Do You Like My New Kitchen Décor?

California, September 2016:  Then-Governor Brown signs SB 1383, making it a law:

The lower-left image appears to be an officer writing a citation – more about that below.

My husband and I watch and read a lot of news.  We trade stories:  “Did you see this one, about…?”

But in September 2016 neither of us saw nor read a story about California’s new law – SB 1383 – that, among other things, would require us to reduce organic waste disposal 50% by 2020 and 75% by 2025.

Organic waste – this stuff:

Also, I’ll learn, called “food scraps.”

No one, and I mean no one among the powers-that-be, calls it “garbage.”

We knew nothing about any of it, until recent stories like this started appearing:

But this story focused on the city of San Diego.  What about the rest of our county?

For that I headed to my town’s website and found this:

I learned that whole “50% by 2020” thing went out the window due to the pandemic.  The new start date for the program is January 1, 2022.

And I learned that the new law is for everyone – single-family homes, multiple-unit buildings, and businesses.

According to the website’s Frequently Asked Questions,

“The goal of this program is to reduce the amount of organic materials sent to our landfill to minimize greenhouse gas emissions.  Landfills are the second largest source of methane generation in California.  Specifically, food scraps produce methane gas as they decompose in landfills.”

And reducing methane gas is good, because methane gas is bad:

  • Methane gas is over 70 times more potent than carbon dioxide during a 20-year span.
  • Methane and other pollutants contribute to public health problems including heart disease and asthma, especially in the state’s most at-risk communities.

So, of course – I’m all for reducing methane gas.

What I’m not so sure of is this, sitting on my kitchen counter:

This image was obviously shot in a photographer’s studio, with a mix of carefully arranged and very fresh vegetables, an attractively bright orange skin, and two artfully placed eggshells.

Nobody’s actual garbage looks like that.

It looks like this:

Compost pails come with lids, so that’s not a problem.

The problem is taking the lid off, after you’ve been accumulating garbage – excuse me, “food scraps” – for several days…

Of course, anytime you wish, you can walk your compost pail out to your organic waste collection bin.  Which has been sitting in your hot garage for three weeks since you only put it out at the curb for collection when it’s full.  So it’s getting really ripe. 

Lift the lid on that thing and…

And what food scraps go into the compost pail?

My city’s website provided this helpful visual aid of food scraps:

And went on to say,

“Residents can generally continue to use the motorized garbage disposal in their kitchen sink for small scraps of food.  But large scraps should go in the pails.”

But how small is “small” and how large is “large”?

How esoteric will we get here?

And what about enforcement of SB 1383? 

If I forget, and put something that’s too “large” to be “small” in my garbage disposal, or misstep with the guidelines in some other way…what happens?

One news story said,

“The state law has enforcement requirements.  They require code enforcement staff to go out and actually flipping the lid to do visual inspections of the contents of the containers.”

Yikes.

Now I’m imagining a new branch of law enforcement, the CCP – California Compost Police:

I’m imaging an encounter with the CCP…

(My doorbell rings)

Me (very politely):  Oh!  Hello.  May I help you?

CCP:  Ma’am, I’m from the California Compost Police.  We have reason to believe you’re in violation of SB 1383 Lara, Chapter 395, Statutes of 2016, California’s Short-Lived Climate Pollutant Strategy.

Me (still very politely):  Um…that is, you said “violation”?  Me?  What?  How?

CCP:  Our regular inspection of your compost bin indicates no eggshells.

Me (still polite, but now nervous):  You’ve been inspecting my compost bin?

CCP:  Yes, ma’am.  We have an officer riding in every collection truck, taking note how people are and are not following the food scraps guidelines.  Since the law went into effect, we’ve seen no eggshells in your compost bin.  Are you putting eggshells down your garbage disposal, ma’am?

Me (a bit less polite):  No!  Not at all.  But that’s easy to explain.  We don’t make anything with raw eggs, so we don’t have eggshells.

CCP:  That’s not considered relevant, ma’am.  May I come in and take a look in your refrigerator?

Yikes.

All right – seriously? 

I am in favor of SB 1383 and reducing greenhouse gases.

And I pledge to do my very best to comply with the new food scraps guidelines.

And I will count myself lucky.

At least the California Compost Police aren’t coming after me for what these cows are doing:

Will These Two Lost-And-Found Stories Have…

I like lost-and-found stories – if they have happy endings.

“But,” you might say, “if what was lost is found – isn’t that a happy ending?

And I’d say, “There’s found – and then there’s found.”

Here are two recent lost-and-found stories that caught my eye, and have me wondering how the stories will end.

First:

There’s not much information provided – two original paintings from 17th-century European artists somehow ended up in a roadside dumpster in southeast Germany.

According to the article,

“The framed oil paintings were found by a 64-year-old man at a highway service station in the Bavaria region last month.  The man later handed the paintings to police in the western city of Cologne, the police department said.

“Officers have launched an appeal for the owner of the paintings.  An initial assessment from an art expert concluded the paintings were likely original works, police said.”

Here are the paintings:

The painting on the left is a portrait of a boy by Dutch artist Samuel van Hoogstraten (1627-1678), date unknown.  The painting on the right is a self-portrait by Pietro Bellotti (1625-1700) showing the Italian artist smiling, dating to 1665.

The German captions say, “Who can provide information about these works?”

According to this article:

“The auction record for a Bellotti is $190,000, achieved at the Swiss house Koller Auktionen in 2010…Works by Van Hoogstraten have sold for as much as $788,000 (at Christie’s Monaco in 1993).” 

What we know:  These are two 17th-century paintings of not-insignificant financial value by known artists.

What we don’t know:  The paintings’ journey from the 17th-century artists’ studios to the German dumpster.

Here’s my theory:

When the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933, they began confiscating art – paintings, ceramics, books and religious treasures – from all over Europe “for the greater good of the state.” 

Meaning, for Hitler’s self-aggrandizement:

Fellow art “collectors” Adolph Hitler (right) and Hermann Göring.

The confiscations continued till the war’s end in 1945, and included hundreds of thousands of items from museums, and from private collections, many of those collections belonging to Jewish families.

Hitler was particularly fond of “Old Masters” – works he considered “traditional,” done by painters of skill who worked in Europe before about 1800.  And while the works of Van Hoogstraten and Bellotti aren’t as well-known as those by, for example, Rembrandt or da Vinci, these two paintings would have checked all the boxes on Hitler’s shopping list.

1944: German soldiers of the Hermann Göring Division in Rome with a painting looted from an Italian museum.

Many of the artworks looted by the Nazis were recovered, but many are still missing.

I’ll suggest that the two paintings by Bellotti and Van Hoogstraten were among the looted.  After World War II they somehow passed from hand to hand until the paintings ended up stashed somewhere, like in someone’s attic.

Someone whose descendants didn’t want to explain how they came to possess the paintings, and instead tossed them in a highway service station’s dumpster.

My happy ending?  The descendants of the lawful owners come forward with proof that the paintings belonged to their families before the war, and the paintings are returned to them.

And that could happen.  Seventy-six years after World War II ended, looted artworks are still being returned to the rightful heirs:

Only then will the paintings be truly found.

Here’s my second lost-and-found story:

OK – a collection of items with British author names including the Brontës, Walter Scott and Robert Burns might not set your heart aflutter, but rest assured it’s got plenty of people hyperventilating.

The collection includes this handwritter manuscript of Emily Brontë’s poems, with pencil corrections by her sister Charlotte; Sotheby’s is valuing it at between $1.1 million to $1.7 million.

The “lost library” in the headline, which vanished from public view in the 1930s, is referred to as the Honresfield Library, a private collection assembled by Alfred and William Law, brothers and Victorian industrialists (their home was Honresfield House).  It consists of more than 500 manuscripts, letters, rare first editions and other artifacts.

Why did the collection vanish from public view?

According to the New York Times, the Law brothers never married.  After their deaths, the collection passed to a nephew and, 

“…after his death in 1939, the originals fell out of public view.

“By the 1940s, the collection had become ‘well-nigh untraceable,’ as one scholar put it at the time.  In recent decades, some artifacts from the collection…have come up for auction.  But the whereabouts of the rest remained unclear.”

That’s all rather vague, and the sellers, who are family descendants of the Laws, wish to remain anonymous.

So while my curiosity will go unsatisfied, I am satisfied that the collection was lost – and is now found.

Only to be lost again – to private collectors through multiple Sotheby’s auctions:

But wait – the collection may be found again, if a consortium, the Friends of National Libraries, can raise $21 million to acquire it and allocate the items to institutions around Britain “for the benefit of the public”:

And Sotheby’s, to their credit, has agreed to delay the much-publicized auction of this “lost library” of British literature treasures.  Sotheby’s would not disclose the time frame of the auction delay, which it said had been agreed to by the two parties.

But we know the clock is ticking.

My happy ending?

The Friends of National Libraries raise that $21 million, keep the Honresfield treasures out of private hands and put them into British institutions.

Where these treasures can then be found – by everyone.

Two Whales Walk Into A Bar, And One Says, “Look At These Lousy Headlines – This Is SO…

Humpback #1 has his phone out, scrolling through headlines, and groans, “The New York Times says, ‘Nearly Eats…’ I did not!”

“The Washington Post – geez!  ‘Swallowed’?  There’s no way!”

“And this one!  You’d think at least a local newspaper would get it right.  But – ‘Swallowed’ again?  Gimme a break!”

Humpback #2 commiserates, adding, “At least the Washington Post said you spit him out.”

“Yeah,” says Humpback #1, “but the diver says I tried to eat him.  How dumb is that guy?  Humpbacks don’t eat humans.  All those bones and fat and gristle…give me a big mouthful of krill any day.”

Humpback #2 says, “So what really happened?”

Humpback #1 shuts his phone and gives a big whale sigh through his blowhole.  “There I was, just swimming along, having breakfast…”

While the whales talk, let’s look into what appears to be the not-fake-news part of this story:

On the morning of June 11, Michael Packard, 56 (pictured), was diving for lobster in about 40 feet of water off the coast of Provincetown, MA.  His fishing partner, Josiah Mayo, was following him in their fishing vessel, tracking him through the bubbles that rose from Packard’s breathing gear to the surface of the water.

A humpback whale, possibly a 32- to 35-foot juvenile that had previously been seen swimming in the area, was nearby, diving for food. 

When humpbacks feed, they open wide. 

Really wide:

According to the New York Times story, Packard was swimming toward the bottom when…

 “…he felt ‘this truck hit me.’

“His first thought was that a white shark had attacked him, but when he did not feel teeth piercing into him, he realized he was inside a whale.”

Let’s pause, because there’s a question here that’s begging to be asked.

According to all I’ve read, Packard is a very experienced diver.  So how does a guy with all that time underwater not pick up on the fact that he’s in very close proximity to a very large, moving entity?

Back to Packard’s story:

“‘I was completely inside; it was completely black.  I thought to myself:  There’s no way I’m getting out of here – I’m done, I’m dead.’ 

“Packard said he was in the mouth for at least 30 seconds, wondering whether he would run out of air or be swallowed.  He said he struggled against the mouth of the whale and could feel its powerful muscles squeezing against him.  Then, he saw light and felt the whale’s head shaking and his body being thrown into the water.”

The whale had spit out its catch:

The Cape Cod Times story said Packard was pulled out of the water by his crewman and rushed back to shore, where he was transported to Cape Cod Hospital.  He walked – albeit with a limp – out of the hospital that afternoon.

Out of the hospital and onto the world stage.

Packard’s story got local, national and international media coverage; an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live, where he sat on a throne designed as a whale’s mouth:

And numerous experts weighed in, including Peter Corkeron, chair of the Kraus Marine Mammal Conservation Program at the New England Aquarium, who noted that a humpback’s lower jaw is more than large enough to hold a person; indeed at 10 feet long their mouths could fit a small car:

A humpback whale and calf compared to a double-decker bus, an elephant, and a diver.

But perhaps the most insightful expert was featured in this article:

The article’s author had contacted comparative anatomist Joy Reidenberg, Ph.D., a professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai whose research focuses on whales.

Dr. Reidenberg went into painstaking detail about the anatomy of the inside of a humpback whale’s mouth, and also confirmed Packard’s statement about it being “completely black” inside:

“When you’re inside the whale’s mouth it would just be dark because there’s no light in there.”

So, two weeks have passed since Packard’s up-close-and-personal whale encounter, and since there are no reports to the contrary, it appears that his story about spending 30 or so seconds in a humpback’s mouth is…

(I couldn’t resist that.)

Now let’s return to our whales, who have left the bar and are back out at sea…

Here’s A Classic Case Of The Federal Government, Your Tax Dollars, And…

The “good money” is $929 million of our tax dollars.

The “bad money” is $100 billion of our tax dollars.

That’s not just California taxpayer dollars.

It’s federal tax dollars, too.

It’s all money for California’s High-Speed Rail System, and it’s all wasted money.

It didn’t start out that way.

Back in 2008, we in California had visions of a high-speed rail system dancing through our heads.

The artist’s renderings of what our high-speed rail would look like were enticing, and so was the sales pitch:

“Los Angeles to San Francisco in three hours!”  They told us.

“Yes, yes!” we voted in 2008.

“No more congested freeways and jammed airports and crowded airplanes – just a quiet, comfortable, fast ride!”

“Yes, yes!” we voted.

“Ready for you in 2020, and just $33 billion!”

Well, plenty of us hesitated a bit at that $33 billion price tag. 

But the idea of, in just 12 years, we’d be zipping through the California countryside on a high-speed train, just like other people were already doing in a number of other countries, skipping the automobiles and gasoline pollution and freeways with rush hour traffic…

The people of California voted “Yes!”

Today the cost, originally estimated at $33 billion, has risen to $100 billion.

And no one in California is anywhere close to zipping through the California countryside – or anywhere else – on a high-speed train.

Years ago we started calling it the “Bullet Train to Nowhere”:

Years ago we started calling it a “boondoggle”:

Definition:

This financial fiasco has been going on for so long that stories about the high-speed train have become background noise.  The cost keeps going up.  The start date keeps getting further away. 

And we’d regularly see articles like this, from 2018:

Then, in February 2019, came this:

It’s about the only decision that came out of the Trump administration that I agreed with.

The article said,

“If the funds are lost or tied up in a long legal battle, the state would probably have to either make up the money elsewhere or further curtail the project.”

“Further curtail the project” sounded good to me.

“Pull the plug” sounded even better:

Especially since the project had already been drastically scaled back.

Remember that zip-zip trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco?

That became the zip-zip trip from Merced to Bakersfield:

Also known as the trip from “Where?” to “Why bother?”

With all due respect to the denizens of Merced and Bakersfield, the two cities are not what you’d call population centers.

Or vacation destinations.

Seriously, I’ve lived in California a long time, and I’ve never once heard someone say, “I’m going to Merced for vacation!”  Or, “We’re honeymooning in Bakersfield!”

Both cities are located in the Central Valley:

In California, when you think of population centers, industries, tech companies, and lots of riders for high-speed rail – you think San Francisco and Los Angeles.  Sacramento and San Diego.

In Bakersfield the #2 employer is a produce business.  In Merced, Walmart is on the Top Ten list of employers.

But the big brains at the California High-Speed Rail Authority who make the big decisions apparently decided, “Well, high-speed rail between Los Angeles and San Francisco turned out to be a lot more difficult than Merced to Bakersfield, so let’s do that instead!  Then we can say, ‘See?  We’ve completed something!  Now can we have more money?’”

So now, when we see high-speed rail stories, it’s mostly about the delays and cost increases to build that Merced to Bakersfield line.

And what was once going to be a two-track corridor has now been reduced to a single track:

Bad money.

Then, on June 11, we learned that the Biden administration was reinstating that $929 million – the good money – to the bullet train to nowhere:

I call it “good money” because until now, it hadn’t yet been pissed away spent on a wasteful project.

That almost-billion in our tax dollars was still intact.

Give it to the bullet train and it instantly becomes bad money.

Good money thrown in after bad.

So far, it’s the only decision from the Biden administration I disagree with.

I think this editorial from the San Diego Union-Tribune

…summed it up regarding the return of the $929 million:

“…that will still leave the state $79 billion short of what it needs to link the state’s biggest population centers, now estimated at as much as $100 billion.”

Now, it’s a fact that many countries have successfully built and are operating high-speed rail systems.

Even Uzbekistan – which is tough to spell and even tougher to point to on a map – has high-speed rail:

But not California. 

But…but…to be fair – in 2016, California’s high-speed rail was the recipient of an award.

Yes! 

And the award was the first of its kind.

And here it is:

Ladies And Gentlemen, You Are Now Entering…

Once upon a time, in a suburb of Detroit, a young woman had a double dream:

To live in San Francisco, and be a flight attendant.

It was an almost-impossible double dream, and yet – with some help along the way – she made it happen.

And that young woman – me – considered herself the luckiest person in the world.

Even if my airline did have the ugliest uniforms in the world:

I became a trained, certified flight attendant, and I was going to see that world!

And for three years, I did.

How fortunate for me that it happened then, and not now.

Now when, according to this June 15 article, flight crews are dealing with this:

“2900 incidents of unruly travelers on planes in 2021”?

In three years of flying, I never saw an “unruly” passenger.

I never heard of any of my fellow flight attendants dealing with unruly passengers.

What the hell is going on?

A quick search on the internet brings up plenty of articles with plenty of experts delving into the psyches of what appear to be otherwise OK people who suddenly turn into dangerous, even violent crazies on airplanes.

Like this crazy who attacked a flight attendant in late May:

What the hell is going on?

A number of the articles I read stated that of those 3,000 incidents (the numbers are increasing so quickly, it’s hard to keep up), “2,300” were sparked by the passenger’s refusal to wear a mask.

Ah, yes.

Face masks.

A simple device used to cover the nose and mouth to reduce the amount of potentially contagious droplets and aerosols we breathe, speak, and sneeze into the air. 

One function of a mask is to protect ourselves.  Another function of a mask is to protect other people.  Even if we’ve been fully vaccinated, we can still get COVID.  If we’re infected, we can be asymptomatic, and spread COVID. 

In close quarters – and it doesn’t get much closer than a full commercial airplane – masks are still required. 

Masks will be required at least through September 13, per the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

That means it’s a federal law.

So, what do we do about the crazies on planes from now until September 13, and possibly beyond?

First, we do what Southwest Airlines did after the passenger assaulted the flight attendant and knocked out two of her teeth:

The passenger is banned from flying Southwest:

As in, banned forever:

Chris Mainz, a Southwest spokesman, told NBC News that Vyvianna Quinonez is now “restricted from ever flying on Southwest Airlines again.

“She has been advised this decision is final,” he said.

Better yet, let’s ban all unruly passengers from all U.S. commercial carriers – forever.

That’s right:

Second, I suggest that the flight attendants do a lot less polite asking, and that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) do a lot more of this:

And that traveler facing the $32,750 fine isn’t the only one:

  • A Southwest Airlines passenger faces $16,500 in fines.
  • Two travelers face $9,000 in fines in other cases.
  • A passenger was removed and now faces a fine of $15,000.

That was in May.

And more recently, from June 14:

And this, from June 15:

The word that appears most frequently in these stories about fines is “proposes.”  As in, “The FAA proposes…”

I say it’s time for the FAA to stop proposing fines and start imposing fines.

Put some teeth into this.

Hit people where it hurts:

In their wallets.

That’ll get their attention.

It seems so simple to me.

Flying in a choice.

When we fly, the FAA and TSA have rules we must abide by.  Rules about electronic devices, rules about pets and service animals, rules about prohibited items.

If you don’t want to follow the rules…

Don’t fly.

As to the rule about wearing masks:  They’re mandatory on airplanes, and in the airport.

If you don’t want to follow the rules…

Don’t fly.

As a former flight attendant, I truly feel for the current group that’s forced to “deescalate dangerous situations,” and are faced with verbal abuse and physical harm.

As I said, I’m fortunate.

And that’s why I say:

Then, if you, the crazed, do fly and break the rules, your headline won’t talk about a proposed fine.

Instead, your headline will say:

I think it appropriate that I give a flight attendant the last word:

Would You Pay $398 For One Dinner – And You Don’t Even Know What You’ll Be Eating?

For one dinner, wine not included?

And you haven’t a clue as to what will be served?

No?

Me, neither.

But, according to this recent article:

The demand for this dinner is so high, that the creators added a second night to the schedule:  July 16 and 17.

And though the menu has not been announced, people are actually whipping out their credit cards to pay $398 in advance for a…

What’s the story?

There’s a restaurant in San Diego – Addison – a recipient of a Michelin star.

There’s a restaurant in Healdsburg, CA – SingleThread – a recipient of three Michelin stars.

A Michelin star:  The ultimate hallmark of culinary excellence.

The chefs from Addison and SingleThread decided to cook together – excuse me, create a “major dinner event,” and according to the article: 

“The eight-course dinners…will feature a mix of dishes.”

I checked out the websites for both Addison and SingleThread, and it appears the two chefs are big on “tasting menus.”

SingleThread offers an “11-course tasting menu…a bespoke hospitality experience in the center of Sonoma Wine Country.”

Addison’s website talks about five- and 10-course tasting menus that “showcase the beauty and allure of California Gastronomy.”

And for all their “bespoke” and “gastronomy” stuff, neither website gives you an inkling of what you’ll be tasting at the restaurants.

We’re talking secretive here.

Secretive:  A hallmark of culinary pretentiousness:

So let’s say that the July “major dinner event” will be a tasting menu. 

Tasting menu:  A collection of several dishes in small portions, served by a restaurant as a single meal.

My definition of tasting menu:  A collection of super-measly portions served by a restaurant as a meal, after which you look around and say, “What’s for dinner?”

Here’s a quick recap of this major dinner event:

  • One meal is $398.
  • Wine not included.
  • We don’t know what will be served.
  • It will be eight courses.
  • It’s probably a tasting menu.
  • Available July 16 and 17 only.
  • Pretentious.

Well, since the chefs aren’t telling, as a public service I decided to take some guesses as to what folks will be eating on July 16 and 17.

Here are my five of the eight courses – throw in a few amuse bouche between some courses, and dinner is served.

Voila!

And speaking of Voila! I’ll be using French throughout. 

I say:  If you’re going to go pretentious, go big:

First, the soup course:  Essence de soupe avec de la jonque verte mystérieuse:

Translation: Essence of soup with mysterious green junk.

Next, soufflé végtéal sans le soufflé:

Translation: Vegetable souffle without the souffle.

Then, a meat course:  Assortiment d’os avec salade printanière:

Translation: Assortment of bones with spring salad.

The pièce de résistance, the grand finale:  Assiette avec visage de légumes:

Translation: Vegetable face on a plate.

And, of course, dessert:  Frottis rouges et jaunes sucrés au miel:

Translation: Red and yellow smears sweetened with honey.

C’est magnifique!

So magnifique, I’m left with just one question:

Dear President Biden:  When Your Son Was In The Service, Did His Military Housing Include These?

Dear President Biden:

Your late son, Beau, joined the military in 2003, served in Iraq in 2008-2009, and was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for his service.

While he was serving his country, did he ever live in military housing that included this:

And this:

And this:

Thousands of our military members who – and this is so important – volunteered to serve, are living in military housing with lead poisoning, mold, sewage, brown bath water, vermin and other issues.  So are their spouses and children.

And it’s making many of them sick:

I know, from your many years in the Senate and then as Vice President, that you’re aware of the horrible conditions in much of our military housing.

And I know, due to my research, that to address this issue, in February 2020, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, along with the secretaries of each military service, signed the Military Housing Privatization Initiative Tenant Bill of Rights:

Here’s another part of the Tenant Bill of Rights:

“The Department commits to providing the full benefit of the following 15 rights by May 1, 2020.”

That looked definitive.

But it wasn’t.

I also know, from this February 2021 article:

That “Congress allocated nearly $200 million over the past two years to help boost DoD’s oversight over private housing providers.”

And, from that same article,

“DoD believes it will need to spend an additional $120 million per year to staff new programs to inspect and oversee those projects.”

Mr. President, those dollar figures seem downright paltry, when you consider that the cost of one of these – just one F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter – is $100 million:

Even more so when you consider that the woman or man who’s going to fly that F-35 Lightning II may be living in housing with this:

Rodent carcasses on a trap that a military family placed inside their home on Joint Base Anacoastia-Bolling in Washington, DC. The family asked not to be identified.

The problem, as is so often the case – is the middleman.  That is, the privatized military family housing companies that have been managing and building military housing since 1996, when Congress created the Military Housing Privatization Initiative (MHPI) under the National Defense Authorization Act. 

According to this article,

The “Big 5” privatized military family housing companies are Balfour Beatty, Lincoln Military Housing, Hunt Military Communities, Lendlease, and Corvias Military Living.

I was unable to discover what the Department of Defense pays – correction, what we taxpayers pay – for privatized military housing.

But I found a clue in the February 2019 Congressional hearing, “Current Condition of the Military Housing Privatization Initiative”:

Here’s an exchange between Senator Elizabeth Warren and Christopher Williams, president of the above-mentioned Balfour Beatty:

Senator Elizabeth Warren:  Mr. Williams?
Christopher Williams:  Our net profits for our military housing businesses are around $33 million…a year.

Elsewhere I learned that there are 14 of these companies, called “corporate housing partners,” and some, if not all of them, hold 50-year contracts to manage military housing.

The math?

We’re talking billions of our tax dollars going to companies responsible for this:

Mold on the ceiling and walls, Randolph Air Force Base, TX.

And this:

Lead paint chipping off a window frame, Fort Benning, GA.

And this:

A tarp covers a leak in the ceiling, Fort Meade, MD.

Another name on that “Big 5” list is Lincoln Military Housing.

As I typed it, I thought “Lincoln Military Housing” sounded familiar.

Hmmm.

Ah, yes.

I heard that name in the local news just last month:

The article says that “Several San Diego area families are suing a government contractor that provides housing to military members and their families.”

The government contractor is Lincoln Military Housing.

One of those families is the Huffmans, who moved to San Diego in 2018.  Matt Huffman is a staff sergeant in the Marines.

April Huffman said within a week of moving into their military housing, two of her sons got sick.

They started having “a really bad cold or something coming on,” she said.

Those cold-like symptoms didn’t go away, and for one of her boys things got much worse.  Logan had trouble breathing and ended up in the hospital:  

It was a sight his dad could barely handle:

“I was sitting there watching him in the hospital bed struggling and having a hard time reacting to the medication that they were doing,” Matt Huffman said.

The family called in a company to run air tests and swabs, and the results were several different toxic molds.

They then contacted Lincoln Military Housing and, according to the lawsuit,

“…repeatedly notified the defendants of these multiple defects in a timely manner; however, Defendants took no action to properly or time repair them and/or improperly attempted repairs resulting in further contamination, adding to the uninhabitability of the Subject property and making it untenantable and substandard.”

The Huffmans moved into a hotel for three months, and now the family of five is living in an RV:

Again, according to the lawsuit,

“…it was discovered there were multiple defects and problems with the home, such as vents contaminated with microbial spores, visible microbial growth in kitchen and bathrooms, an odor throughout the interior living spaces, and elevated moisture levels.”

The family’s attorney said,

“This family was exposed to microbial spores and water intrusion in their home, which caused them health issues including respiratory issues, asthma, skin rashes, headaches, nosebleeds, and things like that.”

Lincoln has denied all the lawsuit charges.

The Huffman case is still in the early stages.  Their lawsuit asks for damages, punitive damages, and attorney’s fees, among other things.

Mr. President, I encourage you to watch the May 14 YouTube video related to the Huffman story, Lawsuit Claims Military Housing Was Unsafe.

You’ll see Staff Sergeant Matt Huffman blinking back tears as he talks about what the family had to throw away due to contamination from their military housing including letters from his now-deceased father, written to Matt while in boot camp 10 years ago:

And this is just one military family – among so many.

So many families, despite the 2020 Military Housing Privatization Initiative Tenant Bill of Rights that said, “The Department commits to providing the full benefit of the following 15 rights by May 1, 2020.”

Despite the money Congress allocated, and then added to.

Despite all that, military families are still living with this dangerous issue – as attested to on the Military Housing Advocates’ Network’s Facebook page:

And as attested to in this June 9 article:

“FORT HOOD, Texas – Military families are still struggling with private contractors and on-post housing after the Department of Defense delayed the final protections of the new housing Bill of Rights to September 30.

“The Defense Department says because these companies are signed into existing long-term contracts with the military, they cannot force these companies to accept the changes.  They must voluntarily agree to them.”

When we deploy our military members overseas, we often put then in harm’s way.

They shouldn’t come home and still be in harm’s way.

Please, Mr. President:  Don’t let the Department of Defense kick this down the road to September 30.

Don’t delay addressing this issue.

Do it now.

Do it for Beau.

And What To My Wondering Eyes Did Appear…

My usual evening TV viewing Monday through Friday at 7pm is the PBS Newshour, and this past Friday was no different.

But it was SO different.

Every Friday evening, about mid-way through the program, Newshour host Judy Woodruff interviews New York Times columnist David Brooks (below, top) and Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart (below, bottom) about current hot topics.  

Woodruff asks good questions, Brooks and Capehart give thoughtful answers, and that evening I was expecting the same.

What I wasn’t expecting was this:

Brooks and Capehart were in the studio with Woodruff.

Sitting at the same table.

Not wearing masks.

IN THE STUDIO!

“THEY’RE IN THE STUDIO!  ALL THREE OF THEM, TOGETHER!  DO YOU SEE THAT?” I shouted to my husband.

Since he was sitting five feet away from me, he did, indeed see that.

It was the FIRST in-studio news interview I’d seen in…how long?

Fifteen months?

I simply sat and stared.  I could hardly believe what I was seeing.  I barely heard what they were saying.

I was transfixed.

It was, I realized, a real, true sign that we are on the road to recovery.

It looked so normal.

And normal looked so, so…

Pandemic Shortages – Or Pandemic Excuses?

Back in April I posed the question, “Will the pandemic become the excuse du jour?”

Since March 2020, when we started hearing “…due to the pandemic,” we’ve become accustomed to nodding and accepting the explanation.

And in March 2020, when stores ran out of toilet paper, and paper towels, and hand sanitizer, and, and, and…

We heard, “due to the pandemic,” nodded, and accepted the explanation.

In my blog post I suggested that not just for the next year, but probably for the next decade, when something isn’t delivered on time, or something breaks and stays broken, or even when someone commits a crime, it will all be…

Due to the pandemic.

For the latter, I’ll cite this April 28 Washington Post article:

According to the article,

Brendan was bored.

“Brendan Hunt, a Trump supporter who called for killing members of Congress days after the January 6 insurrection, was found guilty Wednesday of making a death threat against elected officials.

“Hunt said he was heavily using marijuana and alcohol while struggling with depression and boredom during the coronavirus pandemic.  He told the jury that the video he posted online after the Capitol riot was filmed while he was under the influence.”

Hunt faces up to 10 years in prison.

Will future conversations with customer service sound something like this?

Customer:  I’m calling to check on the status of my order.
Customer Service:  It’s delayed due to the pandemic.
Customer:  I haven’t told you what I ordered.
Customer Service:  It’s delayed due to the pandemic.
Customer:  The pandemic was declared over in late 2021.  This is 2025.
Customer Service:  Thank you for calling.  Have a nice day.

As we slowly – and hopefully, safely – emerge from the dark pandemic tunnel, I’ve been keeping track of a number of shortages blamed on the pandemic.  Just a few of many examples:

And as we all know, shortages often lead to:

And perhaps the most egregious example of that…

Is this…

When the pandemic began, apparently people in the lumber business hit the brakes on production, figuring the demand for new houses would slow.

They were wrong, according to the expert in this article:

“At the beginning of the pandemic demand for lumber was slightly down and mill inventories were down, but in the spring of last year [2020] we saw people move on home improvement projects, purchase a home or build a new home, causing an increase in demand for lumber.”

It seems to me that people in the lumber business caused the lumber shortage, and now they’re reaping the rewards:

No wonder Jeffrey Mezger is smiling.

And the people in the lumber business aren’t exactly crying in their beer over it, if this guy is an example:

“While lumber prices have gone up, we have been able to pass it on to the consumer with higher prices for homes,” Jeffrey Mezger, the CEO of KB Home, told CNN Business.  “And there is still far more demand than there is supply.”

Can’t you just picture ole Jeff, rubbing his grubby hands together in glee?

Now, I’m no economist, but I do understand that the law of supply and demand is integral to capitalism.

Definition:

Law of Supply and Demand:  The amount of goods and services that are available for people to buy compared to the amount of goods and services that people want to buy.  If less of a product that the public wants is produced, the law of supply and demand says that more can be charged for the product.

Charging more is one thing.

But with the lumber situation – a price increase of more than 500 percent in a year?

Gouging.

Outrageous.

And the lumber industry isn’t alone – here are just a few more recent price increases:

P&G said it was increasing prices on certain brands in North America to “combat the impact of higher costs of raw materials used to make the products.”

Uh-huh.  And…

Coca Cola’s “holistic inflation management” is a “multi-prong approach to manage inflation of key ingredients and packaging materials, according to executives.”

Uh-huh.  And…

According to the article, “Both Jif and Skippy already are or will be more expensive thanks to previous winter storms, the ongoing pandemic, truck driver shortages, shipping fees and delays, and even the recent block of the Suez Canal by a cargo ship.”

“The recent block of the Suez Canal.”

Well, that’s one I hadn’t thought of.

Here’s my perception.

For the first 12 months of the pandemic, we hung in and hung together, getting through the tragedy day by day.

When suppliers were caught price gouging – and it was infrequent – they were excoriated in the media and by the public.

But now, as we’re emerging from that dark pandemic tunnel, it’s no more “Mr. Nice Guy.” 

No more “We’re all in this together.”

The suppliers’ gloves are off.

Shortages?

Real or manufactured?

Higher prices?

They’re real, all right.

And while companies may tout that “wholistic inflation management” and bemoan the blockage of the Suez Canal, how many are using the excuse of the pandemic – and coming out of the pandemic – to raise prices?

Simply because…

They can.

It appears that even this venerable industry – yes, even this – has succumbed to the pandemic excuse and the lure of more money:

“Supply chain backlog.”

Uh-huh.

At least this CNN article…

…was a tad more creative than that.  In addition to “supply chain” issues, it cited:

  • The high demand for workers.
  • The shortage of truck drivers – orders that would normally ship the next day can take weeks to go out.
  • The pandemic created new demand at companies that had never needed porta potties before, such as vaccination sites.
  • The emphasis on hand washing and clean surfaces during the pandemic led many customers to order more porta potties at their job sites.
  • Competition from overseas buyers also has increased demand.
  • The concert venues and road races are starting to open up, and the festivals are talking about coming back in late summer – all porta potty customers.
  • An unprecedented increase in the cost of plastic resin used to make portable toilets; it’s a petroleum product and disruptions like the February winter storm in Texas have led to limited supplies.

The “February winter storm in Texas.”

That’s another one I hadn’t thought of.

This reminds me of an old commercial for Roach Motel, “Where roaches check in, but they don’t check out”:

The pandemic:

Prices go up, but they won’t come down.

Shortages, plus price gouging.

It’s…

It Only Took The Catholic Church 12 Years Of “Study” To Figure Out That Sexual Abuse Of Adults By Priests Is A Bad Thing

I guess we were all supposed to get excited by this story from last week:

The article says,

“Pope Francis has broadened the Roman Catholic Church’s definition of sexual abuse by revising its penal code to explicitly acknowledge that adults, and not only children, can be victimized by priests and powerful laypeople who abuse their offices.”

And it took the church only 12 years of “studying” this issue to come to this conclusion.

But I won’t be doing the Happy Dance, because this seems like the same result as Pope Francis’ global church summit on abuse back in 2019.  Here’s a picture of the Pope and church leaders from that summit:

You see all the hats?

They’re called “zucchetto.”

I call this boys club the “Beanie Babies.”

At that 2019 church summit, the Pope introduced laws requiring priests and nuns to report abuse accusations to church authorities.

However, the Times article continues,

“Critics have called on the Vatican to require reporting to civil authorities, but the church has resisted, saying that it is a global institution, and in many countries such reporting would expose accused clergy to great harm.”

So it’s OK for the clergy to do great harm – but let’s not have any reporting of them to authorities because it could expose the clergy to great harm?

And exactly which countries are the “many countries” referred to?  No specific were given in any article I read.  And what does “great harm” mean, exactly?

And what kind of excuse is the church being a “global institution”?  So what?

The reality is, Pope Francis’ latest changes to church law means “business as usual.”  The changes have no teeth.  And until the church requires its clergy to report all sexual abuse to civil authorities…

Any changes to church law will continue to have no teeth.

Except for this one.

Here’s Part II of the Pope’s big announcement, again from the New York Times article:

“The changes in canon law also take aim at a completely different problem the church has identified only relatively recently:  the growing movement of women who claim they have been ordained as priests.  

“The Vatican’s doctrinal office issued a decree in 2007 saying that ‘a person who attempts to confer a sacred order on a woman, and the woman who attempts to receive the sacred order,’ should trigger automatic excommunication.

“These revisions now incorporate that decree into church law.”

Whoa!

“Automatic excommunication”?

“Incorporate that decree into church law”?

Now that has some teeth.

Loud and clear, the Pope is saying, “If you’re foolish enough to ordain a woman, or if you’re a female foolish enough to think you’re ordained…

What, exactly, “automatic excommunication”?

For that I turned to several Catholic publications and learned, among other things:

“Excommunication is the Church’s most severe penalty imposed for particularly grave sins… By committing a particularly grave sin and engaging in activities which cause grave scandal and fracture the body of the Church, that communication ceases, and the person is deprived of receiving the sacraments and other privileges.

“The penalty of excommunication can be imposed by a proper authority or incurred automatically…”

So if someone dares to ordain a woman, or a woman receives ordination…

No bothering with the “proper authority” – it’s automatic.

And then…

“…an excommunicated person is forbidden to participate in a ministerial capacity (celebrant, lector, etc.) in the Sacrifice of the Mass or in any other form of public worship; to celebrate or to receive the sacraments; to celebrate the sacramentals; to exercise any ecclesiastical office or ministry; and to issue any act of governance.  An excommunicated person also cannot be received into a public association of the Christian faithful.”

“…the purpose of excommunication is to shock the sinner into repentance and conversion.  Excommunication is a powerful way of making a person realize his immortal soul is in jeopardy.”

If you take your Catholic faith seriously – this is very serious shit.

So, who are these sinners, these miscreants, these women who dare to call themselves priests?

These women whose defiance of church law is so threatening to the boys club that Pope Francis incorporated the decree against them into church law?

These women whose ordination as priests was categorized by the Vatican as a “grave crime” worthy of equal punishments to those placed on clergy members who had committed sexual abuse?

Well, here’s one:

Gosh – she doesn’t look scary.

She doesn’t look doomed.

She is Elsie McGrath, ordained a priest in 2007.  According to this 2019 article:

McGrath was excommunicated a few months later, along with the female bishop who ordained her.  Of this McGrath said,

“Excommunication is literally a contract.  It’s a legal document, and that means that it has to be accepted by both parties for it to actually be in force.  We see ourselves as Roman Catholic women who have chosen to be ordained and model a new way of being in the church.  We do not accept excommunication, and therefore, we’re not excommunicated.”

Today, according to a website called “Roman Catholic Womenpriests, Great Waters Region”:

“Elsie Hainz McGrath pastors Therese of Divine Peace Inclusive Roman Catholic Community in Saint Louis, MO, where she presides at weekly liturgies, witnesses weddings and holy unions, leads funeral and memorial services, does other sacramental services as requested, and engages in interreligious activities with neighboring worshiping communities.”

Take that, Pope Francis.

But…what is that word, “Womenpriests”?  That word my spellcheck doesn’t recognize?

It’s the same idea used by this organization:

Uh-oh.

There’s an actual organization for women who are priests?

Yes:    Roman Catholic Women Priests:

And on their “About Us” tab, their message is clear:

“We women are no longer asking for permission to be priests.  Instead, we have taken back our rightful God-given place ministering to Catholics as inclusive and welcoming priests.

“The Catholic people have accepted us as their priests and they continue to support us as we grow from the seven bold women first ordained in 2002.  Ordained women are already ministering in over 34 states across the country and are also present in Canada, Europe, South and Central America, South Africa, Philippines and Taiwan.

“We are here to stay.”

Take that, Pope Francis!

And if the Catholic Church boys club – the Beanie Babies – denigrates Roman Catholic Women Priests as an ineffectual grass roots movement…

I’ll remind them of another grass roots movement, this one also denigrated by men, and this one also about women:

Query To Amazon:  Is The Mouse Included?

Do you remember when Amazon bought Whole Foods?

Me, neither.

Amazon has bought so many companies, the list of “mergers and acquisitions by Amazon” on Wikipedia runs to 106 entries, the most recent being MGM last month:

You’ll note that the second sub-head says the MGM deal “is Amazon’s second-largest acquisition.  It paid $13.7 billion for Whole Foods in 2017.”

Which is a nice segue back to Whole Foods.

Unlike with some of its mergers and acquisitions, Amazon didn’t just acquire Whole Food and make the brand disappear. 

Whole Foods is still very much out there, and opening new stores, on top of the 500-plus they already have, according to this recent story:

Which is another nice segue, into another recent Whole Foods story:

Call it the mouse heard round the world – it made local headlines:

National headlines:

And internationally, on Great Britain’s metro.co.uk among others:

And to show you how seriously this story was taken, Newsweek “reached out to” the shopper who videotaped the mouse, but apparently didn’t hear back.

WPIX-TV in New York “reached out to” Whole Foods for comment on the incident, but apparently, they didn’t hear back, either.

No media outlet mentioned if they’d “reached out to” the mouse for comment.

Perhaps the media members who had the most fun were these New York Post writers…

 …who variously identified the culprit as “a mouse with the munchies,” “the ravenous rodent,” “rascally rodent,” “teeny foodie” and “filthy furball” that made “shoppers squeak with dismay.” 

And, the Post writers continued, when a customer told the store manager about the mouse, he allegedly “brushed off” the sighting, leaving the customer “really cheesed off.”

That customer, by the way, was Brittany Ellis, identified on TikTok as DefineBritt:

Ellis videotaped the mouse, and her May 24 Tik Tok mouse posting – reportedly her first – was an impressive debut: nearly two million views in its first three days.

On May 25 Ellis, who may personify the “strike while the iron is hot” business model, also posted a 12-minute in-depth analysis on YouTube:

Wherein she posed the question, “WTF WHOLE FOODS!!”

I’m expecting we’ll soon hear about a seven-figure book deal for Ellis, a biopic, and in-depth interviews on Ellen DeGeneres, 60 Minutes and Ziwe.

My takeaway?

Amazon (and Whole Foods) owner Jeff Bezos is, according to Forbes, the richest person in the world, with a fortune of $188.4 billion:

Yet for all his wealth and mergers and acquisitions, he’s still plagued with the same problem we not-wealthy also have:

The only difference being, Bezos’ vermin was nibbling on osso bucco veal that sells for $22.99 a pound:

While my vermin only get to nibble on…

Tupperware lids:

Thank You, Spenser, For Being My…

Remember May 2020?

It was bad.

Two months earlier, California – my state – had become the first state to issue a stay-at-home order, mandating all residents to stay at home except to go to an essential job or shop for essential needs.

If we ventured out for essential jobs or needs, we were told to stay six feet apart from others, and wear face masks.

Not that you could find face masks to buy anywhere.

And as for other essential needs, the toilet paper aisle at the grocery store looked like this:

In May 2020, COVID-19 deaths passed the 100,000 mark, and a vaccine seemed more like a wish list item than something that could come out of drug companies, go into arms and save lives.

May 2020 was bad.

But I was and am one of the lucky ones, in so many ways.  One way is – I love to read.  As long as I’ve got good books to read, I’m never bored.

Robert B. Parker

Another way:  My amazing library started doing home deliveries the day after the pandemic shut it down.  All I had to do was go on the library’s website, request what I wanted, and my books arrived every Tuesday.

And in May 2020 I realized I wanted to reread Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series.

And yes, that’s Spenser…with an “s.”

Background:

My parents were Parker fans, and years ago they got me started reading his books.  I resisted at first; who wants to read the same thing as their uncool parents?  Plus, detective stories weren’t my thing.

But I gave in and gave Parker a try.  He was easy to read and from the very first book – The Godwulf Manuscript – I was hooked. 

Parker’s website describes Spenser as “the wise-cracking, street-smart Boston private-eye,” and he is that.  But he’s much more:  smart, honorable, resourceful, kind, tough, dependable, consistent, and brave. 

But Spenser is no Boy Scout – he’s kicks plenty of ass, sometimes shoots people, and sometimes shoots to kill.

He’s also funny.  And an excellent cook.  And sometimes, something of a philosopher. 

I knew that if I reread the Spenser books that I’d have hours and hours of enjoyment, smiles and satisfaction.

In May 2020 there wasn’t much of that to go around.

So I started rereading the Spenser series, in order.  But to make the pleasure last, I rationed my reading.  I’d read a Spenser book, and then a book or two by different authors.  I knew when the last of Parker’s books was coming, and I was in no rush to meet it.

A year later, in May 2021, when the library delivered Parker’s last Spenser book – his 39th, entitled Sixkill – I opened it with a mixed bag of emotions:  reverence, sadness, nostalgia and gratitude.

I finished Sixkill with the same emotions.

There’s so much more I could say about Parker, and Spenser, and Spenser’s proclivity for quoting obscure (to me, at least) writers, and Parker’s recurring characters, but…

Parker and his wife, Joan, 1998.

All that is better discovered by the reader.

And is my case – rediscovered.

According to one source – not Parker’s website – Parker was 77 when he died suddenly of a heart attack at his home in Cambridge, MA in 2010.  It said he was discovered at his desk by his wife Joan, where he’d been working on a novel.

But Spenser lives on, now in books written by Ace Atkins, as decided by Parker’s estate and publishers.  Since 2010 Atkins has produced nine Spenser novels, and Spenser is still Spenser:  “the wise-cracking, street-smart Boston private-eye,” plus all the other attributes I mentioned. 

Atkins’ books were good.  I enjoyed them, and I’ll reread them. 

And I’ll have a few more months – and more good laughs – with my pandemic pal.

“Halfway through my steak I caught sight of myself in the mirror behind the bar.  I looked like someone who ought to eat alone.  I didn’t look in the mirror again.”
– Robert B. Parker, The Godwulf Manuscript 

“Mary sat, quiet and attentive and blank.  It wasn’t like talking to a dumb seventh-grader, it was like talking to a pancake.”
– Robert B. Parker, Widow s Walk

“So far so good.  I had a recently widowed mother and her orphaned son crying hysterically.  Maybe for an encore I could shoot the family dog.”
– Robert B. Parker, Pale Kings and Princes 

“Wanting more than you can have will spoil what you’ve got.”
– Robert B. Parker, Wilderness

“She was wearing something in purple suede that was too short for a skirt and too long for a belt.”
– Robert B. Parker, The Godwulf Manuscript

“I took a sip.  It went surprisingly well with the veal.  On the other hand, the fourth margarita goes surprisingly well with everything.”
– Robert B. Parker, Taming a Seahorse

Let’s Have Some Fun With…

The first time I heard the word philately was years ago in a Tom Lehrer song lyric:

“Who needs a hobby, like tennis or philately?
I have a hobby:  Rereading Lady Chatterley.”

I didn’t know, or care, what philately was, but I sure was curious about Lady Chatterley.

Eventually I learned that philately is “the collection and study of postage stamps.”  Someone who does this is a philatelist.  Then there’s philatelic, an adjective, and philatelically, an adverb, all based on the French word philatélie, and I’ll leave it at that.

Stamp collecting – a hobby, sometimes a profession, the attraction of which escapes me – is exceedingly popular.  There are local, national, and international clubs, an International Philatelic Federation, and an annual World Stamp Championship Exhibition.

And the hobby, or profession, is not just popular, but sometimes very profitable.

With an ironic twist:  A mistake can make a stamp more valuable.  That’s right – one person’s screw-up becomes another person’s treasure.  According to invaluable.com:

“The most valuable stamps in the world often feature some kind of blunder or misprint within one of the main components, known as an error.  Typically, a stamp error arises from a mix-up in the printing plates during pressing.  Errors are usually quickly caught and removed from circulation, increasing rarity and value of the affected stamp.”

Here’s an example:

This is an Inverted Jenny, a misprint of a 1918 stamp featuring one of the Jenny biplanes first used by the US Post Office to carry mail.  The plane on the face of the stamp was accidentally printed upside down. 

Whoops!

There were thousands printed correctly and only 100 printed incorrectly.  And according to a 2018 New York Times article, of those 100, only two were unaccounted for:  No. 49 and No. 66.

That is, until 2018, when a Chicago family resurrected what they thought might be an Inverted Jenny from a safe deposit box.  It was authenticated as Inverted Jenny No. 49 by the Philatelic Foundation in New York, and sold at auction for the then-record sum of more than $1.3 million:

Inverted Jenny No. 49; you can see “49” written in the lower-right corner.

A heads-up to philatelists:  Inverted Jenny No. 66 may still be out there somewhere.

What’s in your wallet?

And speaking of philatelists, in addition to safe deposit boxes, another source of stamps for collectors is the United States Postal Service (USPS).

USPS operates on the belief that every stamp that’s purchased but not used is money – called “retained revenue” – in the bank for USPS.  Collectors spend millions annually buying stamps and related items from USPS.

Many of those items are found on a USPS website page called “Collector’s Zone,” with items including “Commemorative Boxed Sets,” “Gift Cachets” and “First Day Covers.”

One example of the latter is this, the Espresso Drinks First Day Cover:

I chose this example because it’s the Espresso Drinks stamps that prompted me to write this post. 

In case you’re wondering what was the point, and when would I get to it.

USPS announced the release of the new stamps in April:

The USPS news release stated that the stamps:

“…celebrate America’s love of coffee…Whether milky, dark as night, sweetened, flavored or highly concentrated, many coffee drinks have one thing in common – they begin with espresso…four unique designs illustrating popular espresso drinks – espresso, cappuccino, caffe latte and caffe mocha.”

USPS issuing new stamps isn’t something I normally pay any attention to, until a short blurb about this in Food Network magazine caught my eye.  It mentioned the involvement of USPS art director Greg Breeding and “renowned illustrator” Terry Allen, and went on to say:

“The Postal Service sent Terry more than 100 mugs to study for the job!”

“More than 100 mugs”?

“Renowned illustrator” Terry Allen couldn’t just look in his cupboard for inspiration?

Couldn’t just go to a store and take some pictures of espresso mugs?

Couldn’t just google “espresso mugs” – like I did – and get 34,900,000 results?

Apparently not.

Apparently someone at USPS, which we know is in deep financial guano…

…decided “To hell with the budget!” and that before Allen could come up with concepts for Espresso Drinks stamps, he needed to possess espresso mugs.

More than 100 of them.

Never mind that Allen, 78, is an award-winning artist with works in many museums – the New York Museum of Modern Art, the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Detroit Institute of Arts, to name a few:

Terry Allen, “The Ties that Bind,” 1980, the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Allen doesn’t sound like someone who needed more than 100 espresso mugs “to study for the job.”

Allen also doesn’t sound like someone who did the Espresso Drinks designs on the cheap.

I could be wrong.

Maybe he’s a different Terry Allen – maybe he’s this guy (right) who works full-time at Radio Shack and does bad caricatures at weekend flea markets.

Maybe those 100+ espresso mugs were just sitting around gathering dust in one of Postmaster General (and multi-millionaire) Louis DeJoy’s vacation homes, and good ole Louie donated them for the tax write-off.

And maybe I’ll find that missing Inverted Jenny No. 66 stamp the next time I open my wallet…