User:Muckapedia/Bullshit (discourse)

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Bullshit is a kind of utterance wherein the sentence meaning is immaterial to the speaker, who is more interested in how the bullshit is received by an audience, and how that reception shapes the audience's opinion of the speaker.[citation needed] The speaker is more preoccupied with the fact of the communication (its existence) than with the facts of the communication (its informational content). Bullshit is often abbreviated to B.S, and is also known by a host of alternate names, among them Poppycock, Hokum, and Drivel.

What it is[edit]

truth bullshit lie
factual yes no no
disingenuous no yes yes
false no no yes

fig.1 Different standards of Validity

Bullshit is a type of falsehood that comes short of lying; it is somewhat false because of the speaker's disregard for the truth, but it does not qualify as a lie because of the speaker's equal disregard for mistruth. Whether the listener is deceived or not is irrelevant — the intent of the speaker is only to convey a certain opinion of himself or his ideas in the mind of the listener. Often bullshit is delivered in a manner that would seem to accord with Classical logic, although in reality logic is at cross-purposes with the needs of the bullshitter. At its most basic, any communicatory act that neither informs nor disinforms, to any valuable extent, is an act of bullshit.

for {{cite frankfurt}}. Explain the table above. Bullshit is not concerned with Soundness (truth/untruth), but does it care about validity?

Formal fallacy : invalid argument (also called a "logical fallacy") Informal fallacy : valid but unsound argument

Logical value: If bullshit isn't interested in what is logically true or logically false, can it be said that bullshit isn't interested in logic? (or, "is logic definably an interest in what is true or false?" What is a definition of logic as it relates to the perceived value of thrtuh and falseness?

"relevancies, however relevant, without data." bullshitting an essay. To present evidence of an understanding of form in the hope that the reader may be deceived into supposing a familiarity with content."{{cite perry}}

(motive of bullshit / why bullshit?) Talking to convey information versus talking for the sake of talking. An essay that is a response to the personal query "What can I say?" instead of "What is true?"

Vacuous truth

Note that bullshit may not necessarily be false --- the test for bullshit is not whether an arrived-at point is true or false, but how the point was arrived-at.{{SEGUÉ INTO SECTION ON "HOW BULLSHIT WORKS}}

How bullshit works[edit]

Inevitably at the crux of a bullshit argument is an assertion that is fundamentally unfalsifiable. This enables the speaker to coerce the listener into falling along with one of a number of logical fallacies.

(how it works / heuristics of bullshit) Bullshit is a mistruth that is unfalsifiable -- that is, it cannot be disproven by being held against objective standards of truth. The fact that bullshit plays with objective standards themselves is the hallmark of bullshit.

By relying on unverifiable assertions, and using weasel words to make what could be verifiable unverifiable, the bullshitter expounds something whose perceived merits rely upon the acceptance of a logical fallacy, typically one that values emotion over reason.

Argument from ignorance

The foundation of this entire life is the prop position that a fact is a fact. The necessary correlate of this proposition is that a fact is either right or wrong. This implies that the standard against which the rightness or wrongness of a fact may be judged exists-someplace - perhaps graven upon a tablet in a Platonic world outside and above this cave of tears. In grammar school it is evident that the tablets which enshrine the spelling of a word or the answer to an arithmetic problem are visible to my teacher who need only compare any offerings to it. In high school I observe that my English teachers disagree. This can only mean that the tablets in such matters as the goodness of a poem are distant and obscured by clouds. They surely exist. The pleasing of befuddled English teachers degenerates into assessing their prejudices, a game in which I have no protection against my competitors more glib of tongue. I respect only my science teachers, authorities who really know. Later I learn from them that "This is only what we think now." But eventually, surely . . . . . Into this epistemology of education, apparently shared by teachers in such terms as "credits," "semester hours" and "years of French" the student may invest his ideals, his drive, his competitiveness, his safety, his self-esteem, and even his love.

Excerpt on Chomsky and holocaust denial and contrast with Reductio ad Hitlerum.

Colorless green ideas sleep furiously, a sentence from linguistics that is grammatically valid but thoroughly nonsensical. Contrast with definition "data without relevancies" or "surface without content."

Bullshit as an activity commonly occurs in situations where truth and accuracy are far less important than the ability to achieve a suitable response in the audience.[citation needed] In many cases, such a response helps to gain popularity or favour (often needed in politics, religion or advertising).

For example, it is not at all uncommon to hear of people "bullshitting" a job interview, or attributing their performance in an examination to their ability to bullshit. In this sense, bullshitting walks the line between extemporaneous speaking and lying outright. It is also common for people to bullshit friends or acquaintances, by spinning an elaborate tall tale.

The object here is to make the bullshittees look foolish by dint of their gullibility in accepting the bullshit as fact. Bullshit does not necessarily have to be a complete fabrication; with only basic knowledge about a topic, bullshit is often used to make the audience believe that one knows far more about the topic by feigning total certainty or making probable predictions. It may also merely be "filler" or nonsense that, by virtue of its style or wording, gives the impression that it actually means something.

The "bullshitter" generally either knows the statements are false or has no interest in their factual accuracy one way or the other. "Talking bullshit" is thus a lesser form of lying, and is likely to elicit a correspondingly weaker emotional response: whereas an obvious liar may be greeted with derision, outrage, or anger, an exponent of bullshit tends to be dismissed with an indifferent sneer.

Anatomy of bullshit[edit]

The famous Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus editorial that publicly affirmed the existence of the mythical Santa Claus.

Political analyst Noam Chomsky has criticized the slogan, saying,

"[...] the point of public relations slogans like "Support Our Troops" is that they don't mean anything [...] that's the whole point of good propaganda. You want to create a slogan that nobody is going to be against and I suppose everybody will be for, because nobody knows what it means, because it doesn't mean anything. But its crucial value is that it diverts your attention from a question that does mean something, do you support our policy? And that's the one you're not allowed to talk about."

Good linkpage

The well-known editorial "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" is a time-honoured and much-loved exemplar of bullshit.

The original question, attributed to Virginia O'Hanlon of 115 West Ninety-fifth street, New York City in the United States was:

DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, 'If you see it in THE SUN it's so.' Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?

The only straight-forward answer that is also factual is "no." Santa Claus the jolly mythological human who delivers presents to all the good boys and girls on :Christmas Eve is a well-known myth.

VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measure by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.
Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.
You tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest man that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding. No Santa Claus! Thank GOD! He lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Continually saying the troops are brave is bullshit, for 3 reasons:

  • 1) It cannot be proven
  • 2) To question the factuality of the claim, or even to draw attention to its unverifiability, is itself heavily stigmatized and opens the speaker up to serious reprisals (peer pressure)
  • 3) factual accuracy isn't part of the claim --- the value (to the speaker, and thus the primary motivation for the creation of the claim by the speaker in the first place) the value of the claim lies more in how it affects what the listener thinks about the speaker for having made it, than for what the listener learns about the troops. Furthermore, we have heard countless times that the troops are brave, but failing to reiterate this point when criticsing the war is opening up oneself for an opportunity for attack.
  • 4) This creates the neccessary defense of a detractor first prefacing any criticism of the war with a nod to how brave the troops are.


...30 seconds.


The president just said the FBI had changed its culture. We just read on the front pages of America's papers that there are over 100,000 hours of tapes, unlistened to. On one of those tapes may be the enemy being right the next time.

And the test is not whether you're spending more money. The test is, are you doing everything possible to make America safe?

We didn't need that tax cut. America needed to be safe.


Of course we're doing everything we can to protect America. I wake up every day thinking about how best to protect America. That's my job.

I work with Director Mueller of the FBI; comes in my office when I'm in Washington every morning, talking about how to protect us. There's a lot of really good people working hard to do so.

It's hard work. But, again, I want to tell the American people, we're doing everything we can at home, but you better have a president who chases these terrorists down and bring them to justice before they hurt us again.

Transcribed from the first presidential debate, September 30, 2004.

Effects of bullshit[edit]

Erosion of common-sense belief in Logical value. If people accept the validity of all beliefs, they enter into Reductio ad absurdum.

These questions and their answers are not "more" knowledge. They are devastation. I do not need to elaborate upon the epistemology, or rather epistemologies, they imply. A fact has become at last "an observation or an operation performed in a frame of reference." A liberal education is founded in an awareness of frame of reference even in the most immediate and empirical examination of data. Its acquirement involves relinquishing hope of absolutes and of the protection they afford against doubt and the glib-tongued competitor. It demands an ever widening sophistication about systems of thought and observation. It leads, not away from, but through the arts of gamesmanship to a new trust.

  • Quotation about how "learning Zen starts with the trees being trees and the rivers being rivers; with a little Zen the trees are no longer trees and the rivers are not rivers; with the completion of an education in Zen the trees are once again trees and the rivers return to being rivers."

(move to effects of bullshit) Bullshit is the more aggregious, because its complete indifference to existence of the truth in the end does it more damage than any mere lie.{{cite frankfurt}}

who is to say I didn't believe what I claim to have believed? --- the imposed unknowability of base knowable things, that spreads like a virus making everything it touches relative and unknowable. The Closing of the American Mind.

Bloom criticizes the openness of cultural relativism, in which he claims:

"the point is not to correct the mistakes and really be right; rather it is not to think you are right at all."

This is similar to the right/wrong dichotomy that is evaded by bullshit. Bullshit in this sense may be the deliberate evasion of the right/wrong dichotomy.

Because it is relevancies without data {{Perry}} (data is avoided because it is intrinsicially subjected to right/wrong), (data is facts, and facts are right/wrong, so instead bullshit navigates all relevancies that do not meet the standard of data. Furthermore, when data is needed it is rendered into bullshit by weasel words that strip data of its informational content.) because it is relevancies without data, it does not meet the standard for lying.

Also, the Truman Show shows a world that is nice, but bullshit --- bullshit because all of the things that ought to be left to chance were being controlled to effect the purposes of a designer. The designer has motives that supercede the drives of the individuals and the happenchance of ordinary luck that exists in the real world.

When constructing an argument, an authentic utterance is one that does not falsify the true beliefs of the speaker.

When constructing a world, an authentic world is one that has not been constructed. Why? Because authenticity is real. What is real? Not fake. Meaning what? Not created by people. So an authentic world is one that has not been created? That's circular logic. Why is the world created in The Turman Show not authentic? You can't control all the variables because the more complex the system, the more ineffectual design is at managing it. The more variables a person takes responsibility for, the crappier the result.

Bloom, Perry, and Frankfurt.

Philip K. Dick said "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away." Satire book maintaing that Oregon is a construct, and if we stop believing in it it will go away. Something that is right/wrong is more accurately "Falsifiable" --- either it isn't true or it isn't isn't true.

Hypocrisy Information warfare

What it isn't[edit]

Bullshit is not crap, something that is worthless or transparently false. Bullshit is unfalsifiable, and side-skirts the dichotomy of true/false (Principle of bivalence) by professing disinterest in both.

Usually bullshit is exactly that because it is intrinsically un-falsifiable.

Sincerity, Irony, Sarcasm, Facetious attitudes that ridicule optimism, idealism, ideals beyond financial gain, greed, practical world. What good is a University education if it doesn't

History of bullshit[edit]

Coulter's publicist calling her a "brilliant satirist" who isn't responsible for her comments.

On Bullshit by prof. Frankfurt

Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom was basically a warning call that Cultural relativism was replacing knowledge with bullshit in the minds of contemporary university students.

Bullshit as rhetorical form was first identified by Professor Frankfurt blah blah blah. Philosophy of Bullshit. Link to Sophie's World section on the unwillingness of philosophers in ancient times to speak on subjects about which they knew nothing. "The answer is long and life is short," or "The only thing I know is that I know nothing."

It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction. A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it. When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.

link1 link2

Frankfurt connects this analysis of bullshit with Ludwig Wittgenstein's disdain of "non-sense" talk, and with the popular concept of a "bull session" in which speakers may try out unusual views without commitment. He fixes the blame for the prevalence of bullshit in modern society upon anti-realism and upon the growing frequency of situations in which people are expected to speak or have opinions without knowing what they're talking about.

Jonathan Swift's essay A Modest Proposal is a classical example of bullshit, in that the author is advocating a position he does not hold to be true. In this regard the bullshitted argument still holds respect for the truth, but is not lying because the speaker is known not to "really believe" the poisition he claims to believe. The methods by which the audience understands the author to "not really believe" that which he claims to believe, are various, but this willingness on the part of the audience to believe the author believes something separate from what the author claims to believe, AND the author's willingness to believe in something at all, both make the act a commission of IRONY rather than BULLSHIT.

SATIRE is Irony motivated to effect criticism and change minds.

IRONY is an utterance that assumes a double audience; a banal audience that hears but does not understand, and a second sophisticated audience that (if more is meant that simply meets the ear) is both aware of that higher meaning as well as the ignorance of the first audience.

BULLSHIT is an utterance that assumes a banal audience (in which the speaker is included), which is not aware of the speaker's intent nor the ignorance of the audience.

SATIRE splits the audience into two levels, BULLSHIT merges the speaker and audience into one. The speaker joins the audience because they both share the same innaccessibility to the truth of the speaker's claim, because truth is not at issue when BULLSHIT is at hand.

Bullshit applied[edit]


Plausible deniability

Plausible deniability is the term given to the creation of loose and informal chains of command in government. In the case that assassinations, false flag or black ops or any other illegal or otherwise disrespectable and unpopular activities become public, high-ranking officials may deny any connection to or awareness of such act, or the agents used to carry out such act.

In politics and espionage, deniability refers to the ability of a "powerful player" or actor to avoid "blowback" by secretly arranging for an action to be taken on their behalf by a third party - ostensibly unconnected with the major player.

More generally, "plausible deniability" can also apply to any act which leaves little or no evidence of wrongdoing or abuse. Examples of this are the use of electricity or pain-compliance holds as a means of torture or punishment, leaving little or no tangible signs that the abuse ever took place.


Demagogy (from Greek demos, "people", and agogos, "leading") refers to a political strategy for obtaining and gaining political power by appealing to the popular prejudices, fears, and expectations of the public — typically via impassioned rhetoric and propaganda, and often using nationalistic or populist themes.

The term is commonly used as a political pejorative: political opponents are described as "demagogues", while politicians approved of are "men of the people", or "statesmen".

Historical revisionism 

Historical revisionism is the attempt to change commonly held ideas about the past. In its legitimate form (see historical revisionism) it is the reexamination of historical facts, with an eye towards updating historical narratives with newly discovered, more accurate, or less biased information, acknowledging that history of an event, as it has been traditionally told, may not be entirely accurate.

Historical revisionism (also but less often in English "negationism"[1]), as used in this article, describes the process that attempts to rewrite history by minimizing, denying or simply ignoring essential facts. Perpetrators of such attempts to distort the historical record often use the term because it allows them to cloak their illegitimate activities with a phrase which has a legitimate meaning.

In some countries historical revisionism (negationism) of certain historical events is a criminal offence. Examples of historical revisionism (negationism) include Holocaust denial and Soviet history. Negationism relies on a number of techniques such as logical fallacies and appeal to fear. Negationism can be found in literature, for example Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell and is used by hate groups on the Internet.


Genetically-modified foods Human cloning Transhumanism


Intellectual dishonesty 

Intellectual dishonesty is the advocacy of a position known to be false. Rhetoric is misused to advance an agenda or to reinforce one's deeply held beliefs in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence.

The terms intellectually dishonest and intellectual dishonesty are often used as rhetorical devices in a debate; the label invariably frames an opponent in a negative light. It is an obfuscatory way to say "you're lying".




Persuasion is a form of influence. It is the process of guiding people toward the adoption of an idea, attitude, or action by rational and symbolic (though not only logical) means. It is a problem-solving strategy, and relies on "appeals" rather than force.

Dissuasion is the process of convincing someone not to believe or act on something.

Persuasion is often confused with manipulation, which is the act of guiding another towards something that is not in their best interest by subverting their thought processes. Persuasion is meant to benefit one or more parties in the end.

Aristotle says that "Rhetoric is the art of discovering, in a particular case, the available means of persuasion."


Propaganda is a specific type of message presentation directly aimed at influencing the opinions or behavior of people, rather than impartially providing information. An appeal to one's emotions is, perhaps, the more obvious propaganda method, but there are varied other more subtle and insidious forms. On the other hand, a most common characteristic of propaganda is volume (in the sense of a large amount). Individually propaganda functions as self-deception. Culturally it works within religions, politics, and economic entities like those which both favor and oppose globalization. Commercially it works within the (mass) market in the free market societies.


Newspeak is a fictional language in George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. In the novel, it is stated as being "the only language in the world whose vocabulary gets smaller every year." Orwell included an essay about it in the form of an Appendix (in the past tense)[1], in which the basic principles of the language are explained. Newspeak is closely based on English but has a greatly reduced and simplified vocabulary and grammar. This suited the totalitarian regime of the Party, whose aim was to make any alternative thinking ("thoughtcrime") or speech impossible by removing any words or possible constructs which describe the ideas of freedom, rebellion and so on.


  • Bullshit is the result of over-extended / over-reaching / too-much design
  • Design is creation steered by intention, and is by varying degrees an element in all creative acts. Design is creativity with motives. (A distinct kind of motive?)


Walter Duranty, journalist liar rewarded with Pulitzer Prize.

Entertainment Journalism, Talk shows, Press release Journalism, CNN vs. BBC (ie: 'Infotainment'), Nancy Grace, No Spin Zone, Investigative journalism, Soft Interviews, Ben Affleck telling people to vote, stretch for time



Invisible Pink Unicorn is a bullshit religion intended to indicate the bullshit of all religion, as is the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and (less-satirically)) Russell's teapot.

The Marxian view that "religion is the opiate of the masses."

  1. Bullshit is design
  2. God is design
  3. Therefore, God is bullshit

Bullshit in fiction[edit]

  • 1984 by George Orwell: A world where authentic discourse is made impossible by an authoritatively-imposed language of bullshit.
  • The Truman Show: A world that contains everything one might find in the authentic world, save for authenticity.

See Also[edit]

Notes & References[edit]

  • Penny, Laura (2005). Your Call Is Important To Us: The Truth About Bullshit. Random House. ISBN 1-4000-8103-3.  — Halifax academic Laura Penny's study of the phenomenon of bullshit and its impact on modern society.
  • Frankfurt, Harry G. (2005). On Bullshit. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-12294-6.  — Harry Frankfurt's detailed analysis of the concept of bullshit.
  • Perry, William G. (1967). Examsmanship and the Liberal Arts. Originally published in Harvard College: A Collection of Essays by Members of the Harvard Faculty.
  1. ^ Unknown. (200x). Title. Publication. URL accessed 2006/10/30.
External links 

I'm not sure Yet...

Chomsky differentiates between competence and performance, much like there is gap between sentence meaning and speaker intent.

Allan Bloom "The Closing of the American Mind" discusses how cultural relativism and moral relativism make all options equally valid regardless of their intrinsic merit (intrinsic merit of course cannot exist if one accepts absolute relativism) --- beliefs and knowledge are neccessarily considered alongside the worldview in which they were developed, and are not "judged" by any outside standards. Bloom argues that this mentality leads to an inevitable closing of the mind, where the thinker refuses to think critically about things and accepts it all as equally valid. This all-prevading "acceptance" is a form of mental self-immolation.

I believe Bloom on this point --- while I strongly believe in the value of a multicultural society, and I think that all cultures are impermanent and should be allowed to bleed into one another, and that a "host" culture should not be unchanged by the subcultures it contains, --- but I also believe that there should be walls between people and groups. Walls should not be torn down, but regularly scaled by people of different groups. That means, instead of making spanish literature more accessible to English speakers by translating said literature into English, instead the english learners should learn spanish. Instead of placing the onus on the target culture to be more accessible, instead the onus should be placed on the investigating culture to be more far-reaching in its explorations. Translation is death and ignorance, multilingualism is cross cultural and enlightening.

Walls are necessary because:

  1. Culture is important
  2. multiculturalism is better than mono-culture
  3. The world is growing towards one mono-culture
  4. walls between cultures protects cultures from melting away

I believe that first-hand experience cannot be trusted because it is inseperably linked to emotion, which confounds logic. First-hand experience is good for informing the mind of specifics, but generalities that encompass more than the subjective experience of the thinker require stepping back, in order to view the whole picture, and in so doing the subjective of one person (most challengingly the thinker himself) must be de-emphasised in favour of broad-based knowledge, consensus (sometimes) and dispassionate extrapolations.

I also believe that nothing is constant, because the world is constantly evolving. Unlike Plato and Socrates, I believe that the idea of a horse cannot be immortal and unchanging because less than a billion years ago there was no such thing.

"concerned with impressing his...."

Scott Cutlip, Allen Center and Glen Broom describe the public relations process in four steps (1994). The first step is "Defining Public Relations Problems," usually in terms of a "situational analysis," or what public relations professionals call a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats). According to Cutlip, Center and Broom, this should answer the question, "What's happening now?" The next step in the public relations process is "Planning and Programming," where the main focus is "strategy," Cutlip, Center and Broom argue that this step should answer the question "What should we do and say, and why?" The third step in the public relations process is "Taking action and Communicating," also known as "Implementation;" this step should answer the question "How and when do we do and say it?" The final step in Cutlip, Center and Broom's Four-Step Public Relations Process is "Evaluating The Program," making a final "assessment," which should answer the question "How did we do," this is where public relations professionals make a final analysis of the success of their campaign or communication.

Is there a connection between scientific principle: "something is false unless it is proven to be true" (as opposed to "something is true unless it is proven to be false"), and the codified laws of a nation where what is illegal is described, rather than what is legal? OR from the flipside, the difference between a mathematical system where there are numbers that can produce an infinite number of equations and sums, or a grammatical system where a grammar and words can create an infinite number of results? Is grammar finite? Is the elxicon finite?

It is just as likely to always flip a coin and for it to be tails, as it is to always flip a coin and for it to be always heads. Yet both are statisically prohibitive, even though they are equally likely logically.

Further reading

  1. ^ Unknown. (200x). Title. Publication. URL accessed 2006/10/30.