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Thursday, October 30, 2008 10 comments

Mid-Week Mid-Life Crisis

I was feeling a bit depressed yesterday. I didn’t have the opportunity to apply my particular brand of catharsis — play Skillet’s Comatose album at high volume and let it all out — but I did take the time to try to figure out what I was trying to tell myself. In the end, it was something like I don’t want to be here… but I don’t want to go anywhere else in particular. Perhaps if I’d had a destination in mind, I might have told my boss to look for the three people they’ll need to replace me and acted on it. I don’t know, and now I’ve more or less gotten beyond it. Maybe I’m starting my mid-life crisis; I’ve been waiting for it to start. Unless embracing trance and other high-energy electronic music is it, and I kind of doubt it.

Another thought that bubbled to the surface was: “Even God Himself must struggle with false witness and willful ignorance” (and I might have that made into a bumper sticker). There’s some of the former and plenty of the latter on Planet Georgia at any time; both get an order of magnitude worse in an election year. If it wasn’t so maddening, it would be amusing how people can completely shut out facts when they conflict with one’s mindset, and embrace even the most transparent lie if it agrees. It gets tedious just having to be around it, let alone trying to combat it. I’ve taken to carrying the earbuds for my iPhone with me when I go to the in-laws’ place, because I know I’ll need them to shut out O’Liarly. But it batters at you… even if you don’t hear the lyrics, the oppressive beat continues to vibrate its way into your psyche. You can’t shut it out completely.

I’m hoping it will go away temporarily after election day. God willing, we’ll have government moving in a completely new direction. Of course, the pod people will crank up the false witness generator to maximum power and bombard us with ever more outlandish crap. I hate to accept that people actually believe the crap they forward around in email. That’s depressing in itself, and literally bearing (as in transporting) false witness.

Escaping into FAR Future has been a little difficult lately, perhaps because the mental atmosphere has been so oppressive, or maybe just because it’s crazy-busy October. At least I have the next 12 or 13 episodes written, and lately what I’ve been able to write freely has been the parts close to the end… but there’s another 12 or more episodes to come between what I’ve finished and the ending series of episodes. If I get into another good tear like I had last month, I could wrap the whole thing up in two or three weeks.

One nice thing that happened today: I got “boo’ed” at work. There’s been this thing going around: someone leaves a treat and a copy of this “Boo” poem at your desk when you’re not looking. You then make two copies, put together some kind of treat, and “boo” two other people (and tack up your copy so you don’t get repeat boos). I was kind of late in the week, the last one on my cube row, but some entire rows don’t have any boos at all… so I’ve got the stuff in the car where I won’t forget it tomorrow.

So that’s been my last couple of days. Could have been much worse. Could have been better (e.g., drinking on a warm beach somewhere).

Monday, October 27, 2008 6 comments

FAR Future, Episode 57: Marching Orders

Happy Hallowe’en!

Friday, March 5, 2021
Marching Orders

Rene said it was like hitting five numbers in the Lotto — not the jackpot of teaching English to other Latino recruits stateside, but he won’t be on the front lines either.

He got assigned to an outfit called EDID (Enemy Data Interception and Decryption), which is a fancy term for military intelligence (yeah, I know, I know). There isn’t a lot more he can tell us, which I suppose is SOP for these folks. He did say that they only do the decryption part; they bounce the rest stateside where they have experts in Farsi and Arabic who can translate what’s actually being said. But he said they’re training him in computer tech (which he seems to be good at), conversational Arabic, military Arabic and Farsi (if things get closer than they expect), and “a bunch of stuff I’m not supposed to talk about.” At least he’ll have email.

As for Kim and Serena, they both got their draft notices today. Since I was the one who hiked down to get the mail, I seriously considered tossing them in the wood stove — but that would only bring the recruiter out here to pick them up. It must have been on my face when I came in the door though, because Serena just looked at me and said, “It came, didn’t it?” I nodded and handed her the envelopes.

“Two?” she asked. Then, “Oh. Kim too.”

Christina cried when she found out. Kim and I tried to cheer her up by pointing out that the married guys should get first dibs at the non-combat positions, but she pointed out that it didn’t seem to make a difference in Iraq. As it is, they have a couple of weeks before they have to report — I guess it doesn’t matter if they give draftees a little time to settle their affairs. Volunteers though, especially ex-fugitives like Rene, they don’t want to give any time for them to change their minds (especially after their family has residence permits). I suppose if this drags on for a while, Christina will have to register… and I don’t think they do student deferments anymore. Dean feels bad for the kids, and Daughter Dearest has threatened him with great bodily harm if he enlists in sympathy (she really doesn’t threaten his life twice a day, even if I tease her about doing just that… maybe just once a day).

“Maybe I’ll write a play about Army life,” Serena mused at supper this evening. “Maybe a musical. If it’s good enough, they’ll have to throw me out.”

“Yeah,” Kim said. “Maybe call it Hamlet in Dubai or something.”

This, more than anything anyone else said, seemed to cheer Christina up finally. “Ha. Wasn’t there some song about being waist-deep in the big muddy something? You could have an idiot General Mayhem that leads everyone into something ridiculous.”

“Waist-deep in the Big Muddy, and the dang fool said to push on.” I quoted. “But I knew General Mayhem — or one of the junta people I called that back when. He’s not that stupid, but he also isn’t in command. Maybe General Confusion is the guy you’re thinking of.”

“That’s the song! But hey, if you’re doing it to get kicked out, make it obvious. General Junta has a nice ring to it, no?”

Maria shook her head. “Sobrina, do not make grande gestures. They probably put you in jail instead of send you home for… for…”

“Sedition.” Guillermo suggested.

“Sí, sedition. You be good, sobrina” (which is both Spanish for “niece” and a long-standing and, at first, unintentional pun on Serena’s name). “You are a talented girl, maybe they put you on a nice base and you write the instructiones for the machines. Or you write for their newspaper. You make us proud of you.”

“Too bad Rene’s gone,” Daughter Dearest said. “You could have let him knock you up, and then you could get a deferment.”

I snickered and Mrs. Fetched rolled her eyes, the other adults (including Dean) gaped, Serena blushed and Christina giggled. I never know when DD is going to come out with something like that, but I can always count on her to lob a verbal smoke-bomb when it’s really needed.

Serena recovered quickly. “I guess it’s your fault,” she said, looking at me. “If we didn’t live with a known troublemaker, I probably wouldn’t have gotten drafted.”

“Blame the dog,” I said. “He brought you home and wanted to keep you.”

“Oh yeah, that’s right,” DD said. “Blame the dog. He ain’t even here to defend himself now.”

“Yeah… but he could loft some serious hang time! Remember?” I waved my hand in front of my nose.

Guillermo spoke up after we stopped laughing. “Isn’t there an organization that performs entertainment for the soldiers? Serena could produce theater for them, maybe, then she would be safe.”

“The USO,” I said. “But I don’t know if they’re a part of the military, or a civilian organization that does things for the military. But maybe she could write telenovelas for Armed Forces Radio.”

Telenovelas on the radio?” Maria asked. “That would be interesting. I used to watch El Mundo del Amor… all the time.” She sighed. “I miss seeing it… but our home is here now. Our son has bought our place here, perhaps at a terrible price, and we will not dishonor his sacrifice.”

However it pans out, the nest is going to be a little less crowded now. I just hope they can all come back in one piece… and with all their pieces.


Friday, October 24, 2008 No comments

Weekend Cinema

Even if there was anything good on at the theater, you don’t have time for it… so Weekend Cinema brings the free and fast to your computer screen!

I got this one from Faboo Mama, who posted it on her blog, and it’s too hilarious not to share. Turn up your speakers, the dialog is a bit soft and pretty funny too…

The First Ever Presidential Dance-Off

Wednesday, October 22, 2008 5 comments

Can’t You Smell That Smell?

OK, yeah, goplets stink anyway. But now I smell fear. Not the manufactured fear of black people, brown people, people wearing turbans, or (God forbid) of having to drive a smaller car. It’s the thing they’re afraid of most — losing big in just under two weeks. It’s kind of interesting, seeing yet another thing I wrote in FAR Future (Episode 22, April 7, 2013) happening well ahead of schedule:

The right-wing spins one way or another these days, like an old Chevy stuck in the mud, looking for traction wherever they can find it so they can get back in the race. They end up slinging mud everywhere, spinning their wheels, and sliding around. Their talking points still work with the most delusional among us, but not even their old crazy base is safe territory anymore.

Daily Kos calls it “Divide and Flail™.” Whatever you call it, it’s something I despaired of ever seeing happen: all the squealing about flag pins, the smears, the fear, the making crap up when they can’t find anything real… it’s not gone, it’s still happening every day, but only the delusionals and the crazies are listening. I’m sure it’s horrendous in the various swing states (and is from what I’ve heard); but here on Planet Georgia, we’re spared the worst of it. But even here, there are signs. Literally: someone posted a Jim Martin yard sign at an intersection where a Saxby sign stood just a few weeks ago, and some Neanderthal taped a “Vote for Socialism” tag over the big M on the sign. The Saxby yard signs have all but disappeared since the FAILout vote less than three weeks ago; I see a very real chance that enough wingnuts will vote for Buckley (the Libertarian), pulling down “Ignorance is” Chambliss and letting Martin into the Senate through the back door. That’s fine… whatever the reason (excepting death), fewer goplets in office is a Good Thing.

Nationally, the goplets have gone nuclear: their mouthpieces are trying to rip open the divide they’ve helped to create, separating their supporters into “the real America” and the rest of us… well, let’s feed them some rope:

Michele Bachmann (R-MN):
Then: “I’m very concerned that [Obama] may have anti-American views. … I’m focusing on Barack Obama and the people that he’s been associated with and I’m very worried about their anti-American nature.”
Now: “I never called all liberals anti-American, I never questioned Barack Obama’s patriotism, and I never asked for some House Un-American Activities Committee witch hunt into my colleagues in Congress.” (Um… you been punk’d and debunk’d!)

Robin Hayes (R-NC):
Then: “Liberals hate real Americans that work and achieve and believe in God.”
Now (after repeated denials, then confirmed by audio): “I genuinely did not recall making the statement … there is no doubt that it came out completely the wrong way … this is definitely not what I intended.”

And there’s the “socialist socialist socialist!” huffing and puffing from Palin and McCain’s staff… reminds me of the “n----r n----r n----r!” chants from an even uglier part of our history. Not to mention repeated attempts to selectively disenfranchise voters in Montana, Michigan, Indiana, and God knows where else. But both campaigns are fielding “armies of lawyers” to provide on-the-spot aid for any voter challenged at the polls, so even that tactic (which helped in Florida and Ohio the last two elections) may come to naught.

I just hope that another echo of FAR Future doesn’t come to pass. But I wouldn’t put it past them.

Monday, October 20, 2008 6 comments

FAR Future, Episode 56: A Letter from Boot Camp

Pretty weird: wandering around at Gold Rush, I saw a booth emblazoned with “Georgia Department of Defense NOW RECRUITING!” Turns out not to be a militia, it’s actually a part of the state government. Whew.

Speaking of recruits…

Saturday, February 20, 2021
A Letter from Boot Camp

Rene gets to write home on occasion. At least we know he’s doing more or less OK.

Holá, y’all. I told Farf-Dad if he wants to put this on the blog, that’s fine.

Farf-Dad says about writing stories, sometimes, it’s best to begin at the beginning, so that’s what I’ll do. I signed the papers, the recruiter swore me in and gave me the residence permits for my family, we went to the courthouse and got Kim and Christina a marriage license, then ran to the church and got the wedding done. Next morning, the recruiter put me on the RoadTrain to Atlanta, and told me to show my papers to any soldier at the station and they’d tell me where to go next. So I got put on the bus to Fort McPherson, which is in Atlanta, and they swore me in (again) and put all of us Latino ex-fugitives in our own barracks. I didn’t really get to know any of the other guys, but some of them had lived with citizens like I did, and most were part of an underground that none of them wanted to talk about. They also gave us our uniforms and a duffel bag for our “civvies” (civilian clothes) and anything else we brought with us. I have a notebook to write in, a few pens, and that’s about it. Most of the other guys didn’t even bring that much.

They hauled us out of bed really early, like 4 a.m., and took us to the Amtrak station. They had a special car for recruits, and a guy gave us a run-down of what we’d be going through at boot camp. It didn’t sound like fun, and the reality is even worse, but that’s getting off-track (jejeje). He asked us in Spanish, how many of us didn’t speak English. There were eight or ten who didn’t. They asked us how many of us hadn’t gotten the bad flu in the last two years, and there were maybe twenty. Then some medics came in and gave all of us shots for stuff and took blood, they told us that they’d quarantine and care for all of us if anyone had the flu now. The guys who didn’t know English got taken out to get some lessons, enough to get them through their first day of camp anyway — one of the Army people said they’d be doing all the training during the day and get English lessons in the evening, so they would have it pretty hard. It turns out we all get English lessons, whether we need them or not.

It took most of three days to get to where we were going, somewhere out west in the desert. They said they wanted us to get used to the desert, because we’d be seeing a lot of it in the next two years. While we were on the train, they took us in groups to another car where they had exercise machines set up — weights and treadmills and so forth. They said they wanted to get an idea about how good of shape we were in so they knew what they had to work with. I’ve been doing farm work since I was little, so I expected to do pretty well. Most of us did, naturally — fugitives don’t get the cushy suburban life, not that the suburbs are a decent place to live anymore anyway.

So we got to Camp Baker (that’s what the sign said, I guess it’s because they’re baking us “raw” recruits into soldiers), and the drill sergeant started screaming at us before we even got off the bus. The usual boot camp greeting I’ve seen in movies. Push-ups, marching, bellowing Yes, SIR! back at him (no Español allowed in boot camp), drilling, handling our guns… trying not to nod off in English lessons, because I think I speak English better than some of the non-coms (and I hope they don’t read that!). One morning, on a rare break, I heard a couple of them complaining about a computer not working. I asked if I could look at it, they said permission granted, and I got it fixed.

Christina talked about the wallyworld being smelly; I can’t imagine it smells any worse than this barracks we sleep in. We each get like three minutes of shower time a day, they said so we get used to not wasting water in Saudi Arabia, but if you’re not done when the water cuts off you’re done anyway. Some of the guys are taking their showers only every other day so they have more time, but when you’ve been sweating outside all day that doesn’t help the rest of us. Farf’s daughter would just say “It’s a guy thing,” and laugh at us I guess. She liked to say things like that a lot, anyway.

We’re supposed to be done with Basic week after next, and then we’ll get our postings. I’ll be surprised if we’re not all assigned to the front lines, but we can always hope. They need people to teach English to the rest of the recruits, so maybe I’ll get lucky. Sgt. Gonzales says we’re the sorriest bunch of Mexicans he’s seen come off the train, but I guess he says that to all the guys, jejeje. They just called five minutes to lights out, so I need to finish this. I love you guys. No regrets here, I’m doing this so my family can be free and legal, and so Kim and Christina could really be married. Whatever happens, I’ll be OK. I’ll let you know when I get my posting.


Thursday, October 16, 2008 7 comments

Sins of Omission… and The End Is (NOT) Near

The Boy has sort of settled down lately… if he’s having the kind of blow-ups he used to have, we’ve been insulated from them by his residency away from FAR Manor. We know he chugs more beer than he really should, but if he isn’t doing it in public (or at FAR Manor, which he does if he thinks he can) there isn’t a whole lot we can do about it.

So it’s the sins of omission, not commission, that get on people’s nerves these days. He’s not working; no hanging offense in this economy but it would be nice if he’d try harder. 'Course, that should mean he’s more available to work with Mrs. Fetched in the chicken houses — a little money is better than none, but there’s no commute involved and he’d get lunch out of the deal — and that’s where things start getting a bit hairy.

Since the Pontiac has multiple issues (starter’s shot and the muffler came off — that’s the car he was working on), I let him borrow my Civic with the understanding that I’d need it Friday since we’ve got rain in the forecast. I came in from choir practice last night and found my key on the kitchen table (with no car outside… odd). Mrs. Fetched was in bed and suddenly started fuming. “We’re not helping him anymore, since he can’t help me! No taking Snippet to work,” etc. Turned out he took his buddy and ex-boarder J to Roswell to pay a speeding ticket (J seems to have this issue with a lead foot); they picked up J’s dad, who presumably was just along for the ride, and drove down. Doing this instead of helping with the chickens is not the way to endear oneself to Mrs. Fetched, needless to say.

I worked at home today, and Daughter Dearest took me down to the trailer to get my car — the windows had been down all night, and a heavy dew was all over the interior… not The Boy’s fault since Mrs. Fetched grabbed the key last night. But then The Boy called around 3 p.m. “Can you take me to [our renter]? I need to get my hair cut [the renter cuts hair] so I can get a job at Wendy’s or something.” Run for the hills, it’s the Apocalypse!!! While it’s best to take Mrs. Fetched’s pronouncements literally, I wasn’t about to impede his efforts to either clean up his appearance or find a job. He walked back to the manor while I was working, grabbed his old trick bike, and was gone before I could get a look at The New And Improved Boy.

Come to think of it, he trimmed up his beard earlier this week too… The End is truly near!

UPDATE: Meh. Call off the Seventh Trumpet. He got a couple inches trimmed off his ponytail, and that’s it.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008 6 comments

Good Times, Bad Times, You Know I’ve Had My Share

In some parts of the country, the financial meltdown was well underway long before the rest of us got the idea. James H. Kunstler, on his blog, may have been the one to coin the term “Yard Sale Nation.” On a recent road trip through Pennsylvania and Ohio, Nudge (who is kind enough to read FAR Future and other things here) gave us an excellent write-up of her encounter with Yard Sale Nation — where recreational equipment and other merchandise with for-sale signs share road frontage with yard signs for the Republican candidates that brought the country to this fix in the first place. (Irony? What’s that?)

Sector 706 of Planet Georgia has never been part of Yard Sale Nation, perhaps because the region was traditionally impoverished… that is, until recently, most people never really had the means to collect all the toys that are supposed to symbolize the realization of The American Dream. Yard Sale Nation is usually found in the former industrial areas, usually in the north, where sons (and recently, daughters) would follow their fathers in working at the same factory. It was reliable work for reliable workers, usually well paid (union scale)… if it offered limited opportunities for advancement, at least it meant that if you showed up on time and sober and did your job, you could raise a family in your own house and enjoy a decent retirement. At least until globalization took over and the factories (and the factory jobs, naturally) moved to Mexico, China, or even Pakistan. By contrast, Sector 706 was one of those places that didn’t quite fit the stereotype of hillbillies living in shacks — although the moonshine trade thrived well into the 1970s, and if you know the right people you can still find it — but it was agrarian, poor, and kids with any prospects moved to Atlanta or even farther away to find their niche… and returned only for visits. The population decline had just started to reverse by the time I moved here, and only recently has the county I live in returned to its population levels of the early 1900s.

The prosperity that has come to Sector 706 is broad and shallow… it’s not the kind of prosperity that comes from the work of families with roots. Rather, it’s the prosperity of gentrification and suburbanization. The newcomers are solid middle-class people, nothing wrong with that, but they came here only because land was relatively cheap and the commute to Atlanta is barely tolerable (I came because I was in love and didn’t know better). An old joke about some of the first gentrified communities, much closer to Atlanta, was that “half the people drive Volvos and the other half wonder why they named a car after a woman’s anatomy.” But the old farming families with deep roots, even deeper than Mrs. Fetched’s family, have prospered… by selling the land (that has been in the family for generations) to developers. The brothers who sold a farm just down from FAR Manor got $3 million for 300 acres last year, and it’s a good thing they didn’t hold out because the housing crash finally caught up to Planet Georgia soon after. The place still looks pretty much like the picture I posted over a year ago.

So if the jobs in Atlanta go away, the newcomers will soon go away themselves… and it won’t take 25 more years for the county to lose the population it gained in the previous 25. But Mrs. Fetched remembers crossing a foot-log to get to the outhouse (shades of Barney Google! and there’s some more irony for you) as a little girl, so the dirt-poor days are well within living memory of the forty-somethings. If things really do go to Hell in a handbasket, the real losers may be the people who sold their farms.

Monday, October 13, 2008 3 comments

FAR Future, Episode 55: Caught in the Draft

Monday, January 11, 2021
Caught in the Draft

With last year’s Really Bad Flu getting people to take a real close look at the junta, they needed a spectacle to distract everyone… so naturally they jumped into another oil war. The Saudis have asked the junta flat-out to defend against an Iranian invasion, and the junta is only too willing. The Wahabbi yahoos have issued a fatwa to the effect that “all men, even the infidel, willing to defend the Holy Land from invaders may enter, only that non-Muslims must not enter the holiest cities” (Mecca and I think Medina). I suppose it was a matter of time, what with the two largest population centers having broken off (and the Midwest seriously considering it), until they ran out of willing cannon fodder. But the neocon way of thinking has always been, “We just start the wars, let someone else do the fighting.” So the next logical step was a draft. They may have held the Midwest by promising them priority shipments of heating fuel, although I wonder if it will stick.

Kim and Serena are known residents, so there really wasn’t any question about their registering… in fact, a Pat-Troll paid what they deemed a “courtesy call to help them fill out the paperwork.” They gave Kim the big stink-eye when he checked “M” on the Marital Status line; I confirmed that he’d been married nearly a year (first anniversary next month!) and they rolled their eyes and got on with things. But the junta threw in a little wrinkle for Rene: they’re offering amnesty for any “fugitive Latino” volunteering who’s not wanted for violent crime. Even bigger is the promise of immediate citizenship upon honorable discharge (or KIA) and residence permits for family members while serving. Of course, a citizen’s family gets to stay in country permanently. We tried to talk Rene out of the idea, but (as he writes):

Holá, y’all. If you’re breathing, Uncle Sam needs you. And he’ll make you an offer you can’t refuse. Not only that, Sammy says the junta is actually keeping their word about amnesty for us fugitives. All the adults think I’m crazy, but I’m doing this for my family — I mean, we all like living at FAR Manor (especially Christina, jejeje), but it would be nice if we didn’t have to hide. Besides, I got it in writing that Farf-Dad gets the amnesty for helping us too, so he or Farf-Mom won’t get in trouble either.

I’m also doing it for Kim. He’s probably going to get drafted soon; if Christina has a residence permit, they can get married for real and maybe they won’t put him in the combat zone. Farf-Dad thinks that’s where they’ll send everyone like me first thing, though. But I’ll make sure they have all the papers for everyone before I sign. I don’t totally trust these guys, even if they need to be trustworthy this time.

And that’s that. Rene is going to sign up tomorrow and they won’t wait to ship him to boot camp, even if his sister is going to be married. But we’re not going to waste time getting Kim and Christina hitched “for real,” either. In fact, we’re making the arrangements, and we might be able to take Rene to sign up, go to the church to attend the wedding, then he can leave in the morning. I guess there are advantages to being the go-to guy in a church; when you really need something done you can call in a lot of favors.

Guillermo and Maria are proud of Rene, of course, but very worried that they’ll never see him again. But they’re also excited about being able to move around freely (not that there’s much moving around these days). Their existence and location have been more or less an open secret for a long time now, but as long as we didn’t openly flaunt it…. Anyway, all that’s going to be over with soon. 'Course, if the war drags on for a while, which neocon wars always do, Christina will likely get drafted as well. I don’t know how the Army deals with biochemistry geniuses; they’ll probably put her in some bio-warfare research unit.

Christina, of course, is really excited about the wedding. Kim, too, from the way he’s been acting. Serena and Rene will stand with them tomorrow, and we’ll keep the ceremony short and low-key. I know it will be easier for her to do her biochem research when she doesn’t have to hide, but she’s done a lot of work here at the manor — she’s been compiling a set of school textbooks, and a publisher has expressed interest in what she’s put together so far. I helped her out a little with the layout and formatting, but the coup de grace is the illustrations she’s including in the lessons. The publishers thought they were great, especially since they didn’t have to pay someone else to do that work.

Kim and Serena both dread seeing the mail come in on Fridays; they know that they’ll be getting the “report for duty” notice soon or sooner. Serena was pretty upset about Rene leaving, even though they never got past the “friends” stage (that I’m aware of). She said her next play is going to really rip the junta a new one for this.

Dean’s in a bit of a quandry though: he hasn’t registered for the draft (not being a junta subject), but if he and Daughter Dearest get married then there will be questions about citizenship and the like. I suspect that, even with his papers, trying to return to Pacifica would just get him diverted into boot camp. So… Guillermo’s family will soon be free to move around, but our newest guest won’t. One thing after another at FAR Manor, huh?


Saturday, October 11, 2008 10 comments

An LOLboy and His LOLdog

The Boy seems to be having trouble with the starter in his car. It rolls off easily enough, but turning the key doesn’t even produce a click. He brought it up to the house, where we have a paved driveway and a couple of ramps to put it on… but Butthead decided to get all cuddly with his hooman before The Boy had a chance to get started.

I had to get a picture…

Wednesday, October 08, 2008 5 comments

We Pause for a Cloud Break

I really didn’t want to write more about the Big Gooey Kablooey today. Fortunately, after a rainy day (the first in at least two weeks, so it has been seriously needed), God gave me something else to post this evening:

Clouds after rain

I was admiring the sculpted clouds among the puffballs, when I reached a place to pull off and get a picture. I see a big arm coming out of the sky, either pointing south or offering up The Mother of all Spliffs. :-P

Heh… I suppose that was appropriate, given that I thought of a Crosby, Stills, and Nash song when I saw the cloudscape:

How come I have to explain,
People are worth all the pain?
I just wanna see the love in your eyes
After the storm has passed you and gone.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008 11 comments

Slip-Slidin’ Away

The credit meltdown continues with the occasional temporary break in the action. Looking at the 5-day Dow(n), it looks like the shorts temporarily took over yesterday — running prices down through the day, with a partial recovery in the last hour or so as they unwind their positions and get out. Today, though, the minor blip up turned the other way and down she went. Another 500-point drop. OUCH.

The bailout package, as I expected, has done little to fix the problem — or even calm the “markets,” which I expected it would for a couple of weeks. It seems that CEOs don’t like the restrictions on their salaries or golden parachutes, so many have decided to “tough it out” and not take the bailout money. After all, the companies they run can go to hell as long as their own prosperity is ensured. The occasional punch in the face is small potatoes compared to leeching $300 million out of the company treasury, right?

In 1969, we fought the Vietnam war, sent some people to the moon and back — and balanced the budget. Of course, the highest income tax bracket at the time was 70%. If you look back, the most prosperous years of American history (that is, low unemployment, high savings, the most good for the most people) coincide with high taxes on excessive incomes. We lost our way, partly because we reached national peak oil in 1970–1 and became a net oil importer about the same time, and partly because we embraced this Randroid notion that wealth somehow equates to virtue. Then Reagan blew “morning in America” sunshine up our pants, and we took our eye off the energy ball.

Over the next few decades, wages essentially stagnated (except for the top execs, of course) and debt became a way of life for both individuals and the government. There was a brief period in the 1990s (the Clinton years), when the tax structure temporarily got saner, wages and employment improved markedly, and we had several years of budget surpluses. But that blip was followed by Bush-league and his record deficits and declining wages (almost as if he was trying to make up for lost time). So now we’re facing a huge glut of debt.

There are essentially two ways to destroy the excessive debt clogging the economic pipes: hyperinflation and outright cancellation (we can assume, probably correctly, that expansion is no longer an option). I don’t expect hyperinflation, as it’s a good way to destroy the wealth of rich and poor alike. Cancelling debt sounds like a messy affair, but in fact it can be done with much precision. It’s quite likely that they will cancel some debt (theirs) while leaving some other debt (ours) intact.

The guerilla war that the rich have been waging on the middle and lower classes is about to become an all-out war. Fortunately, some people have found a way to fight back: when you get the foreclosure notice, pay a lawyer $100 to write a letter asking for proof that they hold the note. Several people have said after that, they haven’t even been contacted for over two years! I suspect that, barring legislation that is extremely unlikely under an Obama administration, this ploy will work for a long time — to defeat it, they would have to detach the loan from the CDOs and all the other instruments that it’s a part of, which would mean all the mortgages would likely have to be unwound, and they don't want to do that.

At least for right now though, peak oil is no longer an issue. The entire world is staring at an oncoming major recession, maybe even a depression. Fewer jobs → fewer people commuting → less fuel being used → falling oil demand. We’ll go from just barely having what we need to having plenty, although most of us won’t be able to enjoy it. The question is, do we go down; and if so, how fast? Can we forestall, or even slow down, the decline by putting an end to telephone-number salaries?

James Howard Kunstler thinks we’ll go quickly now that (in his opinion) the decline has started. His theory is “The Long Emergency” — the combination of declining energy resources and the suburban lifestyle (long solo commutes from “McMansions” in oversized, inefficient vehicles) has irrevocably sent us over a cliff, where we’ll land with a messy splat in a de-industrial world. On the other hand, John Michael Greer espouses a theory of “catabolic collapse,” and backs it up with several historical examples. The word “catabolic” means to break down from a complex to simpler state; he envisions a long decline with occasional partial recoveries, or a drop to a level that might come to be thought of as “the new normal” until the next crisis sends the world down another stairstep. Eventually, we could (after several centuries) recover and invent an “ecotechnic society” in which technology combines with sustainable sources of energy and material. Such a society would support much fewer people than the current one, which is partly why it would take several centuries… the population would have to decline to a sustainable level first.

Crisis brings predictable folks out of the woodwork:

• The “imminent Rapture” crowd — but there’s no mention of the US in the Bible, unless you reeaaaaaaally stretch the interpretation. Nothing about “from across the Sea,” or “the uttermost west,” or any such. So if you buy the literalist End Times interpretation, we pretty much have to be removed from the scene before the Tribulation.

• Gold bugs — their disdain for “fiat money” is so obvious you can almost see them sneer as they type the phrase. Which is silly. Gold & silver have been one form of money — but so have pretty pieces of paper, cattle, and big stone discs with a hole in the middle. Money is basically whatever enough people say it is; if things collapse suddenly I’d rather have the food than the gold… if I really wanted gold for something, I could trade some food for it.

• Survivalists — beans and bullets, all too often with a terrible attitude about community.

Most of these folks tend to be “doomers” — the type who say disaster is imminent, billions of dead, etc. Whatever floats their boat, I guess. Doomers are saying that this is the week where “it all begins,” but I would have to disagree. It all began in the latter half of the 19th century, when we became dependent on fossil fuels to run our civilization. “It will run out some day, certainly,” they might have said, “but we’ll find something else long before then.” This might be the week that it becomes obvious, but I rather expect that “bargain hunters” will create a minor rally later this week or early next.

Monday, October 06, 2008 3 comments

FAR Future, Episode 54: Iraq and Ruin

Wow. How could I have missed the Great Financial Meltdown of 2008? Some prognosticator am I, huh? ;-)

Thursday, September 17, 2020
Iraq and Ruin

The right wing still cringes at the mention of Iraq, their crowning achievement. When some wingnut starts yammering about what a horrible job the “librul socialist gubmint“ was doing and how much better off we are under the junta, I just laugh and say, “Right. So say the folks that gave us Iraq.” They usually screech something about Bill Clinton and walk away at that point. You name it, Iraq went w0rNg for them — the outright lies they used to get us in there, the way it went sour on us, flowers and chocolates, letting museums and military bases get looted — all of it. Even the real goal (grabbing the oil) didn’t work out. I always wonder how things might have gone had Bush-league just admitted that invading Iraq was the only way we could put off making huge, painful changes in our way of life for a few more years. The people who opposed the war from the start wouldn’t have come around, but I suspect that a lot of others would have decided war beat walking (or riding a bus). Honesty is the best policy, something Bush-league and the junta have never learned.

We left Iraq one huge mess, but al-Sadr agreed to cover our exit in 2010 and he kept his word while we “declared victory and left.” And things did get a little better for a little while. He had close ties with Iran, of course, and the Sunnis were suspicious, but al-Sadr learned pretty quick that it's one thing to whine from the sidelines and quite another to call the shots. They all mostly kept things pasted together — and Iraq actually exported more oil than Saudi Arabia last year — but some suicide bomber got al-Sadr on Friday and chaos rules once again, especially in Baghdad and Kirkuk. The Iranians have already sent a “peacekeeping force” to Basra and southern Iraq… and I agree with the junta analysts that they won’t be leaving any time soon, if ever… and to the wingnuts that it’s a pretty transparent oil grab (they should know, after all). The Kurds and Sunnis have told Iran to stay out, but they can’t do much more than hold their own turf. Kurdistan has been quasi-independent since before the invasion, and have been inching toward full independence ever since. This will probably be the final push.

It was an obvious move for Iran, though — their exports have been dropping fast the last few years, they’ll be a net importer in a year or two, and they want the oil as much as we do. They thing is, they’re slightly more welcome there than we were. They’ve mostly secured the oil fields around Basra, but (sound familiar?) are having issues with pipeline sabotage.

The junta brought back Shotgun Sam, and he’s having a conniption on the air, resurrecting the Domino Effect (“Iraq now, then Kuwait, then Saudi — and they’ll own all the oil!”) and saying we have to do something. I wish he was still taking callers; I’d have asked him if he would set an example and be first in line for an “expeditionary force.” Of course, he would have hung up, mumbled a few excuses, and gone to commercials. I'm old enough to remember what Reagan killed that Jimmy Carter started, and how much better off we’d be now if we’d stayed the course to energy independence… but nobody can call in anymore, and they probably would have blocked my number anyway. Oh well.

Kuwait may be a different story… rumor has it that they’ve quietly asked for a buffer force “to preserve stability in the region.” As if Americans with guns would be considered a stabilizing force these days! The Iraq adventure pretty much killed that one. The Saudis haven’t objected to having a carrier group docked at Dubai (the troops call it “Dooby-Dooby”), either.

The Prophet had something to say about the matter earlier in the week: “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but do not be afraid; for such things must happen, but the end shall not be yet. Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be earthquakes in different places, and there shall be famines and troubles.” Straight out of Mark. “And do not say to yourselves, ‘Where is God? He has abandoned us,’ for it may be His will that we endure the results of our folly, but be very sure! He has not abandoned us, nor has He deafened His ears to our prayers! Hold fast, Jerusalem, to the hope we have in His salvation! For as He chose to raise up our nation, if it is His pleasure to raise up Persia, who brought His people out of captivity in the days of old, then it shall be done. For who can stand against the Lord our God? Who among us can tell the Lord, ‘this You shall not do,’ and command the obedience of his Creator?”

Needless to say, that hasn’t gone over too well with the junta mainstream. “America has been God’s nation for over 200 years, and if that’s no longer the case, look no farther than who was running things until recently,” goes the Baptist honcho downtown. Quoth the head of a Pentecostal mega-church, “My spirit of discernment is troubled when I see this man shouting on a street corner. It is troubled when I see the crowds he draws. The devil can speak with words of honey, and attract the unwary.” Attendance is waaayyy down at the mega-churches, but The Prophet draws a crowd every time he sets down his cardboard box and begins to preach. Jealous much? Well, I shouldn’t talk: I haven’t had The Prophet’s sermons take a shot at my worldview yet. I might feel the same way when that time comes, and if he’s really preaching God’s word then that time will come. I don’t doubt that I’m flawed in my way as much as the guys on TV are in theirs.

But if there’s not a war, there’s rumors of wars. From Sammy and everyone else. I worry about Kim and Rene a lot these days.


Sunday, October 05, 2008 6 comments

The Great Gas Panic of 2008 Winds Down

Some stations have their pumps bagged, but more stations than not have gas to sell now. The lines have faded away and the four-lane was choked with day-trip traffic. Tourism-based businesses are undoubtedly breathing a huge sigh of relief.

Yet Matt Simmons speaks of low nationwide inventories and warns that a run could deplete the system again — and not just in the southeast.

Something I thought I’d mentioned in earlier gas panic posts, is that gasoline and diesel distribution is very much a regional thing. We don’t have a nationwide grid of pipelines for fuel like we do for electricity, so when the southeast (or west coast, or upper plains states, etc.) has a problem, there’s not a whole lot that other regions can do to pick up the slack. We saw this earlier in the year in the plains, where several refinery problems led to acute shortages much like what we saw here on Planet Georgia… but being “flyover country,” you may not have seen much coverage unless you live there or follow the peak-oil news.

So why is it even a problem? For starters, refinery margins have been exceptionally tight — if they’d had the same margins now as just a few years ago, we would have been paying $5/gal instead of $4 this summer. For whatever reason, probably political, they were eating some of the increased costs this summer. However, some of them tried to squeeze expenses out of their system to make up for it… thus the spate of refinery fires and explosions we’ve seen this year. There also isn’t much incentive for them to increase capacity — given the world is at or near the maximum production rate now, by the time they finish a new refinery or expanding an old one, they might not be able to get enough oil to take advantage.

So with margins tight, refineries have been producing just enough gas to keep things going — if they start getting better margins (and probably will after the elections), they can ramp up production to rebuild inventories. But under the current circumstances, inventories declined to 40-year lows just before the hurricanes hit (graph from TheOilDrum.com:

gasoline inventories graph

Had inventories continued to drop, we may well have seen spot shortages (or outright panics) even without the hurricanes.

Now that our regional gas crisis is starting to recede, we can start dealing with the worldwide financial crisis. In some ways, we’re in a similar situation: the entire financial system is seriously shaky, and a few bank runs could easily bring the whole thing down. But that’s the way it’s always been — banks take your deposits and lend them out, making money off the difference in interest they pay you (if any) and the interest they charge their borrowers. Great racket if you can get into it — but most of us don’t really care so long as the ATM spits out twenties, the checks don’t bounce, and the credit cards continue to work. But in the end, all banks only hold markers and a certain reserve cushion (usually 10%–20% of total deposits) to cover problems. The next couple of weeks could be very interesting, as major banks totter on the edge and nervous depositors try to reassure themselves that the FDIC won’t run dry.

Thursday, October 02, 2008 10 comments

Sinnertors FAIL (as expected)

Well, the Senate had the bailout vote today, and (along with both Obama and McCain and ¾ of the Senate, dangit), both sinnertors from Planet Georgia voted for it. One of them is up for re-election, and the race has been tightening a bit lately… although I’ve often said, the pod people would elect Satan if he ran as a Republican, and call him a “defender of moral values.”

Anyway. I wrote both of them earlier in the week (as well as my reprehensible, Nathan “Raw” Deal), urging them to vote NO and come up with a better idea. I was 1-for-3; Deal voted the way I wanted him to… I think for the first time ever. So here’s the excuses the other two had to offer.

Sen. Isakson:
The cause of the decline was the funding of marginal credit mortgages (subprime) through the creation of mortgage-backed securities… The market for these securities declined and ultimately evaporated, thus causing a liquidity problem for the financial institutions and a credit crisis for American consumers and small businesses.

… The Treasury has proposed using up to $700 billion dollars to purchase, at a discount, these mortgage-backed securities. … If the Treasury properly discounts the securities to, say, 50 or 60 cents on the dollar, and holds the securities to maturity there should be little or no cost to the Treasury. …

While I am not a big government regulator, if the investment bankers on Wall Street were held to the same standards of transparency and accountability as our national banking system, this would not have happened. …

… Not a dollar of the $700 billion will go to the brokers who created the securities. Instead, they will go to the investors who bought them, and then only after they take a significant discount or loss. Properly executed, the Secretary of the Treasury and the Chairman of the Federal Reserve believe this proposal will restore liquidity to the credit markets and return confidence in the financial system.

Mrf. I’d like to believe our tax dollars would be buying discounted paper. The bill, though, says only that the purchase price is not to exceed 100% of the stated value. FAIL. There’s nothing in the bill about accountability… indeed, the bill removed “mark to market” requirements that forced companies to value their paper at what it’s worth. FAIL #2. Finally, the “investors who bought them” are (in many cases) foreign banks that demanded their cut at the trough. FAIL #3, hit the showers dude.

On to Sen. Saxby Chambliss, running for re-election this year. Amazingly, Jim Martin is giving him a real contest at the moment, and even the pod people think this bailout idea is a stinker. So you’d think he’d be a little more circumspect with his ayes and nays? Well… you know, I’m going to have to take this one down point-by-point, and I didn’t want to do that.
I strongly believe that doing nothing will destroy the financial security of millions of Americans and possibly lead us into a depression. I just as strongly believe the bill as now negotiated will arrest the crisis and begin to turn our economy around.

Ah yes, lead off with the false dichotomy. Voting this bill down = do nothing. How about: flush this steaming load and come up with something that actually addresses the problem? FAIL.

I know that my vote in favor of this package was not the politically popular thing to do, but this is not a popularity contest. This is about the future of our country and the future that my children and grandchildren will inherit. I have absolutely no doubt in my mind or my heart that my vote in support of this measure was the right thing for our economy, for Georgians, and for our country.

Translation: I was paid well for my vote. But where have I heard that “this is not a popularity contest” cant? Oh yeah: McSame during the debate.

I did not support the original proposal submitted by the Administration because it did not address the critical needs of the American taxpayer, community banks, retirees, and small businesses and it concentrated too much power in a small group to administer the plan. …

Moreover, when the House rejected the plan, the economy suffered a $1.2 trillion dollar blow in the stock market, which only made more apparent the impact this credit crunch is having on Main Street. Specifically, in some cases, Georgia community banks are unable to make auto loans.

And the new plan does? As I understand it, it’s the plan the House rejected with a few tax credit extensions and a bump in FDIC coverage. FAIL #2

Oh dear, a $1.2 trillion dollar blow, and no mention that 2/3 of that came right back the next day. And banks are unable to make loans? Making loans is what banks do; either they make loans with necessary and prudent conditions attached or they close. End of story. If they can’t make loans, they might as well shut down.

TAXPAYERS ARE PROTECTED. In its current form, the legislation before the Senate protects taxpayers in many ways. Accountability, safeguards, and oversight measures are numerous. …

NOT A BLANK CHECK. I opposed the President's initial request to simply give a blank check to Secretary Paulson. I also opposed the second version submitted by the President and Congressional Democrats that would have given taxpayer money to liberal groups such as ACORN. …

NO GOLDEN PARACHUTES. CEOs and other executive officers who drove their companies into the ground will not be able to walk away with millions leaving taxpayers holding the bill. Those companies that choose to participate in the program will be subject to strict compensation limits.

NO NEW GOVERNMENT SPENDING. The language is clear - all revenue generated through the repayment of any assets purchased and any sold must be used to pay down the national debt. No money will go to pork projects, new government spending, or liberal groups such as ACORN.

Oh gasp! Liberal groups! Dude: would you please point me to a conservative advocacy group for low-income housing? Fouled it off, still 0-and-2.

HELP FOR MAIN STREET. As this crisis continues, community banks are being affected more and more. Car loans and home loans, even to those with good credit, are drying up. … If we allow this to continue, jobs will be lost, more retirement accounts will be impacted, and credit will get even tighter.

So handing Wall Street a huge wad of money is going to fix Main Street? FAIL #3, hit the showers. If we’re lucky, you’ll hit them permanently come Nov. 4.

But wait, there’s more!

PUNISH CRIMINALS. The Federal Government is actively investigating cases of fraud and abuse. Where wrongdoing is found, the perpetrators, including, if implicated, members of Congress will be brought to justice. …

ADDRESS THE UNDERLYING CAUSE WHILE WE TREAT THE SYMPTOMS. We are seeing the symptoms now - lack of trust in the banking industry, daily tightening of the credit markets, losses in personal retirement accounts - and while this legislation addresses those issues, it also goes further to treat the cancer that got us here. This legislation authorizes the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to modify the 'mark to market' accounting procedures that magnified this crisis by forcing banks to mark down the value of assets they had no intention of selling in the near future. This mark down of value caused a corresponding loss of value to the institutions. The SEC has already begun the process to modify this procedure.

whiff Sax-dude, you already struck out. You can stop swinging. Any time now. So banks can hold a big steaming load of crap, and call it solid gold as long as they don’t try to sell it? Um… exactly how is this going to do anything to help with the lack of trust in the banking industry?

RETURN TRUST IN THE BANKS. By increasing the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) protection on bank accounts from the current $100,000 to $250,000, taxpayers and bank customers can once again trust that their money is safe in the bank of their choice.

DEBT REPAYMENT. Toxic loans will be purchased at a discount and 100% of the monies repaid to the government will go to reduce the debt we incur in this process. While we shouldn't expect full repayment, it is possible that all of the money expended will be repaid.

Yeah, and it’s possible that I’m the Queen of England. What’s the discount rate? 99 cents on the dollar? Whiff again.

PROTECT OUR NATIONAL SECURITY. If we do not act and this crisis spreads like a cancer to every segment of our economy, it will destroy not only taxpayer savings but it will erode our ability to fund our military, supply our troops with the resources they need, and protect our homeland.

Oooo, and I thought the terrorism card couldn’t be played on this one! You might have fouled that one off if there had been a pitch and the umpire wasn’t busy trying to push you out of the batter’s box.

NO TIME FOR POLITICAL FINGER POINTING. There is plenty of blame to go around but now is not the time to throw stones, now is the time to address this crisis and get our economy moving again.

Too bad you didn’t think of that before you started whining about ACORN. Whiff and the umpire dodges while the pitcher scratches his head and goes, “WTF?”

blah blah blah However, history warns us against inaction by hard lessons learned. Delaying to act would be a repeat of the mistakes of the 1920s, when thousands of banks failed before significant confidence was restored to our financial markets.

Dude, you just made it harder to actually FIX the problem. Like Mrs. Fetched, your rush to DO SOMETHING NOW is wasting time and energy while doing little to solve it.

And the ump gets some help from the 1st- and 3rd-base umpires, the catcher, and a few fans… they escort Saxby “Ignorance is” Chambliss off the field, still swinging at a ball that has long gone by.

Judas Priest. The pod people tossed a guy who left pieces of himself in Vietnam for this?

Mid-Week Cinema

This one’s too important to wait for Friday…

I hope nobody actually needed to see this, but just in case!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008 6 comments

Start Bailing, Everyone

This brief clip shows a younger Bush-league speaking at a high-dollar fundraiser: “Some call you the elite, I call you my base.” Here, in the waning months of a far too long Reign of Error, that was enabled by a single vote (in the Supreme Court), Bush-league is trying to throw one last meaty ol’ bone to his “haves and have-mores” base. Of course, I’m referring to the Wall Street bailout package, known by some as the Paulson Plan.

In perfect Bush-league administration form, they ignored the problem until it became a crisis, then started beating the Fear Drums and attempted to ramrod a real stink-bomb through Congress — what amounted to a check for $700 billion with carte blanche for Paulson to do with it as he pleased, even including a pre-emptive Congressional pardon for violations of any laws along the way. Basically, he could have pocketed the money and bought him a nice little palace in the Keys without any repercussions even possible.

Amazingly, the goplet lapdogs in Congress and their media talking heads opposed it — some on the Dem side suggest that the idea was to force it through Congress without goplet support, then use it against Democrats running for re-election. Two problems: the Dems insisted on bi-partisan support (knowing it was going to be unpopular) and people overwhelmed Congress with variations of “there’s nothing in it for us, we’re not paying for it.” I was one of millions who beat the house.gov and senate.gov servers to death this week, I’m happy to say, telling my sinnertors and reprehensible what I thought of this bailout. I got a detailed response from Sen. Isakson, the only one of the three not up for re-election this year, who called for several sensible modifications. Of course, none of them appeared in the version voted on today (and Sen. Isakson supported).

After the bill went down in the House on Monday, the so-called revision is basically the same bill with a couple of tax credit extensions and an increase in FDIC coverage — basically, the same pig with a fresh coat of lipstick. And the House and Senate servers continue to get hammered.

I’d like to think Speaker Pelosi was playing a subtle game on Monday. The goplets blamed her for their decision to vote down the package on Monday, after she mildly criticized the right-wing economic policies that led to the current problem. I want to think she’s dangling tax cuts in front of the goplets (ooh, shiny!) so that the bill passed with their support (while peeling away votes from her own caucus), but this Congress has been way too quick to roll over for Bush-league for me to believe it.

I remember writing a story during my high school days that had, as a backdrop, “the economic collapse in 2000.” We are being told that this bailout package is necessary to avoid a real collapse in 2008… but many economists say it won’t help. If we do end up with an economic collapse, at least the people who perpetrated this massive theft will go down with the rest of us — of course, if things stay together, we’ll probably drown while holding the fat cats out of the water. I can only hope that if Obama gets elected in five weeks, that he’ll give each congressional Democrat a shiny new spine for Christmas. You know the Republicans are bought and paid for by Wall Street, and they’ll do what they always do: shovel as much money as they can at the people who need it least and blame the rest of us for not working hard enough or whatever. They will obstruct, filibuster, whine like the crybabies they are on every show that points a camera at them, but we can hope that by 2010 they won’t be more than a noisy non-entity.

Gas Panic: The Light at the End of the Tunnel

They (who’s “they”? You know, “them”!) say the pipeline is full and the gas is on the way to Planet Georgia. Given that fuel moves through pipelines at 3–5mph, though, it’ll be at least a week before the Great Gas Panic of 2008 is officially over.

Yesterday, nearly half the stations I pass on the way to work were pumping, and had lines spilling this way and that. Of course, cheaper gas equals longer lines… people are still people. They were pretty much all dry on the way home, but that’s to be expected these days.

I’ve got a lengthy rant about the bailout cooking, but haven’t had time to get it down just yet. Maybe tomorrow.


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