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“Thou Art The Man”

21/04/2015

We’re going to examine a Bible story but — surprise! surprise! — not for its theological content.

Rather, we’re going to look at the way all stories convey deeper, hidden truths; and how the best stories pull us in to get us to identify & empathize with the core theme.

The story in question is actually a story within a story, so we’ll start with the broader context:

King David, from his palace, spies a woman bathing on her rooftop. He asks his servants who she is; they tell him she’s Bathsheba, the wife of one of his soldiers, Uriah.

Instead of saying “Whoops! Married lady — no can touch!” King David invites her up to the palace to, y’know, chat & whatnot.

The whatnot results in her getting pregnant.

No biggie, thinks King David. He calls Uriah back from the front, purportedly to have him report on the situation, but in reality hoping he’ll spend his off duty hours boffing his wife Bathsheba so David’s genetic contribution will be overlooked.

Only Uriah is a real straight arrow and refuses to go home, saying he can’t betray his fellow soldiers by enjoying his marital bed while they’re slogging it out in the field.

So King David sends a secret message back with Uriah to his general, telling him to launch an attack but leave Uriah in an exposed position.

The general does so, Uriah gets killed, and David moves Bathsheba into the palace to “comfort” her.

He thinks nobody will know about his shenanigans, but if you want to keep a secret from your political enemies, don’t employ a palace full of servants. The word spreads, and discontent rises in the kingdom. Murmurings of civil war start circulating, and people outraged by David’s behavior go to Nathan, the prophet on duty, and ask him to do something about it.

What Nathan does is to tell King David a story:

“There were two men in one city; the one rich, and the other poor. The rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds: But the poor man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up: and it grew up together with him, and with his children; it did eat of his own meat, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter.

“And there came a traveller unto the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man that was come unto him; but took the poor man’s lamb, and dressed it for the man that was come to him.”

And David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, “As the Lord liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die: And he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”

And Nathan said to David,
“Thou art the man.”

thou-art-the-man_peter_rothermel_david_nathan_bYowza! Were there ever four words with a more chilling impact than that? And again, we’re putting theological implications aside; what Nathan did was to present a fiction that David identified so closely with from his humble beginnings as a lowly shepherd boy that his heart instantly leapt in outrage and a cry for justice –

– and then Nathan lowered the boom on him and made him realize he was judging himself for his own crime.

That is what fiction is meant to do.

Not specifically convict us of our own sins & shortcomings, but to make us identify with another point of view so that we are then drawn to an inescapable application to our own lives.

If Nathan had approached David with a straight on attack as to why betraying a trusted subordinate by schtuping his wife and then having him killed to cover it up was A Very Bad Idea, David would have produced a battalion of priests / philosophers / poets who would have explained that oh no not in this case; in this specific case it was not only justifiable for David to boff Bathsheba and kill Uriah but it was actually a good thing — a very good thing! — and that Nathan was a party pooper for even daring to bring the matter up.

Don’t believe me?

Spend five minutes scanning political headlines;
see how many people justify behaviors
they decried as crimes the day before.

All great stories do that. Call it the moral of the story, the theme, the subtext, the point; whatever it is, it’s the underlying unspoken truth that lays unseen below the surface, but like great rocks in a flowing river shape the current of the story.

Recently there have been calls by some to stop promoting stories that openly tackle certain topics and themes.

It’s one thing to criticize a story for being so ineptly written that the theme jarringly intrudes on the narrative — though truth be told, you can do anything you want in a story as long as you do it entertainingly.

It’s another thing to say the only stories worth reading or viewing are those that strip away all moral & ethical content and are just paper thin mono-dimensional characters engaged in a series of spectacular but ultimately pointless conflicts with other paper thin mono-dimensional characters.

I got in trouble a lot when I was writing Saturday morning cartoon shows lo these many years decades in the last century moons ago, and vey often it was because I would rather insistently demand to know why our characters were doing what they were doing.

“What difference does it make to Batman and Robin if the Joker steals the Eiffel tower? Are they going to miss a meal if he does so? Is anybody going to suffer because of it? I’ll grant you’re the Joker is crazy and does crazy stuff, but why would that involve Batman and Robin?”

The suits would look at me and say “they’re superheroes” and I’d say “yeah, so? What motivates them personally to get involved?”

Because that’s where the theme, the moral, the subtext comes in. It’s all a pointless chase unless the characters’ actions reflect some deeper symbol of truth. [1]

You cannot escape subtext; it will be there no matter how hard you try to drive it out. The human mind craves meaning, and even a random arrangement of images will spark some linkage in our brain, some sequence that conveys some sort of deeper meaning than the mere arbitrary arrangement of pictures.

Indeed, the more you try to drive it out, the more you will reveal what causes you to fear subtext.[2]

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art by Peter Rothermel 

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[1] Too often the shows we did were crap because we’d try to shoehorn a motivation in after the fact; we’d come up with a great gimmick and then try to find a way of justifying it. You see that in overly clever murder mysteries and sloppily plotted superhero stories; characters who go to insane lengths to commit not-very-profitable crimes when applying the same effort to a non-criminal endeavor would enrich them greatly.

[2] Back in the 1970s/80s there was a concept among fans of psychotronic films called Bad Truth. Bad Truth was what occurred when there was no censorship between the brain and what ended up on the screen. And by censorship I’m not referring to the morality police, but rather the inhibitors of taste brought about by adequate time and money. Most Bad Truth films were ultra-low budget / no budget affairs hastily thrown together with no time to polish the extreme rough edges; as a result they tended to be pretty naked reflections of their film makers’ ids. Bad Truth can be found at the far other end of the economic spectrum as well; big budget productions helmed by a film maker with enough clout not to be answerable to the studio funding them.

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Ode To A Christianist Screechweasel

6/04/2015

today you shout Muslim!
yesterday you shouted Communist!
and before that it was ******-lover!

shut up
we’re tired of hearing it
we’re tired of you

I’d tell you to go to hell
but you’re already there

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Ruben Bolling on Indiana

2/04/2015

Tom the Dancing Bug

find more of Ruben’s strips at GoComics.Com

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Die! Die! DIE!!!

1/04/2015

Angelo Torres - vampire hunter

The U.S. Supreme Court today declined to hear Stan Lee Media’s case against Stan Lee and POW! Entertainment, bringing to a definitive end at least one part of a legal battle that’s been waged for the better part of a decade.

story found at Comic Book Resources
art by Angelo Torres

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Roger Slifer [1954 - 2015]

30/03/2015

Roger Slifer was killed by a hit & run driver on June 23, 2012.

He died today.

Roger was a born & bred Hoosier, an Indiana lad ala John Wickliff Shawnessey from the novel Raintree County.  He was a quiet, self-efacing, hardworking writer / editor / creator.  While not as outsized a character as many of his friends and co-workers — imagine Harry Dean Stanton mellowed out with two fingers’ worth of smooth Kentucky bourbon and you’ll have a good idea of his personality — he was well loved and highly respected.

Roger-Slifer-e-Lobo-586x305Roger & his creation, Lobo
He also wrote My Little Pony 
Deal with it

Roger assumed a cornerstone position in any creative team he worked with.  He was one of the “go to” guys in both comics and TV animation, somebody who was not only trustworthy and reliable, but a pleasure to work with.

We are all shocked and saddened by this news; shocked because his death came quite suddenly and unexpectedly after slow but steady progress in recovery after the accident crime that left him comatose and brain damaged, saddened because our last hope of seeing him regain even a moderate portion of his once razor sharp mind is now gone.

I feel like a character in an Agatha Christies novel.  One by one all the people I know are getting bumped off and I have no idea when it will be my turn…

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4 (or Perhaps 54) Odd Movies I Saw Recently

28/03/2015

For reasons too complex to go into[1], I usually watch a movie or two late night thru the early morning hours. Recently I saw four films that rank among the oddest I’ve seen.

Charlie Victor Romeo is a series of six staged vignettes, using the same group of actors and the same minimalist airplane cockpit set, that recreate the final moments of six doomed flights via dramatizations of the black box transcripts.

This is definitely one of the oddest movies I’ve ever seen;
not strangest, not weirdest, not most outrageous, just…odd.

There’s virtually nothing to be gleaned from this other than a voyeuristic look into how the last few moments of six seemingly random flights went down.

Literally.

Some of the air crews appear to be more professional and less hysterical than others, but there is virtually no characterization (other than one pilot who goes back to chat up with the stewardesses). There are schematic drawings of the aircraft, but nothing else: No documentary footage, no computer simulations, nothing except the exact same dinky little set.

CVR1w_BobBerger-520x428The same high production values found
in Plan Nine From Outer Space…

From a forensic POV, I suppose it has its merits: Flight crews can analyze what others did wrong.[2]  I can see how this might have some dramatic punch in a small intimate theater, but as a movie? Odd.

Not bad, just…odd.

Holy Motors is the first feature by director Leos Carax in over a dozen years, a film seemingly evocative of Louis Malle’s Black Moon, Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle, and Paul Bartel’s The Secret Cinema, yet at the same time not strictly derivative of any of them.

The film is a series of vignettes in which an actor (played by Denis Lavant) is driven in a long white stretch limo to various locales where, after changing costume and make-up in the limo-cum-dressing room, he acts out a variety of disturbing / violent / insane improvised scenes, occasionally in public but often in deserted buildings or tunnels. In the course of these scenes, it is learned he is an actor performing a wide variety of roles for an organization that uses tiny hidden cameras to record his performances — but then that scene is revealed to be another role he is playing!

Holy-Motors-612x300Say what you will, Denis Lavant
knows how to make an entrance…

It’s a well mounted film, and while some of the vignettes are violent and bloody with copious male nudity, others are funny.[3]

In the end the stretch limo has a conversation with other stretch limos who carry other actors performing other scenes; the cars realize their own days are coming to an end and soon the digital world will remove the need for them to actually carry actors about.

Thought provoking and never boring.
There are far worse ways to spend two hours.

The ABCs Of Death & The ABCs Of Death 2 are two anthology films in which 26 teams of film makers[4] produce short films / vignettes that each illustrate some point or aspect of death based on a particular word.

NOT a double bill for everyone.[5] Unrated — and for damn good reasons — the vignettes run from sophomoric excursions into gore and torture to genuinely insightful and chilling meditations on death and fate to outrageously funny odd ball examinations of the macabre (animator Bill Plympton, the only recognizable name in the two films, contributes a funny example of extreme kissing).

ABCs 8053_5Simultaneously the safest, cutest, and
most disturbing image from the two films.

The good segments are very good, the gross segments are very gross, the Japanese segments are so fncking Japanese you won’t believe it, but the worst & weakest are still solid C+ material and the best are A+.

The shortness of the mini-films forces a stripped down narrative and character construction; you get straight to the point ASAP and then move on to the next story. As I find myself becoming more and more easily bored by long form stories (including feature films, mini-series, and even hour long episodics), The ABCs Of Death were welcome excursions in efficient streamlined story telling and for that I give them all high marks.

Would that somebody use the same format for other types of stories: Comedies, love, etc.

As the film makers were working independently of one another there is a certain overlap of ideas and themes, but nothing that detracts from the final films. In the first film I was particularly impressed with “Dogfight”, “Hydro-Electric Diffusion” (see above), “Klutz”, and “Pressure” (arguably the most disturbing of all the short films even without explicit gore and violence); while in the second my favorites were “Capital Punishment”, “Questionnaire”, “Roulette”, “Split”, “Vacation”, and “Wish”.

But remember, if I think a movie is pushing the
boundaries, it’s really pushing the boundaries!

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[1] Okay, here’s the deal: We inherited Jeffrey Cat from my late aunt. He is set in his ways, and those ways require somebody to be in the living room with him late at night or else he starts meowing and raising a ruckus. No, he cannot come into my office and lay quietly while I work; no, he cannot let Soon-ok sleep and simply join her at the foot of the bed; he has to have somebody downstairs with him or else he makes enough racket to awaken Soon-ok and then I catch hell. From the moment Soon-ok turns in to the wee hours of the morning, I have to go downstairs and cat sit. Jeffrey Cat, we luvz ya and we’ll take good care of you for the rest of your days, but we will shed few tears when you finally shuffle off this mortal coil…

[2]  Or what they did  right; the last vignette recounts the truly heroic efforts of United Flight 232 to bring their craft down as safely as possible, thus managing to save the lives of over half the people on board.

[3] Whether in spite of or because of their outrageousness is a question best answered by each individual viewer.

[4] The movies promote the directors primarily, but these films required writers and actors and tech crews and animators and special effects teams to make their impact, so let’s hear it for the teams!

[5] In January of this year, Ohio substitute teacher Sheila Kearns was convicted of four felony counts of disseminating matter harmful to juveniles after she showed the first ABCs Of Death to five different Spanish language classes (the film has Spanish language segments). She had been charged with five counts, but the jury was inclined to think she didn’t know what was in the movie when she showed it to the first class, but that she should have then realized it was inappropriate and not shown it to the remaining classes. Personally, I think the average high school student would probably enjoy both films, though I am sure plenty of teens would rather avoid it as is their right. It was a bonehead move on Ms Kearns part, and while her punishment is excessive, she had to expect some sort of blow back.

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A Message To My Christian Brothers & Sisters

26/03/2015

This one is for my co-religionists, so here’s a cute animated gif of a bouncing cube of red jello for the non-Christians.

animated bouncing jello cube

I’ll see the rest of you after the jump.

Read the rest of this article »

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Facts / Opinions / Evidence / Truth

24/03/2015

Justin P McBrayer[1] recently posted an op-ed piece with the NYTimes called Why Our Children Don’t Think There Are Moral Facts [2] where he relates the following:

“When I went to visit my son’s second grade open house, I found a troubling pair of signs hanging over the bulletin board. They read:

“Fact: Something that is true about a subject and can be tested or proven.

“Opinion: What someone thinks, feels, or believes.

“…So what’s wrong with this distinction and how does it undermine the view that there are objective moral facts?

“First, the definition of a fact waffles between truth and proof — two obviously different features. Things can be true even if no one can prove them. For example, it could be true that there is life elsewhere in the universe even though no one can prove it. Conversely, many of the things we once “proved” turned out to be false. For example, many people once thought that the earth was flat. It’s a mistake to confuse truth (a feature of the world) with proof (a feature of our mental lives). Furthermore, if proof is required for facts, then facts become person-relative. Something might be a fact for me if I can prove it but not a fact for you if you can’t. In that case, E=MC2 is a fact for a physicist but not for me.

“But second, and worse, students are taught that claims are either facts or opinions. They are given quizzes in which they must sort claims into one camp or the other but not both. But if a fact is something that is true and an opinion is something that is believed, then many claims will obviously be both. For example, I asked my son about this distinction after his open house. He confidently explained that facts were things that were true whereas opinions are things that are believed. We then had this conversation:

“Me: ‘I believe that George Washington was the first president. Is that a fact or an opinion?’

“Him: ‘It’s a fact.’

“Me: ‘But I believe it, and you said that what someone believes is an opinion.’

“Him: ‘Yeah, but it’s true.’

“Me: ‘So it’s both a fact and an opinion?’

“The blank stare on his face said it all.”[3]

To quote one of the great rhetoricians of our era:

sam-jackson-retort-468x350

“Facts,” “truth,” “evidence,” and “opinion” are not the same thing. They may overlap when referring to concrete examples, but that’s a function of language, not reality.

Facts, so to speak, are the atoms of reality: They is what they is. They carry no moral weight of judgment, no meaning in and of themselves. A fact either is or it is not.

Truth is the summation of several facts in conjunction or juxtaposition against one another. The “truth” of water, for example, is a summation of several facts about it: Its molecular formula, the pressure and temperature points where it freezes or vaporizes, the way it interacts with other molecules, etc., etc., and of course, etc.

Evidence are facts assembled to produce a truth, either in whole or in part.

Opinion is a belief, preferably based on informed knowledge about the facts and evidence before one, that makes a presumption about what truth is.

Fact: I was born

Opinion A: I was born within the borders of the United States at that time

Opinion B: I was not born within the borders of the United States at that time

Without fact based evidence to prove either Opinion A or Opinion B, they are both equally valid assumptions.

I’m the flippin’ Schroedinger’s Cat of procreation, and lacking facts in evidence my birth within / without the borders of the US are equally valid opinions.

Only one of those opinions is true, of course.

And all the logic, rhetoric, assembled supporting evidence, sincerity of belief, and numbers of believers does not alter the factual truth one iota.

There are no moral “facts”,
but there are moral “truths”.

Unlike facts which can be fixed in time and space, truth does not need observable concrete evidence to be true or not.

There was no cup of coffee on my desk an hour ago, there is a cup of coffee on my desk now, there will be an empty cup on my desk in an hour are all valid statements of fact even though they do not represent the same exact thing. They can be assembled to form a truth about my having a cup of coffee while working.

Or more precisely, they can be assembled to produce an opinion about the truth; for all you know I’m just shining you on about the coffee, the desk, and me working. Or more precisely still, the truth is that it’s possible for me to drink coffee, and that truth remains unalterable regardless of the facts of my coffee drinking / non-drinking.

McBrayer wants to have his imaginary cake and make you eat it. George Washington’s status as the first president of the US stands independent of McBrayer’s belief, no matter how much evidence he assembles to prove it. He is right in his opinion — this time.

But he could just as sincerely believe even more and better evidence of other facts and assemble them into a conclusion that is not the truth.

It drives hard line moralists nuts to live in a universe where their opinions are not automatically revered and treated as fact, but to quote another great rhetorician:

“Dem’s da conditions wot prevails.”

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[1] Yeah, I know: “Who?” Bear with me, I gotta fill a quota on this blog and this one’s an easy pop fly.

[2] Probably for the same reason they don’t think there’s any dry water, either; McBrayer is using mutually contradictory terms.

[3]  Congratulations, Justin, for opening a can of pseudo-intellectual whup-ass on your seven year old…

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I Fail To See A Difference

21/03/2015

This is Barronelle Stutzman. She is a Christian being persecuted for staying true to her beliefs.

Barronelle Stutzman coverstory-4

This is Lester Maddox. He was another Christian who was persecuted for staying true to his beliefs.

lester-maddoxs-quotes-4

No, that’s not Lester on the left; Lester is the guy with the gun threatening an American citizen for demanding his Constitutional rights (the guy with the axe handle is Lester’s son, IIRC).

Lester’s religious belief was that African-Americans were subhumans who were being punished by God for their great-great-great-great-great-times-howmany-grandfather Ham’s sin against their great-great-great-great-great-times-howmany-grandfather + 1 Noah.

And because of that, Ham’s descendants were cursed with black skin and condemned to be slaves to white skinned people for all eternity.

Sez so right in the Bible…

Bad enough the US government went and changed the Constitution to get rid of slavery — which, after all, had been ordained by God — but then they went and let those uppity so-and-sos have equal rights with white people, and that just ain’t right!

Still, Lester and his buddies were willing to live and let live…just so long as the uppity so-and-sos were willing to live in the colored part of town and stepped out of the way when a white person passed by and not vote or go to public schools or run for election or expect fire or ambulance service.

And they sure as hell weren’t supposed to come into a fine white person’s establishment and demand to be treated just the same way as a white customer was treated.

Why, that was violating God’s holy law! That was a sinful abomination! If God had wanted people to treat each other the way they wanted to be treated, with kindness and compassion and mercy, well then, wouldn’t God have said that in His holy scripture?

Hunh?

 

Hunh?

Hunh?

Barronelle believes it’s her religious right to deny her fellow citizens their Constitutionally guaranteed rights.

Recently a couple of African-Americans…no, wait…a couple of Jews…no, wait, a couple of gay guys came into her florist shop to order flowers for their wedding.

Now, the thing a non-bigoted Christian American would have done would be to sell them the flowers. See, a non-bigoted Christian American might not approve of what another person’s religious beliefs are, but they will acknowledge they are supposed to treat them the same way they treat someone whose beliefs they agree with.

And that’s what same sex marriage is all about:
Their religious belief is that it is not a sin for two people of the same sex to marry.

Same as two divorcees re-marrying have a religious belief that it’s okay for two divorcees to re-marry.

Same as two people with different ethnic backgrounds have a religious belief that it’s okay for different ethnic groups to marry.

All of which had been outlawed at one time
but finally allowed when laws were changed.

Now, if your religious beliefs preclude that, no one is demanding you marry someone of the same sex, or who was previously divorced, or of a different ethnic background.

It would be wrong to force you to do that.

But just as it would be wrong to force you to do it, it is equally wrong for you to attempt to deny others their rights.

And that’s what Barronelle Stutzman is doing by refusing service to them.

Same as Lester Maddox.

The only people objecting to same sex marriage today are doing so from a conservative religious background.

They were taught it was wrong and nothing will change their mind.

Not even Jesus himself (God incarnate to Christians), who taught “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.”

Who quoted Rabbi Hillel, a Jewish heavy hitter of a century earlier, when he taught “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

And who taught “Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you”

And “Give to every man that asketh of thee”

And “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven: Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.”

And “And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.”

I’m sure Barronelle Stutzman and her allies think of her as a good, decent, kind, loving, generous, righteous Christian being persecuted for her faith; if they didn’t, why do they keep running pictures of like this when they try to gin up support for her?

Barronelle Stutzman coverstory-3

Funny thing is, I look at that photo and am reminded of this:

nazi family cropped

 

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If The Answer Isn’t “Yes”, Then It’s “No”

18/03/2015

I’m sitting on the sidelines watching two people who share a long time friendship strain that relationship to the breaking point.  Details changed to protect the guilty.

One we’ll call Sam asked the other (whom we’ll call Pat) if they wanted to get involved in a deal a while back.

Pat didn’t, but Pat also didn’t want to hurt Sam’s feelings so instead of saying no said, “Let me think about it after the holidays.”

Sam chose to interpret that as “Yes!” and planned accordingly.

You see where this is going…

animated bridge collapse

Sam called Pat and asked about closing the deal.  Pat hemmed and hawed then finally said they weren’t interested.

Sam grew irritated.  Said some harsh things.  Accused Pat of double crossing them.

If the answer isn’t yes, then it’s no.”

And it isn’t a yes unless there’s a piece of paper with at least two signatures and a date on it and/or a check that has cleared the bank.

I say this for everyone but especially for those folks trying to break into show biz / publishing / video games.

“Maybe” / “we’ll see” / “we’re looking into it” / “perhaps” / “it’s under consideration” / “they love it” / “it’s a done deal” / “as soon as the last element falls in place” all mean no

They’re nice “no“s
Polite “no“s
Soft “no“s
But they’re still “no

If they haven’t said yes and whipped out a check book to prove it, they mean no.

Don’t delude yourself
Don’t lie to yourself
Don’t get your feelings hurt

Roll with it and move on.

 

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