The big story a while back, or at least one of them, was a false missile alert that went out to the people of Hawaii saying a missile strike was imminent.

Not surprisingly, a lot of people freaked out, ran around in circles and hid under their desks. It took about a half hour for news to come out that it was a mistake.


What was also not surprising, at least to me, was how many people ignored the warning. They looked at the alert on their cell phones and went “Nah, gotta be a mistake.” And they were right. It was a mistake. It was supposed to be the weekly test of the EBS, the Emergency Broadcast System. Some poor schlub pressed the wrong button.

Not that button!!

And in the poor schlub’s defense, it was easier to do than you might think. The system is on a computer. There’s a pull-down menu that has two selections, right next to one another.

1. Send missile alert.
2. Send missile alert test.

He hit number 1.

So of course, the computer said, “Are you sure?” and he hit “Yes. “Which is not surprising either. It’s a brain thing. You see what you expect to see. You hear what you expect to hear.

The real question is, what idiot set up that program? For something this important, you should have to at least go to separate screens to for each choice. The back-up responses the computer makes should be a little more robust.

This is how the program should respond to you pressing option 1.

“Are you sure?”
“Are you really sure?”
“Really, really, really sure???”
“You do realize you’re about to scare the shit out of millions of people, right?”
“For Christ’s sake, stop looking at porn on your phone and pay attention to me! You really meant to press option 2, the TEST button, right!?”

The EBS system has been around since 1963. We’ve all grown up listening to weekly tests on the radio and TV.

And only a test!

This isn’t the first time an accidental alert went out and nobody paid much attention to it. When I was in college during the 1970’s I worked at my college radio station, WVHC. Back then we got our news from teletype machines.

When a really important story broke, the machines would start dinging like a slot machine that just hit the million-dollar jackpot. You were supposed to drop everything and run to the machine to see what was going on. I was working one weekend at the station, doing a live show. I was there by myself. Suddenly the teletype machine went crazy. I ran to the machine and read the copy. It was an EBS “White” alert.

What was that?

Well, there were three alerts back then. A “blue alert”  was a test of the EBS system. When they sent that out, you had to play the “Blue alert” tape cartridge.  It basically said:

“This is a test, and only a test, of the Emergency Broadcast System. In case of a real emergency, you will be informed of where to tune to get more information of the actual emergency. Again, this is only a test.”

Then you would hear an annoying tone that was supposed to activate automated radio stations. Or something like that. I always thought it was just put there to be annoying.

Then you had the “White” alert. This announced some kind of “national emergency”.  We never knew exactly what that was.

Hey, it could happen!

And then there was the “RED” alert. That was the one where there was an imminent nuclear strike, and we had 15 minutes to kiss our asses goodbye.

Goodbye ass!

I can’t tell you what the “White” and “Red” cartridges said because they were sealed in envelopes above our broadcast console and we were NOT ALLOWED TO EVER OPEN THEM! Unless of course, we got the alert which told us to do so.

Hey, it really could happen!

So, when the “White” alert came over the wires, I looked at it, and at first, I went “Wow, now I get to hear what the “White” cart says!” And then I went “Nah, someone just hit the wrong button.”

I went back to my show. It became a big story the next day. But not for the reason you’d think. It turns out,  nobody paid any attention to the alert!  Radio stations all over the country looked at it and they all went “Nah, someone just hit the wrong button.”

The government was very upset. They should have been relieved.

Yes, I know Obama was not President in the 1970s. You get my point! Lighten up!

I’ll never forget one day back when I was Program Director for the radio station. I came down to the studio. A freshman was on the air. He’d just finished playing the “Blue” cart. When it was over he looked at me, very seriously, and asked,

“Tom, if there  was a nuclear war, do I really have to stay down here and play the Red cart?”

At first I was going to say “Yes, it’s your patriotic duty as dictated by the FCC and God Almighty that you spend your last moments on this planet warning your fellow citizens they’ve got  moments to live!” Then I realized he would probably not get the joke.  Sometimes my humor is subtle.

Instead, I said “Dude, you do what you gotta do”. He was so relieved.  Freshmen are adorable.

This is called a “call-back” in the comedy biz.!

I grew up during the height of the cold war. In grade school, we had regular “duck and cover drills”. In some, we would have to duck under our desks when our teacher suddenly yelled “DUCK!”

And at least once a month we all had to leave our classroom, go out into the hall with our coats and sit cross-legged against the wall with our coats over our heads.

We were not allowed to sit next to a window. Why? Well, if you were sitting next to a window when a nuclear bomb went off, the flying glass could put your eye out! I’m not making that up.

I will never forget one day, when I was in sixth grade, we were doing our drill when one of my classmates stood up and started shouting: “What is wrong with all of you? Why are we sitting here with coats over our heads? If a nuclear bomb goes off, we are all going to be vaporized in seconds!! This is stupid!”

And just like that, like the moment when your cousin tells you Santa isn’t real, it dawned on all of us: “Wow, that makes sense.”

Needless to say, much crying, hysteria  and gnashing of teeth ensued. The Principal was not amused and tried to suspend the child for pointing out the obvious. Fortunately, she didn’t succeed.

Does the EBS system make any sense?

In the case of nuclear war, not really. Do we really want to spend the last 15 minutes of our lives crapping our pants because we know what’s about to happen? As far as the “White” national emergency alert, there has been one time that it should have been used.

Another call-back! I’m on a roll.

No, not that. I’m referring  to September 11th, 2001.

Not one radio or TV station played any kind of alert that day! WTF?

We baby boomers grew up with the potential threat of total nuclear annihilation. It was part of our daily lives. Deep down, we never believed it would happen. Even after the Cuban Missile Crisis, which was the closest mankind came to ending it all, we didn’t believe it could happen.

But these days? I don’t know anymore.




On the table. Recently cut into pieces and then stitched back up, I was officially in shock. Well, what do they expect is going to happen? They take all the critical parts of your body out, repair them, stick them back in. Nothing is working and everything hurts and I do mean everything, including parts that you weren’t aware were even in your body.

Doctors are incapable of admitting they cause actual pain.

“Pain” is what you felt before they got you on the table and repair you. Post-surgery, it’s called “surgical discomfort,” a thing that often requires massive amounts of ingested drugs, but is not “real” pain because they caused it.

So I was in shock, which happens when you are hit by a tsunami of post-surgical discomfort. I was also not entirely awake, not in any sense of the word which I understand. I’m told my dark side rose from my recumbent body and I tried to take down the nurse. With my fists.

The better part of valor parlayed and voted to put me back into a chemically induced coma.

Yup. Shock.

It sure was.


SILENCE – WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge

Up in the mountains of Vermont, it is quiet in the morning. Not silent, usually. There are always birds and somewhere in the distance, the sound of farm machinery. But it is about as silent as our world gets in these times.


It’s another bright early morning.

A place from which to watch the world.



I’m not a big game person. I don’t play video games. I don’t play a lot of games on my computer or phone. I like a few word puzzles and Shanghai (a form of Mahjong). But my all time favorite is the card game, Solitaire.

I play Solitaire on my phone for long periods of time, despite my ADD. I find it very soothing and absorbing. I think that’s because card games are a cherished memory from my past.

I used to play Gin Rummy all the time with my grandparents, starting when I was six or seven. Often we had a foursome with my Mom or with Grandma’s best friend and cousin, ‘Aunt’ Esther. With four of us playing, we teamed up and each team would pool their points. My grandparents scored in some odd way involving XX’s in boxes, which I never figured out. So I was never allowed to keep score.

Grandma, me and Esther when I was four

Grandma regularly accused Grandpa of cheating. I think she was right, but he was also a very good player. He could remember every card every opponent took and threw out. He turned that skill into a major strategy, playing defense as well as offense. I never played on that level. To me it was just a fun game of chance. I just picked cards and figured out how best I could fit them into my hand.

My grandparents playing cards

I remember all those hours playing cards at the kitchen table. Grandma would bring me something wonderful to eat when we stopped for a break. This is one of those memories that deserve a Hallmark card to commemorate it.

At home, my mom and I played Solitaire and Double Solitaire, which is a competitive game of Solitaire. In Double Solitaire, each person plays their own hand but all the players pool the cards they put up and build on, numerically, by suit. It’s a very fast paced game. You’re competing for who will get their cards into the suit piles first. The person with the most cards in the suit piles, wins. Sometimes everyone wins and you end up with all the players’ decks mixed together in suit piles in the center of the table. That was always a thrill!

Me and Mom when I was about fifteen

My mom and I had very spirited games. But the most fun was when we got the housekeeper and the cook (it was a different time) to play with us. Four people playing the game is only slightly organized chaos. We would yell and scream and throw cards around in a frenzy! We all had such fun!

I’ve carried my card traditions over into the next generation through my daughter, Sarah. Sarah loved to play gin with me and my mom. We also inducted her, at an early age, into our wild world of Double Solitaire. She’s 33 now and still plays. She recently found two decks of cards we used to use when we played with my mom in Sarah’s youth. We loved those cards, which is why I kept them all these years. Seeing them brought back such wonderful memories!

Sarah, Mom and me when Sarah was thirteen

So I think my love of online card games is due to my fond memories of card games past. I played different games with different family members. But the warm glow of love and good times pervades all these card related vignettes from my childhood, my adult life and my daughter’s life.

Sarah and me a few years ago



Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Letter V:
Needs to start with V and have at least 6 letters

Vehicles are my absolutely best “v” word, probably because I actually have pictures of many kinds of vehicles. After that, it gets a little more confusing.

Our vehicle, the Jeep in a blizzard Photo: Garry Armstrong

Garry and an old vehicle

Virtual Sunday at home with the computer

Vegetables awaiting a trip to the fridge

Vegetable at a farm stand

Vegan witches (Sorry, couldn’t help myself)