5: Do I have a conscience?

“What did you do that for?” I demanded, through tears and sniffled. I had my hands up to my chin and felt stupid for it, but I couldn’t help it. I was still crying. I didn’t want to be here. Plus, I was afraid he’d come after me.

“He is a thing of evil. He exists on lifeforce and takes it from unwilling donors. Like me,” Reverend Tommy put a lot of emphasis on that last word. He didn’t need to.

“He was taking me somewhere,” I said.

“He was taking you to another place of evil.”

“What do you think this whole entire place is?” I shrieked. I didn’t care anymore if someone or something heard us. Then I remembered where I was – where this entire place was, and I did care, very much, and I looked around to see if anything had heard the echoes of my shriek off the rocks and gravel that made up this portion of Hell.

“I heard enough to know that he was taking you to meet others of your kind and I cannot allow that.”

“Well,” I said, “You’re not exactly in charge here and so I don’t have to listen to you.” But I didn’t know what else to do. He was still standing over Bob’s body and holding the big rock. I looked at Bob for a second, and wondered if he was breathing. Then I wondered if he was supposed to be breathing. I didn’t know. I just didn’t know.

But I didn’t move, and he didn’t move. We stood there. For a long time. Until I finally said “Let me help Bob.” He looked confused. “What,” I asked. “You heard everything we said but his name?”

He looked down, then at Bob and said “I won’t let you help him.”

“I have to. It’s wrong to just let him die. Or re-die. Or whatever.”

“You have no conscience. Don’t try that on me.”

I do have a conscience, I thought, but then I wasn’t so sure. He seemed to know an awful lot about me. And do people who have a conscience have to ask themselves if they have a conscience? Maybe he’s right, I thought, but then I thought, maybe it’s the other way around. Maybe only people with a conscience question whether they actually have a conscience.

He was still standing there, rock in hand. I wanted to help Bob but I also didn’t want to end up needing help.

Finally, I hit on an idea. “Fine,” I said. “Then just stay here.”

He looked at me.

“What does that mean?” He asked.

“It means I’m leaving. You won’t let me help him, so there’s nothing else for me to do here.” I looked around, trying to remember which direction Bob and I had been headed before this all started, and picked the direction that seemed the most likely. My eyes felt bleary and dried out from crying and my voice felt hoarse. My hands were still shaking a little. But I tried to not let him see that and I started walking in that direction. When I was about 20 feet further, far enough that I figured he couldn’t quickly catch up to me, I turned around.

“Without me, you’ll never get out of here,” I said.

He looked at me. “I will be able to leave.”

“How? Your stupid prayers don’t work here. I brought you here and only I can bring you back.” I was bluffing. I didn’t know how much he knew. I knew he knew more than me. But if he knew how to leave, he wouldn’t have looked so bluffed. He would have just laughed at me or called me evil or something. So I persisted. “You need me to get out. I don’t need you at all. But I need Bob.” I pointed at my friend. “So let me help him or I’ll just leave you here.”

He paused, rock in hand, then looked from Bob, to me. He shook his head and then smashed the rock down repeatedly, over and over. I heard bones crunching and grinding. I heard sloppy sounds. I heard him grunting. I stood there, in shock.

He finished and looked up at me. I expected him to be covered in blood but he wasn’t. Revenants don’t have blood, I expect. He stared at me for a second and then threw the rock down – I heard one more gross smushing sound – and then he ran towards me.

I took off running. I spun around and ran in the direction I thought Bob and I had been headed and scrambled up over rocks and around them. The part of Hell we were in had moved from a gravely plain with rocks to sort of a rocky plain with gravel, and there were big boulders and larger boulders all set on rocky gravel-strewn hills and it was rough going. I could hear him running and scraping after me. I didn’t know what he was going to do but I figured it wasn’t going to be good.

What kind of holy man was he? I wondered as I ran. But I knew: the kind that doesn’t hesitate to battle evil and the kind that is not afraid of evil, either. I didn’t know how to tell him that Bob wasn’t evil. I didn’t know how to convince him that I wasn’t evil, either, that all I wanted to do was figure out who I was and why I was all these different parts and why I couldn’t remember anything and why I went to Hell everytime I fell asleep. All I wanted to do was convince him that I wasn’t out to get anybody, that if I could just spend my time lazing around with Brigitte and figuring out, a little, why I was so different, that I’d be fine and I wouldn’t take over the world or kidnap anyone or anything like that.

But I couldn’t tell him that because I was running and climbing and running some more and I didn’t stop until I couldn’t hear him. I stopped, by a big boulder, and listened, gasping for breath. I didn’t hear him. I peered around and didn’t see Reverend Tommy. I climbed up onto a rock and laid there on my stomach, the rock hot against my bare boobs and stomach. I didn’t see him and I finally chanced raising my head more. I couldn’t see him at all.

I’d lost him. I had gotten separated from him, and I’d lost him. I hoped that Bob was wrong. I hoped that Bob was wrong and Reverend Tommy wouldn’t get caught and that if he was caught, I hoped he wouldn’t give me up and say I was here. But Bob had never been wrong in my whole life.

I started to get back down, and then I froze because I heard a sound. I heard a sort of crackling, snapping, fizzing sound. The air seemed to fizzle and then it stopped. I smelt something, something like… fresh air. No, not fresh air, either. I smelled air, though, and not the foul air of Hell. It smelled like a city. It smelled like dirigibles and electricity and metal and people.

I sniffed the air more and tried to figure out where it was coming from. Then I heard the sound of a footstep.

It wasn’t a footstep with shoes on, like Reverend Tommy’s. It wasn’t him. It was a bare footstep, the sound of skin slapping on rock. Just the one, and then it stopped.

Shame On America Sunday: Four Questions To Ask When Someone Asks For Help.

NOTE: If you read all the way to the end, you will see my bailout plan that will not cost the taxpayers anything and will definitely work. But
you have to sit through some rhetoric, first.

Shame On America Sunday is about contrasts -- about the comparing of two things that exist, side by side in America; the fact that those two things could exist, side-by-side, is why America, the richest greatest proudest country in the history of the world, should be ashamed of itself.

Today is no different. Well, today is a little different, because today, I'm starting with the little guy first. Usually, I begin where people's attention is always focused: The rich, the powerful, the famous, the spoiled-brat-kids/Tonight Show hosts who waste money, the selfish greedionaires.

I'm going to reverse that today.
He owns a house:

Here's Michael "J.B." Schaffner of Nocona Texas. "J.B" is a trucker hauling for a small company. Back in May, "J.B." was one of the organizers of a convoy to Washington D.C. to try to get Congress to do something about his ailing industry. "J.B." at the time was fueling his truck in small amounts, trying not to spend too much at any one time. One day, in his words, "I woke up and said a prayer," and began trying to do something to get some action about the high cost of fuel.

The trucking industry was in crisis before May, 2008; in the first quarter of 2008, nearly 1000 trucking companies went bankrupt.

Naturally, Congress went right to work, right? Of course they did: They introduced HR 6922, a bill to provide low-interest loans to companies hit hard by rising fuel costs.

They went straight to work on it, I said. They... introduced it to a committee where it sits to this day. HR 6922 is just a bill, sitting there on Capitol Hill -- it went off to committee, where it sits there and waits.

So Congress leapt right to action, and then slept right back to inaction.

Nobody, in the end, paid attention to "J.B." Did you hear about the convoy? Did you hear about HR 6922? Did Worst President Ever George Bush go on TV urging you to help the truckers?


He owns two houses and is worth $700 million.
Here's Henry Merritt Paulson, Jr. Odds are you've heard of him -- but only in the past few days. The odds are that you know that Paulson is the current Secretary of the Treasury; he's the guy that proposed the government give him $700 billion dollars with no strings attached and no oversight possible. When you propose someone give you $700 billion to do what you want with, that attracts attention.

Prior to that, Henry Merritt Paulson, Jr., attracted very little attention, which is odd because people usually pay at least some attention to the ultra-rich swank business leaders.

Paulson is ultra-rich. He was born in Palm Beach, Florida. He went to Ivy League school Dartmouth, and then Harvard Business School. He owns, at last report, two homes. (How many homes do you have? I have just the one.)

Henry Merritt Paulson, Jr., became a partner at Goldman Sachs in 1982. He had a leadership role of one sort or another at Goldman Sachs from 1982 through 2006; he ended his career at Goldman Sachs in 2006 when he came to join the Failed Bush Administration in its multiyear plan to destroy America.

Where else have you heard "Goldman Sachs" lately? You may be struggling to sort out all the financial news, so I'll help you with some recent news quotes that feature "Goldman Sachs."

From "The Economic Times." Last Sunday marked the end of an era. That was the day Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, the last two of the original five big investment banks on Wall Street, became history.

From "The New York Times." The beginning of the end is felt even in the halls of the white-shoe firm Goldman Sachs, which, among its Wall Street peers, epitomized and defined a high-risk, high-return culture.

Why are you smiling, Henry Merritt
Paulson, Jr.?

There are those who say that Goldman Sachs -- whose employees earned an average of $600,000 per year in 2007 -- will survive because of major changes it has made. Don't connect those changes with Paulson, though. From that same NYTimes article:

GOLDMAN’S latest golden era can be traced to the rise of Mr. Blankfein, the Brooklyn-born trading genius who took the helm in June 2006, when Henry M. Paulson Jr., a veteran investment banker and adviser to many of the world’s biggest companies, left the bank to become the nation’s Treasury secretary.

Is it because your company helped create a
culture that led to this, while enriching you
to a ridiculous degree?

Blankfein took over because Henry Merritt Paulson, Jr., had moved to Washington, D.C., having earned $53.4 million in the previous two years as head of Goldman Sachs; with a net worth of over $700 million, Henry Merritt Paulson, Jr., could afford to take the pay cut from an average of $25 million per year to $191,300 per year -- that's what the Secretary of the Treasury is paid -- and live off of savings.

Interestingly, I did a Google search to see if Henry Merritt Paulson, Jr.'s commitment to public service included not collecting some or all of his $191,300 per year government salary -- he surely doesn't need it-- but found nothing to suggest that he returns that money back to the Treasury.

(By comparison, Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, whose net worth is very low, routinely refuses pay increases, and his office routinely cuts pay and returns money to the U.S. Treasury. In 2002, Feingold had negative equity in his home in Middleton, Wisconsin, and yet refused a $9000 per year pay increase, accepting only the $136,700 that was in effect when he was elected. In 2008, he listed less than $350,000 in assets and a liability that included his second mortgage.)

Henry Merritt Paulson, Jr., clearly has the ear of Washington, unlike Michael "J.B." Schaffner. When Henry Merritt Paulson, Jr., went to Congress and asked for $700 billion, Congress went into round-the-clock negotiations; John McCain briefly and hyperbolically suspended his campaign to address the problem (and duck a debate with Obama). Failed Worst President Ever George W. Bush went on TV to urge Americans to support the cause.

Why would Washington, D.C., listen to Henry Merritt Paulson, Jr., so avidly, but pay no real attention to Michael "J.B." Schaffner?

Why is the government prepared only to lend money, at low interest rates to struggling trucker firms but will hand money over to giant investment banks? The truckers did not make poor investment decisions trying to "epitomize[] a high-risk, high-return culture." They weren't creating poorly-understood financial packages that created money from nothing, like so many real-life Sherman McCoys; they were driving around the food and materials we need, and were hit hard by events beyond their own control -- the high gas prices.

I don't know, for sure, why DC listens to rich men but not truckers -- but I suspect that it's because the rich men contribute to campaigns and can give lucrative jobs to people once they leave public office -- and that makes me suspect that the "bailout" is nothing of the sort, but instead a payoff or a bribe. If a bailout was a good idea, I suspect that Congress would have bailed out the trucking companies; or at the least would have voted on the idea in the past four months.

The haste with which the richest, best, greatest nation ever is bending over backwards to help millionaires stay millionaires, when contrasted with the way the richest, best, greatest nation ever has ignored for four months the poor struggling truckers, tells me that Congress is concerned less with helping businesses or the economy and more with helping itself get re-elected or land a cushy job. If you were hoping to stay employed and keep your house, would you rather have Henry Merritt Paulson, Jr., owe you a favor, or "J.B.?" No offense, "J.B." -- you're probably a nice guy, but Congress would rather suck up to Henry Merritt Paulson, Jr., and the investment bankers.

So on that bailout: Every single time the government tells you that a business is too big to fail; ever single time the government tells you that intervention in the marketplace is necessary, every single time the government says we need to do this, why not call your congressperson and ask them which trucking companies were "too big to fail?" Why not ask them why trucking companies are allowed to go bankrupt but investment banks aren't? Why not ask them why it costs more to get your children's cereal to the store, making you pay more for your children's breakfast, while the government is subsidizing Wall Street bankers who averaged $600,000 per year?

Ask them why their plan is to use your money to help out people who earn, on average, $600,000 per year, people who gambled that money -- and why your money isn't used to help out businesses like "J.B.'s" trucking company?

I suspect Congress' plan won't work, and I suspect that Congress is instituting the plan for its own gain rather than the country's gain, because not only is Congress disingenuously insisting that the government must help businesses, insisting that about the business of millionaires while ignoring the business of common folk -- not only that, but also because Congress has not yet stopped to ask the four questions it must ask.
On the foreclosure block: People's houses.
The Fix: Whenever someone asks me for money, I ask them four questions: How much do you need? What is it for? How'd you end up here? And how can I make sure you don't come back next week?

Those four questions are not being asked. Specifically, the last two are not being asked. The banks are failing because they engaged in two basic, flawed practices, and then engaged in a third.

Not on the foreclosure block: the Goldman Sachs Building.
Banks began subprime lending as the housing market exploded, fueled by cheap money from low interest rates. "Subprime" lending means lending to people who were not good credit risks. That is, banks took more risks with their money; in roulette terms, instead of betting on "red," they bet on "Red 23." At the same time, banks began "securitizing" loans. "Securitization" is a complicated process, but it amounts to this: No one bank owns your mortgage loan. Instead, a variety of investors and banks hold pieces of your loan; they all make money based on various factors that have very little direct connection with whether or not you pay your loan.

That led to two problems: First, people defaulting on their loans -- not unexpectedly, given that they were poor credit risks in the first place. To qualify some debtors, loans began with deceptively low payments, payments that didn't even cover the accruing interest, which meant that every single day, these homeowners owed more on their loan than they did the day before.

At the same time, the housing market became saturated; how many homes do you think people can buy? After a time, a slump will always occur, as everyone who wanted to or could buy a house did, and you have to wait for another upturn.

So it began: People began defaulting, and housing prices slumped. At the same time, too, there was nobody on the other end of the mortgage who could make responsible choices. When people defaulted on their loans, there was nobody on the other end of the line who could cut a new deal, try to cut their losses, or otherwise deal responsibly with it. Mortgage servicers and lawyers were turned loose with one direction: Foreclose.

All those foreclosed houses end up on the market, an already depressed market, creating a housing glut, and further cutting into the bank's profits.

If you loaned money to someone, and they came back and said I can't pay you in full, you'd have a couple of choices: Forgive the debt. Enforce the debt. Or modify the debt. You could say "Tough, I want all my money now" and sue and try to get it all, running the risk that you get nothing and increase your expenses. Or you could say Well, pay me what you can and we'll see if things don't get better. You could say If you pay me 60% of what you owe me, we'll call it even, so that you get money today without further risk or expense.

All of those might be viable choices depending on your circumstances and the particular deal. But you would be able to make those choices and determine which is best.

Securitized loans don't have that. Lenders sell the loan and there's nobody out there, no one person, who can make or not make a deal, in almost every case.

That's a longwinded way of introducing my own bailout plan, because I had to answer those two questions that nobody is asking: How'd you end up here? And how can I make sure you don't come back next week? Those are the two most important questions.

We ended up here because of securitization of loans and bad loans. We can make sure they don't come back next week by addressing those loans.

So here is my bailout, which costs the government next to nothing; some parts of this were suggested to me by people and I liked them, so I'm taking their ideas:

1. Tell states that to get federal highway funds in 2009 and 2010, they must institute an immediate 12-month moratorium on foreclosures. This costs no government or taxpayer anything; the federal highway funds will be paid or not, regardless, and states gain or lose nothing from stopping foreclosures. No state ever bucks the federal highway money threat. By doing this, the housing market depression is stalled, and mortgages that are or would soon be in foreclosure are frozen -- giving lenders a powerful incentive to begin working on some other package. (Thanks to Bill Clinton and A Guy At Work for this suggestion.)

2. Allow any person to receive a government guarantee on their loan, in an amount up to the median value of homes in that county, by converting the loan to a nondischargeable, fixed-rate lower-interest obligation. This program would work like the guaranteed student-loan program; borrowers would agree that their loan would be a personal obligation and nondischargeable in bankruptcy, as student loans are, and in exchange for that, the government would guarantee payment to the lender, but the interest rate would be reduced to just above the current prime rate. Borrowers who owe more than the median value of homes in their area would not qualify; only primary residences would qualify. The government might take a short-term hit as they pay off banks on defaulted loans, but would be able to collect against the borrowers in the long run. Banks would lose some income by trading sky-high adjustables for lower fixed-rate mortgage -- but would avoid defaults and have a guaranteed income stream. (Thanks to A Gal At Work for this suggestion.)

3. Encourage investment in troubled banks on a long-term basis by eliminating taxes on certain investments. The government would encourage wealthy individuals -- like Warren Buffett, who just took a huge stake in Goldman Sachs, and like the Forbes 400 -- to bailout the companies using private money; this encouragement would be given by first developing a list of troubled companies that need a bailout -- including unglamorous trucking companies. The goverment would then announce that anyone who purchases stock in a company on the list would receive all dividends from that stock, if any, tax-free for 10 years, provided they held the stock for 10 years. In addition, any capital gain on the stock, if held for 10 years, would be tax-free. Any tax deductible loss after 10 years would be doubled, if the stock was held for 10 years. The government could do the same things for bonds issued by those companies: allow the companies to issue 10-year or longer bonds, bonds that are not tradeable but must be held, and make the interest earned on those bonds tax-free. (Thanks to ME for this suggestion.)

That prong, if the companies do well, costs the government nothing; it must forego EXTRA tax revenue on the income earned, but does not spend any additional money. If the companies do not do well, the government, in 10 years, will suffer some reduced tax revenues from the doubled deduction for losses.

Simple: Three Steps, and it stops the problem. The housing market can rebound; people who bought affordable homes will be protected, while people who borrowed, or lent, money foolishly will have a year to try to resolve the problem and then will be left in their own boat; and private money will solve private companies' problems, with some government encouragement.

What you can do until the Fix is in: Contact Your Congress Person! Tell them No Public Money for Private Companies! Urge them to ask those four questions and adopt my plan -- or suggest a plan of your own.

Clicking on this link will take you to a map of the US; click your state and get easy access to your congressperson and senators. I'm going to email this link to mine; you can do the same.

Bob knows where others are.

About twenty minutes later, we set out. It took that long to capture Reverend Tommy, who did not volunteer to go with us. He was trying to creep over the rubble at the edge of the piece of Chicago and when he saw us coming back, he began hollering and yelling, things like Demon Spawn and the like, and a couple of times as he fled from us, he stopped and began praying but like Bob had predicted, it didn’t work here, and once as he tried to get away we’d all frozen and dropped to the ground and tried to hide because something big – BIG—and black and dark had drifted overhead, way way overhead but still really big; it blotted out a big chunk of the sky.

So we were dragging Reverend Tommy behind us, unconscious and tied with bits of Bob’s clothes because I’d appeared here, naked, like always. Reverend Tommy’s clothes had come with him. I wondered if I’d done that, and if I’d done that, I wondered why I couldn’t bring my clothes with me.

I say “we” were dragging him but it was mostly Bob. I don’t think revenants get tired like we do. I guess when you exist on lifeforce things like muscle fatigue may not mean that much.

We walked and walked and dragged him and dragged him. Every now and then I’d look to see if he was awake, and he never was, and if he was still breathing, and he always was. I regretted having to hit him with that rock, but he wouldn’t give up. Bob thought maybe I hit him a little hard, and I maybe did. He had it coming.

I thought we had walked about a dozen miles and said so. I thought we had walked a couple of hours, and said so. Bob laughed.

“Distances and time don’t mean the same thing here, Rachel. You know that.”

I did know that. I didn’t answer right away. Then I said “So how long has it been?”

Bob answered: “It’s been no specific length of time. Hell doesn’t operate on your terms. Time passes, or doesn’t pass, depending on if it needs to pass.” He looked at me.

“Time is one way in your world, Rachel, because of entropy. Entropy is decay and chaos, and as things decay and move into chaos, you say, and I used to say, that time is passing. Time is a measure of how much things have decayed.”

He swept a hand around the landscape.

“Hell is chaos and entropy. It is nothing but chaos and entropy.”

“I thought it was pain and torture.”

“That is an aspect of chaos and entropy.”

I was getting bored.

“Bob,” I asked him, “How come you’re nice to me?”

“You mean how come I don’t try to take your life force?”

”Yeah, that too. But how come you don’t try to turn me into the Devil or eat me or something.”

“I don’t work for Hell.”

“You’ve said that before. So how come you’re here?”

He squinted at me. “I’m here the same reason I think you got here.”

He let that sit in silence for a minute as we walked on, Reverend Tommy’s head making scratching sounds in the dirt and gravel.

“By mistake,” he said, finally. “I’m here by mistake. And I think that’s how you got here, too.”

I looked at him and said “Why didn’t you ever tell me that before?”

“Because I wasn’t very sure about it. Now, I’m actually pretty sure about it. When I first met you, I hadn’t met anyone like you before. Now, I’ve met quite a few like you. Lots and lots like you.” He considered. “Well, not lots and lots, but a lot like you.”

“Like me?”


“I’m a zombie, for real?”

Bob paused and dropped Reverend Tommy’s legs. He stood facing me and picked up my hands.

“Look, Rachel. You have to have noticed. Haven’t you? How long have you been… noticing things?”

I thought back.

“Here? Or in life?”


“Here, I don’t know. In life, about,”I counted “10 days. Give or take. A lot’s happened,” I lamely finished. Who doesn’t know how long they’ve been remembering things?

“You spent a long long time with me when we first met, or so you told me. I don’t know how to keep track of time anymore; I never leave here. But you said it was a long time.”

“It was. It felt like months.”

“And then the second time, you said it was … weeks, was that the word?”


“Tell me what you’ve noticed.”

I looked around. He shook my hands, then, and held them up. “Not around here. About YOU. Tell me what you’ve noticed about YOU.”

I thought back to that first day… could that have been only 10 days ago, in life? It felt like years, but a good deal of that time had been spent in Hell; far less had been spent in life with Brigitte and Doc.


“I noticed …” I looked at my hands. “I noticed…” I looked down at my bare legs. I put my hands to my face and smelt them.

“Say it,” he said.

“I noticed that I’m built of different parts.”

“Exactly,” said Bob. “I noticed that the first time I ever met you. But I didn’t know what you were or how you got here or anything about you.”

“And now?”

“Now, I still don’t know all of that. But I know there’s others like you, more arriving all the time. Arriving and leaving.”

“Arriving and leaving?”

“Like you do. They appear, naked, and they disappear. And when they’re here, they…” He trailed off. I pulled my hands away from my eyes and looked to see why he’d stopped. Bob was bent down and looking into Reverend Tommy’s eyes, pulling one open and then the next.

“They what?”

Bob looked up at me, and said, a bit distractedly, “You’ll see. I’m taking you to them. You’re going to meet your kin.”

Then, he leaned down and held his mouth over Reverend Tommy’s glazed eyes, and inhaled. I saw a glow. I saw wisps of luminescent steam start to form over Reverend Tommy’s eyes.

“What are you doing?” I asked. I sounded more angry than I was. I was startled.

“I need some of his lifeforce. It’s been a long time.”

“You shouldn’t do that!”

He inhaled and sucked in the wisps and looked at me. “I need to.”

I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t like Reverend Tommy and I did like Bob but I felt that it was wrong for him to just be sucking out Reverend Tommy’s lifeforce like that, without even being asked to or anything, and while Reverend Tommy couldn’t defend himself. I was all torn, and then I wasn’t torn at all because suddenly Reverend Tommy reared his head back and howled.

“Stop that, demon spawn!” he cursed. He was trying to close his eyes, which Bob was holding open and pulling wisps of steam from. “Stop! Ooooooohhhhh!” he moaned as a long wisp pulled out and I saw his body go rigid.

I just stood there.

Bob pinned him down and looked at me.

“Rachel, help me,” he said. “I need the energy. He’s fighting me too much.”

I just stood there.

“Foul beast,” Reverend Tommy gasped. “You shall not get any more from me.” He turned towards me “Do not lay a hand on me, whorething,” he muttered.

I just stood there, a little more.

“Rachel, I need the energy or I’m not going to be able to take you to meet the others!” Bob yelled.

Reverend Tommy was squirming now, trying to free himself.

“Bob, I don’t know. It doesn’t seem right,” I said.

“This is HELL,” Bob hollered. “How do you think I survive? I’m the only friend you’ve got here!”

I knew that wasn’t true. But he was the only friend I had right here. I could never count on Ivanka showing up.

Reverend Tommy was wrestling now, looking very spry for someone who had just been knocked out and only awakened by a revenant eating his soul.

“I will see you stricken down, demon spawn,” he said.

“Why do you keep calling me that?” Bob snarled at him, and lunged forward and pinned down Reverend Tommy and pushed him backwards onto the ground. Bob’s bony hands clawed at him as Reverend Tommy squinched his eyes shut and flung his head this way and that.

I sat down and started crying. I’m embarrassed by that but only a little bit. I might be made of parts of someone, but I’m just a woman, a girl, really, and I didn’t want to be standing in Hell and watching my friend the Revenant try to suck someone’s life out of him, even if that someone was a terrible person who’d kidnapped me. I began sobbing and I put my head in my hands and cried and cried and cried.

Which was a bad move because it distracted Bob for a second and Reverend Tommy was able to roll over and get up to his knees, and he pulled his hands out of the make-shift knot we’d put together, and he turned around with a rock in his hands and smashed it into Bob’s face and Bob dropped to the ground and lay there motionless.

Then Reverend Tommy turned to me with the rock still in his hands.

Part of Chicago Fell On Bob.

"You're getting better at this," I heard, though, and that stopped me. When you hear a voice you recognize in Hell, you stop. It's just natural to do so.

Plus, this voice was the only friendly voice I’d ever heard in Hell. There were only two people in Hell who were ever nice to me – I’m using “people” loosely—and this was one of them.

I turned around and saw him. It was Bob.

That’s what I call him, anyway. “Bob.” “Bob The Revenant,” if you want to be exact. I call him “Bob” because when I met him long long long ago, he told me that if he’d ever had a name, he didn’t any longer because he couldn’t remember it.

I was lucky that Bob found me, back then. He found me, in fact, after I had crawled to the top of the crevice, my first memory in Hell; I don’t know how long after I had made it to the top he found me, because I spent a long time sitting just below the edge of the rocks, peeking up occasionally and crying, sobbing, really, all the time.

I knew, somehow, back then, that I was in Hell. But I didn’t know how I had ended up there, or anything else about me or what was going on. I just knew that I was in Hell. I knew that because there’s just no mistaking it. Even without memories, even without a history, even without a name, some instinctive part of me, some part of my soul, knew that I was in Hell. And I knew, too, that I didn’t want to be there.

I don’t know why nobody first noticed that I was there before Bob. Eventually the crawling people and the demons torturing them on petered out. I always thought that a given torment was forever, in Hell; but this was not. It went on for maybe days, maybe weeks, while I huddled near the edge of that chasm, but it did start to peter out.

And when they were gone, when the plain was clear, I crept up over the edge of the rocks and looked around. The entire windswept plain seemed empty, but I couldn’t be sure that I wasn’t being watched. It felt like I was being watched. I felt eyes upon me, presences near me, and I didn’t know if it was my imagination.

Over the time I’d huddled there I’d tried to process what had happened. I’d decided that I was in Hell. I decided that meant I’d died, but I didn’t know for sure, because I felt solid and real and whole and alive. So then I’d decided that maybe I was alive and had somehow been cast into Hell, but I wondered if a soul wouldn’t feel solid and real to itself, and I wondered if I was alive, why wasn’t I getting hungrier or thirstier or tired and why I hadn’t slept.

So I tabled all of that and spent my time worrying instead that someone would see me and I’d begin that slow painful crawl all the other people were doing.

I’d been standing there, on the edge of the rock, slowly looking around and trying to see who was looking at me or presence-ing at me, when I heard Bob’s voice the first time.

“Hello,” he said then, which seemed a natural enough way to begin a conversation.

“Hello,” I said to him now, standing in the pieces of Chicago that had come with me and Reverend Tommy when we’d appeared here. I knew what he was talking about, my getting better at stuff. I’d brought out Mr. Damned Soul, and I’d brought in Reverend Tommy and part of Chicago. So maybe I was getting better at this.

“Why is this here?” asked Bob.

I always wondered what Bob’s deal was. He seemed so friendly—but how could a revenant be friendly? How could he go on living in Hell and be friendly? Why didn’t he leave?

Bob always brushed off those questions.

“I don’t know,” I told him. “It was an accident.”

“It’s going to attract attention,” he said.

“I figured,” I responded. “That’s why I was trying to leave. Do you have your boat with you?”

“I have neither my boat nor a river. I was walking and your city appeared and crushed my body and I had to crawl out from underneath those steps and then wait for my body to become more three-dimensional. I was flattened almost into two dimensions, you know.”

What are the odds that a part of Chicago would fall on Bob?

“Like the Wicked Witch of the West,” he said.

“Who?” I asked. Were there witches in Hell, too?

“Never you mind,” he said. “What’s the story about that other person you brought?”

“He’s trying to kill me. Or something,” I said.

“So you brought him here? That seems too cruel for you.”

“I didn’t try to bring him here. He was going to kill me or whatever and I blacked out and we came here.” I paused. “So it serves him right.”

“You still cannot control it?”


“You should work on that.”

“He,” I pointed to the Reverend Tommy, “Thinks I can.”

“He’s right. You can.”

“Tell me how.”

Bob didn’t answer me. “You should get moving,” he said. “Someone besides me will notice this. You don’t want to be noticed. And you don’t want to be here when they notice that more has been added to Hell.”

I nodded, and turned around to begin walking away, then I realized I was blowing off the only help I had. I turned back to Bob. “Which way?” I asked.

He scanned the horizon, his face drawn and pinched and his lips pursed. His eye sockets were really sunken in. He pointed to his right. “That way,” he said, indicating a direction that would have been directly across the street from the entrance of the Art Institute if we had still been in Chicago, but in this case was a rocky-looking terrain that sat at the steps of the portion of the museum that now rested in Hell. “And bring the Reverend with you,” said Bob.

I considered. “Why? Can he help me?”

“No,” said Bob. “I doubt he can. I doubt that he can draw on any Almighty help down here. But if he is captured, he can tell whoever finds him about you. And he will.” He looked around. “He will certainly tell.”


Shame on America Sunday: $18 bucks a second.

I hope that all of the people who decry me as a socialist are frantically writing to any elected officials they can, and saying For God's sake, I am opposed to socialism of the type that I decry when The Trouble With Roy espouses it, so please, Mr. Government Official, do not in any way interfere in the marketplace by, for example, bailing out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and AIG. I'm willing to let all my insurance premiums be for naught because I'm opposed to socialism!

All the "you're nothing but a socialist" types, you're doing that, right? Or are you NOT, because you think government intervention in the marketplace is okay when you want them to do that? If so, then line up with the people who tell me It's their money and that I shouldn't tell people what to do with their money ... yes, yes, over under the sign that reads "Hypocrites."

If you're going to disagree with me about what I write, in Shame On America Sunday or anything else, you should at least make sure you're being consistent. Don't say "It's their money, they can do what they want with it" unless you are also intending to say "it's okay to buy and sell human beings," because if it's their money to do what they want with, then there are no limits. That's what you're saying. if, on the other hand, there are limits, then I'm free to say that those limits should include not wearing a $313,000 outfit and you can't respond that it's their money because we agree that there's limits.

I bring those two points up in advance because I'm going to hear a lot of that today as we look at people who have more money than the law should allow them to have.

The Forbes 400 list came out this week; the big story about that was that for the first time ever, if you have only $1 billion, you are not among the 400 richest people in America.

Only $1 billion. There are 400 people who have more than One billion dollars. That's one of the main stories about the list. There were a lot of stories, but that was one that got the most attention.

A lot of attention was paid to this list, and I followed that attention, and not once did I hear anyone even remotely approach the notion that it is disgusting, it is contemptible, for people to have that much money.

It is contemptible, moreover, regardless of how much the greedy rich person gives to charity.

I'm comfortable saying that, and here's why: Just as there can be limits on how much money you spend on something, there should also be a limit on how much money you need in a lifetime.

Now all the hackles just went up again, as people get ready to tell me You can't just take away their money and they give a lot to charity.

I can, though, just take away their money. Well, I can't. But politicians can, and they should do so. They should do so for the same reason they already do so -- they should take away the money because the greedy billionaires do not need it, and other people do.

The government already takes the money it figures you do not need, and gives it to the people and institutions it thinks do need that money; that's what taxes are. People, too, take money that they do not need, and give it to institutions and people that do need it; that's called charity.

The government should take away most of the Forbes 400's money, and give it to people who need it.

It should do that even though those people may already pay a lot in taxes and may give a lot to charity. They have more than they will ever need, more than they should have, and it does not matter how much they give to charity; it's greedy of them to keep the amounts they have.

The Forbes 400 multibillionaires, regardless of how much they give to charity, are hoarding wealth, hoarding wealth and using it for selfish purposes -- and doing so when it cannot possibly gain them any more in terms of luxury, comfort, or material gains.

In other words, they're keeping money they will never have any need for and cannot use now -- while keeping that money from people who could use it. That's why I say they're greedy, and that's why the government should take it away from them, as much as the government can.

And, as I said, I don't care how much they give to charity. They still have too much. Most people will disagree with that, but I'm right. People will think they can't have too much because it's money. But they can have too much, because they have more than they could ever use and are keeping it from those who could use it. Keeping something that you have no need for, keeping it and keeping others from using it, is greedy and selfish and hoarding.

Let me give you an analogy. Suppose I'm talking about food. Suppose I stockpile enough food in a warehouse for me to eat for my entire lifetime; food enough that I would never be hungry, even if I lived to be 150 years old.

At that point, I don't need more food, do I? I don't need more food stockpiled.

But suppose that I'm the nervous type. Suppose I say what if my needs change, and I suddenly require double the calories each day? Or what if my first food supply gets nuked? So I decide to be safe. I stockpile enough food for three lifetimes, in different locations.

At that point, I don't need more food, do I? Shouldn't I quit stockpiling food?

If I keep stockpiling food, despite having enough for three lifetimes, then that is only justifiable if everyone else everywhere has enough food, too -- because otherwise, I've got three lifetimes worth of food that I will never eat, while people are starving.

Suppose, then, that I keep my three lifetimes worth of food, and keep stockpiling more -- but now I take 1/2 of all the new food I gather up, and give that away. So after a few years, I've given away a lifetime's worth of food, but I have four lifetimes worth of food stockpiled, and there are still people starving.

What do you think of me now? Is it right that I have four lifetimes' worth of food, food I'll never ever eat, while people starve? Is it right even though I gave away a whole lifetime worth of food?

Of course it's not.

That's why it's wrong that the people on the Forbes 400 list have that much money. That's why it's greedy and selfish of them. That's why our country should not countenance that. I'm not against people being rich -- even though nobody anywhere needs to earn more than $200,000 per adult in their household-- but I am against people hoarding resources (money is a resource) and using resources foolishly while others go without.

Let's take the top person on the list. Bill Gates is worth $59 billion dollars. I'm not sure that anyone can really take in the scope of $59 billion dollars, and writing it like that doesn't help.

Here's $59 billion dollars in numeric form: $59,000,000,000. Looks like a lot more there, doesn't it?

Here's how $59 billion dollars measures out over a human lifespan. If a person lives to be 100, he or she could spend $589,999,900 every year he was alive, and still die with $10,000 leftover to cover funeral expenses.

That $589,999,900 per year breaks down like this: That selfish billionaire could spend $1,616,438.08 per day, each and every day of his life from the moment he's born until the day he dies -- and still have $10,000 left over.

That person -- Bill Gates -- could spent $67,351.58 per hour of his existence, living to be 100, and still have $10,000 left over. That's $1,122.52 per minute, with money left over.

$18 per second. That's what $59 billion is, over 100 years of existence, a person with $59 billion can spend $18 per second; $18 per heartbeat... and never run out of money.

In other words, Bill Gates cannot spend all of his money. If he set about trying to do just that... short of giving it away... Bill Gates could not spend all of his money -- and if he even came close, he would either be vastly overpaying for the things he bought, or he would simply be accumulating wealth and things he does not need and should not be allowed to own (like private islands -- which I'll get to someday, but not today)

I don't mean to pick on Bill Gates alone; his hoarding of $59 million is the tops on the list of the Forbes 400, but by no means the only example of a rich, greedy person withholding resources from people when he himself cannot use those resources.

The top 10 people on that list of people who should be ashamed of themselves, and who should hope that the population of the U.S. doesn't listen to me and realize that they could simply vote to take away that money, have together a net worth of $271.2 billion. In numeric notation, that's:


That's just the top 10. The entire list of 400 is worth $1.54 trillion; and again, it looks less evil to write it that way, so I'll write it out numerically:


Supposing-- just supposing, that each greedy billionaire on the list were to simply give away all of their assets except $1 billion. Suppose they gave it all away, but each of those 400 people kept $1 billion for themselves.

That would leave each billionaire with $1,000,000,000. Is that enough to live on? Again, do the math. If you lived 100 years and had $1,000,000,000, you could spend $10,000,000 per year, or $27,397 per day, each and every day of your life.

I think they'd make do. I think a billion dollars would manage to help them muddle through.

Doing that -- having them give it away, or taking it from them, would keep $400 billion in the ranks of the Forbes 400, but would free up ... $1,140,000,000,000.

Over 100 years, the money that would be taken from them would allow the US to spend $11,400,000,000 per year.

Assuming that we didn't invest that money and get some interest, of course. I wonder how much better a place to live the US would be with an additional $11 billion dollars per year for schools and social programs and roads?

Bill Gates has net worth of $59 billion dollars; reducing that to $1 billion dollars would not in any way change his lifestyle, but would help countless people in the United States achieve something a little more than they thought they could. It could, for example, help someone pay for, say, a kidney transplant.

That's what Jay Menhennet III is trying to do. Jay is getting his second kidney transplant, from a kidney donated by his sister. Jay's body rejected the first one; he's struggled all his life with diabetes and has had part of his right leg amputated.

A kidney transplant costs $250,000 (So Bill Gates could buy himself 236,000 kidney transplants! Or he could buy himself a new kidney every four hours for the next 100 years!), and there are additional costs beyond that, costs that are not always covered by insurance. The medications cost $2,000-$5,000 per month (so the average selfish billionaire on the list could use about 3 minutes' worth of his money to pay for a month's worth of medications!)

Jay, and his family and his friends don't have $59 billion dollars. They can't spend $18 per second every second of their lives for a 100 years. Because of that, they have to find a different way to pay for a kidney for Jay. They are trying to raise money to defray those costs; they're having a pasta dinner pretty soon, and they're asking people to pay $6 per ticket (or 1/3 of a second worth of Bill Gates' existence; Bill Gates could treat 9 billion of his friends and have money left over!) to try to help cover the costs, and they've also set up a fund to help, and they've listed him on the website for the National Foundation for Transplants.

They have to rely on donations, you know. Donations for money and time and even for an organ. But luckily for Jay, not everyone is like the Forbes 400; not everyone takes resources that are precious and keeps them from other who need them. There are, instead, people like Jay's sister, who realized that she only needs one kidney, so she's giving Jay her other one. Even one of Jay's nieces offered her kidney.

Total number of kidneys offered by the Forbes 400 to help Jay? Zero. Total number of kidneys offered by people who can't spend $18 per second? Three.

But, then, hoarders don't give up anything valuable, do they? So we can't expect that the Forbes 400, who are so intent on keeping resources they could never need or use in their lifetime, to give up anything they've hoarded.

Lucky for Jay, he's not relying on the goodness of the Forbes 400; he's relying on people like me and you. We may not have $18 bucks a second, but we do have some spare kidneys, and we do like pasta.

You can donate money to Jay -- it's a tax deduction just like the selfish billionaires get -- by sending it to: NFT Ohio Kidney Fund, 5350 Poplar Ave., Suite 430, Memphis, Tenn. 38119.

Read more about Jay by clicking this link

The Fix: The highest marginal level of income tax should be raised to 60% of annual income over $1 million dollars; there should be a federal property tax leveled on property and assets held above $1 million dollars. Those, plus the remedies I advised to keep celebrities from owning 160 cars, would help.

What You Can Do Until The Fix Is Done: (1) Make sure your license okays you to be re an organ donor -- you certainly can't use them after you're dead, and (2) make a contribution to The National Foundation For Transplants to help someone like Jay afford the basic necessities of life (Yes, I'm counting "a functioning kidney" as a basic necessity of life; if that makes me a socialist, I'm okay with that) until such time as voters get their act together and start voting for politicians who understand that it's okay to tax the rich because the rich will have more than enough left over, and (3) voters, get your act together and start voting for politicians who understand that it's okay to tax the rich because the rich will have more than enough left over-- and demand that they do so!

Getting Better At This.

At first, I didn't think anything had changed. The world went black, and then it went normal again, only it wasn't normal, it just seemed like it.

I'd never been in a part of Hell that looked like a part of the 'real world' before. I'd seen a lot of Hell -- a lot more than anyone would ever want to see -- because the time I spent there was so different than the time I spend in the real world but I'd not seen all of it.

When the blackness faded away, I was still on the steps of the Chicago Art Institute. Reverend Tommy was still there but he was slumped onto his knees, hands on the ground. The buildings and streets were all around us.

But the resemblance to "real" Chicago quickly fell away. First because it was about 200 degrees hotter, maybe; most of Hell is hot unless you don't want it to be and then it's cold. It's never just right.

Second, the air felt thick and miasmic and hard to breathe. Spots appeared on my skin as what felt like mist fell around me. The spots were red. I touched them and they were slightly sticky.


We were standing in, and getting spattered with, and breathing, a mist of blood.

I wondered where it came from, and I realized, as I looked around, that there were exploded corpses all over the stairs. Everywhere within sight, in fact, were corpses -- people who appeared to have been blown to smithereens and then dropped dead. It must have just happened because their blood, blown into the sky, was just dropping on us.

I looked around more, grossed out and more than a little horrified. The front of the Art Institute was swaying and bricks were falling off. I looked a little further and realized that this wasn't some Hell version of Chicago; we had taken a chunk of Chicago with us. When I'd touched Reverend Tommy, and I'd blacked out, I'd gone to Hell -- but I'd brought him with me, the way I'd brought Mr. Damned Corpse out, and we'd brought a chunk of Chicago, including all those poor people who had been watching the standoff.

And including Rex, I noted, seeing the heap of fur and bones near Reverend Tommy.

He was standing up.

"You damned creature," he rasped. He was one tough guy, I'll give him that. But he hadn't noticed what had happened yet, which I realized because he first realized the mist was hitting him and stuck his hand out, then looked at it. Then he looked like he almost threw up. Almost. But he didn't. Like I said, tough.


He looked at me.

"You..." he said.

"It's Hell," I said, and turned around and began walking away from him. I heard some more crackling.

"You have brought me to Hell?" Reverend Tommy said, more sternly than shocked. He was like a parent who, hearing that the dirigible has been smacked up, is more concerned about how much to punish the kid than about getting things fixed up.

"You brought me to Hell," I snapped. "You, with your magic prayer thing. You knocked me out, and whenever I fall asleep, I end up in Hell."

"Where you belong," he said.

"Where you are," I said back.

There were more rumblings, and a part of the wall that used to be the front of the Art Institute fell away. I wondered what it looked like back in Chicago.

Reverend Tommy noticed it too, and began to move away. He went off to the right. I decided to go off to the left. I wasn't bound to him, and I wasn't going to help him.

I stalked away from him, in the exact opposite direction, trying to get out from under the shadow of the wall before it fell over if that's what it was going to do, trying to find a place to hide, if possible, and wait until I wake up. There was a time when I'd have gone exploring, but I didn't want to explore Hell and I didn't want trouble anymore; the last time with the waterspout had convinced me of that.

"You're getting better at this," I heard, though, and that stopped me. When you hear a voice you recognize in Hell, you stop. It's just nature.

This is 100% true about office workers, unless my boss is reading this in which case it's all a joke.

The office is about to become obsolete. Not the show -- that'll probably stick around a few more years-- the actual physical place that you go to every day to "work" is not going to be necessary anymore.

Let's face it: here's what we all do in the office all day, based on my careful scientific observations of me: we drink coffee, we blog, and we talk about sports, and we read sports news, and we play fantasy leagues and bet in office pools. Then we talk about all those things.

Coffee, though, is available anywhere -- I'm drinking some right now, and I'm at HOME, if you can believe that. That leaves the office as primarily a place to talk about, read about, bet on and engage in fantasy versions of sports.

Except that now even that isn't necessary: Sportsviews.com now exists. Sportsviews.com is a social network for sports lovers. Join up and instantly begin talking about, blogging about, seeing videos and pictures of, and betting on sporting events and issues -- and you can even create your own bets and your own content. You can blog, share videos, discuss things that you care about.

Sportsviews is 100% free and 100% full of sports lovers like you.

Check out Sportsviews today; you'll probably spend a lot of time being entertained, informed, and enraged by their sports blogs -- but if that's the case, start your own to argue back. Or get in on the action with the free sports bets they've got.

Not the betting kind? I'm sure then that you're the kind that wants to see football videos, and they've got them there.

sportsviews is the site for sports lovers -- like you. So say so long to your office and hello to Sportsviews! And if you see, or are, my boss, then... don't check my Internet history, boss, and I'll see you on Monday. Right? I'll still be allowed in on Monday? Because I'm low on coffee here at home.


Part Five: Threatening This Existence./Part Six: Get out of Chicago

Part Five: Rachel and the Reverend Tommy are in Chicago (?) and after a duel, both wake up... you guessed it.

1. "Threatening This Existence."

2. Getting Better At This

3. Part of Chicago Fell On Bob.

4. Bob knows where others are.

5. Do I have a conscience?

6. Witnessing a Death.

7. Who are you, and back to Meanwhile In New York.

Part SIX: Get Out of Chicago:

1. Leaving the Hospital.

2. Rachel Can Get them out?

3. They're over here!

Threatening This Existence.

Chicago?” I asked again, as Reverend Tommy stood there, arms crossed, watching the crowds of people.

He did not answer.

Rex did not answer.

“Well, if you’re not going to talk to me, I’m leaving,” I said, and started to walk down the stairs.

Rex growled and whoofed something. A few people near us turned to look, but I couldn’t tell if they spoke dog, or just were reacting to his obviously-threatening tone.

“Stop,” said Reverend Tommy.

“Make me,” I said, over my shoulder, and Rex barked a yapping, high-pitched bark and took a few steps forward. Now more people were looking at us, as Rex got louder and louder.

“I will,” said Reverend Tommy, quietly – but loudly enough that I heard him.

I had my back mostly to him, and I thought that he was being kind of quiet because he didn’t want to attract attention. That seemed to me to be my best chance – he might shoot my dirigible down with ray guns and net me and kidnap me to Chicago when we’re all in some small town, but would he dare do something to me on a public street with all these people around, and their octopi, and the windows where there were maybe more people, doing some crowd watching?

He would, I learned, because I felt a zapping shock and I stopped because I was frozen in my tracks and I looked back at him, able to just barely turn my eyes enough to see him.

Reverend Tommy was standing there, eyes closed, hands steepled in prayer, lips moving silently. Rex stood near him and growled at me. Reverend Tommy’s hands were glowing and incandescent again, and from them, a blue arc of power had leaped and was stretched out towards me.

I rolled my eyes downward a little, seeing my hand and arm and chest, still wearing that too-nice, too-innocent dress that he’d put on me. I glowed blue, the same color that Reverend Tommy’s hands were glowing, the same color of the arc of light that had jumped from him to me.

“PEOPLE OF THE CITY OF CHICAGO,” his voice boomed out suddenly.


And people were looking. They were congregating around, drawn by the picture of me, I suppose, trapped in blue, and his voice, echoing off the building fronts and the stone steps.

I concentrated as he went on.


I focused.

“THIS EXISTENCE!” He boomed, and as he said that, there was a crackling peal of thunder that emanated from him, rolling out and resounding back and generally not fading away, and I could hear the murmurs of people getting louder but I didn’t pay any attention to them.

Instead, I used all my willpower and turned around, looking Reverend Tommy in the face.

He was scared. I saw that suddenly. I figured I was not supposed to be able to move and he was scared that I could. The murmurs grew louder as I took a step towards him.

He seemed to get a grip on himself. His lips started moving again. Praying, I suppose. The blue power got brighter. I felt more resistance. My hair was standing on end and my skin felt hot. I took more steps towards him; I was only about two feet away.

Rex was snarling, frothing, and looking from Reverend Tommy to me. The crowd was staying back.

“Do not come closer, harlot!” said Reverend Tommy.

“Quit calling me that,” I said, and I raised up my left hand. I only did it because I knew he was afraid of it or didn’t like it. I raised up my left hand, and pointed it at him, and he seemed, just for a second, scared again, but I give him credit: he got it under control again and I saw his hands press more firmly together. He was going to start praying again. I had to do something.

I leaped at him. I jumped for him just as he closed his eyes and just as Rex jumped at me.

There was a SNAP! I saw a brighter flash of light, even. I felt my hand, my left hand, touch Reverend Tommy’s shoulder.

And everything went black.

Shame On America Sunday: Cindy McCain Edition

I came to a realization this morning, a realization that cemented my resolve to, every Sunday, highlight one way in which America is letting us down -- allowing some people to live selfish lives at the expense of others, when there is more than enough wealth in America to allow everyone to live a decent life.

The realization was this: I subscribe to Newsweek magazine, and read it pretty much cover to cover every week. Despite that, and despite reading our daily paper, and despite listening to news-talk all day at work and watching CNN Headline News while I get ready for work, I had no idea what Barack Obama's health plan was when I wrote the first Shame On America Sunday a few weeks ago.

Not through a lack of trying -- like I said, I keep up with the news pretty well. But the news isn't keeping up with the news. The news is focused on things like (from a recent Newsweek) stories about how often Joe Biden says "literally" in his speeches.

That's why Shame on America Sunday is necessary: because the media no longer covers "the news."

Instead, they cover things that aren't news and that somehow, unbelievably, also aren't the cause of a revolution. They cover things like what Cindy McCain is wearing, and the story becomes, somehow, "Isn't she becoming a classier broad," when the story should be "How are Americans of the 21st century more immune to decadence being shoved in their faces than the French of the 18th century?"

Actually, there are any number of stories that could have been spawned by Cindy McCain's outfits at the Republican convention. The headlines for those stories include, but are not limited to "Cindy McCain hates poor people and wants them to know it," or the similar "John McCain will not do anything to help anyone who isn't already rich."

We didn't get those headlines. We got, instead, this:

Cindy McCain sets tone for GOP fashion.

That is an Associated Press headline. The Associated Press -- not "People" or "US" or "Women's Wear Daily," but the Associated Press is reporting on Cindy McCain's fashion choices.

And what do they report? They report this:

"Vanity Fair editors estimated that [Cindy] McCain's fierce saffron shirt dress with the popped collar, diamond earrings, four-strand pearl necklace, white Chanel watch and strappy shoes totaled up to $313,100."

(Source.) Leave aside, for the moment, that Associated Press is simply reporting what others are reporting, and focus on how it is that any portion of the story out of the Republican Convention is what Cindy McCain is wearing.

Then focus on the fact that if we're going to hear about what Cindy McCain is wearing, it has to be in the form of a fawning, sycophantic article that froths at the mouth with love for Cindy McCain -- who is the very epitome of what Tom Wolfe called a "social x-ray" in The Bonfire of the Vanities-- froths at the mouth with love for her, instead of frothing at the mouth with vitriol over the fact that while the government is taking over two large mortgage lenders and more and more are losing their houses, Cindy McCain is wearing an outfit that costs six times more than the median annual salary in America.

Why were there exactly no stories (until this one) pointing out Cindy McCain'
s obvious disdain for people in the United States, based upon her decision to wear an outfit that costs six times what the average household income is? (Source.) Why were there exactly no stories (until this one) pointing out that either John McCain agrees with his social x-ray wife that it is appropriate to wear a $313,000+ outfit while people are losing their houses and at a time when one in 10 Americans earns less than $20,000 per year, (Source) or, if he doesn't agree, then he's simply oblivious to the facts?

Oblivious or disdainful of poor people: which is it, John McCain?

Cindy McCain's gall in wearing that outfit is even more shameful after you read this:

That is a letter written by a beneficiary of "Back-to-School Clothes For Kids," a website you can get to by clicking this link. "Back-to-School Clothes for Kids" does what it says (unlike the GOP and John McCain): they provide clothing for kids whose families can't otherwise afford to get a new back-to-school outfit or two. You know, those kids whose families come from the people who don't wear $313,000 dresses to a giant party where their husband will lie about whether he actually intends to help anyone's life get better if, God forbid, he is elected.

They buy clothes for younger kids; for older kids, they have "S.W.A.T. Nights" -- Shopping With A Teen nights -- where volunteers give teens a budget and help them pick out nice clothes to go back to school in.

Why do we live in a country where a social x-ray can wear a $313,000 dress for one night -- while young kids have to hope that someone, somewhere, will donate $20 so that they can get a new pair of blue jeans to wear to school?

Why do we put up with that?

Why isn't Cindy McCain being forced to hang her head in shame?

Do you think that Cindy McCain was as grateful for her $313,000 dress as Shawn was for the new outfit? As grateful as the kids shown in these pictures (all are from Back-to-School Clothes For Kids' website) are for theirs?

No, I don't, either.

Some people have said that Shame On America Sunday doesn't fix anything, it just complains. So to remedy that, I will for each article provide not one, but
two solutions.

The Fix: There should be a federal consumption tax that kicks in at $500 for any consumer item other than food, cars and houses (which I'll deal with separately.) The consumption tax should be equal to 50% of the price of the consumer item. Maybe if her outfit had cost her $469,500, Cindy McCain would have thought twice about purchasing it. I doubt that, since social x-rays (and the McCains) have no conscience, but at least our society would have gotten $156,750 in extra tax revenue.

That tax revenue should be earmarked specifically for poverty-relief efforts, including a new national project, like Americorps only better, to provide good-paying jobs to people by employing them to help replace and upgrade our aging telephone and data network and extend that network to rural areas.

What You Can Do Until It's Fixed: Send money to "Back-to-School Clothes for Kids," P.O. Box 304, White Plains, NY 10605. For more information, call (914) 576-6053, or email info@backtoschoolclothes.org. Many local Salvation Army posts hold back-to-school clothing drives, too -- check their website out here.

Then, to make sure your message gets across, when you make your donation, send an email saying that "Rather Than Support Rich People Getting Richer, I gave money to help poor people buy clothes" to Cindy McCain c/o her husband's failed presidential campaign at "info@johnmccain.com." (If you like to mail things, then write it on a postcard to Cindy McCain, /co John McCain 2008, P.O. Box 16118, Arlington, VA 22215.)

The Trouble With Roy firmly believes that no adult should be allowed to earn more than $200,000 per year; that health care is a basic right, and that America can do better. Lots better.