Before Google, Our Google Was…

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,

“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…

A Look Beyond Rudolph’s Red Nose

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:

  1. Rudolph is different.
  2. The other reindeer make fun of him (read:  bullying).
  3. Santa asks Rudolph for help.
  4. 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,

“‘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:

Montgomery Ward’s 1939 Christmas catalogue.

“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:

Some of the 89 rhyming couplets in “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” hardcover edition.

But it wasn’t until brother-in-law Johnny Marks wrote the song, and:

Gene Autry, the “Singing Cowboy.”

“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. 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.’”

Seriously – I Can Eat This, And Feel Good About It?

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:

Calories:  About 400 each day.

It’s an all-around win:

Trump Won’t Need This Money – Not Where He’s Going

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:

Donald Trump.

It was Trump himself who suggested exile, back in mid-October:

Trump said:

“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?

This article…

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:

Get acquainted with your neighbors:

Dress warmly, enjoy your surroundings…

It’s your choice, Donald. 


Or this:

Trump Will Never Say It, So I Will:

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.

Biden said:

“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.

There won’t be any comfort coming from Trump:

What A Wonderfully Unpandemicky Story

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,

“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.

It’s a reaffirmation of life.

The Sad But True Reason I’m Staying The Hell Out Of Stores This Holiday Season:

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,


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:

There’s Fraud, And Then There’s CALIFORNIA Fraud

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:

And this:

And 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.”

Tax Dollars Recap:  August: $250,000.
November: $140M.  December: $400M.

Riverside County District Attorney Michael Hestrin said, “We’re continuing to uncover more fraud, and the scale of it is frankly stunning.”

“Stunning,” indeed. 

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:

Tax Dollars Recap:  August: $250,000.  December:  $1B.


“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.”

The editorial’s headline used the word “fiasco.”

I have another “F” word in mind:

Update: December 8, 2020:

Only Our Government Would Say “Only” $30 Million…

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:

USS Toast.

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:

Artificial reefs:

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:

And this:

And 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:

Than this:

Movie Review: I Want My Six Hours Back, And So Do Lots Of Other People:

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?

And why?

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,, 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.

And there is my satisfying ending.

Look! Up In The Sky! Is It A Bird? Is It A Plane? No, It’s $1.16 Billion Worth Of…

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, where I found this:

“The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft is traveling to Bennu, a carbonaceous asteroid whose regolith may record the earliest history of our solar system.  Bennu may contain 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

“OSIRIS-REx will travel to a near-Earth asteroid called Bennu and bring a small sample back to Earth for study.”

Then, according to – 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.”

Wait.  What? 

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?

Or yours?

The dirt sample capsule may land in the Utah desert and there may be dirt to study.

If there is dirt to study, somebody may learn something about what NASA calls “this pristine remnant from the early days of our solar system.”

Or…may not.

Is My Mom In Heaven, Weeping?

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.

Filling a bird feeder. The orange plate is a baffle, to keep squirrels from stealing bird seed.

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.

First hummingbird of the year!

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.

A grey female and red male “cardys.”

“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?”

Who-o-o is she looking at?

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:


Mom’s “Harry.”

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.

Mom? Are you in there?

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…

She’s weeping.

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 – 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:

But, come January 20, Mom can smile again: