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History Impossible

History Impossible

Author: Alexander von Sternberg

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History: Impossible is exactly what it sounds like: impossible history. People, events, ideologies, STORIES--all that sound impossible. But all true.
21 Episodes
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Japan in the 16th and 17th century was going through profound changes, not least of which being the ongoing civil war that had been ripping it apart for over a century, with warlord fighting warlord on a whim, the famed samurai chopping each other to bits on scales rarely seen elsewhere in the world. The other profound change involved men in black robes preaching the word of a god that the Japanese people had never heard of, but who many nonetheless gravitated toward. The Jesuits of Portugal followed by the Franciscan friars were in the process of converting an entire nation to their religious apparatus, as part of a long game of colonization, all while the three great unifiers of Japan--warlords who took control in sequence, sometimes by force--we struggling to bring Japan together under their own banner.   It was in April of 1600 that everything would change for everyone, when a Dutch ship piloted by one of the best English pilots Europe had ever seen, laid anchor off the coast of the southern island of Kyushu, its crew starving and half-mad after nearly two years trying to brave the two largest oceans on earth, losing not just most of their crew but the other four ships of the fleet she'd been a part of.    The pilot of this ship would not only become the spokesperson for both the Dutch and the British, but essentially all foreign powers trying to do business in Japan from here on out. And somehow, against all odds, he would manage to not just impress the shogun vying to rule over all of Japan--the famous Tokugawa Ieyasu--but he would become so valuable to the man and to his kingdom that he would become one of the few non-Japanese men to be granted the title of samurai, and one of even fewer Europeans.    This pilot's name was William Adams, and he was and remains the only British samurai to this day. This is the story of how something this impossible managed to happen, all through the simple act of assimilating to this new and alien culture.   History Impossible has been made possible by the following generous supporters on Patreon and PayPal: Elias Borota Matthew Dakus Gavin Edwards Peter Hauck Devin Hreha Mike Kalnins Jose Martinez Mike Mayleben Judy McCoid Kostas Moros Molly Pan Jake Petersen John Pisano Edmund Plamowski Brian Pritzl PJ Rader Mark Reed Sam Emily Schmidt Ricky Worthey Steve Uhler
In the mid-19th century, as one country in the West was on its way toward the most famous civil war, another country in the East was in the grips of one far larger and more significant than any that had come before or would come afterward, if only in terms of numbers. By the end of this conflict, known as China's Taiping Rebellion, over 20 million people would lay dead, and China's relationship with the West would never be the same. While the man who started this conflict--a self-proclaimed prophet and younger brother to Jesus Christ named Hong Xiuquan--was forming the seeds of this rebellion within his tortured mind, the man who would change the course of the Rebellion itself was coming of age and beginning his habit of traveling the world looking for adventure and action. That man's name was Frederick Townsend Ward, and his influence would be felt and then eventually forgotten across the world, thanks to his largely omitted place within the ranks of great men who fought in this great conflict. This is the story of Frederick Townsend Ward, as well as the story of the fall of China as everyone--including the Chinese--would know it for nearly 100 years. This is the story of how an American adventurer became an American mercenary and then became a citizen of the Chinese Empire, and more importantly, a hero to its people, namely those living in the growing port city of Shanghai, largely thanks to his formation of the greatest soldiers China had yet to see: the Ever Victorious Army, whose elite training at Ward's hand would shape the future of China's military forever. History Impossible has been made possible by the following generous supporters on Patreon and PayPal: Elias Borota Matthew Dakus Gavin Edwards Peter Hauck Jose Martinez Mike Mayleben Judy McCoid Kostas Moros Molly Pan John Pisano Edmund Plamowski PJ Rader Martin Reddin Mark Reed Stephen Roblem Sam Emily Schmidt Ricky Worthey Steve Uhler
In this newest entry into the Impossible Interview series, I had a chance to sit down (via Zoom) with the incredibly talented and generous-with-his time J.D. Huitt, the brains behind and face of History Underground and the excellent History Traveler series on YouTube (remember: LIKE AND SUBSCRIBE!). He ranks among the top three history content creators that I diligently follow on YouTube for his excellent-quality videos exploring famous (and not-so-famous-but-should-be-famous) historical locations, ranging from Arlington Cemetery to the beaches of Normandy to Ford's Theater to a German U-boat housed in a museum I somehow missed while living in Chicago. It's a little overwhelming at first due to the sheer volume of content, but it's all top-notch and I was glad to get to know a fellow history fan a little better (and keep in mind: J.D. is fighting the good fight working as a high school history teacher and from the sounds of it, doing it very well). This was more of a two-way interview since it both appears here in glorious audio form and on YouTube in video form, but it turned into a very interesting conversation both about History Impossible's process and History Underground's process, as well as the psychological approach to history, the consequences and realities of COVID-19, the weaponization of history, and even our stories of encountering political extremists. It was a fun time for both of us and I think it'll be a fun time for all of you as you wait for the next installment of the West Meets East trilogy. And quick note before anyone corrects me: I called J.D. the first history teacher I've managed to interview for the podcast, by which I meant the first HIGH SCHOOL history teacher I've gotten to interview. My previous two conversations with Daniele Bolelli and CJ Kilmer were indeed conversations with history teachers, but they are operating at the college level, so I'd be more inclined to call them professors. Semantics aside, enjoy the show! History Impossible has been made possible by the following generous supporters on Patreon and PayPal: Tony Androsky Elias Borota Matthew Dakus Gavin Edwards Peter Hauck Jose Martinez Judy McCoid Kostas Moros Molly Pan John Pisano PJ Rader Martin Reddin Mark Reed Stephen Roblem Sam Emily Schmidt Ricky Worthey Steve Uhler
Surprise! In light of the current quarantine in which becoming starved for content is actually a very real possibility, as well as a way to say thank you to all of you for your patience as I toiled away at this most recent episode, I decided the time would be right to toss a freebie everyone's way, with a special thank you directed at all of you kind enough to be financially supporting History Impossible through Patreon and PayPal donations. Normally the Pop Quiz is a fun goof to be enjoyed by the Patrons of History Impossible, but since everyone needs a laugh now and then--whether it's because life is being a jerk to a lot of us right now or because listening to the mainline History Impossible episodes can just be so soul-crushing (believe me, I'm right there with you)--both Molly and I thought it would be appropriate for the Pop Quiz to be available to everybody who tunes in. We know it's not for everybody, but it can indeed be a fun distraction. Regardless, from the bottom of my and Molly's hearts, thank you for listening, enjoying, and laughing, and please: stay safe out there.
Let's set the stage: The most explosive event of the 20th century has just occurred and it has nothing to do with Nazis or atomic bombs or American blue jeans. In 1917, the world's largest terrestrial imperial power began to rip itself apart and would continue to do so during the next half decade, leading to the only other power with the ability to challenge the United States. The First World War and the Russian Revolution are both well-tread territory, as is the subsequent Russian Civil War, but what many might not realize is that these events were much more complex than Great Powers destroying one another or  Communists overthrowing the Romanov monarchy. The world had been turned upside down. And not only were there far more interests at play in this new Great Game of the 20th Century--including everyone from Russians to the Chinese to the British to the Japanese--but a vacuum had been created, threatening to suck away and destroy any and all traces of meaning that had been built up over the previous millennium. That vacuum--more of a singularity--was unlike anything that had ever been experienced and it acted as a calling card for all sorts of bizarre and unlikely figures of differing political and religious ideologies, searching for the purpose that they lost. And since their world was no longer one they recognized, they would all become seduced by the legends and real-or-imagined mystique of the lands of Genghis Khan.  Hardly any of these figures and their followers ever directly crossed paths and hardly any of them could ever be considered allies or fellow travelers of one another, with some being communists, others being religious nationalists, and some even being monarchist reactionaries. However, they all had one thing in common: they had been seduced by "the East" and were all determined to find their place in it, regardless of how ablaze with chaos and violence it had become. This is a story of legend and prophecy, of grand adventure and harsh survival, woo-woo telepathy experiments and communist sexual liberation, brutal theocratic violence and revolution, and a warlord that would fit right in with the world of Apocalypse Now or Blood Meridian: this is Central Asia in the early 20th century and the Europeans who tried to make it their last hope. History Impossible has been made possible by the following generous supporters on Patreon and PayPal: Tony Androsky Elias Borota Matthew Dakus Gavin Edwards Peter Hauck Jose Martinez Judy McCoid Kostas Moros Molly Pan John Pisano PJ Rader Martin Reddin Mark Reed Stephen Roblem Emily Schmidt Jake Smith Matthew Wilson Ricky Worthey
In this inaugural 2020 episode of History Impossible (and on the one year anniversary no less!), I sit down with CJ Killmer, host of the long-running and incredibly well-done Dangerous History Podcast. CJ has been one of my long-time inspirations for his capacity for detailed, deep dives into parts of history I literally had no interest in for most of my life (i.e. The American Civil War) and manage to completely draw me in with his nuanced, but strong takes.   In this conversation, we discuss a wide range of topics, from anarchism to the Civil War's moral gray areas to the long-held notion of the American civic religion before moving on to get into the weeds as to why Woodrow Wilson just might be one of the most nefarious presidents in American history. It was a fun, in-depth, and incredibly illuminating conversation and I hope you enjoy listening to it as much as I did having it. Music provided by Pudge and Punk Rock Opera. History Impossible has been made possible by the following generous supporters on Patreon and PayPal: Elias Borota Matthew Dakus Gavin Edwards Peter Hauck Trevor Lindborg Jose Martinez Judy McCoid Kostas Moros Molly Pan John Pisano PJ Rader Martin Reddin Stephen Roblem Emily Schmidt Jake Smith Matthew Wilson Ricky Worthey
Content Warning: This episode contains graphic depictions of physical and psychological torture. A world away from the war raging across the European continent, a completely different theater of warfare was being conducted by the Empire of Japan and the Allied forces in Asia. Immediately after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, attacks were made against the British Empire's and French territories in Southeast Asia, including the supposedly impregnable fortress of Singapore. After Singapore fell and the 80,000 troops taken prisoner would soon come to learn their own version of horror shared by victims of Hitler's hatred across the globe.  Under the rule of the Japanese, starvation, relentless corporal punishment, and torture were the rule. Good treatment including proper food and medical care was the exception. And this was all exacerbated by the brutal slave labor being instituted to accomplish the greatest and arguably most sadistic railway project ever endeavored by a modern nation: to create the connecting railway between Burma and Thailand, then called Siam. Thousands would die and many more would suffer. And at the center of this was a man named Eric Lomax. Lomax suffered as many others suffered during his time enslaved by the Japanese--beaten, interrogated, and tortured for the simple act of drawing a map of the railway and assisting in making a radio. He would remain a prisoner of their cruelty even long after the Japanese surrendered in August of 1945. Nightmares, emotional self-destruction, and callousness towards those he loved most. And then he would learn the identity of one of his torturers. This episode of History Impossible--the finale of 2019--covers all this and more. Special thanks to the musical talents by Eric Harper with "Os Ventos Detras Os Montes" and Magnus Moone with "Pin Lights". History Impossible has been made possible by the following generous supporters on Patreon and PayPal: Elias Borota Matthew Dakus Gavin Edwards Peter Hauck Trevor Lindborg Jose Martinez Judy McCoid Kostas Moros Molly Pan John Pisano PJ Rader Stephen Roblem Emily Schmidt Jake Smith Matthew Wilson Ricky Worthey Please consider joining the ranks of ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, or perhaps even investors, producers, and executive producers over at www.patreon.com/historyimpossible
Content Warning: This episode contains extremely graphic depictions of genocide, torture, and human experimentation. On April 29th, 1945, one day before Adolf Hitler killed himself, the true evil of the National Socialists--and the necessity of crushing them--finally became known to the American men fighting through Germany. It all began with seeing a set of boxcars, filled from stem to stern with the starved, decaying bodies of thousands of Jews who had been traveling by rail for weeks, as their captors fled the approaching Allied forces without a care in the world for the miserable existence of their human cargo. From the train tracks and moving into the camp known as Dachau, the American troops were then greeted by both the words "Arbeit macht frei" adorning the camp's gates contrasted with the starving, skeletal, and dying faces of the prisoners housed within.  Some of the men wept. Some frantically prayed to an unresponsive god. Some clenched their fingers so tightly into their palms that blood trickled to the ground beneath their feet. Some swore revenge, even if nothing had been done to them personally. And some achieved this revenge, if only vicariously and on behalf of the victims of Dachau. This is the story of that vicarious revenge, an examination of the events leading up to it, and a meditation on the ethics of summary execution committed by American troops against Nazis with their hands raised in surrender. History Impossible has been made possible by the following generous supporters on Patreon: Elias Borota Peter Hauck Trevor Lindborg Jose Martinez Judy McCoid Kostas Moros Molly Pan John Pisano PJ Rader Emily Schmidt Matthew Wilson Please consider joining the ranks of ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, or perhaps even investors, producers, and executive producers over at www.patreon.com/historyimpossible
It's the end of one era and the beginning of another. With the launch of History Impossible's Patreon, things with the Pop Quiz are different. This will be the final free episode the Pop Quiz series, which will now be accessible to the supporters of History Impossible at the 5 dollar level or higher (along with other great goodies). So to celebrate, Molly and Alex took a trip down memory lane about werewolves, Nazism, Nazi terrorists, and Nazi trauma. It was, believe it or not, a lot of fun! Many things were discussed, including the notion that Nazis don't actually exist anymore as well as the non-resemblance of the tragic Franz Oppenhoff to Mr. Moneybags (or was it Colonel Sanders?). In any event, it's about as silly as they come and while it's understandable that this lighter, relaxed fit version of History Impossible isn't for everyone (we do read those iTunes reviews here! Thanks for the constructive criticism, by the way), it's a fun way to exorcise the demons that can arise from reading about all the awful things human beings do to each other.  So for her final pop quiz as we've all come to expect, the question inevitably comes up: how did Molly do? What grade did she get? Sit back, fix yourself a Halloween-themed drink, tune in, and find out!
On April 30th, 1945, Adolf Hitler's brain was ripped apart by the bullet he'd fired through his skull. That is how we believe the Second World War ended. But in reality, the struggle to crush the most evil of regimes and its ideas was just beginning and arguably never ended. This is the story of how that struggle began with the Germans who refused to believe that the end--their end--had come, and as a result, transformed (if only metaphorically) into packs of werewolves, men who had unleashed the beast lurking somewhere within them, causing one of the least discussed insurgencies in modern history. In this epic tale covering both the Nazi ideology's supernaturally-minded roots themselves as well as the results of crushing Nazism and the origins of our sheer terror at the regime and ideology's meaning, we'll dive into some of the strangest ideas and most desperate figures we've covered in History Impossible so far. From the occult and esoteric origins of the Nazi religion to the unrepentant true believers in the Fuhrer (some of whom thought him to be alive). From the bombings of Allied occupiers' administrations to the assassinations of collaborators and "traitors". From the decapitation wires strung across the roads of rural Germany to the sugar packets filled with explosive powder. From the streets of Berlin to the streets of Charlottesville. Welcome to the Fourth Reich.  Many thanks to the musicians who contributed their work to this episode, including Kai Engel with their song "Dark Alley".
In this special edition of History Impossible, a trend is broken: this is not about a particular story in history. This is about a man. Or rather, a conversation with a man. The one, the only, Daniele Bolelli, host of popular podcasts History on Fire and The Drunken Taoist and known for semi-regular appearances on popular podcasts like the Joe Rogan Experience and the Duncan Trussell Family Hour. Daniele has been in History Impossible's corner since day one and some wonderful collaborations have come out of it, including the episode we both crafted concerning Lyudmila Pavlichenko, better known as Lady Death back in July, not to mention some upcoming collaborations we'll both be filling you all in on in the coming months. So in this conversation, Daniele and I cover a wide range of topics, of course including history, but with dashes of politics, philosophy, and literature. There's even a "debate" about the merits of Blood Meridian! Fingers crossed that we don't manage to alienate significant portions of our audiences (with apologies to Jordan Peterson fanboys), but for the rest of you who stick around, enjoy the conversation! Also thanks to Punk Opera for their badass song, "The Road", used at the end of the episode.
After a mega-sized two-parter episode of History Impossible, it seems only fitting that listeners get a pseudo-mega-sized Pop Quiz episode (if only because there was indeed more ground to cover). Ms. Molly's recap of the Great Hollywood Coverup is certainly fun and full of the usual holes and minor errors that chip away at her final grade, but in the end, she did (relatively) well recapping all the events and theories surrounding the mysterious murder of William Desmond Taylor.  Extra credit was also to be had by Molly, though, not only because she managed to make Alex realize a major unfilled hole from the original narrative, but because she entertains with her own pet theory about who was behind the murder of the director. It, like all the theories, has its limitations, but in Alex's opinion, it makes for the best story.  So kick back with a nice summer cocktail, put your feet up, and give these two chuckleheads theorizing about a dead Hollywood film director a listen. 
When we last left the side of renowned and loved silent film director William Desmond Taylor, he was lying dead on the floor of his bungalow and his valet was shrieking for someone--anyone--to help. Little did the valet know that "help" would indeed come, but the only people being helped were the ones who hired William Desmond Taylor to clean up the tarnished image Hollywood had earned for itself. In the second part of our epic story involving the unsolved murder of William Desmond Taylor, as well as the greatest cover-up in Hollywood's relatively short history that followed it up and set the scene for the next century, we'll be looking not just at the crime scene and the shenanigans that occurred there, thanks to Taylor's employers, but also the LAPD's primary theory of who killed Taylor and why that's most likely wrong. Then we'll look at all three major accounts that have been explored in our main secondary sources of who could have done it and who was responsible. We'll dive into the life of an obsessed teenage girl and her wicked stage mother and the political powers that protected them, the enraged drug dealers and an actress struggling with an addiction to their product, the failed actors and filmmakers who moonlighted as bottom-feeding petty criminals, and the powerful moguls who loomed over it all and made it impossible for Hollywood to ever be the same again; all in the epic conclusion of History Impossible's The Great Hollywood Coverup.
Nearly 100 years ago, scandal after scandal was rocking the new kid in town, the motion picture business; Tinseltown; Hollywood. Overdoses on mercury bichloride, cocaine-addicted starlets, prostitution and drug rings, suicides, and an alleged raucous orgy ending in the rape and murder of an actress by one of the top stars. This was all occurring while this new art form was under constant scrutiny by Christian fundamentalists and early feminist activists on a moral crusade to "clean up" and save America from its sinful trajectory off which Hollywood's leaders seemed hellbent on profiting. It seemed like the wolves were closing in until Hollywood's leading power broker--the man who understood and capitalized on Americans' fascination with fame--decided to place one of his most loyal directors in charge of presenting a cleaner, more dignified image of Hollywoodland. And almost without missing a beat, that director was found dead in his home, bringing down all the heat Hollywood's leading power-broker wanted least. In the first part of this epic duology of History Impossible, we'll be looking at this power broker's place at the dawn of Hollywood and in the original culture war, the mysterious actor from England with a shrouded past that he hired as his propagandist, and the ominous circumstances leading up to that actor's death. Stay tuned for Part II in the coming weeks.
The Pop Quiz returns for a much lighter, more fun episode (or fun recounting for Molly, at least) of the third episode of History Impossible, the story of Simo Häyhä, the White Death, the Magic Shooter. Give this quiz a listen to see how Molly manages to find such a cold-blooded bad-ass mass-killer so "cute", manage to call him a butt-face, and still be in awe of his accomplishments and monk-like temperament. Also make sure to sympathize with Mr. von Sternberg as his patience is eternally tried by puns and silliness coming from his history-phobic significant other. So fix yourself a nice drink, kick back, and listen to two amateurs attempt to dissect the deeper meanings behind the man--the phenomenon--known as The White Death.
The White Death

The White Death

2019-04-2202:02:322

In the winter of 1939, a Soviet colossus came bearing down on the small Baltic nation known as Finland, sparking off a 105-day conflict known to history as the Winter War. Facing impossible odds, the Finnish Army did all it could to fight off their Russian invaders, all with the simple goal to remain free from tyranny. During the fighting, one man would set himself apart from the struggle with extraordinary deeds and yet come to symbolize the character of the struggle itself, as well as his nation. Claiming more individual kills in wartime as a sniper, this man, Simo Häyhä came to be known by many names, including the "Magic Shooter" and, according to his terrified and freezing enemies, the "White Death." This is the story of this gifted shooter, the things he accomplished, and how he came to represent the fortitude of a nation who would never trade in their freedom for empty success. Additional music by Moments and Eino Rautavaara.
For the second episode of History: Impossible, we have our second episode of An Impossible Pop Quiz! This time around, we discuss the misery that was the second episode of History: Impossible about sexual assault in times of war--in particular the American Civil War. As impossible (ha) as it might seem, we managed to have a few laughs, but unlike the first Pop Quiz, there is less of a narrative recap/discussion and more of a sober-minded discussion about the concepts explored in the episode. So fix yourself a nice drink, kick back, and listen to two amateurs attempt to dissect the deeper meanings behind sexual assault in the American Civil War.
The Union Rapists

The Union Rapists

2019-03-1101:34:321

CONTENT WARNING: This episode contents graphic depictions of sexual assault and violence, occasionally involving minors. The American Civil War was supposedly a war of liberation. But the question of who some of these liberators actually were rarely gets asked. Most of the soldiers on the side of liberation--the Union Army--were simply grunts; uneducated, poor men who were completely unprepared for the horrors that awaited them. Equally unprepared were the women of the South, both white and black. Some feared having their property taken away from them. Others were the property and were told they were being freed. And yet both groups were only really concerned with their lives.  This is the story of roaming gangs of drunken hooligans, serial abusers and rapists, ostensibly socially-conscious racists, and pederasts, not to mention the legal system that protected them: not the picture of an army of liberators fighting for a noble cause that many of us were taught in school. Music thanks to Lobo Loco for the track "Work Wonders". (If you don't want to listen to the news/housekeeping, skip ahead to the five minute mark).  
And now for something completely different... In light of the fact that there inevitably will be delays and desires to hear more from the world of History: Impossible, I've decided to have my history-ambivalent lady friend Molly Pan along for the ride. And since she can't be bothered to learn anything unless a grade is being given to her (her words, not mine), we decided to start our own little History: Impossible side show where she does her damnedest to remember the story of the most recent episode. As I say in the introduction, this is a bit of an experiment and may one day become something of a treat for the future (fingers crossed) premium subscribers who enjoy this lighter fare (especially after the darkness I tend to subject you to with pretty much every episode).  So fix yourself a cocktail, a mug of tea, or whatever poison suits you and give a listen to the first of many History Impossible Pop Quizzes. 
The Original Donald Trump

The Original Donald Trump

2019-01-2802:35:57

WARNING: This episode contains harsh scenes and quotes involving mass murder, racial slurs, and child abuse. Nearly a century and a half before populist messaging was used to propel the unlikeliest and most divisive of candidates into the Oval Office, the groundwork was being laid amid the most terrifying time in American history. A true vision of a post-apocalyptic landscape on the verge of exploding into chaos all over again: a sense of corruption at every level of government, starvation in the streets, the constant threat of violence, rampant racist pogroms, and a nation still attempting to heal its self-inflicted wounds caused by a destructive Civil War all serve as the backdrop for the least and yet most likely rise of a firebrand demagogue who will change the landscape of populist politics forever, leaving a smoking crater of legislative destruction in his wake, and yet be completely forgotten to history. This is the story of this man--this original Donald Trump--and the world that created him and the world of which he took advantage to mould into his own. Thanks to Kevin MacLeod for the use of his song "Last Hope".
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Comments (3)

Greg Kucharski

great podcast... and here is link to part of that moment of forgiveness https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=do3FwIymiqI

May 12th
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Greg

i heard many podcasts on WW2 and Great 1WW.. i saw many documents on concentration camps.. i visited Oswięcim main camp and Brzezinka camp wich is Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camp complex.. i learned about it all at school not just briefly but for years repeatedly.. I'm Polish living in Canada... i thought i knew it all.. i was wrong. I wiped tears listening to this great podcast.. thank you for teaching me on one more aspect of that horrific tragedy of Holocaust

Nov 11th
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steve boheimer

Great podcast. The piano song in the first break brought a tear to my eye.

Nov 10th
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