Saturday, December 30, 2017

Missing Buttons: Out With The Old

"Ten Things You Should Throw Away Right Now."

Sure! I'll click on that. I'll click on that because throwing things away is of personal theoretical interest to me. I'll click on that because I have too much stuff and it feels like a burden. In fact if you come to my house and admire something on my shelves I'll probably give it to you. No, not that thing, but maybe a different thing. I'll click on that because it's almost like really doing something, such as, for instance, throwing something away. I'll click on that because I have laundry to fold and email to answer.

I'll click on that even if it turns out not to be a nice enumerated list I can skim in a half a minute, one through ten, on one page. I'll click on that even it if turns out to be a slide show with the next-slide arrows buried halfway down the page past the first scroll in a muddle of ads and pop-ups that have to be swatted away.

I'll click on it because there might be a good point or two to be made that I hadn't thought of. I'll click on it because my life isn't dwindling away fast enough and if there's no more time to waste, I should find some, and waste it.

"Ten Things You Should Throw Away Right Now." Click.

All righty then. All the stuff on my refrigerator should go. Yeah, there's a point to that, but some of the infants displayed on our fridge aren't out of college yet, and they're not really taking up space. Number two: throw out your old cosmetics. Way ahead of you. Number three: ditch that box of buttons. Say what?

This list has officially lost all credibility. Why in the world would I get rid of my button box? Well, they explain, the odds of your ever needing any of those buttons are vanishingly small; you'll toss out your clothing before it needs a spare button, and the button you need isn't in that box anyway, and the box is taking up space. They have no idea what a button box is for. A button box represents the slim but enticing possibility that you will one day have the exact right thing that you need, yes, but that is the least of its powers. If you slip your hand in a button box you will feel the silky liquid movement of solid objects, all the wealth of coins without the stain of lucre: buttons are the tangible currency of an attentive soul. You can dip your fingers in the buttons and they'll tumble and slide around you like friendly minnows. Your own four-year-old self is in that box and you can visit her with your wrinkled hand any time you want.

What? This is our beer refrigerator.
Number four: Throw away your mattress. The hell! My mattress and I are an item. But, they explain urgently, your average mattress has ten pound of your dead skin cells in it.

So? I was done with those.

Evidently you not only have ten pounds of your dead skin cells in your mattress, but you have a legion of mites that feast on your dead skin cells, and although they will not do anything to you, the entire prospect should fill you with revulsion and a sharp urge to buy a new mattress, according to Mattress! Mattress! Mattress!

Also, puts in Extreme Mattresses Plus, it's not really ten pounds of dead skin cells, but more like double the weight of the original mattress. Mattress Universe suggests something in the middle range, but contributes a magnified photograph of a mite. You should throw out your mattress, is the point.

The hell. If my mattress is full of my deciduous portions and mites are going to town on my former self, that just makes me feel like a good hostess. Have a ball in there, and try to keep it down after ten p.m.

I still have laundry to fold and email to answer, but there's a limit. I'm clicking off. I may be missing a few buttons, but I'm not about to give them away.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

A Poot Too Far

Deep down, who doesn't like farts? The sheer variety of toots that can be emitted from the single instrument is a credit to our creativity. It's all about pressure, volume, and embouchure, but you can't discount practice. I myself have so much affection for the subject that I can still recall individual productions. As a mail carrier, I was accustomed to being on my own, which is helpful if you have performance anxiety. A few stand out.

There was the day I was stuck in an otherwise empty apartment mailroom with sweet old Mrs. Gilbride and a bellyful of burrito. She could not be persuaded to flee the impending blast. Finally I realized she was nearly stone deaf and I cut loose with a mighty boom. Mrs. Gilbride's arms sprang out and she jolted visibly and quacked "What the hell was that?"

In my defense, I believe she did not hear it, but was caught in the concussion.

At the other end of the spectrum was the gentle raindrop plup I emitted one fine day, followed by another, and then the dawning realization that I had enough ammunition in the chamber to plup my way plup plup all the way to the next delivery, one plup by one, and no witnesses in sight, plup plup plup; a discovery that made me so happy I parceled them out plup one per footstep plup with enough in reserve to finish with a slide-whistle flourish plup plup peee-oooooooo-wiiiip! right at the destination mail slot. Where the meter reader stepped out from behind the shrubbery. Damn cheerful fellow, he was.

Then there was the time I got in the elevator in a small apartment building to deliver a package. This apartment was filled with working folk and I rarely saw anyone in there in the daytime. I entered the elevator and filled it with confidence and reminiscences of my most recent lunch. "Other people's farts are disgusting," I remember a comic observing once, "but your own are always kind of interesting."

Mine was. Notes of fennel, garlic-forward, with a structure of pork sausage, and a smooth navy-bean finish.


No one is ever home at that apartment building. Nevertheless the elevator slowed and the door opened and a handsome young man entered with his Labrador retriever. He smiled, moved to the back, and turned toward the door, following protocol. His nose wrinkled.

"Oh, man, I'm sorry. Duke, bad boy!"

"It happens," I smiled, vowing to buy a lottery ticket later.

But I am only a grade-B flatulist in comparison with Dave, the Maestro of Methane. Ever tuneful and creative, with an impressive repertoire, he is also capable of a world-class eruption when sound asleep, a titanic airhorn blast, causing zoo elephants across town to ripple their ears in solidarity, railroad crossing gates to close, and schoolchildren for miles around to file outside and wait for the all-clear. Startled house guests fret, once their heart rates come back down, that he must have injured himself, but they underestimate his stamina and years of training. What does your husband do? acquaintances query, and this is always the first thing that comes to mind.

Also, he's a great cook.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

In Oregon, It's "Rust To Rust"

Slipped away, left this world, lost her battle, entered eternal rest, died, went home, was called home, went  to be with his Lord, succumbed, passed away.  Those, in no order, are the top ten ways we Americans try to not say "died." Except for "died." "Passed away" is the most popular. ("Pissed away" refers to how we spend our lives.) There are regional differences in the words we use. "Died" is popular in North Dakota, for instance, where "bought the farm" isn't all that metaphorical.

Someone calculated the most characteristic death euphemisms for each state based on obituaries.  Here in Oregon I am led to understand we characteristically use "succumbed." I always, always read the obituaries (you know, just in case) and can't remember having seen that word even once. But I like it. "Succumbed" is succinct and apt. If you succumb, you have yielded to an inevitably greater power or force, such as death, which is currently batting a thousand against humanity, all rumors notwithstanding. Relatively few Oregonians are ever called home, or go to be with their Lord. (Oregon ranks first in the nation in churchlessness, beer, and strip joints. I think the strip-joint stat is old news from back before we had internet porn.)

If we get to choose our own verbiage, I'm going with "filled her eternity shorts." But "succumbed" might be the best way to refer to my friend Ruth, who just did it a few days ago. She was not interested in dying. She was a remarkable woman whose sweet face belied her strong convictions. For instance, she despised the medical establishment, and the pharmaceutical industry never sank a single claw in her. Which is unusual for a woman her age.

Generally speaking when a girl gets to be 102, she's kind of ready to go. She might not know how to accomplish it, but she's ready. Not Ruth. She had stacked up a nice neat pile of years and didn't see any reason they couldn't keep on coming. Ruth was about as bright as you can be when you're that old, though we might have lost her two years ago if Trump had been in office. She couldn't have survived getting a congratulatory 100th-birthday card from him, but she liked the Obama one, and promptly signed up for more birthdays. We were getting the idea she'd keep them coming out of sheer habit, but one morning she just succumbed. Or--even better--conceded.

Coincidentally, Dave and I had just taken care of his mom. I found him studying the contents of the dining room hutch, looking for something to evict--he's a neatnik--when his eyes lit on a garish golden box. The Mommie. Dave's mom always signed her cards "The Mommie."

"Let's stick her in the garden," Dave said.

"What? Now?"

Now. He opened the box and retrieved a shockingly large baggie of ashes and bone bits and headed to the back yard. Mom Flambe.

Dave's mom hasn't been around since 1989. In her case, we will say she "clocked out." I don't know what else you can call it when you find her sitting up in her chair with her coffee cup to one side and the newspaper in her lap and the Cubbies on the TV and otherwise lifeless. Her ashes went to live in Dave's sister's closet, where she could visit them when she needed advice, and then two years ago they were "passed on," as it were, to us.

We didn't want them. This kind of thing is not our thing.

What was supposed to happen was she was supposed to be surreptitiously sprinkled on Wrigley Field, but you really have to work at something like that, and we're not ambitious. So the garish golden box ended up in our hutch until now, when Dave took it out the back door.

"How about the compost pile?" I contributed. "That way she'll end up everywhere, if I ever get around to turning it."

We got our neighbor Anna to put on real shoes and come over to witness, because she's a caring soul and already knows we're nuts. I think we laughed a lot but didn't say anything noteworthy as Dave shook out the baggie over our compost pile and began turning it with the pitchfork we're saving for the Revolution. We empty the vacuum cleaner bag for the same reason and with as much ceremony.

We loved The Mommie. But she wasn't in that box.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Declining The Recliner

There are three authorized house mammals here, and only one of them wants my recliner to go away. It's not me or my cat. My recliner is, I am told, disreputable and embarrassing. That's sort of harsh, considering it's only about 34 years old and still works just fine. It's arguably a little worn, but who isn't? You don't abandon things because they're old. You don't just give them the heave-ho. Even the President won't get impeached merely for being massively ugly. The chair works just fine.

People of a certain fancy sensibility find it unattractive. It looks like it belongs in a mobile home four feet from a TV playing a Golden Girls marathon, and that was fifteen years ago. Now it looks like it got relegated to the front deck made of pallets under an awning of corrugated plastic. Our first cat (Saint) Larry loved this chair to ribbons. Our current cat Tater figured she'd finish the job. There is some double-sided tape that was pressed onto the fabric about 25 years ago to annoy the cat, but it's no longer sticky on the cat-side, due to the accumulation of mystery lint. It's plenty sticky on the chair side and I can't peel it off. Larry preferred to love the front end and Tater has picked up the slack on the back, sides, and top. There's wood poking out of the top corners. The top is particularly cushy and wide and she likes to drape herself on it. This is why we call her the Chair Leopard.

So there is also a stratum of cat fur in all the creases and the top. It resembles felt due to the binding effect of the millions of dead skin cells I have contributed. You lose 500 million skin cells a day, or eight billion trillion, depending on whether you believe the Mayo Clinic or the mattress industry. The skin cells are, however, already dead of natural causes, although there should be a small concentrated paste of thigh cells somewhere that were murdered on the spot the day Tater was on my lap and a German Shepherd walked in unannounced.

Additionally there is a sedimentary layer of crumbs and food items which bounced freely off my chest for the first twenty years or rolled straight down without impediment for the last ten. This chair has been with me through thick and not-quite-so-thick. It would be a treasure trove for archaeologists of the future. The actual living shape of the occupant couldn't be clearer if she were abruptly buried in soft sand and fossilized. Details of diet and clothing will be readily discernible. It's possible an antique flu virus could be reconstructed from the drool zone. Two extinct cats could be cloned and set up in an island park for Jeff Goldblum to admire himself next to. He'll still be around, he's always turning up somewhere.

You get rid of an item with this much legacy in it, you might just as well go tromp all over those pterodactyl eggs they found in China, is what I'm saying.

It doesn't bother me to sit around in a pan of skin cells that I was done with. They're not useless; they're feeding an army of dust mites. All told, there are a lot of us who count on this particular recliner. Billions. Anytime I know I am vastly outnumbered I like to sit quietly and blend in, and this chair is the perfect place to do it. There doesn't seem to be any call for getting a new one as long as I continue to have a cat and we both continue to be deciduous.

Besides, Archie Bunker and Frasier's Dad don't have to get rid of their chairs. Is this a gender thing? If I make a stink can I get someone fired?

Tater hangs on.
Do I trade in the chair just because it has a patina and has been exfoliated and one person is scandalized by it? Assuming I love him? Yeah. Shit. I guess so. Goodbye, old friend.

The chair, not the person.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

One Way To Screw

When it comes to screwing, I like to stick with what works. The problem is there are way too many ways to do it.

It's just another sign I should have been born in the 19th century when life was simple and no one wore underpants and everybody screwed the same way. I've said it before. Too many choices do not make a person happier. Too many choices just make you feel like an idiot.

You start out with God's own screw, the slot-head, and  it makes perfect sense. No need to get all fancy. Then you run into your first Phillips screw and everything you thought you knew about the world flies out the window, but you adjust. You even get to like it. Your screwdriver doesn't slide around. You feel super competent. "What have we here?" you might say, calmly. "Why, it's a Phillips-head screw. I shall fetch my Phillips screwdriver." It's like you're in a special club.

But recently I needed a screw for something and I looked around the basement, which Dave has stocked with all sorts of metallic mystery items, and all I could find were screws that weren't slotted or Phillips, but had little asterisks in them instead, and I couldn't think of any reason that should be unless someone was deliberately trying to mess with me. Trick screws. There you are in the 19th century and you go to plink away at your parlor piano, and all of a sudden it won't work without the special mittens you don't have any of. Why? Why?

Righty tighty, lefty loosey. So far, at least, that's still universal. Those of us with sieves for brain-pans need a mnemonic like this. I use it every single time. Say I'm trying to screw in a screw and it won't bite: I wonder if I'm turning it correctly. Maybe it's backwards when I'm upside down, which I arguably am, from the standpoint of people in the contrary hemisphere. And because I have no ability to manipulate objects spatially in my head (this is why I still don't understand the phases of the moon), I have to actually act it out. I make a twiddly motion with my finger as though I am turning a screw and then stick my head under my hand and look up, and sure enough the screw is going left when I'm going right, so no wonder the sucker won't budge. It's just one of those things I'm not meant to understand, like how somewhere in the world it's yesterday, or like how toilets at the equator are too confused to flush. Righty tighty, I repeat to myself with conviction, and the screw still won't move, and then I start looking for nails and glue. Screw screws.

There have been screws since the Middle Ages. No one ever found any screwdrivers, but their existence was inferred from the presence of the screws. We still don't know where all the screwdrivers are. But the screws were simple slots.

I complain to Dave about his asterisk screws. There is bitterness in my voice.

Calm down. It's just a Torx screw. You need a different bit.

Where does this end?

There are hexagons and clutches and Robertson Square Sockets and Allens and fluted sockets and Frearsons and Pozidrivs and Bristol Splines and Tri-Wings and Thunderbolt Grease-Slappers and this, all of this, is clearly the work of hostile forces indifferent to my self-esteem or my desire to become a handy-citizen.

Calm down now. It's not always about you. Each of these has a perfectly good reason for existing.

Like what?

Like this one can be engaged at more frequent angles by the driver bit, and that one allows more torque to be applied before the screw cams out.

I suspect I'm being deliberately brainswoggled but after a while I'm able to accept that it is implausible there is a world-wide conspiracy to target my insecurities, and eventually I've recovered sufficiently to attempt to fix the coffeemaker. If it can't make coffee, it's just another big piece of plastic that's going to end up in an albatross some day. Fortunately, according to the Googles, it's a simple fix. The water tube needs to be cleaned out. You access it from the bottom. There will be two screws to undo and then it's all presto reamo.

The two screws are slotted-spanner tamper proof. We do not have a screwdriver to do a simple fix on a $20 coffeemaker. No one does. The manufacturers of coffee makers hate me, and also albatrosses.  Our screwdrivers are good for nothing.

Stabbing. They're good for stabbing.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

And We Shall Purify

Boy howdy, some year, huh? We women are getting us some justice after a lifetime of abuse, or possibly the whole of human history--anyway we're finally holding the boys to account, and it's exhilarating. We got 'em by the balls and we're dribbling down the court for the score. Seems like the good guys were due for some kind of win, since it didn't work out for Colin Kaepernick and the gang when they tried to respectfully point out that the police were getting away with murdering them. You could sort of see why they might be aggrieved, what with all the death, not to mention the previous three hundred years of dehumanization, but unfortunately for them it turned out they were just overpaid niggers who hated America, as the President clarified, and they didn't get much traction. Maybe some other year. Maybe more death. Maybe it's not quite their time yet.

But it's sure our time now, right, ladies? We are done with being groped and cat-called and having to keep quiet lest we lose our jobs and the whole bit, which we get to call the Rape Culture because there's nothing that can be said that hyperbole doesn't say even better and louder. Women are refusing to remain silent in the face of oppression and men are finally learning how pervasive it has been. This is a good thing. Many men were unaware of what we've been going through, especially the ones who up till now had labored under the delusion they were innocent even though they are clearly equipped to be on the rapist side of the rape culture ledger.

This is particularly fun for me because I've never been in a mob. I was only one year old when Joe McCarthy was in his heyday, so my memory of it is patchy, although I certainly remember "the Commies" serving as the bad guys for decades. (We call them Muslims now.) Of course this is different. All those people accused weren't actual Commies and it shouldn't have mattered if they were, whereas now we know who's truly guilty on account of all the penises. It's wonderful to see men getting what they deserve. From off-color jokes to rape, it's all the same. We're through.

Show you just how much we mean it: we'll take down good ol' Al Franken. He's been an effective senator on the right side of durn near everything when we don't have any good senators to spare, but he engaged in shenanigans. Sometime. Probably. Ha ha! Take that, Al! Bet you're sorry you allegedly did all that stuff you probably might have done! Sure, it's the kind of stuff I've done myself, like butt-grabbing without permission, and if you'd done it to me it probably wouldn't have offended me or the next fifteen women, but it offended at least a few, and that should be that. It's our time now, baby. We've got a big net and we're fixing to catch a lot of men in it. We've all been groped and leered at but we ourselves are pure and we're taking you down. Zero tolerance, baby. It's the very definition of principled.

Maybe another day we'll have time to take aim at some other principles. Maybe we'll take a hatchet to radical capitalism and the party that primarily promotes it, the politicians who serve none but the rich and have seen no commons that shouldn't be privatized for profit, no resource that shouldn't be mined or harvested for profit, no population that shouldn't be demonized or destabilized or destroyed to smooth the way for more profit, no warmaking that can't be turned to profit. Who feel no shame about stumping for guns and against abortion whether they care about those things or not, because it will fool so many people into voting for them, so they can continue to wreck everything for profit. Who will happily devastate the living earth. For profit.

Talk about your rape culture.

[Author's note: today is International Margaret Day! You all know what to do!]

Saturday, December 9, 2017

86 The 86

Squirrels are all around us in the environment, occasionally seeping into our houses, where they manufacture mayhem in the form of gnawing on things that do not belong to them, such as electrical wiring, with the ultimate goal of setting us on fire or otherwise demolishing our bank accounts, and you can't always see them, but you know where they've been because they leave behind little piles of masticated figs, in season. And that's how you can tell them from radon.

Radon is even sneakier. Radon cannot be seen or felt, and nevertheless can cause great harm, just like squirrels or the plutocracy. It is a colorless and odorless gas and has such a strong invisibility component that it can make an entire high school disappear, as it did not too long ago right here in Northeast Portland. As the sad case of the disappearing high school demonstrates, radon is not a problem at all until it's detected, and then all hell breaks loose, in spite of which people are now working on more detection instead of less.

Formerly Adams High School
Radon was discovered initially over a hundred years ago and was often found to be lurking in coal mines and causing lung cancer in miners, which led to a demand for more ventilation in mines, thus rendering them safe as hell except for the coal dust, explosions, and the possibility of imminent mountain collapse. Once the mines were taken care of, nobody gave a shit about radon for a good 85 years, until a nuclear power plant worker named Stanley showed up at work glowing eerily. He, alone among his coworkers, tested high for radiation, so someone followed him home and discovered his house packed with radon. This led to job growth and a healthy boom time for radon detection and mitigation.

The gas seeps up naturally from the ground, chiefly in County Cork, Ireland and Iowa, but also in random locations all over the world, possibly including your house. Look around: can you see or smell anything? If not, you may have radon. The gas is light enough to get into your house but heavy enough to hang out primarily in your basement. It is so sneaky and particular it can even register in one room of your house but not another, and the only way to determine this without a radon detector is to place a middle-aged person in each room, with cable TV and snacks, and wait to see which one gets lung cancer.

There are various ways to mitigate radon in the home. One can punch holes in the house sufficient to let the radon out and keep the cat in, or, better yet, lift the home up on stilts and throw a rubber sheet under it over a ventilation system to coax the radon out from under the sheet and into your neighbor's house. Both options are a pain in the ass that would never have been necessary before that nuclear power plant worker messed things up for us. Gone are the golden days when people just up and died natural and nobody said boo about it. Clearly there is no upside to detecting radon in your home unless you're a smoker, in which case you can take a high radon reading as a reason to say well fuck it and go ahead and smoke inside like you always wanted to.

You'll still need a BB gun for the squirrels.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Ecclesiastes 5:10

An editor in our local rag put in a nice Thanksgiving piece saying how grateful she is to rich people for paying all our taxes for us. Most of us don't contribute much at all, says she, and it is the very wealthy who are supplying the bulk of our revenue. (Thank you, rich people, and please accept our outsized contribution of sacrificial humans for the war machine you make money on.)

It never occurs to her to think there's anything wrong with the fact that a slim sliver of the population has so goddamn much money that they can pretty much fund the government they're trying to shrink, or the interest on the swelling national debt, and yet they're still rich. But there is something wrong here. It's unconscionable. It's immoral. You can take the Pope's word on that, or Jesus's, even though only one of them is a Christian.

There are a few ways to get filthy rich, but they don't track real well with merit. Some of the folks who got hold of a good idea and had decent entrepreneurial skills managed to accumulate a lot of money, and they are busy trying to give it away as fast as they can, which is what any mentally healthy person with too much money would do. Others are just buying warehouses to stash their money in and giving away only so much as it takes to buy off Congress and get them even more money. These people don't need more money. They need therapy.

Most of the truly wealthy have stolen it. You don't need a gun. We're all stealing. When we consume palm oil, which is in everything, we steal land and livelihood from indigenous peoples. We steal our children's future by dumping carbon from deforestation into our atmosphere. We're able to buy stuff cheap because our slave class is in another country. We murder people in the Congo to acquire the minerals for our cell phones. Everything has a cost, even if we prefer to ignore it.

The rich people's money is not theirs. It's stolen too. We used to have living-wage jobs in this country. We used to have pensions. We were doing all right. Then came the campaign to eviscerate the labor unions. Wages stagnated or tumbled and the increased profits that resulted went to the investor class. Our plodding but reliable pensions gave way to the "ownership society." We could do so much better on our own if we just hand over our reduced wages to the financial sector. Only we didn't do better. We gambled it on a game we didn't understand and someone else got the big pot. And it's gone. It's stolen. It trickled straight uphill and we won't see it again. And if anyone truly believed this concentrated wealth was earned or deserved, there would be no talk of repealing the estate tax.

Did you hear Senator Chuck Grassley (age 134, plus or minus fifty years) the other day? He was asked why we should reward the already-wealthy by repealing the estate tax. Why, says he, that's to show a little appreciation to the people who sweated and saved their pennies and invested and contributed to society. Senator Grassley says the rest of us working stiffs spent our money on booze and women and movies.

Booze, and women, and movies.

Oh, Senator Grassley, I do declare! Thank you for standing up for all us little ladies at home in our calico frocks who would be in the catbird seat right now if our worthless husbands wasn't squandering our butter money on booze and broads. Please go right after our Medicare next so the sons of bitches will realize whut they done and mend their ways! But Senator, suh? We do love us some movin' pitchers and a little sarsaparilla now and then. Is that so bad?

Seriously, little senator dude? If you believe a wealthy man--let's assume it's a man, since you do--should be rewarded for his thrift and foresight and hard work, over and above the reward of his own wealth, whyever would you want to dump a ton of money on his kids' heads? Let them scrimp and save, if that's what you truly admire. Let us all start out equal. Heh heh. Just kidding. We ain't at the same starting line. We ain't even in the same race.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

We Heard It From On High

Fake news angel. Angels aren't girls.
Did you know Angelology is a thing? The study of angels? I'm going to admit right up front: I suspicioned that, stacked up against the other sciences, it might lack rigor. But I was wrong. It's got rigor out the wazoo.

My primary source is an article by a gentleman who graduated from seminary school fifty years ago, became a pastor, died, and went home to be with the Lord, so he's got credentials. Dr. Keathley pointed out that just as there are many forms of life lower than Us, we should expect that there are forms superior to us, if not quite as fancy as God. If there was nothing between us and God, that would be like a vacuum. In space. Which would be silly. So dollars to doughnuts it's filled up with angels.

Not only that, but almost all of the heathen mythologies posit the existence of lesser deities. We generally ignore heathen mythologies, but they had to have gotten the idea from somewhere, even if they got everything else wrong, like God's first name.

But the possibility of angels becomes a certainty when we realize that the Bible told us so. Because the Bible is God's word. We know this because God himself told us, and God wouldn't lie outright, although he was not above messing with Job just for fun. Even the weird bits in the Bible that contradict each other are proof that it must be God's word, on account of He is mysterious. Slam dunk, in the can, mortal lock, shut the front door.

As supporting evidence for the existence of angels, we can start with the fact that God is Spirit; and there's a material kingdom, and an animal kingdom, and a human kingdom, so it stands to reason--I believe it's reason it stands to--that there is a spiritual kingdom also, with angels in it. (Dr. Keathley leaves out the viral kingdom and the phlegmish kingdom but those should remain below us, unless there is a terrible reckoning down the line.) Also there is the undisputed fact that a significant portion of Americans believe they have felt the presence of one or more angels, although not as many as believe in aliens and trickle-down economics.

Now THIS is an angel.
What a lot of people don't know is that eventually, if we play our cards right, we will surpass the angels and even be in a position to judge them, and wouldn't that be awesome. Our ace in the hole is that we were created in the image of God and the angels weren't. Yes, we just learned the angels are not physical but spiritual just like God, but if God weren't spirit he'd totally look like us. So once we're redeemed, we'll slide right by them into the end zone and score. Nanner nanner, angels.

I'm willing to go along with this up to a point, even the biblical fact that angels were created before the earth (so, over 6,000 years ago), but when humans arrange that convenient end run around the angels I surmise God's Word has undergone some editing. This is a suspiciously fine result for ourselves. I'm not anticipating it myself. I don't suppose if anyone were to redeem me they'd even get so much as a toaster out of the deal.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Rugs Of Doom

We love Tibetan rugs. They're sumptuous and thick and artsy-craftsy and they must be tasteful, because they cost a billion dollars. Twenty years ago we bought one for the piano room. We probably should have gotten the larger size, but we only had a half billion in our pants at the time.

Piano room, living room, dining room: they're all small and right next to each other, and Dave, who splurges once every forty years (so far) thought we should get Tibetans for all three. Horrible idea! All those colors and designs jumbled together! Chaos! Plus if we got a patterned rug for the living room we'd have to reupholster the furniture. I thought maybe we could get one for the dining room, though. So I went online to see if I could find something affordable.

Yes! I found a rich rosy-red rug with green in the border to match our dark green wallpaper. It looked fabulous in the thumbnail picture on the website. Kind of spendy, so it had to be good. When it arrived, it was duly stunning! Stunning-ish. Vibrant colors, but a little on the thin side. Kind of a sparse design, once you see it full size. But hey! It was shipped and paid for and I decided to love it. It was good! It was good enough.

Kind of.  I mean, jeez, there are those little threads that keep poking out, and it looks a little shreddy, and it won't stay vacuumed for five seconds. But it's fine. Just fine.

Kind of. But then I saw an ad for new Tibetan rugs in town that were practically half price almost. Still expensive of course. But half price! Almost! I told Dave maybe we could just take a little look-see. No charge for looking.

Man, that there is a beautiful rug. And it only costs another fifth more than the rug we already bought that is really kind of shreddy.  Can't justify replacing  that rug though, unless--I know! We can put it in the TV room where nothing is ever clean anyway! That way we won't have wasted the Thin Shreddy But Expensive Red Rug.

"You can always take this rug for a test drive in your home," the rug pusher lady said.

"I could see if it works with the green wallpaper," I said. "I mean, I doubt it, but it might. I certainly am not about to scrape off wallpaper and repaint."

No way it was going to work with the green wallpaper, which I am in no mood to scrape off. I haven't painted a room in this house for twenty years, when I painted all of them, so one could make the case they needed a little freshening up, but that's not the case I was planning to make. I was planning to make the case that any wear and tear would coincide with my own failing eyesight and enhanced ability to not give a shit, and the rooms could remain as is until they finally hauled me out the front door on a gurney, and the new owners could waltz in with a sprayer and a vat of Eggshell White and have a ball. That was my plan.

"You could try it out," the rug lady said again. Well, we could. That doesn't cost anything. So we did.

Rats! Rats! I LOVE the new rug. And it totally doesn't work with the wallpaper, at all. But I could take the wallpaper down and repaint. It would totally be worth it.

"What was your plan for the red rug again?" Dave wanted to know. "Because we could put it in the living room just for now."

It sounded chaotic, but after all, we had the rug already.

"Shoot, might as well try it," I said. "Just for now." His ideas are not always horrible.

We tried it. It looked amazingly not horrible. And besides that, it was now obvious that we really needed a rug in that room. It was way better than the bare floor. Maybe not that exact rug, although it was truly amazingly not horrible. But a different rug. I consulted the rug pusher lady again. We found a good possibility. It was in a warehouse in New Jersey, but maybe they had a deal. Maybe it had a minor flaw and it would be less expensive.

Good news! It did have a flaw and it was less expensive. Not less expensive than the mail-order rug, or the rug I just bought, or any rug I ever contemplated buying ever in my life, but way less expensive than it would have been without a flaw. It was practically a steal. For that kind of rug. I mean, it's just money, right? Just something we'd have wasted on nursing care down the road or something.

Of course, we'd have to have our furniture reupholstered. The green worked with the green wallpaper that has to come down, but it probably doesn't work with the new rug that we might be buying in place of the red rug that will go in the TV room that needs to be repainted. The living room will have to be repainted too. We should probably spring for an arts-and-crafts light fixture in the dining room.

Of  course, if we do paint the living room and dining room, and we leave the door open to the stairs, the color in the stairwell carpeting will look a little weird. And that color goes all the way upstairs to the landing and the wall-to-wall matches it and sort of determines all the other wall colors, furnishings, and quilts I've made over the years.

"Shut the door," said Dave, whose ideas are not always horrible.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Paunch And Judy

Everything was fascinating and new when I was a little kid, and old-lady necks were no exception. They had variety. They wobbled. You couldn't not look. I tried to duplicate that movement on my own self by vigorously wagging my head from side to side, and nothing happened. That kind of activity would win you a trip to the neurologist these days, but my parents just had a glance and went back behind the newspaper, happy that I was occupied quietly. We kids were assured that old ladies had been young once, but that wasn't plausible. Old Lady Neck was just one of those puzzlements.  It wasn't natural; it was like an installation.

Now I know it's the dead giveaway for age. It's the first thing to go. The rest of the face has all those bones in it that can keep a secret for a while but there's nothing much instilling discipline in the neck. You've got that little string of knobby bones hooking up to the skull, but that's way in the back. The back of your neck usually looks just fine. So when the collagen takes a hike, your neck skin has all the integrity of a campaign promise. There might be a way of hitching it all back up again, but it would involve voluntarily presenting your neck to someone with a knife. I guess there are people who will sign up for that, but there's no real point as long as beer is still so affordable.

I've complained about my neck before, of course. I've been watching this particular story unwind for twenty years and it has had its startling plot twists, but I can only feel bad about things for so long. That initial pudding phase seems downright quaint now. And I can admit that the pleating development supplied needed tension. There was that adorable subplot wherein the main character vowed never to point her chin downward when someone else was around, but that never got traction. Now we're entering a new chapter. My neck has developed factions.

Factions. It's not all of a piece anymore. There are tuck areas and crease areas and a separate location where a sinkhole is beginning to emerge, and now I see an interesting pair of knobs at the base of the chin that sort of look like suitcase handles when I do a Grumpy Cat face, so that my entire frown appears to be holding up a duffle. Or, in a different light, it looks like stage rigging. The chin line is thus responsible for operating the set of curtains that billow and swing below. I don't know exactly what's coming next, but God, I hope it's going to be a puppet show.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Phallically Burdened

Well goodness gracious, it hardly seems possible that it's been such a big secret all this time that women (A) are frequently devalued and harassed and worse and (B) don't like it, but evidently that's the latest news. Like, we've had five thousand years of recorded history and it's just coming up now.

I don't know why, to take a common yet current example, a man would grab a woman and jam his tongue into her face. I do know that it always comes as a shock--you don't see it coming. And that it's not trivial. It's gross as hell. It feels like you're being probed by an alien, but not in a good way.

Some of us are mad as hell and aren't going to take it anymore, and others of us have a more nuanced reaction. The really angry, take-no-prisoners women tend to skew younger, in my observation. Some of us elders perhaps have more expectation that things will change. We're having a moment here, and things are going to be different. We base this on having had more decades of seeing things actually change. The degree to which women used to be considered a decorative, inferior form of human can hardly be imagined now. It used to be a staple of comedy that "girls" were to be chased around the boss's desk, or sit around home waiting to be comforted when their cakes fell flat. Our concerns were trivial, and our reactions childlike. We were lesser beings. We were inconsequential.

When I was a kid, I accumulated some forty-plus stuffed animals and every one of them was a male, except for rubber-faced Mrs. Teddybear, who was a hand-me-down. She wasn't interesting. The rest had jobs and hobbies and personalities. Almost none of my classmates' moms worked outside the home. We grew up to be "Women's Libbers." That was a pejorative, but it did get us out and about, and able to have our very own checking accounts, even if we were still expected to cook the brown rice casseroles for the boys running the revolution.

One reason this old broad gives more leeway to certain miscreants than others is that I remember being a part of it all, doing things that shouldn't have been done, going along with things that used to be considered comedic, playing it for laughs. It's well established that I couldn't enter politics if I wanted to because there's way too much shit in my closet. There's not much (and not many) I haven't done. I've got plenty to be ashamed of, if I were inclined that way and had a memory. And even so, I think I'm an okay person with stuff to offer the world. I think some of the men who have something to atone for are, too. Check for signs of authentic contrition: it exists. We need way more women in positions of power in every field, but males should be allowed to evolve. And I trust they will.

I'm not saying my former complicity with the patriarchy is on a par with the unearned, malignant power of the males who exploited it. I don't suppose much of what I did actually hurt anyone. I probably haven't even broken any hearts, except for that one guy back in '71, and he really wasn't emotionally stable, just between you and me.

So yes, I think things can and will change. I never thought people would stop lighting up cigarettes any damn where they wanted. I never though people would pick up dog poop. Yet the air is fresh and I can go months without having to scrape my shoes against the curb.

Many men are now worried that "anything" they might do or say will be misinterpreted. But, guys, it's pretty simple. Pretend, as hard as you can, that women are fully your equals, until it starts to feel natural. And be willing to take no for an answer. It's quite easy to know when a line is being crossed. At least, it is for us. We've negotiated and enjoyed years of friendly banter and flirtation and never had any trouble finding that line. We can feel it. We know when someone is looking right through us and not seeing us. We know when we've been discounted. We know when someone is assuming ownership, is prepared to take possession. When we have a situation on our hands.

Let's get it all out there and put men on notice their secrets are no longer safe with us, and things will change. They will. It's happened before. But let's remember there are degrees of offense. A humiliating or dismissive ass-pat isn't as bad as a forcible kiss. Which is not as bad as rape. Which is not as bad as murder. Which is not as bad as war.

Which is not as bad as plundering a sweet planet and extinguishing its life-forms and enslaving its humans in order to shovel ever more treasure into a few, fat pockets. Focus, people, focus.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Angels And Pinheads

I took some philosophy courses in college. They were fun. There you are, just you and your noodle, batting stuff around. I doubt I'd do as well in philosophy now. My ability to concentrate took off for the corner store years ago and hasn't come back. Ask me how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, and I'll start batting away, but my racket's come unstrung.

It's likely that wasn't meant to be a serious question anyway. These days it's used to make fun of people wasting time on ridiculously trivial points when there are more important things to think about. Like debating who is the ickiest Democrat of them all when the Republicans are busy burning up the entire planet. But in medieval times some people really did wonder about that angel thing. It was a way of considering the nature of angels, and whether they occupied any space at all. There is some consensus that they do not have a physical nature even though there are all those paintings suggesting otherwise. And that they're mostly men and chubby babies. What they are instead, it is said, are pure intelligences, and as such any number of them might be able to share a pinhead.

Which is a little silly. Let's face it: intelligences are not all equal. Some are stronger than others. Why, some intelligences could knock other intelligences right off the pin and take their lunch money. So I would posit that not all the available angels are going to dance on the same pin.

Moreover, I don't think any of them do. If there were angels on my pins, my sewing would go smoother. This, of course, assumes that any given angel would have some interest in how my quilts turn out, and it's entirely likely that they aren't giving it any thought at all. In general, I don't look to angels for comfort or advice. I can see how somebody might, but I'm too much of an introvert. You can wish for heavenly guidance all day long, but at some point you're going to have to do the dishes yourself.

So I haven't spent too much time on the angel density issue. I'm more interested in how many maggots can dance on the eyeball of a deceased rodent. This is of immediate importance to me, because we had a monster hatch of flies here last week. One day, no flies; next day, bazillion flies. Right now there are flies every the hell where around here. There's some evidence they came up from the basement. We didn't smell anything, but there might be a dead mouse behind the walls where we can't see it, and it got some flies all sexed up. With any luck, all the resulting maggots started life at the same time and will also drop dead around the same time. We've been hurrying up that process, but we're getting Swatter's Elbow. So that's why I'd like to know how many critters we're dealing with. Because I'm assuming this is all one litter.

The adult fly, it says here, lives for about 28 days, or as long as a standard uterine lining. We should see a significant decline in a month, then, assuming they don't get busy again. I can handle a month.

The angels don't creep me out as much, even though, according to the literature, they demonstrate some serious stalkerish qualities. They can get up on that pinhead and dance all they want, and I won't object no matter how many of them there are. I figure one good Flying Spaghetti Monster could cream the whole crew.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Seeing C.K.

Ah, man, I can't stay mad at Louis C.K.

I know I'm supposed to. There are rules. And currently the rule is anyone who does anything creepy to an unwilling woman or girl is off the planet. We are so done with that. Out goes the bathwater: screw the baby. "He was one of my heroes," people say, "but now he's dead to me."

He's not dead to me. He is brilliant and funny, my two favorite things. This is a man who managed to express my precise opinion on abortion, hilariously. That shouldn't even be possible. I like him a whole lot and that hasn't changed. I'm not suggesting other people should feel the same way. You should feel what you feel.

Actually, my transgression is even worse. I didn't even get mad at Louis C.K. I was just like, aww, dude.

I've had my own stories of contending with bad or worse male behavior. But I do not maintain a reservoir of rage that must be kept on boil. I know people who can steam for days over a perceived slight from a store clerk. I'm luckier: there's nothing that has ever been done to me that I haven't quickly either forgotten or forgiven. I'm not proud of this, because I didn't have to work at it. It's as natural to me as my eye color.

People can't understand how someone they admire can have this awful dark side. It doesn't make sense to them. But humans don't necessarily make sense. Humans are complicated. They're big bulgy bags of contradictions: they're full of heart and full of shit both; they're a cluster bomb of bon-bons and thumbtacks and honey and bullets. There may be no way to reconcile the contradictions, but it is thumpingly obvious they exist. And they're not rare.

Most of us have things we're ashamed of, that we won't tell anybody. It's the human condition, but it does seem like you're in for a harder haul of it if you own a penis. Them little buggers is opinionated. And there aren't too many guys who aren't going to give those opinions some weight.  "I don't know," they'll say to their penises. "That seems wrong. Still, you make a good point."

Sheep. Knotholes. The neighbor's wife. Or daughter. Guaranteed there's more than one man in this world who is in love with his sofa, and its soft vinyl buttons. Or your sofa. There's a load of shame out there. Maybe someone will just be a garden-variety adulterer. Maybe he'll go to his grave knowing he was as good as he could be, but wishing he'd scrubbed his browser history first.

And yes, I know that there is a difference between having urges and acting on them, and between acting on them appropriately and foisting them on others. There's also a difference in the effect a person might have on others. In identical scenarios, one victim might be scarred for life, and another not even consider herself a victim. There's a huge range of misbehaviors and reactions to those misbehaviors.

We once had a mayor and governor who arguably did more than any other person to make Portland what it is; he was smart, powerful, a visionary. We were poised to be another sprawling, car-centric metropolis, but instead we are now a tidy, contained bundle of vibrant neighborhoods, and a crucible of creativity. We will always be in this man's debt. But he groomed a 14-year-old girl for sex, kept it quiet for decades, and was never brought to justice. Now this man cannot even show his face in this town. Doesn't matter what else he did.

The patriarchy hurts men, also.

I don't condone any of this shit. But I don't write people off readily. Maybe it's easier to see things in black and white, but I can't do it. I'm going to draw a distinction between a congressman who sends dick pics and disgraces himself, and a president who boasts of overpowering women he does not even consider fully human. I'm willing to ignore a senator who plays footsie in the bathroom stall to negotiate sex with strangers--unless he has made a point of pushing anti-gay legislation. I understand the malignant role of power when a movie mogul forces himself on starlets; I'm less persuaded that Louis C.K. was in a similar position of power, although that case has been made. Louis C.K. has a personal problem that he made someone else's problem, but he was his own worst victim: he humiliated himself. By his own hand. As it were.

How can a man as brilliant as he is also be a portly old wanker? Well, he is. And that doesn't erase the good.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Boarders

That first year in this house, although I had swept up plenty of tiny little dropped hints, I didn't lay my eyes on an actual working mouse for several months. I was on the phone with my friend Katie at the time, and I saw it zipping by in the kitchen, and, if memory serves, I yelled EEK and pulled my feet up on the sofa like a girl. She talked me down and stayed on the phone until  I had walked into the kitchen and looked around, because she suspected otherwise I'd be stuck on the sofa all night with a bladder full of beer, which was true. Even then I was more comfortable with invisible mice than audacious ones.

Which makes no sense. If there is such a thing as collective memory in a species, there should have been no mice anywhere near me. I had recently spent two years of my life dispatching lab mice in violent ways, and even though those days were over, any alert mouse should have gotten a creepy feeling as though there were little white mouse heads on toothpick pikes all around the perimeter. That image should have been wired right into their brains. And I've seen their brains. Lots of them. So there's no reason I should be afraid of a mouse. It should work the other way. It's all context, I suppose. Plastic boxes of biddable mice in a lab are one thing, and a single mouse with an agenda in my kitchen is quite another.

They still startle me, but I got used to them. We don't get all that many. And we've had a cat for almost thirty years.  Not the same cat. Larry was very interested in chasing mice. I don't know if her eyes were that good. She'd track one down, and it would skeeter out from under her and head for the hinterlands, but she could not be peeled away from where she'd seen it last. I'd get exasperated to the point of picking her up and lobbing her at the specific hinterland I knew the mouse had gone to but she'd snap right back to her legacy location. Basically, Larry was always going to be the last kid picked for the mousing team.

Tater is more businesslike. She's caught a few of them, and, unlike Larry, she renders them inoperable right away. She's a Git-R-Done kind of cat. The other night we found a gigantic mouse stiff on its back in the basement. Saints be praised, Tater is apparently not the type to drop prizes on the bedcovers.

We haven't gotten enough mice to keep her entertained, over the years. But this year might be different. Just as soon as it gets dark out, things start scurrying. There are ominous scratching noises behind the wallboard. There's thumping. Someone has set up a bowling alley in the basement rafters. There's a party going on in the crawl space and another on the roof. They couldn't make more noise with a vuvuzela. Skittering is one thing: I have no desire to know what's making all this racket.

And that was before something moved into the attic above the kitchen. Whatever it is, it's big. And gallopy. I snuck a peek through the access door, but slammed it shut again as soon as I saw the disco ball. The furniture has been shoved aside for a Twister mat. I hear pinball. Back when I was feeling more optimistic, I thought it was a squirrel. Then a bunch of squirrels. Or rats. Or some major rodent. Or a raccoon, which isn't even a rodent at all, but an animal so untrustworthy no other mammal wants to share a genus with it. But even raccoons aren't capable of hauling in a billiards table and getting it leveled. This sucker is loud. This sucker is huge.  I did an internet search. Biggest rodent. I think it's a capybara. There's a capybara in our attic.

I don't know how a capybara managed to squeeze into our attic. But when you think about it, squeezing into our attic is no big feat for an animal that walked all the way over here from South America during fire season. And I have no plans to get the ladder and flashlight again and have a look.

As always, invisible works for me.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

How To Hide A 3,000-Pound Pineapple

See, if I did happen upon a nodosaur, which looks like a 3,000-pound tailed cockroach with spiky armor, it might not occur to me that it would benefit from any sort of camouflage. Modern enormous animals such as the somewhat smaller rhinoceros just stand around all big and gray and obvious because nothing is really likely to take them down, and they know it. (They've missed the bet with modern humans, but it's too late to come up with a new plan now.)

But studies suggest that the nodosaur did use protective coloration, which is an extremely neat possible fact that scientists have only just maybe discovered.  (There is disagreement among paleontologists, and until there is more of a consensus, or until the nodosaur becomes the focus of a new religion, we shall not employ terms of certainty.) Specifically, it is thought that at least one particular nodosaur--Borealopelta markmitchelli, named for the very excited fellow who spent seven years preparing its fossil with tweezers and a gnat's paintbrush--employed a camouflage strategy called "countershading," in which the top of the animal is darker than the bottom, or belly. Modern examples include the deer.

There are a few currently operating mammals that use the exact opposite of countershading--light on top and dark underneath--to signal to the world that they, personally, do not give a shit, and are thus dangerous and unpredictable (skunk; honey badger). But countershading is more popular in readily-edible animals.

Presumably countershading makes the deer, say, harder to make out in the landscape. Its shape is altered, for one thing. "Oh look," your mountain lion might say, "there's the top half of a deer floating through the woods. Crumb! I prefer belly meat. I suppose I shall let it go." Nevertheless deer are routinely caught and eaten, which might happen if light conditions illuminate the belly side instead, and conceal the top part with all the scary pointy bits on it.

Try to spot the deer.
No, no, no, that's not how countershading works. Ha ha! What's really happening can be illustrated with a plain beach ball or a particularly round deer. The object throws shade on itself so that the lower half of it looks darker than the top half.  If the lower half  is lighter in color, the natural shading will make it look more uniform and two-dimensional and thus harder to see.

"That looks almost like a nice, chewy nodosaur," an ancient theropod might say.

"Except it looks like just a cartoon of a nodosaur," the ancient theropod's buddy might say back. Both carnivores watch the landscape for a while, the ancient breezes riffling through the feathers on their tiny forearms.

"Wait just a minute," Theropod One says. "There's no such thing as a cartoon yet!" And the pouncing begins.

This tells us a few things. One: if an armored pineapple the size of a rhinoceros needed protective coloration, there were some seriously bad-ass predators in the Cretaceous (about which there is, indeed, some consensus). Two: scientists are marvelous.  The presumed coloration of Mark Mitchell's dinosaur was posited by teasing out a chemical signature of the breakdown of a reddish pigment from 100,000,000-year-old fossilized skin. These days, your average middle-aged woman can't go a week without her roots showing.

Another possibility, of course, is that there was some bad-ass vegetation in  the Cretaceous that needed sneaking up on. They've still got the stomach of Borealopelta intact, with its last meal inside. Stay tuned.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

This Is About A Box Of Dicks

Picture a big ol' box of dicks. They're wriggling around, they're eating oats. Something about that image just sticks with you. It's hard to stop thinking about it, especially if you have ever admired a worm bin. It's jolly.

It may not strictly be a real thing. In fact, there is some talk that it is more like a bird's nest of dicks, and not a box at all.

But this is the very image brought to us courtesy of a Heinrich Kramer--"Heinie" to his friends--who presented it in his 1487 opus, Malleus Maleficarum. In this book he lays out the case against witches along with advice on how to spot them and try them and burn them to a crisp. He was also the chief proponent of the idea that witches were mainly women, who were disproportionately drawn to the Devil due to their insatiable lust. At least, one assumes he was not able to satisfy them.

Women do seem to get a bad rap in certain circles that usually do not contain women. There is a very good reason for this, and it is that women have a way of making men feel funny in the tummy, but then they can't always be counted on to do anything about it, and that ticks the men off. Women shouldn't be able to just go around willy-nilly bewitching people into feeling things they can't control. 'Specially the real purty ones, amiright, Heinie?

Mr. Kramer was a Catholic clergyman with a particular interest in witches and he wrote his book shortly after he had to leave Innsbruck. He had been accused of inappropriate behavior; also, during a tribunal, he displayed such lurid and obsessive interest in the sexual habits of a female on trial that he even creeped out the bishop, who thought he was crazy and expelled him from the city.

One would think that would be that, but there's a lot of evidence that being crazy is not an impediment to political success, especially if you're really sure of yourself. Kramer soon received explicit approval from the pope via some Bull to continue to prosecute witches and then he wrote his book and went all in. About that box of penises: apparently, men kept discovering their penises missing, or much reduced, or inoperable, and the obvious conclusion was that witches had taken them and boxed them up, twenty or thirty at a whack, sometimes placing them high in a tree. One unfortunate fellow was said to have consulted a witch about his missing member and was told to climb a tree containing a nest of penises and pick out any one he wanted, but it didn't work out for him. He picked one of the larger ones, as one does, but he couldn't have it because it belonged to a parish priest.

This is a compelling story: great hook, strong arc, leaves the reader hanging on every word. But what evidence did Mr. Kramer present that it is true? Well. First he discredited his critics. Then, according to his manuscript, he declared: "This has been seen by many and is a matter of common talk." Good enough! Sales went through the roof for the next 200 years. Only the Bible sold better.

Something about this penis story sounds awfully familiar, but I can't put my finger on it. Oh wait.

"You know, a lot of people are saying that, and a lot of people are saying that bad things are happening out there," someone said recently, in response to a question about Obama being a Muslim and setting up Muslim training camps. It's not much of an answer, so in all likelihood it didn't resonate with anybody, and Muslims should have no fear of persecution, any more than women should fear being tried and executed for witchcraft. Some forty to fifty thousand were, right up through the 18th century, but that was then. People used to be stupid. Nothing like that could happen now.