Monthly Archives: September 2013

An Interview on Aquaponics with Tim Frey

Tim Frey of Roberts & Roberts Brokerage is mostly known for his work with activists in the liberty community, but he has recently taken up aquaponics in addition to raised bed gardening and raising chickens for eggs and meat. We get to talk about his foray into aquaponics in the office on a regular basis, and it really is a fascinating development. I got the chance to interview him about the specifics of the operation, and believe this information is very useful to a broader audience, especially those who are looking into becoming more self-sufficient.

How long have you been growing your own food in general?

I started out soil gardening about 6 years ago. I cleared the grass out of a corner of our acre plus subdivision lot and started adding compost and manure to the Florida sand that was there and got started growing. A couple years ago, I shifted to mostly raised bed gardening which cut down a lot on the weeding and some of the other effort. I added chickens two years ago.

What encouraged you to start growing food and raising chickens?

I was encouraged by both the feeling that the skills might become a necessity in the future and the potential to control the quality of the food. I’d have to say though that the quality is why I continue doing it. I was really inspired to take on chickens by my good friend Mark of Green Acres Farm . Our family became somewhat of a test subject for Mark when he started out raising chickens and lambs. I wasn’t much of a chicken eater until I had one of his birds. It was delicious! The appearance, taste, tenderness and structure of the meat were way better than anything I had eaten in a grocery store or restaurant chicken. I bought chickens from Mark for a couple of years and decided to try raising them myself.

After growing food with soil, what made you want to switch to aquaponics?

I’ll probably continue growing in soil using raised beds. Some things like carrots radishes and other root crops aren’t suited for aquaponic or hydroponic growing. So it’s not a complete switch. Aquaponics seems like a clean and efficient way to grow many things. The fact that there are no weeds or soil pests also appeals to me. My understanding is the density of food production is greater even than raised bed gardening. So far, I’ve just completed construction of a basic small system using goldfish on my back porch. The idea is to grow salad greens and herbs were they can be readily harvested just by walking out the back door. If this works well, I plan to scale up and use some form of edible fish and build a green house or Aquadome similar to what Ernie has been working on.

How is your aquaponic system set up?

The system I built is pretty simple. I designed it based on a compilation of information I got watching YouTube videos and reading websites and papers online. The original design was two 3×3 foot grow beds, two 25 gallon water tanks and a “swirl” filter to remove most of the particle solids like fish food or fish waste. The fish live in one tank which is a 25 gallon reservoir tank sold for use in hydroponic systems. Water from that tank flows out to the swirl filter which uses the natural motion of the water to cause most of the fish solids to fall to the bottom of the filter. This filter is a five gallon food grade bucket and some PVC pipe and fittings. That water goes into a second 25 gallon tank called a sump tank. In my original design, this is where the one and only water pump is located. I chose a “Fish First” design, meaning I never wanted a failure in the system to kill the fish. Only “excess” water from the fish tank may be used. If the pump was directly in the fish tank and a leak or blockage developed in the system, the pump could empty the fish tank. So, the water pump moves the water up from the sump tank to the first grow bed. This bed will be used primarily to grow lettuces and other greens in a Styrofoam raft with 25 cutouts with net pots that allow the plant to have both access to the nutrient rich water and air to prevent drowning the root system. As this tank fills, it overflows to a second grow bed that is full of expanded clay pellets and provides nutrient rich water to the plants. The pellets serve as a medium to support the root system of other plants. I’m going to try some herbs (no, not that herb!), beans, spinach, cucumbers, and pepper to start with. This bed is using an “ebb and flow” or “fill and drain” method. Water flows through the lettuce raft bed and into the pellet bed. When the water level reaches a set height, it starts to drain out of the grow bed and down into the fish tank through a bell siphon. A natural siphon or suction is created which almost completely drains the grow bed and gives the plant time to get air to the roots before the cycle starts again. The increased level in the fish tank flows out to the filter, into the sump tank, and the process continues. One water pump, a tiny amount of electrical power and no other mechanical or electrical equipment is needed. It would be very easy to convert the system to run off of one small solar panel and small battery system for night time or cloudy days.

What are the benefits of using aquaponics vs. a soil based method and are there any disadvantages?

As I mentioned earlier, I’m hoping for greater food density and easier maintenance and upkeep.  It’s not easy to fight soil insects and since the ground never really freezes here in Florida, they continue year after year. I’ve run out of places to grow some things like zucchini because I know the root bore larvae is in that soil somewhere. I’ll still need to watch for caterpillars and other leaf insects but those are much easier to deal with because you can more readily see them and the damage they are doing. And, of course, there are no weeds! I also want to scale up to edible fish – I haven’t found any good recipes for goldfish.

 A breakdown of how Tim's aquaponic system works.

A breakdown of how Tim’s aquaponic system works.

 What problems have you run into as you were trying to get the project started?

One thing I learned was the amount of time and the steps needed to condition the water and make it ready for the fish. There is a definite process to this and it takes some time to do. Even after the system is ready for fish, there is about two weeks before the system is ready for plants. With soil gardening, you prep your soils and sow seeds or plant plants and off you go. Aquaponics takes time to really get established. I’ve also had to make one modification to the system due to the high temperatures here in Florida. Goldfish are not very heat tolerant and I found the water getting dangerously high some days. We had to resort to freezing blocks of ice in plastic bottle and containers and putting them in the sump to bring down the water temperature in the system. I’ve added a 55 gallon food grade drum and buried it in the ground next to the system to add water mass to the system as well as taken advantage of the cooler underground temperatures. I’m hoping that will hold the temperatures down enough. It could also be a useful way to keep temperatures up in the winter since we do see freezing temperatures here in the panhandle fairly frequently a couple months of the year.

The other problem I’ve run into is government regulation. I didn’t originally plan to use goldfish. Probably the best fish for this system is tilapia but those are prohibited in my district by Florida Fish and Wildlife. I may eventually use catfish or some other permitted fish. It would be nice to have something more temperature tolerant and edible.

For people wanting to start aquaponics in this area, what should they know about the solutions to the issues you faced?

There is a ton of information on the internet about both aquaponics and hydroponics. There are also kits being offered for people that don’t want to design and build or tinker with making it all work.

Have you found other people in the area that are creating aquaponic systems or are there resources people can go to for more information?

I haven’t found a lot of people in my area doing aquaponics. I did get some good advice from my local hydroponics supply store. We aren’t a particularly large city but there are two really good suppliers here; Healthy Gardens and Supply and Atlantis Hydroponics. It also recently occurred to me that some of the garden stores or places that deal with ponds might be a good resource of information about fish and water issues. I would also say that the amount of shared information on the internet is amazing. Everything from universities to county agents and tons of backyard enthusiasts have posted all kinds of information online.


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An Interview on Permaculture Based Livestock with Mark Casson

I met Mark Casson of Green Acres Farms when he started working at Roberts & Roberts Brokerage a little over a year and a half ago. Mark and his family are dedicated to permaculture based livestock farming where the animals are raised on their natural diets and allowed to roam free in a natural habitat. This approach to raising animals produces physically and mentally healthy animals that are much healthier for you than meat raised through factory farms. Having been to the farm, it is truly a great experience to see animals being raised the way nature intended, and though I don’t have land of my own yet, I have always looked forward to growing my own food and raising some small amount of animals for personal consumption.

The lovely Casson family.

The lovely Casson family.

Mark sells his food at the local Palafox Market in Pensacola, FL alongside other farmers and artisans. Due to regulations, his meat must be labeled “for pet consumption only,” even though it is truly the best meat I have ever had (don’t tell the regulators!). I got to pick his brain about his farming operation, and he had some valuable insights to share.

What made you want to start raising livestock specifically?

My father had wanted to be a livestock farmer and I think some of that carried over to me. I can remember as a kid going to the county fairs and I always really enjoyed seeing the animals. Sometimes people ask me why I don’t grow crops but I’m just not naturally inclined toward that. Raising animals is a more natural fit for me.

Does Green Acres have a philosophy about raising the animals?

Our philosophy for raising livestock begins with an understanding that healthy animals are a part of a healthy and diverse ecosystem. We are big fans of nature and in nature no animal, plant, or organism lives isolated. We are all dependent on thousands of other live forms. Worms, micro-organisms, and fungi all contribute to the health of the soil, which contributes to the health of the plants that grow in it, which provides clean air to breathe and forage for animals to eat, which provides healthy meat for us to eat. So, looking at farming in that light we manage our livestock in a manner in which will provide the best environment for worms, micro-organisms, and fungi to thrive. It has been said that we should not look at ourselves as livestock farmers or grass farmers but soil farmers. In truth, I think we need to be all of them.

What types of animals do you raise?

We raise chickens, turkeys, sheep, hogs, and cattle.  Oh, and a couple goats.  We’ve raised some ducks in the past but we don’t have any currently.

Happy chickens!

Happy chickens!

What are the hardest challenges you face operating an organic livestock farm?

What I think is hardest in an operation like ours is that being a farmer means being the investor, laborer, processor, marketer, customer service representative, accountant, and probably some other things I’m not thinking of right now. I have a hard time managing how to allot my time between the different roles. And then there’s how I value the time I spend in those roles from an accounting standpoint to understand which ones to drop when I don’t have enough time to do it all.

Could you explain some of the different personalities the animals have?

On our farm the chickens will generally do their own thing but come to us for food, where turkeys on the other hand are curious animals. Anything a turkey sees that looks a little different, they will peck at and sometimes swallow. Sometimes this might be a piece of plastic or something else that isn’t digestible. I’ve seen 7 turkeys standing around in a circle staring at a cotton mouth snake. They are just curious and not always smart animals.

The sheep have that flock mentality; if one runs they all run. It makes sense as they really don’t have any good self-defense in the wild.

Hogs are an interesting animal. They are smart, curious, fast, and strong. A momma hog is probably the most potentially dangerous animal on a farm. You really want to think through how you handle your hogs. Like when you need to load them into a trailer; if you set it up so it’s calm and easy then great, but if it’s stressful once they will remember and the next time will be even more challenging.

Don't mess with Mama Hog.

Don’t mess with Mama Hog.

Our cows get moved from pasture to pasture almost every day so they are used to us and are relatively calm but still not pets.

Switching to turkeys, what made you decide to focus on raising them along with the other animals?

Raising animals this way to eat provides food that is delicious. It makes eating truly enjoyable and when do people enjoy eating more than any other time of the year? Thanksgiving! The response we get from customers over our Thanksgiving Turkeys has really been great. It really is the best venue for this type of food; you’ve gathered people you care about together, the center of attention is food, and the star attraction is a turkey. How great does it feel to present a turkey that you know was raised well, is healthy for your loved ones to eat and they are going to rave about how delicious it is?

[Interviewers note: I can personally vouch for how delicious those turkeys are. You have to reserve them early because they will sell out, and my mom is still raving about how good the turkey was from last year. There is nothing you can by in a store that even comes close to the quality of Mark’s turkeys, and having been to the farm, I know they were raised lovingly and had happy lives.]

Bulls foraging on their natural diet.

Bulls foraging on their natural diet.

What are some issues that have come up raising the turkeys?

Young turkeys don’t have the best survival instincts. After they get about 3 weeks old we let them out of the shelter during the day but they don’t have the common sense to go back in for protection at night. If you don’t herd them back into the shelter and it rains they may get chilled and die or an owl may decide that Thanksgiving has come early and enjoy a turkey or two.

How does farm life benefit your family specifically your children?

Raising the kids on the farm gives them a connection to the environment, it exposes them to the real relationship between life and death (the fact that nothing lives without something else dying). It teaches them real truths about life which most of our society are unaware of or chooses to deny.

It’s very difficult to run a farm and not everyone is cut out for the work, but do you have any advice for how people can incorporate the lessons you learn on a farm into their lives even if they lack the resources to do it themselves?

One of the things we learned early on in this farming/food journey is that labeling, even on the products at the health food store, are meant to sell the product, not to inform the consumer. My advice is to really inquire into the sources of the foods you eat the most of every day; the ones that make up the majority of your diet. It’s a lot of work but if you do it just for your main staples it could really make a difference.

Baby turkeys lack survival skills, so they must be kept isolated for a time as they mature.

Baby turkeys lack survival skills, so they must be kept isolated for a time as they mature.

People can sometimes idealize farm life, but what expectations would you advise people to have or not have if they choose to start raising livestock or farming on a large scale?

Most of the benefits of small scale farming don’t come in the form of dollars but they are plentiful none the less. Living in a conscious relationship with the natural environment, the health that comes from an active lifestyle and eating great food, and knowing that you are doing something that is improving the environment and the health of the people you sell to are all truly rich assets in life and should be counted as such. If assets such as these are high on your list for things that would be counted as valuable in your life then I think you should consider this lifestyle. But from my experience and that of others I have talked too, a humble financial return for a great amount of time and labor invested should be a part of the plan. An additional source of income is usually a good idea.

Learning real world skills on the farm prepare children for the future.

Learning real world skills on the farm prepare children for the future.

I’ve read some articles claiming there’s resurgence in people growing their own food and raising their own animals. What do you see for the future of farming in this country? Do you think there is a trend towards more people becoming self-sufficient as times grow harder?

There is definitely a movement of people getting back involved with the production of their food and I think that is a great thing. More and more people are interested in and moving toward self-sufficiency and in doing so are upsetting the status quo. The future of farming will continue to see industrial agriculture using government regulators to try to maintain their control over the food supply in this country, and many times they will be successful in creating regulations that make our type of farming illegal. It usually comes in the form of food safety regulations. I mean who can argue with that? Of course we want our food to be safe.

What will be interesting to see in the long term is, “Do we have the resolve to physically work hard for our health and well-being, without much financial reward and then stand up and fight for our right to continue?” So, the future of farming depends on this resolve.


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Tears and Fears and Walls of Words

August was august for teaching me about handling stress and tragic circumstances. I feel like I took the month off (and did as far as writing on this blog is concerned), but it was one of the busiest I’ve had so far. I organized my first rally against police brutality, met some wonderfully motivated activists, lost a really good friend to cancer, and another one went missing mysteriously. I still don’t know what happened to her, and it doesn’t look good. Those were just personal events. There’s also another war a-brewing, and I am trying everything to not let my cynicism envelope me in despair and inaction.

I must keep moving.

I learned some pretty intense life lessons in the course of a month that normally could have taken years to digest. Well, I guess I’m still digesting. The month felt like years. File this post under pretty srs bsns, but I’m trying to keep my head up and keep laughing because if I stop I’m pretty sure I will die. Snark and sarcasm have become food groups; protecting my mind and body from dark places so I dine to keep from whining. Or crying. God, I don’t want to do any more crying this year. I think I’ve hit my limit, and I’m good on that. Shit, there’s with the whining again.

My apologies for the lack of pictures in this post, it’s just going to be a bunch of finicky words and tangentially related topics. Sad words. Angry words. War words. Warward.

The cops shot a man in his front yard for being black and out at night, and burst into another family’s home and shot their dogs, killing one and almost killing them. The sheriff somehow made it into a poop joke at a Rotary Club luncheon. We are truly ruled by our inferiors.

The rally I held just a few days ago was successful by my standards, which can hardly disappoint because I intentionally keep them low. Everyone who showed was meant to be there and I had a great time. There will be more informative projects to come, and best of all I learned who the doers and talkers were. There were no surprises as to who attended, and it reinforced my distrust of suits. This valuable information will optimize efficiency.

My regrets keep coming back, though. I spent so much energy organizing and reaching out that I neglected one of the most meaningful relationships in my life, and then it was too late. I told her last time we hung out I would visit her again. It was painful seeing her like that; confined to a bed, bereft of the strength to give the longest, strongest, whole hearted hugs I’ve ever felt. The aloe plant she had given me languished from neglect on the mantle of my living room because I had been too busy. Always too busy…what a piss poor excuse. Honestly, I haven’t had a lot of experience with death, especially interacting with someone who was dying right in front of me. It was all so surreal because I really never thought the day would come.

Lisa was the strongest person I knew, male or female. Her life was filled with tragedies that would make most people give up, but she fought harder to continue than I ever could and thrived despite it all. Even as it became apparent in the last six months of her life that her battle would not be won, I just couldn’t picture her losing. She worked so hard up until she physically couldn’t and even through pain that was crippling she kept on. It spread to her bones, her organs. Because she was so strong, it seemed like she just couldn’t die on us like that. I mean, yeah, the tests all showed what was happening, but this was Lisa. But she didn’t let anyone down; if anything I feel like I let her down because I became so preoccupied in the weeks leading up to her departure.

We were close friends, but hadn’t spoken in a couple weeks. I found out on Facebook when people started posting pictures referring to her in the past tense. Disbelief was the first feeling I experienced. I kept reading…it couldn’t possibly be true. It was. I cried that night, but knew she was free of her excruciating pain. She was in so much pain it was unbearable, but she still managed to smile. I am a coward when it comes to pain, and don’t think I could have held out as long as she did. When we visited her husband the following night I tried to hold it together, but I couldn’t. In between intermittent sobbing I was able to contain myself, but when her husband lost it as he was describing her last moments we all started weeping profusely.

There’s something so despondent and terrifying when a grown man cries. As a woman and a sissy, I expect myself to lose it when a friend passes, and I assume it’s expected of me, but I could never get over seeing a man cry. Say what you will about gender roles and all that, but many people still look to men to keep it together and when they weep it is especially tragic. I can’t imagine the pain of losing your spouse, and I’m such a ninny that if I try to imagine losing my husband I start tearing up. Can’t help it, I’ve always been really prone to crying for some reason. My alcoholic second grade teacher tried to get me put on Ritalin not because I was ADHD, but because I was “too sensitive.” I have yet to see how speed makes me less sensitive.

So, that happened right smack in the middle of the month, and shortly thereafter I found out another friend close to my age went missing. I hadn’t seen her in a couple of months, but she was best friends with an old roommate, and we frequently crossed paths. I rediscovered the darkness of the unknown. They found her car and phone, but no keys way out in a parking lot near Fort Pickens. Living in a beach town can be ominous sometimes, and its beauty masks its danger. There’s so much beach area someone could be disappeared into, and we joined a search team to cover some of the toughest patches, but to no avail.

She had a penchant for adventure, and so do I. We also share the statistic of a group most likely to be kidnapped, raped, or murdered. We can’t go exploring the vast shores or even the nature trails of the local university (notorious for its rapes and murders) without the fear that someone could attack. And maybe we should be able to, but the reality hits home all too often, and I always carry if I go out on my own. It’s not because I think I’m some kind of badass; it is because I have come to terms with my own vulnerability and am reminded of it every time a woman my age goes missing. I’ve been having nightmares and I suspect it is because I have been thinking too much about the monsters that walk among us; the real ones that prey on people who only ever wanted to enjoy some solitude in peace…the unseen beasts that lurk in broad daylight and wait like cowards until the night to strike. It takes a coward to harm someone smaller than them. I want her to be found alive more than just about anything, but I have a heaviness in my gut that betrays my hope.

Those shores no longer appear hospitable and the waters reflect a darkness whose depth cannot be reached. Salt kissed skin won’t ever feel the same again, and it’s the not knowing that hurts the most. An open door that leads to nothing. Bitter, bitter uncertainty.

Usually I am content to dwell in some uncertainty, as I believe we can never truly know everything. And that’s fine when it comes to philosophy or metaphysical reality, but not concrete existence; especially someone else’s life that intertwined with your own on a tangible level.

Continuing my melancholy post I guess we can talk about Syria some. It’s about to get real, so if you support the Empire, you may just want to quit reading. Some deep feels have been kept inside for far too long.

It makes me physically sick to think about the hypocrisy of this country wanting to invade another on unsubstantiated claims of chemical weapons considering they used Agent Orange, supplied white phosphorus to dictators, and saturated Iraq with depleted uranium. I could post the depleted uranium babies where I more impulsive, but I figure the people who read this blog already know and don’t need to see them. Google that terrible, heart wrenching imagery if you want to curl up in a ball and cry and forever have your hope in the decency of this government shattered.

The pathetic supporters of intervention worshipping their messiah Obama disgust me as much as the administration itself. I was a part of the antiwar left during the Bush years, and I see nearly none of them remaining with a spine. The blood of the Syrian (Libyan, Pakistani, Yemeni, Waziristani, etc, etc, etc.) people are on the hands of the sociopathic authoritarians who sacrifice other people’s children to fight for their special interests, but I can’t help but say that the people who think “we are the government” bear some responsibility for voting them into power. It’s not pleasant to think about; the fact that a large portion of our population was duped into voting for a war criminal again against all reason. But that’s how voting works; if it were based on logic and reason there wouldn’t be much of this system left to support. What’s more disturbing isn’t the outright support; it’s the silence. Their silence is defining.

If people accepted the truth about their beloved leader, they would have to concede that he is not for peace, that he accepted more money from Wall Street than every other criminal president in history, and that he is expanding the erasure of civil liberties and growth of the police state at an astounding rate. I’ll accept an apology from his supporters because let’s face it; they were wrong on a life changing level. These are people’s lives at risk; it’s not some game where some president actually cares about the Syrian people and we can go back and forth about the definitions of what “war” really is. If he did care, maybe he wouldn’t be supporting rebels who are torturing, raping, and murdering civilians at the same rate as the regime. You know, rebels backed by our old buddies, Al Qaeda. Why isn’t the left infuriated by this fact? Where are the principles they claimed to have during the Bush years?

I could do an entire blog post on my dissatisfaction with the republicans, but they’re an easy target. Left wingers have historically been for war, so I guess this fits into their narrative, but really guys, where have your balls gone in recent years? It’s okay to express dissent, and it doesn’t mean you are by default a right winger if you do. Your homeboy wants to kill a lot more people, and has been steadily killing folks with flying death machines for years now. Let it out. Let the rage flow through you. Quit with the flaccid justifications. Accept that you elected a warmonger, take responsibility, join people speaking out against the carnage, and for the love of humanity (or God) don’t do it again.

Yeah, it takes work to abandon everything you thought you believed in because it is patently wrong; a whole lot of work, and growth and transformation, but the journey is worth it. If intellectual laziness and partisan politics is more important than human lives then you are what’s wrong with this country. People like you electing sociopaths are going to cause people in this country to reap the rewards of destruction and blow back because actions have consequences. When you bomb the shit out of someone, guess what? They’re going to want to ally with someone who wants to bomb you back.

And I can’t even feel bad about the idea of the U.S. getting our comeuppance.

I feel worse for the Syrians and Libyans and Egyptians (and countless others) whose lives have been completely decimated because the U.S. of A had different plans in mind for their self-determination. It’s a crime against humanity what this country has done to others, and I am ashamed to be associated with it. The lives of Americans are not worth more than the lives of the people in countries the government has taken military action in. Sure, there have been many dictators in smaller countries that have committed genocide against their own people, but those numbers pale in comparison to the number of people killed by our military overseas. That should, at the very least, give one pause when the topic of intervening in other countries comes up.

When liberals start sounding like neocons, you know the discourse has been reduced to two categories: those who support the regime and its status as world police and those who oppose the destruction of other countries. I have in the past few months been told by left wingers adages like, “If you don’t like it, you can get out” and “You should be hanged for treason” and of course the go to, “That’s racist.” When you stop questioning the actions of a president because he has a D next to his name instead of an R, you may be intellectually dishonest and unfairly applying standards. I have seen a few of my liberal friends starting to oppose the Obama regime, and I hope to see many more because the longer we go on the more these two categories will become prevalent.

Call me a traitor if you like because it seems like I’ll be in good company with the other traitors excoriated by the left wing media and its followers. And despite the stress induced nightmares I’ve been having lately, I still mostly sleep like a baby knowing I am doing everything in my power to not support this murderous administration (congress included).


So, I guess there you have it: one super long post to make up for the lack of others. August wasn’t the best month ever, but hopefully September brings better news and less bitter writings. I guess I could apologize for the abrupt ending here, but it seems fitting given the abruptness of circumstances lately.

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Ethical Intuitionism: A Philosophical Breakthrough?

Michael Huemer’s approach has really been growing on me lately, and this is from my friend Chris’s blog. I highly recommend watching the linked videos.

Escape Velocity

I like to think I’m fairly well informed about what’s going on in libertarian circles. However, prior to PorcFest earlier this year I had never heard of Michael Huemer, philosopher at the University of Colorado and author of the book The Problem of Political Authority. I suppose I’m not that late to the party, the book was only published late last year. Yet, of all the speakers at PorcFest, Huemer captivated my attention the most. Partially because he was speaking about concepts that I have been pondering myself at of late, yet he presented them in a much more complete package.

To get a sample of Huemer’s style check out his Ted talk on irrationality in politics or his PorcFest talk on the psychology of authority.

The Problem of Politcal Authority

Upon returning home, I downloaded The Problem of Political Authority and I have to say, it very well may be the best philosophy…

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