Happy International Women’s Day to all the “nasty women” out there. All of them.

Now, put away your pitchforks and torches and listen to this amazing video by Aya Korem (it’s in Hebrew with English subtitles, but you’ll have to read fast because she does the equality run in less than 12 parsecs¹:

I asked this question over on Facebook:

Answer me this: why should more than 50% of the earth’s population be given a single day of celebration? Just sayin’.

Listening to Ms. Korem, I was reminded of the following exchange Morgan Freeman had with Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes:

WALLACE: Black History Month, you find …
FREEMAN: Ridiculous.
WALLACE: Why?
FREEMAN: You’re going to relegate my history to a month?
WALLACE: Come on.
FREEMAN: What do you do with yours? Which month is White History Month? Come on, tell me.
WALLACE: I’m Jewish.
FREEMAN: OK. Which month is Jewish History Month?
WALLACE: There isn’t one.
FREEMAN: Why not? Do you want one?
WALLACE: No, no.
FREEMAN: I don’t either. I don’t want a Black History Month. Black history is American history.
WALLACE: How are we going to get rid of racism until …?
FREEMAN: Stop talking about it. I’m going to stop calling you a white man. And I’m going to ask you to stop calling me a black man. I know you as Mike Wallace. You know me as Morgan Freeman. You’re not going to say, “I know this white guy named Mike Wallace.” Hear what I’m saying?

So yes, I get it. Happy International Women’s Day. It’s never inappropriate to celebrate the accomplishments of anyone. But in today’s world of #MeToo and #TimesUp, it seems jejune to celebrate half (more than half, statistically) of humanity by giving them a single day.

When we achieve the kind of gender equality that people of humanity strive for, the kind of equality that Morgan Freeman was alluding to, then we can truly celebrate.


¹ Any respectable Star Wars fan knows that a parsec is a measure of distance, not speed. It’s a joke.

Guns are in America’s DNA

Australia

After the Port Arthur massacre in Australia, former Australian Prime Minister John Howard said, “We have an opportunity in this country not to go down the American path.” And they took that opportunity: Australia banned semi-automatic rifles and shotguns – weapons that can kill many people quickly – and implemented a 28-day waiting period, thorough background checks, and a requirement to present a “justifiable reason” to own a gun.

Guns were not banned outright, and while gun violence did not end in Australia, it was cut by roughly half since 1996 – and there has never been another Port Arthur since.

United Kingdom

In 1987, a single gunman killed 16 people in what came to be known as the Hungerford Massacre. As a result, made registration mandatory for owning shotguns and banning semi-automatic and pump-action weapons.

Despite this action, in 1996 an unspeakable, cowardly bastard burst into the gymnasium of a primary school in Dunblane, Scotland, and killed 15 children aged five and six along with their teacher before turning one of his handguns on himself. By 18 months later, UK lawmakers had passed a ban on the private ownership of all handguns in mainland Britain, resulting in some of the toughest anti-gun legislation in the world.

The United States

In the first month and a half of 2018, there had been 17 shooting incidents at schools in our country. Some were accidental, some were intentional, one was suicide, and some resulted in no injury or death – but 22 people died, and many more were injured. As of this writing, there have been 290 school shootings since 2013.

Even one is too many.

But the odds that the United States will ever ban firearms outright approach my odds of winning the lottery – that is to say, virtually nonexistent.

From where I sit, there are two dominant reasons for this, reasons which have the weight of history behind them.

1. The right to bear arms is guaranteed by the Second Amendment to our Constitution:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

The interpretation of the scope of that statement, in the absence of the people who framed it, is being examined in courts on a continual basis. More about this in a bit.

2. Firearms are an integral part of our nation’s history

For better or for worse, our nation’s history depended on firearms. The expanding frontier and the uncertainties of life in a lawless country made owning a firearm (or an armory) often meant the difference between survival and becoming a nameless skeleton on the prairie.

write

“Why don’t she write?”

But after surviving the hostile elements, there was still the matter of putting food on the table. Hunting in American has morphed from a matter of daily bread to a wildly popular sport; in Utah, for example, teachers expect classrooms to be oddly empty during the deer hunt.

When I was growing up, guns were everywhere. It may be why “A Christmas Story” is such a popular movie with a certain generation:

Image result for Red Ryder BB Gun

Ads for air rifles and BB guns were seen in just about every comic book:

daisy.JPG

At summer camp, we had a BB range and a rifle range. I loved riflery, and in 1964 I attained the Junior NRA rank of “Sharpshooter 2nd Bar.” I would have certainly gone farther had I been able to attend camp more frequently – target shooting was a lot of fun, and I was proud to have earned these.

medals

I owned many toy guns and weapons of mass destruction when I was a kid – and playing “cops and robbers” and “cowboys and Indians” was just what was done.

cowboy.jpg

davenport.gif

In our games, when you got shot dead you always just got up again… even if they got you right behind the davenport. While our riflery instructor was impeccably serious about safety on the range, there was never any training given on how to handle a gun safely in the real world, or education around the fact that guns were designed to kill things instead of hit targets at 50 feet, or that when you’re dead, that’s it – there’s no coming back for a second chance.

The fact that guns are written into America’s DNA has allowed the NRA to morph from an organization for sports enthusiasts into a powerful political entity – one which seems determined to preserve and expand its influence at all costs. And their “cold dead hands,” any weapon, any time, any caliber, any size, any magazine, any bump-stock philosophy has been adopted by a significant portion of our citizenry, including a significant number of our legislators who take obscene amounts of money from the NRA, all the while sending their “thoughts and prayers” to the victims without being willing to do anything about the carnage.

The recent shooting at Parkland left 17 people dead. I haven’t even mentioned other gun-related deaths, such as the one in Las Vegas that killed 58 people and injured 851.

It’s time for a change.

Yes, the 2nd Amendment still guarantees our citizenry the right to bear arms, but I do not believe – I will not believe – that the writers of that amendment  ever meant for a single individual to own something like this, unless the zombie apocalypse were a real possibility:

awesome-arms-cache-gun-room-with-blue-walls

Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative voice on the Supreme Court, wrote:

“Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited…”. It is “…not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”

I personally believe that the writers of the 2nd Amendment would be shocked if they saw how that little bit of the Constitution was being interpreted and argued and implemented today, especially if they viewed the daily carnage in a nation with between 270 million to 310 million firearms, depending on whose estimate you believe.

As long as the 2nd Amendment remains in force, we as citizens of this country must balance a right to bear arms with an end to the daily death toll which has reached untenable proportions – indeed, has been unbearable for decades.

If you want to own a gun, this is how it should go:

  1. You take “Firearm Education,” a government-approved class on firearm operation and safety. (Note that many states mandate a driver’s ed class of at least 30 hours.)
  2. You take a written and practical test on the type of firearm for which you wish an endorsement.
  3. You submit to a background check. The current Brady Law mandates use of the NICS, but as we have seen with the Florida and Las Vegas shootings, past actions are not always an indicator of future ones. Too many red flags were missed in the case of the perpetrators; more needs to be done to keep weapons out of the hands of unstable individuals.
  4. Your guns are registered, licensed, and taxed, just like your cars are. Nobody tells you how many cars you can own, or of what kind, as long as you’re licensed to drive them and pay all relevant taxes and fees.
  5. You have liability insurance on each weapon.
  6. Your weapons are inspected and re-registered at yearly intervals, just like your car. Aside from the die-hard sovereign-nation groups, nobody complains about having to re-register cars, or pay excise taxes, or have them inspected for safety, or maintain current insurance. It’s for everyone’s safety, owner and public alike.

In addition to this, I call for a total ban on semiautomatic weapons in the hands of private individuals. They are weapons of war; nobody needs one of these killing machines for hunting, or for any other purpose short of the above-mentioned zombie apocalypse. Bump stocks are a no-brainer – they make no sense.

I have many gun-toting, sharpshooting, hunting, and reloading friends who will disagree with my opinions, but that’s how America works. This is such a highly-charged issue that I debated about disabling comments on this post, but I have always supported civil discourse on difficult issues. Ignorant and trollish comments will be ignored and deleted without ceremony.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Alan Alda: Prognosticator

The following words were offered by Alan Alda in 2001, at the graduation of a friend’s daughter. Alda was referring to a piece written by a Chicago newspaper columnist named Mary Schmich, which was virally circulated on the Internet but erroneously attributed to Kurt Vonnegut.

And that’s what makes this Internet event a great image for the age in which we live. There are probably just as many lies going around now as ever before, but these days they’re traveling at the speed of light. There are just as many people who want to fool you into thinking they’ve got it all figured out for you, but now you don’t have nearly as much time to think it over.

And with the help of an engine for repetition that works on a scale unheard of in the past, the lies stick. People are still sending around the talk, thinking it was written by Vonnegut. I was sent a copy just last week.

It’s a delightful piece of writing. But if it’s presented as if it were by someone other than the person who wrote it, it steals that person’s good name and gives itself a certain credibility before it has a chance to earn it honestly. So, as good as it is, it’s a cheat. At least in the way it’s offered to us.

So, you may be thinking, big deal. It’s just a few good jokes. But think about it… It could be selling you anything. It could be a cult religion that could separate you from friends and family, or a quack medicine that could lead you paralyzed, or bogus political information that cause you to elect a numbskull to the presidency.

God forbid.¹

These are great words with regards to the internet and its impact on the dissemination of information – both genuine and bogus – but eerily prescient in view of the political developments of recent years. For what it’s worth, the entire book is a wonderful, human, and relevant read.

The Old Wolf has spoken.


¹ Alan Alda, Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself (New York: Random House, 2007), 121.

About those Confederate monuments…

There are basically two schools of thought floating around the public’s consciousness about confederate monuments right now, especially in light of recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia.

  1. These are monuments to slavery, hatred, bigotry and the losing side of a war. They should be destroyed, or at the very least put in museums.
  2. You’re rewriting/destroying history. They should be left in place.

Now let me tell you a story:

In 1968 and 1969, I spent a year at Gettysburg College.

Old Dorm

Pennsylvania Hall, also known as Old Dorm, was built in 1837 and was used as a signal station and field hospital by both Union and Confederate forces. It was gutted and restored the year I was there, and underwent additional restoration in subsequent years. The entire campus is steeped in the history of the Civil War.

Decades later I returned to visit the campus, and had more time and more mobility to visit the historical sites, museums, and the battlefields.

20090518 - Michael Contemplates Gettysburg

In May of 2009, my son contemplates a battlefield.

The silence that hangs over those fields, where about 8,000 people lost their lives and over 57,000 were listed as casualties, is haunting. In Lincoln’s words, “The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.” Standing on that quiet land, listening, one can almost hear the tumult and terrors of war – and it’s important to note that Lincoln did not single out either Union or Confederate soldiers in his appellation “brave men.” Those who fought and died, regardless of how just their cause or how willingly or not they served, deserve to be remembered. They belong to the annals of our nation.

The word nigger appears 219 times in Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, but it was a product of its times and remains a classic piece of literature – an ode to the evils of slavery – just as it stands. I’ve seen “sanitized” versions of the work, which has long been one of my favorites, and they just feel wrong.

When I visited Albania numerous times in the early 90s, shortly after the fall of Communism, I found a land in which almost every reference to Enver Hoxha had been purged, except for the national museum in Tiranë. And I understood that national sentiment as well. After 41 years of brutal repression, very few Albanians had any desire to “remember” that part of their history, that they had so recently been relieved of.

In our case, the civil war is now 150 years behind us, but the history of slavery in the USA was almost 100 years longer than that, beginning on 31 August 1620, when John Rolfe recorded that “there came in a Dutch man-of-war that sold us twenty negars.” And the ripples and ramifications of slavery extended well into my lifetime; although I personally never saw scenes like this one, I was 14 the year of the Selma to Montgomery marches, 15 when Bobby Seale and Huey Newton founded the Black Panthers, and am watching the social media storm swirling around the Black Lives Matter today. If black lives really mattered, there would be no need for such a movement.

The record shows that most Confederate monuments were put up during the eras of Jim Crow segregation and the civil rights movement. They were put up, many with financial support from  The United Daughters of the Confederacy, to influence the narrative of the Civil War; the message was that the Civil War was not an issue of slavery but rather an issue of states rights.

On one hand, historical revisionism is a slippery slope. Humans are imperfect, and there will always be unpleasant truths in our past that must be acknowledged and remembered if we are not to repeat them. On the other hand, while my experience has been one of white privilege I can at least begin to imagine the gut feelings of those who have been impacted by the legacy of slavery at viewing – or even thinking of the existence of – monuments to people who fought, killed, and died to keep their people in bondage.

There are no monuments in Germany venerating Hitler or Göbbels or Eichmann. According to Joshua Zeitz, writing for Politico,

“The generation of Germans that came of age in the 1970s and 1980s confronted the country’s Nazi past and forcefully repudiated it. It took several decades of hard self-reflection, but a reunified Germany emerged from the Cold War as one of the great mainstays of democracy and human rights.”

Even though America stood for freedom and self-determination during the many wars of the last century, at home our own legacy of keeping a large part of our own population in miserable servitude for centuries remains not only unrepudiated but continues to be celebrated under the guise of another kind of historical revisionism.

It’s not enough to remove bronze and stone monuments to human wretchedness and cruelty; the underlying attitudes of the antebellum South and the Civil War remain enshrined in the hearts of too many people and too many textbooks. But it’s a step that we owe to the descendants of those who sweated under the loads and suffered under the lash and who have endured second-class status since their forefathers were emancipated, a step that must be taken if we are to eradicate those attitudes.

And what of private Buford Liles who marched off to war believing that the cause of the South was just and who never came home to wife and children, and all the privates and sergeants and fighting men like him who laid down their lives? A nation that has turned its back on the inhuman excesses of the past and that strives to build a society that works for everyone, with no one left out, can honor the bravery of these men and women, and all the victims of that wretched conflict, in memory without celebrating the flawed cause that moved them.

A contemplative visit to a peaceful battlefield would suffice.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Soldiers fight wars. Politicians declare them.

I’ve written about war before. I make no bones about the fact that I don’t see it as a productive human enterprise. This quote from Herbert Hoover below echoes the spirit of words from Chaucer that I have mentioned in the two essays linked above:

War

Recently on Facebook I posted this image, that I came across somewhere else:

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As a result, I got some pushback from people who, like me, are opposed to wars but who see the men and women who fight them as less than deserving of honor. Things like:

  • “Depends on what he’s doing – and to whom.”
  • “Don’t extol the instrument.”
  • “The uniformed kid carrying a rifle is a paid gun. I honor people willing to die protecting their country, but our troops haven’t done that in a long time.”

Well, the comments are not wrong – in a certain sense. But as I wrote elsewhere, these are two concepts that I can successfully juggle simultaneously.

I hate the idea of war, and the military-industrial complex. I hate the concept of politico-economic terrorism, backed up by the might of armies and navies. I hate wasting endless resources of our nation on futile, internecine foreign conflicts.

Yes, there are the relatively few Abu Ghreib perverts and My Lai killers and Afghanistan rogues, and these deserve opprobrium and punishment, but they also deserve pity – because they are the product of a system that is designed to obliterate humanity and foster robotic obedience. I weep for them and their families as much as I do the victims, once justice has been served.

But… for the overwhelmingly greater part, the boys and girls, men and women who wear the colors – some because they had to during the draft, some because they marched off believing that their cause was just and noble, some who signed up because it was that or jail, some who simply wandered in to the recruiting office because they had no idea what else to do… the ones who marched off and came back in pieces, or missing pieces, or damaged emotionally beyond all salvation, or who came back functional but hiding the deep scars of conflict forever, or who served as filing clerks far from the front because that’s what they were told to do – these people I honor above almost all politicians and bureaucrats and war-makers.

And as for those “noble causes,” note that I said “*believing* that their cause was just and noble,” not necessarily that it is. Hired gun or no, cannon fodder or no, noble cause or miserable one, I honor all who serve, and always shall.

In the meantime, I will do what I can with voice, votes, and any other means to build a world where their service is no longer needed.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

An honest email from HR

This I had to share. But I also had to bowdlerize it a bit, because reasons. If you really don’t care about salty language and think it improves things, stroll on over and read the original. I hope the writer doesn’t sue the hqiz out of me for sharing this in a mildly redacted form.


An honest email from a company’s HR rep to the employees.

Filed by Meg Favreau | Jul 07, 2015 @ 1:30pm

Hello, Kopencky Company Family! HR here. Look, I could care less about what you guys do in your personal lives, but I get paid to be your work mommy because, for some reason, a group of adults can’t manage to do things like not steal each other’s lunches or touch each other’s butts for the eight bleeding hours a day that they’re in an office. You people are exhausting, and since you apparently need constant reminders in order to be decent human beings, here are some ruddy reminders.

Company fun run

Our insurance premiums are going to go WAY up if Don has another heart attack, and we can’t tell him to his face to stop eating Cheetos (although whoever left him that anonymous note that I publicly denounced, please know that I privately agreed with you. STRONGLY). To that end, we’re forcing everyone to exercise with this company-mandated “fun” run that almost all of you will find demeaning, embarrassing, and really just awful to participate in. Except Jill. WE ALL KNOW YOU RAN A MARATHON, JILL. SHUT UP ABOUT IT.

Bring your child to work day

It’s next Tuesday. You are all welcome to bring your little chemical mistakes, except for Stephen. I know you and your pale wife are doing that “no negative reinforcement” thing, but last year, all you said was “Great stream, buddy!” when your kid peed on my aloe plant. Never again.

Vacation days

Reminder 1: All employees who started before July 1, 2015 get four weeks worth of vacation a year; if you started after, you get two weeks of vacation a year. Reminder 2: It was our jack-hole boss Mr. Kopencky who decided to cut vacation time in order to save money, not me, so taking it out on me will only make me hate you more. Reminder 3: This also means that you shouldn’t yell at me for: not getting a raise, no more free soda in the kitchen, the removal of vision and dental from the healthcare plan, and the fact that Mr. Kopencky will only let me buy a dozen doughnuts for “free doughnut Fridays,” so that 41 employees have to rush to be the first to get 12 doughnuts. (Yes, I know there are 42 employees here. Allow me to point you to Jill’s insufferable “Gluten Free IBS Runner” blog so you can also understand that she doesn’t eat doughnuts because of “the trots.”)

Glossary

Some people have told me that the HR buzzwords can be confusing. That’s because they’re a way for HR professionals to thinly veil how we really feel so we don’t accidentally yell “You’re a childish moron!” at our coworkers. Here are some definitions to help clarify things.

“My door is always open”

Mr. Kopencky won’t let me shut my door, so you guys can always walk in. But please don’t, because managing your dumb problems stresses me out to the point where I’ve had to learn how to cry silently, with no tears.

“Think outside the box”

You have bad ideas. I put your bad ideas all together in a box. Now, I want you to come up with good ideas. That means I need you to think outside of the box.

“Results driven”

Getting results is your job. So when I say I want you to be “results driven,” I’m saying “do your ruddy job.” Jill, that means do your job, not update your blog. Remember, we have tracking software on all the computers, so I know that you spent five hours researching “grain-free pizza” last Thursday.

The sign in the kitchen

I have overheard complaints that the dish-washing sign I put up is both condescending and passive-aggressive. I know it is, and I could change it to get at the real issue by saying, “You need to do your dishes because everyone else is sick of doing them for you, DAN.” I don’t think that Dan would like that, though, and he is Mr. Kopencky’s nephew. Did I say “Mr. Kopencky’s nephew”? I meant to say “Mr. Kopencky’s stupidest nephew.”

One other thing about the sign in the kitchen

Also, it’s pretty funny that the sign is for Dan, considering that I know he’s the one who drew a wang on the clipart man on it.

Sexual harassment

Speaking of that wang, we’re having a sexual harassment seminar in two weeks, and you can all thank Dan for that. Jill, you are welcome to bring gluten-free snacks again, but I swear if you bring grain-free pizza bites and they’re just globs of cheese and sauce, I will tell everyone about your IBS, which you have told me way, way, way too many details about. Remember, everyone, my door is always open!

Best,

Pamela

No, Turmeric lemonade is not better than Prozac

In current parlance, the word “woo” is defined at RationalWiki in this way:

Woo is a term for pseudoscientific explanations that share certain common characteristics, often being too good to be true (aside from being unscientific). The term is common among skeptical writers. Woo is understood specifically as dressing itself in the trappings of science (but not the substance) while involving unscientific concepts, such as anecdotal evidence and sciencey-sounding words.

No industry is more susceptible to the propagation of woo than the diet, health, and nutrition sector. Just say “trillion dollar industry” and you have the motivation to do and say anything to get a slice of that pie. Facebook, Pinterest, and Tumblr are all hotbeds for the dissemination of woo. Countless public figures have gotten rich by flogging woo, and in the process have led to believe that various and sundry herbs, spices, and so-called “superfoods” are a panacæa for all sorts of ills – cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and even lupus.

Its-not-lupus-Its-never-lupus

I’ve blogged many times about snake oil and supplements. The industry of deception is alive and well. Even a year after her death, my mother continued to receive slick-looking solicitations for absolutely worthless concoctions like “MentaFit Ultra“, which unsurprisingly is not even sold any more. These products arise in a flash of advertising, are sold to a whole raft of unsuspecting and gullible victims, and then vanish along with their creators, only to surface with another name and a new formulation.

Newser, a popular news aggregator, is still allowing multiple clickbait ads and popups for worthless and expensive supplements to appear on their website,  even though this last particular scam has been widely debunked by multiple sources – two of note are Malwarebytes and Snopes. A percentage of this may be the result of poorly-vetted or supervised automatic affiliate marketing ad placement, but someone has got to know the kind of stuff that’s being hawked here – and Newser is hardly the only offender. I just happen to use them as the teacher in the moment because I’m sad about what they’ve allowed themselves to become in the name of monetization.

Today this showed up on my Facebook page:

http://healthinformative.net/turmeric-lemonade-that-treats-depression-better-than-prozac/

turmeric

Go to the article and they refer to two studies at PubMed:

  1. Multitargeting by turmeric, the golden spice: From kitchen to clinic, by Gupta SC, Sung B, Kim JH, Prasad S, Li S, and Aggarwal BB.
  2. Efficacy and safety of curcumin in major depressive disorder: a randomized controlled trial, by Sanmukhani J, Satodia V, Trivedi J, Patel T, Tiwari D, Panchal B, Goel A, and Tripathi CB.

In the second article, the abstract includes the following sentences:

Traditionally, this spice has been used in Ayurveda and folk medicine for the treatment of such ailments as gynecological problems, gastric problems, hepatic disorders, infectious diseases, and blood disorders. […] Numerous animal studies have shown the potential of this spice against proinflammatory diseases, cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, depression, diabetes, obesity, and atherosclerosis. At the molecular level, this spice has been shown to modulate numerous cell-signaling pathways. In clinical trials, turmeric has shown efficacy against numerous human ailments including lupus nephritis, cancer, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, acne, and fibrosis.

Forgive me, but my BS meter just redlined.

BS Meter

Even without digging into these articles beyond the abstract, and analyzing methodologies and statistical significance of the results which I don’t have the time and energy to do, there are just too many red flags to even begin to take these kinds of claims seriously. References to Ayurveda, the fact that almost all the authors are from India, the wild claims of efficacy or references to “showing potential” – nothing here can be construed as “proof” that turmeric is “better than Prozac” for depression.

A caveat: I am not wholesale against nutrition, or nutritional supplements, or natural remedies. Aspirin was once a “natural remedy,” until science isolated salicylic acid and multiple peer-reviewed, double-blind, randomized tests proved its efficacy. There’s a lot we don’t know. Despite my skepticism about the studies above, there may be value in curcumin and turmeric that have not been fully explored. As with anything in science, the key is a large base of peer-reviewed studies and reproducible results.

Until then, woo-articles of this nature need to be taken with a hefty dose of salt – not just a pinch. Be very careful whom and what you trust. There are still people out there hawking “Miracle Mineral Supplement” for all sorts of things, and it’s nothing more than diluted bleach. This junk will kill you.

Depression is a serious illness and can be debilitating. While they are not a magic bullet, FDA-approved meds help many people to be able to carry on normal lives. And there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

This much I can tell you: ☞ It’s not turmeric lemonade. ☜  Be very careful out there.

The Old Wolf has spoken.