This word was in an article about the writer’s recent three-mile trek through the cold, slushy streets of Chicago.
Throughout her trek she encountered…
Piles of snirt.
I’d never heard nor seen the word, but I knew exactly what it meant.
Snirt: It’s dark, yucky stuff that originally was pristine snow, but has been piled up, driven on, plowed through and thoroughly covered in dirt, de-icing salt, car exhaust, and any other available crud.
Snow + Dirt = Snirt.
If you grew up in the Midwest, as I did, you’re intimately familiar with snirt.
You have no choice, because the piles of snirt continue to grow throughout winter. New snow is piled up onto old snirt and becomes new snirt. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
When spring finally arrives and the ground starts showing signs of coming back to life, the snirt piles remain, adorning yards and parking lots with this:
Into, and beyond spring.
Some snirt piles have been known to impede summer Little League baseball practice:
“Coach, where’s second base?” “It’s underneath that big pile of snirt, Tommy.” “What do I do if I hit a double?” “Just run straight from first base to third, and we’ll figure it out from there.”
One factor in my move from the Midwest to San Diego County was the weather, and generally, it is all it’s cracked up to be. This week, while people in many other parts of the country continue to suffer from the recent hellacious winter storms, our weather forecast looks like this:
So it may surprise you to know that we do get snow here – at the higher elevations – on Mt. Laguna, Palomar Mountain and so on. The weather forecasters on the local news actually get excited when the snow levels drop from 5,000 feet to 3,000 feet and lower:
And the residents? For reasons that escape me, hundreds of them choose to bundle up and drive – in bumper-to-bumper traffic – to those locations to experience snow and do this:
Though of course, by the time those hundreds of cars arrive at their destination, a lot of the snow has been turned into…
But here’s the catch:
We don’t have to live surrounded with this:
We can visit it – if we so choose.
The city of San Diego proudly claims the title of “America’s Finest City,” and there are a number of reasons for this.
Katherine, Anne, Jane, Anna, Katheryn, and Katharine?
After all the books – fiction and nonfiction – and feature films, made-for-TV productions, websites, plus blogs devoted to Tudor history…
Is there anything left to say about Henry VIII’s six wives?
Long-time and prolific author Alison Weir thought so.
Weir’s list of fiction and nonfiction books is impressive:
As her books focus mainly on Tudor and other English royal history, I consider Weir something of an expert and I’ve learned a lot from her books.
So when she launched her six-books fiction series (the sixth is due out in May) about Henry VIII’s wives – one book for each wife – I thought…
I’ve now read the first five, most recently Katheryn Howard, The Scandalous Queen.
In Weir’s Author’s Note, she describes the book as a novel based on “the revised and expanded biography…the original version of which was published in my book The Six Wives of Henry VII, in 1991.” Weir is a meticulous researcher, and relies on sources contemporary to the period as much as possible. She also sifts and sorts other sources and forms her own perspective, one I’ve consistently found to be credible.
With Katheryn Howard, Weir has added dialogue, and characters’ thoughts, motivations and feelings – most of which we can’t know, but again, I think credible.
And at the end – though I knew what was coming – I couldn’t help feeling sorry for Katheryn. She wasn’t the brightest flower in Henry’s bouquet of brides, but she was used, and disposed of, by ambitious, powerful men she was too naïve and powerless to fight.
If you know Katheryn’s story, I think you’d enjoy Weir’s insights. If you don’t know Katheryn’s story, this is a good place to start, though I’d actually recommend reading Weir’s “Six Tudor Queens” series in order, starting with Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen.
I don’t always agree with Weir, but I always enjoy her books.
Weir suggests these miniatures “can be identified on good grounds as Katheryn.” Left: “Portrait of a Lady, Perhaps Katherine Howard” in the Royal Collection Trust, by Hans Holbein, painted c. 1540. Right: “Portrait Miniature of Katherine Howard” by Hans Holbein, painted c. 1540, Buccleuch Collection.
Mother Jones, the magazine, has been around a long time – since 1976.
I only recently learned that the magazine was named after a real person:
Also known as Mary Harris Jones.
Also known as “the most dangerous woman in America.”
At age 65.
Why was she the “most dangerous”?
This is not a biography about Mother Jones – there’s the 2002 book by Elliott Gorn for that, and Jones’ autobiography from 1925. Instead, it’s a brief recap of only a few reasons I think she’s so extraordinary.
Mary “Mother” Jones was a survivor. A doer. And an energizer.
Mary’s birth date is unknown but she was baptized in 1837, so we’ll use that year.
Born in Ireland, she and her family were victims of the Great Famine, which caused at least a million Irish to emigrate between 1845 and 1849, and another million to die of starvation and disease.
In North America Mary received some schooling, taught for awhile, and in 1861 married George E. Jones, a member and organizer of the National Union of Iron Molders.
In 1867, when they were living in Memphis, George and their four children died during a yellow fever epidemic. Mary relocated to Chicago, built a dressmaking business, and lost that in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
According to the National Women’s History Museum website, Mary
“…found solace at Knights of Labor meetings, and in 1877, took up the cause of working people.”
Mary had begun her career as a labor organizer.
In 1897 Mary joined Eugene Debs’ Social Democracy and the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) national strike in the Pittsburgh district, the first UMWA victory. She then joined the UMWA’s organizing drive in the Pennsylvania anthracite coal region, and was commissioned a national organizer.
Beloved by the workers she organized, they began calling her “Mother Jones” as Mary focused on the rising number of working poor during industrialization, especially as wages shrunk, hours increased, and workers had no insurance for unemployment, healthcare or old age.
She took part in and led hundreds of strikes, scorning jail, deportation to other states and threats on her life. She became the enemy of wealthy business owners, and in 1902 a U.S. attorney called her “the most dangerous woman in America.”
Pretty cool moniker for a 65-year-old.
And she didn’t slow down.
Mary was sent to survey the West Virginia coalfields in December 1900, reporting back that ‘‘conditions there were worse than those in Czarist Russia.’’
I recently watched a PBS documentary, The Mine Wars, which details a period when West Virginia coal miners were trying to unionize. The conflict between miners and owners escalated, eventually leading to the Battle of Blair Mountain, largest insurrection in the U.S. since the Civil War.
The film recounts Mary’s impact there, calling Mary the “nation’s most unlikely labor organizer.” While a newspaper described Mary as “loud, profane, and demanding,” the people she was helping called her the “miners’ angel.”
Of her efforts on behalf of the miners, Mary said, “Six months ago the men were afraid to look at me. Today they are realizing they are men, and have some right on this Earth.”
Well into her 80s, Mary continued to agitate and actively assist in the struggle to unionize workers, and continued to organize coal miners into her nineties.
She died in 1930, age 93.
I’m not a humanitarian, I’m a hell-raiser.
I asked a man in prison once how he happened to be there and he said he had stolen a pair of shoes. I told him if he had stolen a railroad he would be a United States Senator.
Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.
Kristin Harmel’s When We Meet Again (2016) and Chanel Cleeton’s TheLast Train to Key West were only so-so in my opinion.
Harmel’s lead character, Emily, 36, is so guilt-ridden that it gets wearying very quickly. When all is resolved at the end, my main emotion was relief that Emily’s story was over.
Cleeton’s three lead characters – Helen, Mirta and Elizabeth – are all in Key West, FL in 1935 for differing reasons. The fourth character – a weather event called “the most intense hurricane you’ve never heard of” – messes everyone up, then all is resolved.
So – so-so.
Except for the “I didn’t know that” moment in each book.
I have a lot of “I didn’t know that” moments. What I don’t know would fill the Library of Congress and plenty of other libraries, as well.
So I love learning new information, whether it’s through hearing it, watching it or reading it.
Even when the source is so-so books.
In When We Meet Again I learned that during World War II, there were German POW – prisoner of war – camps in the United States. (I didn’t know that.) Part of the book’s story takes place in Florida, so I started my own research at the Museum of Florida History:
“During World War II, some 378,000 German and Italian captives were sent to prisoner-of-war camps in the United States. Overall, about 10,000 German prisoners spent time in Florida, and it became a relatively common sight for Floridians to see POWs working on farms or in logging camps.”
Few of these prisoners were Nazis; most were just young men conscripted into Hitler’s army, many of whom were anti-Hitler and happy to sit out the remainder of the war in the safety of U.S. POW camps.
Another source – PalmBeachCountyHistoryOnline – talked of how the shortage of agricultural workers created a demand for labor. In addition to working on farms and in logging camps, the POWs were put to work in a bean-canning factory, and they…
“…helped to build the Lake Okeechobee Dike. Others chopped sugarcane in the fields in and around the camp from before 8am to about 3pm, for which they were paid 80 cents a day in coupons they traded for items such as cigarettes and beer.”
World War II ended in September 1945 and, according to Smithsonian magazine,
“By 1946, all prisoners had been returned to their home countries.”
Though, adds History.net,
“…an unknown percentage later came back to the United States, largely because of poor employment prospects in the immediate postwar Germany.”
And some POWs had fallen in love with American women – one of the storylines in When We Meet Again.
My “I didn’t know that” in The Last Train to Key West has to do with the U.S. government’s lousy treatment of U.S. military veterans.
That sounds timely, and it is, but this story is set in 1935, and these were veterans of World War I – a war that had ended in 1918,17 years earlier.
According to my research,
“…in 1924 many of these veterans had been awarded bonuses in the form of certificates they could not redeem until 1945. Each certificate, issued to a qualified veteran soldier, bore a face value equal to the soldier’s promised payment with compound interest.”
Many of the war veterans had been out of work since the beginning of the Great Depression in 1929, and in mid-1932 they marched to Washington, DC to demand early cash redemption of their service certificates.
According to public radio PRX.org, this group, now called the “Bonus Army,” consisted of:
“…more than 20,000 veterans and their families arriving in the nation’s capital. They established a tent city and vowed to stay until their demands were met. But finally, in a historic confrontation, General Douglas MacArthur’s Army troops routed the Bonus Army and burned their camp to the ground.”
A 2015 story in the Miami Herald says,
“President Franklin Roosevelt tried to fix the problem when he took office in March 1933 by putting the men to work in the Civilian Conservation Corps. When the economy began showing signs of recovery, many vets headed home. But some – written off as hopeless hobos by many but likely suffering combat-related disorders – returned to Washington to resume protesting. Faced with another showdown, Roosevelt persuaded Florida and two other states to reopen work camps.
“By late summer 1935, about 700 soldiers were in the upper Keys building a highway bridge to link Lower Matecumbe and Fiesta Key, and open the hardscrabble Upper Keys to the flow of tourism filling coffers in Key West.”
When the “the most intense hurricane you’ve never heard of” hit the Florida Keys on Labor Day in 1935, many of these veterans died; “soldiers,” says the article, “sent to a mosquito-infested rock during hurricane season to work for the government only to be abandoned once the inevitable storm arrived.”
Some died on a long-delayed evacuation train hit by a massive tidal wave, while for others who weren’t evacuated,
“Farther south, the veteran camps – the closest settlements to where the eye passed over Long Key – simply washed away as sustained 185 mph winds hammered the flimsy tents. Soldiers later recounted lashing themselves to trees or hanging on to railway tracks. Some sought cover in trenches where rock for the highway bridge had been quarried, only to drown when the storm surge filled them.”
The tragedy in the Florida Keys was yet another shameful chapter in a book about veteran mistreatment that our government is still adding chapters to:
I’m glad I read When We Meet Again and The Last Train to Key West because two so-so books sent me on a research journey where I learned important information about our country’s history. Some of it was discouraging, but all of it was worthwhile.
Daughter: Mom and Dad, this is Jacob Chansley, but you can call him Jake. Jake, this is my Mom and Dad.
Jake: How ya doin’?
Dad: Ah…How do you do, Mr. Chansley?
Jake: Dude, it’s Angeli. Jake Angeli.
Daughter (whispering): Jake, we agreed we weren’t going to get into all that right away, remember?
Jake: Dude, I’m speaking the truth, like on the cover of my book, OK? “The irresistible call of truth,” OK?
Mom: Did you say your “book,” Mr. Angeli?
Jake (reaching down the front of his pants): Yeah, I brought you a copy, see?
Mom: Why…how…how thoughtful. And doesn’t your…er…makeup look just like your picture?
Jake: I created the look. It totally speaks to my being the QAnon Shaman, ya know?
Mom: Yes, you’re…er…Very eye-catching, especially in person!
Dad: I, ah…I see your book is in Italian, Mr. Angeli?
Jake: Like totally, Dude. The title means “The Past Reveals the Future.” That’s a direct quote from me but, like, in Italian. Like the author.
Daughter: And Dad, the other line on the cover, that’s what Jake was referring to, it says, “The irresistible call of truth.” Isn’t that profound?
Mom: Why don’t we all sit down? Jake – oh, watch out for the lamp, your, er, horns…
Jake (narrowly missing the lamp, sits): We’re cool, Dude. I speak the truth.
Mom: Well, our little girl engaged – this is a surprise!
Daughter: And look at my ring!
Mom: Is that…er…
Daughter: It’s a wolf’s head! Because Jake is also known as “Yellowstone Wolf.” Isn’t that sweet?
Mom: Ah…How did you two meet?
Daughter: Oh, Mom, it was so romantic. It was last month, in Washington, DC and –
Dad (interrupts): Washington? We didn’t know you were going to Washington?
Daughter: Well, it was, ah…very last minute but it was all over the news how so much was going on there on January 6 and I wanted to witness it for myself, you know, see history in the making, and there was this huge crowd there, near the Capitol, and as I got closer I saw Jake…
Daughter: …well, I didn’t know he was Jake then, of course, but – I saw him on the other side of the crowd and our eyes met and, well…I just knew!
Mom: Knew what, dear?
Daughter (turns to Jake, smiling): I knew he was The One.
Jake (modestly): Yeah, that happens a lot.
Dad (sternly): You’re talking about the day a mob broke into the Capitol. Those, those criminals are being arrested, all over the country, for breaking into the Capitol!
Jake: I’m not really all that worried about it because, in all honesty…I didn’t break any laws. I walked through open doors, Dude.
Dad (sputtering): But, but – you did break the law!
Jake: The fact that we had a bunch of our traitors-in-office hunker down, put on their gas masks and retreat into their underground bunker, I consider that a win.
Daughter: Dad, here, look at my phone, here are some pictures of Jake…
Mom (soothingly): Why don’t we look at the pictures later, dear – I think dinner is just about ready.
Jake: Dude, I assume what you’re making is organic. Like, I don’t eat anything but organic food.
Mom: Organic? Well, I, um, I’m not sure…
Jake: Yeah, eating organic is part of my shamanic belief system and way of life. Dude, I mean – I’m so strong about this, in jail I went for nine days without eating because they weren’t doing organic.
Dad (shouting): JAIL? My daughter’s engaged to a guy who was in jail?
Jake: I lost 20 pounds! And my agent is working on a book deal! Whaddaya think of this title: Q For You: The QAnon Shaman’s Jailhouse Diet! With me, looking super-buff on the cover:
Dad (mumbling): My daughter’s engaged to a criminal.
Jake: So my lawyer got me transferred me to the Alexandria Detention Center, and a judge told ‘em they had to do organic for me.
Mom: I, ah, don’t know if you’d call anything I made organic, exactly, but…
Jake: Dude, no problem. Like I told ‘em in jail, it’s food grown without herbicides or pesticides. Organic canned vegetables, canned tuna – wild caught – or organic canned soups.
Mom: Well, I’ll see what I have in the pantry…
Dad (slumped, face in hands): My daughter’s engaged to a guy who was in jail. A guy who stormed the Capitol. A guy…
Jake: Dude, I’ll tell you all about QAnon over dinner. I speak the truth! And I know we’re gonna be great friends.
Jake: And to prove that – you can call me Yellowstone Wolf…Dad.
And my library is not the biggest – that’s in Washington DC:
But my library is the world’s greatest, most recently because of…
That’s right! Home delivery of library materials…
I am an avid reader and movie watcher, and for years my library has been my main source for books and DVDs. If the items I wanted were on loan to another customer, I’d just put the items on hold, the library would email me as each item became available, and I’d pick it up. My library also utilizes a statewide loan system, so if my library didn’t have the item, I could request it from another library.
It all worked so wonderfully well, and then…
The pandemic closed my library in mid-March 2020, and that meant no more books. No more DVDs. Right?
The amazing library team had anticipated closing, and already had a system in place to start home deliveries the very next day.
And delivering not just books, but DVDs, and books and music on CDs.
I can’t stress the importance of that enough: the very next day.
Instead of people coming to the library – the library came to them.
To the best of anyone’s knowledge, out of the 80 or so main libraries, branches, and county libraries in San Diego county, my library is the ONLY one providing this service.
And talk about service!
Between mid-March 2020 and the end of the year, the library team had delivered more than 20,000 items to library cardholder residents.
All the more remarkable, considering how labor- and driving-intensive this service is. As one librarian put it,
“We pull the holds each day, check them in to generate a slip of paper with the customer’s name, clean the materials, and then group them alphabetically. The next morning, the books are checked out and bagged. We label, then number the bags based on routes generated by an app for the most efficient delivery around the city.
“Then, two or three of us deliver to 25 to 55 households each, often with multiple bags or boxes for a single household, while back at the library, two or three of us pull more on-hold items from as many as 19 double-sided pages for the next day’s deliveries.”
As the pandemic wore on, the library team began noticing patterns for customer requests: how to start up a business and other how-to books; financial independence books; books about horses, outer space, backyard chicken-raising, and cookbooks; books on racism and African American history; and classics, both books and movies.
And, of course, children’s books. Said the librarian,
“The largest number of books that went out were consistently children’s books; some households would place holds for dozens of books for their kids. One customer told me that her kids behaved as if they had won the lottery when their books arrived!”
That emotion wasn’t limited to kids – in 2020 the library delivered more than 60 books and DVDs to my home, and whether the bag held one item or five, every time felt like Christmastime.
The pandemic went on, but my library was able to reopen a few months ago for limited in-person service. I wondered if home deliveries would be discontinued now that people could come into the library, grab and go.
Happily, the answer is:
The library team is still pulling, checking, cleaning, grouping, bagging, numbering, and delivering, and every Tuesday at my house…
Not long ago, on a bright, sunny, San Diego day, Dave, my indispensable, he-makes-house-calls computer guy, was working on my PC.
He said, “I’ve got something to tell you.”
Words that strike fear into everyone’s heart. Was my computer not fixable?
To prepare myself I said, “I’m not going to like this, am I?”
“Well…” he said.
I sat down.
Expecting the worst.
It was worse than I expected.
Dave said, “I’m moving to Texas.”
I didn’t say that, but I felt it. What I said was, “Wow, that’s big news! Where? When?”
“Greenville,” Dave said, “at the end of the month.”
Then he pulled out his phone to show me pictures of the house he’d bought. “Three bedrooms, two baths, an acre of property.”
Dave grinned. “We paid $150,000.”
His grin was understandable.
This is what $150,000 buys you in California:
Dave had been fixing our computers for 10 years. He was smart, reliable, available – everything you need when your computer is malfunctioning.
Indispensable Dave was leaving.
This news came just a week after Chip, our wonderful handyman who’s been fixing stuff around our house for six years, told me he was moving.
“Closer to family and a better life for the kids,” he explained.
Wonderful Chip who, like Dave, was smart, reliable and available. Two service providers I’ve been able to count on for years.
Both of them: Leaving.
Later, I emailed my next-door neighbor, John, who had referred me to both Dave and Chip. “Have you heard about Dave and Chip leaving?” I asked.
John had, and added, “I know seven or eight couples moving out of state. I’d go myself if I were a younger man raising a family.”
What’s going on here? I wondered. Is this a new pandemic – people leaving California?
It turns out there is a lot of it going around – but it’s not new, according to this December 2020 story:
The article says,
“For the second year in a row, more people left California than moved there. The result was a net migration loss of 135,600 people.”
A net loss of 135,600 people would be as if the entire population of Charleston, SC packed up and moved out of state, and brought along some suburbanites along with them.
This January 5 article…
…confirmed that, and also confirmed that plenty of those Californians were headed for Texas (like Dave) and Tennessee (like Chip), but also to Florida, Ohio, Arizona, Nevada…basically…
These and other articles all offer reasons for the exodus, among them:
The cost of housing, whether it’s buying or renting.
The appeal of living in states with no income taxes.
High taxes in general – for example, California has the highest state-level sales tax rate, at 7.25 percent.
Gasoline prices – this morning in California, according to AAA, it’s $3.42 per gallon, while the national average is $2.43.
For some, the left-wing politics – states don’t get much bluer than California.
And if all that wasn’t enough, just recently my cousin – a resident of North Carolina – emailed me and said,
“Have you ever considered moving away from CA and away from earthquakes (you know The Big One is coming) and wildfires? And mudslides and tsunamis. I worry about you guys being where you are.”
Well, there’s no denying California’s earthquakes and wildfires and mudslides. But tsunamis? I scoffed. We don’t get those here. Obviously I’d forgotten this 2011 event…
…when a 9.0 earthquake in 2011 in Japan triggered a massive wave that traveled 5,000 miles across the ocean, causing damage up and down the West Coast as far south as San Diego.
San Diego. That’s where I live.
But people are still moving here, and it’s easy to find online articles with plenty of reasons why: The weather, the diversity, the weather, the food scene, the weather, and how about our beautiful Highway 1, a 650-mile ribbon that runs along the coast and is described as “one of the most beautiful scenic drives that one can find in the entire United States.”
Well, it was…until this happened to Highway 1 near Big Sur on January 28:
“California dreaming,” indeed.
I can’t deny it: Taken together, there are plenty of reasons to exit California.
But – at least in terms of natural disasters – exit to where?
Where in this country aren’t there natural disasters?
Once again I’m in a position I’ve been in so often, it’s like a second home.
I am out of step with the book-reading public.
The book-reading public that, for awhile, put John Grisham’s latest, A Time for Mercy, at #1 on the New York Times’ best seller list:
I am out of step with professional book reviewers, who are saying the book is…
“…riveting…suspenseful.” (New York Times)
“…a morally complex story…Grisham’s mastery of the courtroom thriller is never in question.” (Bookpage)
“Impossible to put down…complex and surprising.” (Booklist)
I didn’t find A Time for Mercy “impossible to put down.” In fact, I put it down and read two other books, then reluctantly picked up the Grisham book again.
After slogging through another 50 pages, I put it down and read another book.
I ignored A Time for Mercy for so long, it looked like this:
Then I gave it one more try, and at page 248 out of 464, I put it down for good.
My own good, that is.
We were introduced to the book’s main character, Jake Brigance, in Grisham’s first book, A Time to Kill, published in 1993. Jake’s second appearance was in Sycamore Row in 2013, and A Time for Mercy is Jake’s third outing.
Jake is preparing for a big trial, a trial that’s going to bring him the fame he really wants and the money he desperately needs. Jake is representing a family that was killed in a collision with a train, and the railroad company has deep pockets.
Jake aims to lighten those pockets, something along the lines of $2 million.
Then Jake gets a call from his friend and mentor, Judge Omar Noose – seriously, that’s the judge’s name – who wants Jake to take on an indigent case, a 16-year-old boy who’s accused of murdering a local police officer.
The boy’s name is Drew. He has a 14-year-old sister, Kiera, and their mom is 32-year- is Josie. They live with Stu, Josie’s boyfriend, the cop Drew is accused of murdering.
And here, I think, is the cause of my lack of interest:
So many of the circumstances were so predictable.
Drew and Kiera have different fathers, though of course they don’t know that, and of course were born out of wedlock. Josie is chronically broke, and while of course she loves her kids, she’s on track to give them the same (of course) crappy upbringing she had.
Stu, apparently a wonderful cop in the daytime, turns into a drunken monster at night and of course he comes home and beats up Josie – regularly. On the night in question, Stu’s beating leads to Josie’s death, so of course, Drew takes Stu’s gun and shoots Stu, of course in the head.
In the meantime, of course Jake doesn’t want to take the case, but of course Judge Noose insists and of course, Jake caves.
In the meantime, Josie’s daughter Kiera reveals she’s pregnant, of course by Stu, who – of course – raped her repeatedly.
In the meantime, Jake and his wife have wanted to have another baby for years, so of course Jake’s wife suggests they adopt Kiera’s baby.
I figured if I kept reading, eventually Jake’s wife would want to adopt Kiera, too, and oh, hell, why not adopt Drew and Josie, adopt the whole indigent family?
Because of course, Josie wasn’t dead from Stu’s beating, as Drew had thought.
What an irony! What a plot twist! Josie’s not dead – who could have predicted that?
According to my research, Grisham’s books have sold 300 million copies and he’s written 28 consecutive number one bestsellers, a publishing success that’s hard to argue with.
So, I won’t argue.
I’ll just stay in my out-of-step mode along with the few naysayers – a mere 4% of the 35,000+ reviews on Amazon – who said, among other things:
“A rambling, poorly plotted narrative with threads that lead nowhere, no clear climax and a denouement that resolves very little.”
“…boringly repetitive. Every other chapter seemed to be about Brigance’s financial problems, his desire to ditch the client that was forced on him, and even the peripheral lawsuit that he was involved in. The ending took way too long and resolved nothing.”
I don’t make New Year’s resolutions because they’re a Set-Up-to-Fail.
And setting myself up to fail is no way to start a new year.
For example, there’s the most popular resolution of all:
And there’s a world of “experts” out there, telling us how to do this in 2021, like this one:
And this one:
And this one, in case you want to bring your dog along for the torture:
I find these articles especially loathsome when they include images like these:
Standing on a scale with an apple in one hand and candy in the other? I say, “Skip the scale, give the apple to the dog, and go for the candy!”
And the other image – two totally buff bodies, one holding a scale which clearly neither ever has, nor ever will, use.
I know from experience that a New Year’s Day resolution to lose weight will last until about 10am or the first football game – whichever comes first – and out come the chips and dips and snacks and whatever else is in the fridge and…
But losing weight isn’t our only Set-Up-to-Fail resolution. In addition to weight loss, the “experts” also offer lots of other resolutions we can make – and fail to keep:
Gosh – only “55+” ways to fail?
Here are just a few:
Make your bed every morning. This is a silly suggestion, since I’m going to get back into bed and pull the covers over my head at my first opportunity.
Give yourself more compliments. This I can do: “I took a three-hour nap today. Way to go!”
Take more trips with no destination in mind. We’re already doing that – the entire year of 2020 has felt like a trip with no destination in mind.
Here’s another one with 55 (what’s with all the number 55 stuff?) resolutions we can fail at:
And here’s a sampling:
Make your bed every morning. What’s with all the making my bed stuff?
Drink more water. I will. I will add one more ice cube to every alcoholic beverage I drink. Starting with breakfast.
Travel somewhere with no map. We’re already doing that – for the entire year of 2020 we’ve been traveling somewhere with no map.
I say: Forget about the weight-loss-list makers and the 55-resolutions-list makers and go for the one New Year’s resolution I did make years ago and have adhered to faithfully:
Eons ago – in the last millennium, before Google – I was writing a magazine article and trying to remember a quote that I thought would fit.
I knew the quote I wanted, but not the exact wording or who said it. I had a vague idea that it referred to “in heaven and on earth” and “philosophy,” but I was stumped on the who, when, and where to find it.
Then the light bulb went on, and I called my library.
I told the friendly librarian I was looking for a quote, stumbled over my explanation, and she cheerfully said, “May I put you on hold while I look for that?”
I gratefully agreed, and wondered if my request had sounded as foolish – and hopeless – to her as it did to me.
In a few minutes she was back, and said, “Is this what you’re looking for?”
It was exactly the quote I was looking for, and here it is:
“There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
“That’s it!” I exclaimed.
“It’s from Shakespeare’s Hamlet,” said the librarian. “Act 1, scene five.”
“Right, right!” I said, as if I’d known all along.
I thanked her profusely, and finished my article, complete with the quote.
Just think of the knowledge that librarian had, in those pre-Google days, to be familiar not only with the quote, but exactly where to find it.
Just think of the kindness and patience of that librarian, to cheerfully take on the question I’d given her, just one of dozens or even hundreds of questions she’d received that day.
What we just Google now was found for us by our librarians – for centuries.
That’s how long libraries have been around.
According to History.com,
“The Library of Ashurbanipal, the world’s oldest known library, was founded sometime in the 7th century B.C. for the ‘royal contemplation’ of the Assyrian ruler Ashurbanipal. Located in Nineveh in modern-day Iraq, the site included a trove of some 30,000 cuneiform tablets organized according to subject matter. Most of its titles were archival documents, religious incantations and scholarly texts, but it also housed several works of literature including the 4,000-year-old Epic of Gilgamesh.”
I can just picture ole Ashurbanipal, sitting back and doing some royal contemplation, then asking his librarian to track down an obscure quote.
The librarian walks directly to a shelf and whips out this clay tablet:
The librarian points half-way down and says, “Yes, just as I thought. Here’s that quote you were looking for, Sire.”
I hope ole Ashurbanipal was grateful.
And speaking of ancient history, do you know what this is?
This is the pre-cursor to library computers.
It was called a “card catalogue,” and it was the system for discovering if your library had a book and if so, its location. Every book had a typed card filed by its title, and a second card, this one filed by the author’s last name:
You’d thumb through the cards and when you found your item, the library had thoughtfully provided small squares of blank paper and pencils (remember pencils?) on top of the cabinet so you could copy the information and go find your item.
First your fingers did the walking, and then your legs did the walking.
Libraries began transitioning to computers in the late 70s, and now you rarely see that bulky card catalog because everything is in the library’s online catalog.
But that change to technology hasn’t changed our need for that all-important human resource – our librarians and their vast store of knowledge.
And their ability to solve the who, when, and where to find it.
And their patience, especially for questions like mine, and the ones I’ve listed below. I found these online, and I have no trouble believing that people have asked librarians these questions…and will continue to do so:
“Is Decoration Day when we celebrate the Decoration of Independence?”
“I was here about three weeks ago looking at a cookbook that cost $39.95. Do you know which one it was?”
“Do you have How to Kill a Mockingbird?”
“I checked out a book from your library a number of years ago, and I really liked the book. I don’t remember the title or author, but it had a blue cover. Could you help me find it?”
“Can you tell me why so many Civil War battles were fought on National Park sites?”
“Do you have any books with photographs of dinosaurs?”
“I need to find out Ibid’s first name for my bibliography.”
“Do you have audio books in large print?”
“Who wrote the Agatha Christie mysteries?”
“Would you mind checking if I have head lice?”
“I’m looking for Robert James Waller’s book, Waltzing through Grand Rapids.” (Actual title: Slow Waltz in Cedar Bend.)
“Can you reach into my pocket and get the change to pay for my copies?”
“If a poisonous snake bites itself, will it die?”
“At what time is high noon?”
“I found someone’s card on the floor. Will you show me how to use it so I can take stuff out?”
“Is it ok for me to leave my kids here?”
“Which outlets in the library are appropriate for my hairdryer?”
“I’m looking for the autobiography of ____, but I’m not sure who wrote it.”
“Do you have that book by Rushdie, Satanic Nurses?” (Actual title: Satanic Verses.)
“I’m looking for a list of laws that I can break that would send me back to jail for a couple of months.”
To the general public, I’ll say: Be grateful I’m not your librarian.
After the fifth or eighth or tenth question like those above, I’d be…
The other evening a commercial came on TV that had a Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer theme.
I don’t remember what product the commercial was pushing, but I do remember wondering – for the first time, ever – “Who wrote Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer? And why? What’s the story behind the song?”
Writers tend to be curious people.
My curiosity stemmed from this:
Many of us learned the lyrics and melody to Rudolph at a very young age, and we’ve been singing it ever since.
I’d even suggest mindlessly singing it, but not in a bad way. That’s how we sing Christmas carols. The lyrics and music aren’t as important as the holiday spirit they invoke – religious or otherwise, solemn or silly.
And there are some truly silly Christmas carols out there.
I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas. Could it get any sillier than that?
Back to Rudolph.
As I wondered about Rudolph it occurred to me that what’s different is that there’s a message in the song, and it’s very contemporary:
Rudolph is different.
The other reindeer make fun of him (read: bullying).
Santa asks Rudolph for help.
Rudolph becomes a hero, and “then how the reindeer loved him.”
Pretty heavy stuff for a Christmas carol.
A search on the Internet started me on my path to answering my who and why and what. It turns out that the song was written in 1949 by Johnny Marks, who was the brother-in-law of a man named Robert L. May (pictured), and:
“…May created Rudolph in 1939 as an assignment for Chicago-based retailer Montgomery Ward. The retailer had been buying and giving away coloring books for Christmas every year and it was decided that creating their own book would save money.”
So Rudolph started out as a coloring book, not as a song?
Further research brought the ah-ah moment:
The coloring book author, Robert May, would write from his own experience.
According to History.com,
“‘Rudolph and I were something alike,’ the copywriter told Guidepost magazine in January 1975. ‘As a child I’d always been the smallest in the class. Frail, poorly coordinated, I was never asked to join the school teams.’”
And this, from Time magazine:
According to the article, May:
“…was a ‘shy’ and ‘small’ boy, and who ‘had known what it was like to be an underdog.’”
So May knew how it felt to be different. In addition:
“May was feeling downtrodden about his present life, too. ‘And how are you starting the New Year? I glumly asked myself,’ he later recalled, describing his mindset in early 1939 when he first received the assignment. ‘Here I was, heavily in debt at nearly 35, still grinding out catalogue [pictured] copy. Instead of writing the great American novel, as I’d once hoped, I was describing men’s white shirts.’”
And more heartbreak – May’s wife Evelyn was dying:
“‘My wife was suffering from a long illness and I didn’t feel very festive,’ he recalled.”
But May persevered, thinking about and working on the coloring book:
“As for the idea of a glowing nose apt for navigating, that light-bulb moment came from looking out his office window in the middle of one of Chicago’s infamous winter days, seeing the fog [below]from Lake Michigan and thinking of Santa trying to do his work on such a night.”
And this amazing twist: The whole idea of Rudolph and his red nose almost got dumped, because a focus group thought the red nose had “connotations of alcoholism”!
Another good story: Like many writers, May employed alliteration and brainstormed a list of names that began with the letter “R” such as Rollo, Rodney, Roland, Roderick and Reggy.
Can you even imagine Rollo the Red-Nosed Reindeer?
As spring turned into summer, May’s “wife’s parents came to stay with us to help,” he later wrote. Sadly, Evelyn died in July 1939.
May kept writing, and “Montgomery Ward printed the story as a soft-covered booklet in 1939 and distributed 2.4 million copies for free.”
Here it is:
Plans to print another 1.6 million copies the following year were shelved by paper shortages due to World War II, and Rudolph remained on hiatus until the conflict’s conclusion. When the story returned in 1946, it was more popular than ever and Montgomery Ward handed out 3.6 million copies of the book.
In 1947 Maxton Publishing Co. offered to print Rudolph in hardcover and it became a best-seller:
But it wasn’t until brother-in-law Johnny Marks wrote the song, and:
“Gene Autry’s recording of the song hit #1 on the Billboard pop singles chart the week of Christmas 1949. Autry’s recording sold 2.5 million copies the first year, eventually selling a total of 25 million, and it remained the second best-selling record of all time until the 1980s.”
Since then, Rudolph and his red nose have gone from best-selling record to a phenomenon: children’s books, comic books, TV specials, feature-length films, spin-offs, games, and video games. Along the way, Rudolph acquired parents, siblings and an extended family, countless merchandise items, and a starring role in a Christmas show at SeaWorld:
“Meet Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer™ and friends at SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration. At Rudolph’s Christmastown, Rudolph leads the way to Christmas joy and holiday fun with all-new ways of making spirits bright.”
And while you’re there…
“If you can’t get enough of everyone’s favorite reindeer, stop by the Holly Jolly Marketplace, a special boutique here for the season with a fun-filled collection of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer gifts, apparel and keepsakes.”
Since Rudolph’s story had a happy ending, it’s only fair that Robert May’s did, too.
History.com says that May, a widower and single father, remarried and became a father again, but…
“…he still struggled financially. In 1947, the [Montgomery Ward] board of directors, stirred either by the holiday spirit or belief that the story lacked revenue-making potential, signed the copyright for Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer over to May. In short order, May licensed a commercial version of the book along with a full range of Rudolph-themed merchandise.”
Then came all the successes, and – eventually, inevitably – that commercial I saw the other night.
Of the millions of people who have and will sing Rudolph, watch Rudolph, play Rudolph and buy Rudolph, I hope that some will wonder, as I did, about the who and the why and the what.
And that some will understand, as I now do, that far from being just another Christmas carol, Rudolph is, in author May’s words,
“…a ‘story of acceptance,’ the moral of which was that ‘tolerance and perseverance can overcome adversity.’”
I discovered Jersey Mike’s Subs several years ago and I’ve been hooked ever since.
Where I live, they’re easy to find: California has 295 locations, more than any other state:
It appears that the only state that doesn’t have Jersey Mike’s is Alaska, and that alone is reason enough not to go there.
As if Sarah Palin wasn’t enough reason:
So I’m hooked, particularly on the sub pictured above: #13 Italian, Mike’s Way.
Includes: Provolone, ham, prosciuttini, cappacuolo, salami and pepperoni.
Mike’s Way includes: Shredded lettuce, sliced tomato, onions, red wine vinegar, olive oil blend, oregano, salt.
I include: Mayo.
Calories: About 1,210.
And I’m saying I can eat that and feel good about it?
Yes, for two reasons. Here’s one:
On a recent weekend I happened to learn that on that Saturday and Sunday, all 50 Jersey Mike’s locations in San Diego County would be donating 20% of sales to Feeding San Diego.
So that weekend, when I got my #13 Italian, Mike’s Way, I felt good about having my fav sandwich and donating to Feeding San Diego.
According to Jersey Mike’s website, the company is big on donating. On their Culture of Giving page…
They list their “Day of Giving – Over $30 Million Raised Since 2011”; “Wreaths Across America,” where “stores throughout the nation collect donations for this non-profit organization, which lays thousands of wreaths at the graves of the nation’s veterans in the Christmas season”; and a list of news releases going back to this one in 2007:
The more I read, the more impressed I was.
And the more I read, the more I wondered, “Is Jersey Mike’s really this committed to a ‘Culture of Giving’? Do they really walk their talk?”
If so, is anybody else talking about it?
Can I find a source to confirm what Jersey Mike’s is saying that is not a Jersey Mike’s news release or on their website?
A google search first brought me this, from the august publication Forbes:
The article says, in part:
“In late April 2020, Jersey Mike’s Subs’ CEO Peter Cancro spearheaded a TV ad campaign raising money for Feeding America and its 200 food banks.
“That campaign generated over $2 million for Feeding America to help needy families and people who were going hungry. Moreover, Jersey Mike’s 1,742 eateries (most are franchised and only 72 are company-owned) donated millions of submarine sandwiches to healthcare workers, seniors, children and other needy folks.
“That’s on top of Jersey Mike’s annual Month of Giving campaign, which includes a day when it donates 100% of sales – not just profits – to local charities nationwide. Since 2011, it has distributed more than $32 million in these efforts.”
That’s just a sample – there was plenty more in the article. And more here:
Earlier I mentioned Wreaths Across America – I went to their website and Jersey Mike’s is, indeed, listed as a corporate sponsor, a Level 6 Donor ($100,000 and up).
More research revealed:
The Multiple Sclerosis Foundation website says Jersey Mike’s has “helped raise tens of thousands of dollars for the Foundation.”
This past March, the CEO of Make-A-Wish New Jersey said, “The support of our friends at Jersey Mike’s gives us the confidence that when we ask that magical question, ‘If you could have one wish, what would it be?’ no matter what a child’s answer may be, we can say that their wish will be granted.”
And in November, the CEO of Feeding America said their organization “is excited to partner with Jersey Mike’s to help food banks across the country provide more meals to people in need.”
I’m thinking that Jersey Mike’s Culture of Giving is, indeed, on the level.
So yes, I can eat this…
And feel good about it.
Early on I said I have two reasons for feeling good about eating a Jersey Mike’s sub.
Here’s the second reason:
I request my #13 Italian Mike’s Way, but not cut in half. At home I cut it in thirds, and then have it three days in a row:
This interesting – but unsurprising – story appeared last week.
Trump had been texting about the all-important Senate race in Georgia, with pleas like “We MUST defend Georgia from the Dems!” and, “I need YOU to secure a WIN in Georgia” and, “Help us WIN both Senate races in Georgia & STOP Socialist Dems.”
But, say many articles,
“There’s just one hitch: Trump’s new political machine is pocketing most of the dough – and the campaigns of the Georgia senators competing in the January 5 races aren’t getting a cent.”
The donors should save their money for two reasons. First and obvious – none of their money is going to help the Republican Georgia Senate candidates.
And second: Trump won’t need that money – not where he’s going.
There’s a centuries-old tradition of despots either going into – or being sent into – exile.
Despot: a ruler or other person who holds absolute power, typically one who exercises it in a cruel or oppressive way.
One despot that comes to mind is Napoleon (1769-1821). Following the French Revolution, Napoleon reigned as Emperor of the French from 1804 until 1814, and then again briefly in 1815. Defeated in war by Great Britain and its allies, in 1815 Napoleon was exiled to the island of St. Helena, 1,100 miles from the west coast of Africa. Napoleon had escaped from an earlier exile, on the island of Elba, and this time the Brits were making sure there would be no more escapes.
St. Helena was a dismal place – “wet, windswept and unhealthy.” The house where he resided infested with rats, and his attendants complained of “damp floors and poor provisions.” Aside from his attendants, Napoleon’s companions were hostile British soldiers, who we can assume were unhappy with their assignment. His years of glory, power and wealth a distant memory, Napoleon died in exile at age 51.
A 20th-century despot example was Kaiser Wilhelm II (1859-1941), Emperor of Germany. Believed by many to be the primary cause of the Great War – later known as World War I (1914-1918), Wilhelm was looking at defeat and disgrace in November 1918. He boarded a train and went into exile in the Netherlands, where he died at age 82.
Wilhelm’s life-in-exile conditions were better than Napoleon’s – he had the wherewithal to live the life of a country gentleman, tended to by 40-some servants. He exhibited absolutely no remorse for the war or his role in events leading up to it, and blamed everybody indiscriminately for his plight, railing against the Jesuits, Freemasons, Socialists, Jews and anyone else he could think of.
An exiled despot of more recent vintage was Ferdinand Marcos (1917-1989), president of the Philippines from 1965-1986. When things fell apart for Marcos, he – with the help of the U.S. government – fled to Hawaii by way of Guam. As the story goes, he brought with him,
“…twenty-two crates of cash valued at $717 million, 300 crates of assorted jewelry with undetermined value, $4 million worth of unset precious gems contained in Pampers diaper boxes, 65 Seiko and Cartier watches, a 12-by-4-foot box crammed full of real pearls, a three-foot solid gold statue covered in diamonds and other precious stones, $200,000 in gold bullion and nearly $1 million in Philippine pesos, and deposit slips to banks in the U.S., Switzerland, and the Cayman Islands worth $124 million, which he all amassed during his dictatorship.”
We can assume Ferdinand’s exile was cushier than Napoleon’s or Wilhelm’s, up till his death in Honolulu at age 72.
Which brings us to a despot wannabe:
It was Trump himself who suggested exile, back in mid-October:
“You know what? Running against the worst candidate in the history of American politics puts pressure on me. Could you imagine if I lose? My whole life – what am I going to do? I’m going to say, I lost to the worst candidate in the history of politics! I’m not going to feel so good. Maybe I’ll have to leave the country, I don’t know.”
Many of the stories suggested Trump was joking, but they forgot something important:
Trump doesn’t joke.
Trump lacks both the sense of humor, and the intelligence, to make jokes.
And Trump has a number of very good reasons to consider leaving the country.
For starters, instead of being named Time magazine’s 2020 Person of the Year, that went to his competition:
And so did the 2020 election:
Here’s another reason:
Did I say “another” as in singular?
Lists a veritable tsunami of possible legal trouble for Trump, including:
Attorney general investigates Trump Organization projects
Manhattan district attorney’s criminal probe
Unknown Southern District of New York investigation
Southern District of New York investigation into Trump inaugural committee
Southern District of New York investigation into Giuliani associates
State tax department looks into fraud allegations
Manhattan district attorney indicts Paul Manafort
Attorney general lawsuit against the Trump Foundation
Tax department investigation into the Trump Foundation
And while Trump may pardon himself until he’s blue in the face (instead of orange), that would only apply to federal, not state, charges.
Then there are the two women who allege Trump sexually assaulted them and are suing him. One is E. Jean Carroll:
The other is Summer Zervos:
The Zervos story says,
“…Trump continues to quietly battle two women in court who allege he sexually assaulted them, fighting their efforts to obtain testimony and documents that could shed light on their accusations. The women, Summer Zervos and E. Jean Carroll, are among more than a dozen women who have accused Trump of unwanted physical contact in the years before he was elected.”
These ladies, and their lawyers, are not going away.
Speaking of ladies and lawyers, Trump’s niece Mary is also suing him:
Then there are those NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) neighbors in Florida who appear to have a pretty good case that Trump legally cannot live at his Mar-A-Lago private club:
What a bunch of cranky old poops! Just because Trump signed a legal agreement in 1993 stating he’d never use Mar-A-Lago as a residence, since when has signing a legal agreement ever meant anything to him?
And there’s this problem, to the tune of $340 million:
According to the article, Deutsche officials…
“…hope ending their relationship with Trump could help reduce some of the scrutiny facing the bank – which could intensify if Democrats sweep the election and move forward on probes stalled under the Trump presidency.”
Banks don’t like scrutiny + Joe Biden won = trouble for Trump.
So it won’t be enough for Trump to just “leave the country” and go into exile like Napoleon and Wilhelm and Ferdinand.
I suppose Trump could flee to a country that doesn’t have an extradition treaty with the U.S., and there are more than 70 of them.
One of those is Russia, and apparently some there are clamoring for Trump’s company:
Russian state media – which “affectionately refers to Donald Trump as ‘our Donald,’ ‘Trumpusha’ and ‘Comrade Trump’” – are worried about Trump’s future.
And not just Russian state media – the Russian Defense Ministry’s Public Council, Igor Korotchenko, spoke out in Trump’s defense, saying,
“Russia can offer political asylum to the persecuted former president of the United States, Donald Trump. But let him not simply arrive to Rostov or elsewhere, but also transfer his capital here and finally build his famous Trump City somewhere in our New Moscow.”
I’m guessing ole Igor walked that back real quick when this happened on December 15:
If not Russia, then how about we stipulate that Trump can go to any one of those other 70+ countries with no extradition treaties…
If he can point to it on a map.
Burkina Faso? Oman? Comoros?
Trump would be 0 for 3 with that.
But that’s OK, because I have the perfect place for Trump:
How “remote” is Bouvet Island?
It’s located 1,404 miles away from the nearest humans, halfway between South Africa and Antarctica:
Described in the article as “an ice-covered, glacier-surrounded, inhospitable lump,” the good news for Trump:
There’s no Loser Of The Year or New York District Attorney’s office or angry women with lawyers or NIMBYs or Deutsche Bank.
The good news for us:
There’s no Internet, no Wi-Fi, no Twitter, no texting.
Imagine a world with no Trump tweets.
I’ll help you pack your bags, Donald!
Just pick yourself a nice, cozy spot on Bouvet Island:
Natalie is not a friend, though I see her often and we’re friendly.
Natalie works at my favorite deli.
I’ve been going to this deli for several years, and I usually order the same thing.
After a few visits – and despite the many customers Natalie had helped since I’d last been there – she had my order memorized.
“Want your usual?” she’d smile.
And I’d say, “Yes, thanks.” And often add, “What an amazing memory you have!”
While Natalie made my sandwich, we’d chat. Sometimes about inconsequential things, and sometimes not, like when she shared she’d recently gotten married.
I congratulated her, of course. And over my next several visits, I’d ask, “How’s married life?”
And Natalie would smile, and say, “Great!”
When the pandemic hit, it didn’t affect the deli as much as some restaurants, since it was already mostly carryout.
I’d ask Natalie how she was doing, she’d ask if I’d like my usual, and then we’d commiserate about COVID through our masks.
Until the day I asked how she was doing, and she said, “My dad is in the hospital. COVID.”
We just looked at each other, then I said, “That sucks.”
She agreed, and finished my order.
I hadn’t been to the deli for about a week, and when I returned, Natalie was there. I said, very quietly, “How’s your dad?”
Tears filled her eyes and dripped onto her mask.
“He died December 4th.”
I said, “I’m sorry, Natalie.” And I meant it.
She nodded, and wiped away her tears with her gloved hand. Then she stripped off the gloves and put on a new pair.
We can’t have tears getting in customers’ orders.
We can’t get away from COVID.
Trump will never know – and if he knew, he wouldn’t care – about Natalie’s dad.
But I believe President-Elect Biden cares.
On December 15, the day the Electoral College confirmed his election, Biden gave a speech.
Toward the end, he expressed more empathy and kindness in two sentences than Trump has in the last 10 months – or in his 74 years.
“Today, our nation passed a grim milestone, 300,000 deaths to this COVID virus. My heart goes out to each of you in this dark winter of the pandemic, about to spend the holidays and the New Year with a black hole in your hearts, without the ones you loved at your side.”
I hope Natalie and her family can find some comfort in Biden’s words, as they face the holidays with that black hole in their hearts.
The December 8 story sounded so wonderfully normal.
A group of researchers had made a discovery that had nothing to do with viruses and face masks and social distancing and getting vaccinated and, and, and…
The researchers believe they’ve discovered a new whale species:
In mid-November the researchers were working with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society on this ship:
They weren’t in a lab in a building wearing tons of protective gear, working with a highly infectious virus.
Instead, they were in the waters surrounding the San Benito Islands off the coast of Mexico looking for a species of beaked whales.
What are “beaked” whales?
Beaked whales are a group of cetaceans noted as being one of the least known groups of mammals because of their deep-sea habitat and apparent low abundance. Only three or four of the 23 known species are reasonably well-known.
Their key distinguishing feature is the presence of a “beak” somewhat similar to many dolphins:
The researchers were hoping to identify a beaked whale species associated with an unidentified acoustic signal previously recorded in the area.
Why an “acoustic signal”?
According to Smithsonian Ocean,
“Just like dolphins, beaked whales send pulses of high-frequency sound through the water that work like a SONAR ping to find prey in the dark waters of the deep. Each species of beaked whale sends out a unique frequency that scientists can use like a fingerprint to estimate how many individuals of a specific species are in a given area.”
Based on the acoustic signal, the team thought they might be looking for Perrin’s beaked whales:
But when three beaked whales surfaced nearby…
The experts on board reconsidered.
According to SeaShepherd.org,
“Scientists and Sea Shepherd crew captured photographs and video recordings of the animals and deployed a specialized underwater microphone to record the acoustic signals emitted by the whales”:
“‘We saw something new. Something that was not expected in this area, something that doesn’t match, either visually or acoustically, anything that is known to exist,’ said research scientist Dr. Jay Barlow.
“‘It just sends chills up and down my spine when I think that we might have accomplished what most people would say was truly impossible – finding a large mammal that exists on this earth that is totally unknown to science.’”
OK: Maybe the possible discovery of a new whale species doesn’t send “chills up and down” your spine.
But let’s look at it this way:
Life is going on.
Life that has nothing to do with sickness and death and tragedy:
In spite of the worst public health crisis ever to hit this country, there are people out there doing other things, unpandemicky things, and that tells me that one day, someday, we’ll all be back to doing those other things.
Things that don’t involve face masks and social distancing and missing holidays, missing family, missing friends.
For me, it’s about much more than the possible discovery of a new whale species.
Trump’s love affair with the Fox Network is well-known, and that’s very much in evidence with the co-hosts of the morning show, Fox & Friends.
In early December one of those co-hosts – Steve Doocy, on the left in the image below – appeared to have had an epiphanous moment:
According to the story,
“Fox and Friends took time Tuesday to discuss the massive spread of coronavirus and desperate overflowing hospitalizations. Co-host Steve Doocy brought up a Kansas survey that found some perplexing information – to him. Wearing masks to protect oneself from being infected, and infecting someone with COVID, works.
“‘In the month of July [Kansas] had a statewide mandate for masks!’ Emphasis his.
“Doocy continued, ‘The problem with Kansas was some counties would actually enforce it; in other counties they would not.’
“‘In the counties that enforced the mask mandate, the number of cases of coronavirus actually went way down. And in the counties where they did not enforce the mask mandate, it went way up,’ Doocy said in disbelief.
“Then a light bulb went off in Doocy’s head and he said, ‘It means – apparently masks work.’”
I wondered if Trump was watching, and if so, would a barrage of angry, ALL-CAPS tweets follow.
Perhaps along the lines of,
“DOOCY IS A TRAITOR!!! HE SHOULD BE TAKEN OUT AT DAWN AND SHOT!!!”
Echoing the words of Trump’s campaign attorney, Joe diGenova.
Suggesting that face masks are effective in preventing the spread of coronavirus is, after all, heresy to Trump.
And that’s why – sadly – this has become necessary:
In normal times, brick-and-mortar retailers looked forward to – and counted on – the holidays as a prime revenue-generating time.
And this holiday season, retailers need that revenue more than ever.
But now their anticipation is diluted with a great deal of trepidation: As the number of shoppers in their stores increases, so, too, will the confrontations between those who wear face masks and those who don’t.
Since the pandemic started – and Trump came out vehemently on the no-mask side – the news has been filled with stories of shoppers and store staff going head-to-head over the issue. Sometimes the situations escalate into shouts and threats; at other times, into violence:
So it’s no wonder, according to the New York Times article, that:
“The National Retail Federation, a trade group representing about 16,000 retailers, said…that it had teamed up with the Crisis Prevention Institute, a company focused on reducing workplace violence, to help retail workers learn how to prevent and de-escalate shopper disputes that emerge from pandemic restrictions.”
Now, I am no fan of wearing a face mask.
I’m a touch claustrophobic, and sometimes the mask starts to feel like this:
But I wear it anyway, to try to keep myself safe from others, and keep others safe in case I’m unknowingly infected.
But so many don’t. And so many of them are going to head out for some holiday shopping, maskless, because they believe some version of this Trader Joe’s customer’s sentiment:
“‘We are in America here,’ she said, ‘Land of the free.’ Then she turned [to]…other shoppers, who were less than amused: ‘Look at all of these sheep that are here, all wearing this mask that is actually dangerous for them.’”
What possible response can a store employee make to that?
According to the National Retail Federation’s website, there are “four stages of the Crisis Prevention Institute’s Crisis Development Model” to help retail employees “learn to avoid and de-escalate conflict.”
And store employees, managers and security staff will do their best to “de-escalate” this holiday season.
But for me, I’m going for the “avoid” strategy.
And staying the hell out of stores.
And for everone’s sake, hoping that when store owners install signs like this, they mean it:
Over the past months we Californians have seen all kinds of stories about the backlog of Employment Development Department (EDD) pandemic unemployment payments to residents, like this:
Clearly the stores were fake news, because we now know that thousands of people were receiving pandemic unemployment payments:
Inmates in California’s jails and prisons were receiving EDD benefits.
How many inmates? How much money did they receive?
It started out small, back in August:
The fraud was explained in an August 15 news release from the San Mateo County Sheriff’s office:
The fraud consisted of 21 people, about half incarcerated in the San Mateo Maguire Correction Facility and the others spread across three counties.
The amount was at least $250,000.
The mastermind – if there was one – was not named. And perhaps none was needed, because the process wasn’t complicated. According to the New York Times article,
“Inmates filed unemployment claims – some using county-issued iPads provided in jail – with the California Employment Development Department. Others provided personal information in phone calls to people on the outside who filed for unemployment on their behalf.
“The money was then deposited into a bank account of their choosing. Friends or family members withdrew the cash for some, while others did it themselves after they were released, according to Stephen M. Wagstaffe, the San Mateo County district attorney.
“In some cases, the money was spent on ‘remarkable personal items’ including expensive clothing and a trip to Las Vegas, he said.”
This angered people, and rightly so. Many had been waiting weeks and months for financial help to stave off the effects from the pandemic, including job loss and eviction threats.
But take heart – it was only this small group in this one facility, and see? They’d been caught. And according to the Sheriff’s news release, $150,000 was recovered during the execution of search warrants.
Contained, case closed.
Until this story broke on November 24:
According to the story:
“At least 35,000 unemployment claims have been fraudulently made on behalf of prison inmates between March and August, costing the state [read: taxpayers] $140 million in paid-out benefits, California officials said Tuesday.
“Prosecutors said they learned of the scheme from listening in on recorded prison phone calls, where inmates would talk about how easy it was for everyone to get paid. They said the scheme always involved someone on the outside to facilitate the applications.”
What seemed like a lot of money in August – upwards of $250,000 – had now grown to $140M, called “staggering” in this article:
And instead of being limited to one jail, the fraud was now known to have spread to “every California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation (CDCR) prison,” said Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert.
And not just staggering – but bizarre:
Claims had been filed under the name of Wesley Shermantine, a notorious killer, and Scott Peterson, convicted of murdering his wife and unborn son.
Claims had been filed under false names:
“‘John Doe or John Adams, or in one case somebody had the audacity to put their name as Poopy Britches,’ Schubert said.”
That was November 24. Over the next several days, California officials mulled over 35,000 fraudulent claims and $140 million in paid-out benefits to inmates including convicted murderers – and Poopy Britches.
And then came this December 1 story:
The article states,
“The California Labor and Workforce Development Agency confirmed Tuesday, December 1 that California has sent about $400 million in unemployment benefits to state prison inmates. In all records show 31,000 inmates have applied for benefits and about 20,800 were paid $400 million. A group of local and federal prosecutors said 133 inmates on death row were named in claims.”
Riverside County District Attorney Michael Hestrin said, “We’re continuing to uncover more fraud, and the scale of it is frankly stunning.”
On December 3, an article in the San Diego Union-Tribune suggested that some of the proceeds of what was now being called the biggest taxpayer fraud in California history “have been sent to other counties and even other states.”
Then this December 4 article in the Los Angeles Times took that even further:
“The practical reality,” said El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson, “is the vast majority of this money will never be repaid.”
No surprise there.
And no surprise here:
The blame game roared to life:
California Governor Newsom blamed the fraud in part on Congress’ decision to expand unemployment benefits during the pandemic while mostly relying on applicants to self-certify that they were eligible.
Multiple district attorneys were blaming state officials, including state Attorney General Xavier Becerra, for not taken leadership in the biggest taxpayer fraud in California history.
(On December 7 President-Elect Biden named Becerra as his nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services, so I guess Becerra has other priorities?)
Prosecutors are blaming the dysfunction of the EDD that they said has hindered their investigation.
The EDD is blaming the state, because a state law that forbids the prison system from giving out inmates’ Social Security numbers. State officials got around that law by convincing the Office of the Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Labor to issue a subpoena for the information in late September. When EDD started comparing, the numbers leapt from $140 to $400 million.
The EDD is also blaming – at least indirectly – the pandemic, which put it under intense pressure to quickly process millions of claims as the economic impact from the coronavirus intensified last spring.
I suppose everybody is blaming Sharon Hilliard (pictured), appointed director of the EDD in February 2020. After a mere nine months on the job, in late October Hilliard announced her retirement, effective December 31, 2020, saying, “I retire knowing that EDD is on a great path to success.”
In her announcement Hilliard made no mention of the prisoner fraud, or of Poopy Britches.
It may be a comfort to some that Governor Newsom has formed a task force to investigate.
Until you remember the definition of a task force:
“A group of people in a room with a white board, who agree on nothing except to postpone doing anything until next month’s meeting.”
A December 3 editorial in the Union-Tribune said that as of the previous week, EDD had a backlog of 590,000 claims.
Those Californians have been – understandably – upset as the inmate fraud story has unfolded and expanded.
Californians like Shane Steckelberg, who was furloughed during Thanksgiving week and whose work contract ends after the holidays:
He’s been trying to apply for unemployment since November 21, but every day is met with long wait times delaying the process to verify his identity. Steckelberg is baffled that inmates are scamming EDD and he cannot even get his application approved:
“It’s frustrating. I never applied for unemployment in my life. Ever. And so the fact that people are in jail and get these benefits immediately just blows my mind.
“We just don’t know what’s going to happen over the next few months,” he said.
This, and thousands more like Shane, while at the same time, EDD has paid $1B of our tax dollars – and perhaps more – in fraudulent claims to tens of thousands of inmates and their cronies, to people out of state and even outside the country.
I think the Union-Tribune editorial said it well when it summed up the EDD mess this way:
“…not helping the hurting, and helping those who deserve no help at all.”
Once upon a time, the naval ship USS Bonhomme Richard looked like this:
This past July, for nearly five days it looked like this:
The ship was at Naval Base San Diego undergoing maintenance, and a fire started on a lower deck. At least 63 sailors and civilians were injured, and noxious smoke covered southern San Diego County for days.
The cause of the fire is still being investigated, and in the months since, the Navy has been considering what to do with the ravaged ship.
The Bonhomme Richard was an 844-foot-long hot mess.
An expensive hot mess. That maintenance it was undergoing?
According to a November 30 article in the San Diego Union-Tribune, the ship was “at the end of a two-year, $250 million upgrade to accommodate the F-35B fighter.”
That’s $250 million tax dollars up in smoke.
Plus the original cost of the ship: $761 million when the contract was signed in 1992.
I remember seeing the stories on the news back in July and – I confess – snickering as our local reporters stumbled over the ship’s French name, pronounced baan HAAM ree SHARD.
And what, I wondered, was a U.S. Navy vessel doing with a French name, anyway?
Some research revealed that this is:
“…the third ship to bear the name first given by John Paul (“I have not yet begun to fight!”) Jones in 1779 to his Continental Navy frigate, named in French Good Man Richard in honor of Benjamin Franklin, the publisher of Poor Richard’s Almanac who at the time served as U.S. ambassador to France.”
Founding Father Franklin (above) would be bummed to know that, according to the Union-Tribune, the ship has a new name:
The Navy has announced that the Bonhomme Richard is going to be scrapped.
The Navy assessed the damage and the cost of repairs. About 60 percent of it – the flight deck, the island and many of the 14 decks immediately below them – would need to be completely replaced:
Cost: Estimated to be between $2.5 billion and $3.2 billion, and take five to seven years.
Refurbishing the ship into a different configuration – as a hospital ship, for example – would cost more than $1 billion, exceeding the cost of building a new hospital ship.
So the Navy is going to scrap the ship, at a cost of “only $30 million.”
Only our government would say “only $30 million.”
“Only $30 million” of our tax dollars.
The Navy calls it “decommissioning,” and says it will take between “nine months and one year.”
I’ll certainly admit that as a civilian, I don’t know Navy procedures. But this seems like rather a long time, and rather a lot of money, to transition a ship from “active” to “inactive.”
Sign some paperwork in triplicate and – voila, yes?
Plus, this is far from the first time the Navy has decommissioned a ship.
In fact, the Navy has several locations set up for just this situation: A Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility, or NISMF, because everything in the government must have an acronym.
There’s an NISMF in Philadelphia, in Pearl Harbor, and this one, in Bremerton, WA:
Looks like there’s plenty of room in Bremerton for the Bonhomme Richard, so just tow it up there and park it, yes?
Should that cost $30 million taxpayer dollars?
I think NOT.
But here’s an even better idea.
Somewhere between San Diego and Bremerton, sink the Bonhomme Richard.
Yes! The Navy has done this many times, too, and for a good purpose:
My research shows the Navy has sunk a number ships to create artificial reefs, because the ships:
“…provide hard surfaces where algae and invertebrates such as barnacles, corals, and oysters attach; the accumulation of attached marine life in turn provides intricate structure and food for fish.”
Those fish attract larger fish, and eventually – where there was an empty ocean floor, there’s now an ecosystem:
And some of those artificial reefs become dive sites, like the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany after it was sunk by the government in 2006 off the coast of Florida.
The Oriskany was once this:
It’s now “the world’s largest artificial reef” and looks like this:
Named one of the top ten wreck diving sites in the world and nicknamed the “Great Carrier Reef” (a takeoff on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef), the site is:
“…a habitat for all kinds of marine life from small tropical fish such as blennies, damselfish and angelfish to large game fish such as snapper, grouper and massive amberjack. Pelagic fish species can sometimes be spotted racing by and even whale sharks and manta rays have been seen cruising around the tower of the carrier.”
Dive sites attract thousands of divers, and that’s good for the local economy.
Of course, recycling the Bonhomme Richard into an artificial reef will cost taxpayer dollars.
But I’m betting most taxpayers – including me – would rather see this:
Release date: In Britain, 2019; in U.S., February 2020.
Review, short version: All thumbs down.
Review, long version:
One of my shortcomings is, when I read a book or watch a movie, if the ending doesn’t satisfy me – it spoils the whole experience.
Even if I enjoyed that book or movie throughout, an unsatisfying ending equals time wasted.
Which leads to my being pissed.
I’m not saying I’m always looking for a happy ending. What I’m looking for is an ending that makes sense – yes, this series of events happened, and those events led to this ending.
OK – I’m somewhat lying.
I do like happy endings.
Which brings me to Sanditon.
I watch PBS frequently, and when I saw previews for a program with the strange name of Sanditon, I was immediately interested. I learned it was based on an unfinished novel by Jane Austin, and I’d never heard of it. It was a 2019 British historical production, and the Brits are masters at these period pieces.
Sanditon: Set in early 19th century England, glorious scenery, wonderful costumes, and six hours of drama to wallow in.
I was in.
That was February 2020, and I recently – finally–got my hands on the DVD.
Now I was in, and I was so ready.
And from the first scene, Sanditon didn’t disappoint. Sanditon is a fictional English coastal town where the story takes place – glorious scenery. The costumes are wonderful – elegant, empire-waisted dresses and bonnets for the women; thigh-hugging pants, knee-high boots, and top hats for the men.
And, of course, there will be a ball – perhaps more than one:
Love and lust, plots and sub-plots, the English upper class with all its inherent snobbery, and, as the PBS website says, “Sidney and Charlotte’s swoon-worthy love story moments.”
I’ve mentioned that the program was six hours, and that’s a lot of time to invest. I watched about an hour a day, so the story and the characters were in my life for almost a week. Throughout all that time, I saw the romance budding, then building, between the handsome but stern Sidney and “lively but levelheaded” Charlotte:
The romance continued to build, and then, in the last episode came a surprise I did not anticipate at all. A surprise can be a good thing.
Until it isn’t.
Sidney was on the verge of proposing to Charlotte, when family financial issues obliged him to instead become engaged to a wealthy widow.
Charlotte was crushed, but I was not – “Of course they’ll work it out,” I thought. “Sidney will get unengaged and he and Charlotte will end up together.”
I knew. I was positive.
I was wrong.
At the end, broken-hearted Charlotte packs her bags and takes a carriage home, far from Sanditon.
Time was running out for Sidney and Charlotte.
Then – suddenly Sidney appears, on horseback.
“Finally!” I thought. “Here’s where they get back together!”
Sidney dismounts, Charlotte steps out of the carriage…
And I’m ready for another “swoon-worthy love story” moment…
I have, after all, invested nearly six hours of my life in this.
I’m about to get my satisfying ending.
Only, I’m not.
Sidney hasn’t disengaged from the wealthy widow.
He’s come to say goodbye to Charlotte.
End of story.
I was stunned. Completely and totally stunned.
British period pieces don’t end this way.
Jane Austin stories don’t end this way.
Remember Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy in Austin’s Pride and Prejudice, newly married, riding off in their carriage into happily-ever-after?
Yet there goes Charlotte, riding off in her carriage – alone:
I sat, staring, as the final credits rolled. The video reverted to the playlist, and stopped.
I sat and stared some more.
I could not believe what just happened.
So I headed to my computer to find a Sanditon synopsis. “I missed something here,” I thought. “I’ll read a synopsis and find out the story didn’t really end the way I just saw it really end.”
I didn’t find that, but I found plenty of this from unhappy British viewers:
[Sanditon] “incurred the Twitter wrath of many viewers thanks to its ‘devastating’ ending that many complained was not very Jane Austen.”
“Viewers of Sanditon were left ‘fuming’ over the series finale last night, as they raged that Jane Austen would be ‘turning in her grave’ over the programme’s ‘heartbreaking’ ending.”
“I feel so played; main Jane Austen couples always end up together!! Where is my happy ending??”
So I wasn’t alone in being pissed – the Brits were pissed, too, and it was headline news:
Who decided to end Sanditon on such a sour note?
Since Austin hadn’t finished Sanditon, it was up to the producers/writers/whomevers to decide how to end the story.
The why they ended it that way was answered in a blog, ArmchairAnglophile.com, and the writer had this to say:
“This whole thing was clearly a setup for a second season…An ending that was such an obvious, greedy setup by [screenwriter] Andrew Davies to get another payday, I actually feel somewhat offended by it. This was mediocre, at best. And it doesn’t warrant a second season.”
PBS has confirmed there will be no second season for Sanditon.
When I first saw the words “OSIRIS-REx” I figured that someone had discovered a new dinosaur, maybe a cousin of Tyrannosaurus Rex?
I also figured that the lower-case “x” was a typo, or the upper-case letters were typos, or something in there was a typo.
Wrong on all counts.
It would have been cool to hear about the discovery of a new dinosaur, but instead, this is a story about our government spending a billion+ of our tax dollars on this…
To collect some of this…
Something we apparently don’t have enough of on Earth.
Since this story involves a word that was new to me and may be new to you, here’s the definition:
Regolith: a blanket of unconsolidated, loose, heterogeneous superficial deposits covering solid rock. It includes dust, broken rocks, and other related materials and is present on Earth, the Moon, Mars, some asteroids, and other terrestrial planets and moons.
Back to OSIRIS-REx.
I’d never heard of OSIRIS-REx (nickname: OREx) but apparently it was launched from Cape Canaveral in 2016 and it’s been circling an asteroid called Bennu (nickname: Benny) for almost two years:
I don’t know why OREx circled Bennu for two years, but if OREx was looking for a parking space, I can relate.
The plan was for OREx to slowly descend to Bennu, hover just above the surface, send out its 11-foot arm, shoot out some pressurized gas, and suck up a couple of ounces of the churned-up regolith (nickname: dirt):
Then OREx would travel back to Earth, which will take until 2023 because Bennu is 200 million miles away.
This looks like a good place to pause and ask…
Why are we spending at least $1.16 billion to collect dirt from an asteroid 200 million miles away?
For this I went to asteroidmission.org, where I found this:
“The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is traveling to Bennu, a carbonaceous asteroid whose regolith mayrecord the earliest history of our solar system. Bennu maycontain the molecular precursors to the origin of life and the Earth’s oceans.”
The words in red are my emphasis.
I don’t know about you, but when I see the government spending $1.16 billion of our tax dollars, I’d like less use of the word “may” and instead see “absolutely without a doubt.” “Unequivocally” would be good. “Indubitably” also has a nice ring to it.
Especially since, a few days after OREx did its dirt collecting, this story appeared:
Oh, no! After all that traveling and gas shooting and dirt sucking, the stuff was leaking out into space?
Enter Dante Lauretta (pictured at right, below), the mission’s lead scientist, who is often quoted in OREx stories.
Earlier, just after OREx had sucked up the dirt, Lauretta said,
“I can’t believe we actually pulled this off. The spacecraft did everything it was supposed to do!”
Not the most confidence-inspiring words I’ve ever heard.
Of some unintended consequences, Lauretta said,
“We really did kind of make a mess on the surface of this asteroid, but it’s a good mess, the kind of mess we were hoping for.”
And isn’t that just like us humans, to leave a mess behind, and then claim that’s what we wanted all along?
As for the asteroid sample leaking out of the spacecraft, Lauretta said,
“I think we’re going to have to wait until we get home to know precisely how much we have,” meaning, “If there’s any asteroid dirt that didn’t leak into space.”
More of those not-the-most-confidence-inspiring words.
So here’s where we are:
This space mission’s lead scientist sounds like a doofus.
Our government is spending at least $1.16 billion tax dollars on the mission and likely much more, because NASA isn’t real familiar with concepts like “on budget” and “on time”:
The purpose of the mission, according to NASA.gov:
“OSIRIS-REx will travel to a near-Earth asteroid called Bennu and bring a small sample back to Earth for study.”
Then, according to lockheedmartin.com – the builder of OREx:
“On September 24, 2023, after a 4.4-billion-mile round trip, the spacecraft will near Earth and eject the sample return capsule, sending it on a direct course to a specific location in a Utah desert. The spacecraft will perform a final maneuver that will divert it from Earth and send it far out into deep space.”
Isn’t saying “send it far out into deep space” another way of saying they’re consigning OREx to that great trash heap in the sky?
Where it becomes what’s known as “space debris”?
So OREx will be trashed, and maybe fall on my house someday?
The dirt sample capsule mayland in the Utah desert and there maybe dirt to study.
If there is dirt to study, somebody maylearn something about what NASA calls “this pristine remnant from the early days of our solar system.”
Do people in Heaven watch what we’re doing here on Earth?
If so, my mom is in Heaven, weeping.
After raising five children, finally – when it was just she and my Dad – Mom had the time to look around and figure out what her interests were.
She discovered one of those interests was birds.
My parents had down-sized and their house had a small back yard, but a creek ran along the back border and beyond that – an open field.
The area attracted birds, both migratory and permanent, and after Mom installed a half-dozen seed bird feeders, the bird population noticed.
Mom bought binoculars and several bird books to help identify her guests, and she consulted with experts at supply stores about which birds preferred which seeds.
She also installed a hummingbird feeder, taking it down every few days to thoroughly clean it before refilling it with precisely measured sugar water.
How Mom loved sitting at the big window in the family room, binoculars in hand and bird books at the ready.
“Bob,” she’d say to my Dad, “that’s a ruby-throated hummingbird! A male! Our first one this year!”
And Dad, wanting to please her, would look and nod and share her excitement.
The hummingbirds arrived in the spring and departed in the fall, unlike cardinals, which were year-round residents.
“There’s a cardy-guy and gal!” as she called them. “I don’t see them together all that often.”
Then there were the ducks – mallards, male and female, and oh, they were greedy! Not content to scoop up the seed the birds had dropped on the ground, the mallards waddled up to the glass patio door and – are you ready? Tapped on it, demanding more sustenance!
The first time Mom put food out for them – she was a bird lover, after all – the ducks showed their appreciation by eating, and then shitting all over the patio.
After that, Mom’s response to the ducks was:
Every once in awhile, just as late afternoon turned into twilight, an owl would land on the back fence. Mom would reach for her binoculars and confirm what she already knew: “Bob, it’s a great horned owl! Isn’t she beautiful?”
Dad would look, nod and agree.
The owl wasn’t there for the bird seed. Owls are carnivores, so this one was likely eyeing critters in the open field.
Or perhaps the few unwise lingerers on the bird feeders.
Like all good mothers, Mom never claimed a favorite, but we all knew which bird fascinated her most:
That was Mom’s nickname for the majestic great blue heron that made an occasional appearance. Standing up to 4.5 feet tall, with a wingspan up to 6.6 feet, he strolled down the creek bed in search of a meal. When Harry deigned to pause for a bit – perhaps to give Mom more time to admire him – Mom was in raptures.
“Will you look at that?” she’d marvel to Dad every time Harry appeared. And Dad – obligingly and every time – would look.
Mom was meticulous about keeping the bird feeders full. Several times a week she made the rounds in the back yard, bucket of seed and scooper in hand, ensuring that “her” (migrating) robins, sparrows, warblers, juncos and snow buntings, and (year-round) chickadees, nuthatches, and blue jays, had plenty to eat.
She had a bird bath that she emptied and scrubbed regularly, and for her year-round guests she bought one of these:
It’s a bird bath de-icer, and it provided water throughout the winter when unfrozen water was nearly impossible for birds to find.
And speaking of winter, I can only smile when I remember how Mom had to dress to go out in the Michigan winter to fill the feeders. Long underwear, long pants, two pair of socks, sweaters, a heavy jacket, boots, gloves, hat, scarf – all this, when she could have skipped the feeders and stayed cozy inside.
Not a chance of that happening.
Mom provided a safe, nurturing environment for birds because she loved them, and she had plenty of company. According to a 2018 article in The Atlantic, more than 50 million Americans engage in bird feeding, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that 46 million Americans are bird watchers, at home and away from home.
Mom was both, and that’s why, if she’s watching…
Last week, that same U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – on behalf of the Trump administration and his pals in the electric utilities and oil and gas industries – rolled back a longstanding federal protection for the nation’s birds:
That same U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – according to a November 27 story on PBS.org – estimates that industry operations kill an estimated 450 million to 1.1 billion birds annually, out of roughly seven billion birds in North America
That same U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – this time from a November 27 article in The Hill:
“…acknowledged in its report that the regulatory change will have ‘negative’ impacts on migratory birds, as well as ‘other biological resources,’ ‘cultural resources’ and ‘ecosystem services…’
And though this rollback goes forward
“over objections from former federal officials and many scientists that billions more birds will likely perish as a result…”
The Trump administration assures us this “would not cause unacceptable environmental harm.”
Is this oil-covered bird an example of Trump’s “not unacceptable environmental harm”?
U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s home page states their mission, right at the top of the page:
In keeping with the Trump administration’s much-vaunted transparency, I recommend the following addition:
The Trump administration has taken a step to make Trump’s wish come true.
But with all the news and the noise, you may have missed it:
The revisions to the naturalization exam may not result in more immigrants from “places like Norway,” but it will make passing the U.S. citizenship test much more difficult for immigrants who manage to enter and remain in this country.
The USCIS – the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service – has announced the rollout a new citizenship test on December 1.
This new test, according to USCIS spokesman Dan Hetlage, “provides a more accurate measurement” of applicants’ understanding of civics and “ensures the reliability and validity of scores.
Not so, say experts quoted in a November 19 Herald News article:
“Eva Millona, CEO and President of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA) said ‘these changes to the citizenship test are yet another example of the Trump Administration seeking to put up barriers to citizenship with little opportunity for input from communities that will be most impacted.’”
“Paulo Pinto, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Alliance of Portuguese Speakers (MAPS) said, ‘It is difficult to understand and accept the reasoning behind this announced change, which will create more barriers to becoming a U.S. citizen. The 2008 version of the test is already very challenging – even for U.S.-born citizens – and the added difficulty will only make the naturalization process longer and slower.’”
How much “longer and slower”?
According to this article in the Washington Post:
“The new exam requires applicants to answer at least 12 oral questions correctly, up from six under the most recent exam.”
“Officers must ask all 20 questions, while lawyers said they usually used to stop when an immigrant answered the required minimum of six correctly.”
“‘It’s basic math,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and chief executive of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. ‘If you make the test twice as long, it takes twice as much time and USCIS officers will process half the applicants.’”
“Twice as much time”? Back to the HeraldNews article:
“Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst at the D.C.-based, nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, believes the changes can possibly triple the amount of time each Citizenship and Immigration Services officer spends testing applicants.
“‘These changes reduce the efficiency of this already struggling agency,’ Pierce told the Associated Press, referring to its citizenship application backlog. ‘The administration is adding hundreds of thousands of more minutes to these naturalization exams.’”
The administration is also adding tougher questions. One asks applicants to name five of the 13 original states, while the older test asked them to name three.
Another example: The older test requires test takers to name one of the three branches of government, while the new exam asks candidates to name all of them.
Can you name all three branches of our government? Can I?
I decided to take a look at some practice questions on the citizenship exam, to better understand what an immigrant might experience.
What bothers me most was the idea that a perfect candidate for citizenship might be denied that because she/he didn’t know the answer to this question:
Seriously? What does knowing the name of one of the two longest rivers in the U.S. have to do with being a good citizen?
How about this one:
How many people in this country could answer this correctly? I’m guessing not many, and that includes me. Does that mean USCIS is going to take away my citizenship?
And this one:
Oh, come on. I’m a good citizen, but I had to guess at this one. I just don’t consider it critical that I – or anyone except a Constitutional scholar – needs to know how many amendments the Constitution has.
And I am a good citizen, at least according to this “Citizenship Rights and Responsibilities” list on the USCIS website:
Nowhere on that list is there anything about knowing the name of one of the two longest rivers in the U.S.
In fact, the current citizenship test is already so difficult that a majority of people born in this country couldn’t pass it, according to this article:
And the Trump administration has made the new test even worse.
My hope is that the Biden administration will review – and undo – this blatant attempt to make it close to impossible for immigrants to become U.S. citizens.
Which is just one item on the miles-long list of damage Trump has inflicted on this country.
Because if this new citizenship test remains in place, our country will lose many of the wonderful contributions that future naturalized citizens could make.
And that’s a miles-long list, but one of the best kind: immigrants who have contributed greatly to our county, and to the world.
Just a few of the many:
Albert Einstein, Germany – inventor and physicist.
Sergey Brin, Russia – founder of Google, inventor and engineer.
Levi Strauss, Germany – creator of Levi’s jeans.
Madeleine Albright, Czechoslovakia – the first woman Secretary of State.
James Naismith, Canada – invented the game of basketball.
Audrey Hepburn, Belgium – actress.
Cary Grant, England – actor.
Sammy Sosa, Dominican Republic – athlete.
Maria von Trapp, Austria – inspiration for The Sound of Music.
Andrew Carnegie, Scotland – businessman, philanthropist.
Irving Berlin, Russia – composer, pianist.
John Lennon, England – composer, musician, singer.
There is some dispute over how Swanson Turkey TV Dinners were invented. The following is my version:
When: The day after Thanksgiving, 1953
Where: C.A. Swanson & Sons, a poultry supplier in Omaha, Nebraska
(Bob Walsh, an aspiring manager at the company, comes to his boss, Gilbert Swanson, with a problem. Thanksgiving has come and gone, and Bob has live turkeys that didn’t find a dinner table for the holiday. A lot of live turkeys. What to do with all those leftover turkeys?)
Bob (knocking on door frame): Ah, Mr. Swanson, sir? Do you, ah, have a moment, sir?
Swanson: Of course, of course, come in. Welch, isn’t it?
Bob: Ah, Walsh, sir. Bob Walsh.
Swanson: Of course, of course. Come in, Welch. You know my door is always open. That’s what I always say: “My door is always open.” Sit down, Welch, sit down. Now what can I do for you on this fine Friday after Thanksgiving?
Bob: Well, sir, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about. Thanksgiving was yesterday and…
Swanson: Yes, Welch, and?
Bob: It’s Walsh, sir.
Swanson: What is?
Bob: My name, sir.
Swanson: Is that what you came to talk to me about?
Bob: No, sir. It’s about the turkeys. The turkeys we didn’t sell for Thanksgiving.
Swanson: Yes, yes, what about them?
Bob: Well, ah, there’s a lot of them, sir.
Swanson: “A lot,” you say. (pauses) And what do you mean by “a lot”?
Bob (swallows): Two hundred and sixty…
Swanson: Well, Welch, I’m sure we don’t need to be concerned about 260 turkeys.
Bob: Tons, sir. Two hundred and sixty tons of unsold Thanksgiving turkeys.
Swanson (after a long pause): Close the door, Welch. (Bob does) Now. What’s this you’re saying?
Bob: We had a very successful breeding season, sir, very successful, but sales didn’t meet our projections. So this morning I’m reporting an overstock of 260 tons of turkeys.
Swanson: Two hundred and sixty tons. I see. (pause) And in terms of just pure numbers, Welch…
Bob: Well, sir, at an average weight of 25 pounds – and you know that’s our standard, sir, or as the boys in advertising say, “A 25-pound turkey on every table!” It’s, ah, twenty thousand…
Swanson: Twenty thousand? Did you say twenty thousand?
Bob: …eight hundred, sir. Twenty thousand eight hundred turkeys, sir. Give or take a turkey.
Swanson (after a long pause): Are you attempting levity, Welch?
Bob: No, sir.
Swanson: We have twenty thousand eight hundred Thanksgiving turkeys. Today is the day after Thanksgiving. This is a calamity. This is a catastrophe. This is – I don’t have a word bad enough for it!
Bob: Disaster, sir?
Bob: I mean, it’s not a disaster, sir. At least, I don’t think it is. I’ve been thinking…
Swanson: Not now, Welch. I have to think.
Bob: But I’ve been thinking sir, and I have an idea. An idea of what to do with all those turkeys – and even turn a profit, sir!
Swanson: I said not now, Welch. What I need is to find is something to do with all those turkeys, and somehow turn a profit.
Bob: But that’s what I’m saying, sir! I have an idea!
Swanson (mumbling): This is a disaster. And absolute disaster. Twenty thousand…
Bob: I’ve put some figures together, sir, and if you’ll just take a look…
Swanson: Welch, tell my secretary to get my brother on the phone.
Bob: Your brother, sir? You mean W. Clark himself?
Swanson: Yes, I mean W. Clark himself! Do I have any other brother? (Bob goes out to the secretary, then returns, closing the office door)
Bob: Sir, if you’ll just look at these figures, you’ll see – wait, better yet, let me tell you my idea. We cook all the turkeys – well, not all at once, of course – but we cook the turkeys!
Swanson: Cook the turkeys, you say. That’s very advanced thinking, Welch.
Bob: I’m not finished, sir! And we make gravy, and dressing, and mashed potatoes and maybe a vegetable. Carrots. Or peas. Yes, peas! Then we put it all together in individual metal trays that have sections, sir. Sections! Can you picture it?
Swanson: No, Welch, I can’t. I’m too busy picturing this disaster.
Bob: In the bigger section we put the dressing, and some sliced turkey, with gravy on top. Then in one smaller section, the peas. With butter on them. And in the other section, mashed potatoes. It’s one individual meal, sir! An individual turkey dinner with all the trimmings.
Swanson (after a long pause): Did you say mashed potatoes, Welch? White mashed potatoes?
Bob: Yes, sir!
Swanson: I hate white mashed potatoes!
Bob: Then sweet potatoes, sir! Or no potatoes! I’m just trying to explain…
Swanson: Ah, sweet potatoes. Now you’re talking. My mother made the best sweet potato casserole every Thanksgiving. I swear it was my favorite part of the meal. I remember…
Bob: Mr. Swanson!
Bob: The dinner, sir. The individual dinner.
Swanson: What about it?
Bob: So we make all the individual dinners, and here’s the magic: We freeze them. First, we put each one in a nice box with a picture of the wonderful turkey dinner that’s inside the box, then we freeze them. And housewives will buy them, and take them home and put them in their freezers, and then one night – just picture this, sir. One night, when Mom can’t figure out what to make for dinner, she opens her freezer and – viola!
Swanson: “Viola,” Welch?
Bob: Her dinner is already made! It’s in those nice boxes with the picture of the wonderful turkey and dressing and gravy and mashed potatoes…
Swanson: I thought we said sweet potatoes?
Bob: …Sweet potatoes, and peas with butter! And Mom says, “No cooking for me tonight. I have Swanson dinners right here in my freezer, all ready for me to heat and serve in just 25 minutes. My family will love them!”
Swanson: “Love them,” Welch?
Bob: The kids will love them because they’re delicious. And different. And…
Swanson: “Different,” Welch?
Bob: Yes, sir! A whole dinner right in its own little tray. No more plate for this and bowl for that, because the whole dinner is right there. Fun for the kids, and easy for Mom because after dinner you just throw the trays away. No dishes! In fact, if the family has a TV, they could have dinner in front of the TV. And…that’s how I, ah, came up with the name, sir.
Swanson: “The name,” Welch?
Bob: TV Dinners, sir.
Bob: TV Dinners! Experts are predicting that pretty soon every family in America will have a TV, and just think how exciting it will be to eat this new kind of dinner while you’re watching your new TV. I don’t think I’m overstating my case when I say this will revolutionize dinnertime as we know it.
Swanson (the secretary buzzes, informing Swanson that his brother is on the line): Tell him I’ll call him back. Now, Welch…
Bob: Walsh, sir. I’ve priced it out, sir, and we can sell Swanson TV Dinners for 98 cents and still make a profit. Just think – dinner for less than a dollar! (pauses) I’ll have to remember to tell that one to the boys in advertising: “Dinner For Less Than A Dollar!”
Swanson: Less than a dollar, you say? And we’d still be making a profit?
Bob: Absolutely, sir. And once our turkey TV dinners are a success, we can create more dinners like chicken, and Salisbury steak, and, and – with your permission, sir, I’m going to get the kitchen working on some sample dinners. I mean, TV Dinners. And the advertising boys working on the box, and –
Swanson: Hold on, now, just hold on. Don’t let’s get carried away with an idea, an idea that may have some merit, perhaps, but still just an idea.
Bob: Yes, sir.
Swanson: Now, leave those figures with me, and I’ll give it some thought. But – not a word about this to anyone. And I mean, anyone. Is that understood, Welch?
Bob: Yes, sir.
Swanson: Very well, then. And tell my secretary to get my brother back on the phone.
Bob: Yes, sir. And…sir?
Swanson: Yes, what is it? (the phone rings.)
Bob (softly): It’s Walsh, sir. (closes the door behind him.)
Swanson (ignores Bob and answers the phone): Clark? How are – yes. Well, I heard this morning that our Thanksgiving turkey sales fell below projections and… How far below? Well, considerably. And – yes, I know that, and… Yes, I know we have to do something with those turkeys. That’s why I’m calling. I had an idea about what to do with all those turkeys. A rather brilliant idea, if I may say so myself…
According to Smithson magazine, in 1953 Swanson sold 5,000 TV dinners. In 1954, their first full year of production, they sold more than 10 million TV dinners.
A: There are many Emily Murphys, but the one we’re talking about is the administrator of the GSA.
Q: What’s the GSA?
A: According to a November 23 CBS News article, the GSA – General Services Administration:
“…is a sprawling bureaucracy established in 1949 that now has 12,000 employees and a $21 billion budget. It works largely behind the scenes to support other federal entities, with responsibility for managing federal office space, procuring supplies and improving the use of technology across the government.
“The GSA provides a presidential transition team with Washington office space and coordinates access to federal agencies to plan potential policy changes with current administration officials, using $6.3 million allocated to support its efforts.”
Q: How did Emily get to be administrator of the GSA?
A: Trump and his toadys liked her.
Q: Is that why Emily’s Momma is proud?
Q: Is Emily a Republican?
A: Well, after graduating from college, Murphy moved to Washington, D.C., beginning her career at the Republican National Committee. She also worked for Jim Talent, a Republican and former Senator from Missouri. She was an advisor to acting GSA administrator Timothy Horn, who was appointed by Trump. Then Horn nominated Emily for GSA administrator. Are you doing the math?
Q: Is that why Emily’s Momma is proud?
Q: I’ve noticed that Emily wears a lot of purple…
Q: Is that why Emily’s Momma is proud?
A: Emily does take her purple fashion cues from Ivanka…
A: But, no.
Q: So Emily, whom nobody ever heard of until recently, heads a government agency that nobody ever heard of until recently. Why is she all over the news now?
A: After November 7, 2020, when Joe Biden became generally acknowledged as president-elect, she refused to sign a letter allowing Biden’s transition team to begin work to facilitate an orderly transition of power:
Q: Wow! That’s really important! Is that why Emily’s Momma is proud of her?
Q: How long did Emily hold out?
A: Until November 23, when Emily issued what’s called a “letter of ascertainment,” which allowed the transition of power to begin.
Q: What did the letter say?
A: Among other things, Emily hedged her bets:
“…she was now making ‘certain post-election resources and services available to assist in the event of a presidential transition.’”
Q: Is Emily’s Momma proud because of Emily’s bet-hedging skills?
Q: What took Emily so long to issue the letter?
A: A November 23 article in the Washington Post suggested Emily was afraid:
“Then there was the president’s anger, and the risk that he would fire her and her top aides if she moved forward.”
Then, after Emily issued the letter…
“Murphy and her senior staff were bracing for a tweet from Trump announcing that they were fired, two people familiar with their thinking said. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the discussions.”
Q: Didn’t Emily care about all the havoc her actions were creating?
A: Apparently not as much as she feared getting fired by Trump.
Q: Is anyone holding Emily accountable?
A: Some Democrats are trying to. A November 23 New York Times article says,
“The Democratic chairwomen of the House Oversight and Reform and Appropriations Committees demanded last week that Emily provide a briefing to lawmakers no later than Monday [November 23] to explain why she had departed with past practice and had so far refused to approve the start of the process for Mr. Biden.”
That deadline came and went, and “the GSA suggested that Ms. Murphy would not meet with top lawmakers on the issue, instead offering a 30-minute briefing by her deputy, Allison Brigati, on November 30.”
On November 24, the House Democrats wrote Ms. Murphy yet another letter, demanding a briefing on Tuesday:
“‘We cannot wait yet another week to obtain basic information about your refusal to make the ascertainment determination,’ wrote the chairwomen, Representatives Carolyn B. Maloney and Nita M. Lowey of New York, as well as the chairmen of the panels that oversee and fund the GSA, Representatives Gerald E. Connolly of Virginia and Mike Quigley of Illinois.”
They gave Emily until 5pm on November 24 to respond.
Q: Ewww. After all this, how the heck can Emily Murphy’s Momma be proud of her?
A: Because it appears that Emily’s actions won her something that many do covet, but not all achieve:
Her very own, spankin’ brand-new listing in Wikipedia:
(Wikipedia as I found it on November 24: “4 hours ago.”)
In Scotland, the surname “Stuart” has long-time royal connections. Nine Stuart kings ruled Scotland from 1371 to 1625, and the ninth Stuart king transitioned from king of Scotland to king of both Scotland and England.
If current-day author Douglas Stuart, 44, has royal connections, they weren’t in evidence in his growing-up years in Glasgow, Scotland.
According to an October New York Times story about Stuart, 1980s Glasgow was a city of “economic and social stagnation…after the region’s shipbuilding, mining and steelwork industries collapsed. Stable, working-class communities became destitute, leading to widespread poverty and addiction.”
Stuart was “the lonely youngest son of a single, alcoholic mother” and…
“…he felt like an only child, as his older brother and sister were teenagers when he was born and found jobs to escape the chaos at home. He barely knew his father, who left when Stuart was young. Stuart often functioned as a caretaker for his mother, who would black out from drinking and sometimes try to harm herself.”
Stuart was also gay, and while he couldn’t have articulated it at the time, he knew he was different. He was shunned by the boys at school, who attacked him for being too “poofy.”
Stuart’s mother died when he was 16 and he ended up in a boarding house. He became the first person in his family to graduate from high school, decided to study textiles, earned a bachelor’s degree from the Scottish College of Textiles and a master’s from the Royal College of Art in London.
More than ten years ago, when Stuart was working as senior director of design at Banana Republic, he began writing.
What he wrote would become the novel Shuggie Bain, a fictional account of his childhood.
The novel would be rejected by more than 30 publishers.
It finally found a home at Grove Atlantic, an American independent publisher based in New York, where Stuart had moved years earlier.
And on November 19, Shuggie Bain won the Booker Award, “one of the most prestigious literary awards in the world,” according to this article in The New York Times:
The Booker website says this award is:
“The leading literary award in the English-speaking world, which has brought recognition, reward and readership to outstanding fiction for over 50 years. Awarded annually to the best novel of the year written in English and published in the UK or Ireland.”
Douglas Stuart may not have royal connections, but he’s being treated like royalty now.
Stuart’s story resonates with me because of the rejection he endured – not once, or twice, or 10 or 20 times, but by 32 publishers. Everyone who endeavors in a creative field, whether it’s writing or acting or singing or painting or myriad others, faces rejection.
And every time, it hurts.
People who don’t understand will say, “But it’s not personal.”
They’re wrong. It’s very personal.
An artistic effort comes from the deepest part of you, and when that effort is rejected, so are you.
So I’m rubbing my mental hands together in glee about Stuar’ts success, and reveling in how stupid those 32 publishers must feel.
Now: After all this, it may sound contrary that I won’t read Shuggie Bain, despite all the accolades.
I don’t care to read a story about growing up with an alcoholic parent, because I lived that story.
But I love this story: of a child who preserved; of a man who took the wreckage of his childhood, wrote about it, persevered more, and turned his artistic endeavor into this:
In my November 13 blog post I said goodbye to Melania, and on November 16 I bid Ivanka adieu.
Now I’ll do a group goodbye, and what a group it is.
For an assist I turned to Slate, an online magazine that launched in 1996. The team there was SO ready for Trump to lose, they had all their goodbyes written and ready to go on November 7, the day Biden was declared President-Elect.
I’ve included excerpts from the Slate articles and other sources to round out my farewells, along with some images:
“Already a devout Republican and unquestionably the most groveling of his offspring, you were exactly thehype man your father needed: dumb enough to believe whatever Daddy told you, coiffed enough to look halfway decent on cable news, and more than passionate enough about hunting to rub elbows with the red state riffraff.”
I think that covers it for Jared.
“Pence was made head of the White House’s coronavirus task force, a fittingly Trumpian choice, given that Pence had historically been disastrous on public health.”
“In just two years, Attorney General William Barr transformed the Department of Justice into a sleazy, third-rate law firm devoted to shielding Donald Trump and his friends from the consequences of their crimes.”
“Pompeo’s rhetoric straddled the line between the self-righteous bombast of the George W. Bush administration and the craven cynicism of the Trump years. By embedding foreign policy even deeper within the U.S. culture wars, he has done damage to U.S. credibility abroad that will take years to repair.”
“It wasn’t just that you were unqualified to lead America’s educational system, as someone who never worked at a public school, attended a public school, or took out a school loan. It was that you were the opposite of qualified, an early example of the Trump administration’s elitist disregard for the very role of government agencies themselves.”
“…the provocateur in chief and petty tyrant of the White House’s anti-immigration crusade…”
Larry, Moe and Curly. Wait – I mean, Sean Spicer, Sarah Sanders, Kayleigh McEnany.
Giuliani will be remembered for the above: His November 7 press conference at the Four Seasons – no, not the glitzy hotel, but rather Four Seasons Total Landscaping on the outskirts of Philadelphia. The best thing to come out of it was the store’s new merchandise, featuring these slogans:
Under normal circumstances I would never presume to give advice to President-Elect Biden.
But these are far from normal circumstances.
And he’s far too busy to be thinking of this.
So here’s my advice:
Mr. President-Elect, do some serious fumigation of the White House before you move in.
I’m talking big-time, serious, 24/7 fumigating, until the fumes fill the White House and spill out into the evening air:
If you’re hesitating about this for even a moment, please consider:
COVID-19 has been in the White House for months.
“Yeah, that valet guy helped me get dressed every day, but I never met him.”
This positive test did nothing to prompt Trump and others to wear face masks and social distance.
So, as time passed, even someone as dumb as dirt was avoiding the White House:
“Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he has been avoiding the White House since August ‘because my impression was their approach to how to handle this was different from mine and what I insisted that we do in the Senate, which is to wear a mask and practice social distancing.’”
Then came September 26, Trump’s super spreader event in the Rose Garden, and these consequences:
After that, in the White House, COVID-19 went viral, literally:
At some point, the kid got it:
And then that creep, Mark Meadows, and his cohorts:
And this just in – HUD’s Ben Carson has tested positive:
It seems Meadows and Carson were at Trump’s election night party, along with hundreds of other maskless, no-social-distancing people.
Party hearty, folks!
It’s reached the point that the White House has earned the designation “Coronavirus Cluster”:
More of a “coronavirus cluster f**k,” if you know what I mean.
So, please, Mr. President-Elect, before you move into the White House…
Otherwise, to just walk in the front door you’ll have to suit up in full PPE – Personal Protection Equipment…
Fortunately, thanks to you, PPE will be available:
The hot, humid summer gives way to cooler fall temperatures. People start breaking out their warmer clothes, and trees start breaking out their amazing fall foliage…
And an in-law family member – I’ll call her “G” – has an October ritual with her side of the family:
A visit to Yates Cider Mill:
For years G and her family have gathered at Yates Cider Mill every October, including this year, on October 24, the same day that this story ran:
“Record-breaking COVID-19 numbers.”
“New daily coronavirus record.”
So even though this October isn’t like last October, or any October in living memory…
That didn’t stop G and her family.
And those pesky face masks didn’t get in the way, either, especially when worn beneath the nose…
Yates Cider Mill has been around a long time, and it offers all sorts of attractions – pony rides, petting zoo, river walk. And plenty to buy – fudge, apples, gifts, apparel, donuts, and of course, Yates famous cider.
So there are lots of reasons to visit Yates Cider Mill.
And this year, I’d say lots of reasons not to:
Now, Yates Cider Mill is in step with the times – sort of. On their website there’s a link to their “COVID-19 Safety Plan,” where they “PROMISE to keep you safe” by providing hand sanitizer, increasing spacing at the register, screening employees, and ramping up their cleaning procedures.
And in return, says Yates…
“Masks are not required at all times.”
On October 24, apparently for G and family, masks were not required, period:
Yes, there were a few masks in evidence. They’re especially effective when worn beneath the nose, beneath the chin…
On the morning of October 25, Michigan’s governor, Gretchen Witmer, appeared on Local 4 News, a day after the state reported the highest one-day increase in COVID-19 cases:
The governor said, “We have to double-down on mask wearing, not having gatherings, having real physical distancing, ensuring that we’re hand-washing…We need everyone to do their part so we can avoid having to take steps backward…We all have to be a part of bringing these numbers down.”