Lyrics Part 2

I honestly did not think I was going to grade any more lyrics, but then I remembered the song “Story of My Life,” by One Direction.  So yeah, I had to do it.  This time I did it in image format so it’ll be easier to see.  But my handwriting is just as awful as ever.  Enjoy!

OneDirection1

OneDirection2

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OneDirection4

So that’s that.  I think I’m done grading lyrics now.  The joke’s probably already old.  But I got that off my chest.  Also as a gift to my friend, Micah, I made a new elemental chinchilla.  Because Micah has been helping me out with a project I’m desperate to get right, and he deserves a fire chinchilla if he wants a fire chinchilla.  Here it is.  (see the last post if you’re confused)

Fire Chinchilla

If you’re wondering what this post has to do with writing, then keep wondering!

Sorry, that was rude.  I’m working on a thing (mentioned above) but I don’t want to share anything right now.  I’ll write about writing again soon.  Maybe there will be another chinchilla to go with it for some reason.

 

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Filed under Grammar, Humor, Language, Music, reading, writing

Your Lyrics Will Be Graded

I’m not a stranger to song/singer analysis.  You’ll recall I had a particularly scathing post about John Mayer a while back, and my friend, Liz, analyzed the nuances (or lack thereof) of Taylor Swift’s character.

As some people know, I am currently studying to become a high school English teacher in Texas.  This involves a lot of repetitive reading about how we should probably focus more on engaging students in school, and less on lecturing at them.  Turns out they learn more if they’re emotionally invested.  Who knew?

Anyway, as a fun activity, I decided to grade a couple songs as if they were student essays.  Starting with Katy Perry’s “Firework.”  Click to enlarge!

Firework001

I didn’t bother doing the rest of the song because it’s just “Boom boom boom, even brighter than the moon, moon, moon” repeated a bunch of times.

So the thing is that – while that was fun – I haven’t graded any other lyrics.  I was going to do Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off,” because no one who can easily shake off negative comments goes on to write an entire song about all the “mean” things that are said about them for the world to hear (Irony!).  But that seemed like low-hanging fruit.  Ol’ Tay-Tay’s already suffered our wrath, as you saw above.

This activity left the subject of education knocking around in my brain.  It feels important to get a few things written down, even if they’re obvious.  At the end, as a thank you for reading my wall of text, I have presented you with a drawing of an Ice Chinchilla, which was commissioned by my friend, Liz.

  1. If the goal of schooling is to increase student knowledge and understanding, then the current model is waaaaay off base.  A fifteen-year-old can memorize all the significant dates related to the American Revolution.  S/he can regurgitate facts onto a test and get a good grade, but that does not mean that s/he understands this conflict.  The student likely has no feelings about the American Revolution one way or the other.  Because s/he has learned that the goal of school is to get A’s, not to understand the content.  Along those lines…
  2. Our methods of assessing students are crap.  We live in a country where C is average, but only A’s mean anything.  That means we are pressuring our students to jump through as many hoops as necessary to get top letter marks.  As I said in point 1, this rarely requires genuine understanding.  Just look at the term “Standardized Test.”  It is literally a test that measures students’ abilities to fit into a mold.  At the beginning of the year, all students start with an A in their classes.  The best thing that can happen for them is for their grade to remain exactly the same.  Most likely what will happen is their grade will drop.  This is expected to motivate them.  All I see is a practice in futility, neatly packaged with buzzwords.  “If you don’t do well here, you won’t get into a good college.”  How about this?  How about every student starts with a zero.  Not an F, mind.  A zero.  As they do assignments, they get points.  At the end of the year, the number of points they have can be translated into a letter grade.  It’s not a perfect system, but you’ll notice with this design, the only direction students can go is up.  Instead of losing, they’ll be working to gain.  Every day, every semester, every class.
  3. It turns out that every person learns in a different way.  This means that a significant portion of “Special Ed” students might not need drugs or a psychological diagnosis.  Maybe all they need is someone to approach teaching in a different way.  It’s hard to cater your teaching methods to suit the needs of a fifty-student class, but we can start by abandoning the “Sit still, shut up, and listen” model.  From where I’m sitting, “Special Ed” is a lovely euphemism for “We’ve given up on you.”  That probably does wonders for kids’ self-esteem.
  4. You’ve heard this all before.  Studies that prove kids aren’t learning in school have been coming out for decades.  Kids aren’t learning.  Kids aren’t motivated.  Kids aren’t supposed to be put through test after standardized test.  It’s common knowledge at this point.  As far as I can tell, we as a country have gone, “Oh, look.  Schools are failing our children.  What a shame,” and then moved back to reading the morning paper or whatever.  Just shrug and move on, America.  Your education system is a mess.  Oh, well!  It happens.  Right?  No!  No, damn it!  I have read paper after paper from people saying we’re in the middle of a “paradigm shift” and “we need school reinvention, not school reform.”  (See writing by Ornstein and Hunkins for more details about school reinvention)  By “paradigm shift” do they mean that about 0.5% of the schools in this country have made changes to the way education is accomplished?  That’s not a shift.  That’s not even a blip on the radar.  So why aren’t we seeing real change?  Well, for one, politicians love using education to boost their numbers.  They throw out buzz words, cite the studies that I’ve been reading for my classes, and promise change.  Then they introduce new standardized tests or cut more music programs.  Meanwhile teachers are left floundering in a system that forces them to dish out education like it’s a punishment.
  5. No more complacence.  Educators need to band together.  Families need to support them.  We need a separation of school and state in a lot of ways, because educational policies are being instated by people who have never stood in a classroom full of bored sixth graders.  As an individual, all I can do is try to beat the system one classroom at a time.  And write ineffectual blog posts about it.  Hopefully one day I’ll be able to do more.  If enough individuals decide to make real changes, maybe it’ll have a ripple effect.

I don’t know.

Here’s a chinchilla.

Ice Chinchilla

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Filed under education, Humor, Language, Music, Politics, reading, writing

Let’s Get Angry (Part 2)

For those who just joined us, please read the previous post, which is part 1 of this story.  To recap, I interviewed Alex, an American, and his/her spouse, Sam, a UK citizen, about the dehumanizing process of applying to live together in the UK.  I’m also including screen caps from a video game called Papers, Please, (created by Lucas Pope) as it is scarily relevant to the situation detailed in these two posts.
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[RESUME INTERVIEW]
Q: Alex, at this point I’m going to say, for the record, that you are not a certified expert in law, immigration, foreign affairs, etc. That being said, I want to go back to what you mentioned before. You said you and Sam were prime candidates because you speak English and you are a heterosexual couple. Does this mean people are being rejected on the basis of their language or sexual orientation? As a follow-up: Isn’t that illegal?
 
ALEX: Well remember that gay marriage wasn’t made legal in the UK until last year. Before that point, I know that immigration was a major point of debate for same-sex couples, as it is in the US. Still, there’s a separate category for them, with its own requirements re: proof of the relationship, joint financial responsibility, etc. I see this entire application process as unduly burdensome and a complete failure at actually detecting sham marriages, and I imagine it’s even more so for couples up against widespread discrimination. This whole process, which for some takes years, is decided by one UKBA agent and his or her mood. S/he cannot say, “Your application is rejected on the basis of your sexuality,” but they can say, “Your application is rejected on the basis thatUK4 you have not provided sufficient proof that this is a genuine relationship.”
Vague guidelines, social prejudice, and public anxiety are what discrimination feeds on. Anecdotally, people from the Middle East and Africa seem to have more problems getting in than people from the US, whether they have the money or not. This is not surprising. These regulations are very recent, and a response to the UK’s cry for pointless immigration caps, usually implicitly targeting Middle Easterners.
Oh, here’s another thing: This system is blatantly ageist. As we’re both young and still in education, we don’t have the necessary qualifications for A) Sam to get a work visa and live with me during the application process, or B) for us to start earning the crazy amount they require. So what they’re saying is, if you’re young and still being educated, fuck off. You don’t deserve a family life.

The whole system, if we assume (highly generously) that it is a good-faith attempt to only let in genuine families, is geared towards educated and qualified people in their 30s or 40s. Not people like us, who don’t generally communicate via email, who can’t get high-paying jobs yet, and who haven’t joined our finances together.  Which, come the fuck on. Just try and get joined finances when Sam doesn’t even live here permanently.

Q: Sam, how much would you estimate you have paid, including visa fees, airfare, etc., in the past two years alone on traveling back and forth between the US and the UK? For the record, you have to travel so often because you can’t get a visa that will allow you to stay with your spouse for longer periods of time, correct?

SAM: Yes, that’s correct. I’m not completely sure about the overall costs because there’s a lot to consider. The flights alone have cost several thousand dollars, but that doesn’t account for living expenses here in the UK. Since I don’t drive and don’t get to choose where I live, transport costs hundreds cumulatively. Food is expensive because I don’t have my own kitchen, thus can’t manage a proper food budget. I need a portable computer for work so we have had to invest a couple of thousand dollars in that. The visa fees are not much in comparison, though I was forced to go to an early morning interview in Belfast for my last visa, which cost considerably more in transport and accommodation.  So it’s hard to measure, but it is a lot.

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Q: I suppose I shouldn’t have said “can’t” get a visa that will allow you to stay longer. It would be more accurate to say you aren’t allowed a longer visa, yes?  The difference being that you are an upstanding citizen with no criminal record, so you are not being denied on the basis of your own faults or actions.

SAM: Yes, it would be more accurate to say that. Longer visas don’t exist for someone in my position, in that I’m not studying there [in the US], I’m not working in one of the small number of “shortage” industries, and I’m unwilling to be apart from Alex for the processing time of a marriage visa, which can take up to a year. There are no other options for me.

Q:  I’d like to ask a general question, similar to what I asked Alex. What are some thoughts you want to share? Anything that comes to mind. Especially anything that you feel the general public should know.

SAM: Well my experience of talking to other people about this is how little they understand it. Most are constantly surprised that I’m forced to be apart from my partner of 6 years, my spouse, because of this. It’s not simply that the process is time-consuming, expensive, and complicated, though it is certainly all of those things. It’s also thatUK6 it’s deeply violating in a very personal way. Our relationship isn’t really ours anymore, it’s wholly dependent on the demands of total strangers who don’t and will never know us, yet want access to the most intimate details of our lives so they can judge whether or not our love is real. We’re expected to play the part of what a couple should be in their eyes, a role that is not only painfully restrictive but also constantly changing, without warning.  I feel like people need to be aware of how painful this is, and how much worse it must be for those not lucky enough to be in our position, supported by friends and family in a lot of ways.

Q: This may seem like an obvious question, but for the record: Do you love your spouse?
ALEX: Obviously. I love him/her deeply. I didn’t even consider marriage before her/him.

Theresa May, the Home Secretary wants to make it harder for British citizens and those settled in the UK to bring their spouses, civil partners and indeed other family members to the UK.

 Sam: Yes, very much. S/he completely changed my life, and made me want to spend my life with him/her when no one else ever has.
[END INTERVIEW]
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Once again I beg you to share this blog post and/or the previous one.  My heart goes out to the various divided families that are struggling to live with each other (and stay with each other).  The previous post includes links to websites where you can help by donating to this cause.  I am going to post them here as well.
Thank you so much for reading and for bearing with me as we diverge from the fun, light-hearted path this blog usually takes.  We’ll be back to Mini-Bex shenanigans soon.
A special thanks to Sam and Alex for taking the time to share their story with me and with my readers.  It is my hope that this blog post and the above websites will help to make a difference, not only in Sam’s and Alex’s lives, but in the lives of many others.

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Filed under Foreign Policy, Games, Immigration, marriage, Politics, Travel

Let’s Get Angry (Part 1)

Since we’re on the subject of video games, today I’m going to do a little bit about a game called Papers, Please, created by Lucas Pope.  In this game, you play a border agent in a fictional country who is tasked with inspecting people’s documentation and either admitting them or denying them.  Of course you also have your own family to feed and shelter, but what happens when someone comes by who doesn’t have the right paperwork?  Do you admit them when they tell you they’re just trying to see their son?  Or their spouse?  What about if they look female (to you) and their passport says they’re male?

PP1

The reason I bring this game up is because it’s supposed to be historical, but in actuality the events of Papers, Please are unfolding right now for real people. Click here to view the game’s trailer and/or to buy the game, and here to see the Zero Punctuation game review.

Throughout this post, you’re going to see screen caps from Papers, Please, but that is not what I’m going to talk about.  This post is about a real-life issue: The UK is forcibly separating families.

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PP7

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For this post, I conducted an interview with an American citizen, Alex, and a UK citizen, Sam.  They’re married, but they aren’t living together yet.  Instead they are going through the arduous and soul-sucking process of applying to live together as citizens in the UK.  To protect their identities, their names were changed, and all identifying information has been altered or omitted.

Interspersed throughout the interview transcript, you will find excerpts from some websites that detail the immigration issues more fully.  I warn you that this blog’sDivided Family of the Week” posts will tear your heart to pieces.

Because of the sheer volume of information I’m trying to include, I have divided this post into two parts.  Both parts will be long, but I urge you to read them in their entirety.  The things I’ve learned in just a few days…  It’s cruel and unusual, and we have to try to stop it.  This is America’s problem as much as anyone else’s.  It’s American citizens (as well as citizens from many other countries) who are being forced to live apart from their spouses and families.  So please read, and share!  I have never asked this of you before, readers, but please share this post.  Get the word out there.

[BEGIN INTERVIEW]

Q: How long have you and Sam been together as a couple?

ALEX: Since March of 2010, so almost six years.

Q: Can you tell me about when you started the process of moving to the UK, with the aim to become permanent residents? [Note: Sam was born in the UK, and is a citizen.]

ALEX: Initially we hadn’t considered moving to the UK, because I thought it would be best for us to be in the US, in terms of my career. But as we learned more about what it would take to be a [JOB TITLE] here, plus the wait times to get a US spousal visa (more than one year we would have to be apart), we started to consider the UK again. Turns out it makes much more sense, as it’s a more straightforward path to [CAREER] for me. On the surface, it looked as if the visa process is easier, as the wait times are shorter. So we decided to do that.

For several months, we scraped together savings and spent as little money as possible for what we thought was the financial requirement: a savUK1ings of £16,000 ($22,700). Turns out, that was not the case. The requirement was upwards of £60,000 ($90,000) in savings, just to live with my family. And we had to hold that absurd amount for six months in a bank account, untouched. We’re preparing our application, which already exceeds 50 pages in a 3-ring binder, and it still isn’t enough proof that we’re not in a sham marriage, or lying to the border authorities in some other way.  And, in what felt like a slap to the face, we also read that we shouldn’t burden the UKBA (UK Border Agency) with “too much evidence,” lest they tire of hearing about our situation and reject us.

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Immigration laws leave an estimated 33,000 people unable to remain with spouses in Britain as they do not earn enough to satisfy visa requirement.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/jul/09/couples-protest-18600-minimum-income-rule-foreign-spouse-uk

Q: My next question was in this vein.  I wanted to ask you to list the various obstacles you encountered since beginning the process. Is there anything you’d like to add, since you already began the list?

ALEX: Yes. This is a significant financial and emotional burden. We’re stuck between the xenophobic immigration practices of two different xenophobic countries. That means that Sam regularly has to leave me here alone to fulfill his/her US visa requirements, and it’s never a given that they’ll let her/him back in at the border.

Obviously the money is a huge thing. We could be spending that monUK2ey, right now, setting up a life in a country we both love.  But what they don’t see is the huge emotional toll. It’s not right to be separated as newlyweds, particularly not for arbitrary reasons and indeterminate amounts of time.  I have PTSD. This leads me to have terrifying panic attacks in my sleep. I’m lucky to have someone like Sam, who’s willing to do whatever it takes, in the middle of the night, to calm me down and allow me to sleep peacefully. When s/he’s not here, I have to face it alone.

The rules were introduced on 9 July 2012, and every year dozens of couples who have been separated from their partners and children gather outside the Home Office to protest a law which means around 47% of Britons do not earn enough to fall in love with a foreigner.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/jul/09/couples-protest-18600-minimum-income-rule-foreign-spouse-uk

There’s also our education and careers. We’re both ambitious people. I have a clinical Masters degree, and I’d like to progress to a doctorate. It’s an intensely competitive and high-paying field, and I can’t wait to actually begin working in it. Sam wants to write professionally, and to support us by working better than minimum wage jobs while I’m in school. But we can’t start any of that right now. We have to wait, often separately, wasting time in pointless and underpaid jobs even when we have the money and academic drive to not do that.

The UKBA does not give you any specific guidance as to what documents to provide in order to prove that A) you have a “genuine and subsisting relationship,” B) you intend to live together as a couple in the UK, and C) the money you have is from a legit source. From the experiences of other couples we’ve read about, they will reject without asking for clarification, leading you to go down a (highly expensive) months or years-long UK3appeals process.  So in this process of gathering information that varies from seemingly pointless (utility bills) to highly violating and personal (love letters, emails, Facebook chats, a year of bank statements of the person who gave you a monetary gift), you start to think of yourself as a criminal.  You start to have thoughts like, “Wow, we didn’t join our finances before marriage. I guess that’s a legit reason for them to reject us.” I do this hundreds of times every day. “Oh no, I didn’t save every scrap of paper Sam ever wrote to me on.  I guess I don’t deserve to live with him/her. How stupid of me not to have set up this relationship for success.” Or if, Heaven forbid, I threw out bills that were several years old that had both our names on them. “How could I do that? Why am I trying to defraud the UK?”

You’re not allowed to be human in this process. You have to be a relationship-tracking automaton, and a very wealthy one at that. And even then, they might reject you, as in the case of a couple being rejected for literally knowing the UK’s immigration laws and citing them in their application.

Almost every day, we remind each other that we’re in the best possible position (after the “investor tier” which can casually drop £1 million into the UK economy and be granted the privilege of staying). I speak English and am UK-educated. We’re not in a same-sex relationship. I’m not from a politically inconvenient country. I can afford a lawyer, and this application (which costs around $10,000, in addition to the savings requirement). There are infinite reasons people can fall through those cracks, and can thus be denied the right to family life. That’s an explicit right, by the way, under both UK and EU law. But the reassurance that we’re top-shelf applicants, perhaps, doesn’t keep us together. It doesn’t keep Sam here to help me sleep and to play with our dog and to just enjoy our marriage. And it certainly doesn’t get me any closer to starting my second Masters course, which I may miss because of their processing times, which I hear are backlogged by about 6 months.

Immigration rules in the UK in force from 9th July 2012 make a mockery of family values and violate the sanctity of marriage in causing the separation of families, keeping our citizens in exile and forcing British children unnecessarily into a single-parent upbringing.

Source: http://britcits.blogspot.co.uk/p/about-us.html

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Q: Sam, I know that you are a UK citizen. You were born and raised in the UK, correct? Was there ever a dramatic change in your feelings about being a UK citizen in your life? Either a negative or positive change, or have your feelings about your country always been the same?

SAM:  I was born and raised here [in the UK], and spent almost my entire life so far here. There has not been a dramatic change in my feelings about the UK, but rather a gradual one. I was generally ambivalent about it as a child and teenager, but was always involved politically and took an interest in my community in a lot of ways. It was always my home and while I knew it had problems, I felt like it was worth trying to make better. Over the course of the last few years, however, since I’ve been involved with Alex and spending more time in other counties, I increasingly no longer feel secure or welcome in the UK. I get the sense that having a partner from another country is some kind of violation, that I’m being punished for loving someone not from here.

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Q:  Let’s expand on that. Alex has already talked about how this process has affected her/his life and his/her emotional well-being. Can you talk about how you’ve been feeling since the process started?

SAM: Anxious.  Partly out of a constant sense of uncertaintyUK5 over our future that is just part of the process, partly out of concern for Alex, who struggles with some health problems that make it hard for her/him on his/her own. Also frustrated by the way that our lives, especially careers and family life, have been put entirely on hold during this time. We’re recently married, yet have been totally unable to really start our lives together or enjoy our relationship because we’re forced to be apart.  The process is deeply lonely, because we’re both always pulled apart and never allowed to know if we’ll be able to see one another again for months, or potentially even years.

Q: I don’t want to pour salt on any wounds, but what will happen if the UK rejects you as a couple?

SAM: I don’t know. It’s impossible to know or plan for. We might be able to take a different path, but there’s no guarantee of anything.

[End of Part 1]

Obviously what’s happening is tragic, so I’m going to answer the question that might be on your mind: What can you do to help?  Glad you asked.  Click the links below.  Donate your time, resources, money.  Whatever you have.  Help to stop the UK from treating people like trash.

https://www.justgiving.com/BritCits1/

http://www.jcwi.org.uk/membership

The conclusion to this interview will be posted early next week.  Until then, I once again urge you to share this post.  Let’s start getting the word out there.

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The Beauty of Terrible Stories (Part 2)

I guarantee this post isn’t going to make much sense if you don’t read Part 1 (previous post).  So do that.

Also, before we move on to the joys of Supermarket Mania 2, I want to share a TED Talk with you.  It’s one you may have seen, but as it pertains to creativity and education, I feel it is my duty to pass on the message to those who haven’t.  This guy is funny and has an enjoyable accent.  Watch it, please.

Okay so Supermarket Mania 2, by G5 Entertainment (available as an iPhone app, which makes waiting rooms 12% more tolerable).  I’m only going to recommend the sequel, as the first game is a bit buggy.  Don’t worry about missing any of the drama, though!  That’s what this blog post is for!

The plot of Supermarket Mania (the first): A young woman named Nikki goes to work for an obviously evil man named Torg at his obviously evil supermarket.  Because we all know how evil those supermarkets can get.  Torg’s supermarket serves as a training ground for Nikki and her new friend, Wendy, before they are fired (and replaced with EVIL robot workers).  Wendy’s one and only personality trait is that she likes to eat.  She’s not overweight, mind you.  She just likes to eat.  Pretty much everything she says garners a response of, “But Wendy, you just ate!” or, “Wendy, you cow, stop thinking about food.”

Supermarket 3

Anyway, Wendy and Nikki find an old man who wants nothing more than to start his own grocery store that is full of love and wholesomely bland foods.  They do so.  This somehow puts the Evil supermarket out of business.  White people cheer all around.  (There are no people of color in this game.)

The plot of Supermarket Mania 2: Nikki is still running bland supermarkets!  Through her love and compassion (because that’s what people are really looking for in a supermarket) she succeeded in drumming up a loyal clientele.  There’s Old Lady, Regular Type Lady, Mom, Teenager, Girl with Scooter, Yuppie (I swear that’s what they call him), Thief (She doesn’t actually like this guy), and Celebrity.  They all come and go, and everything seems great for Nikki and her ever-growing list of White pals.  Except Torg is still evil!  And he is bent on getting his revenge by doing stupid things like causing traffic jams outside the store and painting the word “SALE” on the window.  Spoiler alert: None of these plans succeed.

But the best scheme by far is that Torg will stroll into the market, wearing a trench coat and a fedora, and use a giant, wooden mallet to break Nikki’s various machines.  It is worth mentioning here that Nikki has a security guard in her employ.  Mr. Blowfist… or Barefist… or Bareknuckle.  Something vaguely obscene.  His job is usually to stop Thief from thieving (Swiper no swiping?), but he’s never around when Torg comes by with his mallet of doom.

Anyway, I couldn’t resist taking a screenshot for this one.  Because sometimes you can hire someone to help you with your various tasks, and those employees will do nothing to stop a man in a trench coat from smashing the juice squeezing machine.  They will watch him do it with a smile on their face.  Look:

Supermarket 1

Do you see it?  Do you see what’s happening here?  Let me help, just in case you’re lost:

Okay, so now you get it.  I suppose Nikki doesn’t pay the woman in the orange dress to stop people from sabotaging the machinery.  Hell, Nikki doesn’t really pay her at all.  She purchased her for $1,200.  One-time fee.  I imagine Orange Dress would politely ask Torg not to crush the machinery if only she were allowed a paycheck or a union-mandated break.

That’s all I’ve got!  We’re going to move on to a more serious subject next time.  Fair warning.

 

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