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Whose lives matter?

20 November 2015

A few months ago I began to see people posting things on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter saying that it was wrong to say that “All lives matter”.

Now I know that many people do not believe that all lives matter (I’m talking about human lives here). Many people divide the human race into “us” and “them”, and believe that “our” lives matter more than “their” lives.  Some speak about the cost of this or that action in terms of “American lives” or “British lives” or “Jewish lives”, as if these lives were more important than other lives. I think we all have that tendency. I know that the death of someone I know and love affects me more than the death of a complete stranger.

But where it gets weird is when people start giving different values to different groups of strangers, and not in relation to death as such, which happens to all of us, but death at the hands of other people. I’m not just talking of dying here, but of killing, or hastening the death of someone by some deliberate human act. And it is in that context that I say “all lives matter”. And it is in that context that I find it very strange when people say that it is wrong to say that all lives matter.

Over the last couple of years there have been a number of news reports of police in the USA assaulting and sometimes killing unarmed people, usually young people, and a disproportionate number of those young people were black. So people came up with the Twitter hashtag #blacklivesmatter, because they believed, not without reason, that many policeman believed, or acted as though they believed, that black lives mattered less than white lives. I preferred to use the hashtag #policebrutality for such incidents, because I believe that all lives matter. I have already blogged about that here, so before anyone starts explaining to me that I don’t understand the context, please read that. And please read what follows to understand why I say I believe that “all lives matter”, and why it is important.

raghead1If you Google the phrase “all lives matter” you will find that a lot of people, especially in the USA are saying that it is wrong to use that phrase. But they generalise it outside their own particular context, and some of the people who were saying that it was wrong were not in the USA, but in Britain and elsewhere. I believe that those who say that it is wrong to use that phrase have lost not only their moral compass, but also their reason. Unless, of course, you really believe it. Then you may have lost your moral compass, but your reason is intact. If you believe that Syrian or Afghan lives matter less than American lives, then obviously you won’t believe that all lives matter, and you might have a good reason for thinking that the only good Syrian refugee is a dead one.

But my use of all lives matter goes back quite a long time before that.

Soon after the end of apartheid and South Africa’s first democratic elections, white people who longed for the “good old days” of apartheid began speaking of “white genocide” and propagating the idea that the murder of white farmers by armed robbers was evidence of such genocide. It seemed pretty clear from the way in which they told these stories that the aim was to to show that they were right all along — if you give blacks political power, there will be a bloodbath and “they” will kill all the whites. In view of the obvious political motive, it is difficult to know whether the figures they give are accurate, or exaggerated for the purposes of political propaganda.

What did happen in the 1990s, however, was a dramatic increase in the crime rate.

BWgenocideThat also happened in other countries that also made a transition from authoritarian rule to democracy in the same period, the Second-World countries of the former Soviet bloc. So it seems that more freedom meant more crime. Does that mean that we should go back to more authoritarian societies and give up our freedom?

In South Africa, as in other former authoritarian countries, the police were trained in detecting and neutralising perceived threats to the security of the state rather than catching criminals. One South African newspaper cartoon of the 1960s had two burglars with their loot watching a policeman passing by, and one said to other, “Don’t worry about him, he’s looking for integrationists.”

SA_genocide060813The lifting of economic sanctions against South Africa in that period opened the way for increased foreign trade, but it opened the way not only for legitimate businesses, but for crooked businesses as well, and crime syndicates from all over the world opened branches in South Africa, triads from Hong Kong, the Italian and Russian mafia, you name it. Nigerian drug dealers and Bulgarian car thieves poured in, looking for easy pickings. And the South African police couldn’t cope. They weren’t trained for such things. In addition, the apartheid government had had dealings with a lot of shady businesses for the purposes of sanctions busting, and the new government didn’t need them, so they had to look elsewhere for their profits.

So there was a crime wave, with local criminals competing with incoming criminals and the police caught fl;at-footed by the change. Was the new ANC government to blame? Yes, I believe they were, to some extent, because they did not move quickly to transform the police. They demilitarised the police in name, but not in mentality. The police learned a new politically-correct vocabulary. In the apartheid period the police had been the enemies of democracy, but parachuting in a few friendly senior officers and fast-tracking the promotion of a few others was not really transformation. They were cosmetic changes. And so there was a crime wave, and the police found it difficult to cope..

BWGenocide2And what easier target for criminals, new and old, than people living on farms, relatively isolated from their neighbours, and far from the nearest police stations?

So yes, farmers probably did suffer more from the crime wave than other occupational groups, and because of the policies of the previous regime, most of the farmers who were worth robbing were white. Most of the black farmers had been deliberately dispossessed of their land and ethnically cleansed as a result of the apartheid policy.

But to call this “genocide” was simply racist political propaganda, and the government knew it, and perhaps for that very reason failed to take the problem seriously enough, and dismissed it as nothing more than propaganda. So the propagandists actually exacerbated the problem because they were more interested in making political capital out of the problem than in solving it. They actually thrived on it because it provided more “evidence” for their thesis that blacks were not fit to be in government. Just Google “white farm murders genocide” and see how they relish the blood and gore.

FarmMurdersThe other racist problem is that the “white genocide” conspiracy theorists use the term “farm murders” to refer to the murder of white farmers by black robbers. But quite a number of farm murders are the murder of black farm workers by their white employers. Those tend to get left out of the story, but they are still farm murders.

So my response to the genocide conspiracy theorists has been to say that “all lives matter”. Why single out just one occupational and ethnic group- for concern? People of all occupational and and ethnic groups suffered from the crime wave. The “genocide” theorists seemed to be more interested in promoting their political cause than fighting crime.

And then came Marikana.

marikanaThat showed that the “demilitarised” police force that was called a “police service” rather than a “force” was untransformed from the days when the police shot 69 unarmed protesters at Sharpeville in 1960. Transformation had failed. Farmers’  lives matter, but so do miners’ lives. But then we can also see that the number of policemen who have been murdered by criminals in the last couple of years far outnumbers the number of miners, and possibly the number of farmers as well. Why single out miners, when police and farmers are being murdered too?

The difference is that the police and farmers are being murdered by criminals, while the miners are being murdered by the police. Nevertheless, rather than singling out a single occupational group for concern, it is better to say that all lives matter. . The #blacklivesmatter campaign in the USA is also about people who are being murdered by the police. who behave as if they do not believe that all lives matter. Believing that all lives matter is a matter of ubuntu.

Of course believing that all lives matter makes me pro-life, and the opposite of pro-life is pro-choice, that is, reserving the right to choose which lives matter and which don’t. There are some who believe that white farmers’ lives matter more than other lives, or that American lives matter more than Iraqi lives. There are those who choose to believe that black teenagers’ lives matter less than other lives, or that miners’ lives matter less than other lives, or that unborn lives matter less than other lives. But that’s another story, and I’ve told it here.

Sunday in Gauteng: Greek Liturgy, Romanian Temple, Turkish Mosque

16 November 2015

There lots of different things to see in Gauteng, and people of many different cultures. Yesterday we had a busy day attending a Greek Liturgy, and visiting a Romanian Church and a Turkish Mosque, as well as calling on Val’s cousins from Namibia who were in town for a bicycle race.

We started off by fetching Fr Ciprian Burlacioiu, a Romanian priest teaching church history in a German university, now visiting South Africa to do research into migrancy and mission. He had visited once before, about five years ago, and was then doing research into the history of the African Orthodox Church.I touched briefly on the history of the African Orthodox Church in an article on Orthodox mission in tropical Africa, but Fr Ciprian has gone into it in much more detail, and his book is being published within the next couple of months. There is also more on his earlier visit here.

We fetched him at the Backpackers Lodge in Hatfield where he was staying (he stayed there on his previous visit too, so we might as well give them a plug) at 6:45 am, took our son Simon to work at Exclus1ve Books at Menlyn, and trundled down the byways (avoiding toll roads) to Saheti School Chapel in Senderwood, where Fr Razvan Tatu, a Romanian priest working in South Africa, had told us he was celebrating the Divine Liturgy.

Saheti School Chapel

Saheti School Chapel

We had thought that the service would be in Romanian, but it turned out that Fr Razvan was standing in for Fr Petros Parginos, who was away. and so there followed a service in a mixture of Greek, Romanian and English. I contributed most of the English. I did try one small litany in Greek during Matins, when there were fewer people there, but chickened out for the last petition, which has lots of long words in it. I feared that hyperevlogimenis and mnemonevsantes would have me tongue-tied, so I switched back to English.

Saheti School Chape, Senderwood, Johannesburg

Saheti School Chapel, Senderwood, Johannesburg

The choir also sang some English hymns to familiar tunes, and and sang some newer Greek hymns, like Αγνή Παρθένε Δέσποινα, Άχραντε Θεοτόκε, quite magnificently (you can hear the hymn here, though it is sung by someone else).

Fr Ciprian Burlacioiu, Fr Razvan Tatu & Deacon Stephen Hayes at Saheti School Chapel, 15 November 2015

Fr Ciprian Burlacioiu, Fr Razvan Tatu & Deacon Stephen Hayes at Saheti School Chapel, 15 November 2015

After the service at Saheti we went to Midrand to look at the Church of St Andrew, under construction and gradually nearing completion. It is being built by the Romanian community and the foundation stone was laid in January 2013.

St Andrew's Church, Midrand, 15 Nov 2015

St Andrew’s Church, Midrand, 15 Nov 2015. Through the west door one can see the Turkish Mosque on the hill opposite.

The church is quite small, but is on a big piece of ground, so there is plenty of room for expansion.

St Andrew's Church, Midrand

St Andrew’s Church, Midrand

On the hill opposite, to the west, can be seen the Turkish Mosque, said to be the largest in South Africa, if not in the southern hemisphere. The Romanians told us that since there were no toilets or places to get refreshments at the church site, they went to the mosque to make use of the facilities there.

Turkish Mosque in Midrand, as seen from the front door of the Romanian temple across the valley.

Turkish Mosque in Midrand, as seen from the front door of the Romanian temple across the valley.

As it was a hot summer day (after a very hot fortnight, with record temperatures)  we went there in search of refreshments. Fr Razvan said he usually took off his cassock when he went there, for fear of giving offence, but our previous bishop, Metropolitan Seraphim, had once chided clergy for not wearing cassocks when out on church business, and pointed out that Muslims were not afraid of wearing distinctive dress in public, and he encouraged the clergy to do so too. Many of the clergy then discovered that shop assistants and petrol-pump jockeys would greet them with Salaam Alikum. So we wore cassocks, and went to a cafe on the site. It was too hot for coffee, so we ordered lemon juice, and exhausted their supply.

View from the tea room at the Turkish mosque in Midrand. Rhe Romanian temple is somewhere on the opposite hill, hidden among the trees. One might be able to see it with a telescope.

View from the tea room at the Turkish mosque in Midrand. The Romanian temple is somewhere on the opposite hill, hidden among the trees. One might be able to see it with a telescope.

I was beginning to feel that this was quite nice. Here was a place where one could come to eat without feeling guilty about making Christians work on a Sunday. But then Val went inside and was immediately pounced on by the people there, who asked her who these people were, dressed a little bit like the Muslims who came there, only they had crosses. So she explained that we were Christians, and asked where they were from. One said he was Zimbabwean, and a Christian. A woman said she was a Maronite from Lebanon.


At the Turkish tea room in the grounds of the Midrand Mosque, with Ioan and Irene Andrei.

After exhausting the supply of lemon juice at the tea room we made inroads into their supply of baklava, and then went across to the mosque to have a look at it. The assistant Imam appeared and welcomed us, and told us a little about the project, which was inspired by one wealthy businessman, and a group of businessmen contributed to the project. They were building mosques and schools all over Africa and in other parts of the world, and had a school for 600 pupils on the premises, though at present they only had 400 pupils.

Midrand Mosque, built in the Ottoman style, and modelled on an original in Turkey

Midrand Mosque, built in the Ottoman style, and modelled on an original in Turkey

They also had a hostel for university students. They would come there first to memorise the Qur’an, and then would go on to study secular subjects at university, for which they were given scholarships. All this was paid for by this group of Turkish businessmen.

Detail of tiles at the Midrand mosque.

Detail of tiles at the Midrand mosque.

He said they were dedicated to spreading a message of love and peace all around the world.

Christians on Twitter: scrambled brains

14 November 2015

I saw that “Christians” was trending on Twitter, for the first time that I remember, so I thought I’d have a look to see what the fuss was about. Here are the first bunch of Tweets I found.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I find them an almost incomprehensible incoherent and disjointed mess.

Whether for or against, most of the tweeters have very little idea of what Christianity is about.

Whatever else it means, that indicates to me that Christians have done a pretty poor job of communicating their faith.

And it’s not only Twitter. I read Usenet newsgroups, and there are several Christian ones, in name at least. But the only people posting regularly there are cranks and fanatics, plugging their own weirdly distorted views. They are probably drive-by spammers — they rarely look to see if anyone has replied to their junk, and never stop to answer questions. They don’t even look to see if their stuff has posted correctly; one of them has misspelled some of the names of newsgroups he has posted to, but never looks to see, which saves members of the misspelled newsgroups the trouble of deleting his posts

We really need some Christians who will post stuff on the internet that looks like something other than scrambled brains.

In terms of violence and having blood on their hands, white Christians are so far ahead of the rest of us it’ll take cheat codes to catch up


    1. </div>
      ” data-component-context=”tweet” data-you-follow=”false” data-follows-you=”false” data-you-block=”false”>

      ” data-mentions=”realDonaldTrump jaketapper” data-component-context=”tweet” data-you-follow=”false” data-follows-you=”false” data-you-block=”false”>

      Christians unwittingly allowed Satanists to ambush Missouri’s anti-abortion laws – – Sacred Combat

      ” data-component-context=”tweet” data-you-follow=”false” data-follows-you=”false” data-you-block=”false”>

      Christians, women and middle American want Hilary as 45 Presidet. Hilary is our only HOPE


      Melanie Retweeted Pat Peters, Ph.D.

      They do include Christians. The world has seen the proof. Isis admits it. Kerry can’t legislate the truth away.

      Melanie added,

      ” data-component-context=”tweet” data-you-follow=”false” data-follows-you=”false” data-you-block=”false”>


      Serendipity Retweeted Feisty☀️Floridian


      Serendipity added,

      ” data-mentions=”pperrin charlottelufc” data-component-context=”tweet” data-you-follow=”false” data-follows-you=”false” data-you-block=”false”>


      ” data-mentions=”KurokiShinra” data-component-context=”tweet” data-you-follow=”false” data-follows-you=”false” data-you-block=”false”>

      So then that applies to Christians and extremist Christians. And extremist Jews, Buddhists etc. Etc.


      ” data-component-context=”tweet” data-you-follow=”false” data-follows-you=”false” data-you-block=”false”>

      Aye Shin,this is true as well. I noticed Christians calmed down a lot after the new testament…sadly not all beliefs HAVE one


      Most Christians DO NOT protect themselves enough from diabolical agendas of Hollywood and mainstream media. In Jesus’ name, GUARD YOUR MIND


Mission and migrancy

10 November 2015

Today I had a visit from three priests, and we had an interesting discussion on mission and migrancy.

Fr Ciprian Burlacioiu is a Romanian priest based in Munich in Germany, and is doing research into mission and migrancy. He has recently completed a monograph on the African Orthodox Church in South Africa, and his current research project grows out of that.

Fr Diliza Valisa and Fr Mthuthuzeli Thompson are priests in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Fr Diliza is writing a history of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in South Africa, and I am editing it for him to help him get it ready for publication.

Mthuthuzeli Thompson, Ciprian Burlacioiu, Diliza Valisa

Mthuthuzeli Thompson, Ciprian Burlacioiu, Diliza Valisa

Cipian himself is in a situation of migrant ministry — his parish in Munich caters mainly for migrant workers from Romania, who are there to make money and possibly go home, so the church is not the highest priority in their lives.

Mthuthuzeli Thompson

Mthuthuzeli Thompson

Mthuthuzeli Thompson is in a similar position. The bulk of the congregation are migrants from Ethiopia. They have their Sunday services at 6:00 am, and it’s all over by 8:30. Most of the congregation are businessmen, and they have to be at work by 9:00. The South Africans complain that the services are too early. By the time they wake up on a Sunday morning the service is over.

Fr Diliza Valisa commented on the fissiparousness of South African Christianity. No one knows exactly how many different Christian denominations there are in South Africa, but there are well over 10 000.The Ethiopian Church in South Africa sprang from the Ethiopian Church founded by Mangena Mokone in Marabastad, Pretoria, in 1892. It was a breakaway from the Wesleyan Methodist Church. It united briefly with the African Methodist Episcopal Church of the USA, and then a substantial fraction under James Mata Dwane joined linked to the Anglican Church as the Order of Ethiopia, and it continued like that for 70 years, when it weas decided that the Order of Ethiopia should have its own bishop. Unfortunately they could not agree who should be elected, so the choice fell to the Anglican Synod of Bishops, who chose the Revd Sigqibo Dwane, the grandson of the founder. He was not a popular choice, however, because he had not grown up within the Order of Ethiopia himself, and so there were numerous splits. One group, under the Revd Ephraim Hopa, who had been the Provincial of the Order, made contact with the Church of Ethiopia, and united with it, so completing Mangena Mokone’s vision of 90 years before, of an indigenous African Church that was older than most of the European churches that had sent missionaries to Africa. But even then there were splits, as people wanted to be leaders on their own account, and that in turn led us to a discussion of married bishops.

Fr Ciprian Burlacioiu

Fr Ciprian Burlacioiu

Many of the clergy who left the Ethiopian Orthodox Church did so because they wanted to be bishops, and as bishops in the Orthodox churches have to be monks, and therefore unmarried, they saw no future for themselves and left to start their own denominations. Mthuthuzeli Thompson said that in part that was a cultural thing. In Xhosa culture, in particular, an unmarried man is still a child, and his opinion does not count. The idea of an unmarried man being a church l;eader therefore does not fit, and people find it difficult to respect an unmarried bishop.

Fr Ciprian Burlacioiu said that his original research into the African Orthodox Church indicated that Christianity had spread in many p0arts of Africa through migrancy. Migrant workers went to the diamond mines at Kimberley (where the AOC started) mainly in order to earn money to buy guns. But in the course of working in such places they came into contact with the Christian faith in various forms, and then took it back to the places where they lived, and thus the Christian message spread though largely informal channels of migrant workers.

He is here to do more research into this, and after our discussion, he and I went to the national archives so he could follow it up, but unfortuately the power was off at the archives, and so we could not go there. That is rather sad, as he is only here for a limited time, and it seems that one of the places where he was hoping to do research may not be available.

Ciprian also commented on the recent influx of refugees from war-torn Syria into Germany. Some have said that they are economic migrants rather than refugees. Ciprian said that there are also large numbers of economic migrants in Munich — many from Greece.

On Sunday he joined us in our service at Mamelodi, and as it was the bfeast of St Michael and the Angels, he spoke a little about the angels. And even there, though the people in the congregation have lived in town all their lives, they still gregard “home” as a rural area somewhere in the region of Polokwane or Tzaneen. So migrancy persists for a long time, and the church has not really come to terms with it.

St Michael and all the Bodiless Powers of heaven, celebrate in a house church in Mamelodi East

St Michael and all the Bodiless Powers of Heaven, celebrated in a house church in Mamelodi East

Anyway, we had an interesting conversation, and here I am trying to write down what I remember of it before I forget completely, like Boswell recording the converstions of Samuel Johnson. But if anyone reading this knows of any research resources that might be usefulo for Fr Ciprian’s migrancy and mission project, please let him know. You can contact him at


Blaise and Merlin

6 November 2015

An interesting blog post by Bishop Seraphim Sigrist on Blaise the mentor of Merlin.

These notes, revised and added to a little, began a few years ago when I saw a survey asking the reader what character in an original nonEnglish book one would choose to be, my just about first thought was Blaise in Robert de Boron’s Story of Merlin. It is written in Old French even though the characters are somehow British and of course also allowing it to be fundamentally fictional. Well this got me to thinking a bit about Blaise, who sort of came to mind out of the blue (or maybe out of some inner cloudiness of course) and here I propose to gather what material I have and find about this figure, about the Blaise of the story of Merlin, who does indeed interest me and I think perhaps may interest you as well. Blaise was, Robert de Boron(c 1200) tells us, the confessor of Merlin’s mother from before the birth of Merlin whose father it seems was an aerial spirit. (Layamon’s account) –in appearance a handsome young man but of the sort that Apuleius tells us live between the earth and the moon and indeed she never saw him again.

Source: BLAISE: seraphimsigrist

If such things interest you, it’s worth going to his blog and reading it all.

At another point he notes:

John Matthews writes “Behind the figure of Merlin, shadowy and insubstantial as a ghost stands that of his ‘master’ Blaise, portrayed sometimes as a monk or hermit, but always as older and deeper sunk in the wells of time. Few have succeeded in making contact with him. Those who do are possessed of a potential access to the entire Grail corpus… See him as a monkish figure in a brown habit, seated in a whitewashed cell poring over a beautifully illuminated tome. What does that book have to tell?”

At first I wondered if there might be a link to St Blaise, though it seems not. They might have been contemporaries or near contemporaries, if we date Arthur (and thus Merlin) to the 4th or 5th centuries, but perhaps they lived too far apart.

It reminded me of my visit to the seminary at Shen Vlash (St Blaise) in Albania some years ago. They rebuilt the church, which had been destroyed by the atheist Hoxha regime, but after the church had been consecrated they noticed that people were lighting candles some distance from the church. On enquiring about this, the local people said that that was where the original church had stood. So a chapel was built there, and people come regularly to light candles, not only Christians, but Muslims too, who also venerate St Vlash. But he appears to have no links to the Merlin one.

Church at Shen Vlash (St Blaise), Albania, rebuilt after the previous one had been destroyed during the atheist period (1967-1991). To the right is the chapel where people come to light candles and venerate St Blaise.

Church at Shen Vlash (St Blaise), Albania, rebuilt after the previous one had been destroyed during the atheist period (1967-1991). To the right is the small chapel where people come to light candles and venerate St Blaise.

As Bishop Seraphim notes, however, Blaise the mentor of Merlin was probably a fictional figure, so one can imagine all sorts of things about him, so why not a connection with Shen Vlash?

And there seems to have been more than one saint named Blaise. There was St Blaise the Bishop of Sebaste, who is probably the better known one, and St Blaise the Shepherd. Which one is venerated at Shen Vlash? Who knows whether stories about the life of one have become attached to the other, and perhaps even to the third, the mentor of Merlin? Bishop Seraphim invites us to go on an imaginative journey, and who knows where it will end? As he points out, it can even end up with a comic strip heroine, Modesty Blaise.


A children’s novel about apartheid

4 November 2015

At the end of last year I published a children’s novel set in the apartheid period of South Africa, called Of wheels and witches.

It hasn’t attracted a vast readership; I could probably count the number of readers on the fingers of one hand, and they include my wife who read it in manuscript to tell me if she found any obvious plot holes and things like that.

So why did I write a “political” novel for children?

I’ve partly explained my reasons for writing the book here, in a review of reviews: Apartheid and racism in children’s literature | Khanya

And it’s not all political, as it’s mainly an adventure story. The difference from most children’s adventure stories is that the apartheid government is the villain of the piece. That, of course, would have made it unpublishable at the time, at least in South Africa. It is set in 1964, when the apartheid regime had been in power for 16 years, and had been tightening its grip on power by passing more repressive legislation every year.

cover picture with textThe children in the story range in age from 9-12, three white and one black. The white children are largely unaware of the political set-up in which they lived, as were most white children at that time. That was part of “white privilege” — if you were white, you could be quite unaware of the situation until it impinged directly on you.

The story also has a variety of other elements, some verging on fantasy — witchcraft, ikons and hints of a spiritual world lurking behind the outward appearances of things.

You can download the first few chapters as a free sample, to see if you like it — like browsing in a physical bookshop.

A Cosmic Find in The Screwtape Letters

4 November 2015


A fascinating piece of literary detective work.

Originally posted on A Pilgrim in Narnia:

Ransom_CycleI am excited to share this intriguing research breakthrough with all my Pilgrim in Narnia readers.[1] As many of you know, I have been working on C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters for a few years now. It is time to invite you all into some of the things I have discovered.

After presenting a paper on teaching Screwtape in 2012, I traveled to the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College near Chicago. I was working on background material for my PhD thesis and was excited to make this pilgrimage.

Honestly, it wasn’t going very well. I had gone to look at the marginalia in Lewis’ Bibles—to see if his notes and highlights could tell us anything about his Bible reading habits. All I really found was that the things Lewis underlined or marked seemed to be beautiful passages. Beyond that, I found very little.

After a day and a…

View original 2,265 more words


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