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Reblogged: DEBATE: Dinesh D’Souza vs. Andrew Bernstein—Christianit

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#1
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Posted ImageIs Christianity the source of important truths, moral law, and man’s rights and thus profoundly good for mankind—or is it antithetical to all such values and thus profoundly bad? Christian conservative Dinesh D’Souza will argue that Christianity is good; Objectivist atheist Andrew Bernstein will argue the alternative.
When: February 8, 2013, 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM
Where: Hogg Auditorium, University of Texas–Austin
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit the D’Souza-Bernstein Debate Page. To spread the word about the event, use our PDF Flier and link to the event page and Facebook page.
Brought to you by The Objective Standard and UT Objectivism Society

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#2
softwareNerd

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Pretty cool that Bernstein got a D'Souza to agree to a debate. I hope they film it.

Edited by softwareNerd, 11 December 2012 - 09:00 PM.

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"... the intention of the Holy Ghost is to teach us how we shall go to Heaven, and not how the heavens go" - Galileo, quoting a priest


#3
Spiral Architect

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D'Souza seems to be open to a good debate. I saw him debate Christpher Hitchens and Freedom Fest one year and it was a good debate.
Volition = Cognition - A deterministic philosophy is a contradiction in terms

#4
Ninth Doctor

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Back when I ran an Objectivist campus club, I was friendly with the leaders of the conservative club, so when they brought D'Souza to speak, they invited me to the pre-talk dinner. This was probably in 1993. The majority of the conversation was one on one between him and me, with the others just following along. He was working on a book where he was going to reference Rand, so he was taking notes as I was guiding him to sources, in which essay is such and such discussed, that kind of thing. He inscribed my copy of Illiberal Education with “To [me], who believes in freedom”. A few years later I sought out the resulting book, it was in a bookstore and I used the index to find what he’d written about Rand. I was disappointed, he was very dismissive in print and I didn’t think he “got” what she was saying on the topic. I didn’t buy the book and don’t recall what the topic was, something political no doubt. In person he seemed more knowledgeable, and overall I really enjoyed talking to him.

You can see a lot of his debates on YouTube, there was one just a week or so back with Lawrence Krauss and Michael Shermer against Dinesh and someone else. He has an ability to utter howlers with not just a straight face, but with obvious conviction. He’s a very skilled debater. From my experiences with Andy Bernstein (there’s an abortion thread from not too long ago where I recount an experience or two) I predict that, in spite of Bernstein coming in with the superior philosophical “punching power”, D’Souza is going to use a rope-a-dope strategy on him, and if there’s a vote at the end, like in IQ2 debates, D’Souza will come out on top. That is, unless Bernstein has learned to deal with what he regards as “invalid questions”.
"If in this book harsh words are spoken about some of the greatest among the intellectual leaders of mankind, my motive is not, I hope, the wish to belittle them. It springs rather from my conviction that, if our civilization is to survive, we must break with the habit of deference to great men." - Karl Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, Preface

"Ma gavte la nata" - Jacopo Belbo

#5
Reidy

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The real way to tell who wins is to wait a few months after the event. Either some Objectivist organization or some conservative organization will be posting it the debate on YouTube, selling the video, offering it as a new-members premium, etc. The other side will be hoping nobody remembers it.

#6
softwareNerd

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Winning would be good, but losing means a better chance of winning in the future. Either way, the key is that segment of the audience that is somewhat ready for the message. As long as Bernstein can do well enough for this segment, the rest do not matter too much.

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"... the intention of the Holy Ghost is to teach us how we shall go to Heaven, and not how the heavens go" - Galileo, quoting a priest


#7
Ninth Doctor

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It might be fun/interesting to write out refutations of some of D’Souza’s material, then if Bernstein wants to use it, fine. There are a few unfair, arguably dishonest historical examples D’Souza has used repeatedly, which take time to answer and would require preparation, a bit more familiarity with the subject than even a well read person would have at his fingertips.

The body count of the Spanish Inquisition, the record of 20th century “atheist regimes”, and the 30 Years War are the examples I’ve thought of. It would be more work than I see myself putting in to seek out at what point in which debate he used these examples, but hopefully I’ll figure a way. I do recall him using his 30 Years War interpretation on Doug Casey at an event in Vegas, Casey (not a historian) didn’t know what he was talking about and D’Souza jumped all over him. The other two (Spanish Inquisition and “atheist regimes”) I’m sure he used against Hitchens.
"If in this book harsh words are spoken about some of the greatest among the intellectual leaders of mankind, my motive is not, I hope, the wish to belittle them. It springs rather from my conviction that, if our civilization is to survive, we must break with the habit of deference to great men." - Karl Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, Preface

"Ma gavte la nata" - Jacopo Belbo

#8
Reidy

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How does losing mean a better chance of winning in the future? Unless you have some elaborate rope-a-dope strategy going on, this strikes me as the exact opposite of the truth.

Edited by Reidy, 13 December 2012 - 08:27 AM.


#9
Ninth Doctor

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While I’m thinking of it, abolition of slavery is another issue that D’Souza tries to make out as being to the credit of Christianity. The big problem is it takes much longer to refute these claims than it does to make them, and in a timed debate it’s hard to do it convincingly, your opponent can throw a lot of balls in the air and there’s no way you can catch them all.
"If in this book harsh words are spoken about some of the greatest among the intellectual leaders of mankind, my motive is not, I hope, the wish to belittle them. It springs rather from my conviction that, if our civilization is to survive, we must break with the habit of deference to great men." - Karl Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, Preface

"Ma gavte la nata" - Jacopo Belbo

#10
Jonathan13

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It might be fun/interesting to write out refutations of some of D’Souza’s material, then if Bernstein wants to use it, fine.


In preparing for a debate, I think the more valuable thing to do would be to write out effective tactics which D'Souza might use against Bernstein, and to contemplate how to respond to them. I doubt that D'Souza has any interest in working that hard in preparation, and I think that he'll probably coast on his current knowledge and tactics, but, hypothetically, what if he turned the tables and challenged Bernstein's beliefs? What chink in the armour would he exploit? How might he try to show that Objectivism isn't based in pure reason as it claims to be, but takes certain things on faith and borrows from Christianity?

J

#11
Ninth Doctor

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What chink in the armour would he exploit? How might he try to show that Objectivism isn't based in pure reason as it claims to be, but takes certain things on faith and borrows from Christianity?

I've heard him refer to David Hume, and to put this in Objectivist-ese, claim causality can only be held on faith. So, the sun coming up tomorrow is a matter of faith. That the laws of physics apply on another planet, or galaxy, one we haven't visited, is faith. But an Objectivist ought to be able to handle that.

I was thinking of more factual matters, where either you know the role France played in the 30 Years War or you don't, and in that case the answer is far from simple which is probably why D'Souza likes to use it as an example. He'll talk about how many executions there were under the Spanish Inquisition, thus evading the fact that The Inquisition had a huge death toll particularly in the Albigensian conflict (kill them all, God will recognize his own), and that it was pretty hard to get executed by the Spanish Inquisition, you got tortured, your whole family's wealth would get confiscated, but it took a lot to actually get killed, and yet, thousands did.

Edited by Ninth Doctor, 13 December 2012 - 10:39 AM.

"If in this book harsh words are spoken about some of the greatest among the intellectual leaders of mankind, my motive is not, I hope, the wish to belittle them. It springs rather from my conviction that, if our civilization is to survive, we must break with the habit of deference to great men." - Karl Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, Preface

"Ma gavte la nata" - Jacopo Belbo

#12
softwareNerd

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How does losing mean a better chance of winning in the future?.

We learn by doing.

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"... the intention of the Holy Ghost is to teach us how we shall go to Heaven, and not how the heavens go" - Galileo, quoting a priest


#13
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Maybe there is some confusion over the word, "better?" As in, "better than what?"

Surely not better than Bernstein winning. But definitely better than Bernstein losing the chance to debate D'Souza. The question of who "wins" a debate is more a poll of the audience than the speakers. So even if a majority of the audience isn't ready to side with Bernstein, for him the opportunity to spread his message is priceless.

#14
Ninth Doctor

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Here’s a link to the part with Doug Casey, go to about 26 minutes in to see D’Souza go after him, rather disrespectfully I’d say. The format, however, is awfully conducive to comedy and hamming it up. Still, plenty of good content makes it through by the end.

http://www.c-spanvid...rogram/294549-1
Now, how to answer concerning the 30 Years War. I’d start by noting that it was, like the name suggests, a 30 year long series of conflicts. It wasn’t about one thing over its entire course. D’Souza disputes that it was a religious war, after introducing it as having been a religious war. Gaa!!

Well, it certainly started over religion, with religious officials from the Holy Roman Empire going to Prague and declaring a crackdown on the Hussites. Not the Lutherans. So the town leaders showed them what a great view they could have from the window. But it soon developed into a conflict between Catholics and Lutherans in Germany. Not in France. France had long been in separate conflict with the HRE, and the enemy of one’s enemy, at least in wartime, is one’s friend. France was then operating under the Edict of Nantes, which granted religious toleration to the Huguenots, making France in effect a rogue nation by Catholic lights. France went to war against the HRE during the War of Mantuan Succession, which wasn’t a religious war but took place during the 30YW (more or less independently), and, after the HRE had brutally subdued Germany, France provided financial assistance to Lutheran Sweden to keep the war going, obviously so the HRE would be fighting somewhere other than on French soil. This proves…what again Dinesh?

Looking over this and trying to condense it into a snappy one or two sentence summary, ugh, can’t. BTW I’m sure I’ve heard D’Souza use this in other debates, it’s not an unusual part of his repertoire. It’s so dishonest it ticks me off, which of course helps make it memorable. There’s little doubt that his debate with Bernstein will involve discussing history, and watch the video (linked above, it won't embed) to see how he acts when he catches an opponent unfamiliar with a subject. How does it look to people in the audience who don’t know the history either, and so don’t realize that he’s pulling one over on them? Looks like he’s winning big, that’s how.
"If in this book harsh words are spoken about some of the greatest among the intellectual leaders of mankind, my motive is not, I hope, the wish to belittle them. It springs rather from my conviction that, if our civilization is to survive, we must break with the habit of deference to great men." - Karl Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, Preface

"Ma gavte la nata" - Jacopo Belbo

#15
Ninth Doctor

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While I’m thinking of it, abolition of slavery is another issue that D’Souza tries to make out as being to the credit of Christianity.

Alright, how to handle the slavery one. D’Souza will try to claim that individualism has its origination in Christianity, and this leads to opposition to slavery. Hey, at least he’s in favor of individualism, right? If you look up Rand’s letter to the Reverend Dudley you’ll find her agreeing with this interpretation, and I think you’ll find Peikoff stating it somewhere or other too, I think in one of his radio shows. I disagree, particularly about the origination part, but think it’s a better strategy to attack the claim that Christianity opposes slavery. This requires either taking a position on what Christianity teaches (and there’s a model of clarity!) or referring to history.

Of the many many variations of Christian thought over the centuries, it took until the Quakers before one came along that was unambiguously opposed to slavery. Why did it take so long? The Quakers were founded about 1640, and Christianity attained political power about 340 (under Constantine’s sons, who were the first to impose it by force), so there’s 1300 years that need explaining. It would be good at this point to cite the New Testament material about slavery, that slaves shouldn’t try to improve their condition, yadda yadda yadda. Maybe bring in the fact that southern slaveowners used the Bible to justify themselves, just as the likes of Garrison used it to oppose them. Then play the Polycarp card. Polycarp was an early Christian martyr, who died in the middle of the 2nd century. He was a “companion” of the apostle John. According to the famous account of his martyrdom, written by contemporary Christians mind you, he was captured because, under torture, one of his slaves divulged his hiding place. The language is completely unambiguous, this very early Christian saint owned slaves. And his followers didn't think there was anything strange about it. Splain that one to me Dinesh. You also might try working in the fact there was serfdom in the medieval Papal states, but I think that’s an easier blow to dodge. Just say they didn’t know any other way to run a farm, this was how everyone was doing it. Besides, criticizing the Papacy won’t score you the right kind of points with the Protestants in the audience.

Trouble is, in the final analysis, the most important abolitionists did base their arguments on their interpretations of Christian thought. Wilberforce, Garrison, and Stowe were very religious people. There were some secular Enlightenment thinkers too, but they weren’t as influential as those three. If I were Dinesh I’d try arguing that Christianity inherited slavery, in the same way the United States did, which is why I’d be sure to stress that it took over 1300 years, I mean how credible is that?
"If in this book harsh words are spoken about some of the greatest among the intellectual leaders of mankind, my motive is not, I hope, the wish to belittle them. It springs rather from my conviction that, if our civilization is to survive, we must break with the habit of deference to great men." - Karl Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, Preface

"Ma gavte la nata" - Jacopo Belbo

#16
mdegges

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Do you know anything about Charles Murray or his book that Dinesh talked about? I think he started speaking at around 30:00.. He goes so far as to say that individualism would not have existed without Christianity. From what I've seen, the central debate question is, 'Was Christianity historically constructive?' I wonder if that will be the same topic for Bernstein's debate.

#17
Ninth Doctor

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Do you know anything about Charles Murray or his book that Dinesh talked about?

You mean this?
http://www.amazon.co...=charles murray

I haven’t read it. It doesn't look good to me at all. Marie Curie scores an 40 to Newton's 100, and Beethoven outscores Bach? Come on.

BTW, Joseph Campbell makes a fascinating case that Christianity was not individualistic until and where it blended with older European, particularly Celtic, myth. He traces the individualist element particularly to the rise of the Arthurian romances in the High Middle Ages, 1100-1200. His view is quite similar to Spengler’s in Decline of the West. He covers this in his book Occidental Mythology, and in other places, interviews and such. Here's a talk that I believe covers this ground:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HEcRJNMkWtg&list=PLK4VrXG8z79oNtoHAIMLEx-l0Apvk0QEy&index=2
"If in this book harsh words are spoken about some of the greatest among the intellectual leaders of mankind, my motive is not, I hope, the wish to belittle them. It springs rather from my conviction that, if our civilization is to survive, we must break with the habit of deference to great men." - Karl Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, Preface

"Ma gavte la nata" - Jacopo Belbo

#18
Reidy

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Christianity, with its emphasis on the individual soul's worth regardless of status or nationality, seems to have been a necessary condition of the discovery of individualism fully understood. That doesn't mean that it's a good defense of individualism. The medicine, technology or astronomy that prevailed in earlier centuries were necessary steps on the path to where we are today, but that does not make them worth practicing in preference to what we have now.

Taking up the point Ninth Doctor makes in #15, if it were a sufficient condition, mature individualism would have emerged when Christianity was fully dominant and not after it had lost its monopoly.

#19
Ninth Doctor

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Christianity, with its emphasis on the individual soul's worth regardless of status or nationality, seems to have been a necessary condition of the discovery of individualism fully understood.

I disagree with this. Following Campbell, note that it took a thousand years for this interpretation, or variation, to bear fruit. Meanwhile, the roots of individualism are certainly present among the great Greek philosophers, and in stories like the Homeric ones.

I agree with the rest of what you said.
"If in this book harsh words are spoken about some of the greatest among the intellectual leaders of mankind, my motive is not, I hope, the wish to belittle them. It springs rather from my conviction that, if our civilization is to survive, we must break with the habit of deference to great men." - Karl Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, Preface

"Ma gavte la nata" - Jacopo Belbo

#20
Spiral Architect

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Taking up the point Ninth Doctor makes in #15, if it were a sufficient condition, mature individualism would have emerged when Christianity was fully dominant and not after it had lost its monopoly.


Just to add to this point, it is also worth noting that the influence of the Church was going down in the West exactly when individual rights ascended; by the formation of the American Constitution many Christians were worried about the status of their religion. Not only did it not have a monopoly and controlled the debate, but further it was on defense and losing the debate.
Volition = Cognition - A deterministic philosophy is a contradiction in terms

#21
Ninth Doctor

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On to “atheist regimes”. What D’Souza does is concede that there’ve been plenty of atrocities performed under theistic regimes, and even acknowledge that much of it was done “in the name of” Christianity. Then he’ll claim that there’s a natural, or base level of human wickedness, and that Christianity itself has been a positive influence, that there’d have been more (and/or worse) atrocities without Christianity than with. He typically tries, as a side-note, to minimize how bad the atrocities were, claiming that the death toll wasn’t as bad as most people think in cases like the Spanish Inquisition, never minding that there are plenty of high body count atrocities that most people have never heard about. How about Justinian in North Africa, who’s heard of that one? Upwards of a million heretical Arians and Donatists joined the silenced majority.

Then he moves into the record of the big bad 20th century regimes that he claims were atheistic. He always includes Hitler, and then come the bloodiest Marxists: Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot. It’s important, and easy, to separate Hitler from the other three. Hitchens does it quite well.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tgAPyS-NPZ4
It’s worth mentioning that there’s only one source for the claim Hitler was an atheist, Table Talk, which is of questionable origin and even subject to multiple interpretations. If you read his speeches (and Mein Kampf) there’s no question his public image was that of a Christian, and that was what the people carrying out the orders, like manning the concentration camps, thought he was. There are some choice quotes to have at the ready, where he sounds like GW Bush claiming he’s doing God’s work. Ick.

Now to deal with the other three. What’s important to convey is that the common element is Marxism, not atheism. I think the most devastating way to go about this is to frame it in terms of before and after. Russia was Eastern Orthodox, which is certainly theistic, then Marxist. China was Confucian and Taoist, which are not theistic, then Marxist. Cambodia was Buddhist, again not theistic, then Marxist. So it’s not that going from theism to atheism means going from paradise to mass slaughter. It’s going to Marxism from anything else that means mass slaughter. To clinch the point you can bring up the Münster Rebellion, where a Christian communism was imposed on an already Christian community, and the per capita death toll was worthy of any Ukranian famine town. Hitchens, being a Marxist himself, could never handle this as effectively as an Objectivist can.
"If in this book harsh words are spoken about some of the greatest among the intellectual leaders of mankind, my motive is not, I hope, the wish to belittle them. It springs rather from my conviction that, if our civilization is to survive, we must break with the habit of deference to great men." - Karl Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, Preface

"Ma gavte la nata" - Jacopo Belbo

#22
Ninth Doctor

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Good chance this one won’t come up in the Bernstein debate, since it’s about science. But the debate topic is “Is Christianity the source of important truths, moral law, and man’s rights and thus profoundly good for mankind…”, and Dinesh might try to work this in under the important truths part, particularly if he perceives that Bernstein lacks much of a scientific background. I find it absolutely comical, but what the hell, I get a kick out of refuting it. This clip comes from his most recent debate, “Science Refutes God”, go to just before 35 minutes in:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RKNd_S3iXfs

“Modern science, after climbing round and round the mountain has arrived at the top only to find a bunch of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”

Now is that a convincing case for revelation and holy books as sources of knowledge, or what? The big bang model, he asserts, resembles the Biblical creation story in Genesis. I think it’s pointless to try disputing the big bang model, or whatever peculiar interpretation of the Bible story or the big bang model Dinesh puts forward. The way I think I’d attack this is by analogy to someone who brags about his success at gambling. I’m thinking of someone who only tells you about when he’s won a bet, but never acknowledges that he’s lost more than he’s won. Then go through the rest of the Genesis story, Eve was created from Adam’s rib, Earth created before the Sun, and so on. What kind of batting average on scientific matters do holy books have?

Edited by Ninth Doctor, 16 December 2012 - 11:47 AM.

"If in this book harsh words are spoken about some of the greatest among the intellectual leaders of mankind, my motive is not, I hope, the wish to belittle them. It springs rather from my conviction that, if our civilization is to survive, we must break with the habit of deference to great men." - Karl Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, Preface

"Ma gavte la nata" - Jacopo Belbo

#23
Reidy

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If D'Souza thinks that this talent (writing fugues) or that (building cathedrals) makes its possessor an authority on religious matters, I'd expect him to be willing to extend this principle to politics. Sean Penn, Jane Fonda and Meryl Streep are great actors; ergo, by his lights, they are authoritative on political questions such as abortion.

#24
Ninth Doctor

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Here's a nice clip of D'Souza being taken to the woodshed. If this is the best he's got, the debate ought to be duck soup for Bernstein.


"If in this book harsh words are spoken about some of the greatest among the intellectual leaders of mankind, my motive is not, I hope, the wish to belittle them. It springs rather from my conviction that, if our civilization is to survive, we must break with the habit of deference to great men." - Karl Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, Preface

"Ma gavte la nata" - Jacopo Belbo

#25
Ninth Doctor

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And now it's up on YouTube. D'Souza used most of the material I predicted he'd use above. Bernstein did a good job with the "atheist regimes" one, his approach was much quicker and just as effective as what I suggested. He just said he was willing to agree that Christianity was second worst, after Marxism, and that since Dinesh had in effect conceded that Christianity was bad, Bernstein had won the debate. Well played. Overall though, I felt Bernstein was hit and miss.

BTW one point that irritated me was "Bernstein's Wager", his supposedly original answer to Pascal's Wager. It's just too similar to Smith's Wager, which in turn is derived (I think) from Epicurus. Give credit where due, I say. Well, unless that means giving credit to a non-ARI affiliated Rand scholar.
"If in this book harsh words are spoken about some of the greatest among the intellectual leaders of mankind, my motive is not, I hope, the wish to belittle them. It springs rather from my conviction that, if our civilization is to survive, we must break with the habit of deference to great men." - Karl Popper, The Open Society and its Enemies, Preface

"Ma gavte la nata" - Jacopo Belbo


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