Cross-examining Zeitoun, continued

Picking up where we left off from yesterday’s post, we find Jayman making some assumptions about the nature of the “apparitions”:

Fascinating, isn’t it? A projected (hoaxed) image would need something like smoke or clouds to project onto, and that’s just what we have at Zeitoun!

If an image were projected into smoke wouldn’t it obviously be a fake if one were to move to a different angle? What did they use when no smoke was present?

Any decent light show can do as much, and we’ve had non-electrical light sources for a lot longer than we’ve had electricity (ever hear of limelight, or flares?).

Care to provide an example of a light show that is convincing from multiple angles? It would also be helpful if it worked from more than 15 miles away. I tried searching for some light shows but all the images and videos were not what we need for this kind of hoax.

Jayman is assuming that the image in and of itself was convincing, and that any projector would have to be at least 15 miles away, neither of which is necessarily true. I know from personal experience that it’s possible to be convinced by what you think you are seeing, even when it does not correspond to what you’re actually looking at. People were convinced, but that is no guarantee, in and of itself, that their conviction was the result of an unimpeachable phenomenon. We need to look at whatever evidence we can obtain, to verify (or disconfirm) their conclusions.

On what basis can you call the parish superstitious and credulous? They apparently allowed numerous investigations into the matter and are in a much better position than you to know what happened. Also, I would think their Muslim neighbors (the majority of Egyptians) would have liked nothing more than to show this to be a hoax. It’s very un-Islamic for Mary to be bowing before a cross. All they had to do was put something between the projector and the smoke and the hoax would be found. Yet they could find nothing in a 15 mile radius.

The reason I called them superstitious is because they saw the projected image of an obvious icon, they smelled the smoke of the incense, and they jumped to the conclusion that this could only be the result of some kind of supernatural intervention. The longer I study this case, though, the less convinced I am that they even saw the projected icon. But we’ll get to that below. The fact that they allowed “investigations” is neither here nor there, since a good hoaxter will be only too glad to obtain the stamp of approval of some recognized authority, provided they feel they can get away with it.

Jayman raises the interesting issue of the Muslim attitude towards all this, which is not quite as simple as he might suggest. Muslims believe that Jesus was a genuine prophet of Allah, second only to Mohammed himself, and in fact Mohammed rather piggybacks on Jesus’ reputation, so discrediting Jesus would also discredit Mohammed, who accepted Jesus as valid. It’s true, however, that Muslims would object to seeing a “divine apparition” venerating a cross in what they would consider an idolatrous manner. In fact, they’re rather zealous about this sort of thing.

We would expect, therefore, that devout Muslims would not sanction these apparitions as genuine, even if they did see them with their own eyes. Yet the story from Zeitoun claims that Muslims did confirm these visions as genuine. And that brings us to a consideration of the two types of evidence from Zeitoun.

Jayman’s original reason for mentioning Zeitoun was to provide an example of how skeptics respond when confronted with photographic evidence. Most of the evidence from Zeitoun, however, is not photographic. It’s stories, word-of-mouth, hearsay. It’s what people say they believe they saw, or what they say they heard someone say that they believe they saw. And these stories don’t always add up, or prove to be consistent with the evidence.

The alleged reaction of Muslims is a case in point. The stories claim that Muslims witnessed the same things as the Christians, and were convinced that these “apparitions” were real. If that were the case, however, the Muslim reaction would have been different. Jayman’s point in mentioning Zeitoun was to try and prove that unbelievers will refuse to believe the evidence of their own eyes even when it’s right in front of them. If so, we ought to see Muslims denying the apparitions, due to the conflict with their deeply-held religious beliefs. They ought to have been even more skeptical than I’ve been. Yet the story claims they weren’t. Inconsistency.

One explanation for their non-antagonistic response would be if they didn’t actually see any veneration going on. If the actual phenomenon was merely amorphous blobs of light, which allowed people to “see”  the visions they expected to find there (like I saw the different handwriting styles at the seance), then the Muslims would not see anything idolatrous. Their preconceived ideas about Mary (whom they revere as a Muslim saint as well) would lead them to perceive her as behaving in an orthodox Muslim fashion. The lack of definite detail would give each viewer the freedom to perceive whatever behavior he or she found most appropriate in a “divine apparition.”

There is other evidence, too, that the stories are inconsistent with the actual facts of the case. For example, Jayman responds to another commenter with the following:

The church was floodlit, which would not be conducive for projecting an image.

Here is a picture, taken slightly above rooftop level, showing an image of the “apparition”.

Notice, there are no floodlights on the roof, nor are there any above the roof. If there are floodlights, they must be on the ground, pointing up at the roof. This conclusion is reinforced by another photo, showing light shining up on parts of the rooftop structures, while leaving much of the roof area itself in deep shadow.

If we were taking pictures of an actual three-dimensional figure illuminated by floodlights from below, we ought to see the kind of “spooky-face” upside down shadows you get around the campfire when you hold the flashlight under your chin. Instead, we see images like this one:

Notice, the image shows Mary as being quite clearly illuminated from above and slightly behind, not from below and in front. In fact, if you look at the lighting in the images in general, you’ll notice that the shadows seem rather odd, i.e. either entirely missing, or inconsistent with the surrounding lighting.

What’s missing from the evidence at Zeitoun is any kind of photographic evidence taken from the roof itself. Even if piety forbade you to climb to the rooftop during a manifestation, you would have ample time during a 3-year period of steady manifestations to set up a number of remote-control cameras—assuming you wanted people to see what was really up there in the shadows.

The photographs we do have could easily be faked by either double-exposure (to produce the glowing images) or by using a simple dodge technique while printing the photographs. In fact, it would be particularly helpful, while producing such fake images, to overexpose the “apparition” so as to wash out any underlying detail and thus obscure the evidence. I’ve already noted that the photos of the “doves” flying around at night are curiously missing the inevitable streaks of motion blur that would result from photographing moving objects under low-light conditions. And have a look at this photo (helpfully labeled “REAL photo,” so we know it’s not fake).

Notice, it’s quite clearly a daylight photo, with the sun shining down on the heads of the spectators, and casting harsh, high-contrast shadows around the ears and under the eaves and archways of the church. Yet the sky above the ghostly image is dark, and the borders where the sky approaches the church dome and structures is quite clearly smudged and irregular, as though an artist had not dared to try and match the borders of the foreground exactly.

The more I look at Zeitoun, the more it looks to me like the actual apparition was just blobs of light, such as you would get from shining (non-electrical) lights on a simple cloud of smoke, augmented by people’s desire to see a miracle and by a number of clearly faked photographs. And yes, I know that the story says that some “expert” pronounced that the photos could not possibly be the result of photomontage. But that’s the hearsay evidence, the story that is neither backed up by, nor consistent with, the photographic evidence we do see.

The definition of gullibility is when you believe whatever someone tells you, just because they tell you, despite a lack of evidence or even the presence of contradictory evidence. Jayman originally suggested Zeitoun because of the physical evidence, but when that evidence failed to pan out, he had nothing left to appeal to but the assumption that we ought to believe whatever the Egyptians tell us, just because they say so, and despite inconsistencies within their stories, and between the stories and the photographs.

Zeitoun is either a hoax, or a genuine miracle that has been deliberately constructed so as to have all the hallmarks of a hoax. Since the world is blatantly free of the day-vs-night sort of consequences that would result from the existence of a God Who genuinely loved us and wanted us to be saved by knowing and believing in Him, I think we can safely eliminate the latter conjecture.

 
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Posted in Unapologetics. 17 Comments »

17 Responses to “Cross-examining Zeitoun, continued”

  1. R. C. Moore Says:

    DD said:

    “And yes, I know that the story says that some “expert” pronounced that the photos could not possibly be the result of photomontage”

    I have found this to be the methodology ghost hunters use to validated the authenticity of their “ghost” photos. They claim an “expert” has verified the photo — this expert is usually unnamed, or lacking any credentials, other than being another ghost hunter.

    I have also been told that the photo must genuine, because a psychic was on the scene, and “confirmed” a ghost was present.

    What is missing of course, is any real verification, as required by scientific inquiry, which requires objective observation. When bad technique is used, the probability of error increases with repeated observations, it does not decrease.

  2. cl Says:

    DD,

    Fascinating, isn’t it? A projected (hoaxed) image would need something like smoke or clouds to project onto, and that’s just what we have at Zeitoun! (DD)

    If an image were projected into smoke wouldn’t it obviously be a fake if one were to move to a different angle? What did they use when no smoke was present? (Jayman)

    For everyone’s information: As stated in the last thread, technology exists by which lasers blast fixed points of nitrogen and oxygen causing short-duration plasma emissions that etch ephemeral, three-dimensional, glowing light images into thin air. No clouds or smoke needed. Whether this technology was available in the late 1960′s / early 1970′s is another argument.

    And DD, when Jayman says,

    Care to provide an example of a light show that is convincing from multiple angles? It would also be helpful if it worked from more than 15 miles away. I tried searching for some light shows but all the images and videos were not what we need for this kind of hoax.(Jayman)

    You should turn his own argument against him: Surely, any reliable investigation of image projection technologies cannot be satisfactorily completed solely on the internet, right?

    I know from personal experience that it’s possible to be convinced by what you think you are seeing, even when it does not correspond to what you’re actually looking at. People were convinced, but that is no guarantee, in and of itself, that their conviction was the result of an unimpeachable phenomenon.(DD)

    Most of the evidence from Zeitoun, however, is not photographic. It’s stories, word-of-mouth, hearsay. It’s what people say they believe they saw, or what they say they heard someone say that they believe they saw. And these stories don’t always add up, or prove to be consistent with the evidence.(DD)

    I couldn’t agree more on those points.

    Jayman’s point in mentioning Zeitoun was to try and prove that unbelievers will refuse to believe the evidence of their own eyes even when it’s right in front of them.(DD)

    Although I don’t think we can paint all unbelievers with the same brush, Jayman is correct in limited scope, as this is certainly true with the majority of unbelievers I’ve run across.

    Incidentally, the one photo here earmarked as a “real photo” contains more than an amorphous blob of light, as I eschewed the others. I would say this particular photo strongly resembles our pre-conceived notions of Mary, but we cannot justify any reliable overall conclusions from this point.

    Notice, it’s quite clearly a daylight photo, with the sun shining down on the heads of the spectators, and casting harsh, high-contrast shadows around the ears and under the eaves and archways of the church. Yet the sky above the ghostly image is dark, and the borders where the sky approaches the church dome and structures is quite clearly smudged and irregular, as though an artist had not dared to try and match the borders of the foreground exactly.(DD)

    Yep, I use Photoshop all day long and it’s very clear that the photo has been doctored to enhance contrast. Why not let the strength of the claim speak for itself?

    Zeitoun is either a hoax, or a genuine miracle that has been deliberately constructed so as to have all the hallmarks of a hoax.(DD)

    Hey, more than one option, now I like that! Far more even-handed and honest than previous assertions about the so-called Undeniable Fact.

    However, that “the world is blatantly free of the day-vs-night sort of consequences that would result from the existence of a God Who genuinely loved us and wanted us to be saved by knowing and believing in Him” is a matter of opinion entirely.

    R.C. Moore,

    When bad technique is used, the probability of error increases with repeated observations, it does not decrease.

    I like that. Gets my vote.

  3. RMichelucc Says:

    Hello!

    I minored and theology and I have been riveted by the event at Zeitoun for about a year now. I’ve been waiting for a lengthy discussion about this topic!!

    Has anyone read Joe Nickell’s “Looking for a Miracle?” In it, he details the earthquake lights theory – Persinger and Derr, two researchers, examined seismic activity in the region around the time of this event and it was ten times greater than normal, leading them to posit anomalous earthquake lights as the cause of this phenomena. The Gale Occultism and Parapsychology Encyclopedia, however, says fraud should not be ruled out: http://www.answers.com/zeitoun.

    It is easy to take these photos at face value and say look! The Virgin Mary! But the presumption should not be miraculous until everything else has been decisively ruled out, which, in my opinion, it has not been.

    Photographic techology was well advanced enough to fake a photo. There are tons of examples of photos much older than this with “ectoplasm” etc. etc. There are also others, most of which can be debunked after a little research.

    The photo on the dome is the only one to me that looks kind of like a person. The http://www.stmaryztn.org web site, the official web site, says that picture was taken by Mr. Mansour on April 9, 1968. However, Pearl Zaki’s book says the first pictures were not taken until April 13 by someone else, so even the simple facts are not in order. I have e-mailed the church to point this out – no response. The Coptic Church investigated these and said they were real, however they have investigated others since then (in Assuit, 2000, you can find them on YouTube) and said they were real even though at best there are just flashes of light.

    I have to disagree on one point, and correct me if you think I am misguided. You say the photo is clearly taken in daylight, however if you go to

    http://www.stmaryztn.org/stmaryztn/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=21&Itemid=47

    you can see the church lit up for a 2007 event and I can easily see, if the church was lit up at night the same way in 1968, how it may appear to be a daylight picture. Nonetheless, the negative has not been examined, so who knows?!?

    The late professor Cynthia Nelson wrote an article about these phenomena. She said when she looked at the image and tried to picture a nunlike figure, she could, but when she told herself it ws imaginary the nunlike figure would go away. Classic pareidolia!
    http://worldview.cceia.org/archive/w…3/09/2208.html

    Not even Copts agree on these apparitions:
    http://www.islamonline.net/servlet/S…News/NWELayout

    http://egyptianchronicles.blogspot.c…=1172604060000

    Finally, as you pointed out, if we are to imagine the figure in these photos with a halo, the halo was a pre-Christian artistic invention. No one knows what Mary of Nazareth looked like as representations of her were not made until a few centuries after she died. For her to appear with a halo, just because people would expect it, sounds like silly nonsense. She is represented with a halo as an artistic convention. Maybe it’s Isis on that building ;-)
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_hats

    I look forward to comments! Keep up the excellent debate!

  4. Jayman Says:

    DD:

    (1) I am not assuming that the image was convincing. The fact is that the witnesses were convinced.

    (2) I did not say that a projector had to be 15 miles away, I said it would be helpful if it were 15 miles away because that would put it outside of the search radius of the investigative parties.

    (3) Your reason for calling the witnesses superstitious does not hold water. They did not jump to the conclusion that the image must have had a supernatural source. Rather they ruled out natural sources and then concluded the image had a supernatural source. There is no indication that a hoaxter sought a stamp of approval from multiple investigative bodies.

    (4) I did not state that Muslims are necessarily hostile to Jesus or the Virgin Mary. Muslims are quite reverent towards both Jesus and the Virgin Mary as they are depicted in Islamic sources. But Muslims reject the Christian depiction of Jesus and find bowing before the cross to be idolatrous. The government, composed mostly of Muslims, investigated the “idolatrous” apparition at a Christian church. If the skeptic is going to propose that a hoax took place he should at least admit that the hoax was good enough to convince even hostile witnesses.

    (5) The example of Zeitoun was brought up not merely to see how skeptics would respond to photographic evidence but also to see how they would respond to eyewitness testimony. If no amount of quality eyewitnesses would persuade the skeptic that a miracle took place then there is no point in discussing the genuineness of miracles that solely rely on eyewitness testimony.

    (6) I did not bring up this example to show that unbelievers will refuse to believe the evidence of their own eyes. Nor would I compare the reaction of Muslims who witnessed the apparition to the reaction of a skeptic after he had searched the internet for information.

    (7) You imply that Muslims saw the “Islamic Mary” while Christians saw the “Christian Mary”. But the first witness was a Muslim and he says the appartion was kneeling beside the cross.

    (8) You seem to be under the impression that the apparition did not give off its own light but was merely illuminated by floodlights. But the impression I get is that the apparition was a source of light. Since we don’t know how many lights there were, their location, and other such things, I make no attempt to interpret the shadows of pictures one way or another.

  5. Jayman Says:

    cl, I must have missed your comment about this:

    For everyone’s information: As stated in the last thread, technology exists by which lasers blast fixed points of nitrogen and oxygen causing short-duration plasma emissions that etch ephemeral, three-dimensional, glowing light images into thin air. No clouds or smoke needed. Whether this technology was available in the late 1960’s / early 1970’s is another argument.

    Could you point me to that comment or links with more information? Thanks.

  6. cl Says:

    Jayman,

    You make some good points to DD. The fact that X% of eyewitnesses are convinced appears to speak in favor of any given claim, just as the witnesses who are not convinced speak equally against it. That a majority of eyewitnesses are convinced or unconvinced doesn’t prove anything, but either situation has some bearing on the overall accessibility of any given claim. Certainly, a robbery case with several eyewitnesses is typically viewed as stronger, but a good defense attorney will always cast doubt by calling the character or possible motives of the eyewitnesses into question.

    Take for example God and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. That more people believe in God does not prove God is real and FSM false, but that more people believe in God while nobody really believes in FSM is a legitimate piece of circumstantial evidence that provides justification for leaving the NULL position in favor of positive for God over FSM.

    Now what if the majority of Earth’s peoples had been overwhelmingly atheist throughout history? Then this would work in the opposite direction; theism would be the minority position and we would fancy ourselves more justified in leaving NULL in favor of atheism. So we ought to be very careful with the credibility we’re willing to extend to eyewitnesses. Popularity is not necessarily an indicator of correctness.

    They did not jump to the conclusion that the image must have had a supernatural source. Rather they ruled out natural sources and then concluded the image had a supernatural source.

    Although I have no idea who “they” are and whether what you say can fairly be applied to all of “them”, I agree with the distinction you draw. Jumping to a conclusion means ignoring one or more possible explanations and rushing ahead to our own (often favored) explanation. Investigating the evidence and as many possible explanations as one is able to, then arriving at a reasoned conclusion is entirely different.

    If the skeptic is going to propose that a hoax took place he should at least admit that the hoax was good enough to convince even hostile witnesses.

    I find that reasonable as well. It always speaks better of our case when we indicate that we’ve thoroughly examined our opponent’s case.

    If no amount of quality eyewitnesses would persuade the skeptic that a miracle took place then there is no point in discussing the genuineness of miracles that solely rely on eyewitness testimony.

    Correct, unless we derive some sick and twisted benefit from meaningless discourse.

    You seem to be under the impression that the apparition did not give off its own light but was merely illuminated by floodlights. But the impression I get is that the apparition was a source of light.

    Both are feasible from a science-and-technology perspective.

    Could you point me to that comment or links with more information?

    See Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, and Googling “Real 3-D Image Projector” also yields some decent perfunctory links. Neither of which are what I really want to introduce into this discussion, which is something from my own personal notes that you guys now having me searching for.

  7. John Morales Says:

    Strange how this thread slowly drifts towards the (implicit) acknowledgement that extraordinary claims aren’t convincing without extraordinary evidence.

    Just saying.

  8. Arthur Says:

    I feel like the FSM’s point might be being missed. I tried to articulate some of my misgivings over in your False Argument #22, but I don’t know if I managed it.

  9. R. C. Moore Says:

    “…that more people believe in God does not prove God is real and FSM false, but that more people believe in God while nobody really believes in FSM is a legitimate piece of circumstantial evidence that provides justification for leaving the NULL position in favor of positive for God over FSM.”

    Well, no.

    Those who know the origins of the FSM and the origins of religion adopt the same position — God does not exist anymore than the FSM exists. As a corollary, they understand that that the evidence is against the existence of the FSM, and likewise for God.

    Anyone who would adopt the majority position, when there is clear evidence that the position is incorrect is a fool, or trying to save his skin. (The reason for the historical lack of atheism).

    Understanding the FSM is not real is the same as understanding the Earth orbits the Sun. A majority opinion to the contrary did not sway Galileo. (Though the willingness of the majority to kill in defense of their position did).

  10. pboyfloyd Says:

    Geez guys, when word of a miracle goes out I guess we all take it for granted that a crowd of skeptics are going to show up determined to stamp out the ‘hope’.

    Hey, why do we even need to be talking about the Zeitoun incident when we can watch Benny Hinn heal people right on the telly!? (presumably accompanied by a crowd of skeptics determined to undermine believers’ hope too, no?)

  11. cl Says:

    Arthur,

    Thanks for linking to my post. I haven’t yet responded to your comment but as usual, there are points on which we can agree and disagree. I’ll get to it tonight or tomorrow.

    R.C. Moore,

    Question: We have two robbery cases which are identical in evidence save for the fact that case A has zero eyewitness while case B has several credible eyewitnesses. Would you say that case A and case B are equal in terms of persuasive power? If no, you affirm my argument. If yes, I’m all ears.

    Those who know the origins of the FSM and the origins of religion adopt the same position — God does not exist anymore than the FSM exists.

    Yes, that’s exactly the point. The entire analogy represents a category error. That some skeptics and atheists feel so safe and smug behind a category error is a riot to me.

    Anyone who would adopt the majority position, when there is clear evidence that the position is incorrect is a fool, or trying to save his skin.

    Sure, but where’s the “clear evidence” that theism is incorrect? Do tell. See, it’s apparent that you’re convinced there is no clear evidence for theism, but what’s so special about your own conclusion that you assume it should apply to everyone from all walks of life and history? Surely something is not false simply because the one and only R.C. Moore says so, right? Yet that’s what I’m hearing here.

    And I agree with your sentiments about Galileo. Note that from the beginning I’ve maintained that the popularity of an argument does not entail its correctness.

    pboyfloyd,

    Geez guys, when word of a miracle goes out I guess we all take it for granted that a crowd of skeptics are going to show up determined to stamp out the ‘hope’.

    I can’t speak for the others, but I’m not making any arguments about what a crowd of hypothetical skeptics will do in future miracle claims. This gist of my argument is that without pre-agreed, precise definitions, arguing over what is and what is not a miracle is moot. Also that just because something like our conceptions of God appears before us, such is no conclusive proof of anything and surely open to reasonable doubt. I’m also asking if a phenomenon exists that can only be interpreted in a singular manner.

    And I’m LOL and 100% with you re Benny Hinn. I would love to be in that crowd of skeptics.

  12. Bruce D. Wilner Says:

    Only two points:

    (a) It is claimed that the photos are easily faked with PhotoShop. Funny, but I was personally unaware that PhotoShop was available–in Egypt, no less–in 1968.

    (b) The assertion that “the probability of error increases with increasing experiments,” or some such, is utterly witless. Of course, there is no strict definition of the experiment, but any mathematician knows that the variance decreases inversely with the number of samples, and, consequently, the standard deviation decreases inversely with the square root of the number of samples. Doesn’t it make implicit sense that you get better results with N tries, which range from bad to good, than with a single try, which is either bad or good?

  13. Deacon Duncan Says:

    I believe the Photoshop reference was intended to convey the idea that the commenter recognized the techniques involved in photographic manipulation (i.e. contrast enhancement), rather than suggesting that Photoshop was used to alter the originals in 1968. Photo retouching has been around for quite some time (which is how Conan Doyle got those photographs of fairies in the garden way back when).

    Also, the remark about increasing the probability of error was directed specifically at the case where improper technique was applied an increasing number of times. If one person uses a flawed approach to reach his conclusions, then there’s a higher possibility of error. If you multiply this by many hundreds or thousands of “researchers” applying the same flawed methodology, you compound the likelihood of reaching erroneous conclusions. This is quite a different thing than a proper application of the valid technique of increasing one’s sample size.

  14. Chigliakus Says:

    (a) Photos weren’t that hard to fake before PhotoShop. Doubly so for grainy high contrast black and white photos where you can hardly tell what you’re looking at anyway.

    (b) Is it utterly witless to fail at reading comprehension? The original quote was “When bad technique is used, the probability of error increases with repeated observations, it does not decrease.” [emphasis mine] and it was in the context of calling for scientific inquiry which requires objective observation. A bunch of highly religious people, many of whom have a vested interest in this being a real miracle, and who gave conflicting reports, do not constitute objective observation.

  15. Chigliakus Says:

    Whoops, I’d have kept my mouth shut if I’d known DD was going to reply.

  16. R. C. Moore Says:

    “The original quote was “When bad technique is used, the probability of error increases with repeated observations, it does not decrease.”

    Thanks for rescuing me from the ranks of the “utterly witless”. I have a background in quantitative analysis, and have never seen anyone’s results improve by doing the wrong thing repeatedly. To quote Einstein:

    “The definition of stupidity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

  17. R. C. Moore Says:

    “any mathematician knows that the variance decreases inversely with the number of samples, and, consequently, the standard deviation decreases inversely with the square root of the number of samples. Doesn’t it make implicit sense that you get better results with N tries, which range from bad to good, than with a single try, which is either bad or good?”

    I assume also that any mathematician also knows the difference between precision and accuracy. Repeated applications of the wrong protocol can result in great precision, but I think in the case of miracles, we are after accuracy.