Wilberforce’s Great Cause

Allen, one of my late friends, taught me a lot about open-mindedness because of how he identified himself. With no irony at all, he often called himself a compassionate evangelical.  This was during the late 1970s and early 1980s, much like today, when evangelical Christian preachers and politicians expressed extremely negative opinions about gay people.

Allen was a graduate of the local Christian Seminary but had never acquired his own ministry.  However, he was often a guest preacher or filled in as pastor for vacationing ministers. He was also one of the rare few members of the clergy with whom I had formed a deep friendship.  This comaraderie flourished because we accepted each other for what we believed and who we were as young men.

During one of our late night philosophical discussions, I asked Allen why he seemed so different from other evangelicals I knew personally or national newsmakers who were Wilberforce-01hell-bent on being famous and powerful. He brought out a copy of Real Christianity by William Wilberforce.  Allen told me Wilberforce’s writings were one of his primary inspirations.  He then loaned me his copy of the book.

William Wilberforce was a frail, short statured man who became a leading light for human rights in the British Parliament. He was born on August 24, 1759 in East Riding of Yorkshire, England. He was the son of a well-to-do merchant Robert and wife Elizabeth Wilberforce. Following the death of his father in 1768, the young William was sent to live with relatives who lived in Wimbledon and London and attended classes at a boarding school.

After a brief encounter with fundamentalist Christianity, his relatives pulled him from the boarding school, changed schools,  and encouraged more secular pursuits. While attending Cambridge University, Wilberforce befriended William Pitt. At the youthful age of 21, Wilberforce was elected to Parliament. He became known as a witty, eloquent, charismatic speaker.Wilberforce-03

In 1783 the young lawmaker met the Reverend James Ramsay a leading Anglican priest and abolitionist, who introduced Wilberforce to the issue of slavery. This triggered a renewed interest in religious matters and an eventual conversion to evangelical Christianity. In the meantime, Wilberforce had befriended former slave ship captain John Newton, who disowned his own past and became a strong advocate for abolition of slavery.  At a time when Wilberforce seriously considered leaving Parliament, it was Newton who encouraged him to remain in office.

“What should we suppose must naturally be the consequence of our carrying on a slave trade with Africa? With a country, vast in its extent, not utterly barbarous, but civilized in a very small degree? Does any one suppose a slave trade would help their civilization?”–William Wilberforce

As a newly minted evangelical, Wilberforce and his circle of peers became influential in charitable causes and the fight against the slave trade. In 1787, Wilberforce was introduced to one of the foremost British campaigners against slavery and the slave trade, Thomas Clarkson.  The two men became close friends and collaborators. Wilberforce became more vocal and advocated against the most privileged members of society. He crossed political party factions and built support from a cross-section of Members of Parliament.

From around the early 1790s, Wilberforce introduced anti-slave trade legislation, but Parliamentarians who benefited from slave trading resorted to delaying tactics to defeat the bills. Finally, in 1792, Wilberforce’s proposal to end slave trading was passed by the House of Commons. However, an amendment stated the ban should be gradual. A much more strongly worded measure was enacted in 1807. “The Abolition of the Slave Trade Act” did away with slave trading in the British Colonies.

Still, there was the problem of existing slavery throughout the British Empire. Work was necessary to free the existing non-consensual indentured servants within Britain and her colonies. To aid in the effort, Wilberforce became a member of the “Society for Gradual Abolition”. By the 1820s, Wilberforce’s health declined alarmingly so he recruited abolitionist, philanthropist, politician Thomas Fowell Buxton to lead the struggle for full abolition. In 1824, Wilberforce resigned from Parliament due to ill health.

“It is the true duty of every man to promote the happiness of his fellow creatures to the utmost of his power.”

In spite of strong public support of abolition, Parliament dithered in its efforts. Wilberforce submitted a citizen’s petition to reconsider debate on the issue. Finally, on July 26, 1833, the “Abolition of Slavery” bill passed the House of Commons on its third reading.

A messenger was sent to inform Wilberforce at home. He was told that slavery throughout the British colonies would be officially abolished.  Three days later, July 29, 1833, Wilberforce passed away.

moi1986bThe Blue Jay of Happiness likes this reflection from William Wilberforce: God Almighty has set before me two great objects: the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners.”

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Ektachromes from 1983

When we think of nostalgia, boomers rarely think of the year, 1983.  Perhaps we should. It was the year that Space Shuttle Challenger took off on its maiden flight. ARPANET shifted to Internet Protocol, creating the Internet. It was a great year for Duran Duran, Phil Collins, and Culture Club. Many of us watched “Terms of OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEndearment”, and “Tootsie”. Yuri Andropov headed up the USSR, and Ronald Reagan ruled the USA. Oh, and I was shooting a lot of Ektachrome slides.

1983 was the year I turned 31. It also marked one year of being room mates with Felix. He was the last pal to ever bake me a birthday cake from scratch. I should have taken another auto-timer snapshot. I didn’t realize he blinked when the flash gun fired. Also, I was caught up in the moment.


Still photographers used to use a lot of Kodak Kktachrome slide film, the utilitarian, go-to sibling of Kodachrome. It was based on the “E-6” process, using a simpler technology than Kodachrome. I liked it because it was practical for a wider range of shutter speeds, as in this western Nebraska sunrise.


The “free-standing” tower for WJAG-AM received a fresh coat of paint in 1983. When the boss had me photograph it, I wished I had loaded my camera with Kodachrome, but the Ektachrome performed very well with brilliant, Kodachrome-like primary colors.


One of the benefits of Ektachrome was that it captured images across a wide intensity range of lighting. I had backed my car into a dark, north-facing garage. What you see in the slide is pretty much the way it actually looked in life.


Skyview Lake within the city limits of Norfolk, Nebraska still had remnants of the trees that were flooded when the lake was filled.  They made interesting subjects for photographers in 1983.  This one was a hand-held shot at dusk.


Of course, nighttime images required a sturdy tripod. My employer’s other station, KEXL-FM had a 1,000 feet tall tower several miles southwest of Norfolk.  One night, the program director and I drove out to the site specifically so I could experiment with night photography.  This shot was taken by guess work. I carefully held the cable-release for a few seconds, approximated by counting out loud.


My apartment was located a few blocks away from Norfolk High School.  One late summer night, I couldn’t resist shooting some night images around the empty school grounds.


The radio station gave me a standard two-weeks vacation. In 1983, I took a western Nebraska road trip. One of my favorite places is near Valentine, in Cherry County. One of the very few waterfalls is Horseshoe Falls, west of the town.


I nearly fell to my death after shooting this late afternoon shot in Western Nebraska.  I had climbed a rock formation called “Courthouse Rock” with two friends. While climbing back down the formation, some of the rock broke away when I stepped onto it. I started to slide down the steep slope. Fortunately, I had put a heavy-duty strap on the camera. It snagged onto an outcropping before I picked up much downward momentum. The camera literally saved my life.

I hope you enjoyed this nostalgic capsule of my view of 1983.

J 7-1-01The Blue Jay of Happiness remembers this old anonymous insider photography quip: “If you saw a man drowning and you could either save him or photograph the event, what kind of film would you use?”

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The Tooth Fairy

While brushing my teeth this morning, I glanced at the calendar in the bathroom and noticed the reminder to visit the dentist today at eleven o’clock. I’ll be going in for my thrice yearly checkup and cleaning.

The little note triggered a dim memory of losing one of my baby teeth. I was told to place the tooth under my pillow so the tooth fairy could find it. Sure enough, the next OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAmorning there was some money where the tooth had been.  I think it was a quarter. Most Americans remember something similar happening to them, too.

Believing in the Tooth Fairy was easier than believing in Santa Claus. The tooth fairy visit happened when I no longer believed in Santa.  Anyway, the story of Santa seemed preposterous, because our house didn’t have a fireplace. Not only that, but I remember catching dad in the act of placing presents under the tree when I got out of bed for a drink of water. I can only guess why I believed in fairies long after the Santa myth was debunked.

Apparently the American version of the Tooth Fairy is rooted in antique European beliefs and superstitions. An aunt told me that children in the old country, Sweden, had a tooth fee.  That is, a payment was given to little children for the use of one of their teeth. In the days of the Vikings baby teeth were strung onto necklaces. The Vikings believed that children’s belongings and especially their teeth held great spiritual powers. A necklace with a child’s baby tooth was said to bring good luck and special power to the warrior who wore it.

In some other areas of Europe, baby teeth were buried in a garden or cropland. Some people believed that the spirits of growing seeds would supernaturally influence the spirit of a growing adult tooth to successfully take the place of the lost tooth in the child’s mouth.

The widespread fears about witches convinced many Europeans that witches would use a lost tooth or fingernail clippings to place a curse on the youngster. The act of burying the baby tooth (or nail clippings) prevented the evil being from placing a ToothFairy-01curse. Also, during medieval times, some peoples believed that baby teeth were to be cast into the fire of the hearth in order to save the child from an inauspicious afterlife.

When Europeans migrated to North America, their superstitions and beliefs followed and were adapted to more urban circumstances. Since many people no longer worked the land, planter boxes and flower pots were substituted for cropland.  Baby teeth were then buried in flower pot dirt. However, except for the Scandinavian traditions, there was never a pay out to the child who lost a tooth.

One hypothesis states that the urbanization of baby tooth myths and superstitions caused people to adapt their beliefs about evil witches and demon possession into benevolent spirits. These days the Tooth Fairy is often depicted as a small, happy winged humanoid with wings and carrying a magic wand. The Tooth Fairy is either female or non-gendered.

The current incarnation of the Tooth Fairy is sometimes thought to have emerged during the early part of the 20th century by way of bedtime stories told to small children.  Perhaps the stories were variations on the “Night Before Christmas” poem. ToothFairy-03In the place of Santa, a sprite or fairy arrives to exchange the tooth for a small gift. There are so many myths about the Tooth Fairy that it’s difficult to know exactly how the modern version was born.

So, why does the Tooth Fairy collect all those baby teeth?  Some parents tell their kids the Tooth Fairy needs them in order to construct a castle in heaven. Some parents say that the Tooth Fairy throws the teeth far into the sky to create the stars. I don’t remember what or if my parents told me about the fate of my baby teeth. I suppose I like the story of teeth becoming stars best.

ToothFairy-04iconThe Blue Jay of Happiness says that when we find out that Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and so forth are only stories society tells us, we are free to write the stories of our own lives, in our own ways.

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Something About Venetian Blinds

Venetian blinds are an ever present sight each day. In my case, mini-blinds cover the window in front of my desk. Not only do they provide a simple background for my work space, but they enable me to adjust the level of backlighting for comfortable viewing of my laptop screen.venetianblinds-03

One of the earliest snapshots dad took of me as a baby, showed my investigation of the venetian blinds next to my crib. Perhaps this is why my enjoyment of the window treatments seems so primal. I wonder how many hours were spent pondering the venetian blinds of my childhood.

Window shades of horizontal slats that can be raised and lowered, and the slats can be tilted to different angles are fascinating devices.  Children and cats are attracted to them for obvious reasons.

The blinds I like best are those constructed of wide, wooden slats, painted ivory white held together by ribbons of heavy duty fabric. Traditional venetian blinds have two sets of control cords instead of the combination of cords and rods used with modern plastic mini-blinds.

The primary disadvantage of horizontal slatted window blinds is that they require frequent, time-consuming dusting and cleaning.  The blinds are worth the trouble because of the special shadow effects that are created when light filters through them.

Have you ever noticed the camera obscura effects that happen when sunlight is projected onto a flat surface through the small holes for the cords in the slats of mini-blinds? Around noontime sunshine is at the proper angle to intersect with tree branches in line with the southerly windows. Small, upside-down images of the tree branches are projected onto the floor and the north wall of the room. Is this how the optical properties of cameras and lenses were originally discovered?   Photographers who experiment with pinhole cameras are familiar with this effect.venetianblinds-02

Venetian blinds are intriguing complicated artifacts.  A series of slats made from wood or aluminum, PVC, or plastic are suspended from a frame or rail. Sturdy cords or fabric ribbons or strips support the slats at equidistant intervals. The cords or ribbons also assist in altering the tilt angle of the slats and enable the entire shade to compress and decompress to raise or lower the entire assembly. These functions must be carried out in a reasonably accurate and smooth way. Hence, they must be manufactured to fairly close mechanical tolerances.

The beauty of venetian blinds is that they can be used in nearly every room of a home or office, but I personally advise against placing them in the kitchen, because when they accumulate airborn grease and other cooking byproducts, they’re difficult to sanitize. I learned this the hard way.

Venetian blinds look attractive when hung unadorned on windows or they can be part of a fancier window treatment when used with draperies or curtains. Because the slats can be made from various materials and come in several colors, blinds are suitable for nearly any interior design scheme.

What is it about venetian blinds that make them so modern yet also so classic?  The secret is found in their history. No, they were not invented in Venice. Even though the ancient Romans utilized a type of fixed, horizontal window covering to keep out dust, that design doesn’t resemble our modern interior window treatment.

A recognizable version of blinds were invented in Persia. They were popular items in trade with European merchants. Venice was a major power that established regular trading routes to and from Persia. Style conscious Italians happily adopted the Persian blinds. The Venetians adapted the design by laying the slats across fabric ribbons. They were not yet adjustable, though.

The slats on ribbons design began to greatly evolve in the eighteenth century. New designs and patents appeared in Great Britain. Noteworthy is Gowin Knight’s “dwarf Venetian blinds” invented in 1760.

In North America, imported blinds were used to shade the windows of St. Peter’s Church in Philadelphia.  The English colonist, John Webster began selling his own style of wooden Venetian blinds in the same city in 1767.  Venetian blinds became very popular in colonial New England because the textiles needed to construct curtains had to be imported from Britain and carried a very high tax.

After independence, the next major alteration to Venetian blinds happened in New Orleans in 1841. Railroad engineer and tinkerer John Hampson invented and patented venetianblinds-01the screw mechanism that changes the angle of the slats.  Variations of Hampson’s invention are used in modern Venetian blinds. It is operated by cords on some blinds or more commonly with the plastic rod attached to the blind’s top rail.

The most recent change came in the 1970s with the narrowing of slats to 2.5 centimetres bringing us the ubiquitous mini-blind used in homes and businesses around the world, today.

Looking up from my laptop, I ponder the basic, narrow slatted mini-blind I bought at a department store.  There probably isn’t any other window covering with a richer history than our Venetian blinds.

venetianblinds-04iconThe Blue Jay of Happiness likes this common comedic quip: “Is it worthwhile to observe that there are no Venetian blinds in Venice?”

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A Conversation About Happiness

Jorge and I sometimes enjoy having a staring contest.  The statistics regarding which one of us wins this childish game are probably in Jorge’s favor.  At least it seems like I’m usually the one who blinks first.  Regardless of who “wins”, both of us erupt in a fit of laughter.  Oftentimes, when the laughter subsides, we’ll just lean back, feeling content and grinning like Cheshire Cats.happiness-02

We indulged ourselves in a staring contest during Jorge’s latest visit.  Afterwards, my friend said that he felt as happy as a little boy. I could see that he spoke the truth.  Jorge’s eyes were half-closed, there was a wide grin that pushed his dimples into little domed shapes. For a couple of minutes, there was no need for either of us to speak a single word. We just sat at the kitchen table looking at each others’ faces.

I broke the silence by asking why Jorge seemed especially happy.

He replied that he had recently been given a safe driving certificate and a nice cash bonus by his employer.  Jorge did not have a single traffic violation nor any sort of accident in the past five years.  He noted that in many other respects, his life has been more pleasant than usual.  Then Jorge nodded at me and asked why I looked happier, too.

I stood up from my chair, walked into the music room, and returned, holding an old book.  I handed it to Jorge and said, “It’s older than I am.” The book is a self-teaching textbook for an English speaker to learn how to speak and write in Russian.

Earlier, I had been perusing reviews about language textbooks so I could decide which one taught the most effective technique. Then, during a trip to the Goodwill Store, the happiness-00store manager pulled me aside and said she had something I might like.  The manager thought of me the moment her eyes spotted the book in a box of donated books and trinkets.

At the moment she presented it to me, I felt a smile sweep across my face. Better yet, I felt overwhelmed with gratitude towards the store manager and her kind gesture of remembering my personal interest and desire to learn Russian.  Even though she presented the book as a potential business transaction, I knew there was an element of sincere friendship involved, too.

Jorge mentioned that my face took on a glow while I described the happy event. Then he handed the book back to me. “It’s great to be reminded that there are some business people who show a sincere interest in their customers’ aspirations.”

I agreed. I also think that there was more than just the sale of a two-dollar book involved.  It seems that the store manager’s favor was a sincere gesture of friendship.   The reason I think so, is because the manager and I have frequently enjoyed conversations about the languages we are currently learning. She is engrossed in taking up Italian, and I am fascinated with Russian. The mutual interest in expanding our language skills is something important we share.

Jorge then replied that it’s pleasant to remember that good things happen to us now and then.  There are a few good things that are a little bit better than other good things. One seemingly humble act towards another can brighten the day.

There’s not one person on Earth who has not experienced some profound unhappiness. Tragedy and despair lurk in the recesses of our minds.  Bad things happen to good people. We must certainly honor and respect the gravity of serious events. On the other hand, we dust ourselves off and get about the regular act of living our lives.  The fact that we can do so, is reason enough to be glad.

What is it about certain people who cruise through life, in all of its ups and downs, that causes them to be unfazed and strong with happiness? They might not be monetarily wealthy, nor are they free from unpleasantness, but they have a basic sunny disposition anyway.

Jorge thinks that happy people see life from a different perspective than unhappy people do. Even though they might have a basically cheerful personality, they must put forth conscious effort in order to maintain their cheerfulness. They have learned to practice self-awareness.

My friend says he learned that being a realist has helped him remain mentally balanced and reasonably happy. That is, he doesn’t expect nor believe that people or situations are better than they appear. While he hopes for goodness in life he is also prepared for badness and mediocrity. He calls his attitude a blend of pessimism and optimism.  He does not set unrealistic visions of perfection. Looking into Jorge’s eyes, I call his attitude pragmatism.

He laughs, and gently accuses me of “projecting” my own life’s philosophy.

I respond by acknowledging that both of us have experienced such a degree of hardships that we could justify sour, repellant outlooks on life.  We have chosen not to do so. We do not want to be the sort of people who take delight in their own misery. There is no need to compare our lives with those who have more or less reason for happiness.

Jorge says it’s foolish to believe that billionaires have more happiness than we do or that we are more happy than someone living in a slum. We are much more than our circumstances. It is unwise to console oneself by saying, “There are people who are worse off than me.”  Why should we be thankful that some other people are less fortunate than oneself? That line of thought seems heartless and cruel.

I agree with Jorge.  I add that there are a precious few people who derive great personal pleasure from the act of helping others.  They go out of their way to perform acts of kindness and favors for other people. They don’t feel like martyrs nor are they self-righteous. These friends act out of a sense of positive selfishness. They cannot help but feel happy by making other people feel happy. It is their own desire to be happy that fuels the generosity.

My friend affirmed that it’s good to be generous and it’s also good to remember the times when we have been on the receiving end of someone else’s generosity. There is something to be said about having an attitude of gratitude.

I smiled when I heard the time-worn cliché because thankfulness is an important ingredient in happiness. Closely related to gratitude is the act of stopping to smell the roses. To enjoy the regular, little things in life is really an act of thankfulness.  It’s happiness-03amazing how often that mundane things in life can feel profound when we stop and examine them closely.

Jorge mentioned the pop-psychology Internet meme that promotes the idea of saying “no” to people.  Certainly there are folks who can be psychological drains or who take advantage of us.  However, don’t forget to say “yes”, sometimes.  There are some situations that may seem inconvenient or unfamiliar. Before making a decision, it is wise to take a few moments to consider the fact that the situation might well be an opportunity.  There are examples of situations that you were, at first, reluctant to do, actually turned out to be incredibly satisfying and rewarding. So, while “no” can be useful, “yes” is also a very life-affirming decision.

Jorge reminded me of what he remembers when people put him down or life hands him unpleasantness. “Life is just too short.” He sometimes feels like only yesterday, he was a crazy teenager with the world at his command. Those days were actually half-a-century ago. Someday, who knows when, he’ll breath his last breath. There’s just not enough time left to sulk and feel sorry for oneself.

I smiled as I finished his statement. “Live fully in the present moment.”

My pal said that there are plenty of events and people that distract us from the present moment, but the best idea, is to be fully present as much as one can.

The next thing I knew, Jorge asked if I felt up to a little bit of arm-wrestling.

Why not?

mini-moiThe Blue Jay of Happiness says it’s wonderful to smell the Ozone and view the rainbow after the storm goes away.

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Pequeño Mediano Grande …Floral Friday

I have a word association with the name August that sticks in my head. August makes me think of back to school, which in turn reminds me of small, medium, large. Even though it’s been decades since I’ve been in a classroom learning situation, back to school makes me think of sizes.

The association was reinforced as I glanced at the countertop where some vases have been waiting to be filled. I thought about school and Spanish class. It was time to sort and fill the containers according to pequeño, mediano, o grande.


The small vase that appeals this week is a hand decorated frosted glass container. A red spider mum with other accent flowers provides the necessary bold approach for a fun arrangement.


A “Clain” pewter pitcher vase fits the definition of medium.  A simple array of small purple blooms provide organic balance to the grey metal.


The large Haeger vase is busy with red and shapes, I wanted a post-modern look, so tropicals were the answer.

mini-moiThe Blue Jay of Happiness ponders an odd statement from philosopher Bertrand Russell. “There is no need to worry about mere size. We do not necessarily respect a fat man more than a thin man. Sir Isaac Newton was very much smaller than a hippopotamus, but we do not, on that account, value him less.”

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I like to map out the topics for this blog ahead of time and jot the proposed titles into a small day planner booklet. The funny thing is, that today’s topic is not only titled serendipitous, an incident of serendipity manifested to provide a handy example.

In the continuing process of liquidating property in dad’s estate, I needed to sell his last car. I drove the car home in order to clean and detail it for a prospective buyer, an acquaintence I visit from time to time.  Her car had been totally wrecked in a recent crash so I offered the car to her at a reasonable price.serendipity-03

It turned out that the car is too small for her needs, but she told a mutual acquaintence about the vehicle.  This friend then wanted to see the car.  She acted as an agent for her daughter who decided to purchase it as a birthday gift for her sister. The transaction turned out to be a win-win-win-win deal for everyone concerned.

Usually, we notice serendipity after an auspicious event happens.  This was certainly the case with the selling of the car. If you stop and contemplate the idea of serendipity a little while, you’ll remember many instances of it happening in your life.

serendipity-02How often have you gone somewhere or done something that coincidentally led to an unintended pleasant consequence? Serendipity doesn’t just occur out of the blue, in some way, it relies upon our own intentions and actions.

Perhaps while visiting an unfamiliar city, you decided to stop at a little cafe for a quick lunch. The establishment had a very congenial, quaint decor and your meal turned out to be quite tasty.  The name of the cafe didn’t seem significant until you saw the sign on the building as you departed. It said “Serendipity”.

Serendipity seems almost otherworldly and metaphysical. However, serendipitous events stand out because our attention is especially alerted to the scenarios surrounding them. There’s some sort of thought process going on in the subconscious part of the mind.serendipity-01

For instance, in the case of the acquaintance who knew her daughter wanted to buy a compact car for the sister, the mother had formulated an image in her mind about the appropriate type of car her daughters wanted.  A Chevy Cavalier would be perfect.  Soon, everywhere the mother went, Cavaliers seemed to appear all over town.  When she heard about dad’s Cavalier, she deduced that the car was “heaven sent”. Due to the fact that someone she has known a long time had it for sale, validated her opinion.

Just thinking of unintended, happy events that seem to pop out of thin air makes us feel good.  Even when we think or say the word “serendipity” we experience a bit of joy.  It’s a light-hearted, pleasant word. Serendipity is when the mundane world provides a little tidbit of something extraordinary.  Who doesn’t feel thrilled when something turns out to be serendipitous?

1978veryhappymeThe Blue Jay of Happiness quotes the chemist and Nobel Prize Laureate Akira Suzuki. “The concept of serendipity often crops up in research. Serendipity is the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things that were not being sought. I believe that all researchers can be serendipitous.”

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