Dumb Questions

Questions without answers

Submitted: Apr 09, 2017
Bill Hatch


Below are some questions the asker does not know the answer to -- questions that are not simply inverted assertions, questions that are not mere rhetorical openings for opinions, questions that are not part of dogmatic "answers."

Do the answers constantly produced by mass media, targeted, tailormade to placate political consumers, satisfy what is political in us?

What is the political in us?

Is citizenship a privilege without obligations?

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Intellectual conformity

Submitted: Jun 04, 2014
Badlands Journal editorial board

 How do you deal with the moral authority of ignorance? James Lee Burke, Pegasus Descending (2006), p. 473.




Reasons for Intellectual Conformity

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Loose Cheeks: Anna Caballero's staff

Submitted: Oct 29, 2010
Badlands Journal editorial board

Several years ago, a young man new to Merced but active in local politics at the time, asked a Badlands Journal reporter, “What is Diana Westmoreland Pedrozo saying? I can’t understand a word she says.” Pedrozo was the executive director of the county Farm Bureau and president of the California Women for Agriculture at the time.

The reporter replied that the poor fellow had two obstacles to overcome: experience in the interpretation of Pedrozo and the mendacious rhetoric of agribusiness.  The reporter explained that the key to “understanding” Pedrozo was to realize that at any given moment on any given topic  she had imperfectly memorized talking points rarely arranged in any logical order.  The reporter recommended that for further clarification, the young activist should listen closely to county Planning Commissioner Cindy Lashbrook for an even more recklessly illogical rendition of public affairs. The reporter also recommended, for the full course, that the young activist study the words of Diana's brother-in-law, Supervisor John Pedrozo. And for post-graduate studies, he should consult the oratory of Supervisor Hub Walsh who, when in full cry, can become a one-man mind-altering substance.

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Fundraiser for Measure C: Be there or be unsimple

Submitted: Sep 29, 2010
Badlands Journal editorial board

The Badlands Journal editorial board fully supports Measure C, which will be on the November 2010 ballot, and the board wishes to help publicize and support a fund-raising event that will contribute to the campaign. After a month of serious dialogue about what the measure actually says and might mean, board members Uncle Henry, the Dull-Witted Boy, Li'l Hector, and the Dull-Witted Boy's Mother, won the day. In fact, it was the Dull-Witted Boy's Mother that finished the dispute while waiting on the editorial board's breakfast table the other day.

"It's simple. Save farmland. What's your order? Special's an ortega-chili pepper 'n jack omelette -- six ninety-five," she said.

Measure C authors and supporters are holding a dinner to raise funds for the campaign to pass MERCED COUNTY CITIZEN’S RIGHT TO VOTE ON EXPANSION OF RESIDENTIAL AREAS INITIATIVE. The event will be held from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Marchini and Giampaoli families' Bear Creek Pumpkin Patch on Plainsburg Road near Planada.

The featured speaker of the evening will be famous Fresno author, Mark Arax, (In my Father's Name, The King Of California: J. G. Boswell and the Making of a Secret American Empire, and West of the West).

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On the announcement of departure of UC Merced's second chancellor

Submitted: Sep 05, 2010
Badlands Journal editorial board

A member of the Badlands Journal editorial board was asked by a UC Merced student for a meeting so that he could learn more about the campus where he is going to college. The request was received the day Chancellor Steve Kang announced he would depart the campus at the end of the next academic year.


We thought, rather than having coffee with the student and attempting to tell that story in an hour or so, we would do two things: first, refer him to an audio tape made in the classroom of UC Merced historian Gregg Herken, a member of the founding faculty of social sciences, humanities and art at the campus, and who directed the production of a laughable bit of bobcatflak called The Fairy Shrimp Chronicles: An informal history of the founding of UC Merced. The students of that class learned how to write history as propaganda and suppress vital information, useful skills if they seek careers in the University of California system.


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Is growth inevitable?

Submitted: Nov 24, 2007

There are a number of planning processes going on in the San Joaquin Valley at the moment. They include the California Partnership for the San Joaquin Valley, the San Joaquin Valley Blueprint dealing with transportation planning, numerous general plan updates of counties and cities including Merced County and whatever proposals UC/Great Valley Center is fomenting. Although these planning processes are formally uncoordinated, they are closely linked by the guiding ideology of finance, insurance, real estate and large landholding interests: "Growth is inevitable."

Isn't it more likely that death and taxes are inevitable and that growth is merely desirable to some people in society? In fact, recent news suggests that growth may not even be possible in the near future, let alone inevitable.

If you read the local papers, you will see that in September Merced had the highest rate of households in some stage of foreclosure in the nation (one in 68 households). In October, Stockton came on strong with a rate of one in 31 households.

If you read the financial news, you will see that when reset time comes on the mortgages loaned in 2006 at the height of the speculative housing boom, foreclosure rates will rise.

If you read further in the financial section, you will see that most financial news is bad at the moment and that the speculative housing bubble, having burst, is spreading to credit card debt and auto loans and in fact to all securitized loans and to the banks and hedge funds. You will note articles that attribute falling stock-markets from the US to Germany to Shanghai to problems in the US mortgage-lending industry. You will also note that oil is very close to $100 a barrel now, which among other things is a hardship on the hundreds of thousands of commuters in the north San Joaquin Valley who drive to the Bay Area for work every day. You will also note bankruptcies among nationwide construction corporations and falling stock prices for those still standing.

Countrywide Financial sank 20.1 per cent on the week to $9.65 after analysts said the company could be affected if GSEs stopped buying its mortgages in the secondary market. However, the company said rumours that it would seek bankruptcy protection were "absolutely false".Meanwhile the big banks once again suffered a torrid week, precipitated by a Goldman Sachs analyst note that forecast another $48bn in writedowns by the end of 2008. Citigroup shed 6.8 per cent to $31.70 after the note said Citi could take $22bn in writedowns linked to its portfolio of collateralised debt obligations, $11bn this quarter, and $11bn next year.Homebuilder stocks were also punished amid a deepening malaise in the US real estate market.The S&P homebuilder index was down 14.3 per cent this week at 318.07, declining for six consecutive days before buyers sparked a rebound yesterday.Shares in Pulte Homes , shed 25 per cent of their value this week at $9.63. With house prices plummeting, nervous investors are keeping a careful eye on retail sales amid fears that belt-tightening consumers may deliver a poor shopping holiday season...
Elsewhere, General Motors was the Dow's biggest fallers this week, down 7.2 per cent at $27.16.-- Financial Times, Nov. 24, 2007

Recession appears now to be a more likely outcome of the speculative housing bubble than growth.

But, planners say: Now that we have the rooftops (setting aside for a moment whether the houses are inhabitated), the commercial development will come. All we need is more federal highway funds in one of the top two worst air-pollution basins in the nation as oil prices continue to escalate, they say. They also say that nothing bad can happen in Merced because we have the UC campus.

But more and more mainstream economists are saying that there has been something quite wrong with the way both residential and commercial real estate investment is handled in the US, and this mishandling is leading to global financial problems of a magnitude no one quite understands. No one is talking about any other kind of growth around here but residential and commercial real estate growth.

The slogan, "Growth is inevitable," in the San Joaquin Valley, which contains cities with the highest mortgage foreclosure rates in the nation, seems a little silly right now. The planners, politicians and special interests should come up with another slogan. If they are too rigid to invent a new slogan, perhaps the public could help them with something less rigid and more open, perhaps even a question like: "Is growth inevitable?"

Bill Hatch

Financial Times
Ailing mortage lenders set tone on Wall St...Chris Bryant in New York...11-23-07

ECB set to pump cash into money markets...Ralph Atkins and Ivar Simensen in Frankfurt and David Oakley in London...11-23-07

"A Generalized Meltdown of Financial Institutions"
Take a Look at Professor Roubini's Crystal Ball...MIKE WHITNEY...11-24-07

Nouriel Roubini's Global EconoMonitor
The Next Shoe to Drop in the Credit Meltdown: Commercial Real Estate and Its Massive Forthcoming Losses...Nouriel Roubini...11-14-07

The Housing Bubble

Center for Economic and Policy Research: Housing

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A Plague of Big Shots

Submitted: Mar 24, 2007

submitted by Bill Hatch

Big Shots are found everywhere in American society. So, viewing them from the San Joaquin Valley of California, once a great agricultural area now mindlessly converting itself as fast as violation of environmental law and regulation and common sense permits to another Western slurb, is as good a place as any to observe Big Shots.

American society is plagued with Big Shots, people that have gotten to some position of power through an excess of aggression, which they use to bully others. The rest of us all too often take the bullying in stride, hoping for a better day or, under the relentless onslaught, cave and grow permanently afraid.

All Big Shots have some self-righteous ideology, fundamentalism or doctrine to shout down at the rest of us from their positions, just a little above us one way or another.

The self-justification can be anything from “good work habits” to “the war against global terrorism.” All of it is a smoke screen for big-mouthed little cowards playing authoritarian games, throughout the sick institutional structure of this nation – from the orchard and tomato field to the packing shed to the city council to the school to the development corporation and the oil company to the White House.

We sit and read and hope somehow the “We the People” of the high-school texts will miraculously manifest that mythical unity We are said to possess to get the Big Shots off our backs, without risking anything. But, there is too much power, too much money floating around America, too many weapons in obedient hands and way too little human dignity left to stop this imperial cannibalism that is devouring millions of people in our imperial way – the toll rising, unabated by weak political resistance within the empire’s “homeland.”

Americans now confuse order and government in the “homeland” with bullying and being bullied. We elect a majority of Democrats in Congress to stop the war and their “leadership” blows us off in favor of the military contractors, the oil companies and the Israel lobby. But, will the public stand up to them? Call them by their name: hypocrites, sanctimonious bribe-takers, hacks and buffoons? Sue them? Prosecute them? Call their propaganda by its name?

America is a frightened, ruthless, unjust and ugly society full of denial and a guilt growing too large to measure, let alone accept. More than 600,000 Iraqis are dead because of a 30-year political “vacation” taken by the citizens of the USA, culminating in this atrocity. Our health care system is broken because America does not care about its people’s health. Top American political leadership is sociopathic because it serves at the pleasure of transnational corporations with no commitment to anything but their profits and the destruction of government regulation rather than the people and law. But the people are too besotted with corporate propaganda to know their rights, their interests and how to defend either. Yet, the US is losing “the war against terrorism” for the same reason it long ago lost the “war on drugs”: the Big Shots are too corrupt to win a war or stop the carnage of this one. Or rebuild New Orleans. Or save our environment. Or even put a dent in global warming.

Big Shots dominate our federal, state and local legislatures and our media corporations. The political situation in America is, in fact, much more critical than most Americans can imagine. There are entire institutions, vital to a functional society that have dropped off the map of the civilized world because they have been so rotted out by the greed of special interests, bribery and corruption. A small example, that will be familiar only to the very few remaining candid souls living in rural America, will be this year’s Farm Bill, which will demonstrate again that the Department of Agriculture is so corrupt it cannot identify national interest or even farmers’ interests. Likewise with the Food and Drug Agency, that has made unwitting guinea pigs of the entire American society and any foreign markets for our crops too stupid or oppressed to avoid it for the free, unregulated experimentation of the health effects of genetically modified organisms. Resource agencies charged with enforcing environmental law and regulation are daily corrupted by development corporations. Agency-by-agency, institution-by-institution, where can we find one that is working for the People? As glad as we may be made by tidings of churches, with congregations 10,000 strong, doing incredible feats of community outreach and care, can they replace a government that is supposed to serve 300 million people and is not supposed to be owned by transnational corporations?

American universities promote those character traits of sycophantic aggression prized by the corrupt corporate power elites that fund research for private profit rather than public benefit. High school dropouts, unlike the PhDs that staff the nation’s national laboratories, are not recorded to have produced American weapons of mass destruction that menace the world. These weapons aren’t the products of education; they are from its simulacrum, the university/corporate technology/military complex. To these must be added the “independent experts” whose regular gigs are at the brothel think tanks.

As ever, on the cutting edge of military technology, the Pentagon now conducts war by hurling immeasurable (at least by its accounting) tons of pork at the enemy, possibly hoping to crush him under the sheer weight ham and bacon. While the Pentagon appears to have crushed our side, the insurgents have long ago gone on to their own civil war.

Jake Plummer is outraged over the treatment of Pat Tillman: They knew it was friendly fire then–it makes you sick

By: John Amato on Friday, September 15th, 2006 at 4:15 PM - PDT
On HBO’s Inside the NFL, Peter King interviewed Denver QB Jake Plummer about the horrific treatment the Tillman family have received over Pat’s death. There have been four investigations into what really happened to him and now a fifth one is getting close to being completed. How reprehensible has this been for the Tillman family? Pat is killed and they were repeatedly lied to. The family is not speaking out, but Plummer is. Good for him. Somebody has to.

Video-WMP Video-QT (rough transcript)

King: When you first heard that they hid these irregularities, were you outraged?

Plummer: It just made you feel kinda sick that they’d cover up something like that to–for whatever reason. We were all led to believe he died in leading his troops up the hill and then they come tell us it wasn’t–it was friendly fire. What can you do– you’re at their mercy and you just feel for the family…

I mention Big Shots only because there might be lingering in the American collective unconscious – that immense psychic ocean of all that is suppressed and ignored – some residual folk memory of resentment against Big Shots. Perhaps a residual sense of the political taste that caused people to fight to the death against the British so many years ago. However, it is probable that Americans, after 30 years of corporate propaganda, have been so overwhelmingly persuaded of their unique brilliance, success and that Beautiful Freedom we all enjoy, that they all conceive of themselves as Big Shots, entitled citizens, above the masses. In our area, the masses are imagined by our fictitious Big Shots to be foreigners, Mexicans and Asians and such. Casual observation suggests, however, that when Americans, convinced of their Big Shot status, are muscled by the equally convinced, the former group – rather than getting down to political realities – tends instead to develop a severe case of the vapors. “How dare they!” etc. Generally, their croquet balls are carefully aimed and demurely stroked at a non-lethal local official, in no position to help or to harm, simply one more minor Big Shot on his or her way up or down the ladder to Big Shot Heaven. Missing the target amounts to an alliance with one’s own gravedigger, but if one doesn’t know that, there is not point in bringing it up.

“Use it or lose it,” voter registrars used to mutter in front of supermarket doors at the feckless passers-by. They didn’t use it and they did lose it. Everyman the Big Shot, on his way into WalMart, was above mere voting.

The proper American hero of today is Yossarian, the terrified WWII bombardier of Catch-22. When you tell the truth to power, power will fire back. Yossarian wasn’t crazy. Fighting fascism is dangerous work. But, having allowed this unaccountable, authoritarian power to take root on the ground, it must be defeated even though it fights back. That would take courage and spirit, and probably fewer vacations. But, of course, Catch-22 was just a funny novel written 50 years ago, which said some rather off-message things about the “greatest generation.”

Our local McClatchy Chain corporate outlet is a Big Shot with barrels of ink that is never off-message. The Chain is part of the immense advertising/public relations empire in charge of controlling our taste, distorting all issues with one aim – the destruction of a truly public perspective in favor of the very private, “special” perspective of the private profits of their paymasters and their social equals in the Club de Big Shots. In the San Joaquin Valley, the McClatchy Chain relentlessly attacks the San Joaquin River Settlement Agreement, reached between local, state and national environmental groups and farmers and local, state and federal water agencies. The idea of accord between agriculture and environmental groups is an abomination to McClatchy advertisers – principally real estate development, finance and insurance – and they cannot allow this agreement to live, which would put Sierra snow melt back into the state’s second-longest river all the way to the Delta. To this destructive end, the Chain has taken to quoting every inane utterance of Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, a bullyboy for corporate agribusiness welfare. The Big Shots the Chain does not name, who are bankrolling Nunes’ attack on the settlement, are smoother and worse.

The Big Shots intend to protect their power and their wealth. That’s all they have to say now, and all they ever had to say, millions of barrels of ink ago. Where’s the “Progress”? What did agribusiness, built on federal water, crop subsidies and low wages, really accomplish? Where is the quality in those islands of wealth surrounded by poverty and economic anxiety? What was the ideal served? Where is the happiness?

Do we live to buy what we don’t need to keep corporate CEOs in the style to which they have become accustomed, averaging 300 times higher compensation than the median income of their employees? Do we live for the fame of having invaded and destroyed already crippled nations to plunder their resources? Do we live to support and applaud or suffer in fearful silence the fraud and corruption of predatory plutocrats? Were we born to become the generation that forgot the difference between news and advertising? Is our purpose in life here in the San Joaquin Valley and elsewhere to stand at attention and sing hymns of praise to the destroyers of the Public Trust and the builders of grotesque slurbs – just because Big Shots have the “freedom” to do it?

Is this nation’s destiny freedom for Big Shots and the shaft for the rest of us?

“Of course not, of course not,” I hear you saying.

I end in communion with the great Dodge City lawman, Bat Masterson, who went on to a distinguished career as a New York City sports writer. He wrote:

There are many in this old world of ours who hold that things break about even for all of us. I have observed, for example, that we all get the same amount of ice. The rich get it in the summertime and the poor get it in the winter. -- Bat Masterson

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Dumb Questions -- A problem in the family

Submitted: Jan 09, 2006

For your entertainment only!

The dull-witted boy’s mother came home one day and opened her credit card bill, never a pleasant chore after Christmas, especially since she was unemployed at the time. Looking down the list of her mounting debts she spied an unexpected item: Danny@jahbook.com, for $500.

“What is a jahbook? she asked. What is jah?” she asked. “Who is Danny and why did I pay him $500?”

The dull-witted boy played dumb, furiously working his yo-yo, and quit the premises abruptly to seek the advice of his friend and fellow gambling freak, Li’l Hector Cienfuegos.

“What do I do now?” he asked Hector.

“First, what did you do then?” Hector asked.

“I bet one of those drivers – Biffle or Martin or Stewart – to win. The odds were fantastic,” the dull-witted boy said.

“So, you wouldn’t listen, right?”

“Listen to what?”

“What I told you. You can bet to win in horseracing, but you bet the head-to-heads in stockcar racing. You bet Biffle against Stewart, Stewart against Martin. You never get suckered into betting to win. The odds are long for a reason.”

“Oh, yeah, I forgot that. So now this Danny from Jahbook is going to break my mother’s legs?”

“Why? Danny already has her money. Why did you use your mother’s credit card, anyway?”

“Do I have a credit card?”

“You should have asked me for one of mine,” said Hector, a third grader with half a dozen credit cards. “Not that I would have loaned it to you on a bet to win in a stockcar race,” he added.

The dull-witted boy pondered. The real answer was that he was tired of always getting upstaged by a third-grader. It wasn’t that he didn’t like and admire Li’l Hector, his neighbor and best friend, but a man in the sixth grade had to step out on his own.

“I would have, but you know, the newspapers all say that stockcar racing is a family sport, so I thought I’d win one for mom, since she ain’t working right now. She’s real excited about that Atwater track because she thinks she can get part-time work there.”

“Isn’t working,” Hector said. “Gambling is a grammatical endeavor. So, now you owe your mother $500 plus the credit card vig, of what – 18 percent?”

“Maybe I don’t have to tell her?” the dull-witted boy said, weakly.

“Pathetic!” Hector said. “Gambler always pays his debts. It’s the code.”

“But how?”

“Well, first you tell your mother. If you’d just listened to me, you’d have made some money for her, like I do for my mother – by betting the head-to-heads. Then you go to your Uncle Henry and maybe he can find you a job after school.”

“You what?” his mother said, when the dull-witted boy, Hector at his side, spilled the beans and came clean on the Jahbook deal. “You gambled on my credit card? Why? What possessed you? Where did you get the idea?”

“Well, mom, Hector and I have been experimenting a little on the computer, with poker, bingo and stuff,” the dull-witted boy lied. “Paid for most of your Christmas presents,” he added, hopefully. “I bought a new carburetor for Uncle Henry’s pickup,” he said defiantly. “I was making me some money,” he said ungrammatically.

Hector winced.

The dull-witted boy’s mother groaned.

“I did it for my family!” the dull-witted boy yelled. “They say stockcar racing is a family sport. So I bet it. Turns out if you lose, it ain’t so family-friendly.”

“What the hell?” his mother said, grabbing the phone and dialing furiously. “Henry, you get yourself over here immediately and I don’t mean tomorrow,” she yelled in the phone.

Purring smoothly thanks to better carburetion, the genuine ’56 Chevy pickup coasted to the curb of the disturbed household, and Uncle Henry arrived.

“What’s the rumpus?” he inquired.

He got an earful from his sister. His nephew hung his head.

“Ah,” he said, when the outraged mom fell silent. “Hmmm. NASCAR? They bet that? I’m out of touch with reality, evidently, since I cleaned up.”

“Henry, right now I do not give a whatever for your holy cleanup and newly found righteousness, etcetera,” the dull-witted boy’s mother said. “This one,” she said indicated her son, “is screwed up. He is claiming it is OK to steal my credit card number and gamble with some Jamaica bookie online on stockcar racing because this Riverside Motorsports outfit keeps telling the newspaper stockcar racing is about family values – in his case the value of my credit. What it is is embezzlement.”

“Well, let’s march him down to the station and get him arrested,” Henry said.

“I’m thinking about it,” she said.

“I could probably get him a job up the crik long enough so he could pay it back,” Henry suggested.

“Right!” the mother exploded. “From the frying pan into the fire. Doing what, exactly?”

“Well, since the boy’s chosen a path of crime, and you need the money, does it make any difference?” Henry asked.

“Stockcar racing is s’posed to be about family values!” the dull-witted boy moaned.

“That does it!” his mother said. “Take this criminal away!”

In the pickup, Henry thought about it, glancing at the morose, defiant nephew of his, clearly taking the wrong path in life. He thought maybe the pastor should be consulted before going up the crik into the world of alternative economic enterprise.

Pastor Nasrudin was sitting in the cross-legged position, communing with his brother Achmed back in the ‘stans, when they arrived and knocked at his door. He and Achmed had been discussed how their beauteous niece, Jasmina, resented wearing the burka, concealing her sizzling lips. “Are the old ways the best ways?” Achmed was asking. “Who knows, these days?” Nasrudin answered. “She could get her masters here at Stan State, I guess. Marry an almond grower. She wouldn’t have to wear the burka, anyway.”
“I’ll think about it,” Achmed said, as Henry’s knock on the door interrupted the telepathic communication. “Got to go,” Nasrudin said, “my flock calls.”

The moral dilemma presented, the pastor considered his response. “Hmmm.”

The minutes stepped slowly by in the silence.

“Hmmm,” Nasrudin finally said. “Betting on automobiles?”

“Stockcars,” the dull-witted boy replied.

“Cars?” the pastor said, incredulously. “That’s absurd. One does not even bet on camels, my son. Not that some don’t, you understand – and they can be forgiven for not knowing better – but really, child, one does not bet on either camels or cars. It is ridiculous.

“One bets on horses. Mankind has always bet on horses. What – pray tell – are the bloodlines of an automobile? How on earth could you handicap a machine? How many stockcars, as you call them, sire stockcar foals in a breeding season?

“No, child, you are wandering in darkness.”

Turning to Henry, Nasrudin said, “I will take him at $5 an hour to clean up around the church.”

“The mother might think that’s a little slow. Up the crik they pay top wages, you know.”

“Right,” the pastor said sternly, “young, nimble fingers, pick-pick-pick. Nothing good to learn there. No. I will buy the boy’s debt and he will learn, here.”

Nasrudin counted out the money from his wallet, gave it to Henry, turned to the dull-witted boy and said, “There is a broom. Sweep.”

And so the dull-witted boy was saved from a life of crime. After the third after-school session sweeping the grounds of the church, he returned the broom to its corner in the pastor’s office and said goodnight.

“Come here,” the pastor, reading a newspaper, said from his desk.

The boy approached.

“Now, boy, this is the Racing Form. Start with the claiming races. If the horse finished in the money in its last three starts, if it’s racing every 10 days, and it’s carrying top weight, consider it, after checking its trainer. Crosscheck here with the trainers’ standings. Bet the trainer! Never bet a filly to beat a colt! Top weight, no ties! Beware of a dark horse some great trainer is bringing in below class for an easy win! Was the horse claimed in after the last race? Can it go the distance? Beware of drops and rises in class! Here’s the studbook. I expect a full report next week on the first 50 pages.”

Six months later, Li’l Hector was amazed as the dull-witted boy explained the intricate calculations behind betting a trifecta. Hector swore off betting NASCAR head-to-heads that very day, and when the dull-witted boy finished paying off his debt, Hector took the broom, still warm from the other boy’s hands, and began sweeping.

“But you don’t owe me anything,” Nasrudin said.

“I want to study with a master,” Hector replied.

“Ah,” the pastor said. “In that case, there is the studbook. Memorize.”

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