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 Dying to Live

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Anthony van
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PostSubject: Dying to Live   Fri Sep 01, 2017 6:20 pm

Chapter 3

            When a proposed debate about the existence of objective truth between a guest, representing the university Christian Fellowship, and a university lecturer fell through, Ari was critical and helpful in successive steps.

They were at the regular debating club meeting when Brian moved over to a clutch of other students including Justine. The key members began discussing what to do. Several students were quietly pleased, feeling the club had been hijacked by Lyn and her right wing moralists. Justine peeled away from the group unimpressed by the lack of progress. She shrugged at Ari as she became aware he was observing and sauntered over. Even though she considered Ari eccentric, she detected something warm and fragile inside the aloof, conceited persona that most people saw.

“I can’t believe he’d pull out at this late stage.” His slightly shaking head and broad, tight lipped response conveyed his condemnation of the guest speaker.  “What does it say about his commitment?” Ari was looking for a reaction.

Juzzy stared at Ari briefly, and then breathed, “His wife had an accident.”

“Oh.”

“You’re right. Oh.”

He felt a heel. ‘Why didn’t he just shut up for once?’ he thought. As they walked to the group it was clear the ideas had dried up. Ari then had a delicious thought. He could redeem the situation. Brian was speaking, “I think we’ll just have to cancel.”

Ari interjected, “I could debate him.” He looked mischievous. The others looked doubtful.

“It’s meant to be a Christian perspective,” clarified Justine, a little awkwardly, thinking Ari had missed the point.

“I thought you said it was about ‘the existence of objective truth’. I could debate that.”

“If you believe in the existence of objective truth you should examine the claims of Jesus closely,” said Lyn.

Ari smiled. “I hear what you’re saying, but I was thinking more in terms of a logical necessity rather than a basis for faith.”

This time Juzzy smiled, for she didn’t relish the idea of telling all those Philosophy majors that the intellectual joust was off. “What do you think?” she looked for approval from the others. They nodded. “All right,” she turned to Ari, “but I’ll have to explain why we have a substitute contender… and I’ll disavow any allegiance to your point of view.”

He laughed, “Disavow! You make me sound like a secret agent being sent on an impossible mission.”

“I think your approach is an impossible mission.”

“What approach is that?”

“Disagreeing with everyone you meet.”

He smiled “I can’t agree with you there.” She punched him, but there was a degree of affection in the mild blow. Lyn looked a bit peeved but recognised that they had advertised widely, and the disapproval they would get from a cancellation, when students realised they had wasted their time, was worth avoiding.

 

            Two days later the debate commenced. As Juzzy suggested, she made the introduction.

“My name is Justine Wells and on behalf of the University Debating Club I’d like to welcome you all here today. Our topic of debate as advertised is; ‘Objective Truth Exists’ But I’m afraid Reverend Jason Kirk is unavailable, so one of our students, Ari James has offered to argue ‘For the proposition’, while Mr Lattery from the Philosophy Department will still argue ‘Against the proposition’. Mr James will open the debate.” She resisted qualifying his perspective, realising that any debate was constructed on the premise of logic.

Ari began his opening statement:

            I believe Mr Lattery has conceded his position by merely turning up today.  To argue a position, you must believe you are right, unless, of course, you are just making trouble—fabricating a false argument.

You must believe that what you say is true, unless you enjoy telling lies. And you must believe that your contention is true for others—that is why you wish to convince them.

                So Mr Lattery, I hope you’re not just making trouble. And I hope you will not be purposely lying... by secretly holding that everyone should agree that what you say is true, when you don’t think truth exists. If Mr Lattery truly believes that ‘objective truth doesn’t exist’ then he is wasting his time trying to convince us.  In fact it is a logical contradiction to say that it is true that objective truth doesn’t exist.

                I, on the other hand, know that some things are objectively true. Some we all know. Some may only be known by you. Some are unknowable. Mathematically two plus two is four. Objectively true... it’s the way it is.  By definition ‘yes’ is the opposite of ‘no’.  You can say ‘yes’ and mean ‘no’, but that’s a contradiction. It happens to be the case... they are the meanings of the words.

                It is also objectively true that Mr Slattery had a belief about ‘Objective Truth’ when he came into this lecture theatre. Probably, only he will ever know what it was. Maybe it will be different when he leaves. But I would just like to point out that because we don’t know what something is, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. I believe object truth exists. Mr Slattery’s ideas exist—we don’t know what they are yet. Years ago places in the world existed but people didn’t know what they were or where they were.

                The whole realm of history presupposes a true state of affairs having existed in the past and the historian is constantly searching for evidence that gets a better appreciation of the actual truth. He can’t go back in time, so he’ll never know for certain that he has the facts. Nevertheless, he believes these facts exist so he keeps searching.

 

“One minute.” Juzzy, as moderator, warned him of the time he had remaining for his opening spiel. He continued.

                Then there is the ‘Objective Truth’ that may be unknowable in our present life, the ones Mr Slattery, or any of us, may be most afraid of; the existence of God; or what happens when we die. They are unknowable in the a priori sense of knowing. These things may not be self evident, though that doesn’t preclude a true state of affairs related to them.

 

Ari wound up his argument by first pausing before saying more deliberately:

  The existence of ‘Objective Truth’ is the reason we search for truth, the reason we have mathematicians, scientists, historians and philosophers. They are all metaphorical painters trying to interpret reality, and with each new revelation of what is true, they touch up the canvas to represent a closer perspective of truth. Maybe we will never have a complete picture, but it doesn’t stop us painting our interpretation; it doesn’t stop us in the pursuit of truth.

 

There was a solid round of applause before Ryan Slattery took the podium and began his opening statement. His words were deliberate, florid and accentuated.

                What is truth? ... I think it has been asked before, has it not. Probably with a touch of sarcasm.... You may agree with all the statements my worthy opponent has made, but does that make them true?... You may agree with what I say, but it doesn’t make it true. It just makes it a perspective with which you agree...

                 There are some things with which we are happy to agree, and others with which to disagree. But different people believe different things... Who is to say what is true? ... These things are individually or generally accepted. Acceptance just infers mutuality. In either case, acceptance may still be divorced from the idea of ultimate truth and still perform its function. Truth is not necessary, but an agreed-to frame of reference promotes mutuality and an acceptance of ideas.

                The acceptance of conventions such as language and mathematics only prove my point... By defining rules, sharing ideas, we communicate. What is ‘Yes’ to you... he paused and looked across at Ari... is ‘oui’ to the French. It is a matter of perspective.  We perceive the world and these meanings and definitions of it, and accept them as useful for communicating and completing tasks. They work. And that is also what happens with beliefs about the religious and supernatural... For some people they work.

                I’m surprised my adversary opted to depict truth as a picture you paint. For it clearly is open to interpretation. What do you see? What does it mean? It’s all a matter of perspective. I’m happy to talk about truth as relative, because it gives meaning to this discourse. But can it ever be absolute?

 

“One minute.” Interrupted Juzzy. Slattery’s slow, exaggerated intellectual discourse resulted in him saying far less, but with a pompous flourish.

 

So, what do we have? A swarm of ants trying to convince each other what works. I am not here because I am right, because I know the truth. No I am here because I know what works. I am just an ant influencing the colony. They may pay attention, they may not. It depends on their acceptance... on their perception. It depends on your acceptance, on your perception. Everything is perception.

 

A quieter applause followed Ryan Slattery’s speech. The response and rebuttal were quite brutal from Ari. He thanked the philosophy lecturer for his ‘example entomological’, and proceeded to explain that ant behaviours succeeded because they approximated communications about truth, about a particular state of affairs... where there was food, if danger was near etc. Sufficient ant communications brought about response to food locations and the true state of affairs brought rewards—not just a perception. Ari went on to point out that the pragmatic way of what worked; ‘accepted knowledge’ or perception rather than truth, may work for some time, but is often just a stepping stone to the truth. He cited ideas about the Earth, Copernicus and the nature of matter.

 

He then clarified that the picture wasn’t the truth, but a perception of the truth—a representation. It proclaimed that there was something actual, real that was worth describing. Ari also countered that Mr Slattery couldn’t answer his question about whether truth could be absolute. If he answered ‘yes’ then he agreed with objective truth. If he answered ‘no’, he was making an absolute statement about truth that he implied was true, contradicting himself.

 

You see, (Ari concluded) if what you have said is truly what you believe, then we will listen and argue. But if it is a fiction, you just made it up to entertain or you’re lying, then we’re not interested in terms of gaining knowledge—though it may be good for a laugh. An honest, true statement about your perception—even if it’s way off base, ridiculous and in error, is still useful because it will help each one of us modify our painting in our heads of what we believe the truth to be.  Without an awareness that there is a true picture there would be no research, no investigation, no argument and no search for answers... because there would be no questions.

 

When Slattery responded the crowd became restless; partly because of his use of elaborate academic jargon and partly because of their desire to oppose the establishment. They heckled; “Are you telling us the truth?”

 “Is this your true perspective?” His inability to use the word ‘truth’ with any authority had the audience walk out dismissively even as he tried to rescue his position with further references to ‘relative truth’.

 

            Ari was initially triumphant about his intellectual stoush. Mr Slattery had left saying the whole thing was a waste of time and that students couldn’t listen to a reasoned argument. A few of the Christian group had come on stage to talk to Justine. Ari also wandered over. He expected some congratulations or other plaudits. Lyn provided the feedback.

“Thanks Ari for filling in for us. I don’t know if it quite went the way we planned.”

“What do you mean? Old Slats went with his tail between his legs,” Ari grinned victoriously.

Justine just looked at him. Lyn had a serious expression and it almost seemed as if she felt sorry for him! “You seem so sure that you know truth exists... but, you don’t know the truth.”

He stared at her then at Justine. Lyn had punctured his ego just as a sharp pin would a balloon. He knew she alluded to her faith when she used the word ‘truth’. It was religion in everything for her. Justine seemed to identify with Lyn’s point of view.

            As they walked away Justine provoked his conscience. “Ari, the problem with becoming totally analytical is that you run the risk of becoming amoral, a product of cause and effect; with no desire to oppose logic to do the right thing.” It was a profound statement—‘Opposing logic to do the right thing’. How could she cut into him with such a thoughtful and highly provocative comment, and still look unabashed like she did. Her gaze was clear, caring rather than rebuking. He just wished she would ease off a bit. He was conscious of a warm feeling when Juzzy spoke to him. He would probably have been insulted if someone else had said the same thing.

            Preoccupied, realising that he had been staring into her eyes during the time her analysis was going on, his rebuttal lacked conviction. “Yeah!” He tried to make it sound ironic but the echoes of the word conveyed uncertainty to his mind. He turned and left without another comment, annoyed, even angry... and then, feeling confused and distracted.

            Later, back at home in his upstairs sanctuary, his evening thoughts became more reflective. He recognised that he spent most of his time undermining the position of people who claimed to know ‘the truth’ about any number of things, but he, on the other hand, had no fixed position on what is true. All the great issues were just combat fields to him. Nothing was personal. What were the origins? If there was a God who was He? Where did he fit in if there was a God?




Chapter 4



            Later in the year, as their friendship strengthened, they headed off to a retreat in an old guest house in the mountains by a river. Juzzy explained that Joe, a friend of Lyn’s had arranged it with their church.



            They drove up in Juzzy’s little Toyota Corolla, behind Reece, Sissy and Jen in Reece’s Audi—borrowed from his Dad. They pulled over and had coffee and chips in a touristy café on wooden decking overlooking the river valley. Ari and Reece managed to embarrass the girls when they compared their skills of catching chips in their mouth. They stopped when Sissy described it as a competition for the biggest mouth. While Reece cleaned up his last inelegant attempt, Ari constructed canter levered plastic forks hanging on a toothpick.



“You showing off?” asked Justine



“No,” he looked a little coy, “I just love the way it seems to defy logic, but is actually pure logic.”



“Sometimes I think you’re a little too logical for your own good.”



“How can you be too logical?”



“Well, you don’t leave any room for the illogical, for acting on a whim... you know being spontaneous, being quirky.”



“Quirky? You mean like weird and unpredictable?”



Jen commented to Reece, “Don’t you think they argue like a couple?”



“Yeah, an old married couple,” joked Reece just before ducking a paper cup lobbed by Ari.



            Juzzy’s eyes dropped perceptibly before she looked at him again, “Not too weird, but you ought to try responding to emotions and feelings, appreciating beauty and being sensitive to people.”



Her gaze made him feel awkward, but at the same time he was drawn to look into her eyes. She wasn’t laughing at him, just observing.



            Sissy felt Ari’s discomfort. “You’re being a bit cerebral now Jaz.” She used her nickname for her friend. “I think you’re pretty quirky Ari. I mean, causing the evacuation of a lecture theatre is quirky isn’t it?” Sissy smiled at Ari. She edged up closer to him knowing full well that Justine was fond of him, and he was obviously captivated by her. She gripped his arm, “Don’t worry Ari, I love you the way you are.” Her big brown eyes danced merrily as she winked at him and then glanced at Justine. Justine bowed her head, grinning and lifting it again responded with humour, “Okay, I’ll concede that was quirky. And I wish you both a happy future.”



Ari shoved their chip cups toward her, “Clean these up Juzzy, I must escort this lady to her car.” They all rose and went to the counter. Justine, to give her her due, picked up the rubbish and followed them.



 



            With the bill paid they headed farther into the mountains. Juzzy was following Reece who had assured them that he knew the way. They missed the turn off, and almost missed it again coming back as it was a poorly marked, narrow gravel road. Travelling slowly in the gathering darkness through the tunnel of overhanging branches, Justine and Ari quietened in anticipation. Finally they pulled up alongside the Audi at the end of several randomly parked cars beneath towering eucalypts. The old house was all theirs to use and they all helped Lyn and Joe unload all the food before finding the best rooms for sleeping. Ari, Joe, Reece and Jeff (Lyn’s younger brother) found a small room with a balcony facing the river. The river, swelled by recent heavy rains, seemed to breathe life into country that had experienced an extended dry spell.



            Because the long weekend was run by the Christian fellowship they were responsible for the program. They had listed a program for the next few days. ‘Ice breakers’ was first on the list and they started with ‘Pass the Ticket’- in which they shook hands with each other telling something about themselves. If you shook hands with the person with the ticket then you received the ticket. The person with the ticket at the end of the night did the dishes. Next they got into groups to play word games and a crazy impromptu drama. Later, they spent some time sharing with each other to get to know each other. The task was to share the worst thing about you that you were willing to share.



            Some told stories of childhood improprieties, others referred to mundane habits or behaviours such as snoring. After some fairly bland and innocuous comments, Ari shocked all by saying he thought he hated his parents. The statement caused a lull in proceedings before Juzzy, who was next to share, offered her confession.



“I think I’m a bit too critical of my friends,” she stopped and turned briefly to Ari, “They’re not as predictable as I make them out to be.” Ari acknowledged her sincerity with a light shoulder bump. Several others added to the session with greater authenticity consequent to the genuine contributions from Ari and Juzzy.  They all talked late into the night, sipping coffees, playing cards and several games of table tennis. They finished the evening with Lyn giving a benediction:



                                    Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him --  to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen. 


“Jesus... He is revealed that you might believe and obey Him. I think that last line means that… that He is the only God, and the only source of true wisdom.” Lyn looked around quietly. Ari expected her to deliver a mini sermon or homily and sunk back into a bean bag. Lyn spoke, “Goodnight everybody, breakfast’s at eight.”



            Ari held up his hands to get a hoist from Reece, but he was too busy scoffing the last of the cookies from the tray. Juzzy, who’d already risen to her feet, took his hands and gave him an assist. He held her hands for a slightly longer interval than necessary in his distraction of looking at her and thinking of something witty to say. Abandoning the effort, Ari ventured weakly, “Thanks.”



“It’s the least I could do after the hard time I gave you,”  Justine’s face lit up with mischievous delight, “Besides,” she added, “I had the ticket. Now you’ve got it.” She gave it to him and scooted around the corner as he tried to tag her. Everyone moved off and headed for their rooms while Ari collected the cups and some plates. Thankful that there were only the few supper dishes, he filled the big sink in the kitchen and set to the task. He’d only washed a couple of items before Juzzy joined him with a tea towel in hand.



“I’d feel bad if I just left them for you to do,” she explained. The dishes were done all too soon for Ari, and with a cheery ‘goodnight’ Justine was gone.



            In his room there was a riotous round of sock throwing going on. It ended soon after when Reece bumped his head trying to avoid Jeff’s well disguised side flick. Some of the guys in the other male bedroom asked if Ari’s group wanted to join them for some bible reading. Reece said that they wanted to ‘hit the sack’ as they were tired. Ari said he hadn’t heard the phrase ‘hit the sack’ for a long time and the four had a laugh. They threw about a number of other anachronistic sayings loosely connected with sleep to begin with but diverging widely soon after to wondering about the origin of all sorts of idioms. Reece wanted to talk but Joe was soon snoozing and Jeff quietly read his bible, so Ari tried to show interest in Reece’s ramblings about uni, girls, cars and girls and sports and girls. When Jeff put his bible away Ari turned off the light and Reece was soon snoring. Ari thought about those words in the benediction: ‘that all nations might believe and obey him’ ... talk about a grand plan. He wondered what it would mean to obey Jesus Christ. By all accounts He wasn’t some sort of megalomaniac... more like a loving parent. Now there was something he couldn’t identify with. Just as Ari was sinking into self pity, a glaring thought invaded his mind. His grandmother was the loving, caring parent in his life. Was it any coincidence that she also was his one intimate example of a life influenced by obedience to Jesus?



 



            The muted roar of heavy rain on the corrugated iron roof was the first sound they were conscious of that morning. After breakfast, and after some lively discussion about the Sermon on the Mount, they went on a long walk through the temperate rain forest in the rain. Discussing perspectives on being, and creation and purpose, it became apparent that Justine was becoming more involved with the group and responding to their friendliness. The air was filled with the dank scents of the verdant forest released by the soaking rain. Taking a breather on a heavy wooden bridge they watched the swollen river rush swiftly beneath them, splattering noisily against beams and rocks. Ari gazed at Justine’s lank wet hair and still felt stirred by her presence. He realised that initially his attraction to her was her looks, but now he was also being drawn by the warmth of her personality. They were alone as the others had already turned back. Justine felt a little self conscious as she became aware of his stare.



“We should go back.”



“Yeah...” that was the extent of Ari’s ability to respond. He thought he should talk so he referred to all those blessings they had heard about that morning. To Ari it was so foreign from how people were.



“What did you think of all those ‘blessings’?”



“How amazing would it be if people were like that?” Justine seemed to glow with the thought.



“It’s not going to happen, Juzzy,” concluded Ari.



“I think just having those qualities as a goal for your life would be enough for me. If a person wanted to be pure in heart, merciful, a peacemaker and those other things; I know I’d like them, and I know that’s the sort of person I want to be.”



They didn’t say much more of significance, but just trekked quietly back along the dirt track talking about the surrounding scenery and avoiding yellow/red muddy rivulets until they reached the guest house. After changing they draped their wet clothes near the open fire place along with all the others. They joined everyone outside and had a barbeque lunch on the covered veranda, watching the rain tumble down and the river break its banks in minor flood.



            Board games and a variety of crazy games, such as ‘Trivial Pursuit Charades’, filled the afternoon. That evening Lyn again led a bible talk. Still on the Sermon on the Mount, Lyn pointed out how often Jesus said “You have heard it said... But I say to you...”. She said Jesus didn’t go with the ‘conventional wisdom’, His way was about selflessness and sacrifice, but it was also about liberation and fulfilment. For the first time Ari saw Jesus as revolutionary rather than conservative. His ideas were in total contradiction to the leaders, teachers and authorities of the time. Justine spent a lot of time with Lyn and Joe that night and Sunday morning and Ari felt a bit awkward rattling around with the others before they packed and left.



 



            Before being dropped off Ari asked Justine if they could go out somewhere. She grinned at his discomfited approach.



“You asking me out on a date?” she grinned.



“I guess so, Juzzy,” he replied with unaccustomed bashfulness.



                                                ----------------------------------



 



            The week following the retreat, Ari took Justine out to a movie. After the movie over coffee and doughnuts Justine told him that she had ‘accepted Christ’. To Ari it didn’t change things, as he got along with his Gran really well and she also adhered to the ‘Christ follower’ persuasion. However, Justine’s faith did make a difference.



“I like you Ari, but I need to know what this means to my whole life. It’s not fair to you to string you along. I already know that Jesus has got to be a big part of any relationship I have.” She looked up at him over her cup of coffee and he sensed that she had struggled to say what she had.



“Are you saying goodbye?” He almost choked on the words. It was only today that he’d convinced himself that Justine might become more than just a friend.



“No... I guess I’m just saying wait... wait and see what happens.”



Ari tried to smile, “It’s going to kill me Juzzy.” She smiled back. It was an uncomfortable, confused smile.



            The following weeks she was indifferent to his attentions and he soon found that she was busy with church singles groups, bible studies and attending church services. On one occasion when he complained that she was never around, she suggested that he go along with her. He said no, and that he was afraid of turning into a religious fanatic.



            That was the trigger that faded him, if not out of the picture, at least into the background. They were having lunch in the cafeteria when Justine tried to explain her position.



“Ari, I’m learning so much. This faith has to come first. It’s just starting to all come together. I’m afraid that if we don’t agree on this we will come to hate each other.”



“So you want to blackmail me into joining this church.”



Justine was stung by his words, “No, I think we should stand back and sort out what we really want from life.”



            Ari was upset, his heart ached and he felt his eyes moisten. His response matched his inward turmoil. “Don’t worry about me. I’m used to being shoved into the background. Just about everyone I know finds it convenient to find something more important to do than stay in a relationship with me.” He recoiled as the sound of his own bitterness reverberated in his ears.



Justine felt his pain and her eyes filled with tears.



“It’s not that, you know I care for you.” Her voice quivered. “It’s just that as long as you choose to ignore Jesus then we will be going in different directions. I don’t think I could cope with the antagonism of not agreeing with you.” She bit her lip as she realised what she’d said



“Am I that bad?” Reflectively Ari began to consider how obnoxious he had been with people.



“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that... Don’t you think people in a relationship should share the same goals?”



            He thought back to his parents. To what extent were they united in their goals? Their shared purpose appeared only to be to do their own thing. He had no answer. He was left with nothing to say to Justine, so he got up and walked away.



“Ari?” Justine called, visibly upset as he walked away. He couldn’t condemn their relationship to the uncaring, even selfish arrangement that his parents had bestowed upon him.



            Over the following weeks Ari was disconsolate. He yearned for Juzzy but his behaviour and the way he spoke covered his feelings; he was ashamed of himself. He didn’t measure up to the sort of person Justine deserved. Ari realised that it was his selfishness that led him to be angry at her. He had blamed her by questioning; ‘why couldn’t she please him, make concessions for him? It had been all about him. He told himself that he cared enough for Justine not to encumber her with the emotional baggage and the dysfunctional relationship heritage that he inflicted on those around him. He came to a decision. From that time on he purposely avoided Justine. On a number of occasions she had tried to bridge the gap that had developed between them. Every time he excused himself saying he had studies or he had friends waiting; he would use any excuse to minimise the longings caused by being near to her.



            “Why can’t we just be friends?” was her plaintive question as she sat next to him in the cafeteria during one lunch time, near the end of their third year.



“Because I don’t want you involved with the mess my life is in.”



“Let me help, talk to me about it. I’m sorry if I shut you out.” There was pain in her voice as she said it.



“Juzzy, this sounds corny I know, but it’s not you, it’s me. I’m some sort of egomaniac who thought he was right about everything, until I realised that I’m just replaying my upbringing, and I will probably perpetuate all its failures with those I form relationships with.”



“That’s crazy!”



“Is it?” he strained, and then he said quietly, “I can’t do this. I’ve got to go.” He walked away again, thinking to himself, ‘I don’t deserve someone like Juzzy, and she certainly doesn’t need someone like me’.



           



            Ari spent more of his time brooding over his unfortunate circumstances. Apart from occasionally talking with Reece and avoiding Justine, Sissy and Jen, who were more often than not a threesome, he was mainly occupied working in the study at home with his Gran doting over him and telling him he should get out. He avoided social contacts by spending breaks in the library and using some spare time working in the office of a local politician, reading constituent letters, proof reading replies and often making suggestions. Thomas McLeish was the leading member of the growing Republican Party and began to value his casual assistant. Whenever the MP had a speech to deliver he’d let ‘his young genius’ edit it and offer advice on content. Ari’s way of communicating logically and simply, while making claims that were clearly achievable, caused McLeish to offer the young man a permanent job when he finished his course.
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