Questions Concerning Vultures

 

Mars Ethel

Mars Ethel: Vultures

In the midst of a burgeoning global pandemic, on the eve of South Carolina ‘s Democratic Primary, and in the aftermath of the stock market’s 3500-point one-week freefall, it appears that the turkey vulture perched on a dying tree outside our living room window is ill and also dying. He or she – I think of it as a she – has been there all day long hunkered into herself.

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Natural deaths of animals in the wild I’ve managed not to think about all that often.[1]

Exceptions: Once I saw a Nature episode about the deathly decline of a disease-ridden chimpanzee and his ultimate abandonment by his troop, the unfortunate creature left to shuffle off his mortal coil all alone, though one of his companions did linger a while before abandoning him.

Also, about a decade ago, the marsh behind our house was littered with bloated carcasses of raccoons felled by some parvo virus that had the parents of our diseased vulture circling overhead in narrowing gyres.

Thirty years before that, yet another ill vulture stood forlornly on a path in the woods near our house in Rantowles. We saw him so many times we gave him a name, Nigel. He lasted almost a week.[2]

Our cat, Dusty, after insistently clawing at the glass door leading to the porch, has been let out, has pawed open the screen door, and her outdoor presence has prompted the vulture to flee the limb of the dying tree and perch on our roof.  Dusty crouches on the railing of the deck, hunched into herself, staring up and over un-benignly at what now I’m convinced is an unwell scavenger.

dusty predator

Questions arise: Do vultures eat the carcasses of their own kind?

The consensus is not often, only during food scarcity.

Do other animals eat vultures?

No, an eagle will occasionally snatch an infant vulture from a nest, but vultures [understatement alert] smell bad, have ingested perhaps diseased organisms, so they have very few natural predators.

By the way, they’re family oriented. They feed their young for as long as eight months, though via regurgitation, which I guess is good training for the life ahead. If something is harassing them, they’ll vomit on the offending party as a defense mechanism.[3]

They’re gregarious, hang in large groups, and can live to be twenty-five.

Nevertheless, would Dusty kill a sick vulture for sport?

“You betcha,” as people from Utah are prone to say.

Do vultures help prevent the spread of diseases?

Yes.

Does the company called Bird Busters think highly of vultures?

No. From their website:

Turkey Vultures cause problems by attacking rooftops, caulking and other exterior surfaces. The bird droppings from turkey vultures are large as well, creating extra cleanup costs and concern over slip and fall liability from turkey vulture dropping buildup, plus an unclean, dirty company image. The bacteria, fungal agents and parasites found in turkey vulture droppings and nests can carry a host of serious diseases, including histoplasmosis, encephalitis, salmonella, meningitis, toxoplasmosis, and more. As an unpleasant bonus, turkey vultures often leave bones and carcasses to feed on around their roosting areas. They’re also known to be noisy problem birds, especially in a large group fighting over food.

What does the poet Richard Wilbur have to say in response to Bird Busters’ negativity concerning turkey vultures?

Still, citizen sparrow, this vulture which you call

Unnatural, let him but lumber again to air

Over the rotten office, let him bear

The carrion ballast up, and at the tall

 

Tip of the sky lie cruising. Then you’ll see

That no more beautiful bird is in heaven’s height,

No wider more placid wings, no watchfuller flight;

He shoulders nature there, the frightfully free,

 

The naked-headed one. Pardon him, you

Who dart in the orchard aisles, for it is he

Devours death, mocks mutability,

Has heart to make an end, keeps nature new.

 

Vultures, no doubt, give almost everyone outside ornithology the heebie-jeebies. No one likes to be reminded of his or her own mortality, especially in the midst of a burgeoning global pandemic, on the eve of South Carolina ‘s Democratic Primary, and in the aftermath of the stock market’s 3500-point one-week freefall. However, we need vultures. Without them, those dead raccoons in the marsh a decade ago would have been appreciably more horrible.

So I’m with Richard Wilbur.  Here’s the rest of the poem quoted above:

Thinking of Noah, childheart, try to forget

How for so many bedlam hours his saw

Soured the song of birds with its wheezy gnaw,

And the slam of his hammer all the day beset

 

The people’s ears. Forget that he could bear

To see the towns like coral under the keel,

And the fields so dismal deep. Try rather to feel

How high and weary it was, on the waters where

 

He rocked his only world, and everyone’s.

Forgive the hero, you who would have died

Gladly with all you knew; he rode that tide

To Ararat; all men are Noah’s sons.


[1] Most editors would disapprove of syntax here, but I like the way it stumbles into a confession of repression.

[2] I was in full hospice mode. Nursing him back to life didn’t seem like a good idea.

[3] Until I did that bit of research, I had very successfully avoided wondering what being puked on by a vulture would be like.

noah's ark

Gustave Dore

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buster Keaton Meets Kafka

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Me in 1973 (or at least my head in 1973)

Back, in ’73, it still got cold in early October.

In August of that year, I had on a whim enrolled in a tennis course mistakenly thinking it would count as an elective. Given my busy schedule of sometimes going to class, washing dishes at Capstone Cafeteria, and making the rounds of various pubs each evening, I had put off to the afternoon of the last day to drop a course without penalty to go through the rigamarole necessary to avoid further tarnishing my transcript.   To successfully do so, I needed to accumulate certain signatures.

After visiting the registrar’s office and securing the drop form, I trekked over to the far distant PE department and copped the john henry of the so-called instructor, the most difficult task in what seemed to me at the time as a Herculean quest – I had never been to class; I didn’t know his or her name.

After a bit of a runaround, somebody signed the form, so now all I had to do is to get my advisor to sign on the dotted line – something she no doubt would be delighted to do – but this rather severe woman gave me the heebie-jeebies. I sensed she held me in contempt -maybe because I was red-headed? or betrayed a contemptuous smirk when I dealt with her? or perhaps because I reeked of cannabis?  – I had no idea why she disapproved of me, but I imagined her animus was as palatable as dandruff-sprinkled wool.

Of course, she signed it – probably not even really knowing exactly who I was.

With the two signatures secured, I rode the elevator down to the lobby of the Humanities Building with a half-hour to spare before the Registrar’s Office closed.  As the elevator door opened and as I stepped out, the form somehow fluttered from my hand – and I swear I’m not making this up – it disappeared cartwheeling through the gap between elevator and lobby into the dark underworld of that hideous structure.

I could have tried a thousand times to flip the form through that gap and probably not been successful even once.  I stood there astonished, frozen, unbelieving.

elevator gap

I literally ran back to the registrar’s office, grabbed another form.  With the clock reading ten till five, my only recourse was to forge signatures, and in the case of my tennis instructor, to make up a name because I had already forgotten it.*


*Although I doubted it at the time, this strategy of forging and making up names worked.  In a pre-digital university with 20,000 students, what functionary is going to check to see if the the signatures are legit?


I shared that year an apartment with a bassist named Stan Gibbons who worked at the Record Bar at Richland Mall and who possessed a record collection extraordinare.  It was an upstairs apartment in a ramshackle house built in the Twenties on Henderson Street, a house long ago purchased by USC and transformed into a parking lot.

After the traumatic experience of having some malevolent spirit snatch the form from my hand and deposit it sideways through the one inch slot of the elevator shaft, I trudged up the steep hill to my house and up the steep stairs to the shithole I called home (my bed was in the kitchen) to watch the NL playoff game between the Mets and Reds on Stan’s black and white portable TV.

As the sun set and a cold front passed through, it started getting very chilly in the apartment. Need I mention that the apartment was unairconditioned and every window frozen into an open position? I managed to ram two windows down, but a third, one of two facing the front of the house, wouldn’t budge.  However, summoning every ounce of my 140 or so pounds, in a Samsonlike shouting concentration of force, I slammed the window down with such violence that the glass shattered.

What else, I inwardly whined, could go wrong today?  Now ice cold wind was streaming through the broken glass. I had no recourse but to light the heater, a gas fueled relic from the 1950’s.  This action required igniting a pilot light, something, again, I had never attempted, yet after maybe twenty or so attempts, whoosh, success.  I turned up the heat to a nice toasty temperature.

So I leaned back in a threadbare chair to watch the game.  In a minute or two, however, I smelled something burning, and turned around to see flames leaping from the stove upon which Stan’s record collection rested.  How could I have not noticed them sitting there in their cardboard boxes?  After all, I played them all the time.

I snatched the records off the stove, sickened by the stench of melted vinyl.  Every single LP was severely warped, unplayable.  Desperate ideas darkened my mind.  Hitchhiking to Nome, Alaska, never to return.  Telling Stan an outrageous lie: “Hey, Stan, someone must really hate you.  They broke in to the apartment through that window and set your records on fire.”

But I did neither.  When I heard his dreaded tread upon the stairs, I confronted him there and told him I had accidentally ruined his record collection.

He smiled broadly.  “Ha ha! you’re kidding,” he said.

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Dan Scott:  Increasing Confusion

It didn’t take long for the truth to register with the smell and my unchanging woebegone expression. He said he might have to move out but stuck with me until the end of our lease; then on amiable terms we went our separate ways.

 

 

 

 

Unmaternal Republicans

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Rush Limbaugh’s reemergence in the news as cancer victim/Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient reminded me of an incident about a decade ago when some of his usually supportive listeners turned on him for a minute or two. Rush had chided then First Lady Michelle Obama for being overweight. His typically trollish Yahoo commentators (sprawled on beanbag chairs in their darkened rooms), chided Rush, not because of the Rabelaisian hypocrisy of the equivalent of Fatty Arbuckle wagging his sausage-like forefinger at, say, Mae West. No, because the vast majority of Rush’s female listening audience considered themselves to be overweight and body-shaming uncalled for.

Meanwhile, the Far Right’s own Michelle Bachmann was inveighing against First Lady Michelle’s push to raise awareness of the benefits of breast feeding. “To think that government has to go out and buy my breast pump … You want to talk about nanny state, I think we just got a new definition,” she screeched.

Not, your breast pump, Miss Narcissist, an impoverished mother’s breast pump (perhaps one of those weak-willed abstinence-trained adolescents).

Leave it to the Radical Right to turn nanny into a dirty word. Next thing you know maternal will be a vile insult, like liberal. A maternal state that would like to see all its babies well-cared for is a pernicious place where the pocket of the patriarchal super rich is picked to redistribute their largesse among the issue of the lazy, the unwed, the unfit.

The fellow below has earned – well, actually, inherited –  his money; still, no matter how he got it, it’s unfair to skim a portion of that pile to fund the filling of  the cavities of impoverished children. Even the lightest redistribution of wealth, 5% say, would bring the economy crashing down around us like walls of Jericho. Wealth is a Calvinistic litmus test that determines who is blessed and who is not. Let the marketplace decide. We’re a patriarchy for Christ’s sake!

Capitalist Oligarchy

Suffer the children indeed.

This Orwellian manipulation of language is incredibly effective: if you repeatedly make good things sound bad, they become bad in the minds of the listeners. For example, when I taught high school, each year I’d ask my students if anyone in the class identified as a feminist.  The girls would cast their eyes floorward and mutter “no” or “not really.”  “What?” I’d ask, feigning incredulity, “so you believe that you should earn less money than men working at the same job?  You believe your husbands should be able to tell you how to dress? You’re against maternity leave?” To them, a feminist is not someone who believes in gender equality but, rather, Rush Limbaugh’s Jungian shadow: the late Andrea Dworkin: unattractive, militant, butch. Repeat the word feminist and flash Dworkin’s image often enough, and she becomes the incarnation of feminism.

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Andrea Dworkin

Alas, a deep acidic strain of misogyny, perhaps Bible-based, infects the worldview of the Radical Right. Otherwise, explain the visceral hatred that Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi evoke. What gives?  What is it about these women that can generate enough animus to spawn millions of dollars in bumper sticker sales? Name a male Democratic politician who has stoked as much animus as Hillary and Nancy. Certainly, would think self-proclaimed Socialist Bernie Sanders would be an unrelenting target of their scorn, but thus far he hasn’t.

pelosi

All that I can come up with is that for some strange, perverse psychological reason (I have my unscientific but intuitively rich guesses), members of the Radical Right resent their mothers and have projected their archetypal negative farrow-eating images on womankind in general.  Paradoxically, they’ll allow masculine models like Margaret Thatcher and Ayn Rand into their political and intellectual men’s clubs but banish more maternal women to domestic or secretarial duties. The females who carry the banner of the Radical Right – Ann Coulter, Laura Ingle, Katherine Harris – project hardness; sport inorganic, breakable hair; force their feet into corset-like stilettos; stomp toward the dais; spew sarcasm. They’re about as maternal as a backhand to the mouth.

Wesley’s Inferno: Canto 5

Canto 5

 

 

 

Catullus put the vehicle in gear

backing up out of our space.

“We’re getting on out of here,

 

going to another place,”

to witness gluttony and avarice,”

similar sins that we can easily trace

 

“back to bad-old-fashioned self-centeredness,

the mother lode of all evil.” The whirr

on the screen of the soulless rutting couples’ nakedness

 

receded in the rearview mirror

as we drove down hell’s rutted road,

the end of my journey seeming no nearer

 

than it had centuries ago.

We crossed a wooden bridge

beneath which glowed

 

a cloud of phosphorescent midges

biting and stinging a mass of obesity,

pulsing like amoebae in garbage.

 

“Here’s where the greedy spend eternity —

Trimalchio, Thackery, Ponzi, Imelda Marcos —

no longer possessing individuality,

 

“now nothing but an indistinguishable bolus

of inextinguishable desire,

a very different type of lust,

 

burning toxic like a dumpster fire.”

How much longer, I wondered,

would I be turning, turning in this narrowing gyre?

Dressing for the Funeral

misty

 

 

Dressing for the Funeral

“On the shoulders of time, ever growing old.”

                                                                   Bob Kaufman

The sun is rising in the misty east

outside the widow’s bedroom window.

 

Her undergarments have been stepped in and strapped on,

black dress zipped.

 

NPR, like any other morning,

sympathetic voices trying to swallow concern.

 

One last latching, the pearl necklace,

a birthday gift, her fortieth, come and gone.

The Island Breeze, a Lowcountry Cultural Treasure Trove

 

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Yonchak’s dreads have been 49  years in the making.  Rastafari!

Last night (15 February 2020) Caroline and I wandered down to Mosquito Beach and the Island Breeze for some Jamaican irie-ites.

Three different reggae bands mixed and matched in some joyful musical gumbo-combo kung-fu drum-dancing positive vibration.

 

Last night we witnessed something very unusual: a Lowcountry historic site still in the making. Mosquito Beach was recently named to the National Historic Register, but the heartbeat at the center of this special, still-evolving place is Norm & Norma of the Island Breeze…here is the story in brief:

The Island Breeze, cultural centerpiece of Mosquito Beach:

Norm Khouri and Norma Lemon, founders and proprietors.

As the Charleston community searches for direction in how to create an atmosphere of racial understanding and harmony, many are feeling grateful for the recent naming of Mosquito Beach to the National Historic Register.

In its heyday, the 1950s and ‘60s, Mosquito Beach was the premier entertainment mecca for African-Americans in the Charleston area. Mosquito Beach had a sixteen-room hotel, restaurants, and a pavilion where African-Americans danced to live music from well-known R&B groups. Charleston’s CBS affiliate, Channel 5, produced an American Bandstand-like dance program for African-Americans called Jump Time that announced upcoming Mosquito Beach events, as did the SCETV public service show The Job Man Caravan, hosted by Bill Terrell, which garnered SCETV its first Emmy.

In the 1970s and ‘80s, as drugs became prevalent in American society, a turf war broke out between young people in the Sol Legare Community and outside gangs. Mosquito Beach acquired the reputation of being a dangerous place, and not surprisingly, suffered economically as establishments closed down and the buildings that housed them fell into disrepair. However, over the last two decades, due to more frequent police patrols and a concerted attempt to reclaim its past glory, Mosquito Beach has turned the corner to become a vibrant gathering place. A major boon to the area in recent years has been the inspired and gracious efforts of Norm Khouri and Norma Lemon, proprietors of the Island Breeze restaurant.

Norm and Norma opened 2225 Mosquito Beach Dr. in 2016 as the Island Breeze, a Jamaican restaurant where the pavilion once stood. Now the centerpiece of Mosquito Beach, Norm and Norma’s restaurant is not only fun and successful, but is also a keystone of outreach for the Sol Legare community and beyond. Among many events, they host the yearly “Gullah – Geechee Famlee Days” and recently organized a fundraising event for Bahamian hurricane relief which generated over $11,000.00. Norm and Norma have welcomed the white communities of James Island and Folly Beach to eat, drink and enjoy music with locals. Word has gotten out about Norm and Norma, both for their restaurant’s richness of character and for the reliability of their business practices. Hollywood has taken note: they recently worked with Netflix, their setting transformed into a scene in Haiti for the series Black Earth Rising, and HBO has asked to film another series there.

But most days at the Island Breeze, you will hear simply the rich intonations of the Lowcountry’s African-American patois, men telling tales of racing boats in the creek, or remembering dancing at the pavilion. You might hear folk historians on open mike night tell of the area’s rich lore, or the struggles of the civil rights era. It is no longer surprising, because of the Island Breeze, to see white people at Mosquito Beach, looking to support this important part of Charleston culture, and simply to relax and enjoy themselves. The Island Breeze embodies African-American memories of Mosquito Beach’s past, and Norm and Norma have singlehandedly—and extraordinarily effectively—taken the lead on opening up a space for a more racially integrated future in Charleston.

~ Caroline and Wesley Moore

From last night:

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And Some pix from the past for your viewing pleasure:

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Norma Lemon (on left)

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Norman Khouri (on left)

Island Breeze pool

You can play pool there for free!


[1] Let me be clear. Not only don’t have anything against juke joints, I dig them. My point is that the Island Breeze is so much more, a museum-like venue where Mosquito Beach’s own James Brown (no, not that James Brown, not the Godfather of Soul) can provide eloquent oral histories of both segregation and funkification, a place where Caribbean culture manifests itself in music, cuisine, and language.

Paul Harvey, Prophet

paul harvey prophet (original)

The prophet Paul Harvey and I go way back.  I first heard the silken gravel of his voice emanating from my grandfather’s radio circa 1960.  Kiki, as we called our granddaddy, and his two younger children had in their spare time the peculiar* habit of barricading themselves in their rooms for hours (in my grandfather’s and aunt’s case, years) listening to AM radio (he) and Barbra Streisand records (she).

My uncle also hid in his room listening to jazz when he wasn’t working on a spy ship or at the Navy Yard, but he was the breadwinner in this close knit but distant family (They all lived together but rarely communicated with each other). In addition to the radio, Kiki also played the ukelele, sang, and yodeled.  He also enjoyed an occasional half pint of whiskey he hid in his shoes.

“Hey, Kiki, what’s this?”

“Hey, what you doing in that closet?  Get out of there!  Don’t you tell your grandmama, you hear?

“Yes sir.”

*I wish I could find a more positive adjective, but none come to mind. 

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aged in a canvas shoe for up to two hours

Anyway, Kiki was a Joseph McCarthy conservative, and Harvey was the 1961 precursor of Fox News, i.e, a welcome antidote to the liberal bias in network news (The News and Courier, on the other hand, was about as liberal as John A Stormer).  Being only 10 or so, I didn’t have a clue about politics, but even back then I detected something false in Harvey’s voice, an echo of hucksterdom, the intonation of a Snake Oil barker.

At any rate, Paul Harvey like so many things from that era – Silly Putty, dammit dolls – had faded from my memory until one of my Facebook “friends” linked via Glenn Beck what they considered an uncannily accurate prophecy Harvey had issued in 1965.  You may listen to it here, if you dare, but I’m going to deconstruct the prophecy  via the transcript.

The conceit here is that Harvey is impersonating Satan, the Father of Lies, in corrupting the nation by whispering abominations in the citizens’ ears.

To wit,

“If I were the devil … If I were the Prince of Darkness, I’d want to engulf the whole world in darkness. And I’d have a third of it’s [sic] real estate, and four-fifths of its population, but I wouldn’t be happy until I had seized the ripest apple on the tree — Thee. So I’d set about however necessary to take over the United States. I’d subvert the churches first — I’d begin with a campaign of whispers. With the wisdom of a serpent, I would whisper to you as I whispered to Eve: ‘Do as you please.’”

That’s right, dear reader.  Turn off the damn contraption you’re reading this on, go sell everything you own, and give it to the poor.  Also, forget about binge-watching this weekend.

“To the young, I would whisper that ‘The Bible is a myth.’ I would convince them that man created God instead of the other way around. I would confide that what’s bad is good, and what’s good is ‘square.’ And the old, I would teach to pray, after me, ‘Our Father, which art in Washington…’*”


*Whose initials now happen to be DJT and who recently has described himself as “the second coming.” Wonder what Harvey would make of the Donald.


That’s right, the Bible isn’t a myth; it’s literally true.

For example, displeased with his creation, God orders Noah to gather a male and female from every species – Aardvarks (because they don’t have cloven feat, a Middle Eastern delicacy), Bengal tigers, polar bears, etc.  – and place them on an ark so they can survive a world deluge.  After the flood, Noah plants a vineyard, gets drunk, passes out naked, is seen by his gossiping son Hamm, then is covered by sons Shem and Japheth.  Noah wakes up and creates an apology for slavery when he punishes his indiscrete son and his descendants: “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.”

No way that’s not all literally true (even if it does call to question the God’s choice of Noah as the the progenitor of the world’s population).

noah

Rant on, Prophet Harvey:

“And then I’d get organized. I’d educate authors in how to make lurid literature exciting, so that anything else would appear dull and uninteresting. I’d threaten TV with dirtier movies and vice versa. I’d pedal narcotics to whom I could. I’d sell alcohol to ladies and gentlemen of distinction. I’d tranquilize the rest with pills.”

“If I were the devil I’d soon have families that war with themselves, churches at war with themselves, and nations at war with themselves; until each in its turn was consumed. And with promises of higher ratings I’d have mesmerizing media fanning the flames. If I were the devil I would encourage schools to refine young intellects, but neglect to discipline emotions — just let those run wild, until before you knew it, you’d have to have drug sniffing dogs and metal detectors at every schoolhouse door.”

Now, I have to admit the drug-sniffing dogs and metal detectors do seem prophetic for 1965. Maybe Harvey should have added, “I’d whisper to politicians to shift welfare dollars from the poor (we’ll always have them) to farm subsidies (where they’ll enable the idolators who worship Mammon even wealthier).  So without a chance of bettering themselves, these children of poverty will turn to crime.”

“Within a decade I’d have prisons overflowing, I’d have judges promoting pornography — soon I could evict God from the courthouse, then from the schoolhouse, and then from the houses of Congress. And in His own churches I would substitute psychology for religion, and deify science. I would lure priests and pastors into misusing boys and girls, and church money. If I were the devil I’d make the symbols of Easter an egg and the symbol of Christmas a bottle.”

Indeed prisons are overflowing.

The American criminal justice system holds almost 2.3 million people in 1,719 state prisons, 109 federal prisons, 1,772 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,163 local jails, and 80 Indian Country jails as well as in military prisons, immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, state psychiatric hospitals …”

Imprison the black cannabis user; award the manufacturers of Xanax massive tax breaks.

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Pfizer CEO Ian Read’s total 2018 pay fell to $19.5 million [sob]

“If I were the devil I’d take from those, and who have, and give to those wanted until I had killed the incentive of the ambitious. And what do you bet? I could get whole states to promote gambling as thee way to get rich? I would caution against extremes and hard work, in Patriotism, in moral conduct. I would convince the young that marriage is old-fashioned, that swinging is more fun, that what you see on the TV is the way to be. And thus I could undress you in public, and I could lure you into bed with diseases for which there is no cure. In other words, if I were the devil I’d just keep right on doing on what he’s doing. Paul Harvey, good day.”

Which reminds me of an old joke:

Q: What’s the difference between AIDS, genital herpes, gonorrhea, and a time-share condo?

A:  Gonorrhea.  You can get rid of gonorrhea.

Good day!