Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Honorable Barack Febreze Obama

Honestly, deep in my heart, I was dreading the State of the Union address. "All talk, no action": I could hear the words of his critics before they were even spoken. Not a willing participant in the huge "pinata" party of folks who seem to enjoy any opportunity to smash Obama with a baseball bat, I had become, myself, a victim of his difficulties. I tend to cringe at every miserable, vicious thing people say about him. And these days, it seems like whatever Obama says, whatever he does, incinerating attacks come at him with breakneck speed, whether from Republicans, Democrats, or Independents.

So much rubble has been heaped on this one man, it's as if he's become his own Haitian catastrophe. As a result, that night when I sat down in front of the TV with my friend Hakuin Rose, I was feeling the pain in Obama's earlier response to Joe Klein, a Time reporter, who had asked him how he managed to seem so calm in the face of all the stuff coming at him. "I have a confession to make here," Obama said. (It was the first time I'd ever heard him speak publicly about this.) "There are times where I'm not so calm...There are times when the words that are spoken about me hurt. There are times when the barbs sting. There are times when it feels like all these efforts are for naught..."

Klein wrote at the end of his piece that after a year of "think time," Obama would have to "go to battle, shedding his preternatural calm at times, and fight to regain the public trust." Would he be able to accomplish that with this speech? I wondered. (And meanwhile fingered my raw pessimism.) How does the wooden Buddha walk through the fire?

"He will have to understand that in the poisonous atmosphere of American politics, triumphs are no longer a realistic possibility: survival is as good as it gets," said Klein. Not an auspicious comment for someone like me, almost catatonic with worry already.

A weird image kept coming to mind--that of Lemuel Gulliver's shipwreck. Gulliver manages to swim to an unfamiliar shore where he falls asleep, exhausted from his efforts. When he awakes, he finds himself a prisoner, having been tied up by a crowd of Lilliputians who are extremely tiny (1/12th the size of normal human beings) and well-armed. Ultimately Gulliver aids the Lilliputians, but he is still resented by many of the Emperor's courtiers, who plot to accuse him of treason and sentence him to be blinded and starved to death. Just like the "Party of No," I think. And not unlike the way the Supreme Court suddenly blind-sided Obama (and the rest of us) by green-lighting the buy-out of government by corporate interests. How can a president live and do his work after this capture?

He can't, I thought. There won't ever be another Democratic president voted into office again. And then, Obama took the podium.

What I saw that night was not someone who had just had the stuffing knocked out of him, not a man embittered by what he has had to endure. He wasn't touchy or twitchy, and certainly not a victim--of earthquakes, Supreme Court screeds, or drowning (as he is pictured on the current New Yorker cover). The man I saw was a model of resilience--in the manner of that Buddhist saying, "Fall down seven times: get up eight." He was neither rhetorically bellicose nor afraid to offend--but simply sailed like a swan above the treacherous undercurrents of today's hideous politics. I'm not sure if this means he'll be able to make any notable improvements to what has become the Tower of Babel in Washington, but he appeared, himself, to be undaunted and unscathed, like a sled dog mushing through a blizzard with a vial of life-saving vaccine and a flask of brandy.

Don't be shocked by this, but what came to me after the speech was a completely different image from the one I'd been inhabiting, of Gulliver tied up by Lilliputians. It was, of all things, the TV ad for Febreze, in which a mother enters her son's bedroom, sniffs the smelly air, and insists he has to clean his room before friends can come in. The boy groans, but then she produces a bottle of Febreze: see, you just have to spray it on, and it will remove all the dirty spots. For me, Obama's speech was like Febreze: he spritzed, and everything suddenly felt fresh and clean again. Call me crazy, but that is how I felt. I wrote this to my friend Jane, who responded:

"I am so happy to hear that our president, The Honorable Febreze Obama, spritzed away your blues--along with the dour irritability of a whole chunk of independents, apparently, who remembered why they want to give him a chance."

"This was the president I supported and still support and will support because he alone is calling us away from the cynicism, the ideology, the rhetorical poison, and the red-blue divide that keep us from the reform we desperately need," Andrew Sullivan wrote, while live-blogging the speech. "I'm struck by how relaxed he seems. Smiling, confident, easy-going, and yet also deadly serious. He's certainly a lot calmer than most of his supporters, including me. I was a bit of a wreck before this after such a depressing couple of weeks. But he is managing to lift that gloom--not by dazzling rhetoric, but by a form of realism that is reassuring."

Other bulletins and writing on the walls from the Tower of Babel:

Arianna Huffington: "The speech, despite its charm, humor, and occasionally impassioned rhetoric, had the feel of being focus-grouped within an inch of its life. There was a decidedly paint-by-poll-numbers air about it."

Joe Klein: "The eloquence and sense of purpose was riveting...This was Obama at his best."

Sarah Palin: "There was quite a bit of lecturing, not leading."

John Boehner: "The American people were looking for President Obama to change course tonight, and they got more of the same job-killing policies instead."

Tim Kaine: "He hit the ball out of the park."

Suzi Gablik: "A big Molly Bloom Yes!"

As always, I like to remind everyone that beauty is always in the eye of the beholder.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Andrew's Advice: Now Fight!

22 Jan 2010 11:53 am
From Andrew Sullivan's The Daily Dish/ One Sane Voice in the Midst of Our Ritual Strip Tease:

"The seismic events of the last few days ends, in some respects, the phony war of the first year of Obama's presidency. As is the case in truly fracturing democracies, the opposition simply does not and cannot accept the fact that it is out of power. The incoherence of the opposition to Obama - that he is both Jimmy Carter and Adolf Hitler, as Stephen Colbert pointed out last night - reveals the irrationality of the hate. It began immediately on the FNC/RNC right. And the ferocity of the campaign against Obama, the sheer dickishness of the GOP and its acolytes, the total oppositionism to everything he has done and indeed anything he might do... suggests that any hope for some kind of cooperation from this rump is impossible.
But the truth is that these forces have also been so passionate, so extreme, and so energized that in a country reeling from a recession, the narrative - a false, paranoid, nutty narrative - has taken root in the minds of some independents. Obama, under-estimating the extremism of his opponents, has focused on actually addressing the problems we face. And the rest of us, crucially, have sat back and watched and complained and carped when we didn't get everything we want. We can keep on carping if we want to. But it seems to me that continuing that - as HuffPo et al. appear to be doing - is objectively siding with the forces of profound reaction right now.
Don't get me wrong. Criticism is still vital. I'm not going to give up on advocating marriage equality or a carbon tax, rather than cap and trade, or for an independent investigation of Bush era war crimes. I think pushing Obama to a more populist position on banks is well and good. But given the alternative, I am going to step up my support of this president in the face of what he is confronting, even when he is not exactly doing everything I want. In my view, you should too.
Look at what we are facing right now: a take-no-prisoners right, empowered by a massive new wave of corporate money unleashed by the Supreme Court, able to wield a 41 seat minority to oppose anything Obama wants, setting up a cycle of failure for a president whom they can then pillory at the polls, and unrepentant about near-dictatorial powers for the presidency, and the routinization of torture in the American government. These forces cannot be appeased. They simply have to be confronted.
I do not believe in some massive turn left or faux-populism that Obama cannot characterologically embody. I do not think ramming the healthcare reform bill through before Brown is seated is good politics. I still believe that Obama should embrace a major assault on long-term debt and make that a center-piece of his SOTU next week.
But I have come around to thinking that the one huge mistake right now would be to surrender the Senate health reform bill.
The dust should indeed settle. But it is absurd that one special election should upend a clear campaign promise, a year of work, and a necessary start on a critical reform without which we hurtle toward bankruptcy even more quickly.
More to the point, politics is also about morale and will as well as reason and moderation. I believe Obama has been both reasoned and moderate and civil in navigating between the Democratic Congress and the embittered, mutinous GOP. I don't think his tone should change. But I do think that any surrender on health now would be a betrayal of his entire campaign. I don't think the Senate bill is perfect; but it's far far better than nothing. And not passing it means not passing anything and surrendering to forces that are as proto-fascist as any we have seen in recent times.
This is about more than health reform and we have to see it in that context. This is about a cynical nihilist attempt to break this presidency before it has had a chance to do what we elected it to do by a landslide vote. It is an attempt to destroy a majority's morale, to break a president's foreign policy autonomy, to prevent engagement in the Middle East peace process, to stop action on climate change, to restore torture, to increase tensions with the Muslim world, to launch a war on Iran. We cannot delude ourselves that if Obama fails, this is not the alternative. It is.
And we have to re-engage as powerfully as we did in the campaign to fight back against these now emboldened forces of reaction. I think this is true not just for the sake of the country but also for the sake of the GOP. The nihilist obstructionism and rhetoric they have embraced makes constitutional democracy close to impossible. Their total lack of any workable alternatives to dire problems is a form of degeneracy we have to avoid empowering.
So fight, Mr President. And to the House Democrats who won't go along with the only way to salvage health reform: this is the only sure-fire way you will lose in November. If you pass this bill, you may also go down in this climate. But you will have done something you can be proud of. Politics cannot always be about narrow self-interest. If it always is, nothing important can get done.
Do your duty. And grow some. Fight back. Explain why you're right. Tell the liberals they can always come back later to reform the bill. Just get this passed."

Kiss Democracy Good-Bye

Make no mistake, we lost our country yesterday. A velvet coup took place silently in the Supreme Court.

Staged by corporate America when nobody was looking, the long and continuing struggle for sovereignty between people and corporations ended--and the people lost. It's now official: corporations will have the same First Amendment rights to free speech as individuals. Political agendas can be overrun by whoever has the most money to spend. There are no limits. In the long-standing contest for control, corporations have at last succeeded in restructuring the rules and institutions of governance to suit their interests.

This deadly change, won by a single vote majority in the conservative Supreme Court, sounds the death knell for democracy. It's the most serious undermining of fair electoral process that could possibly happen. While many of us were busy fretting and licking our wounds over the loss of a crucial Senate seat in Massachusetts, and the concurrent body blow to Democratic health care reform, democracy itself was shot down in the Supreme Court. Most of us didn't even see it coming.

It's all pretty weird and frightening. The swiftboating of Obama is obviously only a small segment in a planned takeover of the whole system. Obama's odd response to the demise of health care reform has been to call for banking reform--which seems curiously out of sync, in terms of choosing your moment. (But I have noticed these curious "off" timings with him before--and I'm not sure what they mean.) Good luck with bank reform, Mr. Prez--sorry, but you're a couple of minutes too late. The train just left the station. Regulation and reform, whether financial or environmental--or anything else--ain't gonna happen now. The chipping away at restraints is complete. Power grabs will be the new jubilee. "Containment liberalism" is toast. Accountability has been declared officially dead. There will be no autopsy.

Abraham Lincoln called it more than a century ago, just before his death:

"Corporations have been enthroned...An era of corruption in high places will follow and the money power will endeavor to prolong its reign by working on the prejudices of the people,,,until wealth is aggregated in a few hands...and the Republic is destroyed."

It's taken more than a century, but our worst-case scenario has just come true.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Now Panic and Freak Out!

It's been a rotten day at Black Rock. Not just the dreary rain, or that, politically, the sky is falling--but I awoke this morning to chants on the radio. Having won the crucial election in Massachusetts, Republicans were reciting "41,41,41." over and over again. Having successfully reduced the democratic majority from its crucial 60 votes in the Senate to 59, they have realized their oft-stated dream of making health care reform "Obama's Waterloo" and were gloating over this victory. Or so it seems.

"Reporter to a Brown voter in MA yesterday. Was your vote for Brown a vote against the Health Care Reform bill? Voter's response - "Yes".

Reporter - "what in the bill specifically are you against"?. Voter - "well, I don't know really other than it will create death panels, it will raise my taxes, I won't be able to see my doctor anymore, I'll have to wait 8 hours to see a doctor, it will pay millions to those wanting abortions, and some government flunky will determine what services I need and what doctors I can see.I guess that's pretty much it."

As it happens, those elated Republicans were not the only ones chanting on NPR this morning. Hundreds of miles away, in the ruined city of Port-O-Prince, Haitians were chanting "Hallelujah," and singing hymns of praise, for solace. Many of them, a long and nightmarish week after the earthquake first hit, still have not received any aid in the form of food or water. The diastolic and systolic of all this seems extremely surreal and disheartening. I hate to ask, but how long can they possibly survive like this? I'm not sure such monumental misery can ever be remediated. The Haitian government remains invisible and no one is really in charge. The sheer scale of the disaster may yet prove to be beyond human reach, with 250,000 people injured, and 1.5 million homeless, left without anything. Where can they possibly go?

Somewhere, anywhere. NPR also told the tragic story of Maria Josef, a woman their reporter found, waiting at the ramshackle bus stop with her 7-year-old niece. She wanted to leave, to go to Cape Haitian, but didn't have twenty dollars to pay the bus fare; she hoped one of the drivers would take them along for free. I had to wonder, with all those millions of dollars in aid donations, why was no one posted at the bus stop to simply hand out twenty-dollar bills to people like Maria Josef?

I'm not exactly sure why I take it all this so much to heart, but I do. It didn't help that I went to see "The Road" right in the middle of it all--its post-apocalypse images of a devastated world, inhabited by scavenging marauders brandishing knives, hardly distinguishable from those menacing Haitian youths you now see wandering around their ruined city brandishing machetes and wearing bandannas over their faces, making trouble. Moving from the violence and unspeakable desolation of the movie (fiction) to the devastating TV images in Haiti unhinges the mind. This is not the image of a pipe. This pipe is real. This pipe is the canary in the apocalyptic coal mine.

So what happens now, not just to Haiti, but also to health care reform, after these body blows? Will Democrats panic and freak out, succumb to what Andrew Sullivan calls "the Rovian psych-out," and lose their political nerve even more, as Sullivan writes:

"...heightened by the almost unimaginable irony of Ted Kennedy's seat being the death-knell for insurance reform, the end of the hopes of many that they might have a chance to buy some affordable insurance, that they could get insured despite a pre-existing condition, that the rest of their lives would not be filled with economic stagnation and profound personal insecurity. Well, the GOP has a clear message to them: 'Tough shit. We needed a way to break a reform presidency and your lives were the mechanism.'"

Andrew claims the answer to this will be revealed in how Obama responds."The glee with which the GOP is greeting the end of any access too health insurance for millions of the working poor," he writes, "even as they propose nothing in its stead to help them or to restrain soaring costs for everyone else, is instructive. This really is a game to them. But to the sincere progressives who backed this moderate bill as the best they could get, this is, simply, tragic. And to those of us who wanted politics to become something more than a game, given the accelerating decline of this country on all fronts, it's a body blow."

"I know now more than ever before why I could never be a Democrat and feel it vital to defeat the current Republican nihilism," he adds. "Which leaves me with Obama. This is a critical moment. How he responds will be everything. I think there is a response and that, oddly enough, his chances of re-election in 2012 just rose. He must not return to Clintonism. He must reignite the center around him. More thoughts on how he can forthcoming. But out of every crisis, opportunity. And the stakes are far too great and this country's crisis far too deep for surrender to the old politics now."

Stay tuned. Andrew, I await your further thoughts on this. (Illustration cribbed from The Daily Dish)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

"Avatar": The Blue People

"Blue pencils, blue noses, blue movies, laws, blue legs and stockings, the language of birds, bees, and flowers as sung by longshorement, that leadlike look the skin has when affected by cold, contusion, sickness, fear; ...afflictions of the spirit--dumps, mopes, Mondays--all that's dismal--lowdown gloomy music, Nova Scotians, cyanosis, hair rinse, bluing, bleach; bottles, bank accounts, and compliments, for instance, or, when the sky's turned turtle, the blue-green bleat of ocean...watered twilight, sour sea: through a scrambling of accidents, blue has become their color, just as it's stood for fidelity." After seeing "Avatar," I wanted to check out William Gass's rare book, "On Being Blue: A Philosophical Inquiry," because, well, because half the characters in "Avatar" are blue.

I hadn't really been looking forward to seeing this movie. To preempt my friend Bill Rutherfoord"s words, I was going with gritted teeth, "largely from a sense of zeitgeist-fueled compulsion." Besides, digitally enhanced block-busters (a la "2012") are not my thing. I'd heard the visuals in "Avatar" were spectacular, but the plot was superficial--something about a valuable mineral resource ("Unobtainium") found on a distant planet called Pandora, and a cadre of corporate, Exxon-type, bad guys in cahoots with the U.S. military, planning the usual resource-extraction rape and plunder. "Let's scatter the roaches...I want to be home before dinner," says Col. Miles Quarritch, the commander-in-chief of military operations, speaking from inside his giant, killer robot, which becomes the face of the dominator species and its destructive onslaught--the modern technological world gone berserk.

The "roaches" refer to the blue people, an indigenous native population who, predictably, prove recalcitrant to being "relocated" elsewhere and separated from their enchanted habitat--a sort of luscious mangrove rain forest, teeming with biodiversity and mythic, prehistoric creatures that take their revenge on any destructive disturbance. The landscape of Pandora, especially when viewed through 3-D glasses, is the visual equivalent of Gaia theory, which posits that all of life is an extraordinary, invisible web of intercommunicating geomagnetic pulsations, whose flowing patterns of subtle energy mysteriously connect with your own cells, drawing you in even as you sit there, upright in your seat at the movie theater. Believe me when I say, all this works in a manner that puts our non-mystical world of graphs and charts and statistics about climate change virtually out of business. At the center of this exotic, verdant landscape is the most unearthly, haunting, luminous tree. It puts you immediately under a spell, transcendental against the raw world, with pink, icicle-like, filament branches that glow as if lit by some cosmic chandelier. This tree is obviously the sacred god of the blue people.

There is no sugar coating at the end of this film. The movie doesn't offer much comfort, just business as usual for Western civilization. Having destroyed the mother planet, Earth, it has now moved on to Pandora. But when the plan to infiltrate and subdue the blue people fails, a "shock-and-awe" battle of "Star Wars" proportion ensues, in which our capacity for destruction, both military and environmental, knows no bounds. For me, the ending brought to mind nothing so much as the memorable last lines found in Hexagram 2 (the Receptiive) of the "I Ching," the Chinese Book of Changes :

"Dragons fight in the meadow. Their blood is black and yellow. The way comes to an end. At this moment the dark principle advances out of the realm of the morally indifferent and becomes positively evil. There ensues a battle with the Light-giving primal power coming from without to oppose the darkness, in which both elements suffer harm.

"In the top place the dark element should yield to the light. If it attempts to maintain a position to which it is not entitled and to rule instead of serving, it draws down upon itself the anger of the strong. A struggle ensues in which it is overthrown, with injury, however, to both sides...When black and yellow blood flow, it is a sign that in this unnatural contest, both primal powers suffer injury."

In this unnatural contest, nobody wins. Everybody loses. If there is a telling message in "Avatar," it has to be found in these words by Robert Lawlor, from his 1991 book, "Voices of the First Day":

"We are blinded by the delusions that rise from our hollow and rotting social order. It is vain pomposity to believe that humanity can advance while the earth and its native peoples, plants, and animals are enslaved, desecrated, and destroyed. The dream of human origins and destiny as an evolution from monkeys swinging in trees to men in space suits lumbering off to other planets is an adolescent dream of uninitiated men drunk on the power of the cerebral cortex. Unfortunately, the men who maintain this dream are the ones who hold economic, military, and political power today. Whether it be by sociopolitical revolution, economic disaster, or environmental catastrophes, the overturning of this power is the only hope for the earth. The change must occur while there is still time to nurture the seed and to prepare ourselves inwardly for the dream of regeneration....

"To shed the shell, to view the world from a fresh perspective, we must risk turning upside down the most fundamental constructs of the past 10,000 years of civilization. To dream anew, we must see the shadows in all that we assume to be light. We must dare to see the degeneracy in what we have called progress. We must acknowledge the superficiality of our most precious treasures, the corruptibility of our ethics, the selfishness beneath our charity, the barbarism of our most exalted ambitions, the shoddiness of our values, and the disturbing vulgarity of what we call sacred."

It may not have the requisite, upbeat ending, but "Avatar" successfully makes use of digital techniques to reflect the degeneracy of what we have called progress, the barbarism of our most exalted ambitions, the shoddiness of our values, and the disturbing vulgarity of what we call sacred. As a bonafide member of the "worrying-about-collapse" community, I have encountered nothing more shattering in the way of a visual mirror reflecting back our civilizational flaws than this film.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Oh, That Big Ball of Filth

It's a new year, a new decade, and this is my very first (and quite belated) blog of 2010. I confess I've been waiting for my personal operating principle of writing to finally kick in--the sudden catch in consciousness which lights me up and says, "Time to go! This is what you've been waiting for!" Instead, all I seem to have collected over the holidays are things I'd much rather NOT write about. I am reminded of that big ball of plasticine the Mexican multi-media artist Gabriel Orozco once rolled through the streets of New York, accumulating velvety filth along the way.

I did not really want, for instance, to write about the 23-year-old son of a Nigerian banker who tricked out everyone's Christmas by getting on a plane in Amsterdam, headed for Detroit, with no luggage--except for that tiny bundle of explosives stashed in his underpants. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had managed to elude every national-security code-cracker and then, just as the plane was preparing to land, "undie-fundie" proceeded--no doubt with exquisite pleasure--to blow up his groin and, hopefully, the plane as well. All too predictably, the failed terror attack became the basis for several fundraising appeals by Republican members of Congress. The whole episode was yet another addition to my already long list of Many Things About Human Nature That I Find Impossible To Believe.

We are always interpreting whatever happens (another ongoing theme of my blog), but perhaps interpretation only becomes interesting when it is extreme. (Moderate interpretation is not interesting.) Enter Dick Cheney, like Elsa Maxwell shot out of a cannon ball, saying that the failed attack was caused by Obama "trying to pretend we are not at war." The Dick has shown himself over and over again, whenever it comes to matters Obama, congenitally given to compulsive negative interpretations. It's a kind of political autism. Declaring the president to be "fuzzy on terrorism" (as if he, Cheney, had just personally discovered the fuzziness of peaches), and declaring Obama's approach to be "fundamentally flawed," Zarathustra spoke thusly: "He doesn't understand the country is at war."

On hearing these comments, even Cheney's most devoted customers were overwhelmed and covered their noses with monogrammed napkins when he landed close to their tables.

Meanwhile, Obama's personal counter-terrorism adviser, John Brennan, made the rounds on the talk shows, and when asked specifically about Cheney's remarks, countered that the former VP is "either ignorant or willfully mischaracterizing this President's position." (You choose.) He said he found the partisan finger-pointing "very disappointing." As for me, I hate having to offer up yet another political lamention, but how can one just ignore Dick Cheney whistling his wild tunes at night? (We were never close friends at boarding school.)

Brennan's fairly effective attempt to put the lid on Dick galvanized Cheney's daughter, Liz, to suit up and lead the retaliatory charge by posting a video created by her group, Keep America Safe. I haven't actually seen the video--supposedly an homage to the Right's political TV show called "24"--but it sequences unflattering moments with WH Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and Defense Secretary Janet Napolitano intoning that "the system worked," with overlapping images of President Obama golfing, and accompanying sounds of explosive music and a clock ticking. (Like I said, we were never friends at boarding school, and these are not my people.)

Often, when I write here, I don't impose a conclusion, because there is no conclusion. I prefer to merely stage the play of contradictions, because that is the more true and sorry plight of our human condition. We all fit anything that comes along into whatever our particular obsession happens to be. "Did you see that golf swing? What an effeminate sissy-boy Marxist...." writes a reader on Ben Smith's Politico blog. "Is Liz sleeping with her sick papa? Just asking," writes another. "She seems to be the only one in love with that blood-thirsty lizard."

Well, I'd rather be writing gorgeous operatic arias here, instead of being that big plasticine ball rolling along and collecting filth. However, the ball did run into something quite else during the holiday that heartened instead of horrified me, and it spoke the words of what I am personally feeling. These comments were part of a winsome note by an anonymous blogger from Ashland, OR, who offered them in gratitude to the President. And so do I offer them here to you:

"Anyhow, President Obama, thank you for

1. Running for President and getting elected against great odds
2. Hiring smart people to advise you
3. Keeping us out of a depression (so far)
4. Getting us national health care, however incomplete
5. Ramping up efforts to defeat those who actually attacked us at the same time you envision a goal and have an exit strategy
6. Putting up with a vindictive opposition intent on not compromising on anything that could possibly benefit your reelection chances no matter how much it benefits the country
7. Being patient with an uninformed electorate, many of whom are afraid both of losing their often unearned entitlements and of any change that benefits other people
8. Going to Copenhagen and trying to save some sort of global warming agreement against, again, an entrenched opposition intent on saying no
9. Not resigning to write a book
10. Putting the American people first"

(I'm not exactly sure, but whoever you are out there in Ashland, I think we might have been friends at boarding school...)