A reading of Seveneves

Seveneves, a novel by Neal Stephenson

 

From times immemorial, we have dreamed about it, painted it on caves walls, written fiction and speculations, prayed for it not to happen: it is mankind’s common nightmare, Armageddon, the end of our world, the end of our species. Will it be caused by our own misbehaviour, a punishment from our creator, our poisoning of the Earth, our Mother, or a nuclear holocaust? Neal Stephenson’s novel tells the story, of Armageddon from Space, from an unknown source, by an unknown “Agent”. This book, perhaps his best work to-date, is an uncompromising account of our destruction, down to, literally, a dwindling group of survivors, pitiful remnants of a once arrogant civilisation, ours, now hiding in tin cans orbiting the once beautiful planet. The story is, also, of a possible rebirth, couched in such a way as making the reader wonder: has this happened before? For, in some ways, haven’t we been there: the fire from the sky, the flight, the long terror, the survival of the few?

The description of the destruction of the old Earth by the “Hard Rain”, and of the hopeless, harrowing, and ultimately pathetic struggle of those, chosen to escape to Space, occupies the first and larger part of the novel. We learn of the heroic sacrifices of a few, of human nature, once again, leading to disaster after disaster. The males of the species are wiped out, leaving to the seven Eves the final decisions as to the future of humanity. This prepares the reader for the rebirth, the renewal of mankind from the shelter of the asteroid where the Eves have found refuge.

The second part of the book has a distinctly Arthur C-Clarkian flavour to it, as we sweep through five thousand years of post Zero history: mankind lives mostly on a ring of spatial habitats orbiting the Earth; the “New-Earth” is being seeded with recreated creatures and plants; the descendants of the seven Eves, from whose genes the two billions of “Spacers” derive from, have developed separate cultures, in each of the seven genomes legated by the Eves. This is a world of partial segregation between “races”, where orbital mechanics, robotics and genetics dominate science. The description of the “Cradle” reminded me of the “Fountains of Paradise“, but this legacy is not acknowledged in Stephenson’s notes, so it must be an association of ideas. This world is evidently very different (but very classical in terms of the science fiction literature) from ours, and yet the same old rivalries have reappeared (Blue versus Red).

The reader, after a long journey, is left with many unanswered questions. Stephenson, like Clarke before him, holds the human female as more adapted to the conditions of Space: better able to cope with cramped living conditions, isolation and solitude, biologically superior. The novel shows that the decisions made at the Council of the Seven Eves, to fundamentally conduct a differentiated genetics-enabled rebirth of mankind, initially through parthenogenesis, endure after five millennia. As the Spacers come to meet some of the “rootstock” survivors on the surface of New Earth, will they be considered as alien mutants, cowards who abandoned ship,  and unwelcome intruders, or a curiosity from Space? As we remain baffled by the “Purpose”, the nature of the Agent likewise remains veiled in mystery: judgement of God, random micro blackhole, or, simply, destiny?

Seveneves is a fantastic read, from end to finish. The world Stephenson created, its appeal and at the same time repulsive logic, will stay with us forever. So will the Seven.

 

Gleeful: #VisDare 137

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It was done, all these long years of study, the cold classrooms, the interminable nights of reading, the despair when the results were dismal… We had finished, the world was ours, your hand in mine and his in yours: what was more beautiful than our friendship?

I remember how our laughs resonated in the ancient hall. Outside the sun was shining: a summer day to precede all our summers. Our joyous steps on the stone floor, and outside our friends and parents waiting. We would chose our life, the three of us, inseparable, chose where we would live, this incredible friendship, perhaps this shared love. The world was still young, and we, even younger! We were rushing into our future, innocent, blind, defenceless…

He went first, as he was a bit older, and you and I took him to board his train, already full of youngsters like him, like us. On the platform grim officers were ensuring the train would leave on time. There, in the East, that war had started.

I soon followed, and then it was your turn, for, by now, women were drafted into combat. So now, with you and him gone forever, I remember the day we left school, full of hopes. I have my eyes left to cry.

Inspired by Erich Maria Remark’s immortal novel, Die Kameraden

 

Joseph Nasi @ Altaj, Wu Ming

Altai, by Wu Ming, the story of A Venetian spy in Constantinople… Altai can also be read as another encounter with Gert from the Well…

leesmagazijn

.Guiseppe Nasi

#deconspiratie Voor wie het nog niet wist of zich herinneren kan. De Turken (Ottomanen ) werkten met Nederland samen tegen Spanje.

Maintaining contacts with William the Silent,[10] Nasi encouraged the Netherlands to revolt against Spain, a major adversary of the Ottoman Empire (the rebellion was ultimately carried out by the Union of Utrecht, as the start of the Eighty Years’ War).[11]

Meer over Nasi in Altja van Wu Ming

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Kafka #AtoZAprilChallenge

From my “K” entry in the 2013 AtoZ Challenge: 

In the world of this blogger there are two of them: a writer of genius, who died in 1924, wrote The Trial, The Castle, The Metamorphosis and a host of stories and plays, and Nakata “Kafka” Tamura, hero of “Kafka on the Shore”, the novel by Haruki Murakami.

Kafka statue in Prague Franz Kafka, the writer, inspired Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre, among others.  To the love of his life, the writer Milena Jesenská, he wrote passionate letters. Milená died in 1944, murdered with so many other women at Auschwitz.  He is the lead writer on the Absurd of the beginning of the 20th century depicting the insanity of the bureaucracies of his time.

The other Kafka is a growing young man, who discovers love in the person of the unattainable Miss Saeki.  When I go to Japan, I hope I will meet them both.

Amnesia #AtoZAprilChallenge

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Amnesia is the absence of memories, or the inability to recall them.

In his book “Rue des Boutiques Obscures” (translated as Missing Person), the French novelist, and 2014 Literature Nobel prize winner , Patrick Modiano tells the story of a man who has forgotten all about his past, and indeed lost even his identity. His slow and painful investigation reveals  names and places he cannot recall, until some old photographs start stirring what appears like a misty recollection. But who is he really? Is he the rich playboy who married the Russian heiress, or his friend, the tall South-American diplomat, with whom he sought peace, and perhaps surviving an ancient threat, in the snows of Megève? A tragedy took place then, and witnesses can be found, but no clue to who he really is.

Amnesia is not rare among victims of violent traumas, or torture.

Image: “Blitz”, ©Eduardo Seco

 

Of Thanatos, Ansky’s Notebook and a City in the Desert, a #reading of “2666” by Roberto Bolaño

“Jesus is the masterpiece. The thieves are minor works. Why are they there? Not to frame the crucifixion, as some innocent souls believe, but to hide it.”

2066

“Now what sea is this you have crossed, exactly, and what sea is it you have plunged more than once to the bottom of, alerted, full of adrenalin, but caught really, buffaloed under the epistemologies of these threats that paranoid you so down and out, caught in this steel pot, softening to devitaminized mush inside the soup stock of your own words?”

Gravity’s Rainbow

 

Child in Berlin  -  David Bowie  1977

 

The geography is immense, as the novel meanders through the streets of Paris, Madrid, London or Milan, the ruins of Cologne after the war, the snows of the Austrian border, Venice, Hamburg, the Crimean peninsula, the dark forests of Rumania, Mexico City, and, inevitably, Santa Teresa, the industrious and sinister city in the Sonora desert, still vibrating from the visit of the Savage Detectives.

Is Hans Reiter a reference to the war criminal of the same name? Does the writer’s name, Benno von Archimboldi, hide a deeper meaning? We follow four academics, German literature specialists, united by their obsession with the shadowy writer, Archimboldi. They read, visit each other, Mrs. Bubis, the publisher of Archimboli’s books and his lifelong friend, and try to discover who the writer really is. Their quest finally takes them to the city where girls and young women are butchered by one (of several) sadistic murderers.

Amalfitano, the critics’ host in Santa Teresa, reflects on death and his reasons to have moved o the city, from Spain, where his daughter, Rosa, was born. As he observed the treaty of geometry, hanging upside down from his washing line in his backyard, swept by the desert’s winds and dust, the scholar fears for his daughter, in a city where they kill girls like sparrows. Fate, the reflective journalist from New York, who travels to Santa Teresa for an article on a boxing match, when he is in fact no sports writer, befriends Rosa, and travelled back to New York with her, away from her father and the malediction of the city.

The endless narrative of the murders, spanning four years, unresolved and the investigation of which is plagued by incompetence, corruption and neglect, after all, most of the victims are poor girls working in the sweatshops of the city, or whores, or both, takes three hundred pages of the novel, a harrowing and at times monotonous read. Finally, Klaus Haas, a German-American citizen, is arrested, probably wrongly, for some of the murders.

At long last, we meet Hans Reiter, learn about the house in the forest, the one-eyed mother and the one-legged father. Young Hans is fascinated by the sea and its forests. Unstoppable, the river flows to the beginning of the war. Hans is strong, foolishly brave, visibly with no fear of death. Drafted in a light infantry regiment he picks up an iron cross on his way to Crimea. On a short permission back to Berlin he meets Ingeborg, who after the war would become his wife. Severely wounded Hans is sent to the village of Kosteniko, on the banks of the river Dniepr. There the future Archimboldi meets his future career in a farmhouse that belonged to Boris Ansky’s family, before the village jews were massacred by the Einsatzgruppe C. Hans discovers Ansky’s notebook, the story of an “enemy of the state”, witness of the horror, soldier of the revolution, and genial writer under another man’s name.

Fifty years later, Klaus Haas, son of Lotte, Hans’s sister, is in jail, his trial postponed. Finally Hans, now eighty, and a possible Nobel-awarded writer, visits Santa Teresa, closing the loop.

The book closed, we must read again, as we must reread “Q”, or Gravity’s Rainbow, or the Man Without Quality. In the end we know that Sisyphus trumps Thanatos, even for just a few years.

Image: Child in Berlin  –  David Bowie  1977

Pale criminals, a reading of Berlin Noir by Philip Kerr

Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1969-054-16, Reinhard Heydrich

Bernhardt Günther is a tough guy, a survivor of the trenches of the Great War, a cop, a man who loves women, and his city, Faust’s metropolis, Berlin in the 30s.

In March Violets – evoking the cynical opportunists who join the Nazi party late, and buy their way to a low number party card for political advantage – Bernie is a private gumshoe commissioned by a powerful industrialist to recover a precious, and priceless, diamond necklace. The Berlin background of the early years of the Nazi government, the corruption, the fear, the victims, are beautifully drawn, as the plot unfold, at each turn revealing the villainies of a régime that amounts to rule by gangsters. There is more than a diamond necklace in the chase, and Bernie will end up, under the icy blue eyes of Reinhard Heydrich, number 2 in the SS, in the Dachau concentration camp. Bernie survives, by skill and luck.

In the Pale Criminal a sadistic murderer of young aryan women roams the Berlin streets. Sensing a motive that would trouble his sense of law and order, Heydrich drags Bernie back into the Berlin Kriminal Polizei, the Kripo, because he trusts his skills and independence of mind. But there is more to those crimes than one demented mind. As more dead bodies are discovered, and the truth slowly appears, Bernie’s convinced of more horrors to come. The year is 1938, and soon it will be Kristall Nacht, the “spontaneous expression of the German people’s anger”…

A German Requiem finds Bernie in the ruins of Berlin. He has survived the disaster of the Nazi defeat, escaping death both from SS execution squads and Soviet uranium mines. Called upon to save an old acquaintance, a colleague from his Kripo days, accused of the murder of an Americal officer,  Bernie goes to Vienna, the year is 1947. Old Nazis fight for their survival, sometimes by selling their skills to the Americans, or the Soviets. Vienna’s not a heap of burning rubles as Berlin still is, but it’s an occupied city. Black market and prostitution are the main sources of income for the locals, and others. Nothing is what it seems, old enemies may pose as allies, women’s lives are cheap, from the ruins of the old a new world has yet to be born. Bernie fails, and yet resolves the riddle. His wife is in Berlin, he’s in Vienna, and Faust’s metropolis is now blockaded by the Soviets.

Kerr’s knowledge of the Berlin geography and recent history is to be lauded, this backdrop to the character of Bernie Günther perhaps one of  the main charms of the stories. His pictures of villains are remarkable: similarities with gangster-politicians in our time must be the result of sheer coincidence.

Berlin Noir, by Philip Kerr, Penguin Books, 1993

Image: Porträt Reinhard Heydrich in der Uniform eines SS-Gruppenführers ca. 1940/1941, German Federal Archives, Bild 146-1969-054-16

The search for Cesárea, a #reading of “The Savage Detectives”, Roberto Bolaño

Roberto bolaño.jpg
Roberto Bolaño” by FarisoriOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

From the Golden Fleece to The Two Towers, from the Holy Grail to Heart of Darkness, great works of world’s literature are often stories of quests. So goes for Roberto Bolaño‘s masterpiece, The Savage Detectives, which follows two young poets, Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, in their odyssey in search for the mythical Cesárea Tinajero, great priestess of the “Visceral Realists”.

We follow them, often under the bemused eyes of Juan García Madero, seventeen when he joins the visceral realists (no initiation ceremony), from the streets of Mexico City to the Sonora desert, via Chile, Nicaragua, California, Barcelona, Rome, Angola, Sierra Leone, and other places in history, meeting biblical whores, murderous pimps, corrupt policemen, incorruptible generals, and, of course, lost poets.

This is a story of poets, fugitives, witnesses… perhaps apostles? Its roots are in the horror and miracles of a continent, steeped in literature and death.

“Bolaño,” writes his translator, Natasha Wimmer, “took seriously the idea of literary immortality – never more than when he turned it into a joke. Failed writers are frequent characters in his stories and novels; so are lost writers, whose legacy must be preserved. In ‘Photographs’, the only published story in which Arturo Belano reappears, he comes upon a kind of illustrated encyclopaedia of forgotten French poets from the 1960s and ’70s. As he looks at their pictures and reads their biographies, remote and irrelevant now, he sees a line of birds on the horizon, ‘an electrocardiogram that flutters or spreads its wings in expectation of their death, thinks Belano, and then he shuts his eyes for a long moment, as if he’s thinking of crying with his eye closed.'”

Geography is equally important for Bolaño, who describes meetings, encounters, love affairs and murders with a careful labelling of time and place: “Rafael Barrios, in the bathroom of his house, Jackson Street, San Diego, California, September 1982.”

I went on to read “Distant Star”, and hope to read “2666” soon. An important writer, a genial novel.

Two writers and a dark princess

This post continues my translation of Régine Deforges‘ interview of Pauline Réage, “O m’a dit”, started there

The interview took place in 1975. Régine died on April 3, 2014.

Portrait of a MarriageRD – You said: I long had hope to rebuild my life, in a certain way. In what way?

PR – Well, to have a life like everyone else does, with a husband and children. I long dreamed of living in the country, in a big house with plenty of kids, like women always lived. Apparently, this was not for me.

RD – Why is it part of the dream of women like you, educated women, who have the luck of exercising a profession they love? I happen to dream of jam making. Anything that preserves is so important in this feminine universe.

PR – I suppose that it is ancient nostalgia, the happiness of the home, the happiness of closed dwellings. We have seen so many images. A minute apartment, in darkness, in the evening, curtains drawn, a pregnant woman, sowing in the light of a lamp, a yellow light like that of oil lamps of childhood, silence, a table set for two, the closed world of happiness. But does it last?

RD – Of course it does not last. But it is still true that those feelings of plenitude, for a woman, reach you in those quite moments, when one is busy with small tasks, sowing a button, iron a shirt, sort lentils.

PR – The safety of home, the safety in waiting, a temporary loneliness, a wait without anxiety, it’s a common dream for all women, I believe. It’s just that some women miss their destiny.

RD – But you were not misled since you chose another, different, destiny.

PR – How does one know? Do we really chose?

RD – Can one love two men at the same time?

PR – Of course.

RD – Please explain why, how?

PR – And why not? I think you can be very attached to one man and have a lover you are much in love with as well.Why not? I have known a number of men who loved profoundly both their wives and their mistresses, madly both of them.

RD – Madly, yes, but is it the same quality of love?

PR – It may not be the same kind of love, maybe, but the same quality, yes. Quality may not be the right word, rather importance. Both matter, no question of leaving one or the other. You should read a book that has just been published , “l’Histoire d’un Marriage” (Portrait of a Marriage), I believe. It’s the story of Harold Nicholson and Victoria Sackville-West. It’s one of the most beautiful marriage stories I know of. A marriage where both partners loved deeply and loved other people at the same time. They were very happy.

RD – You said that you are not jealous, you don’t know what jealousy is. But if one is jealous, can one still love several people?

PR – I think one can. I may be a pervert, it’s possible, I don’t care.

RD – I’d like to love two people. It never happened to me, and it looks rather incompatible. We look to living under someone’s eyes, the one who can all permit, since he can punish, and since he can absolve. There can’t be two pairs of eyes, two gods, two men. Once there is one, one rejects the others.

PR – Definitely not. The threesome appears to me to be worthy, liveable and viable, to the contrary.

RD – I can say you are talking like a man, men say that.

PR – But it’s true, they are right.

RD – Of course, from their point of view, they are right!

PR – I am talking about a threesome, two women and a man as much as two men and one woman.

RD – I know of some; I don’t believe in them. I mean I don’t believe there is love there. The love I understand. There might have been, there isn’t any more, or very little. There are commodities. Or else, there is love for two out of the three, and the third one is duped, and suffers. You believe in this because of your generosity.

PR – I don’t see where there is any generosity. I imagine there is something for everyone. I would have accepted either case [two men or two women]. I happened to accept one, but the other was not found: I have known only jealous men, so…

RD – How did their jealousy manifest itself?

PR – By forbidding: “You have looked at that guy again. What on earth do you find in him?”

RD – When you said earlier that you had only met jealous men, you also added “as if I meant to.” Precisely, didn’t you mean to?

PR – To be locked up, like O? While shouting I wanted to be free. It may well be, but I did not know then.

 RD – How important is beauty for a woman?

PR – Oh! It is a great strength. Beautiful women are very lucky. Often they don’t always know how much. I once knew a girl who took my place in the heart of a boy I loved, and who was, at the time, an extraordinary beauty, a beauty that left me speechless, amazed: there is an echo of this in Histoire d’O. It’s impossible to resist that, and he was right. She was beautiful, she knew how to dress. I wasn’t, I had just a little charm, nothing more, I was poor as Job, I dressed as I could afford, without chic, I knew, I could see it, I could do nothing about it: I had no money to do otherwise, and of course I suffered from that. And I worried her!

RD – Did this please you?

PR – Oh! yes. I thought, it serves you well for being so beautiful. I saw the same thing with a boy who was one of my friends’ lover while rather preferring boys. He was one of the most handsome men I ever met. A kind of giant, with broad shoulders and narrow hips, a beautiful regular face, big grey eyes, black slightly wavy hair, a splendour, a marvel! He was humiliated, constantly, because people found him beautiful. “And then, I have some talent.” He had talent indeed, but was all the time humiliated by his beauty. And that girl had all she wanted, but was not interested. She was so used to it. It’s the story of Marilyn Monroe, who never felt safe despite her extraordinary beauty.

RD – I did not find Marilyn extraordinarily beautiful, but rather extraordinarily moving.

PR – It’s even better.

RD – It’s even better, but it is someone one always feels like protecting or hitting. You said of O that she was facile, facile with a loyal heart. But why does a facile body look to you as one of the charms of a woman?

PR – Because it’s congenial. The facility everyone mocks, I find congenial. Remember what was said of Madame, the celebrated Madame of Bossuet’s oraison: “Madame demanded the heart.” Facile girls, one treats with such contempt of “good girls”, care for others, often.

RD – And what better way to prove it than give oneself. But one can give oneself for many other reasons. To get rid of an annoying man, for example, to whom one has no longer anything to say.

PR – I would not have thought of that reason, as it seems to me rather encouraging.

RD – It depends. There is a way of saying, or to let understand: “Listen, if you really insist, let’s do it, show me what you can do, and then let’s forget it,” which is most discouraging and even insulting for a man, it seems. Often, they don’t do it, precisely, and one doesn’t see them again. Or they try to do it, fail pitifully, and disappear even faster.

PR – Ah! I wouldn’t have thought of that.

 RD – Does impossibility strengthen feeling? Is it true for you that not being able to join someone, to touch him, for reasons of etiquette, or others, strengthens your feelings?

PR – Not for me, no. I’ve had small affairs, falling in love with a boy who appeared to be in love with me, but refused to do anything because “it wasn’t done”. That “it wasn’t done”  seemed to me… He may have been right, but after all, if he hadn’t put up this obstacle himself, I wouldn’t have made things complicated. So, after fifteen days, once I understood it was hopeless, I gave up, and that was it. In that case impossibility did not strengthen feeling.

RD – If it’s impossible you give up.

PR – One does not force someone. A fist axiom is not to force anyone, and a second is not to besiege anyone.

RD – But there were passions when a man besieged a woman who eventually surrendered.

PR – He was well disappointed.

RD – He was well disappointed, he is angry with her, like Baudelaire when he wrote to the Présidente: “How come you surrendered, I don’t want to see you anymore.” Does that happen often?

PR – It happens. If you want another quote: “To be fulfilled is bitterer than being disappointed.”

RD – But why?

PR – I don’t know. Men are strange. I had a strange adventure. I was very young, was always in a difficult situation, and I was trying to earn some money  by giving French lessons to foreigners. I met an American, who happened to be a very rich American, a young man, but older than me. He presented well, intelligent. In total innocence I was giving him lessons, and then, one day he wanted to invite me to dinner. I accepted. Another time he wanted me to go out with him one evening. I declined, saying I could not. He asked me again, and again I accepted. I was vaguely aware that it was some way of courting me, and then, to conform with my own moral code, not to let people start, I explained that I was not free, that I loved someone! We had dinner, then I left. I was due to give him another lesson the day after, I went to the hotel where we met, rue des Saints Pères. I found a letter. He’d packed and gone, and had written a letter, a true declaration letter, saying: “Never do that again, never tell anyone what you told me.” I fell off my pedestal.

RD – What advice would you give girls to conduct themselves well in life?

PR – Oh! I don’t know. There is no morality in this domain. One can find maxims, that one may try and practise. I like this phrase of Luther: “Pecca fortiter”, sin with courage. It’s courage that matter, not sinning. Or that English saying: “Never explain never complain”. In Histoire d’O nobody ever complains. “All is fair in love and war” says another adage – which I find disputable, is everything permissible in war and love? And what are we to think of this  axiom of French law: “In marriage cheat who can”? It’s the manoeuvres that are painful, for both men and women. Morality has nothing to do with it.

RD – You refused to play that game?

PR – I would have liked not to play it, I played badly. I also had to manoeuvre, I am not proud of it.

RD – Did you lack coquetry toward men?

PR – Oh not at all!

RD – Yet it is coquetry to…

PR – Yes, but one shouldn’t lead people up the garden path, this is it. I used coquetry when I had intentions.

RD – So you are, as one used to say, an honest man.

PR – Maybe, but I was wrong.

RD – One expects duplicity from women.

PR – Yes, I know.

RD – If they don’t conform to the idea one has of them, men are lost, they no longer know who they have to deal with. And you liked seeing them lost? Or rather, you kept being yourself, which was more satisfying?

PR – One cannot do that to anyone! [being deceitful]

RD – Even if it is what is desired?

PR – I do not understand how one can desire being duped.

RD – But you know that it is what it is.

PR – Yes, I know very well. And God knows that most intelligent men are not exempt from that sort of weakness.

RD – It looks that way.

PR – To what extent they accept to be duped by these little women, when everyone sees how crude it is. But I think also they see it too, and maybe even are amused by it.

RD – Don’t you think there is something rather erotic in the “little woman”?

PR – Of course. Firstly because the man feels he dominates her more. Because, socially, he feels above her. Ancillary love has its price.

RD – I think there are also masochist men. Those who let themselves duped, trodden on, as they enjoy their humiliation. Its’ fairly frequent. I wonder also if some women, who have understood their power, stay deliberately “little women”.

PR – Then, those are very clever.

RD – Why would they not, they are absolutely right.

PR – Of course, but all that treachery is discouraging.

RD – I agree, but I did not always have scruples. Sometime, but not always. I have often been a dishonest man.

PR – But you are an honest woman.

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“Have the people not traveled through the land to make their hearts understand and let their ears hear, verily it is not the eyes that go blind but the hearts inside chests.” [The Qur’an (22:46)].

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Rag Tag Bunch of Conservative Misfits - Contact Info: TheLastRefuge@reagan.com