Dock of the Bay

 Vol. 10, No. 2

January 10-16, 2002

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Mute Swans Get a Voice

Are all swans equal?

A swan is a swan according to Judge Harry Edwards. Which is how Dorchester County bird lover Joyce Hill won her case before the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit Court. The judge ruled that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act includes mute swans, Cygnus olor, the trademark swan with the graceful S-curve of its neck and the striking orange bill.

Hill traveled far to that victory. She and her husband had first complained to the Secretary of the Interior then to District Court. Both complaints failed, taking Hill, after her husband’s death to the Court of Appeals.

Motivating them was the horror of what they’d seen: mute swans fatally evicted from Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and across from their Fishing Creek home on Barren Island. Hill, 69, and a resident of Hooper’s Island for 34 years, says they saw Maryland Department of Natural Resources club mute swans to death and burn out adult swans, leaving the chicks to die, as means of controlling the population. Hill claims the swans have been “absolutely victimized.”

Imported from Europe as living pond ornaments, the birds have adapted to life in the New World. Many say too well. They’re said to eat more than their share of Bay grasses, particularly because they inhabit the Bay year round, interrupting the grasses’ natural reseeding cycle. Thus they destroy habitat for other species, such as crabs and fish. That is the official position of Natural Resources, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and environmental organizations such as the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Against such opposition, saving the swans took both persistence and clever legal maneuvering.

Hill, a former Capitol Hill legislative assistant, teamed up with Kathryn Burton, a Connecticut lawyer who founded Save Our Swans. They concluded that there is no basis for the bad rap mute swans get. They believe Natural Resources is using the swan as a scapegoat, when many other factors are at work in degrading the Bay.

They argued that mute swans were on the List of Migratory Birds protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1916. The Act, a compilation of four treaties between the United States and Canada, Mexico, Japan and the Soviet Union, defines migratory birds to include “Anatidae or waterfowl, including brant, wild ducks, geese, and swans.”

Yet federal regulations revised in 1998 listed only trumpeter, tundra and whooper swans as protected species. Why, Hill wanted to know, wasn’t the Department of the Interior enforcing the law?

Finally in December, the Court of Appeals ruled that since the language of the treaty includes “swans” without limitation, there is nothing to support the exclusion of mute swans from the List of Migratory Birds.

A spokesman for U.S. Fish and Wildlife said that the List is “based on nothing biologically sound.” Still, he insisted the mutes are not native and not migratory.

Burton and Hill beg to differ.

First, they argue, mutes migrate up and down the Bay and across the Canadian border, making them technically a migratory species.

Second, their defenders say, mute swans have lived in this country since the Pleistocene Epoch half a million years ago, perhaps having crossed the Bering Sea from Siberia.

On this point, Storrs Olson, curator of fossil birds at the Smithsonian Institute of Natural History, calls the fossil record of swans in this country so “fragmentary” that it’s not identifiable as far as species.

Third, they dispute Department of Natural Resources’ count of 4,000 mutes living on Chesapeake Bay.

For now Hill and Burton are celebrating.

Hill calls the judge’s decision “wonderful, because it basically keeps the swan from indiscriminately being blamed for the destruction of Bay waters.”

The ball is now in the hands of the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They may appeal the court’s decision. They may also enact new regulations to control the mute swans.

Meanwhile, the court’s decision has put on hold the state’s plans to control mute swan populations. “We cannot, nor can private citizens, take any action against mute swans pending some clarification from the federal government,” says Natural Resources spokesman John Surrick.

Burton has the happy ending she wanted for a book on America’s swans, but the ending of the real-world story of the mute swans of Chesapeake Country remains to be written.

— Martha Blume

Prince Frederick physicist, psi-researcher and author Dale Graff is gathering a loose group of “sensitives” — people he prefers not to call psychics — to help intuit potential terrorist threats.
photo by Mark Burns
In Calvert County, Fighting Terrorism with Premonition

As we wage war on terrorism, intelligence gathering is a boom business. The Office of Homeland Security has been created to coordinate local- to national-level counter-terrorism efforts. The military and Central Intelligence Agency have gained leverage. Diplomats have opened new conversations with Middle Eastern nations.

To all this, Prince Frederick physicist, psi-researcher and author Dale Graff wants to add another resource.


Graff’s Web-based International Psi Alert Center, created about a year in advance of September 11, is a loose community of people Graff terms “sensitives” — he prefers to avoid the 900-number connotation of “psychics” — from around the world. Following last year’s terrorist attacks, he has resolved to recruit from them a core group of six to 12 proven sensitives, forming an intuitive resource that might stand sentry against future attacks.

His vision of institutionalized intuition may seem a flight of comic-book fantasy, but it has precedent.

Graff is the former director of Stargate, a now defunct top-secret Cold War-era program charged with developing “third-eye” spies for foreign intelligence gathering. In their small, blank office tucked away at Fort Meade, recruits believed to have an intuitive sensitivity sat down for remote viewing sessions. The psi talents would sit at a small table across from a coach, often Graff himself. While he repeated their goal in a hushed, insistent voice, they would write or draw whatever thoughts or images entered their minds.

The results were not necessarily lucid, sometimes amounting to no more than scribbles and garbled words. Moving targets proved especially difficult to track, he says, and even when viewings may have been right, the target had often moved on by the time authorities moved in. But there were many successes that Graff says validated their efforts.

“We were able to locate a fugitive on the run in Wyoming,” says Graff. “We also located a missing general who was kidnapped by a red terrorist group in Italy. Right down to a description the building he was held in.”

Despite Stargate’s recorded successes, Graff knows better than to think any government agency or military branch will want to order up funding for a strike force of telepaths. But, he notes, some individual authorities have sought psi talent on their own to supplement their investigations. Most often, supplementary psi talents help guide investigations seeking a missing person or murder victim. Their clues, he says, can be dead on — as with his general — or, more often, very unspecific, naming a landmark within some region of the U.S.

With the group he calls InPAC, he seeks to push the envelop into the future.

“I’m hoping for a broader interest developing from law enforcement, FBI and Secret Service of the predictive aspects of remote viewing,” says Graff.

In hindsight, he admits to dismissing ominous predictions that might have hinted at the attacks of September 11. In the aftermath, he recalls people telling how they didn’t go to work that day because of bad vibes. Graff believes similar short-term predictions have value for guarding against future attacks.

Graff envisions his InPAC as a place for “people to pool their impressions and see if there is any kind of clustering. It might help in a general tip-off.” Predictions would only venture a few weeks forward, Graff says, as elements of probability muddy the view.

In order to be taken seriously, Graff seeks to build a track record validating the reliability of his team’s intuitive methods.

“We’re not going to hit 100 percent,” he says. “No sensor is 100 percent. There are going to be false alarms, and you just can’t back off when one goes wrong.”

He’d settle for a 50-50 record and be tickled by a 60-40 success rate. He discounts the unfavorable numbers of statisticians, saying they don’t take into account the innumerable elements that comprise a successful prediction.

“It’s just an unknown aspect,” says Graff of premonition. “To me, it’s no more mysterious than gravity. We don’t understand it very well, either. Quantum physics is very strange, yet it works. We can’t rationalize why.”

Learn more at

— Mark Burns

The Last Day of Christmas

Tired as they were, Santa and his helpers returned to Chesapeake County long after many Christmas trees were mulch to help celebrate Russian Christmas.

Lucy Melnikova and her husband Yuri Ambriashvili keep the holiday spirit going, celebrating Orthodox Christmas, which falls on January 6.
photo coutesy of Lucy Melnikova
Among the homes to greet Father Frost was that of North Beachers Yuri Ambriashvili and Lucy Melnikova. Lucy is from Russia; her husband Yuri from the former Soviet state of Georgia. She works in Washington at the World Bank. He is a consultant.

In their native lands, gifts are exchanged at both the New Year and Christmas. But Russian Christmas comes 11 days after ours, on January 6. That’s because the Russian Orthodox Church follows the older Julian calendar, which lags behind the newer Gregorian calendar adopted by most of the Christian world.

Traditional Russian Orthodox prepare for their Christmas by fasting 40 days and abstaining from dairy products, meat and — as Yuri puts it — “husband-wife.” Deprivation ends when the first star appears Christmas Eve. S Rozhdestvom, Russian for Merry Christmas, rings out.

Some Russians celebrate Christmas and New Year’s according to both calendars, as do Lucy and Yuri.

The main course on this year’s Russian Christmas table for Lucy, Yuri and their visiting daughter was roast turkey with sour apple stuffing. It should have been goose, but “geese are hard to find locally.” Another hearty dish was piroshki, meat-filled pastries. Lucy made blinis, a fancier version of our pancakes, topped with caviar. Yuri proudly produced his pickled fish, caught earlier at North Beach’s fishing pier and marinated for weeks. Borscht (Russia’s famed beet soup), a salad (something like our potato salad but more richly endowed) and fried mushrooms were also on the menu.

The big day for Father Frost is actually New Year’s Day, a celebration encouraged in atheistic Soviet days. Now the Santa-like evolution of a pagan deity might visit on Christmas — either Christmas — too. Traveling by sleigh from the northern Russian forests, he’s assisted by his granddaughter. They’ve been known to knock at houses to ask children if they’ve been good and to take gift requests.

“I think I still believe in Father Frost,” Lucy smiles, remembering childhood holidays brilliant with frost and decorated trees.

Other countries, as well, celebrate Christmas in ways different from ours. Dutch children, for instance, look forward to a visit from St. Nicholas on the day traditionally celebrated as his feast, December 6.

Italian children anticipate the arrival of La Befana, a kindly old hag who — legend says — tried to meet the Three Wise Men on their search for the Christ Child and bring her gift. But she missed them, so, continuing on her journey, she brings gifts to other children a few days before the Feast of the Three Kings.

This feast is celebrated in the Western world on January 6 as the Epiphany, signifying the “radiant breakthrough of revelation.” Christians believe the foreign kings’ recognition of the infant Jesus as Messiah was the first time his identity was revealed outside the Jewish world. Since Epiphany centers on gifts, some countries (especially Hispanic) made it the day to exchange gifts. Epiphany ends the Twelve Days of Christmas.

Russian Christmas, falling as it does on the same day other Christians celebrate the Epiphany, does not preclude a Russian celebration of that feast as well. That feast comes January 19, when families bring back holy water from church to bless their homes.

Another Russian Epiphany tradition is to jump into rivers and lakes, despite the weather. Polar Bear clubs might want to copy the Russian tradition of setting off fireworks and burning bonfires against the cold of Epiphany morning.

Don’t look for Lucy and Yuri at Sandy Point State Park on January 26 for Maryland Special Olympic’s annual Polar Bear Plunge into the Bay. The Epiphany morning splash is one tradition from the Old Country they didn’t bring along.

— Patricia Kirby

Smile, It’s Tax Time

The bad news is it’s that time of year when Uncle Sam and Uncle William Donald S. slide their hands in your pocket.

Kicking off the 2002 tax-filing season, the Internal Revenue Service mailed to Marylanders some 700,000 tax packages and 400,000 more computer-filing brochures. For their trouble, come April 15 they expect 2.6 Marylanders to file individual income tax returns.

In between, you’ll be busy figuring out what you owe and figuring out how to pay.

The good news is that our uncles will be smiling as they reach into our pockets. And they want you to smile, too.

Across the state, IRS Taxpayer Assistance offices open next week. No, that’s not the oxymoron it seems. Last year’s users tell us the Taxpayer Assistance staff was “helpful,” “pleasant” and “able to answer all my questions.”

In Chesapeake Country, the Annapolis Taxpayer Assistance Office opens January 22 at 190 Admiral Cochrane Drive, Suite 170, in West Woods Business Park. Staff are waiting to help you weekdays and Saturday, April 13.

Phone lines are staffed daily 7am-10pm and Saturday 9am-5pm: 800/829-1040.

For longest hours — 24/7 — go on-line. “We’ve tried to answer everybody’s questions at some level on our Web site,” says IRS spokesman Sam Serio. “And you can download every form you might need.” That’s

— Bay Weekly

Way Downstream …

In New York, the future of legislation to promote more darkness for stargazers looks dim. Gov. George Pataki is threatening a veto of the bill, which would require state and local governments to phase out streetlights and other lights that aim upward. The movement on behalf of lights that shine downward is embraced by the International Dark Sky Association...

In Australia, a helicopter named Elvis is being credited with rescuing 14 firefighters who were trapped in that country’s devastating bush fires. The copter, so-named because it came from the Tennessee National Guard, dropped tons of water on the flames and then ferried the trapped firefighters to safety. “Elvis saved us, absolutely,” one of the rescued said…

Our Creature Feature comes from Africa, where entrees of monkey brains and elephant trunk were no longer on the menu in Gabon because of an outbreak of the feared Ebola virus, Reuters reported.

Eating those delicacies and other bushmeat — including gorilla, lizard and crocodile — was banned last month as the death toll from the body-wasting virus surpassed 20 in Gabon and neighboring Congo Republic. Despite threats to their health, meat-loving Africans were annoyed. “We are not vegetarians,” complained tribal leader Isidore Nkoto.

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly