s not a toy,” said Cuzelis, who owns Electro-Technic Products in Chicago. “If this device is directed for seconds (on the skin), that’s a clear misuse of the product.”

Cuzelis said he is not aware of anyone seriously hurt with the device and said that his company has never been sued for injuries.

What sort of lab safety rules did Freshwater have for other experiments?

If you discovered your child’s science teacher had this device, designed to produce high-voltage sparks to highlight holes in rubber and plastic liners of tanks, would you be concerned? If you know what should go on in a science class, you’d know there is probably little use for such a device in a classroom. It’s been described as a Tesla coil.

Tesla coils of extremely small voltages can be safe. They should be safe. But one occasionally finds a safety warning, such as this generalized note at Wikipedia:

Even lower power vacuum tube or solid state Tesla Coils can deliver RF currents that are capable of causing temporary internal tissue, nerve, or joint damage through Joule heating. In addition, an RF arc can carbonize flesh, causing a painful and dangerous bone-deep RF burn that may take months to heal. Because of these risks, knowledgeable experimenters avoid contact with streamers from all but the smallest systems. Professionals usually use other means of protection such as a Faraday cage or a chain mail suit to prevent dangerous currents from entering their body.

Freshwater was using a solid state Tesla coil, if I understand the news articles correctly. Knowing that these sparks can cause deep tissue and bone damage in extreme cases, I suspect that I would not allow students to experience shocks as a normal course of a science classroom, especially from an industrial device not designed with multiple safety escapes built in.

Freshwater had been zapping students for years.

Here is a classic photo of what a Tesla coil does, a much larger coil than that used by John Freshwater, and a photo not from any classroom; from Mega Volt:

Tesla coil in action, from Mike Tedesco

Tesla coil in action, from Mike Tedesco

There is nothing in the Ohio science standards to suggest regular use of a Tesla coil in contact with students performs any educational function.

I offer this background to suggest that the normal classroom procedures designed to ensure the safety of students were not well enforced in Freshwater’s classrooms, nor was there adequate attention paid to the material that should have been taught in the class.

The teacher, John Freshwater, has been dismissed by his local school board. Freshwater supporters argue that this is a case of religious discrimination, because Freshwater kept a Bible on his desk.

Among the complaints are that he burned crosses onto the arms of students with the high-voltage leak detector shown above. This gives an entirely new and ironic meaning to the phrase “cross to bear.”

Cafe Philos wrote the most succinct summary of the case I have found, “The Firing of John Freshwater.” Discussion at that site has been robust. Paul Sunstone included photos of one of the students’ arms showing injuries from the schocks. He also included links to news stories that will bring you up to date.

Amazingly, this misuse of an electrical device may not be the most controversial point. While you and I may think this physical abuse goes beyond the pale, Freshwater has defenders who claim he was just trying to instill Biblical morality in the kids, as if that would excuse any of these actions. Over at Cafe Philos, I’ve been trying to explain just why it is that Freshwater does not have a First Amendment right to teach religion in his science class. There is another commenter with the handle “Atheist” who acts for all the world like a sock puppet for anti-First Amendment forces, i.e., not exactly defending a rational atheist position.

Below the fold I reproduce one of my answers to questions Atheist posed. More resources at the end.

Atheist’s questions are noted in italics.

Ed Darrell, you’re being dis-honest. The issue is religion in the schools, and you know quite well that is NOT in the Constitution.

See my previous post about what is in the Constitution — separation of church and state is woven throughout. Check my few references to Constitution to see that I’m right.

Our Constitution is a set of delegated powers, and it established a government that is limited to only those powers the people delegate to it. Nowhere in the Constitution is there a delegation of religious authority in any fashion to any government.

Incidentally, this view was so powerful that it was carried over to the state constitutions. Each state constitution creates exactly the same separation of church and state in each state. Madison, the Father of the Constitution, had spent a year in Virginia getting Jefferson’s Statute for Religious Freedom passed into law, to enact the Virginia Bill of Rights section on freedom of religion. Madison knew the issue inside and out. If you’re curious about his views, see especially the Memorial and Remonstrance (try the Avalon collection at Yale’s website if you can’t find it anywhere else); and look at Madison’s comments in the Federalist Papers. Freshwater’s violation of the religious rights of the children has absolutely no foundation in law.

Don’t take my word for it; go here and read the letter sent to the lawyers of every school district in America about the protection of religious rights in the schools:
http://www.ed.gov/Speeches/08-1995/religion.html [now here, in the 5th Circuit’s archives:  http://www.lb5.uscourts.gov/ArchivedURLs/Files/09-40373%281%29.pdf ]

That letter was first sent out during the Clinton administration; the Bush folk have endorsed it. It’s very solid law.

It was put there circa 1962 by a Supreme Court given to expansive interpretation of the Constitution.

The 1962 rulings rely on precedents dating back to the Magna Carta at least. It is four square on all points as Madison, Jefferson, Washington and others intended them to be. And, you’ve dropped one of the dates most religion-down-the-throats-of-kids advocates use — the usual first reference to the Danbury Baptist proclamation was 1947, not 1962. You’re confusing the religion law cases.

I’m not dis-satsified to see religion out of the schools, but I disagree with the idea that this Freshwater is some sort of monster. He’s not.

You misunderstand the law. The law does not require that religion be left out. The law requires that state agents may not dictate religion to children. Here is my shorthand version, Darrell’s Corollary of the First Amendment: The state — which means administrators and teachers — cannot tell a kid whether to pray, when to pray, where to pray, how to pray, what to pray about, nor to what or to whom to pray.

When Freshwater teaches religious dogma — which is what creationism has been determined to be (after creationists swore under oath that it is), that teacher violates several of those “cannots.”

If you want to get religion out of the schools, tough luck. We in education are bound to protect the rights of children to hold beliefs and practice them. It’s in the Constitution. We cannot shirk that duty, as Freshwater did.

The law does not ban religion in schools. Students’ expressions of religion are specifically and carefully protected. Mr. Freshwater showed no regard for his students’ religious rights under the law.

As an atheist, you’re woefully under-informed and ill-informed about this topic. Check with the American Humanists, or the Unitarians, or the Freedom From Religion Foundation, or maybe better, the American Civil Liberties Union. ACLU defends the religious rights of all people — their defenses of the rights of Christians to preach on streetcorners and pass out tracts to families in houses is legendary. Or check the First Amendment Foundation, or any con law book.

Excuse me, but there are millions of religious in the USA. Secularists who won’t compromise are setting up as much civil strife as religious who won’t compromise.

No one has the right to impose religion on children in the public schools. No one. This is a protection for those of us who are religious much more than for non-religious. This Freshwater guy is teaching a form of religion that my Christian sect finds noxious. He’s not defending religion against irreligion — he’s trampling the rights of the children. He has no right to do that.

Finally, you know as well as I do it’s pretty ambiguous whether or not he can have a Bible.

This isn’t ambiguous at all (see the Secretary’s statement, above). He has a right to carry a Bible with him to read on his own time. He has a duty to be certain that he does not impose his beliefs on students, either informally, or formally, such as through the material he teaches.

His teachings do not measure up to Ohio standards on science. So they are suspect from the start in that regard. His teachings also violate Ohio law and federal law that protects the religious rights of the kids.

This is a form of child abuse, even without the torture device.

He has a right to carry a Bible. He has no right to preach from it. His using the Bible as a text would be protected if he had not been using his Bible to violate the rights of the children. He may not do that.

Come on now. This guy is being hounded because many people hate religion. That’s plain wrong and bigoted.

This man abused the religious rights of students that the law charged him with a duty to protect. That is one of the most egregious violations of duty possible. The hounds are on him because he’s a refugee from the law. The hounds are on him justly. As a Christian, I abhor his disregard for the Constitution, his disregard of his oath to the State of Ohio and its constitution, and his disregard for the teachings of Jesus to do well by children especially. What he has done is grievous sin, religiously. The state is not hounding him about that. He’ll have to explain it to a much higher court.

But make no mistake about it, his disregard for the law is not a religious right.

I reject religion but don’t hate it. Tolerate the religious. Compromise with them – especially in a matter like this which is so much easier to finesse than, say, abortion.

Appeasement with evil is not justice. This is not a case for compromise. The man has abused children and the law for years, according to the record that I think will be difficult to contest.

If I had found a teacher doing this to my children, I would have sued him personally. The courts of Texas would strip any immunity he might have as a government employee, and I’d personally go after his assets for the damage done. And I’d move fast, because if someone like me were in the county prosecutor’s office, he’d be facing criminal assault charges, too, for all those cases where the statute of limitations had not run.

I’m a conservative, fair guy, and I bear the man no animus.

More resources:

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16 Responses to Torturing children, the Constitution, and a teacher’s duty to protect children

  1. Nick K says:

    And just in case Jennifer comes back to this blog…she should know that evolution is not a religious belief. Evolution is a theory in science. Unless she is willing to call the theory of gravity a religious belief…she shouldn’t be silly enough to pretend that evolution is.

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  2. [...] Earlier explanation of the case at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub:  “Torturing children, the Constitution, and a teacher&#8… [...]

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  3. Nick Kelsier says:

    Curious isn’t it that Jennifer doesn’t say whether or not the teacher was branding kids. Would you care to elaborate on that one, Jenniffer?

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  4. Jennifer Needles says:

    I was personally a student of Freshwater’s back in the eight grade. I am 22 years old now, and that means I was around 12-13 years old. There was never any harm done while I was attending the middle school or when I was in his class, and a lot of what he taught then he is teaching now. Personally I do not ever recall him reading out of the bible, or seeing biblical posters/pictures/or anything of the sort. I do also not recall him ever stating that particular scientific findings as true or not true. Personally I would also like to state that numerous times I have seen pictures/posters/ articles and heard teachings of all kinds of religions that range from Buddhism, Jewish, Muslim, Islam, Evolution, and things like that. So what is the big deal? Would there be a problem if he posted pictures depicting all of these other types of religions? No probably not. Mr. Freshwater is a wonderful man, a wonderful teacher, and he would never have the intent of harming one child for the sake of an experiment. Mr. Freshwater is a man of good character, and it is sad to see that there are so many thieves ready and waiting to rob him of it.

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  5. Leanne says:

    This argument by this Atheist guy (who I haven’t seen stating anywhere who he is, why he knows SO MUCH detail about these things, and seems to care so much about this issue) that it is ok to zap people with this device is just boggling. I am just an internet reader. I was googling something and came upon this dismissal case. I illustrate books, and have a little kid too young to go to school, but who is in daycare.

    As a parent, as someone who used to be a babysitter, as an older sister when I was a kid, hello? Sure people, esp kids, experiment with stuff. They see if their hair will burn and watch it curl and find out it stinks. They’ll try cigarettes. And play with candles. They’ll see if it hurts to touch something. But the role of an adult, or older kid in charge, is to make sure that they DON’T do these things. To warn of dangers. To show on an ORANGE not an arm, that the scalpel cuts. To show on a piece of wool, not on someone’s head, what flame does to hair.

    “sueing tattoo shop for doing tattoos” “sueing for football injuries”. Hello? I don’t send my middle school kid into science class to play football or get a tattoo! How many parents allow their middle school students to get tattoos? BTW, what was done to these kids, yes, IS very COOL, it is called Body Modification, and in this particular situation branding or scarring. Look on the internet. What next? Go to science class and see what a temporary piercing feels like? Or maybe football coaches who break minor bones so kids can get cool casts for their friends to write on.

    This wasn’t a “touch it and zap! oooh! it tingles!”, it was using sustained and careful control of an instrument to BURN SKIN to cause markings that lasted, not a minute, not an hour, not a day, but weeks. To draw a shape on a child using a hot instrument. It wouldn’t matter if it were made for that (it wasn’t), sterilized, and done in clinical conditions in the classroom. It wouldn’t matter if the kids PAID him their pocket money to do it. Teachers aren’t allowed to burn shapes onto kids. Not with a fork or cigarette lighter, or a tesla coil, or a hotplate or a funky lettering tool to burn your name into leather. Period.

    Causing a burn by accident should have been reported and treated by the school nurse. Actually allowing kids to line up year after year to get ANYTHING (a flower, cute bunny, cross, “bob was here”) burnt into their body is cause for dismissal, and the school should be sued as well.

    It doesn’t matter if the device would kill someone or not, or is a “dangerous device”. That is beside the point as a discussion. If you use a pillow to lay a sick kid’s head on in school, that is ok. If you use the pillow to let a kid experience fainting by voluntarily asphyxiating him, that is not ok.

    And hey, they consented. What next? Hey, in my university biology class, the prof taught the whole process of digestion, elimination, etc using beer as an example. I guess he shouldn’t have just talked to us about it, or assumed we knew what it felt like (effect of beer on kidneys, cognitive processes etc)… he should have brought cases of beer into the classroom and had us all EXPERIENCE IT. I have no doubt that a lot of kids would have LOVED to try, and loved the teacher. And I have no doubt that it is wrong.

    At this point, I don’t care if someone has a bible, is an atheist or whatnot. He isn’t fit to babysit let alone “teach” kids.

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  6. [...] Archive Zola is in a hospital in FloridaScripture Study–A NOM paradigm at The Cultural HallTorturing children, the Constitution, and a teacher’s duty to protect children Millard Fillm… Tags bible study the bible study bible bible school bible teach This product is also listed in [...]

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  7. [...] at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub Ed Darrell’s got some interesting updates, including picutres and technical specifications for the device Freshwater used to brand the kid. Liberals will object, but you know what they say: spare the High Frequency Generator Detector, [...]

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  8. Fox1 says:

    BULLSHIT. MY MATE HAS AN ELECTRICAL ENGINEERING DEGREE FROM MIT AND LAUGHS AT YOU.

    I dunno whether this or his professed atheism is more credible. Also, I wonder why he types like a brit/aussie/whatever with a stuck caps-lock key, about half the time.

    aTheist, I notice that, on Paul’s blog, someone asked you if you’re willing to deny the holy spirit. I think that’s jumping to combative acid tests rather abruptly. I’d settle for something simple like: state a 1 to 2 sentence summary of your basic position on this issue, then stick to it for 2 or 3 posts in a row.

    You can’t seem to decide if your objection to this is on tactical grounds (it’s bad for atheists), bad for moral reasons (we’re all a bigoted mob), on shaky legal ground (prayer in school is A-OK), if he should be fired, but with the right paperwork, if he should not be fired, because slight injuries to students contrary to a piece of equipment’s usage directions are fine as long as your MIT friend says there’ll be no lasting harm….. I dunno, pick one.

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  9. Ed Darrell says:

    It’s useless to discuss if you expect me to compromise on safety for students.

    Look, the photos clearly show burns. If the device is safe (and I have no reason to believe it cannot be used safely), the device was used incorrectly. Either way, the teacher is at fault.

    The company says that the device should never be used in contact with skin. Under Boy Scout rules, under the rules of the Dallas Independent School District, under the rules of most districts I know, under the general rules of dealing with children and staying out of tort liability, the guy needs a signed release from parents before zapping kids.

    Is it trumped up? 2nd degree burns say no. If anything, we’re going easy on the guy since he’s not in jail on assault charges.

    Your mate may laugh. If your mate approaches my kid with a zapper and zaps him, your mate is going to spend time in jail and make a large payout from your home liability insurance.

    I don’t care how much you hate kids: If you injure them, you pay. Teachers are licensed to make sure this sort of thing does not happen. This teacher had a duty to make sure such things do not happen. I don’t care if the device CAN be used safely, it was NOT used safely, and the company that manufactures it will not vouch for such usage.

    From what the investigation shows, this is a pattern and practice of abuse this teacher shows.

    There is no rational court in the land that would not support a decision to fire. The difficulty for the district is in explaining why they’ve delayed so long.

    You don’t deal with children, do you. That may be fortunate.

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  10. Atheist says:

    Darrell, it’s useless to discuss anything with you because you do not assimilate new information.

    THERE ARE NO SAFETY ISSUES WITH THE DEVICE IN QUESTION. I brush my teeth with one.

    The entire matter is trumped-up because the teacher became a pain in the neck. That’s all there is to it.

    “this procedure of branding kids with electrical shocks could cause serious injury or death to these kids”

    BULLSHIT. MY MATE HAS AN ELECTRICAL ENGINEERING DEGREE FROM MIT AND LAUGHS AT YOU. If you don’t believe me, see the further comments of the professor I posted: “I expect it would get your attention [if placed on your skin], that you would feel the tingle, but I don’t believe that this is a dangerous device.”

    Frankly, I think the type of unthinking, hate-inspired mob mentality shown here is far more dangerous than this one Christian zealot. I’d rather have him for a neighbor, than you.

    Oh, please, please Darrell, go to Ohio to defend the school board. They may get him on insubordination, but on the bullshit marking business, you’ll get your arse handed to you.

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  11. Ed Darrell says:

    I wouldn’t worry about life-threatening injuries, either. But I am concerned about the complete lack of regard for safety in this classroom, and that alone makes a strong case against this guy.

    Look, I am involved regularly in taking kids of this age rapelling, white-water rafting, into situations where they make large fires, shoot rifles and shotguns, swim in dark and deep waters, and use all manner of devices that can injure and maim — axes, knives, guns, electricity, and Tesla coils. There are certain procedures that should be followed to insure and assure safety of the students. This fellow follows none of them.

    Perhaps foremost, in this case would be a release from the parents. It seems obvious to me that this fellow doesn’t want the parents to know what he’s doing, but I’d pose that as a rebuttable presumption. He clearly did not seek a release from the parents of the kids who are suing.

    Another key point is that injuries speak for themselves — they show that something has gone wrong. The burns in the photos shouldn’t be there at all. They may be first degree, but they look second degree to me. From the descriptions of the pain, and the time to heal, with my 30 years experience in emergency medical care I’d say they were second degree burns. Freshwater should have reported them. He didn’t.

    So, we’ve established that he operates recklessly, and outside the bounds of regular and required regard for the safety of the students. The mere existence of the burns is cause for his dismissal.

    Now, what is there in his case that would mitigate that cause? He’s insubordinate, he’s thoughtless with regard to religious diversity in his classrooms, he seems to be a counterproductive educator, making educational hash of the material the kids need so that teachers the next year must spend valuable time doing remedial work. Does any of that sound like it argues for mitigation?

    Oh, and he’s over the line with regard to First Amendment issues, among the most sensitive in all of education.

    I wouldn’t worry about life-threatening injuries except that this clown has no back up plans if something goes wrong, he’s made no effort to determine whether any student might be sensitive to such devices (I have kids with pacemakers, others with epilepsy that could well be triggered by such shocks, and others whose compromised immune systems require that even minor injuries be avoided; this procedure of branding kids with electrical shocks could cause serious injury or death to these kids). So, given the recklessness with which this teacher conducts his classes, I don’t see a lot of reason to cut him any slack for any reason.

    These are the misdeeds we know. He’s refused to stop. Get him away from children.

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  12. Atheist says:

    I think we are dealing here with two superstitions – the first, creationism – the second, unreasoning, hysterical fear and superstition about electricity.

    Student science projects using Tesla coils are abundant.

    One student project: http://www.primeline-america.com/science/

    Basic science: Voltage istelf isn’t dangerous. Power/amperage is dangerous. The device Freshwater used could not generate sufficient amperage (current) to do much harm. The marking is about the max it could do.

    Here, a professor confirms this:

    http://www.mountvernonnews.com/local/08/04/29/tesla_coils.html

    “Klopcic said there were no experiments he knew of that would require a teacher to touch a student with a Tesla coil during an experiment, but said he did not feel the device would cause harm if it were done.”

    ““I would not be worried about life-threatening [injuries], as the current is very, very low,” he said. “The voltage is high but the current is very low. You can see from the device that there are no huge red warnings, no threats, no nothing. I expect it would get your attention [if placed on your skin], that you would feel the tingle, but I don’t believe that this is a dangerous device.””

    ““I think it’s appropriate,” Klopcic said of using the Tesla coil in an educational environment.”

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  13. Atheist says:

    I think we are dealing here with two superstitions – the first, creationism – the second, unreasoning, hysterical fear and superstition about electricity.

    Student science projects using Tesla coils are abundant.

    One student project: http://www.primeline-america.com/science/

    Basic science: Voltage istelf isn’t dangerous. Power/amperage is dangerous. The device Frenshwater used could not generate sufficient amperage (current) to do much harm. The marking is about the max it could do.

    Here, a professor confirms this:

    http://www.mountvernonnews.com/local/08/04/29/tesla_coils.html

    “Klopcic said there were no experiments he knew of that would require a teacher to touch a student with a Tesla coil during an experiment, but said he did not feel the device would cause harm if it were done.”

    ““I would not be worried about life-threatening [injuries], as the current is very, very low,” he said. “The voltage is high but the current is very low. You can see from the device that there are no huge red warnings, no threats, no nothing. I expect it would get your attention [if placed on your skin], that you would feel the tingle, but I don’t believe that this is a dangerous device.””

    ““I think it’s appropriate,” Klopcic said of using the Tesla coil in an educational environment.”

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  14. Atheist says:

    By the way, do your egos really need the cross-adulation of patting each other on the back?

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  15. Atheist says:

    Most of this post is b.s.

    1. I’ve touched a Tesla coil, far more powerful than the teacher used. BFD. The device he was using was so limited that we have “Generally, this tester should not produce serious injury, even when misapplied.”

    2. Such experimentation was commonplace until recent times. Descriptions of people remembering this from their child-hood abound on the net. Standards of caution have changed, but that makes Freshwater behind the times, not guilty of toture.

    4. The real reason for all this hullabaloo is that some secular people HATE religious people. That’s a lousy basis for policy, for hiring, or for law.

    5. The parents’ civil suit won;t go far because they cannot show much imjury; the marking healed in 2-4 weeks.

    6. If the school district wants to fir him because he’s a religious nutter, then it should say so. But neither the marking incident nor religious nuttery are mch grounds. They’d have to show insubordination, and they haven’t done that yet because they foolishly kept almost everything verbal, according to their own HR report.
    3. The proof of the pudding is that there has not been one word from DA of criminal charges.

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  16. [...] Ed Darrell over at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub has put up an outstanding post that begins with a thorough discussion of the scientific instrument used to burn the students here. [...]

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