30 September 2008

Mystery solv-ed

Since I am utterly confused about yesterday's failed bailout of Wall Street – was it a bad idea? Was it a good idea? Who really knows? – and I was further boggled by the fact that Our Government has injected a further $630 billion into the global financial system since yesterday (thereby making me wonder …um… why, exactly, we needed to have a $700 billion Wall Street bailout in the first place), I have decided to turn my overheated mind to one of humankind's great, unsolved mysteries:

Where do socks go?

Anyone who has ever owned a pair of socks knows that, inevitably, one of the pair will go missing.

Last year I had to toss out no less than 40 pathetic, unmatched, wretched single socks. I hated to do it, but I'd waited nearly a decade for their wayward mates to return to the fold. Finally, the situation was critical. I could not wedge even one more pair of socks into my overstuffed sock drawer, which refused to close completely. Critical mass had been reached.

My useless, unmatched single socks gazed at me mournfully. I could hear their tiny, piping voices in my mind, begging me to reconsider one more time, to please-please-please give their long-lost mates one more chance to come home. "Remember the Prodigal Sock!" they cried. But I hardened my heart and tossed them into the week's trash for disposal. At least, I thought sadly, most of them were made of cotton or wool and will, someday, biodegrade and become part of the Great Circle of Life. The few that weren't – those sleek, cheap synthetics and synthetic blends – will be around to witness the end of the world as we know it, albeit from the middle of some massive land-fill.

It occurs to me now that I could have sewn them all together into a warm sweater, or perhaps a toasty sofa-throw to wrap up in during the chillier months of winter. But I don't know how to sew. As a fledgling feminist with high principles, I rejected my high school home economics class point-blank and learned to macramé badly instead, reasoning that I could never have enough plant-hangers. Today, when a button falls off my shirt, the gap remains forever (but that's another story). It's all very sad.

Since last year's single-sock-disposal-day, roughly 17 more of my coupled socks have joined the forlorn ranks of the unmated. So far, this is merely an annoyance, as I've refused to welcome any new sock-pairs at all into my home since the purge. It's just too hard on all of us. But I've noticed that they're disappearing at a far faster rate than they used to. This is disconcerting, to say the least.

And then last night, the answer to the mystery came to me as if in a dream. OK, it was a dream.

If you have a cat, perhaps you've noticed that roughly once a day it seemingly goes crazy. He or she will wake suddenly from a sound slumber atop a pile of clean, warm laundry (or the sofa) and spring into action, wide-eyed and alert. Tail slashing in a tiger-like manner, your cat crouches, ears pricked forward, a look of unleashed savagery on her face. She springs, pounces, and crouches again, looking this way and that, before hurtling to the other end of the room, her paws pounding the floor like an elephant stampeding across the veldt. She scuttles and slides beneath desks and china cabinets where she hides craftily, waiting for her moment, then flings herself into the fray and pounces again, only to shoot off in another direction, her tail fuzzed like a bottle-brush. This can go on for some minutes. Finally, exhausted, she returns to your freshly laundered-and-dried pile of clothes, climbs wearily to the top and passes out for the rest of the day.

This odd behavior in housecats has also, like missing socks, long been a mystery. What are they chasing? My friends, because of my illuminating dream, I know the answer.

Your deceptively lazy cat is after griskins. These are tiny, mischievous and frequently malicious wee beings, the embarrassing third cousins once removed of the legendary faerie-folk. Invisible to humans but far from imaginary, griskins can be blamed for most household calamities and disasters. Griskins are the ones who meddle with your coffeemaker in the night, rendering it non-responsive when you get up at 5 a.m. desperately needing a cup of hot coffee to jolt you into the shower so you can get cleaned up and ready for work. They turn off your alarm clock after you go to sleep. They muck up the icemaker in the freezer so it won't dispense ice into your glass when you need it the most. If you're looking for your fingernail clippers, they're the ones who hid them. Can't find that eyebrow pencil? Lost your car keys? Has the measuring-thingy for your egg-cooker disappeared?

Yes, griskins.

In my dream I learned that housecats have a Sacred Duty to try, at least once a day, to catch and kill griskins. Believe it or not, cats are the only creatures on Earth with the ability to actually see the little suckers. So it's to the humble housecat that we owe our thanks and unending gratitude for a world that hasn't completely collapsed into total chaos. Yet.

And here's the rub: It's griskins who cruelly separate our poor socks from their hapless mates and spirit them away.

What do they do with them, you ask?

Now, I know this is going to be hard to believe, but being a person who rarely experiences such visionary dreams without the aid of several slices of cold, pepperoni-studded pizza right before bed, I'm convinced of the truth of what I'm about to tell you. Take a nice deep breath, be sure you're seated and please, please open your mind. As you know, truth is often far stranger than fiction.

Griskins steal our socks from the washing machine, the dryer, the laundry basket and the sock drawer in order to give them to the dragons, who pay them with stolen gold coins, tiny emerald and ruby chips, and the occasional paste necklace, since griskins aren't much interested in value, only glitteryness, like crows, and dragons are cheats, I'm sorry to say.

The dragons live in the next dimension over, but they, like the griskins, occasionally cross over just to create a little havoc and steal a little more treasure with which to pay the griskens for the stolen socks. And the griskins only steal one sock at a time because if they stole actual mated pairs, we might catch on.

Why do dragons need socks? I just knew you'd ask.

It seems that baby dragons, upon hatching, have no claws. That means the tiny finger-like things on the "hands" at the ends of their stunted front legs (we'll call them "arms" in this discussion for the sake of clarity), and their much larger, longer toes are vulnerable, tender and completely unprotected.

And our socks fit over their long fingers and toes perfectly.

So, see, the mama-dragons use the stolen socks as protection for their dragon-children's fingers and toes until they grow claws and their scaly skin hardens up. They need many different sizes of socks, too, because of course dragons come in many varieties and they grow very slowly. Why, an infant dragon might take a century to reach young teen-hood, when his claws finally start coming in.

So the socks are vital to the mama dragons, and since they can't knit (presumably they, too, refused to take home ec), the griskins steal our socks and rake in the profits. It's a heckuva racket, just like Wall Street financiers in our own dimension. Isn't that amazing?

And oh – by the way: If any of my kind readers can explain that $630 billion – the other bailout – to me, I'd be greatly appreciative. Thank you so much in advance.

27 September 2008

All washed up

Watched the the first debate between Senator John McCain and Senator Barack Obama last night. McCain showed up after announcing on Wednesday that he was "suspending his campaign" in the face of the dire Wall Street Emergency and the financial "bail-out" being hammered out in Washington, which he gravely told us couldn't be done without his help.

Twenty-two hours later, after taking part in two televised campaign interviews and speaking at a special event in New York City (during which he rehashed his campaign talking points), he finally went to Washington. There, he met with Codpiece, Obama, Nancy Pelosi and a few other high muckety-mucks -- and didn't say a word for most of the hour-long meeting. As you've probably heard, there was a deal. And then Republicans did an about face and there wasn't a deal. Not only did McCain not add anything helpful to the process, he was also completely unneeded.

Nor did he actually "suspend" his campaign. Along with the abovementioned interviews and speeches he did during the first 22 hours after announcing the "suspension," his campaign ads continued to run on television and radio, McCain campaign branch offices all over the country were open for business, and his website was online, complete with an ad saying that he'd "won the debate" before he'd even actually debated with Obama. Nevertheless, he had the gall to tell Obama that he, too, should "suspend" his campaign, citing a national crisis.

Obama ignored him.

As part of this stunt, McCain tried to get the first presidential debate delayed unless there was a bail-out deal on the books by Friday. The delay would have necessarily bumped the Palin-Biden debate next Tuesday to some other, unannounced time (maybe in December?), which could well have been the real reason for the whole sordid stunt in the first place.

Obama was having none of it, however, reasonably suggesting that a president should be able to handle more than one thing at a time. Obama said he'd be in Mississippi for the debate whether McCain showed up or not.

Yesterday, Friday, there was still no Wall Street bail-out deal. And McCain, whose stunt hadn't worked, had a choice. He could refuse to debate Obama as promised, thereby giving Obama an unprecedented opportunity to speak directly to the nation for 90 prime-time minutes without commercial interruption. Or he could slink to Mississippi and participate in the debate after all. He chose the latter.

But oh, Mr. McCain was not a happy camper. He barely looked at Obama throughout the debate. He was openly condescending and contemptuous, calling his opponent "naive" and insisting that he "didn't understand" about important issues. And McCain refused to speak directly to Obama, though such interaction between the two was a part of the debate design he'd agreed to weeks ago, and which he had to have known before he walked on stage.

While both men were strong in their answers to the questions they were asked, McCain was rattled, angry, and combative. Obama, on the other hand, was cool, calm and collected throughout.

McCain did himself no favors by pulling this idiotic stunt, but it wasn't his first. Choosing Sarah Palin as a running mate, who's obviously, woefully unqualified to be Vice President of the United States, was McCain's biggest and most jawdropping stunt. He chose Palin not for her ability to lead, her mental brilliance or her experience, but as a token Christianist female to lure in female voters and appease his base: the Christianist fundamentalists and conservative right-wingers. She's attractive and she has boobs. That's all he cared about.

Both stunts were craven and dishonest. And they backfired. Watch Obama's pick for VP Joe Biden tear McCain a new one after the debate ended. It's basically a coup de gras:

I think John McCain is all washed up.

25 September 2008

VP material

You know, watching this, it occurred to me that I am far more qualified than Sarah Palin to be Vice President of the United States. I'm fairly well traveled, I've worked for the Department of Defense, I pay attention to the news and politics in my country and state and hey, I'm a quick study, too.

*sigh* But nobody asked me.

Mr. Wren’s new toy

My husband has a new toy.

He called me one day recently from Costco and launched into a delighted description of an appliance which was being demonstrated just for him. I caught about every third word – something about "it juices and chops and makes healthy, nutritious drinks."

He's always been one for doing it yourself at home, as long as he isn't the one doing it. We have a big ol' dehydrator gathering dust in the pantry. He used it a few times, slicing and chopping fruits and veggies into dryable chunks. Then he discovered that washing the dried, leftover bits of whatever off the screened drying racks was a real pain in the arse. So ended Mr. Wren's dehydrating craze.

"They have one in white here, but it also comes in black. The guy says they can send us the black one, if we want. I thought I'd better ask."

We have a black fridge, a black stove, and a black dishwasher. White wouldn't fit in, so "Black would be better," I said. Black what, I should have asked, but I didn't.

"OK, bye! Love you!"

I promptly forgot the conversation. That is, until I started out the door a week later and nearly took a header over a great big box the mailperson had left on the welcome mat. I carted it inside. On the return address sticker: "Vita Mix."

Oh, right, I thought. It's that thing Mr. Wren was going on about last week. Hmmm. And I went on my way.

Well, the Vita Mix now takes up a goodly portion of the limited counter space in my kitchen, edging out my elegant, old, silver-based Oster blender (the kind they use to mix drinks in bars, but smaller). See, the Vita Mix is also a blender – but it's on steroids.

The base is a big, blocky black cube. Whoever designed these things had no sense of décor or aesthetics. It has various intimidating buttons and dials on the front. The top part is a gigantic pitcher-like thing, squared off, and holds enough to feed a horse, and there's a black plastic, bat-like thing which can be used to stuff food down into the thick, deadly, wicked-sharp blades at the bottom. Horror movies come to mind.

The evening after it arrived, Mr. Wren read carefully through all the literature that came with the Vita Mix. Then he made a elephant-sized smoothie. I was in my den, writing, trying not to let the sound of the aircraft engine roaring in the kitchen distract me. When he'd put things into the blender, the pitch would change. Think of a four-inch tree limb going into a chipper-shredder.

After a while, he stuck his head in the door. "You want some smoothie?"

I've learned over the years that if Mr. Wren is creating in the kitchen, and asks if I want some, it's a good idea to get a little more information before saying "yes." And that's even though I'm touched by his kindness for remembering me.

"What's in it?" I inquired, trying not to sound worried.

Like an excited schoolboy reciting the actuarial tables, he stood in the doorway, looked off into the far distance and said, "Three peaches, two bananas, half a zucchini, an avocado, garlic, rice protein powder, plain lowfat yogurt, half a head of cabbage, some nutmeg, black cracked pepper, wheat germ and flaxseed. And Splenda."

My mouth opened.

"Oh, and four carrots, that last cucumber and some ice." He smiled beatifically.

He'd lost me at the zucchini, but I didn't say so. I've become convinced that really, Mr. Wren doesn't have any real sense of taste. He can combine the strangest things and not be put off by the retch-inducing result in the least. And one of the things that delights him about his new monster blender is that it even liquifies peels, meaning that he doesn't need to worry about peeling things. It's perfect for the hungry man who's totally mastered the DVR and has, on any given day, 36 hours of prerecorded, no-commercial programming ready at a moment's notice. No w all he needs is an all-natural, liquid diet he can suck through a straw.

"Peels are full of great nutrients," he told me earnestly. "It's a shame we just toss them out."

"Wow," I said of the concoction he'd just described. I hoped he'd left the cap on the pitcher so it couldn't crawl out. "Thanks, but I'm still full from dinner," I said. "I think I'll pass this time."

"OK, but you don't know what you're missing," he said with a grin, and went back to the kitchen.

I saw him a few minutes later watching something on the TV, a huge glass of brownish-gray glop in his hand. In the kitchen, there was still enough of it in the pitcher to feed a herd of pigs. How in the world he was going to drink all of it, I had no idea. But I didn't want it sitting in the refrigerator for the next several days, either. The smell – which was already curling my nosehairs – would permeate everything in there.

Since then, I've learned to like Mr. Wren's Vita Mix a little more, but it's hard. It really does hog a lot of counter space. Still, with Mr. Wren gently directing me, I used it a couple of weeks ago to puree a big batch of roasted tomatoes and basil as pasta sauce and as a base for soups. The savory results now reside in the chest freezer for later this season. And Mr. Wren told me, solemnly, that you can actually make soup in the thing by leaving it on for an extended period of time. The sucker gets so hot the contents of the pitcher actually come to a boil, eliminating the need to turn on a stove or dirty a pot.

WoooooHoo! as the late, great Steve Irwin would say, if he still could. I just know he'd love Mr. Wren's Vita Mix. They could puree Dingo DooDoo with cinnamon for the gardens.

In the meantime, I've kept my dainty (yes, it looks dainty in comparison) old Oster blender on the opposite counter, ready for when I want to make a "girly-girl" smoothie. For the uninitiated, that's a smoothie that requires only some fruit, yogurt, ice, soy protein and little Splenda. My ol' Oster can be noisy too, but at least I don't need ear-protection to use it.


Fear itself

I was reading Hullabaloo late last night. I've become nearly obsessive about our country's economic crisis and have been reading everything I can find in an attempt to understand it. Then I discovered Digby had reproduced Franklin Roosevelt's inaugural address, given in 1932 as America suffered during the Great Depression.

After hearing Bush's short speech last night, which was full of dire warnings, fearmongering and threats, I found myself wishing that we had a real president right now. Bush is a sham, and it's arguable that it was his policies and those of his cronies in Washington that brought about our current crisis by deregulating the financial markets and turning a blind eye to the excesses that resulted.

But even with that, our crisis now barely compares to what happened in 1929, when the stock markets crashed and the desperate runs on the banks began. More on that later.

I encourage you to take 10 or 15 minutes to read Roosevelt's address, from which the famous quote, "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself" came. If nothing else, it will inspire you to look at our current crisis in a new way, one more compassionate and hopeful than anything we're hearing from everyone but Barack Obama. Instead of the misery and loss – and indeed, terror – that Bush used last night to further frighten the nation, Roosevelt called upon Americans to work together with him to solve the looming, difficult problems ahead:

I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our people impel. This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.

In such a spirit on my part and on yours we face our common difficulties. They concern, thank God, only material things. Values have shrunken to fantastic levels; taxes have risen; our ability to pay has fallen; government of all kinds is faced by serious curtailment of income; the means of exchange are frozen in the currents of trade; the withered leaves of industrial enterprise lie on every side; farmers find no markets for their produce; the savings of many years in thousands of families are gone.

More important, a host of unemployed citizens face the grim problem of existence, and an equally great number toil with little return. Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment.

Yet our distress comes from no failure of substance. We are stricken by no plague of locusts. Compared with the perils which our forefathers conquered because they believed and were not afraid, we have still much to be thankful for. Nature still offers her bounty and human efforts have multiplied it. Plenty is at our doorstep, but a generous use of it languishes in the very sight of the supply. Primarily this is because the rulers of the exchange of mankind's goods have failed, through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted their failure, and abdicated. Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men.

True they have tried, but their efforts have been cast in the pattern of an outworn tradition. Faced by failure of credit they have proposed only the lending of more money. Stripped of the lure of profit by which to induce our people to follow their false leadership, they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored confidence. They know only the rules of a generation of self-seekers. They have no vision, and when there is no vision the people perish.

The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.

Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. The joy and moral stimulation of work no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase of evanescent profits. These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow men.

Recognition of the falsity of material wealth as the standard of success goes hand in hand with the abandonment of the false belief that public office and high political position are to be valued only by the standards of pride of place and personal profit; and there must be an end to a conduct in banking and in business which too often has given to a sacred trust the likeness of callous and selfish wrongdoing. Small wonder that confidence languishes, for it thrives only on honesty, on honor, on the sacredness of obligations, on faithful protection, on unselfish performance; without them it cannot live.

Restoration calls, however, not for changes in ethics alone. This Nation asks for action, and action now.

Our greatest primary task is to put people to work. This is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously. It can be accomplished in part by direct recruiting by the Government itself, treating the task as we would treat the emergency of a war, but at the same time, through this employment, accomplishing greatly needed projects to stimulate and reorganize the use of our natural resources.

Hand in hand with this we must frankly recognize the overbalance of population in our industrial centers and, by engaging on a national scale in a redistribution, endeavor to provide a better use of the land for those best fitted for the land. The task can be helped by definite efforts to raise the values of agricultural products and with this the power to purchase the output of our cities. It can be helped by preventing realistically the tragedy of the growing loss through foreclosure of our small homes and our farms. It can be helped by insistence that the Federal, State, and local governments act forthwith on the demand that their cost be drastically reduced. It can be helped by the unifying of relief activities which today are often scattered, uneconomical, and unequal. It can be helped by national planning for and supervision of all forms of transportation and of communications and other utilities which have a definitely public character. There are many ways in which it can be helped, but it can never be helped merely by talking about it. We must act and act quickly.

Finally, in our progress toward a resumption of work we require two safeguards against a return of the evils of the old order; there must be a strict supervision of all banking and credits and investments; there must be an end to speculation with other people's money, and there must be provision for an adequate but sound currency.

There are the lines of attack. I shall presently urge upon a new Congress in special session detailed measures for their fulfillment, and I shall seek the immediate assistance of the several States.

Through this program of action we address ourselves to putting our own national house in order and making income balance outgo. Our international trade relations, though vastly important, are in point of time and necessity secondary to the establishment of a sound national economy. I favor as a practical policy the putting of first things first. I shall spare no effort to restore world trade by international economic readjustment, but the emergency at home cannot wait on that accomplishment.

The basic thought that guides these specific means of national recovery is not narrowly nationalistic. It is the insistence, as a first consideration, upon the interdependence of the various elements in all parts of the United States—a recognition of the old and permanently important manifestation of the American spirit of the pioneer. It is the way to recovery. It is the immediate way. It is the strongest assurance that the recovery will endure.

In the field of world policy I would dedicate this Nation to the policy of the good neighbor—the neighbor who resolutely respects himself and, because he does so, respects the rights of others—the neighbor who respects his obligations and respects the sanctity of his agreements in and with a world of neighbors.

If I read the temper of our people correctly, we now realize as we have never realized before our interdependence on each other; that we can not merely take but we must give as well; that if we are to go forward, we must move as a trained and loyal army willing to sacrifice for the good of a common discipline, because without such discipline no progress is made, no leadership becomes effective. We are, I know, ready and willing to submit our lives and property to such discipline, because it makes possible a leadership which aims at a larger good. This I propose to offer, pledging that the larger purposes will bind upon us all as a sacred obligation with a unity of duty hitherto evoked only in time of armed strife.

With this pledge taken, I assume unhesitatingly the leadership of this great army of our people dedicated to a disciplined attack upon our common problems.

Action in this image and to this end is feasible under the form of government which we have inherited from our ancestors. Our Constitution is so simple and practical that it is possible always to meet extraordinary needs by changes in emphasis and arrangement without loss of essential form. That is why our constitutional system has proved itself the most superbly enduring political mechanism the modern world has produced. It has met every stress of vast expansion of territory, of foreign wars, of bitter internal strife, of world relations.

It is to be hoped that the normal balance of executive and legislative authority may be wholly adequate to meet the unprecedented task before us. But it may be that an unprecedented demand and need for undelayed action may call for temporary departure from that normal balance of public procedure.

I am prepared under my constitutional duty to recommend the measures that a stricken nation in the midst of a stricken world may require. These measures, or such other measures as the Congress may build out of its experience and wisdom, I shall seek, within my constitutional authority, to bring to speedy adoption.

But in the event that the Congress shall fail to take one of these two courses, and in the event that the national emergency is still critical, I shall not evade the clear course of duty that will then confront me. I shall ask the Congress for the one remaining instrument to meet the crisis—broad Executive power to wage a war against the emergency, as great as the power that would be given to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe.

For the trust reposed in me I will return the courage and the devotion that befit the time. I can do no less.

We face the arduous days that lie before us in the warm courage of the national unity; with the clear consciousness of seeking old and precious moral values; with the clean satisfaction that comes from the stern performance of duty by old and young alike. We aim at the assurance of a rounded and permanent national life.

We do not distrust the future of essential democracy. The people of the United States have not failed. In their need they have registered a mandate that they want direct, vigorous action. They have asked for discipline and direction under leadership. They have made me the present instrument of their wishes. In the spirit of the gift I take it.

In this dedication of a Nation we humbly ask the blessing of God. May He protect each and every one of us. May He guide me in the days to come.

As for our situation today: Yes, it's serious. But after reading this, I wonder if the Bush administration, once again, isn't using our fear of the unknown to achieve its own, nefarious goal – which seems to be destroying everything about this nation we once held dear while getting disgustingly rich. I don't know about you, but I've been waiting for his parting shot, knowing that even with only a few months left in office, Bush is still the biggest danger this country has ever faced. Is this the "October surprise," launched a half a month early?

You tell me.

23 September 2008

Let's ALL be banks!

Madison Guy has a great idea -- he thinks becoming a bank holding company would work out just dandy for everyone:

"If it works for Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, why can't it work for me? With the biggest banking bailout giveaway in U.S. history shaping up in Washington, it seems to be the only way to get in line for the gravy train. I know I would be a very small bank, but I think even the smallest bank is entitled to consideration."

Go read. He just made me smile for the first time today.

22 September 2008

Pondering as Rome burns

Lots of fear and uncertainty in the world today.

I woke to my old cat snuggled into my side, warm and purring, half awake already. Beyond the open window "my" wren sang his morning song from his perch on a sour gum branch, the cool, rising sunlight glowing lemon and lime through the leaves. The wren's song is full of complex twists, trills and delicate whimsy. It's most deliciously musical; wrens are surely the wild young Mozarts of birdsong and they deserve their proper place among the more well-established nightingales and warblers.

It's a good thing that the world is full of things like birdsong. We need it as we face these dark times. Wrens and cats help to keep the darkness and uncertainty in perspective. (As an example, my old tuxedo'd buddy is propped, front end on my arm, back end on the sofa cushion, still purring even now, and making me smile in spite of myself.) So do pots of soup thrown together from whatever's in the vegetable bin, hearty stock and spices blended with love to evoke better times.

On my laptop today I learn that my country balances on the very knife-edge of fiscal, governmental and societal collapse. I see words like "urgent" and "bipartisan" from the very ones who brought disaster on us all – while at the same time they strive to make sure they don't lose their ill-gotten riches. With only six weeks to go before the presidential election, I hear both sides blaming the other for our predicament, though anyone with a brain saw this coming from a long way off and knows, instinctively, which side lost themselves in greed and prevarication, and to hell with everyone else. I watch with disbelief as the vice presidential nominee on the Daddy Warbucks side of the house refuses, for the 24th day, to hold a press conference during which she can answer questions from the press. She expects "deference," but I would like to remind her that she's a public servant, and I and my fellow citizens are her direct employers. If she'd show us some respect, we might be more inclined to show her the same. But deference? No.

I learn that, not being happy with two wars that are draining America's coffers nearly as fast as the Wall Street shysters themselves, our Daddy Warbucks government is angling, dangerously, for a third war in Pakistan. Having mindlessly squandered both lives and treasure in a war of opportunity in Iraq while neglecting and ignoring the just war in Afghanistan, they seem ready to commence the senseless murder of Americans and Pakistanis alike in a bid for even more power. Can they really be serious? I'm afraid so. Perhaps they're hoping that the angry Pakistanis will shoot down one of our illegally raiding helicopters, and they'll have a real reason to declare war and drag our attention away from the looming economic collapse and the possible takeover of our government by people who are even greedier, lazier, and more wicked than those holding sway over us now.

I'm just one small person in the middle of the maelstrom. I can't really influence any of what's coming, except to hope that saner, cooler, more moral heads prevail. But however it all shakes out, the future is uncertain for all of us. The America we knew is effectively gone, and a new one is taking shape. It might be a better America – but it might not be, too. So today I'll listen to the wren sing his immortal song. I'll stroke my old cat and enjoy the sweet warmth he shares with me. And I'll make a pot of soup out of hope and goodness, and invite the world to stop by for a bowl.

19 September 2008

Interesting times

"Extraordinary to reflect that I have lived long enough to see communism die and then the capitalism that replaced it too; to see the nation state and the empire wither away in Europe, and now to return in Asia, and that I have managed to do this without getting very old at all."

--Andrew Brown, U.K-based writer commenting on a recent Financial Times article.

I can't claim any special understanding of what's going on in Wall Street. But Andrew Leonard's "The Way the World Works" column at Salon.com brought the above quote to my attention, so I read the referenced FT article. It didn't clarify much for me, but I've linked it so you can read it too, if you like.

What I do understand about our current, massive economic crisis is that it comes as no big surprise. I remember being stunned when Alan Greenspan encouraged prospective homeowners to take out adjustable rate mortgages. He said they were safe. A whole lot of people believed him, too.

I didn't, and I'm no financial whiz. But having spent most of my adult life working hard but still only scraping by each month, I knew instinctively that "Here There Be Dragons" when it came to venturing into ARM territory. You just can't get something for nothing. It's against the law of nature. So way back then – what was that, 2003, 2004? – I knew that the "real estate" bubble was real and nothing to laugh off. I knew that one day, it was going to pop.

As the editor of a weekly newspaper in a suddenly booming bedroom community, I watched with a sort of morbid interest as the developers moved in and started building like there was no tomorrow, covering the beautiful, empty, golden California hillsides that rose all around the community with plastic McMansions. I wondered how in the world the people who bought them could afford to – these houses on their postage-stamp lots were ludicrously overpriced. A great many of them were selling for at least half a million dollars, and that was on the low end. It dried my throat, estimating what it would cost to heat and cool these 3,500-square-foot monstrosities with their cathedral ceilings and "open" floor plans. It gets explosively hot in California in the summer, and if the temperature drops below 75 in the winter, most of the Californians I know complain that they're "freezing."

The whole thing was dreamlike, but it was really happening. And it wasn't just huge houses. I saw people tootling around town in gas-guzzling SUVs and Hummers, playing with their Blackberries and bragging about their new flat-screen TVs and home theaters, countertop espresso machines and "spa" tubs in their gigantic bathrooms. Writing stories for the paper's real estate section, I visited homes that had walk-in closets the size of my kitchen and living room combined.

When I was in a really snarky mood, I used to joke that if God suddenly took all the realtors to heaven at the same time, there'd be almost no one left in the entire county.

The real estate bubble took a lot longer to burst than I expected, but it finally did. What I didn't realize was how devastating it was going to be, not just to the real estate market, but to the entire economy. And not only our economy here in the U.S.A., but all over the world. It's a scary thought, but from everything I'm reading and hearing, it's pretty sure that what we're seeing right now is only the beginning of the full disaster.

I've always been fascinated by the old Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times." And I'll be honest. There have been periods during my own lifetime that I wished I did live in "interesting times." My day-to-day, ordinary life seemed so routine, so mundane. A little shake up would have been great, right? I was born in 1956. I grew up watching Westerns and WWII movies on TV. It seemed like things were so much more exciting in the decades before I came along that I almost felt gyped.

Well, without much effort on my part, I got my wish. I am – and we are – now officially living in "interesting times." But Mr. Brown is right – he's lived through some pretty amazing times already. So have I, though it didn't seem like it from the inside. It's only now, having lived for a half century, and fearing for my children and theirs, that I begin to really understand the real meaning of that convoluted, wise old curse.

13 September 2008

Dark Ages, anyone?

Bumper sticker, courtesy Lance Mannion's Uncle Merlin:

" When religion ruled the world, it was called the Dark Ages."

As anyone who's read this blog for very long knows, I'm not religious. I'm not a believer. And for the last 35 or so years, that's worked out just fine for me.

Yet I teeter right on the edge of atheism. I'm unwilling to take that final step into total disbelief in any possibility of an "other" greater than myself. How should I know? There's a lot in this world I'm ignorant about, a lot I can't explain. And I haven't attained that personal level of chutzpah that allows me to believe that there's really nothing, nothing at all, out there in the universe that could be considered a "creator" or "god."

Still, when it comes to religion, I'm a happy pagan. I'd rather worship a tree than "Allah" or "God." The tree, at least, is real and it isn't concerned in the least about my "salvation." Nor does the tree want to curtail my rights as a woman and a human being. It doesn't bother condemning me for drinking or dancing or lusting in my heart. It isn't interested in compelling me to be like itself. It may not even have any awareness of me at all, but there again, who knows? That tree just is, a beautiful thing of stunning complexity, filled with wonders, living and growing and changing season by season, year by year. A miracle.

I went through a short period of Jesus Freakism when I was a teen. For a bookish, artistic, shy young woman without much self-esteem, the Presbyterian church was a haven, a place where I could be accepted for myself rather than how I looked or what my grades were or how athletic I was, or wasn't. Youth groups were coming into their own, and my church had a truly fine youth choir of well over 100 members. I joined it. I had a good time at rehearsals and adding my so-so (but at least in tune) voice to the rest on Sundays.

But it wasn't long before I realized that being "saved" meant toeing the line on lots of worldly things. Like rejecting evolution. Like believing in Satan. Like believing that everything the church said was the only truth, and the rest of the world was wrong and condemned to burn in hell. And finally, it meant that I was expected to try to "save" others, to bring them around to my (the church's) point of view. To collect souls for Jesus.

Well, one junior college anthropology course, coupled with the growing realization that the church had cliques too – and I wasn't any more welcome in them than I had been in school – put an end to all that. I stopped going to church that year and started finding myself.

I've never looked back, and I've never regretted it.

The one thing that I've never been able to do, however, is condemn others for believing. I'm a very Golden Rule type of person, and I'm real big on "live and let live," too. My short stint as Jesus Freak taught me a lot about Jesus himself, too. I don't believe he was God made incarnate, but I do believe he probably existed, a sort of early charismatic, genius teacher with some rather radical ideas. Like not judging others. Like appreciating the peacemakers, and the meek. Like giving to the poor, and not being greedy because yep, you can't take it with you. I liked that aspect of Christianity. I came away from my religious experience with a great foundation of basic goodness and gentleness. And nothing Jesus said in the Bible restricted me from being curious about the world, or living my life to the fullest, or refusing to learn astonishing things. A little Christian training and indoctrination did nothing but enhance my secularism. As I said, I don't regret having learned.

But one of the things I learned during those years were the Ten Commandments. And one of them was "Thou shalt not lie."

So you can imagine my disgust with our current leadership in America. For years now, this pious group of "Christians" has been lying to all of us while systematically stealing from the poor to give to the rich, waging violent, bloody wars of greed and opportunity, and working hard to force all of us to "believe" as they do. They would replace the America I know – a country of freedom for all, without the strictures of the church as law – with a sort of theocracy that claims to worship "God" but really worships money, taking away our rights and freedoms as they do it.

And they're liars.

George W. Bush has been telling whoppers since he ran for president in 2000, and probably for a long time before that. I mean, he's got lying down to a fine art. Claims to be a Christian and "guided by God." God has spoken to him, you know? He knows God's Voice in his ear. George has made a fortune for himself and his cronies off his "God" without doing anything more than giving him (it?) some frequent, pious lip-service. He's done terrible things to America, and the world at large, in the name of God. War, anyone? How about a little torture? Kidnapping? Let's have us a little indefinite detainment and spying on anyone who doesn't toe the Christianist line. And let's lie, lie, and lie some more, and deny we're doing any of it for any reason other than our "good" God's will.

It's enough to make this old pagan puke.

And now … now we have John McCain and Sarah Palin. McCain isn't really a believer in anything, but he's fine with the bible-thumpers if going along with them will win him power over all of us. Palin is a holy-roller, and believe me, they do want to force you to be like them. McCain's is a cynical Christianity; Palin's is both radical and frightening.

And – heh, no surprise – they're both shameless, despicable liars. What about that commandment? What about Jesus' teachings regarding love of neighbors and doing unto others? What about not judging others? What about giving to, helping and uplifting the most needy among us? What about all that?

Well, McCain and Palin are just hypocrites. They're no different than the people I got to know, way back in that suburban church all those decades ago, people who call themselves "Christians" but are only in it for themselves. They spout the words but don't practice what they preach. They have no sincere compassion for others. They're simply greedy, hypocritical human beings.

As a different kind of human being, one who doesn't worship their "God" but believes in compassion and brotherly love, they make me sick. And they scare me.

I've read two wonderful works of fiction that dealt with these themes. Well, more than that, but these two stand out in my memory in a way that none of the others have. One of them is "A Gift Upon the Shore," by M.K. Wren. The other is "The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood. Both books examine what happens when religion holds sway over secularism. Both will make your hair stand on end. I heartily recommend them.

Well, unless you're one of those Christians who'd like to see McCain and Palin take over America. Then I imagine you'd like to have both of those books banned and burned. And not only those – they'd just hit the flames first, before all the other books written in this wonderful, miraculous, beautiful world by centuries of great thinkers, including those from other cultures and religions.

Only one book would survive: The bible. And access to it would be restricted to the leaders, who would "bless" the rest of us with the official interpretation of what it says. Ignorance, violence, torture, greed, and avarice will prevail, because that's just human nature. There is no God, but we are sure good at making one up.

I don't know about you, but I just won't vote for a couple of bald-faced, publicly pious liars. We've already had nearly eight long years of seeing what happens when liars like G.W. Bush gain power. McCain and Palin make him look like a piker in comparison.

Yes, Barack Obama has also told us that he's a Christian. But Obama doesn't lie, and he "walks the walk," not just "talks the talk." He isn't committed to forcing anyone else to believe like he does, and shares a more rational "live and let live" philosophy, which is clear when he writes and speaks, and also in his party platform. Finally, if the radical Christian right hadn't forced religion to be a part of a candidate's campaign, it's doubtful that Obama would have ever even mentioned his religious beliefs, except in passing. And that is how it should be.

If McCain and Palin win this election, welcome to the new and improved Dark Ages. Excuse me. I think I'll go worship a tree and pray for salvation.

11 September 2008

September 11, again.

It's Sept. 11 again, the seventh anniversary of that tragic day in 2001 when militant Muslim jihadists commandeered four airliners armed with nothing more than boxcutters and crashed two of them into the World Trade Center towers in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, DC, and into a corn field in Pennsylvania. Roughly 3,000 people died that terrible morning, most of them Americans but many from countries all over the world.

It's Sept. 11 again and the man who masterminded the horror and carnage, Osama bin Laden, is still at large.

Instead of turning its vast resources to bin Laden's capture and trial before a world court, America under the leadership of George W. Bush dropped a just war in Afghanistan, where bin Laden and al Qaida were operating with impunity, and undertook a criminal, unjust war of opportunity against Iraq and its leader, Saddam Hussein.

It's Sept. 11 and America has spent roughly $553 billion on the Iraq War. More than 4,000 American soldiers have lost their lives. Tens of thousands more have been maimed, physically or mentally, for life. Over 1,255,026 Iraqis have died since the invasion of their country in March, 2003. More than a million of them have fled the country for their lives. Saddam Hussein, an evil man and ruthless dictator, was captured and executed, but there were no weapons of mass destruction. al Qaida, bin Laden's network of terrorist jihadists, didn't exist in Iraq until after America invaded and occupied the country. Iraq's infrastructure was destroyed, her precious historical treasures looted and smashed, her schools trampled, and the freedoms enjoyed by a secularized populace were undermined and eventually removed. Her people, who once lived for the most part peacefully in mixed neighborhoods, are now divided, and when America finally, finally leaves Iraq to the Iraqis, a violent, bloody civil war is all but certain.

Meanwhile, the neglected fight in Afghanistan is ramping up as the Taliban's forces regroup and attack both military and civilian targets there. Soldiers are finally being sent back there, but they're facing the prospect of not only starting over, but fighting an emboldened, strengthened and well-rested enemy, even as America's awesome military might has been stretched to the breaking point.

In other news, the long-sleeping Russian bear is waking up. It's also well-rested, hungry and in a very unpleasant mood.

It's Sept. 11 again and America's economy is crumbling around us. Americans are losing their homes, their jobs, and their hope. When Americans asked, "What can we do? How can we help? What can we sacrifice to avenge the lives lost in the terrible terror attacks of that bright, late summer morning", George W. Bush said "Go shopping." And we did, even though we didn't have the money and had to use our credit cards. Today, we are finally realizing that it was all a sham, manufactured on a massive and convenient catastrophy to transform the rich into the fabulously wealthy on our backs and with our hard-earned money.

It's Sept. 11 again, and America is only beginning to understand how casually her leaders trampled her Constitution. We've lost many of our civil rights. We're being spied upon by our own government. We have a prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, that rivals any the Nazis dreamed up. We've lost our right not to be detained indefinitely or otherwise without knowing why, and also our right to a fair trial before our peers. We've sneered at the Geneva Conventions regarding the humane treatment of prisoners of war and have adopted torture as a legitimate way to gather intelligence.


It's Sept. 11 again and roughly half of Americans are planning to vote for another lying president who would continue the grim, America-destroying work of Bush and the neocons while further fattening the Swiss bank accounts of the ultra rich. His vice presidential candidate is a stunningly stupid, unqualified woman who would overturn Roe vs Wade, ban books, favor teaching creationism in our schools and work to turn our democracy into a theocracy. And yes, that fine Christian woman is an unashamed liar, too.

It's Sept. 11 again. Somewhere, bin Laden is laughing at us. His plan has succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.


08 September 2008


Palin, Palin, Palin.

News – mostly conjecture, since the Lady's Keepers will not allow interviews – about Sarah Palin, Republican presidential nominee John McCain's gobsmacking vice presidential pick – tops the news pile everywhere you look. MSM websites, blogs both right and left, TV cable news and networks. Like a bad cold, she's everywhere.

If you've been hiding under your bed since she accepted her nomination for vice president last Wednesday night, I don't blame you. I've had to force myself from doing the same. The urge to just crawl under with the friendly, silent dust-bunnies, stick my thumb in my mouth and whimper "Gimme back the 90s, gimme back the 90s" has been almost overwhelming.

A personal aside – forgive me, please, cuz after this I'm dropping the subject for the foreseeable future: One of the strangest summers of my life is stuttering to a close. Having been mostly healthy since the day I was born, I've spent the entire season in shock while dealing with a breast lump that ended up being benign (after four months of various tests and appointments and ups and downs). In addition, I've been fighting a soul-deadening malaise and deep fatigue, both induced by a "gold-standard" rheumatoid arthritis drug I was prescribed by my doctor. I've stopped taking the med now, but the symptoms remain as it takes several weeks for the stuff to work out of my body's gobsmacked system.

I like that word, "gobsmacked," don't you?

Anyway, even though the summer passed me by, my mind has been active even if the rest of me felt like a car engine trying to run on watered gasoline. I followed along with great interest as Obama found his footing and his voice after winning the primaries. Yay, our side! I thought. What an inspiring candidate he is! Yes We Can! Obama seems to be the bright, charismatic and honest (OK, he's a pol, so shoot me) leader America has desperately hoped for during the last, nearly eight years. The future looks a little less dark and dire with the image of a President Obama in charge.

Yet McCain's bumbling campaign managed, somehow, to keep the two candidates running mostly neck-and-neck in the polls all summer long, even though McCain is offering Americans nothing less than four more years of catastrophic and failed Bush policies. As a lifelong Democrat from both ideology and temperament, it just gobsmacks me that there could be so many people in this great country willing to give Bush & Co another four years so they can finish the job of destroying America.

Is it really true that half of American voters like our current situation? They like that Bush lied them into supporting a vanity war of choice that has, to date, killed more than 4,000 American soldiers, maimed tens of thousands more, and killed or maimed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians and forced millions more out of their homes and laid waste to the culture, history and infrastructure of their ancient civilization and country?

The crowd at the Republican convention sure cheered and hollered when the Iraq War came up. They gave it standing ovations. Can that be true? They're proud we started and carried out and are continuing to fight an unnecessary war?

Are they OK with the fact that Osama bin Laden is still at large somewhere in the mountainous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan? And that we've left Afghanistan to rot while we pumped millions into Paktistan's Musharraf presidency, believing his assurances that he was trying hard to route out the Taliban and find bin Laden while he did the opposite? And that we did this while pumping further trillions into the war we started in Iraq, which had no purpose but to make Bush's dick hard and maybe, if we were lucky, take over Iraq's oil fields?

Alllrighty, then. I suppose there are people out there who continue to delude themselves that this was all about revenge for Sept. 11 in spite of everything we've learned since May, 2003 and "Mission Accomplished." They've closed their eyes, stopped their ears and shut down their brains. Heh.

But what about Guantanamo Bay? Are they proud that we're holding hundreds of Middle Eastern and Muslim prisoners there under appalling conditions? That the vast majority of those prisoners are not terrorists? That they have no rights? No hope for a fair trial? That BushCo never thought further than imprisoning them and has no idea what to do with them now?

What about Abu Ghraib? What about torture? What about the destruction of habius corpus?

You mean to tell me there are Americans who support those things? Who are proud of what we've done?

Well, so say the polls. As I wrote this, a new one came out. According to a USAToday/Gallup poll, McCain is ahead of Obama by ten points – 58 percent to 48 percent among registered voters. Now, the poll likely reflects McCain's expected "convention bounce," and it may be an outlier. By the end of the week, Obama may pull even or move ahead again. We can hope.

Regardless of this most recent poll, though, all of the polls taken over the several years have consistently shown America divided neatly in half. Blue states. Red states. Democrats and Republicans. Pro-choice, anti-abortion (forgive me, but I will NOT call their views pro-life). It seems that half of us are appalled by the Bush administration's devastating, ongoing program of making war, hauling in huge profits for the rich and powerful, trampling and undermining the Constitution and effectively destroying the economy and turning America into a banana republic.

The other half seems to think this is all just fine and dandy. U-S-A! U-S-A!

And then… and then, there's Sarah Palin.

I commented earlier this morning over at one of my favorite blogs, Revision99, that John McCain's selection of a running mate, his vice president, left me speechless. And it has. I've started and discarded several posts regarding Palin and the conventions over the last week. But I found myself so gobsmacked that I could barely figure out where to start writing. Once I did, I lost my way, my thoughts dissolving into … speechlessness. I just couldn't find the right words.

And these might not be the right words, either. I may be rambling and meandering and incoherent. But I'm posting this one anyway.

It's like the Republicans have finally developed a top-secret Dumb Ray that they switched on the moment Sarah Palin walked onto the stage in St. Paul. It radiated out of TV sets and computers and iPhones and Blackberries, and it contaminated the very air we breathe. As she started speaking, those of us who knew better found our thoughts muddled, our tongues cleaving to the roofs of our mouths and our typing fingers twisting into knots.

And the other half of the country had their minds turned off entirely. They think she's hunky-dory.

Well, fortunately, the Dumb Ray seems to be wearing off. Must be – here I am typing like mad, capturing the words before they turn to mush and slip down my internal garbage disposal, never to be seen again.

Palin herself is probably just about right as governor of Alaska. Folks who live there mostly want to be left alone to do as they like while collecting their annual surplus check from the state. I never knew there were so many fundamentalist, tongues-spouting Christians up there, though, but hey. Andrew Sullivan calls Alaska "Arkansas with penguins." Heehee. But I say live and learn.

Live and let live.

The trouble is Sarah Palin doesn't share my gentle views, and John McCain didn't vet her. Or if he did, he hired the guys from Dumb and Dumberer do it. He didn't vet her, and he barely knew her. He'd met her twice. She was an impulse pick, an "I'll show you!" pick after his party bosses wouldn't let him have Joe Lieberman for his vice. Since the vice presidential pick is the first real glimpse we get of a candidate's future style in office, should he be elected, Palin's pick does not reflect well on McCain.

In fact, it's terrifying.

Aside from the fact that really, REALLY, we don't want four more years of Bush with another name, John McCain is 72 years old, he's a four-time cancer survivor and he carries within him the physical and mental scars of five-and-a-half years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. He's known to be volatile and impulsive. He has a bad temper. He gets … overexcited. "We are all Georgians", anyone?

That's not enough for you? How about this? He could die at any moment from January 19, 2009 forward.

And America would enter the President Sarah Palin Era.

Personally, I don't want my country led by a Pentecostal fundamentalist Christian who told her first raft of lies during her vice presidential acceptance speech and who, after the speech, was sequestered so she could cram crash courses in World History and Current Events, Economics 101, 102, 103, 104, and 105, International and Foreign Relations, What the Vice President of the United States of America Does, and incidentally, How to Be President of the USA.

I don't want a president who believes the Iraq war is God's will.

I don't want a president who approves of shooting wolves from aircraft, doesn't give a hot damn about polar bears, thinks God wants us to get right on with warming up the world with pollution so He can bring the End Days on us and uses her power to stomp on people she doesn't like or who disagree with her.

I don't want a president who, while allowing herself the right to choose whether she would bear a Down's Syndrome child, would deny every other American woman that very choice once she's in office. I don't want a president who would, allegedly, "allow" her unmarried teenage daughter to "choose" to carry, give birth to and raise her baby while denying the rest of us that freedom of choice.

Sarah Palin is rabidly anti-abortion. She doesn't believe in choice, unless it for herself and her own family.

Of course, there are other reasons she's a walking, talking disaster. There's the ethics investigation going on in her home state against her. I think another one has started, too, though I can't find the link for that one now. And there's the fact that while she was mayor of her hometown, Wasilla, AK, she took the tiny town of 7,000 souls from having no long-term debt to $19 million in long-term debt over a period of six years. She saddled Wasilla with a hugely expensive sports center that is bound up in litigation. As governor, she supported corrupt good-ol-boy pols while claiming she was an anti-corruption reformer. And that Bridge to Nowhere she says she said "no" to? She lied. She ran for governor supporting it until it got embarrassing, then dropped it like a hot potato. But she kept the $23 million in pork-barrel funding that came to the state anyway. Update: Did I say $23 million? Au contraire! It's $223 million. Pardon my booboo.

Sadly, the list goes on. You can look here, here and here for more and more of it, if you have the stomach for such punishment.

What also gobsmacks me about all this is that everything we know about Sarah Palin has come out since John McCain named her as his running mate. And it didn't come from the mainstream media. It came from the efforts of hundreds, even thousands, of bloggers and citizen reporters who started Googling her and turning up fact after fact and lie after lie.

McCain had her thoroughly vetted? My ass.

So, I've finally broken my mental constipation to the tune of roughly 1900 words. It feels good, I'm telling you. But I have one more thing to say:

If you haven't registered to vote yet, don't put it off another day. Deadlines are coming up fast all over the country. So register. And then vote. Just vote. America and everything she stands for is depending on you, on all of us.

Note: Illustration kudos to College OTR.