“You’re Not Going To Put Those Ugly Things In The Spinach Dip…Are You?”

I believe my husband makes the best spinach dip in the world.

It’s spinach-y, crunchy, slightly chewy, slightly sweet and nutty, and so darned good I can (and do) make a meal out of it.

And to answer the question in the post title …

Yes, he does put those ugly things in his spinach dip.

But – those things don’t look like those things when he puts them in the dip.

Before that, they look like this:

Described as a “grass-like sedge,” my researched introduced me to Eleocharis dulcis, native to Asia, tropical Africa, and Oceania. 

How does this “grass-like” foreign plant fit into my hub’s spinach dip?

For that, let’s dig a bit deeper.

When we do, we see the whole plant:

Those dark, round things at the bottom of the plant are called “corms”:

“A corm, bulbo-tuber, or bulbotuber is a short, vertical, swollen underground plant stem that serves as a storage organ that some plants use to survive winter or other adverse conditions such as summer drought and heat.”

Corms:  That’s what we’re after.

Harvest the plant, including the roots, and voila – corms:

OK, we have the corms in hand – now what?

We rename them…but what?

Here are some clues:

The corms are classified as vegetables; specifically, “aquatic tuber vegetables.”

They’re edible and, according to various articles, they’re good for you:

  • High in fiber, low in calories, and contain no fat.
  • A source of fiber, protein, potassium, manganese, copper, Vitamin B6 and riboflavin.
  • Some evidence suggests that consuming these could help reduce free radicals in the body and lower blood pressure, among other benefits.

So what the heck is this dark, ugly, bulbous-looking, healthy-for-you corm-thing?

It’s a beautiful thing.

It’s this:

Water chestnuts!

Just peel off the dark ugly…

And eat them raw, boiled, grilled, fried, roasted, candied, grated, pickled, or straight from the can.

You can add them to all sorts of dishes; when I googled “water chestnut recipes” I got 16 million+ results.

So, to correct a commonly held (including me) misconception: 

Water chestnuts are not nuts.

How did they get that name?

This article had as reasonable an explanation as any:

“The name ‘water chestnut’ comes from the fact that it resembles a chestnut in shape and coloring – papery brown skin over white flesh.”

And there is a resemblance:

I couldn’t discover who gave water chestnuts that America moniker, but I did learn that most water chestnuts aren’t American grown:

“…water chestnuts are primarily cultivated in China and imported to the United States and other countries.  Rarely have attempts been made to cultivate in the U.S.; however, it has been tried in Florida, California, and Hawaii with limited commercial success.”

I also learned that we in the U.S. love our water chestnuts:  We’re the largest importer of water chestnuts in the world, with 570.06M metric tons in 2021, valued at $759 million.

I suspect that many people – including me – were introduced to water chestnuts this way:

Asian food.

How did water chestnuts transition from Chinese food to 16 million+ recipes including bacon-wrapped water chestnuts, water chestnut cake, water chestnut soup, candied water chestnuts, water chestnut salad, and my beloved’s beloved spinach dip?

I don’t know.

But let’s have some spinach dip while we ponder this:

This Story Is Too Good To Get Lost In The Here-This-Morning-Gone-By Noon News Cycle

The judge who made the above statement is my pick for Judge of the Year.  Here’s why…

New Jersey attorney Alina Habba (pictured) has several videos posted on the website of her law firm, Habba Madaio & Associates, LLP.

This isn’t unusual – attorneys are interviewed on TV and if they like how they look and sound, the video gets uploaded for all to see and admire.

Two of the videos from March 2022 have captions that reference Donald Trump “suing Hilary Clinton” and others over “Russia Hoax,” also known as the “false narrative about Russia collusion”:

Habba, described as “President Trump’s personal counsel,” has plenty to say in both videos about the righteousness of Trump’s lawsuit.

Interestingly, the Habba Madaio website offers no follow-up videos about the outcome of that lawsuit, which was widely covered in recent articles like this:

“In a scathing ruling, a federal judge in Florida on Thursday ordered Donald J. Trump and one of his lawyers together to pay nearly a million dollars in sanctions for filing a frivolous lawsuit against nearly three dozen of Mr. Trump’s perceived political enemies, including Hillary Clinton and the former F.B.I. director James B. Comey.”

Wow!  “Nearly a million dollars in sanctions” against Trump and his lawyer?

For a “frivolous lawsuit”?

A judge – finally – is telling it like it is.

And it gets better.  Here are quotes from this Washington Post story:

From the judge’s 46-page decision:

Trump is a “prolific and sophisticated litigant who is repeatedly using the courts to seek revenge on political adversaries…”

“He is the mastermind of strategic abuse of the judicial process, and he cannot be seen as a litigant blindly following the advice of a lawyer.  He knew full well the impact of his actions.  As such, I find that sanctions should be imposed upon Mr. Trump and his lead counsel, Ms. Habba.”

[The judge] described the legal complaint as “a hodgepodge of disconnected, often immaterial events, followed by an implausible conclusion.”

“The Plaintiff consistently misrepresented and cherry-picked portions of public reports and filings to support a false factual narrative,” Thursday’s judgment found.  “It happened too often to be accidental; its purpose was political, not legal.”

Who is this judge, who finally – finally – states just exactly what Trump is, and the damage Trump causes, including diverting “resources from those who have suffered actual legal harm”?

He is U.S. District Judge Donald M. Middlebrooks, Southern District of Florida (pictured).  He was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 1997, so this lawsuit wasn’t his first rodeo.

And – I’m thrilled to say – the judge does not pull his punches:

“Here, we are confronted with a lawsuit that should never have been filed, which was completely frivolous, both factually and legally, and which was brought in bad faith for an improper purpose,” Middlebrooks wrote, decrying what he called “abusive litigation tactics.”

In a blistering judgment, he said the case was “intended for a political purpose” and showed a “continuing pattern of misuse of the courts by Mr. Trump and his lawyers,” undermining the rule of law and diverting resources.  “No reasonable lawyer would have filed it,” he added.

Now you see why Judge Middlebrooks is my nominee for Judge of the Year.

Let’s revisit that last sentence in the last quote:

“No reasonable lawyer.”

The judge is referring, of course, to Trump’s “personal counsel,” Alina Habba.

Trump, Habba, and the Habba Madaio & Associates law firm are jointly liable for $937,989.39, the court found.

I have every expectation that Trump will tell Habba that since she lost the case, then she is liable for the entire fine.

As for paying Habba for her services, Trump’s failure to pay his attorneys is widely known:

And as for Trump – is he appealing?

Not very…

Movie Review:  To Be, Or Not To Be – A Fan, That Is

Release date:  March 2022.

Category:  Comedy; Action & Adventure.

Review, short version:  All thumbs down.

Review, long version:

I recently watched all 111 torturous minutes of The Lost City, and afterwards my only thought was:

“I wish I hadn’t wasted 111 minutes of my life watching The Lost City.”

Which let to this question:

Why did I want to see The Lost City?”

Answer:  Because Sandra Bullock was in it.

Am I a fan of Sandra Bullock?

I thought I was.

Quinton Aaron and Bullock in “The Blind Side.”

Then I started thinking about the movies I’d seen her in, and realized that no – I wasn’t a fan.  I thought she was good in The Blind Side (2009), but I disliked her – or rather, the characters she chose to play – in The Proposal (2009), Miss Congeniality (2000), Speed (1994), and some of her other movies.

So my conclusion is, I like Sandra Bullock but not most of her movies.

What do I like about her?

I admire her adoption of two children (pictured, in 2019) as a single woman.  At age 58 she’s the parent of a 12-year-old son and a 10-year-old daughter, when many women her age are celebrating being empty nesters and looking forward to grandchildren.

I also admire Bullock for her staying power:  Her first film was in 1987 and she’s still going strong, when so many other aging actresses have been discarded by Hollywood.

And I’ll even admit to admiring Bullock’s credible Lost City portrayal of a romance with a male character who is younger – significantly younger – than Bullock.

He’s played by Channing Tatum, 42.  I always get him and this other actor mixed up – do you know who is who?

Yes, what I just did was stereotyping.

Like what happens in this movie.

Read on.

Here’s some of what I disliked about The Lost City:

Bullock was a producer of this movie, and chose to spend a large part of it dressed in an outfit that displayed her chest.  One giant step backwards for womankind:

I’m fine with showing skin, I’m fine with nudity, but this was purely…

And why is she the one tied to a chair, instead of him?  When will we discard the helpless-woman-needing-to-be-rescued-by-a-big-strong-man stereotyping?

In The Lost City Bullock plays a romance novel writer who has an adventure, a direct rip-off of Romancing the Stone (1984).  I saw other rip-offs, including from Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and The African Queen (1951).  The Lost City was…

Derivative:  Having parts that originate from another source; made up of or marked by derived elements.

I dislike derivative.  Come up with something original, will you?

The Lost City is supposed to be a comedy, but I don’t recall laughing.  It’s supposed to have action and adventure, but neither engaged my interest enough to care what happened to Bullock and Tatum.  Tatum’s character was mostly dopey, and Bullock’s character was tense, twitchy and mostly helpless.  As a New York Times review put it,

“But while Loretta [Bullock] isn’t as helpless as she might have been back in the old studio days, this is still about a man rescuing a woman whose eye makeup never runs even when she does.”

Speaking of reviews, I think it’s fair to say there were both good and bad:

Loved It

Hated It

To be fair, I’ll acknowledge that there were many more good reviews than bad.

And the same on Amazon:

I’d say 35,000+ reviews, and 78 percent of those people giving the movie four and five stars, is impressive.  Two examples:

Loved It

Bullock pulling leeches off Tatum’s back. As I said – derivative, this from “The African Queen.”

“What a pleasure!  This movie is artfully done, as it’s hard to keep narrative cohesion and thematic consistency weaving together true heartfelt romance, side-splitting comedy, and action parody.  Every character of the movie was so well done that you surfed between the different plot lines without resistance, wanting no scene to end. The cutest, funniest fun flick I’ve seen in years.”

Hated It

“The script sucked, the acting was so contrived, the directorial decisions… laughable, the cast…a farce.  Honestly, the question is what DIDN’T suck about this movie?  Mother Nature.  The scenes outside (if they were really outdoors) immersed in the splendor of the jungle…that was the ONLY winning point.”

In mid-2022 there was a slew of headlines – all of which I missed – about Bullock’s future career plans:

According to the Today Show and other articles, after starring in 50 films, Bullock said,

“‘I don’t want to be beholden to anyone’s schedule other than my own.  I’m so burnt out.  I’m so tired, and I’m so not capable of making healthy, smart decisions, and I know it.’”

And:

“‘I take my job very seriously when I’m at work,’ the actor said, adding that is it a ‘24/7’ job.  ‘And I just want to be 24/7 with my babies and my family.  That’s where I’m gonna be for a while.’”

So even if I don’t like most of Bullock’s movies, this is yet another reason for me to like Sandra Bullock:

She’s clear on her…

Heads-Up To All Residents Of Great Britain:  Here Are Your Taxes At Work:

I’m a great fan of many things British.

And because I’m a fan, I can feel the Brits’ pain about a story from last week.

The story is about Great Britain’s failed spacecraft mission.

And the many British taxpayer dollars – or pounds and pence, in this case – going down in flames.

The image at the top is my interpretation of what this debacle may have looked like.

Failed spacecraft and spacecraft missions happen in the U.S. all the time, so I can empathize.

The failed mission happened January 9:

“The rocket was set to make history, carrying satellites on what would be the first-ever orbital launch from the U.K. on Monday night.  But Virgin Orbit says its LauncherOne rocket ‘experienced an anomaly’ just before it could deliver its payload, and the craft was lost.”

Let’s unpack this.

Virgin Orbit is owned by Richard Branson, a member of what I call the “Billionaire Boys Space Club”:

“LauncherOne” is a rocket that was affixed to the underside of a modified 747:

That modified 747 is named “Cosmic Girl”:

What asshole came up with that name?

Cosmic Girl and LauncherOne were launched from Spaceport Cornwall in western England:

The idea was that the LauncherOne rocket would separate from the 747.  The rocket would then take off into outer space, at some point separate from something else, then release its “payload,” in this case nine satellites:

LauncherOne did separate from the 747, but then experienced the aforementioned “anomaly”:

Meaning:  “We don’t bloody well know what the hell happened.”

After the failure anomaly, in a statement on the Virgin Orbit website, Melissa Thorpe, head of Spaceport Cornwall said,

“Though the mission did not achieve its final orbit, by reaching space and achieving numerous significant first-time achievements, it represents an important step forward…and demonstrated that space launch is achievable from UK soil.”

Thorpe continued,

“Yes, space is hard, but we are only just getting started.”

You want to know what’s “hard”?

Getting my venti peppermint mocha Frappuccino Blended beverage correctly made at Starbucks is “hard.”

“Space” is just stupid.

And expensive.

How expensive for Britain’s taxpayers?

According to this article:

“Virgin Orbit usually charges around $12 million for a launch, although the fees can vary.”

Then there was the cost to build Spaceport Cornwall which, according to that same Melissa Thorpe in this pre-failure article:

“Thorpe, the CEO of Spaceport Cornwall, said it cost less than £20 million ($24 million) to convert the tiny Newquay airport into a space-ready site.”

What does “less than” mean? 

Maybe instead of £20 million it cost £19.9 million?

Then there was the cost of hosting all the media and others who wanted to watch the launch, including these folks:

This article…

…said:

“According to Cornwall Council’s procurement website, it…cost a grand old sum of £8,000 [$9,700] to put it all together.”

And since we’re doing the math, I’d be remiss if I didn’t include the not one – but two U.S. satellites, paid for by U.S. taxpayers, that were onboard LauncherOne:

“From the US, the Navy Research Laboratory had delivered two Coordinated Ionospheric Reconstruction CubeSat Experiment (CIRCE) satellites to the UK.”

Try as I might, I couldn’t find a cost for a CIRCE satellite, but I did find an article that said this:

“If you have at least $290 million in your bank account, that money can go into making a satellite that can track and monitor hurricanes.  Add about $100 million dollars more if you want a satellite that carries a missile-warning device.”

So let’s guesstimate $350 million for each of the two CIRCE satellites.

Since we know that anything that comes out of NASA with a logo like this:

…is mega-expensive (as well as over budget, and past deadline).

In conclusion, here’s my message to the good people of Great Britain:

First:  Brits are known for their moderation, so why launch nine more satellites into space when, according to this article:

“2022 has witnessed the maximum number of orbital and sub-orbital launches…According to United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), 8,261 individual satellites are orbiting the Earth now, out of which 4,852 satellites are active.”

There are already more than 8,200 satellites out there.

Good people of Great Britain, did you really need to add nine more satellites to this chaos?

SecondEveryone does some things well.  But no one does everything well.

You Brits excel at many things, and here are three of my favorites:

Your royalty – a tradition that’s been in place for most of the past 1,000 years…

Your food with fun names…

And really old stuff?  You’ve got that all over the place:

So, good people of Britain, I urge you to pull the plug on your space program now and stick with the many things you do so well.

Just imagine if you did that. 

No more aircraft with embarrassing (and sexist) names like “Cosmic Girl.”

No more embarrassing space mission failures announced in every media outlet in the world…

No more embarrassing space mission failures costing you millions of pounds and pence.

As Eliza Doolittle sang in My Fair Lady

Book Review:  Trivial Pursuit, Personified

Publication date:  June 2022

Category:  Women’s Domestic Life Fiction, Family Life Fiction, Contemporary Women Fiction

Review, short version:  Four roses for Blake, four skunks for Kat.

Review, long version:

I believe that sometimes novelists deliberately create characters whom you love to hate. 

And I know there’s something so satisfying about absolutely loathing a character that…

I almost wallow in it.

It seems to me that one reason authors do this is to keep readers engaged as we move from loathing to liking that character, watching her/him transform from awful to wonderful, thus redeeming themselves.

In The Beach Trap, I’ll theorize that author Ali Brady was going for that awful-to-wonderful transformation in one of her lead female characters.

There are two female lead characters:  Blake and Kat.

Blake is a great character, and I immediately felt a connection to her.

The recipient of my four skunks – Kat – is so shallow, so narcissistic, and so completely boring that it was easy to loathe her.  She considers herself the center of the universe, and she broadcasts this on Instagram, where she’s a wanna-be influencer.

Does Kat ultimately transition from awful to wonderful? 

The Beach Trap premise does have possibilities.  When the story opens, Kat and Blake, both 12, happen to be at the same summer camp.  They’ve become besties, but that all blows up when they discover that they’re half-sisters – they share the same father.  (No spoiler alert needed here – it’s on the book’s back cover.)

The dad is married to Kat’s mother, and in a relationship with Blake’s mother.  He impregnated both women at the same time, which is all I need to say about him.

After their heart-breaking discovery at summer camp, Blake writes to Kat but Kat doesn’t respond.  The book fast forwards to 2022 and there’s been no two-way communication between them for 15 years.

Until an event that will change both their lives.

Through no fault of her own, Blake has experienced some tough turns in her life.  She has no self-confidence, but she’s smart and resilient and kind.  And hardworking.  I mention that specifically because…

Kat is exactly what her parents raised her to be:  useless.  Her only goal in life is to be a successful Instagram influencer, I suppose like Kylie Jenner, whose name I know not because I follow her, but because of this article:

For comparison purposes, Jenner:  377 million followers; Kat:  75,000.

So Kat spends her every waking moment focused on finding “Gram-worthy” (her word) circumstances in which she can position herself as the star of “Grammable moments” (her words), in the hopes of attracting more “people who see me, who love me, who look to me for advice,” (her words).  More followers will help Kat attract companies who will pay her a lot of money to shill their products, which in her pea brain equals success.

Here are a few more examples of Kat’s words:

“Every fourth picture is of me, since I am my brand.”

“The rest of my grid is full of artful shots of products of beautiful things I eat, drink, and discover throughout my day.”

“I look cute.”

“A yacht is where I belong.”

“My motto is:  Life is a fashion show.”

And when Kat’s – and Blake’s – father dies, Kat is ecstatic because:

“The post about my dad dying had more than triple the engagement of my average fashion posts!”

Kat does go through a sort-of transition, but it took until page 285 out of 356 pages for her to even begin to demonstrate that that she might transform into something beyond shallow, narcissistic, and boring.

If you think you can stomach spending time reading Kat’s drivel, then go for it.

Or, skip The Beach Trap.

And consider the time I’ve just given back as a belated holiday gift, from me to you:

Part II:  More Words On Words And…

This is the sequel (and conclusion) to Part I:  Some Words On Words from Wednesday, January 11.

“You know what those are?” my aggravated husband said, pointing to the TV screen.

We were watching the evening news, and a reporter had asked a politician a question.

“What are they, honey?” I said.

“Those are side words” he said, with something of a sneer.

He was referring to words that often start someone’s – often a politician’s – answer (or non-answer) to a question.  They’re meaningless and, in some cases, stalling tactics as in, “(Side words side words while I come up with a non-answer) …and it’s clear that the governor hasn’t…”

Here’s how side words work:

News reporter:  Mr. Mayor, what is your city doing with regards to your homeless situation?

Mayor:  Look.  I mean, you know – I’m glad you asked that.  And it’s clear that the governor hasn’t…”

The “Look, I mean, you know – I’m glad you asked that” are side words.

You hear them in various combinations all the time.

Here are more side words we also hear a lot:

“That’s a good question” and, “That’s a great question” and, “That’s an excellent question.”

Again, side word stall tactics.

I wish the interviewer would respond, “I know it’s a good question.  That’s why I asked it, you moron.”

Another side word I’m hearing more and more lately is “Right?”

News reporter:  Mr. Mayor, the governor stated that your city, specifically, isn’t following any of his team’s recommended policies and procedures with regards to your city’s homeless situation.

Mayor:  He said that, right?!! 

The mayor is agreeing, probably with a wink and a self-satisfied smirk, that yes, the governor did say that – and wasn’t that stupid?

That “right?!!” is also a hook to get the reporter on the mayor’s side.

It turns out that there’s actually another name for side words (though my hub was on exactly the right track). They’re called: 

According to this article:

“Filler words are words such as ‘um,’ ‘ah,’ ‘hmm,’ ‘like,’ ‘you know,’ and ‘alright’ that are used to give the speaker time to think, express uncertainty or make something awkward feel less awkward, or as a verbal tick.  Filler words are also known as vocal disfluencies or hesitations.

“The most common filler phrases…are ‘needless to say,’ ‘in my humble opinion,’ ‘for what it’s worth…’”

This website:

Listed additional filler words including:

Why anyone would “thank” themselves for “learning” filler words – as the above headline suggested – is a mystery to me.

I discovered many online articles that talked about filler words.

And why articulate people – or those wishing to sound articulate – should avoid filler words.  Hence the big, red “No” symbol over the “filler words” image above.

Now we come to the “punctuation” part in the image at the top of this post.

Let’s go back to a sentence from the above Resound article:

“Filler words are words such as ‘um,’ ‘ah,’ ‘hmm,’ ‘like,’ ‘you know,’ and ‘alright’ that are used…”

You see the phrase ‘you know,’ and the comma that follows it?

That’s not just a comma.

It’s…

I’ve been hearing the phrase “Oxford comma” for years, mainly because of the controversy – some of it quite heated – around the pros and cons of Oxford commas.

What I didn’t know was why the comma was called “Oxford.”  Other punctuation mark names aren’t preceded by capitalized adjectives, or any adjectives: 

Quotation marks are just “quotes,” a semicolon is just “semicolon,” and a period is just “period” (or “fullstop”).

So, why “Oxford”?

My research revealed that the “Oxford” part is as controversial as the use of the Oxford comma itself.

Let’s start with this article:

“The Oxford comma…name comes from the Oxford University Press (OUP), where for over a century it has been standard in the Oxford Style Manual.  Sometimes it’s called a ‘serial comma’ and less frequently a ‘Harvard comma’ (from Harvard University Press).”

Not true, says this article:

“The Oxford comma gets its name from being used by the Oxford University Press, but its exact origins are unclear.  It’s doubtful the use of an Oxford comma (also called a serial comma) originated at the University of Oxford.  If it did, there doesn’t seem to be any proof to back it up.”

There are other explanations for attaching “Oxford” to “comma,” but rather than getting bogged down in all that, let’s move on from the why “Oxford” to the what.

What is it?

The Oxford comma is, as are all commas, a punctuation mark.

In the English language there are multiple punctuation marks – I found articles with numbers ranging from 12 to 26 (more controversy) – but all have the same goal:

“Punctuation fills our writing with silent intonation.  We pause, stop, emphasize, or question using a comma, a period, an exclamation point or a question mark.  Correct punctuation adds clarity and precision to writing; it allows the writer to stop, pause, or give emphasis to certain parts of the sentence.”

The point of punctuation is to clearly convey a writer’s meaning, and the point of the Oxford comma is the same.

Definition:

The Oxford comma is the final comma in a list, used just before the conjunction, the conjunction often being “and.” 

Example:

With Oxford comma:  Her favorite foods were chocolate, marshmallows, cake, and chicken.

Without Oxford comma:  Her favorite foods were chocolate, marshmallows, cake and chicken.

When I read these two sentences, I see no need for the Oxford comma after “cake.”

But – how about this?

The Pope and Mother Teresa…my parents?

Example:

With Oxford comma:  I dedicate this book to my parents, the Pope, and Mother Teresa.

Without Oxford comma:  I dedicate this book to my parents, the Pope and Mother Teresa.

Ah-ha!  Without the Oxford comma, one might think that “my parents” are the Pope and Mother Teresa!

Awhile back my newspaper, the San Diego Union-Tribune, waded into the Oxford comma fray and invited readers to weigh in.  One pro-Oxford comma responder provided this example:

“A wife sent a note with her husband to buy some items after work.  She asked for milk, bread, eggs, frozen peas and carrots.  When he came home he had one bag of frozen peas and carrots.  She said, ‘I wanted a bag of peas and a bag of carrots.’  He said, ‘If you had used the Oxford comma I would have known what you meant.’”

Again – ah-ha!

Fortunately, there is a lighter side to the Oxford comma controversy:

So while there is a lighter side, the company involved in this lawsuit found no humor in the Oxford comma controversy:

The article says that in 2014, three truck drivers sued Oakhurst Dairy, a company in Portland, ME, seeking more than four years’ worth of overtime pay that they had been denied.

Due to the lack of an Oxford comma in a state law, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit sided with the drivers, saying the absence of a comma produced enough uncertainty to rule in their favor.  It reversed a lower court decision.

Though three drivers filed the class-action lawsuit, about 75 would share the money – an estimated $10 million.

Here’s the follow-up to the story:

“Ending a case that electrified punctuation pedants, grammar goons and comma connoisseurs, Oakhurst Dairy settled an overtime dispute with its drivers that hinged entirely on the lack of an Oxford comma in state law.

“The dairy company in Portland, ME agreed to pay $5 million to the drivers, according to court documents.

“The relatively small-scale dispute gained international notoriety last year when the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled that the missing comma created enough uncertainty to side with the drivers, granting those who love the Oxford comma a chance to run a victory lap across the internet.”

The article noted that the Maine Legislature had “addressed the punctuation problem” in the law.

In summary:

There are those who insist the Oxford comma must always be used; those who insist it never be used; and those who say to use it when clarity is needed.

If you were to ask me about Oxford comma usage, I would say this:

“That’s an excellent question!  Look.  I mean, at the end of the day, you know – in my humble opinion, to be honest, basically…

“Right?!!”

Part I:  Some Words On Words, Because…

A few weeks ago there was a phrase in an NBC article that caught my attention:

“…with the soul-satisfying sight of Trump being frog-marched down the Mar-a-Lago porte-cochère.” 

“Frog-marched.”

“Frog’s march,” not frogs marching!

I’d heard the expression and knew it was something bad, and something bad + Trump in the same sentence sounded good to me.

But “frog-marched” isn’t a phrase we hear often, and I decided to find out exactly what it meant.

There are lots of etymology sites online, “etymology” itself being an interesting word meaning “the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history.”

I started my study with this site:

I learned that “frog-marched” first came into use in London, “and the earliest reference to it is in the 18 April 1871 Evening Standard” in the form of “frog’s march,” a noun rather than a verb:

“The London method is called the ‘frog’s march’ in which the prisoner is carried to the station, with the face downwards and the whole weight of the body dependent on the limbs.”

The article thoughtfully provided this illustration:

It pleases me to imagine Trump in this prisoner’s position.

Over time “the frog’s march” noun also became a verb:

“By the 1930s, the verb was used in reference to the much more efficient (but less frog-like) method of getting someone in an arms-behind-the-back hold and hustling him or her along.”

An unknown graphic artist thoughtfully provided this image:

This image also pleases me.

*****

Another word that got me thinking is “pithy.”

I encountered it in an otherwise forgettable book, when a character referred to the writing she did for her Instagram posts as “clever and pithy.”

“Pithy” has two meanings:

Of language or style: Concise; brief but full of substance and meaning. 
Of a fruit or plant: Containing much pith.

Anyone who’s encountered citrus fruit has encountered pith – it’s that yucky white stuff between the peel and the fruit segments:

But how did that stuff get the name “pith,” and how did “pith” evolve into the adjective “pithy,” referring to language?

I looked at a number of etymology sites, but this time I did better on Wikipedia:

There’s also the “pith helmet,” but I’ll leave that for another time.

“The term pith is also used to refer to the pale, spongy inner layer of the rind…of citrus fruits (such as oranges).  The word comes from the Old English word piþa, meaning substance, akin to Middle Dutch pitte (modern Dutch pit), meaning the pit of a fruit.”

Well, a bit of a stretch, but…OK

But – how did “pith” become the adjective “pithy,” meaning “concise; brief but full of substance and meaning”?

Pith is also used figuratively to refer to the essential part of something.”

Ah…so if someone’s writing or speaking is “pithy,” it’s expressing the “essential part of something” in a way that’s “brief but full of substance and meaning.”

So I’d say “pithy” is a compliment

Unless you’re referring to that yucky white stuff:

*****

I love words, which is a good thing since I’m a writer.

So I always look forward to Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year, which comes out around the end of the year.

Here are their recent choices:

The 2022 word is an appropriate choice, but…

Not a nice choice:

“Merriam-Webster’s word of the year – and this you can believe – is ‘gaslighting.’

“The online dictionary chose ‘gaslighting,’ which it defines as ‘the act or practice of grossly misleading someone especially for one’s own advantage,’ as its top word of 2022 because it has become the ‘favored word for the perception of deception.’”

“Gaslighting” comes from the 1938 play and 1944 film Gaslight, the latter starring Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer and Joseph Cotten:

In both the movie and the play,

“…a nefarious man attempts to trick his new wife into thinking she’s losing her mind, in part by telling her that the gaslights in their home, which dim when he’s in the attic doing dastardly deeds, are not fading at all.”

This article:

Took the definition of “gaslighting” even deeper:

“…the psychological manipulation of a person, usually over an extended period of time, that ‘causes the victim to question the validity of their own thoughts, perception of reality, or memories and typically leads to confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem, uncertainty of one’s emotional or mental stability, and a dependency on the perpetrator.’”

In both the CNN and AP articles there was direct and indirect linking of “gaslighting” and “Trump.”

No surprise there.

There are books about it…

…and plenty of headlines, this one from several years before Merriam-Webster chose “gaslighting” as its Word of the Year for 2022:

Gaslighting:  Word of the Year.

Appropriate, alas.

*****

Let’s wrap up Part I with this story and the ultimate word game:

The board game…

The online game…

The tournament game…

Scrabble, a game that’s been around and loved – and hated – for more than 70 years, has published its brand-new…

Here’s the November story:

“Bae, yeehaw, fauxhawk, thingie, adorbs, stan, vibing and sitch are just eight of the 500 new words Scrabble has added to the seventh edition of The Official Scrabble Players Dictionary, out this month.  They will join more than 100,000 words from between two to eight letters.  The book was last updated in 2018 and published through a partnership between Hasbro and Merriam-Webster.”

“Fauxhawk”?

Is that maybe a…fake…mohawk?  As in hairstyle?

Indeed it is:

I learned a new word! 

Bring on the Scrabble Tournament!

New words, old words, Old English words, Middle Dutch words – there’s no doubt about it…

Friday, January 13:  More Words On Words And

*****

I Have A Relationship With My Potholder

Oh…So that’s how you use a potholder?

Potholders aren’t something we give much thought to – unless you need one and it’s nowhere to be found.

You grab a potholder, lift something hot off the stove or out of the oven, put the potholder back where you keep it, and forget about it until the next time you need it.

I, however…

Have a relationship with my potholder.

Which is odd, since I don’t cook.

I was born and raised in Michigan, and though I now live in San Diego, my potholder and I go way back.

My potholder, too, is from Michigan.

My potholder traveled from Michigan to California with me.

My potholder is a two-sided Michigan Mitten:

Michigan is the only state that models a potholder’s shape. 

See?

Michigan:  Two peninsulas.  Upper peninsula, left hand; lower peninsula, right hand.

Oh, other states have potholders:

I say “Piffle!” to those.

Michigan has the perfect potholder profile.

If you live in Michigan and someone asks you where you’re from, if you’re from the Lower Peninsula you hold up your right hand and point to your city with your left hand:

It’s a very handy (get it?) visual aid.

Another way Michigan is unique:  It is the only state in the U.S. formed by two peninsulas.

As I was ruminating on potholders and peninsulas, I started wondering…

Why is the upper peninsula part of Michigan?

The upper peninsula shares a border with Wisconsin, not Michigan:

In fact, the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan don’t even touch each other at any single point.

They are connected, but that’s by the five-mile-long Mackinac Bridge, which spans across the Mackinac Straits of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron:

So if the peninsulas aren’t connected, but the upper peninsula is connected to Wisconsin, why is the Upper Peninsula (or UP as we natives say), part of Michigan?

Gosh – I grew up in Michigan and don’t know the answer to that.

I’m going on a quest to correct my ignorance.

Want to come along?

Let’s get started here:

It turns out that we have to go back to 1787, and to land that was west of the United States that had belonged to the British.  The land was ceded to the U.S. in 1783, and in 1787 Congress organized the land into what they then called the “Northwest Territory”:

Today we recognize it as all or large parts of six eventual states – Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and the northeastern part of Minnesota – but back then it was just a lot of land.

Then people in the southeastern part of the Northwest Territory got themselves organized, applied for statehood, and Ohio became a state in 1803.  The border between the state of Ohio and Michigan Territory was defined, and Ohio made sure that their new state would include Maumee Bay and Toledo.

Why did Maumee Bay and Toledo matter to Ohio?

Here are the Maumee River and Toledo:

The Maumee River runs from northeastern Indiana into northwestern Ohio, into Maumee Bay and Lake Erie just east of Toledo.

Importance:  An east/west water trade route.

Trade route = commerce.

Commerce = profits.

You bet Ohio wanted its border drawn to include Maumee Bay and Toledo.

I know – you’re wondering, “What does this have to do with your Michigan Mitt potholder?”

Hang in there.  We’re coming to the Toledo Strip.

All was well in Ohio, says this article:

Until…

“…until Michigan applied for statehood in 1833 and drew the border between itself and Ohio.”

Michigan drew its own border, and that border included Maumee Bay and Toledo.  The disputed tract of land, five to eight miles wide, 468 square miles, became known as the “Toledo Strip”:

“Not so fast!” said the people of Ohio (especially the ones who were benefiting greatly from the east/west water trade).  Ohio governor Robert Lucas pulled some favors in Congress to deny Michigan’s statehood, and that made Michigan governor Stevens Masons mad.

So the men did what men have done since the beginning of time:

They started a war.

Masons sent 1,000 Michigan militia to the Toledo Strip, and Lucas sent 600 Ohio militia.

As wars go, the Toledo “War” didn’t amount to much; it was mostly bloodless skirmishes, arrests, lawsuits, and saber rattling. 

Until things heated up in July 1835, according to this article:

And that heat reached all the way to the White House.  President Andrew Jackson got involved, and…

“Jackson brokered a deal and in June 1836, an agreement was ratified:  Ohio took control of the Toledo Strip, Michigan would be admitted into the union as the nation’s 26th state, and Michigan would take control of 9,000 square miles of land of the Upper Peninsula.”

Of course, that land wasn’t called the “Upper Peninsula” then.  It was just a mass of land that many in Michigan considered a useless wilderness, full of trees and Indigenous Americans.

It wasn’t even connected to Michigan!

Michigan got its statehood, and – many believed – a bad deal.

And that is how the Upper Peninsula became part of Michigan.

And this is how it turned out to be a great deal:

In 1841, Douglass Houghton, Michigan’s first state geologist, filed surveys and reports demonstrating an abundance of copper in the western part of the Upper Peninsula.  It was the start of the area’s copper boom.

Copper-seeking prospectors rushed in and since then – according to Michigan’s Copper Deposits and Mining:

“…over 12 billion pounds of native copper have been mined.”

And that’s not all – there’s this:

William Austin Burt and his surveying crew first came upon iron ore in 1844.  Within a few years, iron mines opened all across the central Upper Peninsula. 

Since its first iron ore shipment of two hundred pounds in 1846, the Upper Peninsula mines have produced well over one billion tons of iron ore.

And there’s also this:

According to this and other articles:

Trees – especially white pine – had always been plentiful in Michigan, and so had creeks and streams.  Combine the two – felled trees and waterways to transport them in – and you have a logging industry.  Waterways also transported the finished product from the mills to markets on the lower lakes.

By 1869 lumber from the Upper and Lower Peninsulas meant Michigan was producing more lumber than any other state, a distinction it continued to hold for 30 years.

In recent years, Michigan’s forest products industry – products that range from basketball court floors and utility poles to paper envelopes, furniture and much more – generated record amounts of revenue, growing from $14.7 billion five years ago to more $20 billion today, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR).

Copper, iron ore, lumber…

As this headline summed it up:

And as this wit summed it up:

And as I’ll sum it up:

I got this:

And I turned…

Into…

The Best Way To Make Money In 2023, Or…

Here’s how 2023 started in Washington, DC:

January 1:

“Before lawmakers can get down to the nitty-gritty of governing, Congress has some housekeeping to do.  Most significantly, the House needs a new speaker and the dust has yet to settle with who will become the face of the chamber.”

The process for choosing a new House speaker is a vote by the majority party, in this case, 222 Republicans.

Once the new House speaker is chosen, all 434 members of the House (there’s one vacancy) take the oath of office, and the business of the House – that “nitty-gritty of governing” – can begin.

All 434 House of Representatives members can get to work, doing what we elected them to do.

What we’re paying them to do.

How’s that working out for us taxpayers so far?

Day 1, January 3:

Day 2, January 4:

Day 3, January 5:

Today is Day 4 of this fiasco.

And they aren’t even bothering to show up until noon:

What – so they can all catch up on their beauty sleep?

No House speaker has been chosen.

No members of the House have been sworn in.

And the business of the House – that “nitty-gritty of governing” – can’t begin.

This seems like an opportune time to mention that members of the House are paid $174,000 per year.

Republicans:  222 members x $174,000 per year = $38,628,000 tax dollars per year.

And since Democrats can’t do anything until they, too, are sworn in…

Democrats:  212 members x $174,000 per year = $36,888,000 tax dollars per year.

Total:  $75,516,000 tax dollars per year to 434 people who aren’t doing the jobs we elected them to do.

That we’re paying them to do.

And that, my friends, is…

After Death Comes…

Everyone does it, but no one likes to talk about it:

Die.

No one likes to talk about dying or death, our own or others.

And I’m no exception.

But I read an article that got me thinking about death:

You can see the article was published on September 4.

That’s how long it’s taken for me to steel myself to talk about death.

The article got me thinking not only about death but also – from the headline – the planning involved in what happens after a death.  Meaning, if I had to deal with a loved one’s death, or if someone had to deal with my death.

And that got me wondering about one component of that planning, about which I know nothing:

Certificate of Death

Death certificates.

“Death certificate” is a phrase we often hear in news stories:  “According to the death certificate, the victim died of a gunshot wound…” and, “The death certificate lists pancreatic cancer as the cause of death…”

But what I didn’t know until I started researching death certificates was that if I’m designated as the person responsible for settling the estate of a deceased loved one (or other person), I can’t do this without the deceased’s death certificate.

According to this article:

“There are several reasons why you may need to obtain a death certificate.  Most often it’s to serve as proof for legal purposes.  These reasons may include accessing pension benefits, claiming life insurance, settling estates, getting married (if a widow or widower needs to prove that their previous partner has passed), or arranging for a funeral.”

“What,” I wondered, “do they mean by ‘obtain’ a death certificate?  Doesn’t – someone – just send that to me after my loved one dies?”

No.

Now, I’ll be talking only about my state – California – and we know that guidelines for this (as for so many things) vary from state to state.  But I expect there are commonalities among all states with regards to death certificates.

And here’s a commonality to expect:

In California, there is no “someone” who just goes ahead and sends a loved one’s death certificate to you.  As my research soon showed…

You must ask for it.

And I must obtain not just a death certificate, but an “authorized certified copy” of a death certificate.

And I can request that authorized certified copy only if I’m a “person authorized under California law,” according to the Marin County, CA website:

“Although vital records are public documents, under California law, certificates are not open for public inspection.  Anyone may request copies, however only persons authorized under California law may receive authorized certified copies of death records.”

How do I show that I’m a “persons authorized?”  Apparently it’s not enough for me to call the county office and say, for example, “Hello, I’m the legal guardian of the deceased” or, “Yes, I’m the spouse of the deceased,” and the county sends the death certificate to me.

No – I must prove I’m a “persons authorized.”

The Marin County website advises that I do this via a sworn statement that’s part of the death certificate request form, which I may need to sign before a notary public.  Here’s the request form:

Here’s the sworn statement section:

I continued my research on the state website:

The California Department of Public Health – CDPH.

The first thing I thought when I saw this site was,

“This looks like another DMV.  This is going to take me into a black hole, just like the DMV site does.”

I was right.

The site does tell me right up front:

“Certified death records are $24 per copy.”

And to settle an estate, I’ll need multiple copies for reasons that could include selling a loved one’s house, car, boat and/or second home; settling debts and closing credit cards; claiming life insurance; notifying Social Security; closing online accounts; accessing bank accounts and investment accounts; and making arrangements with a funeral home.

I can request the death certificate via an electronic submission, a mail-in request, or through the County Clerk/Recorder.

Electronic submission seemed like the most expeditious route, so I looked at that first and learned:

“There are independent, third party companies that process online requests for certified copies of vital records.  Online services provided by an independent company may charge a processing fee on all orders.  That fee may vary with each company, and will be charged in addition to the certified copy fee.  Any questions regarding online requests or online orders should be directed to the third-party company involved.”

My interpretation:

Electronic submission will also hit you with a fee, and if there’s a problem – contact them, not us.

How about a mail-in request?

Here’s the first step for the mail-in request:

“Before submitting your application to CDPH Vital Records, please view our Processing Times to make sure they are acceptable for your needs and if this is the best option. 

“If not, you should submit your request online or to the County Recorder’s Office in the county where the death took place.”

“Processing Times.”  Let’s look at that.

“The California Department of Public Health – Vital Records’ (CDPH-VR) average time to process a certified copy request is 6 to 8 weeks.”

“Average time,” of course, means it could be less than six to eight weeks – or it could mean more – before you can begin to settle an estate.

And that “six to eight weeks” may be overly optimistic – according to this website:

Expect a Slow Turnaround
California does not issue death certifies copies quickly, even if you need them to begin executing a will or trust.  The Department of Public Health/Vital Records states that it processes requests within 10-12 weeks.  Due to the coronavirus pandemic and staffing cuts, it could take even longer.

My third option for obtaining an authorized certified copy of a death certificate is contacting the County Clerk/Recorder.  I decided to look at my county, and this led me to a list of “County Registrars and Recorders” by county and city, which led me to my county’s Office of Vital Records and Statistics:

Where I learned that they, too, charge a $24 fee to obtain an authorized certified copy of a death certificate in person or by mail.

If I go the online route through something called “VitalCheck,” there’s an additional processing fee of $12.95.  VitalCheck graciously springs for the postage if you request the death certificate by mail (and we know how “by mail” can work out), but if you’re in a hurry, there’s a $19 charge for Express UPS.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are now in that Black Hole I mentioned earlier.

And once you get your authorized certified copies of the death certificate, cautioned this article on CNBC.com:

“Don’t let the death certificates get into the wrong hands.  Death certificates can provide a lot of access to personal documents and/or assets.”

There’s a kind of irony in all this.

That the piece I need the most to start settling my loved one’s estate – the authorized certified copy of the death certificate – requires a time-consuming process that could take two months or more, but I can’t get this taken care of ahead of time.

I can’t request this until my loved one dies. Of course not. It’s just…

Ironic.

Now let’s circle back to that September 4 Washington Post article and the phrase that got me started into my research about how to obtain a death certificate.

“What do you do after someone dies?  Most people expect to deal with intense grief, but they might not realize how many logistical details arise after a death.  Those tasks can feel overwhelming:  deciding who to call, learning where to get death certificates, planning memorials and navigating finances.”

The article didn’t tell me how to get an authorized certified copy of a death certificate, so I went on the research journey I’ve recounted.

The article does talk about…

“…new apps and websites with names such as Cake, Lantern and Empathy exist to help people navigate the tumult and confusion after a loss, offering tools that range from organized checklists for the early days of funeral planning to resources for later concerns such as closing a deceased person’s credit card account or finding a home for the deceased person’s pet.”

I wondered if these sites offer information about obtaining a death certificate, so I went on Cake and discovered that they do:

Cake, Lantern and Empathy may be helpful.

I’ll designate the Washington Post article as helpful because it got me thinking about all this.  I’m now better informed, and I’ll make sure my husband is, too.

The last thing I’ll include is the full list of “Individuals Permitted to Receive an Authorized Certified Copy,” this time from a Los Angeles County website which refers to the deceased as the “registrant”:

  1. A parent or legal guardian of the registrant.
  2. A member of a law enforcement agency or a representative of another governmental agency, as provided by law, who is conducting official business.
  3. A child, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, spouse or domestic partner of the registrant.
  4. An attorney representing the registrant or the registrant’s estate, or any person or agency empowered by statute or appointed by a court to act on behalf of the registrant or the registrant estate.
  5. Any funeral director or agent/employee of a funeral establishment acting within the scope of their employment who orders certified copies of a death on behalf of any individual specified in paragraphs (1) to (5), inclusive of subdivision (a) of Section 7100 of the Health and Safety Code.
  6. Any individual specified in paragraphs (1) to (8) inclusive of subdivision (a) of Health & Safety Code 7100.

With regards to #4 and #5, it appears an attorney of/representing the estate of the deceased, and a funeral director/employee, can request an authorized certified copy of my loved one’s death certificate, so if I have one or both of those, I may not have to do the requesting.

Though I’ll confess I did not delve into “paragraphs (1) to (5), inclusive of subdivision (a) of Section 7100 of the Health and Safety Code” or, “paragraphs (1) to (8) inclusive of subdivision (a) of Health & Safety Code 7100.”

I just couldn’t deal with one more trip into the bureaucracy…

…black hole:

Georgia…Georgia…I’ve Got…

The state of Georgia is known for many things, including the setting for Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 bestseller, Gone With The Wind:

Georgia is known for peaches:

And, briefly, Georgia was in the news because of this guy:

This is Christopher Spaulding, 40, and his news coverage appeared – and quickly disappeared – back in early December, but I thought the story was worth resurrecting.

Why?

Because ole Christopher is – no question – my nominee for the list of…

The setting is Rockdale County, GA:

And the catalyst was the Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office (RCSO). 

On November 28 RCSO posted this on Facebook:

Posting a “most wanted” list is a normal thing for law enforcement to do.

Spaulding, also of Rockdale County, GA saw the post, and I guess his feelings were hurt – that everyone-got-invited-to-the-party-but-me kind of thing.

But whereas most of us who aren’t invited to the party would hide out in a dark room and sulk…

Not Spaulding.

Are you kidding?

Look at him:

This guy is a University of Georgia Bulldogs fan through and through!  Right down to his color-coordinated sweatshirt and hat!

And you can bet that Spaulding knows that UGA Bulldogs slogan from back in the ‘80s:

That’s right:  GATA.

It stands for…

“Get After Their Asses!”

So Spaulding got after their asses – those Rockdale County, GA Sheriff meanies who didn’t invite him to their “Top Ten Most Wanted” party.

He jumped right on that Facebook page and said this:

And someone at the sheriff’s department took note, did their homework, and confirmed Spaulding had two outstanding warrants.

RCSO replied to Spaulding’s post:

They took a page from Spaulding’s playbook and got after his ass, and arrested him on warrants for felony violation of probation:

RCSO politely thanked Spaulding for his assistance:

This article:

Noted:

“After Spaulding was taken into custody, the Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office reminded wanted fugitives that being left off the ‘Most Wanted List’ isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card.

“‘Our Top 10 is compiled based off of the severity of the charges only.  By not being on this list does not mean our Fugitive Unit is not looking for you if you have an active warrant.’”

Well, RCSO, that may be. 

But Spaulding was walking around Rockdale County with not one but two outstanding warrants, and if you were looking, you sure weren’t finding.

How many other Top 10 candidates are walking around free in Rockdale County, GA?

So Spaulding has taught RCSO a thing or two about…

Now I want to return to that ABC 11 Spaulding story from above:

Something right in the middle of the story struck me as odd:

This link:

“How,” I wondered, “could finding a ‘whole alligator’ inside a python be ‘related’ to the Spaulding story?”

The link took me to this story:

I watched the video and read the Florida Everglades/python/alligator story, and found nothing “related” to the Spaulding-getting-himself-arrested story.

But – I did see some mind-boggling images of the 18-foot python…

That made clear just how huge this snake was…

Compared to the humans in the Florida lab that were performing the necropsy on it.

How big? 

Big enough to swallow a five-foot alligator:

And though the video narrator was making a joke of the story, I didn’t find anything funny in it.

We all know that pythons aren’t native to Florida, and we all know how they got there.

According to this article:

“Between 1996 and 2006, roughly 99,000 pythons were imported into the United States as pets. 

“It’s believed the pythons began breeding in the wild as a result of two primary causes:  irresponsible pet owners releasing them, and the animals escaping their loosely-kept cages as a result of hurricane or stormy weather.”

Pythons are decimating the native wildlife in the Florida Everglades, hundreds of thousands of pythons breeding and expanding the python population because the animal has no natural predators in the Everglades.

All because of irresponsible pet owners who may have started with one of these:

But when it got to looking like this:

This female, also 18 feet long, was caught in the Everglades in June 2022, weighed 215 pounds, and was carrying 122 eggs.

They loaded it into their car, drove to the Everglades and dumped it.

As for that “animals escaping their loosely kept cages,” the article says:

“In the late 90s and early 2000s, storms likely enabled snakes in loosely secured cages to escape during stormy weather.”

So – Florida’s python invasion is a 100% human-caused problem, start to finish.

Irresponsible humans.

I now see that the Christopher Spaulding and the python stories actually are “related.”

Let’s take a page from Spaulding’s playbook.

And those people responsible for the python disaster in the Everglades?

Let’s…

When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Sure They’re…

I’ve never given much thought to lemons.

When I was growing up, there were always a few lemons in the fridge, mainly for my mom to squeeze onto her fish on Friday nights.

No big deal.

Then there was lemonade in the summer, which was a frozen concentrate in a can that you mixed with water.  And sugar.  A lot of sugar.

When my sister got older and started experimenting with cooking, she made lemon meringue pie, and that was yummy.

When I got older and discovered iced tea, I learned that a wedge or two of lemon added to the flavor.  So did sugar.  A lot of sugar.

As time passed I also discovered that lemon was good adult beverages – a twist of peel, a slice, or lemon juice as an ingredient for whiskey sours, Cosmopolitans, and a drink called a “Corpse Reviver” (pictured) which was supposed to cure hangovers.

Lemons have been around forever, so…

No big deal.

Or so I thought, until a couple of years ago when I tasted one of these:

I’m talking about the lemon on the right:

A Meyer lemon.

You’ll notice that it’s not just smaller than the regular lemon on the left, but it’s almost orangey colored.  That’s because, according to this article:

The Meyer lemon is “A cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange…”

So the Meyer lemon is smaller, it’s a hybrid, and according to this article:

Appearance:  Regular lemons have a knobby, yellow skin, a thick layer of white pith, and bright yellow inner flesh.  Meyer lemons are rounder, smoother, and more orange in color than standard lemons.  Their thin skin ranges from dark yellow to rich egg yolk, and their inner skin is a deep yellow.  Additionally, Meyer lemons have barely any pith.

Flavor:  Regular lemons are incredibly acidic and sour.  Since Meyer lemon is a hybrid, it has a mellow, sweet flavor. 

And juicy.  Meyer lemons are very juicy.

Sink your teeth into a regular lemon and you do this:

No pucker face with Meyers, due to a flavor that, in addition to the above description of “mellow, sweet” has been described as “slightly floral,” and “fragrant and bright.”

Another interesting thing about Meyer lemons is that in their original use, nobody was sinking their teeth into them.

Instead, says the NPR article,

“In its native China, it was primarily a decorative houseplant.”

Which meant that in their yard and/or home, wealthy Chinese could have these:

Which also meant that they’d have rotten lemons on the ground below:

Until the servants the servants did some lemon aid.

Meyer lemons, said the NPR article, might have remained a mere Asian house/garden decoration if not for this man:

“In the early 1900s, the U.S. Department of Agriculture sent Frank N. Meyer [pictured], an agricultural explorer (yes, that was his actual job title) on several trips to Asia with the mission of collecting new plant species.  Among more than 2,500 plants that he introduced to the U.S., the Meyer lemon was named in his honor.”

People in the regions where Meyers could be grown – California, Florida and Texas – took a liking to the lemons, but again – as something to decorate their backyard.

Occasionally someone would show up with a box of Meyers at the local farmers market, but they weren’t a commercial product:  “Their thin, delicate skin and high juice content made them too fragile to distribute commercially,” said NPR.

So that was the life of Meyer lemons, and it would likely have remained so if not for none other than…

Yes!  Thanks to the late Martha Stewart and her CBD Meyer Lemon Oil Drops…

“Martha Stewart CBD Oil Drops combine delicious gourmet flavors developed by Martha herself with the purest, safest CBD isolate.  CBD wellness has never been this inviting, and has certainly never tasted this great!”

Now on sale for just $29.99!

I’m kidding.

Though CBD Lemon Oil Drops are among Martha’s Meyer lemon merchandise, along with her CBD Wellness Citrus Medley Gummies (“Delicious gourmet flavors of Meyer lemon, kumquat, and blood orange!”):

Along with her apparently non-CBD Meyer Lemon Solid Paper Tags:

But these items aren’t how Martha made Meyer lemons famous.

No, her love for the fruit goes back at least to 2016 and to her blog, Martha:  Up Close and Personal:

Where she extolled the wonderfulness of Meyers:

And began featuring them in recipes like these:

Meyer lemons started flying off grocery stores shelves.

That is, when people could find them on grocery store shelves.

Earlier I mentioned the fruit’s thin fragile skin and the difficulty of shipping them.

That meant that for most people, Meyers were maybe available only from early winter through early spring, unless you lived where the lemons are grown:  the citrus growing regions of California, Texas, and Florida.

So I’m lucky – I live in San Diego and for the past two years I’ve been getting Meyer lemons at my grocery store year round.  I asked a produce person at the store exactly where they were grown, and the best he could do was, “In the USA.”

Wherever they’re from – I love ‘em.

And if your grocery store doesn’t have Meyers, don’t despair – I found a number of online sites that will ship Meyer lemons, though it’s unclear whether they’re always available.

If you haven’t tried Meyer lemons, you’re in for a sweet treat.

On that note – and not to be outdone by Martha Stewart – I have my own Meyer lemon recipe to share, and I’ll close with that:

Here’s An Organization I’d Like To See Lay Off Every Employee Due To Lack Of Clients:

It seems like companies announcing layoffs has become a daily occurrence.

While some companies aren’t that well-known, many are high-profile:  Morgan Stanley, PepsiCo, CNN, DoorDash, Hewlitt-Packard, Amazon…

And this, from December 16: 

But there’s an organization that hasn’t joined the layoff rush hour…

And I wish it would.

I wish the California Innocence Project (CIP) had to lay off everyone due to…

Lack of clients.

According to their website, the California Innocence Project in San Diego…

“…is a law school clinic, founded in 1999 at California Western School of Law, dedicated to freeing the innocent, training law students, and changing laws and policies in the state of California.”

It’s “the innocent” I’m referring to, when I say that I wish the California Innocence Project had to layoff everyone due to lack of clients.

The clients – “the innocent” – are people wrongly convicted and serving time in prison.  Since 1999, says their website, CIP has freed 37 wrongly convicted people:

“Our clients do not have the resources to prove their innocence.  The California Innocence Project provides pro bono services and pays all of the investigation and litigation costs for all of our cases – more than 1,500 cases each year.”

I admire the CIP team.

Now, before you accuse me of being a bleeding-heart liberal who thinks prisons are full of innocent people…

I don’t.

People do bad things, and when someone commits a crime, our system says they should serve time for it.

But I also believe there are innocent people who are convicted of crimes they didn’t commit.

“Well,” you might ask, “if they’re innocent, how could they be convicted?”

There are plenty of reasons, according to this and other articles…

…and I think it’s worthwhile to consider them:

Mistaken Witness ID
Eyewitness error is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions nationwide, playing a role in 72% of convictions overturned through DNA testing.

While eyewitness testimony can be persuasive evidence before a judge or jury, 30 years of strong social science research has proven that eyewitness identification is often unreliable.  Research shows that the human mind is not like a tape recorder; we neither record events exactly as we see them, nor recall them like a tape that has been rewound. 

In case after case, DNA has proven what scientists already know – that eyewitness identification is frequently inaccurate.

False Confession
In about 30% of DNA exoneration cases, innocent defendants made incriminating statements, delivered outright confessions or pled guilty.  These cases show that confessions are not always prompted by internal knowledge or actual guilt, but are sometimes motivated by external influences including the possibility of a reduced sentence.

False Forensic Evidence
Since the late 1980s, DNA analysis has helped identify the guilty and exonerate the innocent nationwide.  While DNA testing was developed through extensive scientific research at top academic centers, many other forensic techniques – such as hair microscopy, bite mark comparisons, firearm tool mark analysis, and shoe print comparisons (pictured) – have never been subjected to rigorous scientific evaluation. 

Meanwhile, forensics techniques that have been properly validated – such as serology, commonly known as blood typing – are sometimes improperly conducted or inaccurately conveyed in trial testimony.  In some cases, forensic analysts have fabricated results or engaged in other misconduct.

Perjury
In 18% of wrongful conviction cases overturned through DNA testing, an informant testified against the defendant at the original trial.  Often, statements from people with incentives to testify – particularly incentives that are not disclosed to the jury – are the central evidence in convicting an innocent person.

Official Misconduct
Some wrongful convictions are caused by honest mistakes.  But in far too many cases, the very people who are responsible for ensuring truth and justice – law enforcement officials and prosecutors – lose sight of these obligations and instead focus solely on securing convictions.  The cases of wrongful convictions uncovered by DNA testing are filled with evidence of negligence, fraud or misconduct by prosecutors or police departments.

While the majority of law enforcement officers and prosecutors are honest and trustworthy, criminal justice is a human endeavor and the possibility for negligence, misconduct and corruption exists.  Even if one officer of every thousand is dishonest, wrongful convictions will continue to occur.  DNA exonerations have exposed official misconduct at every level and stage of a criminal investigation.

There are more reasons – like inadequate defense.  And how about corrupt judges:

When you think of what can go wrong and turn into a wrongful conviction, it makes me…

Here’s what went wrong for Kimberly Long, one of the California Innocence Project’s clients:

I – fortunately – cannot begin to imagine the horror of being in prison.

Being deliberately deprived of your liberty, your dignity, and sense of self.  Stripped of your rights – to vote, the right to privacy, and some of your First Amendment rights.  Decisions about eating what you want, showering when you want, making a phone call when you want – are no longer your decisions.

All this and worse happened to Kimberly Long.

And she was wrongly convicted.

On April 22, 2021, thanks to the work of the California Innocence Project, the Riverside District Attorney formally dismissed all charges resulting in Kimberly’s full exoneration:

You can read Kim’s story on the California Innocence Project website, along with the stories of the other clients the organization has helped.

And you can read about other Innocence Projects online, and the Innocence Network, and all the other organizations whose mission is to free the wrongly convicted.

And you can join me in hoping that someday…

All their employees will face this kind of lay off…

Did Anyone – At Any Time – Pause and Say…

We humans have a propensity for building big things.

Big buildings:

Burj Khalifa, Dubai.

Big ships:

Wonder of the Seas, Royal Caribbean Cruises.

Big burgers:

1,774 pounds, Mallie’s Sports Grill & Bar, Detroit.

So back in the early 2000s, when the powers-that-be decided to put an aquarium in the lobby of the Raddison BLU Hotel in Berlin, Germany…

…it’s no surprise that they weren’t thinking…

No, they were thinking big:

It’s called “AquaDom.”

AquaDom opened in 2003 and back then cost about $13.5 million.  There are a variety of statistics online – not all of them agreeing – but reportedly it’s a freestanding, 52-feet-tall acrylic glass aquarium with a diameter of 36 feet that holds 260,000 gallons of water. 

To put that in perspective, your average toilet holds 3.5 gallons of water.  Now picture about 75,000 toilets tanks stacked up…

That’s a lot of water.

When it opened, AquaDom was declared the world’s largest cylindrical aquarium by Guinness World Records, and was home to more than 100 species of 1,500 tropical fish – “clown fish and angel fish, trigger fish and parrot fish, among many other kinds”:

And that isn’t the only thing in the fish tank – AquaDom has a transparent elevator inside where you can get a view of all those fish, and divers feeding them:

So AquaDom has all the bells and whistles:  biggest ever, flashy, expensive, elevator inside, with a walkway above:

And a tunnel below:

Complete with its own shark mascot.

Various media described the AquaDom as “mesmerizing,” “gigantic” and “impressive,” as in this 2016 article:

While this 2017 article:

Described it as “incredible,” “towering,” and “absolutely need to add to your bucket list.”

So things were going along swimmingly at the Radisson BLU’s AquaDom, until Friday morning, December 16, when…

Verbs used to describe what happened to the AquaDom include “bursts,” “explodes” and “ruptures,” but whatever the wording, the results were the same.  AquaDom:

“…burst, spilling debris, water and hundreds of tropical fish out…parts of the building…were damaged as the 260,000 gallons of water poured from the aquarium shortly before 6am.  Berlin’s fire service said two people were slightly injured.”

There were pictures of the damage inside the hotel:

“There are shards of glass everywhere,” said one hotel guest.  “The furniture, everything has been flooded with water.  It looks…like a war zone.”

And outside:

But – thankfully – there was an upside:

“Mayor Franziska Giffey said the tank had unleased a ‘veritable tsunami’ of water but the early morning timing had prevented far more injuries.

“‘Despite all the destruction, we were still very lucky,’ she said.  ‘We would have had terrible human damage’ had the aquarium burst even an hour later, once more were awake and in the hotel and the surrounding area, she said.”

And while the cause of the burst/explosion/rupture is under investigation, it appears that an American company…

May have some explaining to do.

It seems to me that in human’s quest for the big, bigger, biggest, AquaDom was more of an AquaDumb.

Seriously – while this idea was still on the drawing board, did anyone suggest that maybe, just maybe, this was not a good idea?  Putting a monster freestanding water tank in a hotel lobby?  On the assumption that this human-made thing was perfect, invulnerable, and would stand, intact, forevermore?

Another upside:  The police aren’t suspecting foul play…

“Berlin police say they are not seeking suspects following the explosion of the ‘AquaDom’ aquarium on Friday, warning the public about what they say is a fake tweet suggesting they are.”

And speaking of ‘fake tweets’ – enter Elon Musk!

In an attempt to demonstrate what a great, caring person he is and more importantly, placate at least one European country over recent headlines lines this…

Shortly after AquaDom burst, Musk reportedly contacted the Radisson BLU with a suggestion on how to turn the AquaDom loss…

Into a financial win:

Did This Manager Lose Their Mind?  Or Were They Only Saying What So Many Managers Think…But Don’t Say?

This story starts on December 6 when a Reddit user posted something on the r/antiwork subreddit.

For those who aren’t familiar with Reddit and its r/antiwork subreddit – that would include me – according to this article:

“…r/antiwork is a subreddit that’s become a place for people to talk about their dissatisfaction with working conditions and their negative experiences.  In 2021, the subreddit grew to more than 900,000 followers (which the site calls ‘idlers’) and now boasts more than 1.8 million.” 

Here’s the intro to that December 6 post:

What this led to was a news story that, when I googled it, brought me millions of results on December 13 and read like a who’s who in the national and international media world:  CBS, NBC, Fox, the Guardian, the Washington Post, the Washington Examiner, The Hill, Fortune, the New York Post, MarketWatch, Business Insider, the Today Show and many others.

And as I started reading the stories, I found myself feeling sympathy, and empathy, for the people getting all this attention.

The central figure is unidentified, and the articles refer to the person as the “manager” and “they,” so I’ll do likewise.

The story starts at an Olive Garden Restaurant in Overland Park, near Kansas City, KS.

The manager sent a mass email to the team members.  The email, variously referred to as a “rant,” a “tirade,” and a “diatribe” was about employees who had apparently repeatedly “called off” with various excuses for why they were unable to show up for work.

As you read the manager’s email, it doesn’t take a psychologist to see that the manager was angry.  Enraged.  Seething with frustration.

Here’s the local media outlet that broke the story:

The article included the rant/tirade/diatribe in full.

And yes, the “dog” part in the headline is an excerpt from the email.  Here’s how it starts:

“Our call offs are occurring at a staggering rate.  From now on, if you call off, you might as well go out and look for another job.  We are no longer tolerating ANY excuse for calling off.  If you’re sick, you need to come prove it to us.  If your dog died, you need to bring him in and prove it to us.  If its a ‘family emergency’ and you can’t say, too bad.  Go to work somewhere else.”

Is the manager angry, enraged, and seething with frustration?

Oh, yeah.

And this is where my sympathy and empathy kicked in:

I’ve been on both sides of this – as a team member and in management.

I’m a Team Member

I’m sick and I’m not going to work.  First, because I feel too rotten to get out of bed.  And second, because I don’t want to come into work and spread whatever I’ve got.

And in our current “tridemic” of COVID, the flu and RSV, any sane manager would agree I should stay home.

And if I call in sick and I’m not actually sick, well – I’ll call it a “mental health day,” or something like that.  (Everyone does this.  Well, practically everyone.)

I’m a Manager

Any absence – of even just one person – puts a burden on the entire team, including me.  They and I will have to do our jobs and pick up the duties of the absent person.  This increases the stress level, and when the business is a restaurant and the restaurant is busy, the stress level goes way up.  Orders get botched, food gets cold, customers don’t tip and may not return.

And if an employee is “calling off” – calling in sick – multiple times and/or multiple employees are calling off, that restaurant’s day could be a disaster.

As a manager, I’ve had it.  Enough is enough.  I know these people aren’t sick.  This is…

So…

The manager’s email – two paragraphs and more than 300 words – includes multiple invitations to unhappy employees to find work elsewhere. 

As a manager, on more than one occasion I’ve felt like saying the same.

The Olive Garden’s manager’s email cites themself as an example – how they’ve never called in sick in their “11.5 years” with the company; how they came to work after being in a wreck that totaled their car; and how, at night, they’d “rather be home with my husband and dog, going to the movies or seeing family.  But I don’t, I’m dedicated to being here.”

I suspect this manager had reached their limit of one too many staff calling off one too many times.  So they grabbed their phone or sat down at their computer and dashed off the email – whatever thoughts came into their head.

Including that part of about bringing in the dead dog.

Did the manager pause and think twice before hitting “Send”?

Was the satisfaction of writing and sending that email worth losing their job?

Did the manager regret the email after they were fired?

Would Olive Garden have fired the manager if this story had not gone viral?

The manager was fired…

“A spokeswoman for Darden restaurants, which owns Olive Garden, confirmed to The Washington Post that the missive had been sent to employees and said that the ‘restaurant fired the manager after learning about it.

“‘We strive to provide a caring and respectful work environment for our team members.  This message is not aligned with our company’s values,’ read a statement from the company.  ‘We have parted ways with this manager.’”

Now I’ve got my team member hat back on, and I’m rolling my eyes about that “caring and respectful work environment for our team members.”

Yeah, sure.  What a bunch of…

So, the restaurant manager and Olive Garden have “parted ways.”

The team members will get a new manager who may be great – or far worse than the one they had.

Life will go on, including at the Olive Garden Restaurant in Overland Park, near Kansas City, KS.

And as for me…

I’ve learned a new phrase:

“Recreational Ranting”

Gosh – I’ve been doing that since I started this blog!

Judges, how am I doing?

Trump’s Latest Rip-Off Features “Really Incredible Amazing ART Of My Life & Career!”

There are stories making the rounds that, following Trump’s November 15 announcement that he’s running for president, what we’re seeing is…

“Four weeks after declaring his 2024 White House bid, former President Trump appears to be a candidate in name only.”

“Since then, Trump has not held any formal campaign events. He has not traveled to early voting states, made any major staffing announcements or done much of anything to scare off would-be rivals.”

I think otherwise.

I think Trump’s advisers decided that since their presidential campaign efforts in 2020 were a dismal failure, they’d revamp their strategy as follows:

No more traveling around the country for rallies, no more media interviews, no more presidential debates.

The new strategy is:

Trump Sits on His Lard Ass at Mar-a-Lago and Makes Headlines

Here’s what I mean.

Since Trump’s candidacy announcement on November 15…

Step #1:  The Trump dinner on November 22:

Step #2:  The Trump declaration on December 3:

Talk about headlines!

And last Thursday, a true pièce de resistance:

Step #3:  December 15:

“Mr. Trump announced an online store to sell $99 digital trading cards of himself as a superhero, an astronaut, an Old West sheriff and a series of other fantastical figures.  He made his pitch in a brief, direct-to-camera video in which he audaciously declared that his four years in the White House were ‘better than Lincoln, better than Washington.’”

Talk about strategy!

But first, the Trump team set the stage:  On December 14, Trump made an announcement that he was going to be making a “major announcement” on December 15:

“Donald Trump shared a bizarre video depicting himself as a ‘superhero’ on his social media platform Truth Social in which he teased a ‘major announcement.’

“The announcement is set to be made on Thursday, 15 December, according to the video posted by the former president on Wednesday.”

The video included this image:

“‘America needs a superhero,’ Mr. Trump says in the footage before an animated image of him wearing a superhero outfit with the letter ‘T’ on his chest appears as beams of light stream from his eyes.”

But, says this article:

“The Truth Social post on Wednesday didn’t give any hints about what Mr. Trump would announce.”

Strategic, yes? 

Not so much as a hint from Trump of what was to come.

Attention – and speculation – was widespread!

Would Trump’s “major announcement” involve something about the Speaker race playing out among House Republicans?  Would he offer solutions for ending the war in Ukraine, ending food insecurity, and ending inflation?

Or perhaps, as politics correspondent Bess Levin at Vanity Fair speculated:

“Would he be letting people know that after giving it a lot of time and thought, he’d come to the realization that his time in office was net negative on humanity, and that he would be both suspending his campaign and retreating to an out-of-the-spotlight life in the country?

“That he was ready to take responsibility for January 6 and whatever legal repercussions that come with doing so?

“That he’d been quietly volunteering at a local soup kitchen since leaving the White House and it had really opened his eyes to how the other half lives, and also taught him that small acts of kindness can have big impacts?”

Alas, it was none of the above.

Instead, Trump’s “major announcement” on December 15 was this:

The New York Times article suggested that…

“…Mr. Trump’s direct pitch for the trading cards underscored how secondary his campaign for president has seemed to his personal efforts over the last month.”

Au contraire, New York Times.

Trump is campaigning for president, intensely but subtly.

Subtly – something Trump is well-known for.

For example, TrumpCards.com says,

Those clever Trump advisors know that everyone will want to “instantly become part of a new league of collectors” – and Trump voters!

Then there’s this:

I’ll get a “rare collectible” and I’ll be entered into a sweepstakes? 

Wow!  What can I win?

They’re glad you asked!  Here’s just a sampling of what you could win!

“Memorable”!  “Luxurious”!  “Unforgettable”!  “Exclusive”!

Clearly, Trump’s digital trading cards will draw in his entire base and add millions to it!

Let’s see…buy 45 trading cards at $99 each, that’s…$4,455…

Hmmm.  That’s a lot of money, especially since, as Trump’s website puts it:

“No inherent monetary value.”

So, what are you getting for all that money?

Trading cards that you cannot hold in your hand, or spread out on your table and admire.

Trump’s trading cards are NFTs – non-fungible tokens.

As I said in a post a year ago, when Melania Trump launched her own worthless NFT:

“A non-fungible token is a piece of data verifying that you have ownership of a digital item, such as a piece of artwork.”

“A digital item means it exists electronically and has no physical presence.”

So when you purchase an NFT, you’ve purchased an electronic thing that says you own another electronic thing.

But – that’s all part of the Trump advisors’ subtlety strategy.

And so is this, from the New York Times:

“…Mr. Trump’s campaign won’t earn any money from the digital cards…Money from the digital cards will instead be pocketed by Mr. Trump under a licensing deal…”

By giving the appearance that he’s not raising money for his campaign, Trump could raise tons of money for his campaign!

And we know this because allegedly Trump’s digital trading cards…

“Former President Trump’s digital trading cards have sold out less than 24 hours after he first announced they were available.

“As of Friday morning, the site selling the non-fungible tokens (NFTs) says they are sold out, and links to purchase the digital cards are no available.”

“OpenSea Data, which tracks the sales and markets for NFTs, indicated there were 45,000 of the Trump cards initially made available for purchase for $99 each.”

Let’s see…buy 45,000 trading cards at $99 each, that’s…$4,455,000.

That’s a nice piece of change for a guy who’s campaigning for president by sitting on his lard ass at Mar-a-Lago.

Big money, but not for actual, physical trading cards you can hold in your hand…

And…maybe…here’s an idea…

Play Go Fish with.

You know – Go Fish?

Where you’re dealt some cards and you take turns asking the other player, “Do you have any aces?” or whatever card, and if the other player does, they have to give you all their aces or whatever, and if they don’t have any, they say, “Go fish!” and you draw a card from the pile:

If Trump’s cards were real cards – and if Trump were anything remotely resembling a real human with a moral compass – you could hold the cards and play with the cards and ask, “Do you have any Trump Cowboys?” and, “Do you have any Trump Super Heroes?”

And win Go Fish Trump!

Let’s go back to that The Hill article from December 16 that said,

“OpenSea Data, which tracks the sales and markets for NFTs, indicated there were 45,000 of the Trump cards initially made available for purchase for $99 each.”

“Made available for purchase.”

Not “were sold.”

And this:

“…the site selling the non-fungible tokens (NFTs) says they are sold out…”

Oh…the site says they’re “sold out”?

So we have only Trump’s word that the cards were sold out?

And just because the “links to purchase the digital cards are no longer available” doesn’t mean they were sold out.

It doesn’t take a marketing genius to know that the greatest way to create a demand for something is to tell us we can’t have it.

Plus, we know that Trump is the biggest liar who ever lived:

So I’m doubting the veracity of the site’s claim that Trump’s digital cards are “sold out.”

And I’m doubting that this digital card enterprise is anything but a trashy, keep-Trump-in-the-headlines-while-stroking-his-ego ploy.

Here is my wish:  This will join the list of Trump’s failed businesses.

Trump is a person with many failed businesses, as recounted in this May 2022 article:

I’ve rearranged the list into bullets to make for easier reading:

  • The Trump Taj Mahal, which was built and owned by President Trump, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1991.
  • The Trump Plaza, the Trump Castle, and the Plaza Hotel, all owned by President Trump at the time, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1992.
  • Trump Hotel & Casino Resorts, which was founded by Trump in 1995, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2004.
  • Trump Entertainment Resorts, Inc., the new name given to Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts after its 2004 bankruptcy, declared bankruptcy in 2009.
  • Trump Shuttle, Inc.
  • Trump University
  • Trump Vodka
  • Trump Mortgage, LLC
  • GoTrump.com (travel website)
  • Trump Steaks

The list creators noted,

“The foregoing does not purport to be an exhaustive list.”

They’re darn right the “foregoing” is not “an exhaustive list.”

Among others, they forgot these failures:

And finally…

The Washington Post headline at the top of this post…

Referred to Trump’s digital cards as “laughably bad.”

And they are.

Or so I thought, until I happened across one of Trump’s digital cards that I hadn’t seen on the website.

This one – a perfect example of Trump’s total disrespect for our country, his nonstop narcissism, and his enormous megalomania…

This one is absolutely unacceptable:

This Story Says A Lot About Our Values…But I’m Not Sure What

The other night I was half-listening to a story on the evening news about a cat in an animal shelter and the couple who rescued it.

The cat, variously described as “sad and depressed” and, “chubby-cheeked and sad-eyed” with a “heartbreaking expression…”

…is named Fishtopher.

Again, I was only half-listening, but then something at the end of the story caught my full attention:

“Fishtopher, whose Instagram profile has more than 29,000 followers…”

A cat’s Instagram has more than 29,000 followers?

A profile the new owners only started on November 26, 2022?

When I heard this, I couldn’t help but wonder about our values.

Values that prompt more than 29,000 people to become Instagram cat followers.

 While – for example – my hometown library…

Has less than 2,500 Instagram followers.

I’m comparing apples to oranges, you say?

I don’t think so.

I think it says something about our values…

I’m just not sure what it says.

Why Are These Women Smiling…And Clasping Hands?

This is one of those stories that should have gotten more media attention.  In lieu of that, I’m giving it my attention!

*****

I’ve never really noticed the signatures on our paper money:

I’ve never had any reason to.

But now I do.

And the reason I do is the same reason that the women in the above images are smiling, and clasping hands.

The women are Janet Yellen (left) Lynn Malerba.

Yellen is U.S. Treasury Secretary, and Malerba is the U.S. Treasurer.

And on December 8, Yellen and Malerba made history:

“1st Female Pair to Sign US Currency”!

Here’s the full picture from above:

Yellen and Malerba also made history by doing this:

I’m fairly sure male Treasury Secretaries and male Treasurers don’t do this.

These are firsts to smile about.

And there are other firsts:

Malerba is the first Native American to serve as U.S. Treasurer. 

September 12, 2022:  Another day of firsts:  First female Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen swears in Lynn Malerba, the first Native American Treasurer of the United States.

According to her bio on treasury.gov:

“Chief Mutáwi Mutáhash (Many Hearts) Marilynn ‘Lynn’ Malerba became the 18th Chief of the Mohegan Tribe on August 15, 2010 and is the first female Chief in the Tribe’s modern history.  The position is a lifetime appointment made by the Tribe’s Council of Elders.”

Regarding Yellen, the first female Treasury Secretary, the article succinctly noted,

“The Treasury Department was created in 1787, and until Yellen only white men had led it.”

The only money-related thing better than two women’s signatures on our paper currency will be three women on our currency: 

Women left, right and center.

And by “center” I mean Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill, as announced back in 2016:

There was an artist rendering of how the Harriet Tubman $20 might look:

And since that was seven years ago – surely the Harriet Tubman $20 bill will be in our hands and wallets soon?

No.

Not unless you think this means “soon”:

2030 – that’s 14 years after the 2016 announcement.

I learned this when I was writing this post.  I was doing research online and found this March 2022 video of Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post asking Yellen when we’d start seeing the Tubman $20:

Yellen said:

“2030.  I know it’s a long way off.  It adheres to the original schedule that was announced in 2014 by Secretary Lew and President Obama.  We lost four years during the Trump administration and pushing it forward, but we have made efforts to catch up and we remain on that schedule…I’m looking forward to seeing Harriet on the $20 in 2030.”

So much for “women left, right and center” any time soon.

For now, it seems my vision of three-female currency will exist only in my imagination…

But there’s no imagining this:

When it comes to Tubman, Yellen, Malerba and other extraordinary women, current and past…

We women, today and in the future, are grateful because…

What Is This, And Why Are We Taxpayers Still Paying For Trump To Use It?

Do you know what the above logo stands for?

I didn’t, which sent me on a quest for information.

First:  GSA stands for General Services Administration.

Second:  The General Services Administration is “an independent agency of the U.S. government established in 1949 to help manage and support the basic functioning of federal agencies.”

Could that be any vaguer?

Third:  The GSA headquarters are in this building in Washington, DC:

And though I can see the American flag on its roof, I’m not seeing the GSA’s flags, of which it has at least three:

Why any federal agency requires at least three flags is a mystery to me.

So is the size of the GSA’s budget:

Yes, you read that correctly:

$53.76 billion in FY 2022.

What does the GSA actually do?

What are we taxpayers getting for that almost $54 billion?

Here’s the GSA’s mission statement, from their website:

Could that be any vaguer?

To clarify at least a bit, I found something specific in a December 7 Washington Post article (more from the article to come) that said one role of the GSA is to:

“assist former presidents during their transition to private life…”

This is also a mystery to me.

Former presidents are just that – former.  They’re private citizens.  Why are we taxpayers paying to move them out of the White House to…wherever?

Can’t former presidents pack their own stuff and call these guys:

Like the rest of us private citizens do?

Apparently not.

So in 2021, when Trump was vacating the White House, he had the services of the GSA to transport his stuff.

But not all of that stuff went to his residence, Mar-a-Lago.

No, it appears – again, according to the Washington Post article – that the GSA…

“…helped rent the storage unit at a private facility in West Palm Beach on July 21, 2021.  The unit was needed to store items that had been held at an office in Northern Virginia used by Trump staffers in the months just after he left office.”

I haven’t been to Mar-a-Lago, but it looks like it’s got plenty of storage rooms to me:

Why a storage unit at a private facility was rented…

And paid for by us taxpayers…

Is…you guessed it:

A mystery to me.

And we didn’t pay just for storage – the Washington Post article said:

“…the GSA and Trump staffers worked together to arrange to ship several pallets of boxes and other items weighing more than 3,000 pounds from Northern Virginia to the Florida storage unit in September 2021.”

So the Florida storage facility was rented in July 2021 but Trump’s stuff wasn’t moved until September 2021.

We paid for that empty space.

And we also paid for shipping 1½ tons of Trump’s stuff.

It’s now December 2022, and we’ve been paying for that storage facility for 18 months.

Shipping + storage =

And what is all this stuff in the storage facility?  Washington Post:

“A person familiar with the matter said the storage unit had a mix of boxes, gifts, suits and clothes, among other things.  ‘It was suits and swords and wrestling belts and all sorts of things,’ this person said.  ‘To my knowledge, he has never even been to that storage unit.  I don’t think anyone in Trump World could tell you what’s in that storage unit.’”

So 1½ tons of Trump stuff just sitting while the meter kept running, wasting our…

Stuff just sitting…ignored…languishing…

Until this:

“Lawyers for Donald Trump found at least two items marked classified after an outside team hired by Trump searched a storage unit in West Palm Beach, FL used by the former president, according to people familiar with the matter.”

Over the past almost week, you’ve no doubt heard the story – many times.

What you may not have heard was that to conduct the search, Trump’s lawyers, according to this article…

“…utilized a firm that had expertise in searching for documents.”

Which presents yet another mystery:

What requires expertise about going through boxes in storage and ascertaining that these items over there – they’re wrestling belts; and these items here – these are classified documents?

Here’s a visual aid to help – wrestling belts, left; classified documents, right:

Looks pretty straightforward to me.

The storage facility search was part of a multi-part effort that also included the search “experts” going through other Trump properties.

The Washington Post article said

“The former president’s lawyers have told federal authorities no classified material was found in additional searches of Trump Tower in New York and his golf club in Bedminster, N.J.”

But, according to the New York Times article:

“People close to Mr. Trump had said earlier on Wednesday that no classified material had been found during the searches, a claim that was later proved incorrect.” 

And if the “experts” were “incorrect” about the Florida’s storage facility’s contents…

Who’s to say they aren’t also “incorrect” about Trump Tower and Bedminster?

That’s our last mystery in this post.

The rest is no mystery.

I believe that Trump will never be held accountable for all the crimes he’s committed throughout his life.

But I also believe Trump will be held accountable for some of those crimes.

And by accountable, I mean Trump will be:

United States Penitentiary, Administrative Maximum Facility (ADX), Colorado; also known as the “Alcatraz of the Rockies,” it’s the most maximum-security prison in the U.S.

No more delays, no more appeals, no more suing everyone in sight.

Nothing but a one-way trip.

And this time, when my tax dollars pay to assist this former president “during their transition” to private prison life…

I’ll be thrilled to pay for it.

It’s Wrong, It’s Dangerous, And…

Part III:  Let’s Head Further North

On Wednesday in Part II, I talked about the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, located on the coast about 25 miles north of San Diego County, where I live.

Also on the Pacific Coast, about 275 miles north of me, is this:

The Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant in Avila Beach, west of the city of San Luis Obispo.  It began operations in 1985 and is also an investor-owned utility, that utility being the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E).

Ugly, isn’t it?

I was unable to learn exactly how much nuclear waste is stored at Diablo Canyon, though this article from September 2022…

Said:

“Each of Diablo Canyon’s two reactors kick out about 80 tons of high-level radioactive waste when the old fuel rods are traded out for new ones every one to three years.”

How much nuclear waste is stored at Diablo Canyon?

How’s this:

Any amount is too much.

Six years ago, according to this article:

“In 2016, PG&E announced plans to close the nuclear plant, noting that the transition to renewable energy would make continued operations too costly.”

Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant is also located on the coast, also near a major earthquake fault line.

Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant is also the last nuclear plant in the state. 

And when the closing was announced in 2016, I cheered.

Prematurely, it turns out:

  • California Gov. Gavin Newsom is proposing to keep the two units of the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant online until 2029 and 2030 – as opposed to shuttering the facility entirely by 2025 – while also exploring the option of extending the plant’s life through 2035.
  • Proposed legislative language released Friday includes a $1.4 billion loan from the state’s general fund to Pacific Gas & Electric, the operator of the plant, to cover the cost of relicensing the 2.2 GW nuclear plant.  The legislation also outlines the terms of the loan agreement, including the circumstances under which the utility would repay the loan.

“Repay the loan”?

I’m doubtful.

But there’s no doubt here:

We taxpayers are on the hook for an additional $1.1 billion in federal funds:

It’s going to cost federal taxpayers more than a billion dollars to keep Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant operating – and producing more nuclear waste.

And it’s likely it will cost California taxpayers as well.

I was angry, and got angrier when I read this recent article in the San Luis Obispo Tribune:

“…as the U.S. turns to nuclear power to keep the lights on, will President Joe Biden and his successors be equally committed to securing a permanent home for the nuclear waste generated by commercial reactors?

“That was a promise first made to residents of San Luis Obispo County more than 50 years ago, when PG&E assured skeptical residents that they needn’t worry about spent nuclear fuel because the federal government would take care of it.”

I wonder if, 50 years ago, PG&E clued in the federal government that they – the federal government – were supposed to “take care of” the waste generated by Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant?

The article continues:

“The state of California must have seen all this coming.  In 1976, it imposed a moratorium on the construction of new nuclear plants until such time as the federal government makes good on its promise to accept the spent fuel.

“But where does that leave Californians living in the vicinity of Diablo Canyon, or near shuttered plants like San Onofre, located close to San Diego?

“They are exactly where they’ve been for the past five or six decades:  serving as de facto spent nuclear fuel storage sites, without ever having the benefit of the consent-based siting process.”

(In a consent-based siting process, communities are only considered as potential locations if they agree to “host” a storage facility that would accept spent fuel from commercial reactors.)

The article said plenty more that stoked my anger:

“There is no excuse for the lack of progress in the United States, especially given the renewed interest in keeping plants like Diablo Canyon running.

“Political leaders have been content to leave it to future generations to figure out what to do with spent fuel that will need to be kept safe for tens of thousands of years.

“It’s…unfair to future generations stuck with the consequences of yet another short-sighted decision by those who should know better.”

Part IV: Let’s Head Back South – in the Interest of Equal Time

If I sound locked-in to my opinion that the only good nuclear power plant is a closed nuclear power plant…

I am.

So I was stunned to read a recent editorial in the San Diego Union-Tribune that contradicted my locked-in opinion.

I’m a huge fan of the Union-Tribune, including their editorials.  To encounter an editorial that took a position I disagreed with – starting with the headline…

Here it is:

That headline – “Embrace Nuclear Power”?

“Are they kidding?” I thought.

No, they weren’t kidding.  The “CARBON” vs. “NUCLEAR” cartoon above the editorial attested to that.

So did the editorial’s content. 

And – shockingly – some of it actually made sense to me:

“…nuclear power is finally being accepted for the crucial role it can play in reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that put human civilization and survival at risk.”

“…ignoring the vast potential of nuclear power to respond to the climate emergency is no longer an option – as should be clear to anyone who believes the emergency is real.”

To the writer’s credit, they did acknowledge…

“…the failure of the U.S. government to find a long-term solution to the need to safely store nuclear waste.”

And then there was this:

“…nuclear plants have continued to be the nation’s largest source of relatively clean power, generating 19 percent of U.S. electricity in 2021.  Despite billions of dollars spent to expand solar and wind power in recent years, nuclear power supplies nearly as much as all the other zero-carbon sources of energy in the U.S. combined.”

“Combined”?

Wow.

Well.

This editorial prompted me to stop automatically disagreeing…start thinking…and even reconsidering…

I really was reconsidering…

Until…

I read this on November 25:

“The lunar base will likely be powered by nuclear energy, Chinese news website Caixin reported.”

“‘Nuclear energy can address the lunar station’s long-term, high-power energy needs,’ said Wu Weiran, chief designer of China’s lunar exploration programme.’”

87,000 metric tons of spent fuel on Earth now.

Nuclear power plants on the moon.

Nuclear waste on the moon.

If China puts a nuclear power plant on the moon, the U.S. is sure to do the same.

And who’s next?  Russia?  Iran?  And, and, and…

It’s Wrong, It’s Dangerous, And…

Part I:  Once Upon a Time

Once upon a long, long time ago – in the 1950s – a major goal of nuclear research was to show that nuclear energy could produce electricity for commercial use.

Though I suspect the actual “major goal of nuclear research” was how to monetize nuclear energy.

And if producing electricity for commercial use made money – let’s go for it!

And if those scientists ascertained that nuclear energy could generate electricity without the harmful byproducts that coal, oil and natural gas emit – even better!

Not that a lot of 1950s folks had a high level of awareness of the harmful byproducts that coal, oil and natural gas emit.  But a post-World War II growing population meant more people and that meant more electricity was needed, and why not grab a slice of that electricity pie by providing electricity from nuclear energy?

But what those scientists – or it appears anybody – did not think about was the radioactive waste that would be created in nuclear power plants. 

And what to do with it.

Here’s how the U.S.NRC – the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission…

…explains nuclear waste:

“High-level radioactive waste primarily is uranium fuel that has been used in a nuclear power reactor and is ‘spent,’ or no longer efficient in producing electricity.  Spent fuel is thermally hot as well as highly radioactive and requires remote handling and shielding.”

Maybe the movers and shakers who were hot to start generating nuclear-energy-powered electricity did a Scarlett O’Hara and figured they’d think about it tomorrow.  Maybe they figured the waste was someone else’s problem to solve. 

Maybe they didn’t care.

It’s for sure that 1950s consumers didn’t care.  As long as the electricity kept flowing into their homes and businesses, who cared what the source was?

According to this brochure from the Department of Energy:

In December 1957 the world’s first large-scale nuclear powerplant began operation in Shippingport, Pennsylvania:

The plant reached full power three weeks later and supplied electricity to the Pittsburgh area.

Today, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), the statistical agency of the Department of Energy…

“As of May 25, 2022, there were 54 commercially operating nuclear power plants with 92 nuclear power reactors in 28 U.S. states.  Of the currently operating nuclear power plants, 19 plants have one reactor, 32 plants have two reactors, and 3 plants have three reactors.”

And all 92 of those nuclear power reactors are generating nuclear waste.

Here’s a map showing the 28 states with nuclear power plants:

If you don’t live in one of the 28 states, please don’t think that the unsafe storage of nuclear waste doesn’t affect you.

Part II:  Let’s Head North

I live in San Diego County, and about 25 miles north of me is this:

Ugly, isn’t it?

This is the Southern California Edison (SCE) San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS).  It’s an investor-owned utility that began operating in 1967 and made lots of money for SCE and its shareholders.

SONGS was shut down in 2012 after a series of inconveniences, including a radioactive leak.

Today, according to this article in The Hill and many other articles:

SONGS is the site of 3.6 million pounds of nuclear waste.

“The waste is buried about 100 feet from the shoreline…near one of the busiest highways, and next to a fault line that could generate an earthquake. The site could…also be exposed from erosion.”

So earthquakes and/or erosion are possible disasters involving 3.6 million pounds of nuclear waste stored at SONGS.

Here’s another possible disaster:

The article says:

“In the event of a severe accident at San Onofre, radiation leaks could create a permanent ‘dead zone’ [extending] beyond Los Angeles, San Diego, Catalina, and Riverside.”

Here’s that potential “dead zone”:

That’s by land – what about by sea, i.e., the Pacific Ocean?

“San Onofre’s ‘30-foot tsunami wall’ is only 14 feet above high tide.”

You can imagine how this potential “dead zone” is of momentous concern to those of us who live here.

So that’s the amount of waste sitting at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.  What’s the size of the total nuclear waste accumulated in the U.S.?

According to this article:

“U.S. Department of Energy data indicates that the spent nuclear fuel discharged and stored by the electric power industry totals close to 85,000 metric tons over the past five-plus decades.”

That was written in April 2021.

The U.S. generates about 2,000 additional metric tons of spent fuel each year.

Let’s put that 87,000 metric tons in more relatable numbers:

Regarding that increase of 2,000 additional metric tons of spent fuel each year, our government’s Office of Nuclear Energy website:

Assures us that:

“This number may sound like a lot, but the volume of the spent fuel assemblies is actually quite small considering the amount of energy they produce.

“The amount is roughly equivalent to less than half the volume of an Olympic-sized swimming pool.”

Did that “swimming pool” shit make you feel any better?

Me, neither.

And those 192 million pounds of nuclear waste have nowhere to go.  So says the U.S.NRC, the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission:

“At this time there are no facilities for permanent disposal of high-level waste.”

But wait! 

What about this November 26 article:

I was thrilled when I saw this headline!

The “Waste Isolation Pilot Plant” in southeast New Mexico!

“Finally,” I thought, “finally we’re making progress dealing with the horrendous problem of our unsafe storage of nuclear waste.”

Then I read the article and…

No.

“…the new area consists of seven separate rooms for placing special boxes and barrels packed with lab coats, rubber gloves, tools and debris contaminated with plutonium and other radioactive elements.”

“…the nation’s multibillion-dollar cleanup program for Cold War-era waste.”

The Cold War ended in 1991 and our government…

Is still cleaning up contaminated crap from it.

I am not opposed to electricity generated by nuclear power plants – I’m opposed to the unsafe storage of nuclear waste.  And I am furious and frustrated that our state and federal governments aren’t working smarter to provide those “facilities for permanent disposal of high-level waste.”

So, for a long time my attitude has been:

The Only Good Nuclear Power Plant is a Closed Nuclear Power Plant.

At least that would stop the generating of yet more nuclear waste.

On December 9:  Part III:  Let’s Head Further North, and Part IV:  Let’s Head Back South – in the Interest of Equal Time

Equal Opportunity In Action!!!  Female Joins The Male Big Leagues!!!  The Big Leagues Of Male…

For a long time, women have been asking for, fighting for and demanding their rights:

For gender equality:

For equal pay:

For freedom from sexual harassment:

And while much progress has been made, much more is needed.

So it’s heartening to learn about one small step for womankind:

A female joining the big leagues!

The big leagues of males.

Male criminals.

Crooks.

Con artists.

Yes, when the door to opportunity opened, she stepped right up and stepped right through it:

Makes you proud, doesn’t it?

Granted, she’s not in the major leagues like Charles Ponzi (1882-1949), whose last name is now synonymous fraudulent investment schemes.  Ponzi’s con cost investors around $20 million in 1920 dollars, or $298 million today.

Or Bernie Madoff (1938-2021), who masterminded the biggest investment fraud in U.S. history, ripping off tens of thousands of people of as much as $65 billion.

But for our con artist –Ruixue “Serena” Shi (pictured) – that $26 million is a respectable con.

And if she hadn’t been caught…

Who knows who far she might have gone?

The Fortune article says,

“Prosecutors said that from late 2015 to mid-2018, Shi was the general manager of a real estate company based in China that had a Los Angeles office.  She solicited investments, mainly from Chinese investors, in a 207-unit luxury complex to be built in the city of Coachella, in the desert southeast of Los Angeles.”

Here’s Coachella:

The location for this luxury complex was not exactly the Garden Spot of the West:

But the location was, as one article put it, “situated in between the Fantasy Spring and the Spotlight 29 Casinos in Coachella.” 

So casinos nearby, but also important, says this 2017 article:

The complex – going by the name of Hyde Coachella Valley Resorts and Residences at the time – would have been the first hotel in the City of Coachella.

This is a long, convoluted story and there’s plenty about it online so I won’t get into all of that.  But here are a few highlights from various articles:

Shi tricked more than 160 people into putting down payments on the condos – the majority of whom were investors from China.  She often gave sales presentations at hotels, and contacted individuals over the Chinese messaging and social media app WeChat.

In 2015 and again in 2017, Shi had sales presentations in China where she was accompanied by Coachella city officials. (It seems investors in far-off China weren’t the only people Shi conned.)

Shi at a sales presentation in China.  Note the “Hyde Coachella Valley Resorts and Residences” behind her.

By 2017 investors were questioning why they weren’t receiving the promised rental income from the condos they’d purchased.  The finger-pointing began, and so did the lawsuits.

The Department of Justice got involved, and Shi was arrested in June 2020, charged with one count of wire fraud:

Up until then, Shi had been living well, as big- and major-league con artists often do:

“‘For example, she allegedly used $2.2 million of investor money to pay a company that provided luxury travel and concierge services, nearly $295,000 to purchase two Mercedes-Benz automobiles, and hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy clothes, restaurant meals, and hotel stays in Beverly Hills, France, Thailand and China,’ said a Department of Justice press release.”

Note to self:  The next time I buy two Mercedes, make sure they’re color coordinated.

Shi was in federal custody since August 2020 after law enforcement discovered she had been researching how to flee the United States on a contraband iPhone while free on bond in the criminal case.  She remained in custody, and in October 2021 Shi pleaded guilty to that one count of wire fraud:

At her sentencing in November 2022 the judge refused to allow Shi to withdraw her 2021 plea to wire fraud, saying “There has been no acceptance of responsibility; there has been a denial of responsibility.”

And then…

In addition to prison time, Shi was ordered to pay $35.8 million in restitution.

So…

The site plan for Hyde Coachella Valley Resorts and Residences Shi happily shared with the City of Coachella in November 2015…

Never went beyond the drawing stage.

The land she promised to develop for investors…

Remains as it was.

The City of Coachella website…

Lists five hotels – but none of them in Coachella.

And as for Shi’s victims, according to this from the Department of Justice:

“In connection with the sentencing hearing, more than two dozen victims submitted statements to the court, with many describing the substantial financial hardship they experienced.  Several discussed their reliance on Shi’s false promises that their investments would assist them in securing visas to immigrate to the United States.  

“One victim wrote that, after losing his retirement savings to Shi’s scheme, he ‘even contemplated suicide,’ according to court papers filed by prosecutors.”

It’s unlikely Shi’s victims will ever see any of that $35.8 million in restitution she was ordered to pay.

Ruixue “Serena” Shi was smart and brave and bold – good things for a woman to be. 

Then she boldly went where many men have gone before:  into the con game.

Now Shi, 38, is going to where many men have also gone before:

Dear California Residents:  Thank You For Your Generosity!

Dear California Residents: 

Thanks to you, we five major oil refineries that supply most of California’s gasoline – Chevron, Marathon Petroleum, PBF Energy, Valero Energy and Phillips 66 – are going to have our best year and merriest Christmas – ever!

You know that hearing we all skipped on November 29?

Yes, they were all ready for us.  See – five nameplates, and five empty chairs, all set up but no one to sit in them:

We no-showed!

HO, HO, HO!

We heard all about the meeting, of course.

Including what that blabbermouth from that advocacy group Consumer Watchdog said.

You know – that part about how our companies posted profits of $67.6 billion in the first nine months of 2022, up from $17.6 billion during the same period last year?

Well, it’s true!  And we’re proud of that! 

Isn’t that…

The American Way?

We’re glad you agree!

No, we didn’t need to go to no stinkin’ meeting to hear those Consumer Watchdog whiners.

Instead, we skipped the meeting, and were we smart!  We told a girl to go as our representative.  We knew those people would badmouth us, but not a girl.  What – and risk making her cry?

So the girl – Catherine Reheis-Boyd, or something like that – she’s the president of the Western States Petroleum Association.  At the meeting she said…

“The factors that determine gasoline and diesel market cost are complicated.  In-state production is artificially limited by government policy and local and state policy is causing for production of fuel to fall faster than production.”

Talk about baffling with your bullshit! 

Some other whiners complained about how California’s average statewide price for a gallon of gas was nearly $5 on Tuesday, about $1.48 more than the national average. 

Tuesday, schmoozday!

Everything costs more in California, dummy!  It’s called “The Sun Tax!” 

And in case you don’t know what that means, it means everything costs more in California, dummy!

And if you don’t want to pay the Sun Tax, move to North Dakota – no Sun Tax there!

And Governor Newsom – don’t get us started on him

On the same day as the meeting, Newsom called a special session of the Legislature for this coming Monday, December 5, to “pass a price-gouging penalty on oil companies that choose to rake in excessive profits at the expense of Californians.”

We’re not worried – it’ll be business as usual at that special session…

Finally, in keeping with the holiday season, we’ll wrap this up with our warmest thanks for a great 2022. 

We look forward to gouging providing you with all the gasoline you want in 2023!

From…

They’ve Always Been With Us – And They Always Will Be

It’s easy to imagine this scenario:

You consider yourself a savvy person, and when it comes to your phone, you always check your caller ID before you answer.  If you don’t recognize the caller’s name and/or company name and/or phone number, you let the call go to voicemail.

It’s likely a robocall, and you’ll check it later.  Maybe.

But now your phone rings, and since you live in San Diego County, here’s what you see:

San Diego Gas & Electric – SDG&E is your utility company.

“Hmmm,” you think.  “Why would SDG&E be calling me?  Oh, hell – are they calling to tell me there’s going to be a rolling blackout?  Or there’s some sort of problem in my area?”

Your savvy self is suspicious, but you decide to answer.  If it is SDG&E and if it is bad news, there’s no sense in postponing it.

You:  Hello?

SDG&E:  Hello, this is Ashley Martin – I’m a customer service representative from SDG&E.  Your telephone number, 619-111-1234, is identified with SDG&E account number 123456789 and home address of 1234 Almond Street, residence of Frederick and Catherine Simmons.  Am I speaking to Mr. Simmons?

(You’re starting to feel less suspicious – this isn’t a robocall, and the connection is clear – not that distorted long-distance-eastern-Europe stuff.  She has your correct telephone number, address and names.  As she’s talking, you’re opening your laptop, googling SDG&E and logging into your account.)

You:  Yes, this is Fred Simmons.  (You’ve got your account open on your laptop.)  What did you say that account number was?

SDG&E:  That account number is 123456789.

(That’s your account number, so your suspicion level decreases a bit more.)

You:  Is there a problem?

SDG&E:  Mr. Simmons, on October 15 we notified all SDG&E customers by text and/or email that we were changing our payment system, and all customers who pay via direct deposit from their bank needed to contact their bank to update their information. 

(She knows you pay SDG&E by direct deposit from your bank – she must be on the level.  But…)

SDG&E:  Our records indicate that your SDG&E account number 12345689 has not been updated, so your current balance of $566.12, payable on or before October 19, is now more than 30 days overdue.  This means your gas and electricity service will be shut off at 8pm this evening.

You:  That can’t be right.  And I never got an email or text from SDG&E about anything.  I’m on my laptop – I’m going to open my bank account and check.  I’m sure that payment went through.

SDG&E:  Go right ahead, I’ll stand by.

(Silence while you access your bank account.)

You:  Yes, I’m showing a payment of $566.12 to SDG&E on October 19.

SDG&E:  SDG&E shows no record of that payment, so there appears to be an issue between you and your bank, Mr. Simmons. 

You:  I’ll call the bank and get this straightened out and –

SDG&E:  Mr. Simmons, since it’s 7:35pm now and you’re going to lose power in 25 minutes, may I suggest you provide your credit card number and we can handle your overdue payment that way?

You’ve now gone from savvy – to scared.  Your only option is to give this person your credit card number or your power is going to be shut off.

What do you do?

Hang up.

Here’s why:

According to the article,

“SDG&E has received 178 reports of scams this year that have cost customers about $173,000.  In one instance this spring, an impersonator told a homeowners association its electronic payment did not go through.  The HOA made multiple payments and ended up losing $26,000.

“Pacific Gas & Electric, the largest investor-owned utility in California, has reported a surge in scams.  So far this year, PG&E has received more than 23,000 reports from customers who combined to get swindled out of nearly $1.3 million in fraudulent payments.  That’s more than twice the number of reports PG&E received in all of 2021.”

And this fraud isn’t limited to California – the article referenced this source:

Which said:

“Utility imposter scams were the third-most common scam category according to consumer claims tracked by the FTC.  The Better Business Bureau (BBB) describes common scams involving utility company imposters threatening to shut off services if payment is not immediately collected.  According to the BBB, utility scam victims experience a median financial loss of $500.”

And the scammers don’t limit themselves to residential customers, says the Union-Tribune:

“Another ruse involves scammers calling restaurateurs just prior to lunch hour, threatening an immediate power disconnection.  Owners and managers worried about losing their noontime crowd may be vulnerable to fraudulent demands for payment.”

The problems – and the losses – have become so widespread, especially during the holidays, that this group:

Declared November 16 as Utilities Scams Awareness Day:

Ah, for the good old days.  When the only things on the November calendar were things like National Nachos Day (November 6), National Play Monopoly Day (November 19) and, of course – Thanksgiving.

SDG&E assures us that they will never call customers and tell them they must make an immediate payment over the phone or their service will be disconnected.  And:

“As for suspicious actors who may show up at your door, SDG&E says all of its employees on company business are required to carry a photo ID badge.”

If someone from SDG&E had called me as in my imagined call at the start of this post, I would have answered.  Could I have fallen for this scam?

Here’s what SDG&E says:  If someone calls and asks for a payment, hang up and call SDG&E customer service.  If you get a text or email from SDG&E that looks suspicious:  Ditto.  If someone shows up unexpectedly at your door, even if they show SDG&E ID:  Ditto. 

Here’s hoping your utility company is offering the same advice.

Now:  We know that thieves have always been with us.

And thieves will always be with us.

Like those guys in the image at the top of this post.  They aren’t putting their revered pharaoh to rest.

They’re the guys who came in right after the revered pharaoh was put to rest:

Tomb robbers:

Thieves will always be with us, so it’s up to me to take what steps I can to protect myself, and that includes lessons I’ve now learned about utility scammers. 

And also this, from a story on – no coincidence – National Scam Awareness Day.

It’s about “trending crimes” I’d never heard of – have you?

“Thieves are stealing paper checks from mailboxes, ‘washing’ them with nail polish remover, and filling in new amounts and payees – causing endless grief for victims and their banks, which typically foot the bill.”

“Nail polish remover” as a weapon?

Here’s an example of a washed check:

The victims of this washed check are a veteran and his wife.  He mailed a $230 check at a post office and now they’re out nearly $5,000 because the bank hasn’t yet agreed to a refund.

He paid an account by check.

My husband and I still have a few accounts we pay by check. 

We’re going to change that.

And I don’t mean later, I mean…

If I Go There, Can I…

There’s a government agency that I’ve never heard of – I suspect there are many of those – called the Institute of Museum and Library Services, or IMLS.

In 2014 IMLS announced that there were 35,000 active museums in the U.S.  I found higher and lower counts, so I decided to go with that one.

I’ve worked in two of those 35,000 – a fine arts museum and a science museum – which by no means makes me an expert on museums.  Far from it.

But those eight years did give me some insights, and here’s one of the things I learned:

Many, and I suspect most, museums tend to take themselves very, very seriously.

You can tell by reading museum mission statements:

“…to inspire, educate, and cultivate curiosity through great works of art.”

“…to foster in its audiences a passion for understanding the world around them and a lifelong love of learning.”

“…to engage and inspire a diverse range of audiences by pursuing an innovative program of exhibitions, education, publications, and collections activities.”

No matter how many museum mission statements I read, I couldn’t find one that said its mission for visitors was to …

“…just have fun.”

Which has a lot do to with why a lot of people don’t go to museums.

Then I recently heard someone refer to a museum I’d never heard of, and thought, “I’ll bet that museum wants visitors to just have fun.”

Welcome to the…

And no – it is not a museum dedicated to those crappy unsolicited messages that show up in our email accounts that are supposed to go directly into a spam folder but all too often do not.

I’m talking about the SPAM Museum in Austin, MN:

Here’s Austin, MN:

And soon as I discovered this was for real, I wondered if the SPAM Museum might be a museum where visitors have fun.

Because…when you think of museum dedicated to SPAM, what can you do but laugh?

And entire museum dedicated to something that comes out of a can, looking like this?

A product that, during World War II, soldiers referred to as “ham that didn’t pass its physical” and, “meatloaf without basic training”? 

According to various online sites, SPAM was introduced by George A. Hormel on July 5, 1937.  Hormel had founded George A. Hormel & Company in Austin, MN in 1891, and its business was packaging and selling ham, sausage and other pork, chicken, beef, and lamb products to consumers.

But there was one meat item that didn’t sell well – pork shoulder.  It was considered an undesirable byproduct of hog butchery, which left Hormel with a lot of unsellable pork shoulders and no profits from that part of the pig.

Consumers were already accustomed to canned meat – in 1926 the company introduced Hormel Flavor-Sealed Ham, America’s first canned ham, and added a canned chicken product line in 1928.  

Then someone came up with the idea of taking those pesky pork shoulders and putting them in cans, too.

Who was that someone?

According to this article on eater.com:

It was Hormel’s son Jay who came up the idea of canned pork luncheon meat – likely being careful to not refer to the meat as pork “shoulder.”  And then…

“According to current Spam brand manager Nicole Behne, there’s no one Hormel team member credited with inventing the final ingredient blend…”

That final ingredient blend, says eater.com, was pork shoulder, water, salt, sugar, and sodium nitrate (for coloring).  That remained unchanged until 2009, when Hormel began adding potato starch to sop up the infamous gelatin “layer” that naturally forms when meat is cooked. 

So SPAM was launched in 1937, and a few years later a terrible thing happened for the world, which would prove to be fortuitous for Hormel:

The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.  The U.S. declared war on Japan on December 8, Germany and Italy declared war on the U.S. on December 11 and the U.S. declared war on Germany and Italy that same day.  U.S. military were heading overseas, and that meant a lot of food had to go overseas as well.

Delivering fresh meat to war zones was pretty much impossible, but canned meat – now, that was doable.  During World War II Spam (pictured) became a ubiquitous part of the U.S. soldier’s diet, frequently three times a day.  Over 150 million pounds of SPAM were purchased by the military before the war’s end.

I would have thought that when the war ended, soldiers returning home would refuse to eat the stuff.

But a visit to HormelFoods.com suggested otherwise in this article:

“After the war, the troops reportedly brought their appreciation for the canned mean to the home front, and Spam ingrained itself in Americana.”

And that article linked to this article:

Many believe that SPAM stands for “spiced ham,” and indeed an early can says exactly that on the label:

But the “six things” article says otherwise:

“The Name is Still a Mystery
While many assume that Spam is short for ‘spiced ham,’ only a handful of people know its true origin – and they’re not telling…Other theories under the acronym category include ‘special processed American meat’ and ‘shoulders of pork and ham.’”

Whatever the true origin of the name “SPAM,” my favorite is the most recent acronym, seen in current SPAM commercials:

There’s so much online information about SPAM – including how many flavors of SPAM (15) – that I started going into SPAM overload.  So I circled back around to my original premise:

Is the SPAM Museum in Austin, MN fun?

The Hormel Foods website assures us:

“The SPAM Museum is stuffed with interactive exhibits that bring the iconic history of the SPAM® Brand to life like you’ve never seen it before!”

“Go behind the scenes and behind the can for an experience adults and kids will savor…And best of all, admission is FREE!”

And free is fun but…what else will I find at the museum?

Well, the exhibits look cool:

And I can learn fun stuff including:

  • In 1959 the one billionth can of SPAM Classic was produced.
  • The first SPAM Museum opened in 1991, celebrating the 100th anniversary of Hormel Foods.
  • In 1995 Hormel sponsored the #9 SPAM race car in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series:
  • SPAM introduced the SIR CAN-A-LOT character in 2012, it’s first-ever spokes-character:
  • As of 2021 Hormel has produced more than nine billion cans of Spam, sold in 44 countries.
  • The SPAM Museum – no surprise here – has both an on-site and online gift shop, where you can find a veritable plethora of SPAM-related items like these:

And speaking of plethoras, while the SPAM Museum does not have a restaurant, the website has a more-than-a-lifetime supply of recipes:

That isn’t to say that you’ll starve while enjoying the SPAM Museum.  Volunteer guides – known as Spambassadors – offer visitors small bits of Spam on a toothpick or pretzel stick, commonly known as Spamples:

“SPAMbassadors”???!!!

I’m thinking this is a museum that does not take itself very, very seriously.

So, while I’ve yet to visit the SPAM Museum in Austin, MN in person, my conclusion is:

The SPAM Museum does look like fun.

But perhaps the most fun of all is the original SPAM premise:

That it all started close to a century ago when a bunch of folks at Hormel were sitting around wondering, “How the hell do we turn this unprofitable pig part…into money?”

And someone said, “Mix it up with water, salt, sugar, and sodium nitrate, cook it, and put it in a can!  We’ll call it…we’ll call it…

“What should we call it?”

And a deep, commanding voice came from the heavens and intoned…

“Call it…

“…SPAM.”

Update:  ‘Tis the season…

I don’t know that anyone asked Hormel Foods to do this – I’m doubtful – but, says this article, in celebration of the holidays, Hormel has created a new SPAM product:

Hormel said,

“The makers of the SPAM® Brand wanted to create a limited-edition seasonal variety that captures the magic, warm flavors and nostalgia we all crave during the holiday season.  And with SPAM® Figgy Pudding, the brand did it all in one can.”

The November 21 article advises:

“The product launched last week, and is already sold out at Spam.com and Amazon.  Your best bet now is Walmart.com, or you’ll have to resort to the secondary market (not making this up) on eBay, where prices are already double the list price.”

Walmart.com was selling SPAM Figgy Pudding for $9.98 – operative word:  “was.”  When I checked on November 23 and again this morning, they were “out of stock.” 

And alas, it appears that eBay has run out of Figgy Pudding as well:

Here are some examples of what SPAM Figgy Pudding had been offered for on eBay on November 23:

Looks like we know who bought up all that Figgy Pudding to price gouge on eBay.

Looks like no SPAM Figgy Pudding for most of us this holiday season.

Uh-oh…

There Are Headlines…And Then There Are GREAT Headlines

The purpose of a headline is to catch your eye, draw you into the article, and encourage you to read the entire piece.

A headline will catch your eye.

A good headline will catch your eye and draw you into the article.

A great headline will catch your eye, draw you into the article, and make reading the article…

Irresistible.

So irresistible that we’ll think, “I like how this media outlet covers the news!”  We’ll return to that outlet for more of their stories.  Maybe share them with others.

I’ve seen a slew of great headlines recently, prompted by this:

On November 15, Trump announced he was running for president in 2024.

That night, the next day and for several days after, I feasted on great headlines.

Let’s start with this November 17 editorial in my hometown newspaper, the San Diego Union-Tribune:

The article opened with:

“Since launching his victorious campaign to be president in 2015 by saying Mexican immigrants bring drugs and crime and are rapists though ‘some, I assume, are good people,’ Donald Trump has repeatedly shown he shouldn’t be trusted with democracy.”

No one can accuse that writer of mincing words.

The editorial also talked about coverage in other media outlets of Trump’s running-for-president-in-2024 announcement:

“The New York Post relegated Trump’s announcement to page 26 of Wednesday’s edition, teasing to the story on its cover with the four words, ‘Florida Man Makes Announcement.’”

Here’s that New York Post:

Great headline!

Or perhaps I should say, bottomline?

And speaking of irresistible, The New York Times cited another great headline from the New York Post:

Here’s the headline:

The Union-Tribune editorial also mentioned this from CNN:

Irresistible!  The article was a veritable feast of Trump’s “false and misleading claims,” though the writers assured us was “not a comprehensive list.”

And that story led me to this one:

Here’s one example from the story:

“‘When the wall was finished, that’s how we set all these records.  We have records that nobody can even compete with right now,’ Donald J. Trump said.”

“False.”

“The Trump administration constructed 453 miles of border wall over four years, and a vast majority of the new barriers reinforced or replaced existing structures.  Of those, about 47 miles were new primary barriers.  The United States’ southwestern border with Mexico is over 1,900 miles.”

And Fox News – Fox News! – was the reason for this great headline about Trump’s announcement:

Here’s another great headline, recounting the audience reaction to Trump’s announcement:

Trump’s speech was so awful that it took security guards to force some people to stay.

Now let’s take a headline-related stroll down Memory Lane and a great headline from 2015 that didn’t get the attention I think it deserved.

So I’ll offer it now:

“When Donald J. Trump bought a fixer-upper golf club on Lowes Island here for $13 million in 2009, he poured millions more into reconfiguring its two courses.  He angered conservationists by chopping down more than 400 trees to open up views of the Potomac River.  And he shocked no one by renaming the club after himself.”

It was business as usual for Trump.

Just FYI, here’s a map showing Lowes Island, the Potomac River, and Trump’s golf club:

So, why do I consider the above headline from 2015 a great headline?

Because it caught my eye, drew me into the article, and made reading the article…

Irresistible.

Plus, any article that recounts Trump’s abysmal ignorance of history is going to keep me reading.

What’s the “history” that Trump “dressed up”?

“Between the 14th hole and the 15th tee of one of the club’s two courses, Mr. Trump installed a flagpole on a stone pedestal overlooking the Potomac, to which he affixed a plaque purportedly designating ‘The River of Blood.’”

Here’s the pedestal and plaque:

Here’s a close-up of the plaque:

And here’s the problem with the plaque, says The New York Times article:

“‘No.  Uh-uh.  No way. Nothing like that ever happened there,’ said Richard Gillespie, the executive director of the Mosby Heritage Area Association, a historical preservation and education group devoted to an 1,800-square-mile section of the Northern Virginia Piedmont, including the Lowes Island site.”

“Mr. Gillespie’s contradiction of the plaque’s account was seconded by Alana Blumenthal, the curator of the Loudoun Museum in nearby Leesburg.

“(‘A third local expert, who said he had written to Mr. Trump’s company about the inscription’s falsehoods and offered to provide historically valid replacement text, insisted on anonymity because he did not want to cross the Trump Organization by disclosing a private exchange.’)”

I’m trying to imagine who came up with the idea of a fake Civil War memorial to put on Trump’s golf course.  It couldn’t have been Trump, whose knowledge of history might stretch as far back as what he had for breakfast that morning.

I can just hear Trump explaining our Civil War:

“Yeah, it was that war where – and I know this stuff, I’m a big history fan, everybody knows that.  People come up to me all the time and say so.  They say, ‘Mr. President’ – that’s what everybody calls me – they say, ‘Mr. President, you sure know your history.’  And the Civil War was a war, and it was where everybody was nice to each other.  You know – civil?  Nice?”

In his first 18 months in the White House, Trump screwed up history facts many times, according to this June 2018 article:

This article (great headline, by the way) was written too early to include my personal favorite of Trump’s history gaffes, from his July 4th speech in 2019:

“In June of 1775, the Continental Congress created a unified army out of the revolutionary forces encamped around Boston and New York.  Our army manned the air, it rammed the ramparts, it took over the airports, it did everything it had to do, and at Fort McHenry, under the rockets’ red glare, it had nothing but victory.”

Gaffe #1:  There were no airports in 1775 for the army to take over.

Gaffe #2:  Fort McHenry was a battle site in the War of 1812, not the Revolutionary War (1775-1783).

Gaffe#3:  “The rockets’ red glare” is a lyric from our National Anthem, inspired by the battle at Fort McHenry in 1814.

Trump’s remarks generated many great headlines, both national and international, like this one from the United Kingdom:

It also generated a social media storm, including this:

So it likely wasn’t Trump who came up with the fake Civil War memorial idea, and it must have been one of his toadies.

There have been and are so many, I couldn’t begin to guess which one.

After The New York Times story in 2015, when reporters pointed out the fake memorial discrepancy – that it was a lie – Trump offered his usual, useless, illogical responses:

“‘That was a prime site for river crossings,’ Mr. Trump said.  ‘So, if people are crossing the river, and you happen to be in a civil war, I would say that people were shot – a lot of them.’”

In true Trumpian fashion, he repeatedly said that “numerous historians” had told him that the golf club site was known as the River of Blood, but he said he didn’t remember their names.

Then he said the historians had spoken not to him but to “my people.”  But he refused to identify any underlings who might still possess the historians’ names.

Finally, as reporters persisted, telling Trump that local historians had called his memorial a fiction, he responded with:

“‘How would they know that?”  Were they there?”

Well, no, Donald.

Were you?

In summary…

The Bad News:

Now that Trump has declared he’s running for president in 2024, we’re going to see a lot of Trump-related headlines.

The Good News:

Some of those headlines will be great headlines. 

And on November 6, 2024 this will be the greatest headline of them all:

I Think I’m Having A Thanksgiving…

I’m guessing most of us know that if you’re making a traditional Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow, it costs more this year – significantly more:

Inflation is hitting most all of us, and here comes my conundrum – my “confusing and difficult problem or question”:

Americans are hurting from inflation, yet Americans are also handing over money at a “record pace” to…

“Figures released November 9 show the U.S. commercial casino industry had its best quarter ever, winning over $15 billion from gamblers in the third quarter of this year.”

In other words, in just three months – July, August and September – gamblers gave $15 billion+ to casinos.

Let’s consider that $15 billion+.

The population of the U.S. is around 332 million people, and we know not every U.S. resident goes to casinos.

So let’s hypothesize that half of U.S. residents go to casinos – 166 million people.

For those 166 million people to lose $15 billion+ in three months, each of those 166 million people had to lose at least $90 at casinos.

Now let’s go back to those more expensive Thanksgiving dinners.  The CNN article says:

“A feast for 10 with 12 menu items including a turkey, stuffing, cranberries, and pumpkin pie mix will cost $64.05 on average – up $10.74 from last year.”

So an increase of almost $11 for a Thanksgiving dinner for 10.

How many of those 166 million people who lost at least $90 in the third quarter at casinos – are also whining about the high cost of Thanksgiving?

Many of them.  I’ll say most of them.

Maybe all of them.

Yet how can they whine about the high cost of Thanksgiving, when they’re losing money at casinos – money that would have covered that $64.05 Thanksgiving dinner for 10…

With money left over?

That’s my Thanksgiving conundrum.

So, if any of you out there can help me figure this out – people complaining about the high cost of Thanksgiving while they’re doing this…

But if you can’t solve my conundrum – that’s OK.

And let’s all…

“Free”?  For Whom?

I recently saw the above ad in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

This immediately prompted the questions:

Free?

For Whom?

And this answer:

Not us taxpayers.

Who are the “Airmen of Note”?

The ad describes them as “The Premier Jazz Ensemble of the United States Air Force.”

Suggesting that there is more than one “Jazz Ensemble of the United States Air Force” and those others – the not “premiere” – are then apparently inferior?

Of course, this called for a visit to the Airmen of Note website:

Where we learn that the Airmen of Note…

“…is one of six musical ensembles that form The U.S. Air Force Band…the current band consists of 18 active-duty musicians, including one vocalist.”

Here they are:

I couldn’t help but notice that there is a female member in Airmen of note:

Perhaps the Air Force decided that “Airmen and Airwomen of Note” didn’t have quite the same cachet.  And perhaps the Air Force also decided that “Airpersons of Note…”

Didn’t cut it, either.

Either way, this jazz ensemble was advertising a “FREE CONCERT!” which meant free admission.

But the concert cost plenty.

Cost us taxpayers, that is.

I could find no recent articles about the cost of Airmen of Note and/or all the military musicians playing their little hearts out, courtesy of us taxpayers.  This article from 2019:

Used figures from three years earlier:

“…in 2016, the 136 military bands maintained by the Department of Defense, employing more than 6,500 full-time professional musicians at an annual cost of about $500 million, caught the attention of budget-cutters worried about surging federal deficits.”

I realize that $500 million – even $620,840,225 in 2022 dollars – is barely a drop in the bottomless bucket also known as national defense budget, which in FY 2022 was around $777 billion.

It’s just that…I don’t believe it’s an effective use of my tax dollars to pay thousands of military people to play music.

And back in 2016, then-Senator Martha McSally seemed to feel the same, according to this article:

“Martha McSally, a Republican Congresswoman from Arizona, made waves this week by attacking the Air Force’s bands.  ‘We have hundreds of people playing the tuba and clarinet,’ she said at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee.  ‘If we had a manning crisis, from my perspective, we would tell people to put down the tuba and pick up a wrench or gun.’”

That was March 2016, and then came this article in June 2016:

“Last week, the Arizona Republican [McSally] pushed forward, introducing a plan that would limit all military ensemble performances at social functions outside official military duties.”

“‘For every dollar that is spent on our bands to entertain at social functions, that’s a dollar we’re not spending on national security and our troops and families,’ said McSally, a retired Air Force colonel.

Martha, thanks for trying.

“‘This is not an attack on the arts,’ she continued.  ‘I’m a vocalist myself.  I care deeply about the arts…While our communities certainly do enjoy being entertained by our military bands, they would prefer to be protected by our military.’”

Apparently McSally’s “plan” went nowhere, and McSally went home in December 2020 after losing a special election to Senator Mark Kelly.

I can find no recent evidence online of anyone in the House or Senate challenging the Defense Department’s use of military members in bands and our tax dollars paying for it.

The above Air Force Times article, on the other hand, quoted several people who spoke about military bands “shouldn’t be underestimated” in the headline.  Here’s one of them:

“Senior Master Sergeant Matthew Ascione, guitarist and co-writer on many original songs for the band, said joining Max Impact gave him the opportunity to ‘serve my country and use that power and influence of music to further the goals of the Air Force…I make sure it gives me that emotional movement, because I know that if it moves me, it may move other people.’”

Well, Senior Master Sergeant Ascione, that’s really nice, but I’m wondering – how exactly does your writing and playing music “further the goals of the Air Force”?

And if the music “moves other people,” what is it moving them to

Is it moving people to…

Enlist?

To borrow Martha McSally’s phrase about a “manning crisis” in our military, according to this September 19 article, we’re having exactly that:

“The U.S. military’s all-volunteer force (AVF) is slowly dying…the armed services are struggling to meet their recruiting goals like rarely before.  The Army is the most affected, projected to fall short by up to 15,000 soldiers, with a larger deficit expected next year.  

“Experts point to a variety of reasons, such as insufficient pay and benefits, a difficult work-life environment, ‘culture war’ issues, COVID-19, and a strong job market.  Even if each were ‘fixed,’ the core issues driving the AVF’s decline still won’t be reversed.”

Can the Air Force track any – even one – enlistment by people hearing its music?

Where’s the payback here?  Where’s the ROI – the Return on Investment?

The taxpayers’ investment?

I’ve been talking about the Air Force bands, but let’s take a look at all these bands we’re paying for.

This guide came in handy:

It’s dated 2018 and you’ll see it comes with a “may be outdated” disclaimer, but here’s what I’ve learned:

Air Force:  17 bands.
Army:  88 bands.
Marines:  10 bands.
Navy:  11 bands.
Coast Guard:  1 band.

What?  No Space Force Band?

That’s OK.  When the Space Force does get a band – or two or 50 – this September article says they have an official song for their band(s) to play:

And since I had to read the lyrics, so do you:

I also listened to a recording of Semper Supra and, wow – talk about being “moved” by military music!

Not.

Not when I’m paying for it.

I know the Department of Defense will never agree to give back the money we taxpayers are spending on military bands, so I’ll offer an alternative.

Take those half-billion+ annual dollars and start fixing this:

What is this?

It’s images that show just some of the issues facing many military members and their families who live in military housing.

As this March 2022 article put it:

“In 2018, Reuters reported on the dangerous conditions that military families have faced in base housing, including mold growth, toxic exposure, lead-based paint and asbestos, pest and rodent infestations, and water and sewage issues.  Many conditions were exacerbated by poor or slow response to maintenance requests.

“…three residents of military housing told the subpanel that many of the issues meant to be corrected by the reforms persist throughout the system.”

So, how about it, fellow taxpayers?  Are you with me?

Disband the bands, put the personnel to work with that “wrench or gun” that Martha McSally talked about, and use the money to help provide decent housing for our all-voluntary military?

So we can stop seeing headlines like this recent example:

And stop seeing ads like this:

And stop paying for – Heaven help us – stuff like this:

Which would you rather pay for?