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(Sung to the tune Ode to Joy, from Beethoven's Symphony No. 9)


Build the road of peace before us
Build it wide and deep and long.
Speed the slow, remind the eager
Help the weak and guide the strong.

None shall push aside another
None shall let another fall.
Join, join, sisters and brothers,
All for one and one for all.


(You know, singing this one out loud got Pete Seeger labelled a Communist in the McCarthy years. Then as now, Republicans get nervous when the riff-raff start singing about working together. Myself, I think the Republicans need to be a damned sight more nervous than they are currently.)
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Where is the love that will save us, now?
Be still and listen, for it beats within you.
Find a Muslim, a Jew, a young Christian and an old sceptic,
Take them by the hands and look deeply into their eyes.
Say the words: "You are my sister, my uncle, my grandma, my beloved.
You wear the face of the angels, of all that is good in the world."
And dare in your heart to make it true.
"What is love?" you ask me, and I have but one answer:
"The only hope we have, and the gift we must not forget."
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Choose your leaders with wisdom and forethought. To be led by a coward is to be controlled by all that the coward fears. To be led by a fool is to be led by the opportunists who control the fool. To be led by a thief is to offer up your most precious treasures to be stolen. To be led by a liar is to ask to be lied to. To be led by a tyrant is to sell yourself and those you love into slavery.

Octavia Butler, quoting from her novel Parable of the Sower on Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman on 11 November 2005.


Thank you, Ms. Butler, for sharing your shining gift with us. I am perversely thankful that you won't have to see the nightmare of Parable come true. For we are surely led by cowards, fools, thieves, and tyrants.
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When you see this on your friends list, quote Firefly.


River: It's just an object, it doesn't mean what you think.

Job update

Feb. 17th, 2005 06:26 pm
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They went with the other guy.

Turns out maybe I was right to be afraid to want it this much.

I'm sure it's a sign, but of what I don't know.

I've turned off comments on this entry for the moment, because I think I'll just crack wide open if I get expressions of sympathy. I may re-enable them later.

Thanks to each and every one of you for your good thoughts and vibes.

On edit: Comments now re-enabled. Thanks for your patience.
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I have seen my perfect job.

I want this. I want this with a passion I didn't think I had anymore.

I am asking you, my friends and loved ones, pray, light a candle, think good thoughts, cross your fingers and toes, wear your lucky hat, do whatever it is you need to get your groove-tastic connection going.

And vibe these folks to Kalamazoo and back. Because I'd be good at this. And I would work harder at it than I've worked at anything in my life, except my marriage.

It's scary for me to write about something I want this much; I'm always afraid I'll jinx it. But I can't live my life being at the mercy of the corporate job-masters anymore ... and I want to contribute something, fight back in a positive way. Love is the answer, it always has been. And wasn't I just talking about what I wanted to do?

Think good thoughts for me. I've applied and had my application acknowledged; it's in the hands of the two principals of the outfit now.
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First of all, to take advantage of something, you have to have heard of it in the first place. Some of your younger or more plugged-in friends may have heard of Linux, the poster-penguin for copyleft and free software. They may even have heard of Richard Stallman and the GNU Project. But if you ask a typical non-techie "What's GNU?" be prepared to have him ask if you've got something stuck in your throat. So the first major obstacle to adoption of free software is lack of awareness that it exists.

Remainder behind the cut for friends-page courtesy )
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Up to this point, most of my living has been made with computers. It seems a natural fit with my skills, and when times are good it pays the bills pretty well. But all too often it's just business. People with money making more money. Too often I feel reduced to a cog in the machine, enhancing nothing but the company's bottom line. In contrast, the last really good gig I had was making software that helped engineers determine how much steel was necessary to reinforce a building during a sizable earthquake; buildings designed with our system survived the Northridge quake in 1994 and very likely saved hundreds of lives. Yes, of course I want to make enough money that my family is comfortable. Of course I'd like to be able to afford a home, and to educate any children I might have. But I don't need to be rich; let me support my family and have a positive effect on people's lives, and I'm a happy man.

Where do you go when you care about saving lives but don't care much about money? Non-profit work, of course. Non-profit technology workers are in as short supply as teachers in this county, and that's saying something. There are wonderful people working in both fields, but they have an incredibly difficult job to do, with very few resources. Ever notice how Microsoft routinely donates software 'valued at' huge amounts of dollars as evidence of Mr. Gates's philanthropy? Quick quiz: If I donate 2,000 copies of Microsoft Windows and Office to your kids' school system or the humanitarian organization where you work, and the programs retail for $495 a seat, but cost me $5 each to make (the research and development costs being already sunk and budgeted for my multi-billion dollar business), did I really just make a donation valued at the equivalent of $1 million, as will surely be reported in the papers, or did I simply guarantee myself a revenue stream of four hundred thousand dollars (that's money from you to me, of course, and now it's money that you can't use to buy books for the kids, feed the hungry or protect battered women) when the software 'needs to be upgraded' in two years for $200/seat? (What a deal you're getting, that's more than half off the retail price!) Not bad for a $10K investment.

And where do you go if you care about making useful software but don't care much about money? Perhaps you've heard of a little fad called open source. (If you know and love a socially-minded techie, you may have also heard the term free software, usually accompanied by an explanation of the form "free as in speech, not free as in beer.") A bunch of freaky-idealist, not-terribly-socially-brainwashed geeks decided that computer programs were meant to be shared and studied, like literature or traditional scientific inquiry. So they invented something called copyleft, which basically says: I share my work with you, you share any improvements you make on my work with whoever asks you for them, and you get them to agree to do the same with their improvement on your work. Copyleft is not, as might be assumed, the opposite of copyright. It is rather a use of copyright to ensure that future generations are able to study the work, build on it, and pass on their improvements to it.

You'd think this would be a natural fit with people who want to save lives but don't have a lot of money to spend, wouldn't you? After all, a homeless shelter in Detroit needs e-mail, fax, and web access for its clients so they can apply for jobs and public services online in the same way as a homeless shelter in San Francisco does. A food bank in Dallas needs to track and manage which restaurants and grocery stores can do donations on which days just the same way a food bank in Portland does. A human rights organization in Jordan needs the same kind of secure, distributed, portable method of reporting on human rights abuses as one in Kosovo.

The software doesn't even need to be developed, in these cases. It's already out there, at the end of those links, ready to be downloaded and installed, free of charge. So what's the problem? Tomorrow I'll write about some of the obstacles in the way of wide use of copylefted software by non-profits.

(This is a series I'm thinking of promoting to places like the Non-Profit Open Source Initiative, as well as the Non-Profit Technology Enterprise Network and TechSoup, a service of CompuMentor. Comments and suggestions gleefully encouraged; I'd like to make this series as tight and well-crafted as I can before I pitch it to them. More pairs of eyes can only help.)
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Researching nonprofit tech positions tonight -- no navel-gazing. I might even try sleeping. Hey, there's a novel concept.
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OK, folks, bear with me here. I've had less sleep than usual, and so this is going to be a bit more stream-of-consciousness (or perhaps stream-of-conscience) than my average entry. But I promise you it'll give you some insight into the dark recesses of my brain.

Last time I talked about television and information overload. One of the patterns in my life that really disturbs me is that I tend to use the Internet as a substitute for television, and abuse it in some of the same ways that television gets abused. There's such an incredible wealth of information out here, and I can browse until my eyes are square on any given subject. But in the end, all of that information doesn't make knowledge, it doesn't mean anything unless it is turned into tangible action. All of the political blogs I've watched over this past US election season, all of the outrage and passion for democracy that I've seen -- it's no better than television if it doesn't move me, if I don't decide to get up off my bottom and do something.

The same is true of the Free Software-related activities I've been part of for lo these many years. I've been using UNIX-derived systems since 1986, and running my own since I've had hardware powerful enough to do so. My opinion of the notion that I should have to pay someone to lease a program that I can't change, copy, or even examine closely without violating some sort of "End Users' Agreement" is very much like my friend [livejournal.com profile] elenabtvs's reaction to the thought that she should actually pay directly to see a doctor -- it's nothing short of obscene. In her case, it's a matter of "isn't that what we pay our government to provide?" whereas in mine it's much more like "isn't this what programmers and scientists do -- build on each other's successes, learn from each other's mistakes, and pass the results on to the next generation?"

I have benefitted from the contributions of thousands of writers, programmers, scientists, and hooligan-nerds who came before me -- their work has enabled me to earn a living, to communicate with people far-flung across the earth, to share joy and sadness and exquisite mathematics with a group of friends who care about computers and communication and ethics and love poetry and yes, even the occasional television show.

So what can I do, to carry on this fine tradition of putting words and expression and computer programs in the hands of people who will change them, copy them, and even examine them closely?

On my business card, there is a motto: making the magical world of computers and software gentler to human beings. That's my manifesto. Whether by coding, by writing, by giving lectures and seminars and workshops, or by methods I've yet to discover (and perhaps, if I am very lucky, some methods that you suggest to me), that is what I want to do with my life: Use these slabs of silicon and waves of electrons to increase the power of love in the world.

How's that for a pipe dream? Or a life's work?
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I mentioned yesterday that I hated television with a blinding passion. It's probably worth it to go into some of the whys and wherefores of that statement, and to explain some patterns in my life about which I have some ambivalence.

First of all, bashing television has gone in and out of style over the last three decades, at least -- Harlan Ellison's Sucking the Glass Teat wasn't that long ago, was it? And what about the TV shows that have brought some of my dearest friends together, like Buffy or Firefly or, saints add preservatives to us, due South? No, my complaint is not so much the programming, although that, like anything else, obeys Sturgeon's Law with a vengeance. I mean, I don't want to burn all the bookstores down just because Ann Coulter's got a new bestseller out. My problems with television lie primarily in two areas -- one, the glorification of the short-attention-span culture, which I find both frightening and inevitable, and two, the commodification of the audience into receptive consumers for the benefit of the advertisers. Media consolidation and the stifling of political dissent enter into my misgivings as well, of course, but I see them as consequences of the two major objections above.

The television tells us, again and again, that being part of the modern world means constantly being bombarded with new information, and that speed is of the essence when dealing with this new information, because it is all vital. It encourages us to 'process' information as if we were machines designed for that purpose. But I don't feel any attraction, as a human being, to 'processing' information, any more than I have any attraction to 'processing' food. The same society that keeps us too tired to cook joyfully, to share the gathering of the daily bread with our nearest and dearest, is the one that is constantly screaming at us that we need more information, and we need the information that only the advertisers have. It isn't true, and even though we learn the cynical lesson that television programs are really there to sell us the products advertised during the commercials, we still accept the practice with no more than a passing reflection on the ways it shapes our actions and reactions.

The humanist paradox of what I call the here-and-now (roughly speaking, North America since 1945) is that although we've shown ourselves to be very good at inventing 'labour-saving' devices and exhibited a huge appetite for boundless growth, we're not any happier than we were in 1945. We produce enough food to feed the whole world, but somehow the whole world doesn't get fed. The United States is one of the wealthiest nations on the globe, and yet we can't seem to get all of our people fed, much less make a serious dent in feeding the rest of the world. But the amount of attention-grabbing material generated on behalf of huge commercial interests in the same timeframe is ... well, you can read a television schedule, right? How much of what is in that schedule is commercials? How much of it has anything to do with anything but keeping the money in the hands of the people who put on the programming? You want my primary objection to television? That's about the best face I can put on it.
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This year is going to be all about devoting time to what's important to me. But I can't do that until I determine what's wheat and what's chaff. So I expect to spend a significant amount of the winter in contemplation and meditation, asking the questions "What is really important to me?", "How does this help me live the life I want?", and all of those other horribly philosophical quandaries that sound alternately like I'm a navel-gazing yuppie or a neo-Classicist wannabe.

The thing is, the yuppie lifestyle just doesn't appeal to me. I'm terrible at being a materialist, I despise television with a passion that almost frightens me, and I don't believe in the power of unfettered capitalism to solve the world's problems. Hell, at this point, I'm not sure the world's problems can be solved.

So why all the introspection? Mainly because I'm tired of being depressed -- I've been in what feels like a hibernation-state since active development on my last real project stopped in March of 2003. The economic struggle has sapped my will in so many ways, and I'm tired of giving it that kind of power over me. So I want to rediscover my passion for things, for ideas, for people. Because I'm not going to get to do this again, at least not in this body and with these opportunities.

I expect that my contemplation will follow these general guidelines:

1. People are never chaff. Certain people may not be ideal to be entangled with, but people are never objects to be gotten rid of. I know it sounds simplistic, but it's a moral value, if you will.

2. Wealth and security are not synonymous. I'm not sure security really exists here and now, although compared to River in Baghdad, we're all pretty damned secure. I had an opportunity to work hard and neglect my family and brown-nose my way up once, and I didn't like the feel of it. Wealth in this country feels too much like keeping the boot of progress on the necks of those less fortunate.

3. Love is the most important force in my life. This has many ramifications; it also puts me seriously at odds with what seems to be the prevailing spirit of the here-and-now. Learning to say "I will not hate you, but I will not participate in this activity that I see as destructive to others and incompatible with loving my neighbour" may be the single hardest lesson of my life. Jean Chr├ętien's "We will not participate" may in fact be the most moral thing I've seen a politician do in the past decade. I expect I will be returning to this topic many times over the coming year. It raises all sorts of questions, mostly having to do with how many steps of the causal chain do I need to feel personally responsible for, and how can I make ethical choices in the midst of a society that endorses such practices as factory-farming and near-slave labour simply by its economic structure? How much of that can I bite off at once?

4. Technology has widely unacknowledged second- and third-order effects. While the widespread use of computers and the Internet has made possible at least part of Bertrand Russell's dream of unfettered communication between ordinary citizens around the world, those same computers are being used by oligarchies and economic powers to maintain their hold on the levers of power. As a technologist and a humanist, I feel I have a responsibility to benefit the little guy more than I benefit the big guys -- the big guy can get along just fine without me, but the little guy needs all the help he can get.





There, that's a good place to start. Comments welcome; I hope to refine my thoughts out here in this semi-public forum, and thoughtful criticism is always a help.
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5am, Monday 30 May 1988, Sheremetyevo Aiport, 20 km outside Moscow, USSR.

The grueling 16-hour flight from new York was finally over; my butt was still vibrating. My 79-year-old grandmother had made it through with surprising aplomb and energy, but she was still exhausted. We disembarked from the Aeroflot 747 and emerged into an eerie silence; the plane was the first one to land that morning, and the airport was very nearly deserted. An empty airport is a very different thing acoustically from a full one, to hear the echoes of your footsteps in an airport is deeply wrong in a way I am not sure I can explain. We descended a long, dim corridor towards the ominous-sounding Passport Control. No one spoke, and I wondered why, thinking perhaps they were too tired, too drained from the long journey. And then I saw them -- a line of about a dozen fresh-faced Soviet youth, standing at some approximation of parade rest, not looking particularly hostile or particlarly welcoming, with that blank expression that speaks volumes to those who have seen it, as some of my companions had, on a thousand borders all over the world. And each youth was holding an automatic rifle in an easy two-handed grip, very carefully not pointing it at anyone. It wasn't until after I had the thought, "Dear God, they could kill us all from that position; no one in the corridor would survive," that I realised they were in uniform. That was the moment when I realised how lucky I was, how safe my world had been to have never seen this before.

3pm, Friday 5 November 2004, 12th Street BART Station, Oakland, California, USA.

The group of policemen were gossiping loudly, in that hail-fellow-well-met sort of way that tells you that they've never been told to keep their voices down in their lives. They were standing to one side of the entrance to the station; there were six of them. Two armed in the way one is used to seeing transit cops -- flashlight on one belt hook, automatic pistol on the other side. The other four -- how can I describe them? I don't know guns well enough to tell you a maker or model, but I know these were fully-automatic rifles, the next thing to a personal machine gun. One of them adjusted his rifle on its strap, and though the muzzle never pointed at me, I found myself abruptly imagining what it would feel like to look down the barrel of it. I had seen the individual men in fatigues carrying these things at airports since 9/11, of course. But they tended to travel singly, or in pairs at most. Seeing four of them together, with their weapons casually slung, as if it were nothing that they could simply pull a little piece of metal and hold it down and everyone in this bustling plaza would either take a bullet or run screaming for their lives. And I knew in my head that I should be grateful that these were familiar American good-ol'-boys rather than silent, unreadable, unmistakably Slavic young men. But that didn't stop my heart from breaking.

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A piece of advice for small businesses outsourcing their IT to consultants: If you have a consultant who is doing the job better, MUCH cheaper, and faster than the previous one ...

... don't nickel-and-dime him on the bills. It's the fastest way in the world to get yourself tagged with the 'troublesome client' label. And if your business is dependent on those machines being up and staying up, you really don't want that label.

One would think this would be common sense. One would be wrong.
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America, who was most beloved of nations! See how she is cast down,
and rends her garments at the faithlessness of her usurpers!


Boys in uniform, her precious children, sent to kill and die in lands
far from home; who will teach them the way, show them the reflection
in the stranger's eye, instruct them in the language of Brotherhood?
Where is her mercy, her love? Twisted, perverted, made to serve that
hideous beast, Mammon.


Children perish in her streets, starving, orphaned, alone -- where is
her bounty, her endless love and generosity? Plundered, attacked,
destroyed by the usurper and his minions.


Death have they sown, and death shall they reap; see how she weeps at
their abuse of her companions, so that none dare come to her aid.


Electrodes and boxes, forever denying their kinship with the Other;
she weeps as her flesh is stained by this, her depraved guardian's
barbarity.


Faithless pretender! Hypocrite! Mouthing his prayers as he mocks the
Law, serving none but himself and that great Beast, the Deceiver and
False Prophet!


Greatness is in her soul, her eyes still a shining beacon to the
nations. Her fidelity is of legend; her friendship a glorious gift.
But she is despised by those most sworn to protect her, and is undone.


Heaven knows the hearts of those who transgress; nor shall they escape
punishment. Things unseen will be seen; deeds done in the darkness
shall be revealed in the light.


Israel, O Israel! Hearken to the words of the Lord your God: "THOU
SHALT NOT KILL!" The Law is the Law, and God is God!


Jerusalem, your children are suffering! Put away your swords; no more
children made motherless, fatherless, lifeless! Listen to their cries
and hear the voice of God!


Killing in the name of God is not righteousness; it is blasphemy! She
hears the lamentations of the widows, the orphans, the maimed, the
dying, and the sound will not leave her ears.


Love shines in her eyes; but he has forgotten her love, and goes to
make the war plans. She weeps to be broken and abused so, abandoned,
rebuffed.


Mammon rules him, and cruelty, revenge and dark thoughts of
slaughter. Her love is as nothing to him, beside his dreams of glory and
power.


None dare to resist the transgressions of wicked men, even as they
take more tribute, and fill their coffers with the blood of children.
None dare assist her, alone, her virtue vanquished and her skirts
torn. Where are her friends now?


O friends of America! Arise, resist! Deliver her from the clutches of
this Beast and his ministers! Show her your love, your fidelity,
your steadfastness! Bring her children home and care for them. Obey the
Law of the Lord your God!


Peace is denied her; her armies are broken, one by one, and her
children lament. Strife and murder mark her days; her nights are
filled with sorrow.


Quick is the poison he feeds her; he takes her blood and her treasure
and feeds her on his lies. She looks in vain for aid; her faithful
companions have deserted her, and she is surrounded by enemies.


Remember the widow, the orphan, the stranger: these you are commanded
to protect. Hear the shouts and cries of the prisoners; their
warnings are for you.


She calls out to the nations: "Help me! Deliver me before I am driven
mad by sorrow!" But their hearts are hardened; they see his actions
and call them hers. And thus he defeats her a little more each day,
the poison doing its deadly, corrosive work.


The usurper dares speak the name of the the Lord your God, but he
knows nothing, obeys nothing, believes nothing. He dismisses the Law,
sends this holy land's sons to do senseless murder, and is deaf to
their cries upon their return, beaten and battered and maimed.


Unite, and obey the Lord your God! Be not deceived by these
hypocrites, charlatans, deceivers! Obey the Law, love one another,
care for the old, the infirm, the stranger, the lost. Show your
reverence to the Lord your God in how you treat all souls.


Vision is given to him who will see; the Lord delights not in
cruelty, in mayhem, in destruction. Build your groves, care for
your flocks, look to each other and to your Lord for help and
comfort. Save this precious land from division and destruction;
embrace your neighbour as one of your own kin.


Weep for the children, of all the tribes, a thousand lives
betrayed for false piety and pride. Return, America, away
from endless war. Your children need you; they are crying and hungry.


Xenos, the stranger. Remember the Law: protect the stranger.
He is far from home and helpless; the Lord your God entrusts his
safety to you.


You are indeed His beloved children; return to the fold now,
and care for your holy land, for she is bleeding, wounded by the
usurper's poisoned dagger. The time for playing with toy swords
is past. Leave vengeance to Him who has claimed it; keep the fields
and tend to the dying.


Zealotry in obedience is full of wonders: the stranger is your
brother. You are, as Cain was, your brother's keeper.
The Lord your God has commanded you: Thou shalt not kill.

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America is a country that needs war to sustain its economy and hate to nourish its pride.

-- Ed Turner, the only black faculty member at UC Davis, April 5, 1968.


Less than three months after George W. Bush was inaugurated in 2001, I lost my job and the only hope I ever had of achieving the so-called American Dream. The past three and a half years have been hard-scrabble, punctuated by periods where I couldn't afford to go to the doctor because I was uninsured, where I have abandoned physical therapy because I couldn't afford it, leading to what may well be a lifelong impairment, where savings that was intended to go for the down payment on a house was instead committed to keeping my family fed and housed, and the one windfall from the Clinton years swallowed up by the very same tax code that gave billons of dollars in tax cuts to people far wealthier than I. Not only am I not better off now than I was four years ago, I very much doubt that I will ever be able to make up the difference. I have gone from being able to support my family of four single-handedly and comfortably to watching all of the adults in my household take $10-or-less jobs in an effort to keep the house over our heads.

I fully expect another four years of this treatment to defeat me utterly -- I quite literally do not expect to survive it. This is not to say that I will not fight, with all of my heart and soul. For my family, my friends, my loved ones, I must do that much -- but I am breaking inside, and I can feel it. I can no longer afford to be ill, but I am pushing my body to the point where it is clearly communicating to me that it will not take much more.

That sound you hear is yet another formerly-middle-class American falling through the cracks. There will be more of me, as the social safety net frays and disintegrates, and sooner or later, long before you expect it, one of them will be you.

This is what happens when you elect people with no conscience, no empathy, no ability to put themselves in another's shoes. You get imperialism and hubris and policies made up of flights of fantasy with no conception of their human costs.

America will remain at war in Iraq to sustain its economy, to enrich the defence contractors and the ruling cabal's cronies. And oh, the pride. Down with the queers! Down with the Muslims! Down with those filthy peace activists! America for Americans! And we will tell you who the real Americans are. And you will hate who we tell you to hate. And you will be proud to hate them.

Ed Turner died in the early 1970's, after a long and tortured struggle with the culture of which he never quite managed to be a part. I do not intend to follow the same path. But I feel, tonight, more than I have ever felt in my life, the truth of the words he spoke on the day after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King.
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Testing, testing, 1, 2, 3. Yes, I am a sheep. BAA! Hear me bleat! I've been fighting off having an LJ for almost a year now; time I gave in to the peer pressure.

If I friended/stalked you and you're friending/stalking me back, please attach a comment to this post. Thanks!

June 2015

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