Saturday, February 23, 2008

May The Goddess Guard Her. May She Find Her Way To The Summerlands. May Her Friends And Family Know Peace.

Civil rights activist, Johnnie Carr who joined childhood friend Rosa Parks in the historic Montgomery bus boycott and kept a busy schedule of civil rights activism up to her final days, has died. She was 97

"When we first started, we weren't thinking about history," Carr told The Associated Press in an interview in 2003. "We were thinking about the conditions and the discrimination."

Engaging In Black Magic On A Daily Basis

In 1971, Isaac Bonewits a mere 22 years old at the time, published Real Magic and changed the world.

Discussing the difference between white magic and black magic, Bonewits noted that:

Members of both groups eventually destroy themselves with their own negativism, simply because skill in magic requires a sane and well-balanced personality powered by a mature and intelligent mind. To become an "adept," to develop your talents to the fullest, you must have a positive attitude to life. Remember that it is your physical body, modulated and controlled by your personality, that is responsible for your talents. If you hate your body and mind, if you are unbalanced, and without self discipline, if you are unable to retain sanity and flexibility, if you cannot adapt to sudden changes, you will kill yourself. . . . Morals and magic do not mix. Magic is a science and an art and, as such, has nothing to do with morals or ethics.

Victor Anderson made much the same point when he said that "White magic is poetry. Black magic is anything that actually works."

Bonewits, BTW, has a blog and a CafePress store.

Living Beyond Our Means

Michelle Singletary, who writes more good-sense economic advice than almost anyone else in DC, recounts a meeting with Daniel H. Mudd, chief executive of Fannie Mae:

Still, during our discussion about jumbo loans, I pushed Mudd to provide some idea of when jumbo loan borrowers might approach lenders to refinance.

"I don't know," he said.

Then Mudd added a very helpful tip that I thought I would pass along.

He said if you are worried about a 50 basis-point difference in your interest rate (that's half a percentage point), you might be living in the wrong place.

Mudd wasn't talking about bargain shoppers who negotiate hard for a good loan deal or who are calculating whether a refinancing would make sense long-term.

Let's say a jumbo rate of 7 percent for 30 years comes down half a percentage point as a result of the new loan limit. On a $500,000 mortgage, that's a savings of about $166 a month.

In other words, you shouldn't be buying a home or refinancing into a mortgage that leaves you with little cash cushion. That's what led so many to be in trouble now.

If you have a jumbo mortgage and a half-percentage-point difference is going to mean a great deal to you financially -- that is, it will free up money you need to pay for essentials -- you're in too much house.

It means you are living above your means. Cornering mortgage professionals or other real estate experts at parties to press them for the best time to refinance your huge mortgage is nonsensical. You need to be asking when you should sell.

Again, Singletary's not saying that the savings might not make it worthwhile to shop for a lower mortgage rate. She's saying that if a half-percentage-point difference is the difference between staying in your house or going bankrupt, you're in too much house. Of course, these days, it's easier said than done to sell your house, but that means you should start now, not that you should put it off.

An article in yesterday's WaPo emphasizes how many people are now living beyond their means:

In one brief phone call, Nancy Corazzi's lender yanked away what was left of the $95,000 home equity line of credit that she and her husband took out five months ago.

The lender informed her that her Howard County home had plummeted in value and the company did not want the risk that she would owe more than the house was worth.

"I got off the phone and I was shaking," said Corazzi, who was using the money to pay preschool tuition for her twins ."I was near tears. We needed this credit line to get us through some tough times."

Getting through tough times is what a nest egg is for. Nest eggs, savings that are in a non-risky but fairly easy-to-access form such as savings accounts and short-term CDs, should be equal to at least six months' worth of take-home-pay and other (aka child support) income. If you're taking equity out of your house to pay for preschool for your twins, you're living beyond your means.

For years, now, middle-class Americans have been falling behind financially, while a very small group of ultra-rich people became obscenely ultra-rich. (That's what happens when you elect Republicans. Every time.) Borrowing money, whether through home equity lines or through credit cards, has allowed a lot of those middle-class Americans to pretend that they were not falling behind. It's now getting lots more difficult to delude yourself that way. (Of course, our entire way of life is based on living beyond our means. Americans use a wildly disproportionate share of the world's resources. It can't last. That's what "unsustainable" means.)

Part of a witch's job is to perceive reality as accurately as possible. And, a witch takes responsibility. For herself and the world in which she lives.


Postscript: To be clear, we need both to work to change the current system and to protect ourselves while living in it. If you are falling behind economically, in order to protect yourself, you need to acknowledge that and live rationally within that reality. Sure, do magic. But don't ignore reality. You have to first perceive reality correctly in order to change it, magically or otherwise. If you are falling behind economically (and most of us are these days), you can't keep living as if you were staying in place.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Men. In Kilts.

Thanks For Asking!

Innana asks:

When and why did you become a witch?

Were you raised in a different religious tradition?

What's the wackiest thing you believe in?

I think, like many other witches, that I was always a witch, but I didn't realize it until I was in my early 30s.

I was raised Catholic (went to Catholic school, taught CCD Communion classes, the whole nine yards) and left the church as soon as I left my parents' house. I hated the church's stand on women, hated the church's wealth in the face of worldwide poverty, hated the church's stance on abortion. For all of my 20s, I would probably have called myself agnostic, but that was because I didn't know a word to describe the notion that Nature, herself, was divine. I was a v. young single mother, struggling to work and raise my son in a v. rural area, and I simply missed the Pagan revival of the sixties and seventies. This was, remember, pre-internet.

In my early 30s, I picked up a copy of "The Politics of Women's Spirituality" by Charlene Spretnak, mostly out of curiosity that anyone would have studied the connection between the two. I can still remember the morning that I started reading, and reading, and reading, the excitement growing with every single page. At last, there were not only words to describe what I felt, but, apparently, an entire group of people who felt the same things. Luckily, that book mentioned other books which, worried though I was about the local librarian gossiping about the school teacher's odd reading habits, I began to read on inter-library loan. This was, remember, Those books had bibliographies, and, within a few months, I'd read every single staple of Paganism and quite a few pieces of dreck. I practiced as a solitary for years, until, in my early 40s, I moved to Washington, DC and met the wonderful circle of women with whom I still practice.

I believe in some pretty whacky things, I guess, although, for me, being a witch doesn't involve believing in anything. It involves experience. Thus, I don't believe in the Goddesses and Gods; I experience them. I don't believe in magic; I experience it. I don't believe in the ability of our Higher Self to communicate with us through Tarot: I experience it. If I couldn't experience it, I wouldn't take it on faith. Faith, IMHO, is for xians. Most people would find whacky my complete assurance that everything, everything, is connected. You, me, rocks, rivers, trees, atoms, stars, our ancestors, sunlight, death, ancient knowledge, everything. But, to me, it's not whacky at all. It's what I always knew and discovering Wicca gave me words for it.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Well, You Asked

Sandy asks: I would like to know what music you enjoy.

It's odd, I do love music, but I also really, really love silence. So I'll often go long periods w/o listening to music. With all the Air in my chart, I'm as happy to listen to poems as to music. Son and his father are huge music fans and Son has introduced me to a lot of the music that I love. G/Son looks as if he'll follow in their footsteps. He loves to sing and to be sung to. Last night, putting him to bed, I told him: "This is music for marching," and sang him "We Shall Overcome." At the beginning of ever verse, we added a family member: G/Son Shall Overcome, Nonna Shall Overcome, Mommie Shall Overcome, Daddy Shall Overcome, Uncle Bubbie Shall Overcome, Pop Pop Shall Overcome, Nini Shall Overcome, Drew Shall Overcome. He's also a big fan of "Do You Know the Muffin Man?"

I have fairly eclectic tastes. I love classical music, some of which is considered rather schmaltzy and low brow: Wagner, Handel, Vaughan Williams, Strauss the Younger I also love a lot of folk music and, if I'm on a long road trip, I'm happy to listen to country, esp., embarrassingly enough, Travis Tritt and Shania Twain, and to almost any blue grass. Martha Wainwright would be on my short list for the desert island, but then, so would almost anyone be who sings Leonard Cohen. I'm v. happy singing along with "The Student Prince" when I do housework.

I have to listen to Handel's Water Music every year on my (Pisces) birthday and, Pagan that I am, to his Messiah every December. I love Vaughan Willliams' "The Lark Ascending" so much that I can hardly stand it. I'm also a huge fan of Heinichen's Dresden Concerti. Almost anything by Bach. There's not much better than a well-played trumpet.

I like some of Emerald Rose's stuff, some of Blackmore's Night, some of Lorenna McKennitt. I've got a real weak spot for some of Stevie Nick's stuff and hate some of her other stuff. T. Thorn Coyle does a couple of songs that I really love and I love a lot of Van Morrison.

I've written a whole lot of legal pleadings listening to Janis, the Dixie Chicks, U2, and Tina Turner.

Lately, I'm listening to a lot of S.J. Turner, and I can happily listen to "Mandolin Holy Man" over and over.

My will specifies two songs for my funeral: Jackson Browne's "I Am a Patriot" and Shawna Carol's "Our Purpose Here Is to Rise Up."

On my iPod at the moment: "Silver Beaver" by the Uppity Blues Women, to whom my brilliant friend E. introduced me.

One of my secret goals is to learn to play rock harp some day.

I have an odd affection for bagpipe music, which, played in the woods with sunlight filtering down on an early Autumn afternoon, can literally transport me to a different time and place.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Not for the first time, and likely not for the last, I underestimated how long it would take me to recover from surgery and overestimated my ability to get through a v. hectic week, IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING SURGERY. Not sure why that came as a surprise to me.

One bad side effect is that I haven't had as much time to blog as I'd like. I'm going to steal an idea from Diane Sylvan: ask me some questions, and I'll tell you no lies. Leave your questions in the comments section and I'll take one or two a day and try to answer them.

Meanwhile, any day that begins at the Supreme Court and ends watching "Elmo's Potty Time" with G/Son is a day that reminds me of one basic fact: I love my life.

Monday, February 18, 2008

What To Do, What To Do?

Reina Bolanos got a loan for her used Honda Odyssey in 2006 on what appeared to be favorable terms: $16,000 without a down payment. Though the 8 percent rate was high, Bank of America offered to spread the loan over six years to keep the monthly payments down.

But the secretary from Silver Spring found that raising her young children cost more than she had expected, and she now worries about losing the car after missing her last two payments.

A growing number of Americans are buckling under the weight of debt as the troubles that started among homeowners with subprime mortgages last year spread to other consumers who rely on credit. Auto loan borrowers are having an especially hard time. The number of people more than 60 days late on their car payments has spiked to a 10-year high, according to Fitch Ratings.

Similar problems are brewing for credit card holders. Card balances written off as uncollectible by banks have jumped 24 percent, and late payments are up 16 percent from a year ago.

Like the mortgage market, consumer credit boomed in recent years as lending standards loosened. Unorthodox auto loans lured consumers to buy cars they otherwise couldn't afford. Credit cards teased holders with introductory rates that soared after a few months. Now, more people are struggling to keep up with their bills under the strain of growing job losses and an economic downturn.

Bolanos, 27, has been using her credit card to pay utility bills and buy groceries, even though the card is nearly maxed out. She's racked up $5,000 in credit card debt. With monthly car payments of $400, $1,335 in rent for her two-bedroom apartment and sizable day-care bills, she's overwhelmed. She and her husband, a construction worker, earn a combined $50,000.

"It's just so stressful," Bolanos said. "To be young and to have a family going through this, it's hard."

Consumers borrow more money today than at any point in history, and they are increasingly using credit to pay for nearly everything, from cars to groceries to electricity. Consumer debt reached an all-time high of $2.55 trillion in December, nearly double from a decade ago, according to the Federal Reserve. Some economists say Americans are simply paying the price of their addiction to debt and are now more vulnerable than ever to credit downturns.

Behind the rising defaults is a tale of two Americas. Those with good credit will almost certainly see lower rates on cars and credit cards as the Fed continues to cut rates this year. But those with bad credit are facing rising rates and being forced to put more money down on cars. Some may not be able to get a credit card or auto loan as banks, spooked by the mortgage mess, have been reassessing the risk of making loans.

"It's going to be much more difficult for those people who are already in credit distress than it is for those of us who are fortunate and have full-time jobs," said Tony Cherin, a finance professor at San Diego State University.

But others worry that even those with good credit will share in the pain. The financial woes that started among homeowners with questionable credit histories -- the "subprime" borrower -- have sparked a downturn in the housing market.

"It's not only people who are stuck with the subprime mortgages. It's your average American," said Todd Cook, president of, which refers financially stressed people to firms that can help them. "It started with mortgages, but it's spilling over. If it's not their homes, it's their credit cards. If it's not their credit cards, it's their autos."

More here.

I haven't seen any figures yet that break down this kind of increasingly-common bad news by sex, but women tend to suffer more during bad economic times, for a number of reasons. First, women still suffer from the "last hired, first fired" policies that a number of companies employ, as women tend, more than men, to drop in and out of the workforce to care for children and/or elderly parents. Second, women often face discrimination when they apply for credit, finding themselves paying higher interest rates at worse terms. Third, women tend more than men to depend for a portion of their family income upon absentee parents and, when those men lose their jobs or face financial difficulties that impact their second (or third) families, their childcare payments are often the first thing to go.

It's not easy, but there are proactive steps that women can take right now to help them ride out the coming rough economic weather:

First, take stock. Save all your bills and make a list of each one and what interest rate you're paying (it's on the bill). Are you entitled to child support payments that you're not getting? Better to sue for them now than when your ex-husband loses his job in the coming recession.

Second, pay off debt. Start with the bill with the highest interest rate. Pay as much as you can afford -- more than the minimum -- on that bill and pay the minimum on the other bills until that first highest-interest bill is paid off. Then, start on the bill with the next highest level of interest. If you can't pay even the minimum or can't pay more than the minimum on even one bill, you've got to do something. Sell the SUV and drive a used compact car. Get a part time job in the evenings or on weekends. Move to a cheaper apartment. Babysit at home or take in ironing or word processing.

Third, build up savings. Look at your take-home paychecks (and any child support payments that you get) for a month. Multiply that amount by six and you'll know how much you need to put away -- at a minimum -- for a rainy day. Start a direct-deposit savings program that will allow you to get to that point as quickly as possible. Depending upon your line of work, you may eventually feel even more comfortable with eight to nine months' worth of take-home pay in a savings account or other fairly liquid form of savings. Again, don't discount selling some assets and/or taking on part-time or extra work in order to build up that nest egg.

Fourth, max out your 401(k) or other retirement savings accounts.

None of this is easy, but none of it is rocket science, either. You don't NEED a flat screen tv, a big, fancy car, meals out every week, shopping as a form of entertainment or therapy, a vacation away from home this year, etc., etc. You do need to control your debt and to build up your savings. We're headed for some very bumpy financial times. Wise women take proactive steps while they still can.

Family Values My Sweet Ass

Family Values! Culture of Life!

It's generally a fair rule that whatever the Republicans claim to value, they really hate. And that's nowhere more true than when their policies impact women. Today's WaPo reports that, under the Republican's war (which John McCain says could easily last 100 years and that would be fine with him), mothers are being torn from their babies only a few weeks after giving birth so that the mothers can be sent back to war:

Connor was three months old when Shaw and her husband, Brad, a sergeant with the military police, began a 15-month deployment to Iraq, their second tour in the combat zone. Like thousands of other new military mothers, the 22-year-old Army medic faced a stark choice: Give birth and quickly leave the baby behind, or lose her job.

Many female soldiers hoping to start families face the prospect of missing most of their child's first year.

I will say this slowly and in short words: People who "value families" don't do things like this. They don't send moms away to war and force them to leave their twelve week-old infants behind. People who belong to the "culture of life" don't make it almost impossible to have and parent children.

When the Republicans say that they are the "party of family values" and that they espouse a "culture of life," they are lying. To them, new mothers are chess pieces to be rotated back onto the chess board as quickly as possible. To them, new babies are an inconvience, to be weaned and dumped on grandparents or foster care as quickly as possible.

I'm tired of having our country run by liars.

On A Quiet Day, You Can Hear Her Breathing

My brilliant friend Amy sends me a quote that expresses exactly how I'm feeling this morning:

"Remember this: We be many and they be few. They need us more than we need them. Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing."
~ Arundhati Roy ~ Porto Alegre, Brazil