Rancho Bernardo is a community in San Diego, located about 20 miles northeast of downtown.
It tends to be a quiet place – not much making headlines in Rancho Bernardo.
That all changed recently, when an important story was covered by several august media outlets including The Washington Post,The New York Times, and NBC.
Life is pretty good in Rancho Bernardo – the average annual income is around $129,000 and the average household net worth is almost a $1 million. The median age is 38, and the population about 88,500.
Plus 84 cockatiels.
Make that 84 apparently horny, definitely dirty, and probably very pissed off cockatiels.
That’s what put Rancho Bernardo in the national headlines:
That’s right – 84 cockatiels plus one human were living in an apartment in Rancho Bernardo.
A small, one bedroom apartment.
It seems the vastly outnumbered human resident of the apartment – who was unnamed in the coverage so I’ll call him The Birdman – had purchased a few cockatiels awhile back but had forgotten the famous lyrics about “birds do it…”
The birds did. And then did some more. Confined in that small apartment, what else was there to do?
The birds were rescued by Humane Society officials, one of whom said, “The birds were free-flying so there was bird feces everywhere.” And by “everywhere,” said a TV reporter, it was “on the man’s bed, the walls, the floors, and even his clothes left around the apartment.”
Neighbors said the bird problem had been going on for years:
So I can’t help but wonder – what The Birdman was thinking in the interim?
“Oh, well, what’s another cockatiel or two?”
“I wonder why Mom never comes over for dinner?”
“Will anyone at work notices this stuff all over my clothes?”
Or maybe The Birdman doesn’t work. Since PetSmart.com recommends spending “at least one hour a day holding or playing with your cockatiel,” with 84 of them, this guy had his…er, hands full.
And as everyone knows, a bird in the hand…
The birds were brought out of the apartment in individual boxes:
The Birdman was brought out in handcuffs by the San Diego police:
Stories noted that the San Diego Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PERT) was also on site.
Though whether PERT was there for the birds, or The Birdman, was not clear.
OK, I’ll stop making fun of The Birdman. He obviously has some issues, besides his dirty windows:
I should be more empathetic – you know, put myself in this guy’s shoes.
I have a recipe that’s almost foolproof. And when it comes to my cooking, trust me – the emphasis is on “fool.”
The recipe came from Mom, who – bless her heart – knew I didn’t care for cooking.
Normally I’m not one who talks recipes. But this Crusty Chicken Casserole is so easy and so good, I’ll make an exception. Another plus – it all goes into one dish, with no mixing, mincing, slicing, dicing, sautéing, deglazing or other such foolishness.
You can tell I’ve used this recipe many times – the stains, tears and fading are for real. And every time I’ve made this – success!
Here’s the recipe, with my alterations:
“OK,” you’re thinking, “that does look easy. And good. But it’s not a full meal.”
You’re right – so here’s what’s on the backside of Mom’s recipe, again, another one-dish wonder:
Talk about easy! And it bakes right along with the casserole.
There’s not much cleanup and, since you cooked – someone else is doing the cleanup.
Unless it’s your CEO – CEO salaries rose by more than 1,000% between 1978 and 2017.
Our wages? Up 11.2% between 1978 and 2017.
And in 2018?
But the United States Postal Service – hereafter referred to as USPS – is getting a 10% increase effective January 27, 2019.
First-class stamps are going from 50 cents to 55 cents.
That’s right. USPS is getting a reward, and I can only assume it’s for their stellar delivery service, like these examples:
I especially like the “We Care” example. USPS is so accustomed to trashing our stuff that they have pre-printed letters to go along with your damaged goods. It reads, in part, “We sincerely regret…we hope you understand…hope this did not inconvenience you…”
Can you imagine any other organization doing this?
Like an automobile dealership. You’re driving your brand-new car away from the lot and when you’re a mile away, the engine dies. You lift the hood, and there’s a pre-printed letter that says, “We sincerely regret…you got stuck with this lemon…hope you have road service coverage…”
Back to USPS. Here’s how they’ve done over the past 10 years:
2018: $3.9 billion loss
2017: $2.7 billion loss
2016: $5.6 billion loss
2015: $5.1 billion loss
2014: $5.5 billion loss
2013: $5 billion loss
2012: $15.9 billion loss
2011: $5.1 billion loss
2010: $8.5 billion loss
2009: $3.8 billion loss
Just imagine if you or I had a record like that. We go to the boss and say, “Boss, I know I’ve lost a gagglegazillion dollars over the past 10 years, but I’d like a 10% raise in 2019.”
Well, USPS went to its Board of Governors or the Postal Regulatory Commission or whoever’s in charge, asked for that 10% increase.
And whoever’s in charge said, “Yowza!”
And if we, the people stuck with paying for that increase, protest, here’s what USPS will say:
If I had, say, an eight-year-old, I would have known about the hottest-selling item this past Christmas.
Instead I was left to wander in the wilderness, ignorant and uninformed.
So it came as a total – but welcome – shock when I happened upon a recent news article, and the blinding light of knowledge cut through the darkness of my ignorance.
Now I’ve learned. Now I know.
About Poopsie Pooey Puitton.
Seriously, I never knew about this crap.
And I say “crap,” literally, because that apparently is what Poopsie Pooey Puitton is all about, albeit in somewhat more refined language:
“MGA Entertainment’s Poopsie Pooey Puitton purse is the ultimate unicorn poop kit! Magically make scented, unicorn poop slime in a rainbow of colors! With a little unicorn magic, sparkle, and crunch, you can customize your unicorn poop again and again!”
So now I know:
MGA Entertainment decided kids weren’t making enough poop, so they created a new poop source.
The Poopsie Pooey Puitton purse is the ultimate unicorn poop kit vs. your average unicorn poop kit.
The purse retails for $59.99, enabling parents to pay to encourage their kids to make – and play with – poop.
This item is so popular that, according to one website, it was sold out at Target over the recent holidays. And no wonder – look at all it includes:
A “rainbow of poop”! Wow!
It’s the purse, however, that’s drawing the national spotlight.
The purse, in case you hadn’t noticed, is shaped very like poop.
And its name – Puitton – is spelled very like that of a famous purse designer:
Louis Vuitton purses cost thouand$ are considered luxury goods, which means there are also ne’er-do-wells out there making cheap imitations. This chicanery has been going on since an early cavewoman claimed her new purse was genuine Tyrannosaurs rex skin, but her mother-in-law knew it was a cheap Brontosaurus knock-off.
So nowadays, many luxury goods makers file lawsuits or threaten litigation to stop companies from piggybacking off their names and customer goodwill.
Just in case Louis Vuitton had any ideas about suing over Poopsie Pooey Puitton, MGA pre-emptively sued Vuitton to ensure MGA can keep making their Puitton without interference from Vuitton:
MGA is seeking a court declaration that Poopsie Pooey Puitton does not infringe on Louis Vuitton’s intellectual property rights, and is protected parody and fair use.
That “protected parody,” said MGA, is “designed to mock, criticize, and make fun of that wealth and celebrity” associated with Louis Vuitton products
Which is exactly the message any eight-year-old would appreciate finding under her Christmas tree.
Instead of considering a lawsuit, I think Vuitton should be grateful for Puitton. Get the youngsters hooked on the look now, and in a few years they’ll be begging to transition from Puitton to Vuitton:
I have never taken a selfie, or been in a selfie with others.
I have, therefore, never posted my image on social media with a clever caption such as, “I’m eating tomato soup for lunch right now!!!”
You’re probably thinking, “Well, then what do you do all day, if you’re not taking/posting selfies and talking endlessly about yourself?”
Well, gosh. Work? Eat? Sleep? Face time with significant other and friends? Read? Pay bills? Clean the bathroom?
However, I may have to rethink all that and switch to major narcissistic mode because of this important announcement:
The Museum of Selfies, or TMoS for those in the know, originally opened as a pop-up, but apparently was so popular that it’s now found a permanent home on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles.
TMoS promises to:
“Share the unseen depths and history of this cultural phenomenon, with roots going back 40,000 years!”
I’m going to hazard a guess that they’re referring to cave paintings, some of which are, indeed, estimated at 40,000 years old. And what treasures explorers have found – like these gorgeous horses from Chauvet cave in France.
However, depictions of humans didn’t come along until centuries later, like when this bunch of guys in what’s now Argentina decided to portray themselves giving each other high-fives.
And while the guys might have gotten a bit carried away, you’ll notice there are no faces in this painting, and faces are the point of selfies, aren’t they?
Sure, people do take photos of other body parts, but no matter how…um…stunning those parts may be, they remain anonymous without a face to go with them.
Without my face it isn’t me.
If it isn’t me, it isn’t a selfie.
The museum website lets us know all the exciting things we can do at TMoS including:
“You can take really cool photos in our interactive exhibits that explore the various types of selfies and what they mean.”
I suppose by “interactive exhibits” they mean something like this?
Note the genuine imitation statues of Michelangelo’s David, complete with pink phones and strategically placed pink fig leaves.
The website offers other well-known images, like this one:
News Flash: The phone was not included in the original 19th-century Vincent van Gogh self-portrait. And van Gogh painted selfies because he was too poor to pay a model. At least he had a good excuse.
But perhaps it is time to re-think my No Selfie Strategy.
I’ll grab a selfie stick – yes, they’re welcomed at TMoS! And pay the $25 entrance fee and…oh…did I forget to mention there’s a charge to do this?
And “take really cool photos” of myself. Then I’ll upload them to Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and Flickr and Pinterest, and wait for your wildly enthusiastic responses.
Here I am eating tomato soup while I’m waiting.
Whoops! Forgot to include my face!
Selfie: A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media.
Museum: A building in which objects of historical, scientific, artistic, or cultural interest are stored and exhibited.
Selfie Museum: A building in which selfies but NO objects of historical, scientific, artistic or cultural interest are stored and exhibited.
On December 21, 2018 a revolution took place in this country.
And nobody heard about it.
It was the day before the partial government shutdown, and that’s all anyone was talking about.
Unlike 10 days earlier when the revolution was getting plenty of media coverage.
On December 12, for example, the Washington Examiner reported that “a bipartisan agreement has been reached in the House and the Senate.”
That, in itself, should have captured everyone’s attention because, as everyone knows, our esteemed politicians rarely agree on anything.
The agreement – a bill – was intended to modify the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 and would, among other stipulations, hold “lawmakers liable for harassment and retaliation settlements.”
This was truly revolutionary, because ever since the Congressional Reform Act was passed, the law required taxpayer dollars to fund these settlements.
That’s right. For nearly a quarter century we, the taxpayers, were on the hook for settlements stemming from Congressional inappropriate sexual conduct.
And not only that – the law allowed for the settlements, and the names of the accused Congress members, to be kept secret.
How many offenders? How many tax dollars?
We’ll never know.
One of the rare exceptions is Blake Farenthold, a Republican Representative from Texas. He was accused of sexual harassment, and the matter was settled out of court for $84,000. That was our tax dollars, and Farenthold promised to repay it. Then he abruptly resigned in April 2018 without repaying us, and to this day has not done so.
But if the Reform Act passed, the members of Congress would pay their own settlements.
And, by law, we’d learn who, when and how much.
The revolution began the day before the partial government shutdown.
On December 21, S.3749 – the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 Reform Act – became law:
Try as I might, I cannot find any media outlet that covered this revolution.
Because of this:
And when I say “try,” I googled “S.3749 – Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 Reform Act” and “Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 Reform Act becomes law” and scrolled through the first four pages for each.
Nothing from the media.
So it gives me the greatest of pleasure to share with you the full first page at congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/senate-bill/3749, followed by an easier-to-understand one-page summary from Crowell & Moring, and international law firm based in Washington DC:
As I was reading an article about Ellen DeGeneres’ upcoming appearances in San Diego, a sidebar about “Do’s and Don’ts” gave me pause.
Is this what we’ve come to, to attend a live show?
The performances are phone-free, and all phones and smart watches will be secured in Yondr cases, which will be unlocked after each performance.
I didn’t know what a Yondr case was, but now I do: A pouch that locks when you close it, and requires a device for unlocking it.
Security staff lock your phone in this pouch, which you keep, and can be opened only with the unlocking base.
Attendees can access their phones throughout each show at designated phone-use areas in the theater.
So if you have to use your phone, you go to this designated area, unlock the Yondr, do whatever with your phone, return it to the case and security staff lock it again.
Prior to the show you stand in line to get the Yondr, and after the show you stand in line to get the Yondr unlocked.
Inaccessible phones also prevent the disturbance of ringing cell phones and conversations during the performance, and we know there are plenty of people whose phones ring and have conversations during live performances.
No use of cameras or any recording devices is permitted. Anyone using such devices during the show will be removed and will not receive a ticket refund.
DeGeneres, and any person who creates something, is proprietary about it, and rightfully so. They own what they created. They don’t want us recording their material and repurposing it – like posting it on social media – without their permission.
And we know that happens. I recently noticed an entire Broadway show, shot with a cell phone and posted on YouTube, and that’s just one of thousands of examples.
Food or drink will be available in the lobby, but are not permitted inside the venue.
This was a new one for me. I’ve never been to a live performance that didn’t at least allow me to take a beverage to my seat.
But food and beverages can be a distraction for both the audience and the performer – especially when we spill something. And the trash we leave behind can cause a mess, and even damage, to the venue.
No exit and re-entry will be permitted during the performances.
This was another new one for me. If you need to go to the bathroom, better take care of that before the show – especially since this show was two hours with no intermission.
Walk-through metal detectors will be used on all attendees, and all parcels are subject to search.
Of course I understand this. After the horror of the October 2017 massacre at the concert in Las Vegas – and all the other horror stories – all safety precautions must be taken.
I suppose it’s only a matter of time – and money – until all public entrances have metal detectors, from movie theaters to bowling alleys to churches.
And it makes me sad, that yes – this is what we’ve come to:
It’s no longer enough to ask attendees to turn off their phones before the show, because we can’t be trusted, and we don’t.
It’s no longer enough to make an announcement before a show, forbidding the use of recording devices. We can’t be trusted, so now our phones are locked up.
It’s no longer enough to request attendees pick up their bottles and other trash from food and drinks – we can’t be trusted to do this, because we don’t.
We can’t be trusted not to bring guns or other weapons to the theater, so we have to walk through metal detectors, our purses and parcels searched.
If you put author John Grisham’s name on just about anything, I’m pretty sure it would be a bestseller – a book, a cereal box, a roll of toilet paper.
And his new book, The Reckoning, stays true to form – as of January 13, 2019 it was #1 on The New YorkTimes bestseller list, its 10th week on the list:
In the front of The Reckoning there’s a list of Grisham’s earlier books – all 39 of them – so he’s prolific, as well as popular. Grisham’s books have been translated into 40 languages and 11 of his novels have been made into films, with three more in the works.
Not bad for someone who, according to his website, says, “I never dreamed of being a writer.”
I’ve read many of Grisham’s books, liking some and others, not so much. But I’ve never done with one of his books what I did with The Reckoning:
Skimmed through more than 200 pages, starting around page 180.
If you go back up to the bestsellers image, there’s a one-sentence summary of the book:
“A decorated WWII veteran shoots and kills a pastor.”
And that’s an accurate summary of Part I of the book.
As for Part 2, in an interview on the PBS NewsHour, Grisham described it this way:
“The book takes a hard left turn and goes off to World War II, to the Philippines, and the Bataan Death March, because our hero, or antihero…went off to fight in the war.”
And that’s where I lost interest.
I read Grisham for stories about law and lawyers and crime and justice – or injustice – and legal shenanigans.
When I want to know more about World War II, the Philippines and the Bataan Death March, I read books on those subjects.
Perhaps Grisham offered 200+ pages of his interpretation of the war as an explanation for lead character Pete Banning’s behavior – committing premeditated murder. Perhaps those war experiences “speak to his state of mind,” as lawyers like to say.
But whatever the war did to Banning, it makes no difference – he’s arrested, tried and executed. Starting around page 404 we get The Big Reveal about why Banning did what he did, and whoops! Maybe he killed the wrong guy.
In the Author’s Note Grisham explains that he based his book on a story he’d heard years earlier:
“I believe it to be true but cannot remember who told it, or where it happened, or when…If any reader out there recognizes this story, please let me know. I would love to have it verified.”
I would love not to have wasted my time on The Reckoning.
Late last year the story broke that two nuns, Sister Mary Margaret Kreuper and Sister Lana Chang, not only walked into a casino, they walked into a casino many times, or many casinos many times, which of those doesn’t matter.
What matters is that they embezzled money from their school to play at the casinos.
St. James Catholic School in Torrance, CA.
The money came from tuition, fees and donations.
The amount embezzled was $500,000.
Sister Mary Margaret and Sister Lana are members of The Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, whose mission statement, according to their website, declares they “are committed to respond to the urgent needs of our world.”
Apparently Sister Mary Margaret and Sister Lana were more interested in responding to the “urgent needs” of their world.
It turns out that the money was easy pickings for Sister Mary Margaret – she was principal of St. James Catholic School for almost 28 years. She handled all checks made out to the school before turning them over to bookkeeping staff for processing.
Except for the checks Sister Mary Margaret withheld and deposited into a secret account, endorsing the back with a stamp that read, “St. James Convent” instead of “St. James School.”
Thus flush, Sister Mary Margaret and her best friend, Sister Lana, headed for a, some, or many casinos. They, like their sister sisters, had taken a vow of poverty, so they explained their ability to take these trips as a treat from a rich uncle.
Can’t you just hear the two of them at the poker table?
Sister Mary Margaret: These dead presidents are burning a hole in my pocket!
Sister Lana: Then let’s bet the farm – after all, it’s not our money!
Michael Meyers, the church’s monsignor, said the improper use of the funds had been going on for at least 10 years.
The BFFs both retired in 2018.
Then the story broke, and understandably, the discovery made many members of St. James parish very unhappy. Some parents were considering banding together to act as the complaining party and bring charges.
Because the archdiocese declined to prosecute Sister Mary Margaret and Sister Lana.
Though at last report, that no-prosecution approach had started changing as more parents came forward after combing through their financial records. Some parents are now saying they believe the money embezzled could add up to more than $3 million.
That’s a lot of dead presidents!
In the meantime, the sisters are deeply remorseful, though it’s a mystery if they’re deeply remorseful about what they did – or that they were caught.
And the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet have agreed to pay the school full restitution.
Though where a group of nuns who have taken a vow of poverty will get $500,000+ is another mystery.
And the lesson for all the boys and girls at St. James Catholic school?
That’s no mystery:
Thou shalt not steal…
And get caught.
Sister Mary Margaret and Sister Lana (above) and perhaps in the future (below). No worries, Sisters – orange is the new black!
If you’ve ever had a leaky faucet, you know how annoying it can be.
Well, how’s this for annoying?
Leak, leak, leak.
That’s what’s happening in the Gulf of Mexico.
Though we rarely hear about it.
And it’s worse than annoying.
It’s dangerous. For people, for animals, for the environment.
It’s called the Taylor oil spill.
It’s been going on for 14 years.
Never heard of it, right?
So here’s a little history for some context.
Patrick Taylor founded Taylor Energy Company in New Orleans in 1979. According to Taylor’s 2004 obituary, “Taylor Energy Company is one of the larger independent oil companies in the Gulf of Mexico to explore for and produce oil and natural gas in Federal offshore waters in the Gulf of Mexico.”
Taylor Energy was doing well, and the price of gasoline was increasing:
Then in September 2004, Hurricane Ivan struck the Gulf of Mexico off Louisiana. Powerful waves triggered an underwater mudslide that wrecked Taylor Energy’s oil platform.
The mudslide also buried a cluster of wells under mounds of treacherous sediment, preventing the company from employing traditional techniques to plug them. Taylor Energy plugged nine wells, leaving 16 unplugged.
Patrick Taylor died in November 2004.
Taylor Energy “sold its oil and gas assets in 2008 and ceased oil drilling and production operations,” according to its one-page website:
And ever since Hurricane Ivan in September 2004, Taylor Energy’s drilling site has been leaking oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
I knew nothing of this until I heard an interview on NPR’s The Takeaway. The gentleman being interviewed, Michael Kunzelman of the Associated Press, had talked of and written about the Taylor oil spill for years.
I wonder if Kunzelman felt like the proverbial voice crying in the wilderness – writing and warning and nobody listening.
I listened, and got angry, then started doing my own research, and got angrier.
Based on what I’m learning, from my perspective, here’s one of the reasons no one is listening: The Deepwater Horizon disaster:
In 2010 BP’s Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig exploded. Spectacular flames, clouds of billowing smoke. Countless gallons of oil in and on the water, moving toward shorelines. Countless birds and marine life killed. Massive oil spill, massive rescue efforts. Eleven workers never found.
And massive media attention: The disaster was brought to us live from the flames and smoke to pictures of oil-soaked pelicans staggering at the water’s edge. “BP” was on everybody’s lips. The disaster was BP’s fault. BP was the villain, and everybody knew it.
And in case anybody forgot it, a movie, Deepwater Horizon, came out in 2016 to remind us.
But in 2004 when Hurricane Ivan wrecked Taylor Energy’s oil platform – no explosions, no flames, no deaths, no staggering pelicans.
No one was paying much attention, and Taylor Energy certainly wasn’t talking about it.
And since 2004:
Leak, leak, leak.
So there’s a brief history of the Taylor oil spill. As one writer put it, “a quietly devastating oil spill that’s been contaminating the Gulf of Mexico for 14 years.”
Said another, “It threatens to overtake the Deepwater Horizon spill as the biggest offshore disaster in US history.”
Reminder: Deepwater Horizon: More than 200 million gallons (more than 4 million barrels) of crude oil pumped into the Gulf of Mexico.
In 2008, the same year that Taylor Energy sold its assets and ceased production, federal government regulators required the company to deposit approximately $666 million in a trust to pay for oil leak response work.
Taylor Energy has shirked its responsibility, and an army of lawyers has fought further responsibility every step of the way. “The company,” wrote Kunzelman, “has insisted there is no evidence any wells are still leaking. It claims residual oil is oozing from sediment on the seafloor.”
As for what is we’re seeing on the Gulf of Mexico surface, says Taylor Energy, “The sheens contained an average volume of less than 4 gallons per day.”
Over the past 14 years, Taylor Energy has maintained that the leaks are minimal, as is any environmental damage. Each time new measurements were taken – by the Coast Guard and environmental groups who insisted the leaks were increasing – Taylor maintained its position.
No, no, insisted Taylor Energy scientists. The slicks are caused by oil and gas bubbling up from the oil-saturated seafloor, and not from leaking wells.
In November 2018 Kunzelman wrote, “Government lawyers recently disclosed a new estimate that approximately 10,500 to 29,400 gallons of oil is leaking daily from the site where slicks often stretch for miles off Louisiana’s coast.”
But Taylor Energy has held fast.
And William Pecue, Taylor Energy’s president, has consistently referred to the events that led to the oil leak as an “Act of God.” Meaning that Hurricane Ivan triggered a mudslide in the canyon that the wells were located in, and the event was an unforeseen natural phenomenon for which Taylor cannot legally be held responsible.
In one article Kunzelman quoted Justice Department attorney John Roberson as saying, “I believe that their [Taylor Energy’s] position is there’s no more that can be done and they should be able to walk away from the issue.”
And not only “walk away” – Taylor Energy had sued the Federal government, demanding the return of $432 million of that $666 million.
Take the money and run. The good old American way.
But…maybe not. According to a spate of articles on November 20,
“Last week, the Coast Guard directed Taylor Energy to decide on a new containment plan and a contractor to do the work. The new method of containment ‘must eliminate the surface sheen and avoid the deficiencies associated with prior containment systems,’ the Coast Guard wrote in an administrative order. The company will be fined up to $40,000 per day for failing to comply.”
And on November 21 Kunzelman wrote,
“The Interior Board of Land Appeals refused to excuse Taylor Energy Co. from requirements to permanently plug oil wells that could be the source of the leak. [It] can be required to perform more underwater drilling and excavation work to stop the flow of crude.”
Taylor Energy has fought unfavorable decisions in the past and will no doubt fight these decisions as well.
But no “Happy Days” for more than 800,000 Federal employees.
Because here we are, in our third government shutdown in one year. Lest we’ve forgotten:
January 20, 2018 – January 23, 2018
February 9, 2018 – February 9, 2018
December 22, 2018 – Till Further Notice
In this current shutdown those Federal employees – about a quarter of the government – aren’t getting paid, though many of those are considered “essential” and have to work anyway.
That number of unpaid employees does not include the President or Congress, which seem more and more unessential every day.
These federal departments are shuttered:
This list does not include NASA, which stands for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, though I’ve decided NASA actually stands for Needless And Stupid Assignments.
NASA did, however, get nailed in the shutdown – about 95 percent of NASA employees aren’t working and aren’t getting paid.
But never fear. NASA makes exceptions for the folks responsible for keeping NASA people and property safe. “Property” includes currently operational spacecraft.
And “currently operational spacecraft” include the New Horizons and its January 1 flyby of Ultima Thule, also referred to as the “celestial snowman”:
That’s right – there were plenty of people hanging around in NASA’s and other control rooms, high-fiving and patting themselves on the back when they verified that New Horizons had, indeed, done a flyby and taken pictures of Ultima Thule, the most distant object ever visited by a spacecraft.
That distance is around four billion miles, so well, yeah, that’s distant.
And what is Ultima Thule?
First a definition. In Latin, it means “the highest degree attainable.” For NASA purposes, “the farthest point; the limit of any journey.”
In addition to “celestial snowman,” various media have referred to Ultima Thule as “a pristine fragment from the earliest days of the solar system,” “small frozen world,” “distant object,” “minor planet,” “a tiny and mysterious object” and “a bowling pin.”
Why did NASA want New Horizons to do a flyby, aside from, “because it’s there”?
Well, the New Horizons spacecraft was sort of in the neighborhood – it had done an earlier flyby of Pluto, so like the Energizer Bunny, it kept going and going and going…
Cost for Pluto flyby: $720 million.
Side trip for Ultima Thule: $81 million.
What we’ve learned about Ultima Thule for that extra $81 million:
“We know it’s not round,” said John Spencer, the mission’s deputy project scientist.
Did I mention “Needless And Stupid Assignments”?
What’s it all mean?
We have more than 800,000 Federal employees who aren’t getting paid, but a bunch of NASA scientists who are getting paid to look at pictures of a bowling pin and ascertain that isn’t round.
If only I’d known, I could have saved NASA the trouble – and us taxpayers the money – by sending this to Mr. Spencer: