Spending Our Federal Tax Dollars – An Upside And A Downside

Spending Our Federal Tax Dollars – The Upside

My home state of California will receive billions from the infrastructure bill, also known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, or IIJA.

According to this article:

Those billions include:

“$3.5 billion over five years to improve water infrastructure across the state and ensure clean, safe drinking water for California communities.”

It’s too soon to know how that $3.5 billion will be divvied up among California counties and cities over five years, but whatever amount comes to San Diego, it can’t come soon enough.

Not after this happened on Sunday, November 21:

According to this and other media outlets, two old pipes to burst within blocks of each other in downtown San Diego on that Sunday:

The first pipe was 76 years old.  It burst around 3:30pm, and thousands of gallons of water rushed down the streets, created a sinkhole and flooded at least one business:

In the second event that Sunday, shortly before 7pm, thousands of gallons of water from a burst 62-year-old pipe forced all northbound lanes of Interstate 5 near Fourth Avenue to shut, snarling traffic far beyond downtown and sending travelers seeking alternate routes to San Diego International Airport at the start of the busy Thanksgiving travel week:

It also sent rocks and other debris raining onto the northbound lanes of I-5, hitting passing cars.  One motorist, an Uber driver, told the CHP that water broke through his windshield, injuring his passenger. 

Forty-eight hours later, on Tuesday, November 23, the local evening news…

…was reporting that a main exit to the airport was still closed, and residents and businesses were still dealing with street closures, water supply issues and boil-first orders.

The two burst water mains were just the tip of San Diego’s iceberg, albeit in liquid form.

According to this article:

“The city experienced 33 water main breaks in 2020, down from a high of 131 in 2010.  The city has averaged nearly 80 major ruptures a year over the last decade.”

“The city has replaced roughly 180 miles of pipeline since 2013 and has roughly 55 miles of cast-iron pipeline remaining, and officials estimate the last sections will be upgraded by 2025.”

But, says this story:

As far as the 76-year-old and 62-year-old water mains that broke on November 21:

“Despite their age, they weren’t scheduled to be replaced as part of the city’s ongoing capital improvement plan to replace all cast iron pipes with PVC.”

These two water mains weren’t scheduled to be replaced, and how many more aren’t scheduled, just bursting to…bust?

The story closed with this:

“[San Diego Mayor] Todd Gloria, like mayors across the state and country, are still waiting to see how much money from the massive infrastructure bill will make its way to San Diego.”

It’s painful to think of the impact these two events had on so many people – people trying to get to the airport; people whose cars were hit with rocks and debris and water, injuring an Uber passenger; people who couldn’t take a shower; people who couldn’t brush their teeth without boiling the water first.

And it’s painful to think of those thousands of gallons of wasted water, especially when you consider this:

Let’s all hold good thoughts for that upside:

That some of that $3.5 billion in infrastructure money “to improve water infrastructure across the state” comes to San Diego and we’ll soon be seeing less of this:

And less of this:

Spending Our Federal Tax Dollars – The Downside

The Powers That Be appear to have had a well-choreographed series of events on Friday, November 19.

According to this article, on November 19:

“The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) said Friday it was awarding nearly $1 billion in infrastructure grants as the Biden administration prepares to dramatically boost funding on the nation’s roads, bridges, rail, transit and other projects.

“Under the $1 trillion infrastructure bill signed into law by President Joe Biden, the Transportation Department will receive $660 billion over five years, including $210.5 billion to be awarded in competitive grants.  Of that $71 billion is for new grant programs.”

That same Friday, according to this article:

“Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Alex Padilla (D-CA) announced on Friday that the Department of Transportation (DOT) has given its first grants from the recently passed $1 trillion infrastructure bill to California, with $58 million going to transportation projects in Northern California.”

That $58 million in grant funding for California transportation projects is part of the DOT Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity Grant Program, also known as RAISE.

And sure enough, this news release, also dated November 19, from the Department of Transportation…

…provided a list of awards received by states, with that $58 million for California going to three projects:

You see that first item – the “Wasco SR 46 Improvement Project” for $24 million?

What you don’t see is what it actually is:

It’s $24 million for this:

California High-Speed Rail trains still exist only in artists’ renderings, like this.

This is an artist’s rendering of California’s high-speed rail boondoggle, also known as the Train to Nowhere.

If the word “boondoggle” hadn’t already been in use, it would have been invented for this project:

Just a brief history…

In November 2008, California voters were promised a high-speed rail system from San Diego to San Francisco and Sacramento at a cost of $45 billion.

We were told the entire 800-mile network – linking not only Los Angeles and San Francisco but also San Diego, Sacramento and Oakland – would be operational by 2020. 

In 2015, we saw exciting headlines like this:

By 2019, the cost estimate had jumped from $45 billion to $80 billion and perhaps as high as $98 billion, but only for a system from San Francisco to Anaheim.

But as of today, most of the construction has taken place in California’s Central Valley, primarily between Merced and Bakersfield:

Which is like saying, “From nowhere to nowhere.”

And there are no high-speed rail trains going anywhere to anywhere.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority is very excited about Merced-to-Bakersfield, but pretty much no one else is.

This article in the San Jose Mercury News from mid-October summed it up well:

“It’s time for California’s leadership to abandon the state’s high-speed rail boondoggle, once and for all.”

“…lawmakers shouldn’t throw away additional money on a project that is going nowhere.”

“…federal funds for rail projects wouldn’t come close to providing the money needed to make California’s pie-in-the-sky plan a reality.”

This was written before the $24 million windfall for Wasco.

And how does that $24 million for the “Wasco SR 46 Improvement Project” fit into California’s High-Speed Rail multi-billion-dollar fiasco?

And what the hell is a “Wasco,” that $24 million recipient?

Research revealed that Wasco is a town in California’s Central Valley:

The population is around 27,000, and its primary attraction appears to be Wasco State Prison, population around 4,100.

And now, according to this (also November 19) article:

Wasco will also be known for receiving $24 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation, which received the money from the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity Grant Program, also known as RAISE, which received the money from the $1 trillion infrastructure bill, also known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, or IIJA.

All of which, in case you lost track, is our…

The article says the money will be used to “reconstruct State Route 46 in order to safely build the high-speed rail through the area,” and provides these fascinating details:

  • Lower State Route 46 to properly accommodate trucks passing under the railroad to approximately 16’6″ clearance and expand about 0.4 miles of it to a four-lane cross section;
  • Enhance ADA accessibility by building a new sidewalk, curb ramps, storm water improvements and a utility corridor south of State Route 46;
  • Build an efficient roundabout to enhance safety across the freight corridor;
  • Enhance adjacent properties affected by the project and work with the City to prepare them for improved land use and economic development.

How all that’s going to get me from Los Angeles to San Francisco in three hours is a mystery to me.

So there we have it:  Spending our federal tax dollars – an upside and a downside.

For San Diego’s water infrastructure, I say:

Start sending our money!

For California’s high-speed boondoggle train to nowhere, I say:

Stop spending our money!

Book Review: “Mesmerizing” Or A “Slog”?  Here’s My Vote:

Publication date:  August 2021

Category:  Historical fiction

Review, short version: Four skunks out of four.

Review, long version:

I enjoy novels based real people, so when I read that the lead character in Her Heart for a Compass was about Lady Margaret Montagu Douglas Scott (1846-1918), I was interested.

I’d never heard of Lady Margaret, but the book’s jacket summary made her sound intriguing.

And not just that.

I was curious about this effort by the author – her first novel for adults.

The author is Sarah Ferguson, and the book’s cover includes her title, Duchess of York.

Sarah Ferguson, a novelist?

Show us your writing chops, Sarah!

Ferguson has aristocratic ancestry but led an unremarkable life until she became engaged – and married to – Prince Andrew, second son of Queen Elizabeth II, in 1986 when they were both 26.  The marriage brought her the Duchess of York title.

Ten years and two daughters later, they divorced.  Since Prince Andrew hasn’t remarried, Ferguson is still entitled to use the Duchess title, and after all these years it apparently still opens doors for her.

Without the Duchess title, I doubt the book would have received the attention it has.

Its 540 pages just aren’t worth reading.

Not much is known about Lady Margaret, so Ferguson took her own story and turned it into Lady Margaret’s, as she said in a number of interviews: 

“I think people will see the parallels between me and my heroine Lady Margaret – she’s a redhead, she’s strong-willed and she’s led by her heart.  She attracts the attention of the press and she makes a career in writing.”

Ferguson claimed to have done extensive research about Lady Margaret, and that led to discovering that she – Ferguson – was a descendant.

A rare photo of Lady Margaret, 1866.

But for reasons unexplained, she never contacted another Lady Margaret descendant, specifically Conservative MSP Donald Cameron, a Member of the Scottish Parliament and Lady Margaret’s great-great-grandson.

However, a British newspaper, The Daily Mail, did contact Cameron, who had this to say about Lady Margaret:

She was “a stickler for convention…if you look at pictures of her as an older woman, she looks quite formidable…she married my grandfather and moved up to the Highlands and lived there all her life until she died in 1918…She had a pretty conventional life in many ways.”

Lady Margaret is not like the character as portrayed by Ferguson.

And the book is not like it’s described in some reviews:

“A Brilliant and Glittering Jewel of a Novel” – No.

“Bodice Ripper” – No.

“Racy” – No.

“Tale of Passionate Romance” – No.

“Mesmerizing and Unforgettable” – No.

Here are the descriptions I agree with:

“Interminable Doorstopper.” – Yes.

“A Slog with No Sex.” – Yes.

“Insipid.” – Yes.

“Blizzard of Clichés.” – Yes.

“Boring…Hoping for Something Better.” – Yes.

So, we’re left with a story about Lady Margaret that isn’t about Lady Margaret at all, and instead get Ferguson’s recounting of her own life, which isn’t interesting at all.

One final note:

In the book, Ferguson stresses that Lady Margaret hated the extensive attention she received from the press.

Another Lady Margaret/Sara Ferguson parallel! 

It’s clear that Ferguson (nickname “Fergie”) hates the press, too.

For instance, see how she absolutely avoided press coverage in her ah…younger days?

Nuclear-Anything Makes Me Nervous

Anytime I hear the word “nuclear” attached to a news story, I brace myself for bad news.

Nuclear bad news is the stuff legends are made of.

Like this:  Three-Mile Island, Pennsylvania, 1979:

And this:  Chernobyl, Soviet Union, 1986:

Closer to home, in California we have not one, but two nuclear power plants on the coast:

Both plants sit near or on earthquake faults, and we’re regularly reminded what could happen if…

So when I saw a story about a U.S. Navy nuclear powered submarine, the USS Connecticut, colliding with something…

I took notice.

And as I learned about this event, I was also reminded about the twists and turns a story can take, sometimes without ever getting to the whole truth.

Let’s start with what.

What is the USS Connecticut, is a $3 billion Seawolf-class nuclear powered fast attack submarine:

“Nuclear powered” means it’s powered by a nuclear reactor, as is a nuclear power plant.  The Connecticut was commissioned in 1998, which makes it – and its nuclear reactor – more than 23 years old.

Now let’s move on to when.

According to that October 7 Washington Post article,

“The collision occurred on October 2 but was not disclosed until Thursday [October 7].”

Now let’s move on to where.

A November 4 article on CNN.com said,

“The US Navy has not said exactly where the Connecticut hit the seamount.  Officially, the service says it was in Indo-Pacific waters, but US defense officials had previously told CNN it occurred in the South China Sea.”

Here are Indo-Pacific waters:

Here’s the South China Sea:

Big difference.

The above excerpt references a “seamount,” which is an “underwater mountain formed by volcanic activity,” according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Here’s an illustration and caption from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution:

“Seamounts are underwater mountains that rise hundreds or thousands of feet from the seafloor.  They are generally extinct volcanoes that, while active, created piles of lava that sometimes break the ocean surface.  In fact, the highest mountain on Earth is actually a seamount – Hawaii’s Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano that is more than 30,000 feet tall measured from its base on the seafloor 18,000 feet beneath the surface.”

But earlier on, nobody knew what the hell the Connecticut hit.  The following and several other headlines are from USNI News, the U.S. Naval Institute’s online news and analysis portal:

The article references the submarine hitting “an unknown underwater object.”

Within days, China was accusing the U.S. of a cover-up:

“‘Such irresponsible attitude and stonewalling and cover-up practice only make the international community more suspicious of the US intention and details of the accident,’ said Zhao Lijian, Foreign Ministry spokesman.”

Twenty-five days after the October 2 collision, the Navy still didn’t know – or said it didn’t know – what the Connecticut had hit, and China was still accusing the U.S. of a cover-up:

In the midst of all this, we were advised that up to a dozen sailors were hurt, “minor and ‘moderate’ injuries, the official said, without specifying the extent of them.”

We learned that the Connecticut made it up to the surface, and stayed on the surface while it traveled to Guam for damage assessment.  The damaged submarine’s trip was between 1,300 and 2,500 miles and took about a week.

We were repeatedly assured that there was no damage to the submarine’s nuclear system.

Then, on November 1:

That “uncharted seamount” surprised me – if we’re sending more than 100 people on a $3 billion submarine someplace, I’d assumed the crew would know ahead of time what obstacles it might encounter.

Not so, according to CNN.com:

“In the busy South China Sea, through which a third of the world’s maritime trade passes and where China has been building and militarily fortifying man-made islands, less than 50% of the sea bottom has been mapped, David Sandwell, a professor of geophysics at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California, told CNN.”

Though on November 13, another possibly was suggested:

So we knew – maybe – when the collision happened, and – maybe – where and what, but there was no vagueness about the who – as in, whose heads were going to roll for this:

“The reliefs are ‘due to loss of confidence.  U.S. 7th Fleet commander Vice Adm. Karl Thomas determined sound judgement, prudent decision-making, and adherence to required procedures in navigation planning, watch team execution and risk management could have prevented the incident,’ reads a statement from the Navy.”

Vice Admiral Thomas is to be congratulated on his 20/20 hindsight.

I’d like to send his sorry ass into uncharted waters and see how well his “risk management” techniques work out.

In that same November 4 article, China was still expressing its concerns:

“‘We have repeatedly expressed our grave concern over the incident and asked the US side to take a responsible attitude and provide a detailed clarification so as to give a satisfactory account to the international community and countries in the region,’ Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said this week.”

This article concluded with,

USS Connecticut remains in Guam while undergoing damage assessment and will return to Bremerton, Washington for repairs.”

Here’s what we don’t know:

A lot.

Since that November 13 South China Morning Post article suggesting the Connecticut may have hit an oil rig, I’ve found no further updates as to…

  • How the injured sailors are doing.
  • How much damage was done to the submarine.
  • Was there damage to any of the nuclear components.
  • Was/is/could there be a nuclear leak.
  • Can the damage be fixed and if so, what the repairs will cost.
  • When the Connecticut will be back in service.

I did learn something from this November 18 article:

“The US Navy ordered a safety stand-down for the entire submarine force on Wednesday in response to the results of an investigation into an incident last month in the South China Sea.”

A “stand-down” is a period of additional training where crews will be reviewing lessons learned from the USS Connecticut collision as well as the Navy’s existing rules on sound navigation practices.

And this November 18 article…

…announced that the Connecticut had left Guam, but then seemed to walk that back:

“While we can’t say for sure, one definite possibility is that Connecticut is underway now off the coast of Guam, or at least had been for a time, to determine whether it can sail by itself to another base.”

But what I found chilling was this, from a November 18 article in The Diplomat, the “premier international current-affairs magazine for the Asia-Pacific region”:

Here’s one of those “potential crisis points”:

“…there is the potential danger of nuclear leakage.  The memory of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster is still fresh in our minds.  Should a nuclear leak occur in the South China Sea from a nuclear-powered submarine, it will cause irreparable and huge damage to the marine environment of the region, seriously affecting the production and living activities of the countries around and nearby, casting an indelible shadow on regional peace and development.”

Earlier I talked about the twists and turns a story can take, sometimes without ever getting to the whole truth.

I suspect that when it comes to the Connecticut and its past, present and future, we’ll never know…

I Said It In June, And I’ll Say It Again:

The noise started back in June, with headlines like this:

And this:

And this:

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops – USCCB – had convened a three-day virtual conference in June where the 400+ members put their red-beanied heads together…

USCCB in pre-pandemic days.

And because the Beanie Boys apparently had nothing else to talk about, some were loudly proclaiming that President Joe Biden, a Catholic, should be forbidden to take communion because he supports a woman’s right to make her own decisions about her reproductive health.

I remember thinking at the time, “Why don’t the Beanie Boys clean up their own backyard before they start talking about anyone else’s?”

By “their own backyard,” I meant stories like this, also in June:

And this, also from June:

And this, also from June:

The June conference ended and the noise eventually faded.

But then came USCCB conference time again: November 15-18 in Baltimore, and the boys – and the noise – were back:

And a couple of the Beanie Boys were especially noisy:

Isn’t it interesting that when Archbishop Cordileone was citing the “grave evils” of society – “human trafficking, racism, terrorism, climate change and a flawed immigration system” – it didn’t occur to him to include the global crisis of clergy sexual abuse?

Apparently the Beanie Boys in Baltimore were all working on a draft of what they call a “teaching document” that says, in part:

“Lay people who exercise some form of public authority have a special responsibility to embody Church teaching.”

I would suggest this edit to the teaching document:

Priests who exercise some form of public authority have a special responsibility to embody Church teaching.

Because who in the Catholic church, first and foremost, are the people who exercise public authority?

Catholic priests.

More than any other group in the church, priests are front and center in their parishes as authority figures representing the church:   Priests conduct mass, hear confessions, grant absolution, perform marriages, baptize babies, and offer counsel and advice to countless church members.

Priests have a special responsibility to “embody Church teaching.”

Which brings us back around to my thought back in June:

Bishops, clean up your own backyard first.

I know you guys were busy at the conference, dithering about President Biden, but how about focusing on these recent headlines, from just the two weeks leading up to your conference:

There’s an awful sameness to all these stories.

Sickening, isn’t it?

Especially sickening when we go back to 2019, and this:

So, the Beanie Boys wrapped up their conference last Thursday, and that document some of the bishops were so worked up about – here’s what happened, according to CNN and other media outlets:

“The US Conference of Catholic Bishops voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to approve a document that fell far short of refusing Holy Communion to President Joe Biden or others who support abortion rights, something conservatives in the Church have pushed for in spite of guidance from Pope Francis.

“The document – which passed with 222 in favor, eight against and three abstentions – would need Vatican approval before any action is taken that would directly target any elected official.”

As for that “Vatican approval” – does this look like a pope who’s going to deny Biden communion?

Time for the Beanie Boys…

…to go home and address their mess.

Update to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops:

Here’s a November 17 story that broke while you were dithering – you can add it to the list above:

Am I The Definition Of Insanity?

On this blog I’ve been doing the same thing over and over:

Excoriating a TV show, and pronouncing, “TV can’t get worse than this.”

Like this show:

And this show:

And this show:

And then another show comes along and proves me wrong.

TV can get worse.

It can, and it does.

This time the show is an offering from DLC, the Discovery Life Channel, which launched in 2015 and described itself as “a new network focused on celebrating all of life’s unexpected moments and the experiences that accompany them.”

A news release from the same time stated,

“‘From the shocking to the scandalous, the informative to the enlightening, heartbreaking to heartwarming, Discovery Life Channel’s programming has something relatable for the voyeur in all of us,’ said Jane Latman, general manager of Discovery Life Channel.” 

“‘Between our bold content, unflappable talent and authentic storytelling, we are excited to debut Discovery Life in January as a must-watch television destination filled with humor – and heart – in the Discovery portfolio.’”

The “must-watch” TV show I’m focusing on – “filled with humor and heart” – is this:

For clarification purposes, “impale” means to “pierce or transfix with a sharp instrument.”

And indeed, according to the TV Tango website:

I Was Impaled features people who accidentally ended up with foreign objects in their body, while examining how these mysterious items were discovered…”

I reckon getting impaled qualifies as one of those aforementioned “life’s unexpected moments.”

I am, of course, imagining a conference room at the Discovery Channel, filled with creative people who are supposed to come up with content for Discovery Life, the new channel.  The team leader is standing by a white board, poised to write down the great ideas that will no doubt be flowing in full force…

Team Leader:  Listen up, people!  We have airtime to fill, viewers to capture and advertisers to please.  We need content, and we need it now!

Creative Person #1:  We gotta do a show where somebody gets hurt.  Viewers love watching someone who’s in pain.  Bleeding, maybe?

(Team Leader smiles, and notes GETS HURT on the white board.)

Creative Person #2:  Yeah, really hurt, and bleeding, but not, like, bad enough to die.  Right?

(Heads nod, indicating hurt and bleeding are good but die would be bad.)

Creative Person #3:  How about a show set in a real Emergency Room?  That’s where people go when they’re really hurt and –

Creative Person #4 (interrupts):  Doofus, we already have a show in an ER – Untold Stories, remember?  Geez, don’t you watch the channel?

(Muffled laughter all around.)

Creative Person #5:  It’s gotta be unexpected, so like an accident.  Like…falling down the stairs.  How about a show about people who fall down the stairs and –

Creative Person #6 (interrupts):  Nah, that’s too common.  How about…how about people getting…uh…stuck by something.  You know, impaled?  Like, impaled by a tree branch or…or…a nail, or a spike in the head or…

Team Leader:  Impaled!  That’s it!  People, I think we’re on to something here.  I want you all to hit the internet and be back here by noon with at least three impaling stories.  If the person died, that story doesn’t count.

(The meeting ends.)

If you think I’m kidding about the content of I Was Impaled, here are some samples, direct from the TV Guide website:

19 Nov
Unwanted Guests
A woman is impaled by a Christmas tree; a boy accidentally swallows a barbed fishing hook; and a man is injected with compressed air.

19 Nov
Head On
A pole penetrates a man’s mouth and neck; a man accidentally swallows a sewing needle; a 75-year-old man discovers a nail embedded in his face; and a truck driver is impaled by a pole.

19 Nov
The Enemy Within
A man is injured while mowing his lawn; a three-year-old swallows three magnets; a woman discovers a bug in her ear; and a carpenter gets a splinter in his eye.

Apparently I Was Impaled has been around for awhile – here’s a mention from 2012, when it debuted on what was then the Discovery Fit & Health channel:

I’ve managed to miss the show since 2012, and plan to continue doing so.

I would be remiss if I didn’t thank Wikipedia for pointing out that I Was Impaled does have one redeeming factor:

“The show chronicles the medical rescue involving first responders such as emergency medical technicians as well as doctors who saved the person’s life.”

And those first responders and ER doctors and staff who are faced with challenges like this guy’s – and I don’t even want to guess where in his body that nail came from:

Those medical pros are certainly to be lauded for their quick thinking and life-saving responses.

As for me?

I have learned my lesson.

No more insanity for me.

I now know, without a doubt, that when it comes to TV shows…

This Is For All The Writers Out There

I recently read a novel about four authors who were close friends, and the book’s author started each chapter with a quote from a well-known writer.

The quotes resonated with me, as I think they will for anyone who’s struggled to write – a book, an article, a paragraph, a sentence, or even just a phrase.  Most of the quotes were from writers whose names I knew, but others, not. 

But all of the quotes confirm what all writers know:

A person who publishes a book willfully appears before the populace with his pants down…If it is a good book nothing can hurt him.  If it is a bad book, nothing can help him.
– Edna St. Vincent Millay

The profession of book writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business.
John Steinbeck

Wilson

If my doctor told me I had six minutes to live, I wouldn’t brood.  I’d type a little faster.
– Isaac Asimov

I’m not saying all publishers have to be literary, but some interest in books would help.
– A.N. Wilson

The cat sat on the mat is not a story.  The cat sat on the other cat’s mat is a story.
– John Le Carré

Lebowitz

Contrary to what many of you may imagine, a career in letters is not without its drawbacks – chief among them the unpleasant fact that one is frequently called upon to sit down and write.
– Fran Lebowitz

For those who can do it and keep their nerve, writing for a living still beats most real, grown-up jobs hands-down.
– Terence Blacker

Blacker

There is no way of writing well and also of writing easily.
– Anthony Trollope

Writing a novel is like driving a car at night.  You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.
– E.L. Doctorow

The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof shit detector.
– Ernest Hemingway

There are three rules for writing a novel.  Unfortunately, no one know what they are.
– W. Somerset Maugham

Lipman

A book is so much a part of oneself that in delivering it to the public, one feels as if one were pushing one’s own child out into the traffic.
– Quentin Bell

You can’t wait for inspiration.  You have to go after it with a club.
– Jack London

Critics have been described as people who go into the street after battle and shoot the wounded.
– Elinor Lipman

I Don’t Have A Dog, But I Want To Go Shopping At…

I don’t have a dog, so I was puzzled as to why I received a catalog from In The Company of Dogs, the “Ultimate Resource for Dog Lovers!”

But – what if I had a dog?

What if I joined the 60+ million people in the U.S. who have at least one dog, and became a dog owner?

What if I joined my fellow Americans who spent nearly $100 billion on their pets in 2020, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association:

What if I perused the catalog to see the latest and greatest items for my dog?

I did.  And it was…

A veritable feast of options!

For instance…

There’s an item called a “furniture protector,” and the description assures me that “sharing the couch with a dog is easy with hair, stain, moisture and paw-print protection.”

I’m pretty sure my couch doesn’t need protection from my “hair, stain, moisture and paw-prints,” so the company is suggesting that I, the dog owner, buy a furniture protector.

But…I don’t know.

Maybe I can train my dog to not get on the furniture?

Apparently not.

So it looks like I’m going to buy this furniture protector which, the catalog notes, will be “pleasing to your dog”:

One furniture protector…………………………………………………………………. $219

OK, I accept that my dog will be on the furniture.

And it seems I need to make it easy for my dog to be on the furniture, so I need this:

It’s the “Lightweight Animals Matter Companion Stairs,” a set of portable steps that “harmonize with your furniture” and I can move from room to room so my dog can climb onto the furniture, onto the bed, onto any doggone thing he wants!

Companion stairs…………………………………………………………………………. $299

Showing copious amounts of seasonal awareness, the catalog has plenty of holiday items, so I’ll add some to my shopping cart.

My dog needs goodies to unwrap on Christmas morning, after all.  So…

One “Personalized Breed Ornament,” $39.95:

One “Personalized Breed Stocking,” $39.95:

One “Joy to the World” Holiday Pillow,” $49.95:

And, because I want my dog to be stylin’…

One “All-Weather 3-in-1 Jacket,” $79.95:

But I would be remiss if I allowed my dog to be the only one that’s stylin’, right?

I don’t want to embarrass my dog, do I?

So I’ll wrap up my shopping spree with this:

Matching “Best Friends Forever Hoodies”:

Just $64.95 for the human hoodie and $44.95 for the dog version, and everywhere the two of us go, people will know we’re Best Friends Forever.

And – hopefully – not eyeing us suspiciously when we’re wearing hoodies in July.

So, now – my shopping cart full – I head to checkout and make my purchase.

I’m so excited!  My dog is going to LOVE this stuff!

Almost $1,000 but – my dog will be happy!  My dog will be “pleased”!  My dog will be…

Oh, wait.

I just remembered:

I don’t have a dog.

I don’t have “hair, stain, moisture and paw-prints” on my couch.

Instead…

I’ve got my clean couch…

All to myself…

I’m Not A Great Proofreader Of My Own Work, And I’ve Got Lots Of Company

Put two writers in a room together, and sooner or later – usually sooner – they’ll be sharing stories of errors they missed in their own work.

“I’m a great proofreader of other people’s work,” one says, “but proofing my own?  Forget about it.”

It’s just a fact that for the most part, writers are their own worst proofreaders.

And there’s actually a scientific – and comforting – reason for it.

According to this article:

“When we’re proofreading our own work, we know the meaning we want to convey.  Because we expect that meaning to be there, it’s easier for us to miss when parts (or all) of it are absent.  The reason we don’t see our own typos is because what we see on the screen is competing with the version that exists in our heads.”

So if I type “to” when I meant “too,” my brain knows I meant “too” and sees that instead.

And I’ve done that, to. 

I mean, too.

I’m guessing that the same not-catching-your-own-errors premise was at work when an artist at the Ohio Department of Public Safety recently created this art for Ohio’s new standard license plate, the state’s first update in eight years:

It’s pretty, isn’t it?

It even has a pretty name:

“Sunrise in Ohio.”

Everyone was all smiles when Ohio Governor Mike DeWine unveiled the plate at a ceremony on October 21, according to this story:

The new design features not only the rural part of the state, but also its cities.  Fields and a river are pictured, with a distant view of a city in the background.  Backed by this are rays of sunshine and the state’s seal, followed by the state’s nickname, “Birthplace of Aviation”:

DeWine was almost rhapsodic:

“This is something that we are, in Ohio, very proud of, the innovators, the scientists, the engineers, the people who have created things in Ohio and continue to do so.”

“We love Ohio’s heritage as the birthplace of aviation, so our newly designed plate reflects all of these.”

DeWine noted that he and First Lady Fran DeWine both played a role in the new design, and that “First of all, our goal was to reflect the beauty of Ohio.  We also wanted the plate to represent the diversity of Ohio in the sense of the geography of Ohio.”

Yes, it was a proud day for everyone – the Governor and First Lady, the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV), that artist at the Department of Public Safety…

But maybe not so much for Wilbur and Orville Wright, whose plane, the Wright Flyer, is depicted on the plate.

“Holy Toledo!” the Wrights may be saying.  “They’ve got our plane flying backwards!”

Yes, it’s true.

Here’s a close-up of the plane on the license plate, and an image of the Wright Flyer with the pilot in place:

The Wright Flyer’s propellors are on the back of the plane, and those flat things in the front – they’re called “elevators,” two horizontal pieces that allow the plane to change altitude.

You may be thinking, “Hey – that’s counterintuitive!  Propellors on the back of a plane?”

Well, it worked for Wilbur and Orville at Kitty Hawk, NC in 1903, so who are we to argue?

Back to the backwards airplane.

I’m not knocking the artist from the Ohio Department of Public Safety – I’ve made creative errors that match, and may outdo, this one.

But my logic says that he would have had a picture or photo of the Wright Flyer to use as his model for the image on the license plate.

Though perhaps the image he used didn’t include a pilot, like this one:

And from this, you could easily assume the pilot would be facing the propellors.

Which the artist did.

And apparently the governor and his wife did.

And everyone involved from the Ohio BMV, and the Department of Public Safety.

And everyone involved at Lebanon Correctional Institution where inmates had made 35,000 incorrect plates.

And everyone attending that October 21 unveiling of the plate.

But…

On unveiling day, the Ohio BMV tweeted this:

And someone, somewhere, pointed out that the positioning of the airplane – as one wit put it – was “Not quite Wright.”

And someone, somewhere, at the BMV or Department of Public Safety, found an image of a Wright Flyer with a pilot, flipped the image, and within hours the BMV had apologized for the error and released an updated version with the plane facing the other way. The updated version is first:

Which was followed by numerous headlines like this one:

To that artist at the Ohio Department of Public Safety who created the incorrect image, I say:

I know what it’s like to create something I think is error-free, and I put it out there for the world to see, and then someone, somewhere catches a glaring error that wasn’t glaring at me.

I feel your pain.

To the taxpayers of Ohio, I say:

I feel your pain.

After all, taxpayers paid for those first 35,000 plates which, according to this story:

“…could weigh anywhere from 7,000 pounds to 17,500 pounds total.”

The taxpayers will pay for tons of aluminum plates to be recycled.

And for thousands of new plates to be printed.

With regards to cost of all this, the state weaseled on that:

“‘It is too early to know about if there will be any additional cost,’ said Lindsey Bohrer, assistant director of communications with the Ohio Department of Public Safety.”

We’ve heard no follow-up regarding the cost to taxpayers, which comes as no surprise.

But – instead of incurring all these additional costs to taxpayers, perhaps the authorities should have just kept the incorrect plates and used them.

Just slap a sticker on ‘em and…

Change the state’s nickname from “Birthplace of Aviation” to…

This Gave Me A Thrill(er)

To put it mildly:

I am not a fan of Halloween.

So as usual, on Halloween evening I was at home, blinds closed, lights out, waiting for it to be over.

The only light was my television and the local evening news.

And this came on:

With a video showing this:

A group of people costumed and made up as zombies were dancing to Michael Jackson’s Thriller music video.

There were on the flight deck of the Midway, a massive aircraft carrier that was commissioned in 1945, decommissioned in 1992, and opened as the USS Midway Museum in San Diego in 2004:

Hence, “Thrill the Mil” – as in, military.

It was very cool.

I love stuff like this.

People – some of them clearly not professional dancers; of varying ages – some of them clearly not young; all gussied up and dancing for the sheer pleasure of it. 

Dancing for fun, with other people, because they can.

Dancing for the full six-minute song, and that is a real workout.

Dancing for the military, and that is a worthwhile reason.

Was it possible?

Possible that I’d found something to like about Halloween?

I knew nothing about this – no surprise there – and I wanted to learn more.

Since then I’ve learned that this was the first “Thrill the Mil” event, organized by Thriller San Diego: 

“Thriller San Diego is San Diego’s hub of rehearsals and performance opportunities for the iconic zombie-themed dance in Michael Jackson’s internationally renowned Thriller music video.”

According to the Thriller San Diego website, “We are a community group built solely by volunteers!”  They offer classes and videos to learn the dance, and the dancers can be booked for events – “private events, we ask for a $100+ suggested donation.”

I found some good information in this 2019 article, as well:

At the time, Thriller San Diego had been performing for seven years, and it grew…

“…from small pockets of friends performing random bouts of bloody dance sequences to an organized group of teachers and dancers dedicated to teaching San Diegans the moves to Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

“Thriller SD has more than half a dozen instructors teaching wannabe-zombie-dancers the moves to Jackson’s most iconic dance.  The classes are free, with a suggested $5 donation, and take place all over San Diego.”

This is very cool.

Elsewhere I learned that Thriller San Diego is part of something much larger:

According to their website:

“Thrill The World is a global community project that inspires others to break down barriers by connecting people of all religions, races, political persuasions, and economic backgrounds.  The organization contributes to the growth of humanity by encouraging others to step up as leaders, visionaries, and creators.  Role models around the world organize local dance groups to join other nations at the same time, performing to Michael Jackson’s Thriller while raising money for charity.  

The website also says,

“Thrill The World was created by Ines Markeljevic, proving to you that you CAN dance!

“Thrill The World is an event run by fans who receive no monetary benefit…”

I love stuff like this.

On Thrill the World Day – October 30, 2021 – two worldwide dances were scheduled for 10am and 10pm GMT, and when I say “worldwide” – it is.  Here are just a few images from Thrill the World Day 2020, with groups ranging from two or three to much larger – and all equally lively.

I mean, undeadly: 

Back in San Diego…

Thriller San Diego did, indeed, participate in Thrill the World Day on October 30.

Not content with that, those sneaky zombies somehow got aboard the USS Midway Museum for that afternoon scare on Halloween.

They rose from the dead…

And danced their undeadly dance…

And like the song says…

You try to scream
But terror takes the sound before you make it
You start to freeze
As horror looks you right between the eyes
You’re paralyzed!

This Guy Is Totally…

Here’s a story that came and went quickly, as so many stories do in our 24/7 news cycle.

But this is too good a story to let come and go quickly.

So let’s go back to a Sunday evening in late October, to Kabuki restaurant in Woodland Hills, in Los Angeles County.

Background:

There’s a reason we Californians garner headlines like this:

Those “strictest vaccine mandates and masking policies” in the country include Los Angeles County, where all employees and customers are required to wear masks in a restaurant when not eating or drinking, regardless of vaccination status.

It’s no secret.

Signs are posted at restaurants, like this one on the Kabuki restaurant’s front door:

So when a maskless man – whom I’ll call “Maskless Man” – walked into Kabuki that Sunday evening, the hostess politely reminded him that masks were required. 

He refused to put on a mask.

And all Hell broke loose.

The Hell was caught on a cellphone video and accounts vary a bit, so I’m using information from several sources, including this one from KCAL:

Maskless Man “got angry after a hostess asked him to wear a mask.  The customer can be seen aggressively pointing his finger and heard yelling, ‘You go f— yourself,’ at the hostess.”

Here’s that confrontation:

“When another customer tried to intervene on the hostess’ behalf, the maskless man pushed him.”

Here’s the push – Maskless Man is on the right:

And then…

My hero.

You have to see the video to appreciate it, but here’s what happened.

About two seconds after the push, my hero – in the dark blue hat – appears from the left and punches Maskless Man:

And this was no wussy punch.  This was a full-on fist to the face that knocked off Maskless Man’s glasses.  Maskless Man goes flying backwards and lands on the floor near the front door.

As another customer appears to be politely opening the door for him, Maskless Man gets up and continues loudly mouthing off, but it’s clear he’s leaving:

The KCAL story said,

“The maskless man claimed he was assaulted but left soon after the altercation.  Los Angeles police said no one requested medical help and no arrests were made.”

A different media outlet reported that during the confrontation with the hostess, Maskless Man also said, “Do you know what happens when you discriminate?  We’re gonna fuck your restaurant up!”

While this source, the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail:

Reported that quote as, “you’re going to f*ck your restaurant up!”

The Daily Mail also said the punch appeared to knock out Maskless Man’s tooth before he went “scurrying out of the restaurant without his glasses – and perhaps a few teeth.”

His departure was accompanied by jeers, and shouts of “Get out!”

And ignominious retreat. 

I call that a happy ending.

But…I’m conflicted.

I’m opposed to violence, yet it was SO satisfying to see Maskless Man get his comeuppance.

Maskless Man, who was Mr. Brave when he was yelling at the petite female hostess and pushing around a customer described as “elderly.”

But when My Hero stepped in and decked Maskless Man, he backed off in a hurry.

Maskless Man is a bully and a coward, and he’s so self-centered that he doesn’t care that he’s possibly risking the health of others by exposing them to COVID.

When Maskless Man relates this story to his friends – if he has any – he will no doubt start off with, “I was just minding my own business, and walked into this restaurant…” and finish with, “And this guy comes out of nowhere and punches me in the face.  For no reason!”

If Maskless Man goes looking for sympathy, here’s my suggestion:

Update, November 8:  Maskless Man is going to be really unhappy about this:

Starting today, in addition to wearing a mask, in Los Angeles he’ll have to show vaccine proof before he can walk into a restaurant and lots of other places. 

Maybe he’ll do us all a favor and just…stay home:

Book Review:  This One Really Engaged Me

Belle, 1911.

Publication date:  June 2021

Category:  Biographical Historical Fiction

Review, short version:  Four out of four roses.

Review, long version:

The book is The Personal Librarian, and the authors are Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray.

The book’s dedication says:

For the two sides of Belle:
Belle da Costa Greene
and
Belle Marion Greener

The novel is based on a real person, and she did, indeed, have two sides:

Belle Marion Greener, born into a middle-class black family in Washington, DC; and Belle da Costa Greene, who passed for white her entire adult life, and well beyond her death.

I’d never heard of Belle (1879-1950, pictured above), nor the place where she made her mark – the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York:

Now known as The Morgan Library and Museum, it originated as the personal repository of rare and valuable artworks and manuscripts collected by millionaire financier J.P. Morgan.  Morgan’s funds were unlimited – as was his acquisitiveness – but he needed a knowledgeable person to organize, and continue adding to, his collection.

On his nephew’s recommendation, Morgan interviewed (white) Belle da Costa Greene, and hired her as his personal librarian.

J.P. Morgan.

Belle had already been living as a white, but this position moved her from relative obscurity into the spotlight.  There was nothing low-key about Morgan, and as his representative, Belle had to navigate the high levels of society – wealthy art collectors, sharp-eyed art dealers, and society women whose hobby was putting each other under a microscope. 

“Is this the moment,” Belle wonders, “I brace myself for almost daily, the moment when my secret will be revealed?”

But her secret wasn’t revealed during her lifetime, and Belle earned both solid reputation and many professional successes in the art world, unusual at that time for a woman, and impossible for a black woman. 

The authors do a credible job of taking us inside Belle’s mind and helping us understand why Belle knew she had to keep her real self hidden.  In their Historical Note they say:

Belle, pastel portrait, circa 1913.

“Clearly, Belle did not want her real identity discovered, not a surprise given the racism of her times and her legitimate concern that if her background became widely known, her accomplishments at the Pierpont Morgan Library would be eviscerated.”

Belle’s accomplishments indeed would have been eviscerated – and Belle would have been, too.

The authors don’t say how or when Belle’s background was revealed, but I was curious and spent some time looking online.  It appears that in 1999, J.P. Morgan biographer Jean Strouse found Belle Greener’s 1879 birth certificate, which lists Richard Greener, an African American, as her father.

Fortunately, in 1999, that discovery was more footnote than front-page news.

I believe Belle would be happy about that.

Authors Benedict (left) and Murray.

What’s Less Than Five And More Than 600?

Answer:  My Blog.

And now, four-and-a-half years and 601 posts later:

Why Did I Start a Blog?

In 2017, when I started thinking about doing a blog, I ran the idea by a few people and got some strong reactions, like this:

“You’re going to go on Facebook and Twitter and other sites to promote your blog, right?  What’s the point of having a blog if you don’t promote it and have millions of followers?”

Well…no…

And this:

“You’re going to monetize it, right?  What’s the point of having a blog if you don’t make money off it?

Well…no…

The third person I mentioned this to said, in his most scornful voice,

“Any fool can start a blog.”

Well…yes…

And that’s what this fool did.

My first blog post went live on May 5, 2017.

Here I am, 601 posts later.

I’ve never promoted my blog, and never made money off it.

So back to the question:

Why did I start a blog?

And here’s my – I think, good – answer:

Because it’s fun.

In 2017 I’d never read a blog, and never had a desire to do one.  Never even thought about blogging.

Then a coworker told me she had a blog.  Not at all curious (but just to be polite), I asked her for the URL.  As I spent some time reading a few of her posts (just to be polite), I had a revelation:

My coworker was having fun with her blog.

She wrote in the first person, was free with her opinions, was funny, included pictures, and I thought…

Maybe I could do that. 

I can write in the first person, I can be free with my opinions, I’m sometimes funny – I’m told – and I have pictures…

I could do that.

Then, that evening, I read this in a fortune cookie. And as we all know, fortune cookies are always accurate:

My future as a blogger was assurred.

The next day I complimented my coworker on her blog (and I wasn’t just being polite), and asked what platform she used.  “Wordpress,” she said.

A few days later – despite the above-mentioned opinions – I was off and running.

And with every post I’ve written, I’ve had fun.

Sometimes I write about what I know.  More often, what I’m writing requires research – sometimes a lot of research.  I learn a lot, and I like that.

The beauty of a blog – if you’re not trying to promote it or monetize it – is the freedom to write about anything I want. 

And, important:  To not worry about what anyone thinks, about me, or about what I’ve written.

Think about that – writing not to please a boss or a client or the public, not thinking about pleasing anyone but myself.

So…

I know my blog will never appear on this list…

Or this one…

Or this one…

So…

When I started blogging back in 2017, I would never have predicted I’d still be at it after four+ years and more than 600 posts.

But I can predict how long I’ll continue:

As long as I’m…

She Says, “Cook This” But I Say…

This is my idea of a recipe:

Remove tray from box; microwave on high for three minutes.

This is my newspaper’s idea of a recipe:

This newspaper page is 11” by 22” – that’s 242 square inches of work.

For starters, there’s the reading.  The introduction is close to 600 words, and the recipe instructions are another 650+ words. 

C’mon, lady!  Abraham Lincoln got his point across at Gettysburg in only 272 words.  Think brevity, not verbosity.

Then there’s the 10 – count ‘em – 10 photographs.

What is this – a graphic novel?

Then there’s the list of ingredients – 27 items, which means a trip to the grocery store and a cart that will look like this:

And there’s all the paraphernalia you’ll need to create this dish:  a size 16 foodservice scoop, sheet pans, a rimmed baking sheet, foil, a grater, a garlic press, measuring cups and spoons, olive oil cooking spray, an instant-read thermometer, a skillet, and an oven.

OK:  I have an oven, but as for the rest:

Then there’s the verbs.  To concoct this dish, you’ll have to split, remove, discard, roast, rake, break, stir, chop, grate, push, poke, crack, crush, beat, pour, spray, portion, roll, bake, tent, drizzle, cook, sprinkle, divide, and garnish…

Going back to brevity vs. verbosity, the recipe’s author does tend go on about her father’s famous meatballs vs. restaurant meatballs:

“My experience has proved that the perfect meatball is somewhat elusive even when eating out…They can lack flavor and be overcooked and tough or mushy and spongy.”

Horrors!

To combat this, the author generously shares her father’s techniques for making tender meatballs.  His secret?

“Don’t overwork the meat.” 

So apparently it’s OK to overwork the cook, but by golly – you’d better not overwork that meat.

She also offers an ingredients-combining technique “to cut down on the amount of handling the meat needs to endure.”

What “the meat needs to endure”?

What about what the cook needs to endure?

The big byword here is “gently,” as the author reminds us repeatedly, including here:

Even the recipe’s headline admonishes us to “handle with care”:

Geez, OK, I get it!  Don’t mash the meat!

And now, after all that reading of all those square inches and pictures, and shopping and ingredients and paraphernalia and verbs…

You’ll have this:

What is this marvel called?

Spaghetti Squash and Meatballs with Quick Tomato Sauce

Clearly, the author and I have different definitions of “quick.”

And different definitions of “spaghetti.”

The spaghetti I know comes in a box like this:

The recipe “spaghetti” is made from the spaghetti squash, which looks like this:

But, the author assures us, if you want to use actual spaghetti…

“…go for it – no judgment here.”

Whew!  That’s a relief!

For all her verbosity, there is some information the author didn’t include.  Most recipes note the amount of time involved but the author didn’t, so I did it for her:

Shopping time:  Eight hours.
Prep/cooking time:  16 hours.
Recovery from shopping/prep/cooking:  Three days.

But…I decided to go ahead, dive in, and make this marvel.

And I discovered something else the author didn’t tell us.

Your kitchen may end up looking like mine did:

And you may end up looking like I did: