Saturday, April 28, 2012


Most people look at birds with a hazy benevolence. They appreciate the robins and cardinals for being recognizable and they wish the other birds would announce themselves too, but unfortunately they remain brown and indistinct and hidden in the shrubbery. Some birds will helpfully tell you who they are, like the chickadee, but others, like the red-winged blackbird ("pull on my PEE-ter!") will not. It takes a birder to sort them out.

Me and Kelly, 2010
And most people have nothing against birders, but think, somehow, that their obsession is sort of trivial and dorky. But the only thing keeping most people from being bird dorks is the ability to see the birds. I once witnessed the transformation myself. I met my friend Kelly at the New River Birding And Nature Festival, true, and so I assumed she was fond of birds, but it was not a fully fledged fondness at first. Mostly she had a fondness for her wife Sara. (Everyone does.) We were both on the introductory field trip, and the guide had pointed out a beige flittiness in the branches above. And then he instructed us to--pay attention here--keep looking at the flitty area while bringing the binoculars up to our eyes. Well! I'd only been using binos for fifty years at that point without having that particular piece of information. It should be obvious, but many people, such as myself and Kelly, locate movement in the treetops and then look down to make sure we get the binoculars on our eyes and then look back kup to scan the tree with them, trying to find the movement again, to no avail. It's like shooting the Hubble telescope into space with a wobble built in and hoping a nova will sail into view.

A Cuteness Bomb
So it turns out that people of ordinary intellect can indeed lift binoculars in place without missing or stabbing themselves in the eyeballs with them, and then what do they see? Why, they see cuteness bombs going off all over the canopy. The flitty thing resolves into a blue-gray gnatcatcher pasting together a teacup nest out of lichens and nearby is a by-God tufted titmouse with a perky tiara and an orangey spot on the side and a black nose and a button beak and way over there is a mossy pendulous nest like a giant green scrotum and just like that Kelly and I are birders, complete with squeaky noises and zeal. Kelly instantly began rabbiting around the landscape like there was a whole skyful of news and she was behind in her reading. Fly as they might, those birds were not going to escape her and her newly useful binoculars. All it takes is noticing, and all that takes is binoculars and, for people without a grasp of the obvious, a sensible lesson in using them.

Once I'd come back home an accomplished noticer, Dave set up a bird resort right outside my writing room. There was a chickadee house, a suet feeder, and a hummingbird feeder within a yard of the window, and now, instead of staring into space while not writing, I could look at birds while not writing. I got regular visits from jays, a flicker, a gang of bushtits, and hummers that will happily kick every one of their asses for them. Two chickadees started hanging out a lot. They looked identical, but now I was a noticer. One of them, Studley, had a lower voice and seemed a little more aggressive, tidying up the suet feeder by scraping bushtits off it. Studley and Marge began bringing grass to the house and dumping it inside. (I learned later that they were making a mattress.) One day Marge wouldn't leave Studley alone and finally caught up to him and did something to his rear end that I would never have expected of Marge, and went a long way toward explaining why they never answered to their names. It only took a few seconds and then Studley retired to the house and a couple weeks later both Marge and Studley were hauling in grubs and bugs at the rate of 500,000 a day and evidently they made baby birds out of them, because that was the next thing that came out.

That's all a birder is. A noticer. The more you notice, the more you care. The more you care, the more you love. The more you love, the happier you are. My gratitude goes out to Jeff Gordon, the president of the American Birding Association, for showing Kelly and me how to spot birds with our binoculars, and waiting until we were out of earshot before laughing at us. Try it yourself. Because the little feathered buggers are everywhere, zipping all over the planet like valentines from God, and most of us are acting like we've got more important mail coming. But we don't.

My friend Julie Zickefoose is a virtuoso noticer and the proprietor of eighty acres of bird joy on the hem of Ohio. If you want to see how happy you can get just by paying attention, have a look at her luscious new book, The Bluebird Effect: Uncommon Bonds With Common Birds. You'll be plumb inspired.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Complete Climatological Coinkydink

It has been a weird spring. March came in like a lion, on schedule, and by March 3rd, it had draped itself languidly across a tree limb without enough gumption to take down a three-legged hyena. Across two-thirds of the country, people were startled by the tinkling sound of falling records. An unprecedented heat wave presided over the Midwest. Snowplows in Minnesota were hard pressed to keep up with the drifts of cherry blossoms. Over seven thousand high-temperature records were smithereened by an average of fifteen degrees, and as much as 35. Meanwhile, here in western Oregon, all the remaining water in the world fell during March, except for the portion that's still up there because it couldn't make it through all the clouds.

Reaction to the arrival of summer in March was generally positive, but unsettled, with some suspecting it should be intercepted and gently guided back to June before it gets too far away. Meteorologist Martin Hoerling of the NOAA investigated the phenomenon and reassured the public that it was a result of freak chance and not indicative of global warming. In fact, he explained carefully, the heat wave was caused by warm air. Warm air is quite often responsible for higher temperatures (says he), and the only thing unusual about this event was its size and duration, which he was at a loss to explain, except to call it a once-in-a-century event. And if it happens again next year, we should be sitting pretty until 2212.

This analysis was well received in the Rogue Science Incubator, located at the edge of the parking lot of (but not affiliated with) the Petroleum Institute. The RSI is proud of its role in gainfully employing dozens of people with science degrees and massive personal debt. Chief Obfuscologist Willy Crack was kind enough to take our questions. RSI headquarters was small but lavishly appointed; trays of complimentary donuts alternated with pots of money, a bartender was busy at the back wall, and in the corner, the small rescue penguin, Anomaly, fanned herself  with the refrigerator door.

Dr. Crack endorsed the NOAA explanation.  "The only point on which we differ," he said, "is in the characterization of events as a 'freak occurrence.' A freak occurrence, by definition, is something out of the ordinary. When they happen all the time, the number of freak occurrences naturally goes way down. It's a feedback loop."

What about that freakishly early deadly tornado season?

"Pish. I should not have to remind you that a thundering majority of Midwesterners were not hurled into the air. As I have demonstrated, there are natural feedback loops operating that will invariably keep things as they have always been, which is what we want. For instance, in the example last month, the effects of the warm air were countered when 200,000,000 white people suddenly stripped to their skivvies and lounged on aluminum chairs, reflecting sunlight back into space."

Dr. Crack hobbled over to a display board. "Come this way. We have some charts that might help clear things up for you."

Is that the troposphere one? Because respected climatologists have long since debunked the claim that the troposphere temperature disproves global warming.

"I know that," he said peevishly. "But nobody listens to them. No: this is a chart of the number of times articles with the phrase 'troposphere disproves global warming' have appeared on the internet. As you can see, it's trending sharply up. And over here," he said, turning to a new chart and now limping badly, "we have even more conclusive proof that man-caused climate change is a hoax." A large dark figure in a trench coat with a barely concealed baseball bat appeared in a doorway.

That's just an estimate of the amount of coal and petroleum still in the ground. Say, are you in pain?

"It's nothing. I am in pain, yes, but as you can clearly see, it's caused by this tibia bone protruding through my leg. Completely natural," he said.

The dark figure withdrew.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

And My Number Is 634-5789

Picture the Amish gentlewoman at Sears, looking over the Kenmore dryers, her face etched in regret and resignation, deeply suspicious that her purchase might cause her to lose more than she gains. It's the classic tradeoff: warm fluffy sheets in exchange for a whole way of life. Throw some stretch jeans on that woman and you've got me at the big-box store trying to find someone to talk to me about mobile cellular telephones.

He's not easy to find. There are no sales associates in the store who were alive before cell phones. They stare at you mute when you explain that on your own phone you have to go out to the front yard and turn the crank on the spark generator to get enough steam to put a call through. They have no point of reference to know you're kidding, and no idea how to react, and they go limp with embarrassment.

If you take all the people who have never owned a cell phone and lay them end to end, they can all hear each other, even without the string and cans. It's an exclusive group, and we cannot abandon it lightly. Dave and I pretty much knew we'd get cell phones eventually, and have seen many times when one would come in handy. I've got a trip coming up and now seems to be the time to pull the trigger. I once covered the better part of two airport concourses before I found a pay phone. I dumped in quarters and called my ride, while she was at the curb watching me do it and waving.

On our last trip, we rented a car. I asked the winsome twenty-year-old at the desk if she had a New Mexico map for me, and she produced a nice simple version on what looked like a paper placemat. We walked out to our car, which was already running, and she handed me a plastic souvenir knob and wished us well. I got in, and then realized there was no key in the ignition, and I didn't know how to turn the car off, which I anticipated having to do, so I went back in the office to ask. She explained that the plastic knob allowed me to push the button. Oh! I explained that my car didn't have any doo-dads on it at all. It was a tiny little thing with a steering wheel and go-and-stop pedals and nothing else--it's not much more than a big helmet. If I had any more questions, the nice young lady said, I could give her a call. No I can't, I said. We don't have cell phones. She looked stricken. Did we know where we were going? Did we bring our own GPS? I told her no, but we were fine, with that nice map she gave us.

But, she said. She looked worried. Oh, she was worried. She couldn't have looked more upset if she had been laid up with a busted foot and had to send MeeMaw out into the snowstorm on the bum mule to fetch Doc Pritchart. And it was absolutely clear to us that she herself had no idea how to get to Los Alamos using just her own neurons and a placemat map.  She may not get lost, with all her tools, but she has lost something.

But when we finally made the jump, I always thought, we would try to find the dumbest possible phone. You know, one that can only allow you to talk to someone in Thailand while you're lugging out the trash. I have no idea what texting is for. And Dave doesn't have the paws for it in any case. It would be like trying to play hop-scotch in clown shoes.

Then the iPhone came out and it was pretty clear that it was a wonderful item. You could point it at the sky and find out what stars you were looking at. Name a tree by taking a photo of a leaf. Dave could  hook up to the site where he snoops on people's houses and finds out what they pay in taxes and how many bedrooms they have. He does that anyway, back at home, but now he could do it while standing in their very driveway looking big and sketchy. There are millions of apps. Probably one that will figure out what you were going to say. After a certain amount of hesitation on your part, the voice lady will pipe up and say "I have found nine nouns for you." It was a seductive idea. No longer would Dave and I have to walk around having our normal conversation: what was the name of that woman, you know that woman, the one in the show, the show with the guy who did that thing, you know that guy, he used to be in that other show? We would have the answer to everything in our little warbling pockets. We might not even have to talk at all. We could just amble on in parallel, peering into our little screens. All that for about a hundred bucks a month. It seemed a dream.

But are the fluffy sheets of unlimited data worth what we'd lose? As it is now, we have only one computer. It's a nice one, but not portable, so when we walk away from it, we can talk to each other, and notice the world. In fact, having only the one computer, we talk to each other all of the time.

Mostly, we say "can I have that machine now?"

We did it. We got our own dumb phones. The staff at the store said the last time someone came in and bought his first phone was last summer. Unless it was the summer before that.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


My sister Margaret was a towering soul holstered in a tiny body. She was easy to see over, but impossible to overlook. Until she got old.

"Old women are invisible," she complained.

I'm beginning to see what she meant, but I'm not complaining. It's a mixed bag, being ignored. It's not so good when you're trying to get a clerk's attention in a store. But it can work to your advantage if you're, say, trying to assemble some bomb-making materials with a mind toward civic engagement.

But a girl does feel dismissed if she can't even get any action from airport security. If they won't even wave a wand at you when you flash your postal I.D., leak spittle, and bring up Dick Cheney, you can pretty much figure your value as a searchable object of desire has plummeted. You might as well not exist. It can be dispiriting.

But trust the U.S. Supreme Court to hitch the buckboard up to old Dobbin and ride to the rescue! They're coming through for the little guy at last. Some of us had been a little dubious about this group. The Democrats had spent two years trying to crowbar a little daylight between the insurance companies and their profits, and finally cobbled together a bit of improvement for us all, with a not-nearly-socialist-enough piece of legislation called the Affordable Care Act. Or Obamacare, as it is derisively referred to by people who view Obama and Care with equal disdain. And now many of us suspect that the Court is about to knock the whole thing sideways on the grounds that it tramples on the American credo ("You Can't Make Me"). Because if we are lucky enough to get any health insurance, given the shape we're in, we would rather pay a boatload for it, by God. We're not cheap. The Court just heard the case and various lines of questioning have put the outcome in doubt, with some of the justices playing things pretty cagey. Except for Justice Clarence Thomas, who, as always, just said exactly what was on his mind.

Well, it will be a bit before we find out whether the insurance industry will get its money's worth out of this court, but in the meantime, as I suggested, SCOTUS really came through for the little people. Thanks to a recent ruling, the police can throw in a free rectal examination whenever we get hauled in for any little thing. Even minor infractions, like looking all wrong for the neighborhood, can win you a complimentary probe. This court decision only restores the rights of the state. If this sort of thing wasn't a proper role of law enforcement, it would never have been called "copping a feel." And the average American can scarcely whine about being refused insurance for a rectal exam and then turn around and whine about getting a freebie.

The Supreme Court is only plugging a hole in the system. Torrents of contraband are flowing in a direct pipeline from America's buttholes to its jails. And the police have a legitimate interest in stemming that flow. Which means such a procedure couldn't possibly be used as a tool of humiliation. And that's good news! Because even an ignorable, innocent-looking woman of advanced middle age like myself might still have an act of civil disobedience left in her, or get a little mouthy during a public demonstration. And this ruling means I still have the chance one day of hearing that snap of latex gloves behind me. The snapping sound that means someone still wants to know how I really feel, deep inside.

And we thought they didn't care. Thank you, Justices Roberts, Kennedy, Scalia, Alito, and Thomas--take a bow! No, the other way.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

We're Swingers

Some charity is getting ready to put on a walkathon, and they've strung up banners all over town. "March For Babies," the banners say, and I say it's about time. Someone needs to march for babies because they damn sure can't march for themselves. Even getting one to demonstrate a sense of rhythm is problematic, and herding a squad of them into formation is getting into monkeys-typing-Shakespeare territory. Every time they try to stand up and walk, they roll around and fall on their heinies, teeter-teeter-whump. They're like little tiny drunkards, with better enunciation. Scatter a group of them in a nursery and it looks like Spring Break in Fort Lauderdale, scaled down.

I'm impressed they even try to do something as daunting as walking upright. They're already total wizards at scooting along on all fours, but almost to a baby they decide to stand up one day and give it a whirl. They look like goofs and everybody laughs, but they don't care. I admire that drive to reach for the stars, or the shiny doo-dad on the countertop, in spite of the near certainty of failure and humiliation. It doesn't take too long for humans to grow up to the point that they're acutely aware of the opinion of others and they begin to constrain themselves within limits of their own making to avoid mockery. So wired are we to conform to people's expectations and approval that many of us waste most of our lives not trying anything new, in case we fail.

That's where old age gives us an advantage. Old fartdom confers upon us many of the characteristics we had as infants, and except for the bladder control issues and inability to eke out an entire sentence, this can be very liberating. No one's looking at us anymore, we're not likely to attract either attention or a mate, and taken as a whole, it's an ideal time to begin taking swing dance lessons. Even if we look goofy, everybody gives us points for trying.

East Coast Swing was one of the dances we took a stab at in our Crash Course Ballroom Dancing class last year. That class was so comprehensive that in six short weeks we were able to say with confidence that we had failed in no fewer than seven dances. Swing seemed the most promising of the seven because it was the one that afforded the most physical distance between the leader and the follower. If the follower were going to get stepped on or mauled in any way, she was often able to see it coming in time to take evasive action. Also, the music was the best. Dave and I have long had the problem of hearing Benny Goodman's "Sing, Sing, Sing" and not be able to do a thing about it except bounce up and down in our seats, which is hard on the bladder. We needed a plan.

The trick in swing dance is for the leader to be able to convey his intentions to the follower a split second before she commits to a totally different direction. To do this he has to know what his own intentions are. He has to push her out and snap her back, spin her out and reel her in. It's a little like operating the little paddle with the ping pong ball on a rubber string. Sometimes it goes all out of control. Dave, despite his advanced age, still has rocket reflexes and good hand-eye coordination and is frequently able to retrieve me before I go careening across the floor. It looks just that much more spectacular, I must say. We'll be home free once we perfect the look of "I meant to do that" in place of the more natural "what the hell are you doing?"

So it looks like we're going out swinging. But at least we're going out.

Here's something a little different. I wouldn't ordinarily put in a video from our beginning lessons, but you need to see the part where I stop Dave and tell him he's holding my hands too tightly. And he explains that he can't help it--he has a sphincter THIS SMALL. Enjoy.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

I Guess I'll Have To Be One Of A Kind

My niece and her wombmate
Everyone's fascinated by twins. We marvel at them. "Look!" we say. "You're exactly alike! How can you tell each other apart? Ha ha!" we say. And the twins rig up a tired little smile. But exactly the same tired little smile. They're fascinating.

I thought most people wanted to have a twin, because I do. Turns out most people have no interest. I think it would be handy, because then there'd be someone to finish my sentences for me, which has increasingly become a concern, although it's more likely my twin would get the same start on the sentence as I would, and then we'd both be stranded. But at least we wouldn't be alone.

If I had my own twin to observe, I might get some insight into what is annoying about me. Everyone I've ever lived with has told me I'm annoying, but I don't see it. I don't find myself annoying at all, but I do have a habit of living with other people who get all irritated over every little thing, and stomp and yell and tell me they've cleaned up after me for the last time and when am I going to shut up and let them get a word in edgewise and threaten to wrap me in duct-tape and lock me in the closet, and maybe if I had a twin I could gain some understanding about why my friends are so touchy.

There are a few ways of coming up with multiple births. Science calls identical twins "monozygotic," because they come from a single egg that splits, and fraternal twins are called "dizygotic," because they each start out with their own egg. The larger numbers of births, such as your standard litter of puppies, is "coyotic." It's the monozygotes with the adorable identical little outfits that interest us the most. The dizygotic twins are pretty much just roommates. They could be Oscar and Felix.

Multiple births are relatively rare among humans. Evolutionarily, this is sensible, because humans are a bitch to raise. Having twins gives you twice the number of humans but four times the trouble. In other animals, such as the possum, it's more set it and forget it. The nipples swell up when the baby possum attaches and then they're latched on for the duration, eventually falling off to go do whatever it is possums do, no college fund or play dates or fancy birthday parties required. It's no wonder they churn them out.

In humans, it's the female that determines whether a single or multiple eggs will be released. She just does that all on her own, probably even more often than she'd like to, and nothing the man does is going to make her step up production. So say the experts, but I believe that seeing Liam Neeson in a kilt, in my fifties, caused me to spend out all my eggs at once and zip right through menopause.

Women over 35 are more likely to produce twins than younger women. My mom was forty when I was born, so I might have had a shot at being a twin, but Mom was very thrifty. She wouldn't have had extra eggs stacked up. The only thing she did that with was toilet paper, and that was a WWII rationing-trauma thing. What happens when twins are formed is that the blastocyst essentially falls apart, probably from sperm-related stress. That could be the end of it, but then it thinks better of it and rallies, and eventually you get two whole persons, and they duke it out to see who shows up first, with the other following 13 minutes later, on average, and never being allowed to forget it.

There are some who believe in spookier twins, such as Doppelgängers, which are basically identical twins conjoined at the soul. According to this theory, everyone has a twin out there somewhere in the world, and it's often an evil twin. Which means half of us are the evil twin. I don't think any of this is true. But I am sort of drawn to the Norwegian myth of the vardøger. This is another double, one who precedes you and can be seen performing your own actions before you do. Could be because I'm of Norwegian extraction, but I think that I might have a vardøger of my own. I often have the feeling of being a little bit late. Of course, this could also be explained by the fact that I often am a little bit late. My roommates used to complain about that too.

Spookier twins

Saturday, April 7, 2012


At Resurrection Lutheran, we had Sunday services at 8:30 and 11:00am, with Sunday School in between. Our family always went to the late service, even if it meant God's word was in reruns. It was pleasant enough. There was lots of good music and you didn't have to share the peace back then; you could wait until coffee time afterwards in the basement when it felt normal. Our church wasn't big on Hell or anything. Pastor Lange hardly even mentioned the Devil; he wasn't the type to talk about people behind their back. He just talked about God being love, and that we were all saints in His sight, which I sort of doubted. I also had a hard time with "he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved," which struck me, even as a tiny kid, as being arbitrary and unfair. It made no sense at all. Particularly if God were love. But Jesus loved me, this I knew.

Me and Susie
The neighbor girl Susie was a Baptist, and I got to go to her church once. They had some hell there, boy howdy. And damnation, and I don't know what-all. It was nothing like Resurrection Lutheran, except for that one day we had a guest pastor. He got up there and started hammering on Jesus' death on the cross. I mean specifically: he said that the only place in the hand that you could drive a nail through and hold anyone up was also the place with the very most nerve endings and that would cause the very most pain. He explained how Jesus would have had to push up from his feet to relieve his hands, and then he'd have to  go slack again to relieve his feet, and on and on. I don't know where this guy came from, but he never came back. We were all horribly embarrassed. On the other hand, it's the only sermon I still remember. It really stood out.

So we showed up at 11:00am every Sunday, except for Easter, when we attended the Sunrise Service at 6am. Mom woke me up at five. It felt ghastly wretched to be hauled out of bed that early. If you had told me then that I'd spend 31 years of my life getting up even earlier than that to move the nation's mail, I would have fainted dead away. You sure wouldn't have been able to scare me with Hell.

But the Sunrise Service was magnificent, once we got there. The church was filled with lilies. The pipe organ pumped out uplifting hymns in a major key. Mrs. Crider, who had the only trained voice in the choir, always got her solo. She knew that her Redeemer liveth, and by the time she wrapped it up, so did everyone else. The whole show was thrilling. You wouldn't have thought there'd be enough room in a little kid's heart to hold all that joy, but you'd be wrong.

Of course, before that, we had to have the Good Friday service. There was a retelling of the Passion, with sound effects. Probably it would have been more effective without the sound effects. Right at the point where Jesus says "it is finished," there was supposed to be a big clap of thunder, but this was in the fifties, before technology had advanced to the point of rattling sheet metal. Mrs. McKittrick, in the choir loft, was supposed to pick up the kneeling rail and drop it on the floor. Mrs. McKittrick was a very top-heavy woman, and there wasn't anything spindly about the rest of her, either. She had the massive bosom of a Wagnerian soprano, but not the voice. The choir was a volunteer organization and you had to take what you got. She would pitch and yaw all the way up the stairs to the choir loft and install herself with a whump and a rumble, her bosom heaving like Hell's bellows until well past the Introit. We kids could hardly take our eyes off her.

Thirty years before ADA
So the thunderclap sounded exactly like someone had dropped a kneeling rail, which sort of took away from the somberness of the moment. If Mrs. McKittrick had lost her balance and followed the rail to the floor, it would have been much more convincing. I'd have turned Baptist in a heartbeat.

But one year, there was actual thunder. The sky darkened impressively, and then there was a big boom at four o'clock. Susie and I whispered about it later. It seemed pretty clear that God was getting His word in, especially after my neighbor provided some other details about four o'clock being the exact time Jesus died. We were filled with wonder. Not enough to wonder about what time it was in the greater Golgotha area, or wonder if it was thundering all over the world and not just at us, or whether we'd missed any messages in all the other thunder that occurred around four o'clock almost every day in northern Virginia. When God has something to say, you just say Yes Sir. We spent some time trying to think about eternity, and not getting a purchase on it. But the effort felt exciting, like being spun around until you're dizzy.

I'm sure if I tried to imagine Eternity now, I still wouldn't be able to get a purchase on it, but I'm not sure I'm meant to. That was something ten-year-olds like to do, to try to feel the mystery of it all. Sometime after that age, I discovered that Bach and Handel and all the lilies of the field are available even outside of church, and service can begin any time. That's redemption enough for me.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


After reading Julie Zickefoose's excellent post describing how the bolas spider whacks the wily and delectable moth with a glob of silk, I got to thinking about the sun, and how there's nothing new under it. No matter what bizarre thing you can think of, Nature's probably already come up with the prototype. And so observing Nature carefully can help us understand otherwise incomprehensible things.

Take the scale infestation on my lemon tree. What looks like inert scales on my lemon tree are actually live insects that have crawled to an advantageous spot, grown prodigious mouth parts, and inserted them into the lemony flesh, where they slowly suck the life out of the plant. And then the insects lose their legs. They've got everything they want right where they are and don't need to go anywhere. It seems on the surface to be a life plan without parallel, but it would be very familiar to anyone still providing shelter to a thirty-year-old child. Or anyone in a nation being sucked dry by a tiny plutocracy.

It doesn't take many insects to suck the life out of the plant. And it doesn't take long, once the mouth parts are in place, but it's still gradual enough that the plant doesn't see it coming. Likewise, it didn't take long for the wealthiest 1% in America to control 40% of the wealth, up from 33% twenty-five years ago. The wealthiest 1% average 225 times the wealth of the median household, the largest disparity ever.

Where did all that money the 1% have come from? Well, they didn't print it. It used to be ours. You can only earn so much money, and then you have to start taking it. So they took it. Beauty part is, it isn't even considered stealing, once you get the rules changed to make stealing legal. Which you can do with the politicians you purchase fair and square.

Changes in the bankruptcy laws encouraged great risk-taking in corporations, and a whole financial industry was built up to service the dismantling of companies and the transfer of good manufacturing jobs offshore. Lawyers and financial wizards that produced nothing profited handsomely off the destruction of the middle class. Slurp, slurp. Pension funds were raided for executive bonuses until they were no longer viable and then they were discontinued altogether.

Then came the rollback of taxes on the wealthy. This looked to be a difficult sell, politically, but the less the wealthy contributed to the revenue pie, the more the rest of us had to pick up the slack, with a fee here, a user-tax there, surtaxes that used to come out of the general fund; and suddenly the idea that taxes were the problem--rather than the redistribution of the tax burden--gained credence. So the whole heist can be explained by a combination of propaganda and inattention. What really puzzles the mind, though, is how so many people who  had been fleeced so thoroughly by the wealthy were willing to stand up and demand that the rich be left alone with their wealth, that used to be our wealth.

But trust Nature to have already visited the conundrum! It turns out that a certain cat parasite has come up with a plan to keep itself going forever by finding its way to other cat hosts. It lives and reproduces in the gut of the cat, who then lays a dookie in my garden; and there is sits until a rat gets wind of it and puts it on the old rat menu. It's not what you or I would eat, but we are not here to judge. Now the cat parasite is inside the rat, but it would really like to get back into another cat. So the parasite gets into the rat's brain and discombobulates it such that the rat is now fatally attracted to cat pee. This is not a sensible rat position; this is a derangement. And the rat seeks out cat pee, which, often as not, is near cats, and it gets pounced on and et. And bingo, now the parasite is back in another cat.

So that must be what's happened. Somehow the plutocracy has managed to derange the minds of the 99% such that they beg to be chewed on further. I don't know exactly how they did it, but something definitely stinks around here.

There's some hope for the lemon tree, though. Now that most of the leaves have fallen off the plant, the tiny sucking insects have been exposed. And they have no legs. All we have to do is notice them, and they can be squished.