The Meaning of Cardinals

People are always looking for the meaning of life.

Indeed, people are usually looking for the meaning of everything. Brilliant people such as Einstein and Stephen Hawking are looking; stupid people such as conspiracy theorists are also looking. Conspiracy theorists think they have found it in some powerful plotting person or some powerful plotting group of people.

I’m looking too. I am looking and I have been looking since I was 17 years old which was long, long ago. Have I found it? No.

Many people have looked to birds to find such meaning. Birds fly not only in the sky but in our dreams, fantasies and desires. In our fears too. Many human beings look to birds for omens and information about everyday things.

We all know the dire meaning from the arrival of a Blackbird, Raven or Crow into our lives. In short, make sure you have your funeral expenses paid for yourself and perhaps for grandma, if you see one of these birds.

In stories, poems and friendly gossip you can see the strength of the bird superstition in the world from the distant past right up until the present; when your neighbor found one of those black birds dead on his stoop that could be a frightening moment. Much of bird mythology is upsetting but some bird myths are quite nice.

Many religious Christians love the story of the White Dove descending above Jesus’ head as a symbol of peace between God and man. In Judaism, the Eagle protecting her young was a symbol of God’s love and protection of his people.

While the Owl is often thought as the symbol for wisdom, it is also associated with the evils of ancient witchcraft. It was also associated with the devil. I love Owls so I am a little afraid of throwing my lot with them.

My favorite small bird is the colorful Cardinal, a family of which resides in the bushes in my Japanese garden. I see them every day, even in the coldest winters.

There is a strong myth connecting Cardinals and death—a good myth thank heavens, because it’s bad enough that I love Owls. I don’t want to become too popular with Satan.

If someone you loved, admired or simply liked recently passed away, the visitation of a Cardinal is thought to not only symbolize that person but for many believers it is thought to be a short-term reincarnation of that deceased person sending the message that he or she is all right and is thinking about you.

I do not know how many birders believe any of these myths but the good myths, meaning the ones that are uplifting as opposed to horrifying, could be comforting for them.

My Cardinals visit me every day. At this stage of my life, I have many relatives, friends and acquaintances who have passed on.  Maybe all those visits are in fact loving messages for me.



The Shoebill

Some birds are staggeringly beautiful, mostly songbirds. Some birds are fierce and alluring, mostly raptors. And some birds are completely, thoroughly weird.

The weird birds can be ugly weird or beautiful weird or just weird-weird. The Shoebill, a stork that resides in a dense forest along the Congo River, the deepest river in the world at 720 feet, is weird-weird.

At first, I thought of the Shoebill as a truly ugly weird. Now I am not so sure. The Shoebill’s image has grown on me the more I’ve looked at it.

This bird is big, standing five-feet tall and has a beak that looks just like the wooden shoes worn by the Dutch of old. The Shoebill’s beak comes straight down its face as he waits to hunt, much like a roadway over flat earth. It almost looks flat there.

The Shoebill is a carnivore, eating birds (especially baby birds), lizards (including crocodile babies and crocodile youngsters), some insects of the large variety, and sundry fish, including the truly disgusting lung fish. Some of those lung fish are close to three feet long, but the Shoebill gobbles them down.

When Shoebills eat, they chew in a way that brings forth the head of the meal to the tip of its bill where it is unceremoniously severed off. The head then drops to the ground where it stays, since the Shoebill only enjoys the body. How it gets the head to the front of its bill is amazing since the rest of the meal’s body is safely lodged in its throat.

Now, that’s weird-weird eating from a weird-weird bird isn’t it? Even a very large human would find it hard to eat a three-foot fish, especially in one long gulp.

The Shoebill’s favorite treat seems to be baby birds. It can stand along the banks of the Congo River and watch a nest up in a tree for hours without moving a muscle. It shows no movement whatsoever and in that stillness—even with the presence of its strange beak—the shoebill could be mistaken for a small boulder.

Sooner or later a baby bird comes falling out of one of the trees to be immediately devoured by the swift and hungry Shoebill.

Unlike the friendly stork of mythology, you wouldn’t want the Shoebill to be in charge of delivering human infants to their mothers and fathers; not if you didn’t want those infants gulped down with only the head remaining for people to identify.

Adult humans do not seem to interest the Shoebill but still—that beak is awfully scary and the fact that it couldn’t bite our heads off is of little comfort.

The sad part about the Shoebills’ story is the fact that, due to encroachment and poaching, the bird is designated as an endangered species. Seems some people think of them as trophies, despite the illegality of killing them or making them pets.

Despite its weirdness, I have come to think of it as a beautifully weird bird and I’d hate to see it disappear forever.

Frank Scoblete’s web site is His books are available from, Barnes and Noble, Kindle, e-books and at bookstores. 

Stifle It

Players are not always going to play the way you think they should play. They aren’t going to play the way you want them to play even though the way you want them to play is the best way to play. If you have even minor casino-playing experience, you know the above sentences are the facts.

Still, if you have been playing casino games for even a moderate amount of time, you have run into the “experts” who feel it is necessary to tell other players how to play. Some of these experts might even feel the need to badger other players’ playing decisions.

You will find this most especially at blackjack but you will also find it at other card games. Even in games such as craps and baccarat, you get the “experts” informing others about what they are doing incorrectly.

At baccarat and mini-baccarat the numbers of superstitious players are legion. Such players will damn you if you start winning and they start losing because – for some strange reason – they think your wins are causing them to lose.

At baccarat, I once had a woman (a very small, tight-bodied woman) jump out of her seat and get into my face while screaming at me because I was winning and she was losing.

I actually had no idea what she was saying because she spoke another language but I could tell by her anger that she wasn’t yelling at me because of my good looks. It seems she would bet against what I was betting but I was winning and she was losing and so – ipso facto – I was causing her downfall.

There are times when the “expert” is actually giving another player correct advice. That actually is irrelevant. Unless the player asks such “expert” for advice then giving advice is uncalled for.

In fact, for me, I never give advice at a table even if another player asks for advice. I usually tell the other player to ask the dealer.

A long, long time ago in a casino far, far away, a player asked for my advice on how to play a specific blackjack hand. I was courteous and told him the proper play based on the correct basic strategy for the game we were playing.

He lost.

He then yelled at me for being an “idiot” and exclaimed “what do you know about playing blackjack?” What could I say except “I’m sorry?” I wasn’t going to get into an argument about what is right and wrong when playing blackjack hands. I accepted his concept of me as an “idiot” and left it at that.

I am no longer the “idiot” I was back when that happened. I don’t give advice to other players. Certainly, I see players making bad decisions in how they play this or that game, but it is their money to be played with as they see fit.

The other problem with many of the “expert” advice givers is that their advice is wrong. Craps players will tell other craps players to make bad bets. Blackjack players will stomp and scream at the last player to play a hand if the dealer takes a card and beats the players.

The key for all of us is to stifle it.

“Let There Be Light!”

The first paragraph of the Book of Genesis in the Bible is beautiful. Here’s how it goes: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth; the earth was without form and void with darkness over the face of the abyss and a mighty wind swept over the surface of the waters and God said, ‘Let there be light!’ And there was light!”

I want to go outside on January 2nd and shout out the exact same words to achieve the almost the exact result. But the light I am talking about is the light of holiday decorations. Twinkle twinkle little stars.

I love the time of Thanksgiving to New Years. Most of that time is not even winter, but what makes those days magnificent are the people who light up their houses with Christmas lights.

I can take or leave the religious aspects of Christmas. The birth of Jesus did not occur anywhere near December 25th. We know that the early Christians borrowed days and events from the various pagan cultures and in doing so, slowly solidified their hold on the world.

Mithras, the sun god, would be proud, perhaps, to lend his December 25th birthday to Jesus. But, if you want to believe the birth of Christ was on December 25th, go ahead, have at it.

The world from Thanksgiving through New Year’s is a twinkling, sparkling wonderland. Every trip outdoors is a treat to the eyes.

I dread the dull months of January and February. Here in New York, January and February can be bleak and the occasional snow brings more annoyance than joy. Snow is best in photos and videos. In reality, snow cleverly conceals treacherous ice and is soon bathed in filthy car fumes.

But I digress.

January and February should be the Let-There-Be-Light months. Homeowners should continue to display blinking, twinkling outdoor lights and folks who do put up lights should be given a tax break by their local governments.

I would not associate the Let-There-Be-Light time period with any religion either. Every home should be adorned with holiday lights. (Okay, okay: I never put up holiday lights…but that’s from sheer laziness.)

I want winter to sparkle!

If you need some holiday at the end of the season of light, then let’s change Thanksgiving to the last week of February.

Perhaps if we all go outside on January 2nd and shout, “Let there be light!” my dream will become a sparkling reality. And if everyone accepts my idea, well then, I will put up lights too.

Frank Scoblete’s web site is His books are available at, Barnes and Noble, Kindle, e-books and at bookstores.

Betty Bruiser and the Kiss from Hell

She was known as Betty Bruiser. I don’t remember her real name. I just know she was a fearsome presence in Our Lady of Angels Grammar School in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn in the early 1960s.

We were in sixth grade then. The boys were in one school, having been separated from the girls at the start of that school year. The nuns knew that boys and girls shouldn’t be together once the boys were experiencing adolescence. So, the boys were now taught by the Franciscan brothers, a tough lot.

The nuns thought of the girls as clean and sparkling Catholics. Heaven would be theirs. The boys, well, Hell probably knew our names.

Betty was a bruiser. In all ways. When she played basketball, she played the defensive end of the court. In those days girls’ basketball had three girls on one side of the court as defense and three girls on the other side of the court as offense. It was always three against three. Girls were considered frail and therefore they couldn’t play a full court game as did the boys.

Defense tried to stop the other team’s offense. Defense did not shoot the ball but tried to get the ball to their offense on the other side of the court.

Betty’s prowess came to the fore when she broke the nose of a girl from St. Thomas Aquinas. There was blood everywhere. It was Betty’s first game for our school. That one game sealed her as “the Bruiser.” Word got around the Catholic grammar schools in Brooklyn and girls were terrified of playing against her.

When she played dodge ball, that ball would knock opponents on their rear ends or cause them nose bleeds when it hit them in the face. Every player wanted Betty Bruiser on their team, not so much because she was cherished but because she was a horrifyingly relentless opponent.

Even though the girls had to wear gym uniforms that were styled like bloomers, Betty Bruiser was the only girl who seemed to fit into hers.

So, what did Betty Bruiser have to do with me?

She loved me. She loved me with all her heart and all the powerful muscles in her body. She would refer to me as “My Scobe.” She would wink at me in the schoolyard during recess. It was terrifying

Was she ugly? I don’t really know. Is the incredible Hulk ugly? You don’t hang around to form an opinion.

But it was a party at my friend Billy Benjamin’s apartment that caused the problem between her and me.

This would be my first unchaperoned party—meaning no parents. Stevie Labashio told me they would be playing a game I’d never heard of called “spin the bottle.”

So, as always, I went to my mother and asked her about the game. She explained it to me and added, “You can play it if you want.”

“I don’t want to play,” I said. I didn’t want to play the game because I didn’t want to waste my first kiss on just anyone; I wanted it to be with Mary Sassalo. Also, I didn’t exactly have the kiss down pat. (See my story of The Virgin Kiss and how I taught myself to be a great kisser.)

The night of the party and I was dressed to the nines, meaning I was wearing sneakers and a sweat shirt. Then Betty Bruiser entered.

She was invited to the party! Several of the boys asked Billy why he invited her. “I had to. Her mother is friends with my mother, so my mother forced me.”

“I’m not playing the kiss the bottle game,” I said.

Spin the bottle,” said Stevie.

“Not that one either,” I said.

The party was fine but Betty Bruiser kept trying to get me to talk to her privately. “Let’s go in another room, My Scobe,” she said.

I’d either pretend I didn’t hear her or start a quick conversation with someone else. I didn’t want to tell her that I wanted nothing to do with her. She might beat me up.

Now it was time for spin the bottle. I announced immediately that I wasn’t playing. I joked that I was too good a kisser and didn’t want to make anyone feel bad.

“Kissing the dog doesn’t count,” said Billy.

The first kid up was Stevie and he spun the bottle and it pointed to pretty Cathy O’Connor. Their kiss was quick and Stevie gave a thumbs up as if he had just hit a home run.

The game went around the room and finally Betty Bruiser was next. I sat behind Willie Williams, just near the bathroom. Since I wasn’t playing, I felt that this distance from the game was a good idea. I felt really sorry for the poor guy who had to kiss The Bruiser.

Betty took the bottle and looked around the room. I am not sure she could see the terror in the eyes of the boys and the hidden delight in the eyes of the girls. Some boy was doomed to kiss her.

The Bruiser saw me. She looked like a jungle cat eyeing her prey. Not a big deal for me because everyone knew I wasn’t playing, right?

Betty Bruiser picked up the bottle, looked right through Willie Williams, directly at me and smiled, mouthing the words “My Scobe.”

She then spun the bottle. Around it went, only once, and it landed on Willie Williams. There was a pause and then Willie Williams jumped up and ran out of the room, “No, no, no!”

“My Scobe!” And she ran at me. She landed on me, a powerful force of nature, and my chair tipped backwards and off we flew. I skidded into the bathroom, hitting my head on the toilet.

Betty Bruiser leapt on me—she was very heavy—and now she was kissing my face and—oh my God!—licking me trying to get her tongue into my mouth. I thought, what is wrong with this girl?

I fought as if my life depended on it—and maybe it did! I refused to let her kiss me on the lips but I just couldn’t muster enough strength to get her body off me.  My nose was wet with saliva now.

I was squirming like a worm but she was plastered on me.

Finally, I was saved as the rest of the boys showed pity on me and dragged her off me. It was like a brawl at a ball game as the boys stayed between her and me.

“My Scobe,” she repeated, charging at me. “My Scobe. My Scobe. My Scobe.” A few times she almost made it through the boys—she was so strong—but their lines held.

She finally calmed down and the girls led her to the bedroom. I hustled out of the apartment.

I swore off parties for the next two years. They were just too dangerous. Instead, I spent my leisure time practicing my kissing technique for Mary, the girl of my dreams.

Single Shot Craps

I have always been a rather conservative player. I want to guard my money as best as I can while also enjoying the thrill of casino play. I have rarely made a high house-edge bet. I know basic strategy in blackjack and in fast games such as mini-baccarat I make sure I only bet maybe 50 hands per hour as opposed to 150.

I am slow and steady. I always gamble with one foot pointed towards the door.

Now, I have gotten even better. I am now an advocate and (hopefully) a writer who will create a new movement in casino gambling – the single shot philosophy.

This column will explain the single-shot idea for the game of craps.

If you take a look at a craps layout filled with betting choices or stand behind the players during a game, you will notice that almost all the players, in fact probably every player at the table, makes far more than one bet. Indeed, the layout at a full table is festooned with bets of every type, good ones, bad ones, horrendous ones.

Craps players are action players. To get the action they want they make numerous bets. Yes, a good night is thrilling but the majority of sessions are not so good and money can be lost quickly and greatly if things are not going the players’ way.

I now say, stop making multiple bets at craps! Doing so can only lead to losses and those losses will not take a long time to show up because they will be in direct proportion to how many bets a player makes and what the house edges are on those bets.

One bet should be your maximum. A come bet or a pass line bet, backed by odds, and that is all the bets you should make. Just one.

Now, immediately an action player will voice the idea that there will be “long waits” between decisions. This is true. Let us say that you place-bet the 8. There are five ways to make that number but there are six ways to make the dreaded 7.

Of course, there are 36 possible configurations of the dice, so a single-shot player will face 11 decisions out of 36; six decisions on the 7 and five decisions on the 8. All the other numbers are irrelevant. They don’t exist.

Naturally on the 8 place-bet of six dollars, the payoff for a win is seven dollars. Such a close contest gives the house a mere 1.52 percent edge. If one uses a pass line or come bet, the house edge is lower.

Okay, you are watching the game and wishing and hoping that your number will hit before the 7. But other numbers are hitting. You see some players being paid off for one of their bets every round of a decision.  How will you feel? Most craps players will feel they are being cheated because they only have one bet on the layout. They will think, “How stupid of me! I should have more bets working.”

And they would be totally, one-hundred percent wrong in thinking this way.

The numbers that are hitting on your table that do not affect your game of the 7 versus the 8 are just like the numbers hitting at other tables in the casino, tables that you aren’t at; or those numbers hitting could be hitting at other casinos. They have no effect on your game! They are to be ignored.

Stick with your game. Over time your losses will be miniscule compared to the average action player. Keeping losses that low is a good idea – a great idea.

This is single-shot craps. One bet only!

Frank Scoblete’s web site is His books are available at, Barnes and Noble, Kindle, e-books and at bookstores.

One “Flu” Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

There is something so beautiful that can carry something else that is so ugly that hundreds of millions of people have died from it.

The birds. The flu.

In all its shapes and configurations, the flu has attacked humanity for as long as humanity has existed. The ancient Greeks wrote about the wreckage flu could inflict on people. Young men, in fact, their best warriors, could sniffle on a Monday and die that Sunday.

We saw this in 1918 with the Spanish Flu. Over 50 million people, many strong, young men, our own warriors, heading not for the glory of battle but for their eternal rest from a tortuous disease. There is no glory in coughing up your life.

According to Audubon magazine, wild birds, “mostly shore birds such as Red Knots, Ruddy Turnstones, Dunlins, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Sanderlings, HerrIng Gulls, and Laughing Gulls,” among others, bring something to us other than their beauty. According to a recent study some 60 percent of birds that wend their way to Delaware Bay in the United States have some form of the flu virus.

Indeed, these birds carry some 150 different strains of the flu. Luckily, for us, only a small percentage have been shown to affect people. Still, those yearly bouts of the flu that cause aches, pains, and death, have probably come from birds, often through beloved meats such as pork and chicken, as we’ll see.

In fact, there seems to be an ancient world business practice that spews various viruses; these are called “wet markets” and they can be found throughout China.

In filthy conditions, wild animals such as bats and various species of birds, and rodents and lizards and monkeys spend their days waiting to be sold for food and also crapping on each other’s heads and through the bars of each other’s cramped cages. A great birthing ground for viruses of many types.

The greatest host of the flu are chickens but not from the Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket. No, these are home grown in Asia and eaten with exotic creatures that might turn a Westerner’s stomach inside out.

With third-world nations hungering to join the first-world, their population’s hunger for chicken dinners has increased markedly. Such growth in the chicken-eating population is a symbol and a measure of a society’s cultural growth. And with that growth comes the growth of the chicken population in those countries.

There are several vectors for in-flu-encing people. Here’s one: the virus can go from wild bird to chickens and/or bats, to pigs and then to us. Most of you reading this probably remember the fears over “swine flu” and “bird flu” from some years ago. Well, COVID-19 probably took that route from the wet markets to the world’s human immune system with devastating results for humans.

How do we stop the spread of the flu?

The first step is for the governments of the countries where wet markets thrive to close them down or, at the very least, categorize what foods they are allowed to sell and the level of cleanliness needed for proprietors, their goods, and property.

Do I think these precautions will happen in my lifetime?


In fact, I think I am chirping on the wrong shore when it comes to such reforms.

[Squirrel alert: In a former column I wrote about feeding peanuts to squirrels who frequent my backyard. Stop! SSAS member Diana Ihmann got in touch with me and told me that squirrels have allergic reactions to peanuts. So, my wife the Beautiful AP, and I have stopped feeding our squirrels peanuts.]


Frank Scoblete’s web site is His books are available on, Barnes and Noble, Kindle, e-books and at bookstores.

Those Annoying Mourning Doves


Let me lay this flat out: I hate Mourning Doves. I know some sensitive types do not like to hear (or read) anyone exclaiming, “I hate” this, that or the other thing. But I can’t help it any more. I’m over the edge with these birds.

I always thought Doves were signs of peace. I mean I have seen paintings of Jesus with a dove flying over his head. But evidently that only reflects the white doves, of which I know almost nothing since I have never seen them outdoors.

I kid you not; the Mourning Doves are anything but peaceful. They are closer to warrior birds than harbingers of love and peace. If one were hovering over Jesus’ head, well, his hair would not survive it.

My wife the Beautiful AP and I enjoy sitting on our deck whenever the weather and our schedules permit. It’s our pandemic oasis.

We put our parrots’ leftover seed in small clumps spread along the 20-foot railing to feed the birds and squirrels, creating individual portions for our feathered and furry guests. We set the conditions for a peaceful activity for all concerned.

We sit about five feet from the railing and enjoy nature. We talk to the birds and the squirrels—and each other—and everyone seems happy. Except when those darned Mourning Doves arrive. Then our little visiting Sparrows, Cardinals, Tufted Titmice, and Catbirds, get edgy. Our infrequent Blue Jays will take off too.

The first Mourning Dove will appear in the tree overlooking the deck. He will then land on the railing and start feeding. He doesn’t bother any of the other birds—yet. Once the Mourning Doves appear, the squirrels tend to head into the bushes that line the deck. I never knew that squirrels were so skittish.

Then you hear the others overhead, a flock of Mourning Doves. Their wings make a signature sound, a squeak that calls for some WD-40, a sound I have come to despise. They plant themselves in the trees and stare at the deck. Now a second Mourning Dove lands on the railing. The small birds take to the air and land in various bushes and trees on our property to witness the descent of the doves and the abrupt end of their feast.

When the second Mourning Dove alights on the railing and although yards away from that first one—the battle begins. The first bird launches himself at the second bird. He does not want any other Mourning Dove to have any of that 20-foot smorgasbord. So, they open their wings and do battle. They flap like crazy against each other, bullying and battling until one loses and flies off.

While that battle rages, more Mourning Doves alight on the railing. The all-out wars begin. Usually the ones on the rail can chase the new arrivals away but some of the newcomers are pretty tough and they flap, flap, flap their wings at the early-bird diners.

These battles scatter the seeds and peanuts (peanuts are for the squirrels) all over the place. Into the yard, onto the deck. Our carefully-laid buffet for the birds is flung hither and yon. Essentially, the Mourning Doves fight until the food is no longer on the railing.

Some time later, the Mourning Doves flock to the roof of our house and then they fly off to war at some other place.

I propose that we officially change the name from Mourning Dove to Annoying Dove. Will you sign my petition?

Frank Scoblete’s web site is His books are available at, Barnes and Noble, Kindle, e-books and at bookstores.

Rating the Full Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)

These films set the stage for the Avengers and interplay among all the great heroes.

By Frank Scoblete and Rob Meyerson

5 Stars: ***** Superb in every way

4 Stars: ****  Excellent — maybe some quibbles

3 Stars: ***   Good for a viewing

2 Stars: **     Won’t kill you to watch it with good pop corn

1 Star: *         Might bore you to death

0 Star: 0         Stick pins in your eyes; that is far more fun

So who is this guy Rob Meyerson? He is my guru of science fiction commentaries, comic book commentaries, and movies based on those and books and articles on those that only the elite in those fields can even understand. I thought I was somewhat smart but I am a bug created in a lab by mad scientists and bit by a rabid human to have a degree of intelligence. So we are both giving our opinions of these movies.

So who is Frank Scoblete? Dear reader, you are probably familiar with his genius as a writer-gaming guru with a wry sense of humor but he is so much more. He only thinks I am smart because I have an inkling of how brilliant he is. Also, a great friend.

Iron Man #1 (2008):

Rob: 5 stars *****

Comments: Robert Downey Jr. IS Iron Man. The essence of cool (and snark) and yet he has the little kid wonder at how much fun the iron man suit he created is to own and fly This is epitomized by the scene where he is testing the suits flight capabilities in his lab/supercar garage.  Director John Favreau has a vision of a superhero movie that is as realistic as such a thing could be and yet doesn’t take itself too seriously. I understand that Robert insisted on Gwyneth appearing in all three Iron man movies which makes him a good friend as well as a brilliant actor.

Scobe: 5 stars *****

Comments: This started the Marvel Cinematic Universe with a terrific script, direction, special effects and acting. Robert Downey Jr. established himself as Iron Man and his performance has become a standard of excellence in comic book movies. Acting throughout is excellent and Gwyneth Paltrow is a wonderful Pepper Potts.. Not a false step that I can see.

The Incredible Hulk (2008):

Rob: 3.5 stars ***1/2*

Comments: Five stars for the always fascinating to watch Ed Norton but he needed to be surrounded by a better movie. I don’t mind Liv Tyler but who can compete with the deep, complex and fascinating Jennifer Connolly of the original Hulk movie?

Scobe: 4.5 stars ****1/2*

Comments: Ed Norton, the star of this movie and a terrific actor, made a big mistake in dumping this role after filming. Mark Ruffalo took over and the rest is Marvel history. This is an excellent movie with one slight flaw; I was not in love with Liv Tyler’s performance, a little too mechanical. It is extremely hard to make a film about the Hulk because it tends to fall into the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde mode. Nice doctor goes nuts at times. Otherwise one great film.

Iron Man #2 (2010):

Rob: 4 stars ****

Comments: Robert Downey, Jr. is STILL Iron Man.  Another excellent performance from Mickey Rourke, back on screen after his boxing “career.” Cold and even colder when he lets slip how much fun he is having being evil.  Sam Rockwell should not be overlooked asw the ultra-sleazy self-loving billionaire who “thinks” he is in charge.

Scobe: 4 stars ****

Comments: Another strong film, another winner, just a cut below the first Iron Man. Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Mickey Rourke, Scarlett Johansson as the Black Widow and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury (in his small moments) give enjoyable performances. One person I should single out is Jon Favreau who has become the ultimate comic-book movie director. He also has small roles in many of the Marvel films. This film figured out how to be funny as well as spectacular thanks to writer Justin Theroux.

Thor (2011):

Rob: 4.5 stars ****1/2*

Comments: Kenneth Branagh recognized the mythic Shakespearean Operatic aspects of Thor and assembles a film that delivers.  Tom Hiddleston is brilliant as the villain who believes (maybe correctly) that he is the hero of the tale. Hiddleston gleefully tricks and pans his “brother” Thor. Chris Hemsworth suffers Loki’s torment as best he can and the square jaw-d hero type adds a wry sense of almost admiration about how good his “brother” Loki is at being bad.  The always exquisite Natalie Portman adds humor as the clearly brilliant scientist who is fascinated by being/in love with the god fell-to-earth Thor. More Thor!

Scobe: 5 stars *****

Comments: Kenneth Branagh was the best Hamlet I ever saw. Kenneth Branagh was the best director of that very same Hamlet. Thor, written by Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz and Don Payne, stars Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Natalie PortmanTom Hiddleston as his mischievous and sometimes evil brother Loki, Anthony Hopkins and Stellan Skarsgard. It was directed by Branagh and it is a masterpiece that takes place on Asgard, home of the Norse gods, and then on the planet of the Frost Giants. And when Thor is cast out of his sacred homeland and sent to Earth, we see him learn an important lesson; that leaders must be humble and not filled with hubris. Everything about this movie is superb.

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011):

Rob:  4.5 stars ****1/2*

Comments: Tough to bring the ultra-patriotic red, white, and blue suited Captain America to life for a jaded modern audience, but Chris Evans and the character and movie he brings to life and this film does it brilliantly. It creates a story about “the greatest generation” and fills it with vastly larger than life heroes (Bucky Barns and Peggy Carter) filled with the Red Skull and horde of Nazi scientists that just beg to be defeated.  The ending (Borrowed form Stairway to Heaven with David Niven) sets up the rest of the series with Cap crashing and freezing.

Scobe: 5 stars *****

Comments: Another superb movie. Takes place during World War II with the creation of the first superhero. From the characters to the actors who play them I give full applause. It is a movie where you really do get into the heads of people who seem so real. Chris Evans takes the role of the Captain and is beautiful to behold. He is a young man who wants to fight against the Nazis but he is too weak and sickly to be accepted into the service. Then he gets a chance. Wow!

The Avengers (2012):

Rob: 5 stars *****

Comments: Five-star movie but I prefer single superhero tales. I can deal with one hero with powers but when the book (or, in this case, the movie) is filled with them I want to know when I am getting my own powers (and suit).  Always great to see Joss Whedon involvement but in the alternate universe I want to visit, instead of MCU movies he got to deliver at least five years of Firefly and the full five years of Dollhouse he was planning). Tom Hiddleston is less a prankster and more of the super-human evil foe that is more than a match for all of the avengers until they act like the team they need to be.  No offense to Eric Bana and Ed Norton but I prefer Mark Ruffalo’s embarrassed-more-than-afraid of his alter-persona Hulk.

Scobe: 5 stars *****

Comments: Bring it on. Usually with so many heroes in a movie (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, the Hulk, Black Widow, Hawkeye) you’d think the execution would be cumbersome. Not so. This is an edge of your seat thriller where they fight a horrible alien threat initiated by the evil Loki. They also fight each other at times. Introduces Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk. His performance surpasses Ed Norton’s in sensitivity and strength. A must see movie!

Iron Man #3 (2013):

Rob: 3.5 stars ***1/2*

Comments: No villain, no movie. Tony stark is in a struggle with himself but that is the Marvel superhero’s trademark. I had to google IMDB and Wikipedia to refresh my memory ow who the villain was and I’m still not sure.  I am planning to watch this movie again. Maybe.

Scobe: 3.5 stars ***1/2*

Comments: Somewhat depressing as Tony Stark is recovering from the war against Loki. Does set up the future angst of the character. Movie has some great moments but at times it seems a little forced.

Thor: The Dark World (2013):

Rob: 4 stars ****

Comments: Same great cast. So much movie, so many writers but the film falls a little short. Still, seeing Thor and Loki team up was thrilling.

Scobe: 3.5 stars ***1/2*

Comments: This movie seems a little strained at times but does have one of the greatest hero-versus-villain fights at the end.

Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014):

Rob: 4 stars ****

Comments: Bucky Barnes as a rescued amnesiac anti-hero with a robot arm is an excellent conceit. Chris Evans does a great job handling the conflict between  the need to defeat the villain with his piece with memory of his friendship with the young Bucky Barnes and guilt over Bucky’s death.  Cap’s difficulties dealing with the modern world and dealing with the Winter Soldier who is only Bucky in small part makes the story compelling.

Scobe: 4 stars ****

Comments: Bucky Barnes returns but he isn’t the hero of the first film. He has been ruined by Hydra. Captain America must try to save him. Things don’t go exactly to plan.

Guardians of the Galaxy #1 (2014):

Rob: 5 stars *****

Comments:  So much fun. You don’t have to bank on known heroes to make a great movie, apparently. Groot! We need more Vin Diesel in anything but Fast and Furious cars.  So much personality in one word.  Bradley Cooper’s anthropomorphized Rocket is a hoot.  So much fun to see the heroes get thrown together and function was a group despite widely varied and frequently combative personalities.  For me the Guardians are a team in ways that the Avenger in any of the three movies are not.

Scobe: 5 stars *****

Comments: My first thought was that this would be an idiotic movie. I was wrong. It is terrific. How can a talking racoon and a sentient tree be super heroes? Just watch this treasure and find out.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015):

Rob: 2.5 stars **1/2*

Comments: Not my cup of tea. Starts too slow and then gets two frenetic. James Spader is an awesome actor elsewhere but this is a misstep with the cold computer/robot that is a no-personality being. A.I is logical but does not make a thrilling movie for me.  As noted above I am not a team-up fan.

Scobe: 5 stars *****

Comments: Another great one! Tony Stark and Bruce Banner create an artificial intelligence being and, of course, it goes nuts, much like the computer HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey. We meet a couple of new Avengers. It’s rollicking and fun all the way from start to finish.

Ant-Man (2015):

Rob: 5 stars *****

Comments: Just a great action-adventure comedy.  Mark Rudd’s sometimes befuddled ex con-heroic-anti-hero-hero is flawless. Michael Douglas is wonderful as the mad-scientist. Evangeline Lilly is wonderful but under-used, which was remedied in the sequel Ant man and the Wasp. Michael Pena’s first-rate sidekick warranted an expanded role in the sequel which he was given.

Scobe: 5 stars *****

Comments: I had no idea this movie would be so amazingly good. Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas and a host of great supporting actors and a script that just keeps on coming at you. Special effects with those ants blew me away. Total entrainment.

Captain America: Civil War (2016):

Rob: 2.5 stars **1/2*

Comments: Again, not my cup of tea.  As stated previously, I prefer individual superhero stories, not team-ups.

Scobe: 5 stars *****

Comments: This should actually be Avengers #3. It is the battle of the superheroes. Wow! We meet the Black Panther in this film and we learn that the government isn’t too happy with vigilantes, even the good ones. Sit back and enjoy the ride.

Doctor Strange (2016):

Rob: 5 stars *****

Comments: Acting powerhouse Benedict Cumberbatch can carry a film on his more-than-capable shoulders but I am glad he doesn’t have to. (Make a point to see Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes with Martin Freemen as Dr. Watson in Sherlock).  Tilda Swinton’s ancient master of magic is the perfect teacher/hero/villain. Librarian Benedict Wong does great things with a “small” part (See The Martian” and Wong as headmaster of The Deadly Class). I remember the comic for its psychedelic artwork which was effectively replaced by a film with its own complex and cohesive style. Cumberbatch strides through this CGI magic-world like a fish swims in the ocean; it is his environment.

Scobe: 5 stars *****

Comments: What do you get when you hire one of the best actors in the world to play Doctor Strange? You get Benedict Cumberbatch and another superb Marvel movie. Dr. Strange is the master of the mystic arts but a fighter from beginning to end. The script is first rate as are the special effects. Each actor shines!

Guardians of the Galaxy #2 (2017):

Rob: 5 stars *****

Comments: See original review above.

Scobe: 4 stars ****

Comments: Another winner! Join the Guardians as they introduce us to everything!

Spider-Man Homecoming (2017):

Rob: 5 stars *****

Comments: No MCU without Toby McGuire’s angst-ridden super Spider-Man but Tom Holland is the sarcastic teen-aged superhero thrust into a superhero role against his will which is closer to Spidey from the comics.  Marisa Tomei is as great an Aunt May as Sally Fields was previously in The Amazing Spider-Man.  Batman/Birdman/villain Michael Keaton brings complexity and humanity to whatever hero/villain he plays. (how could the “fans” have been upset when he was cast as Batman?). This film is a standout.

Scobe: 5 stars *****

Comments: Tobey Maguire was a great Spider-Man but Tom Holland has created an even better one. This actor has leavened Spider-Man with energy and drive, not just as Spider-Man but as Peter Parker. Aunt May is the beautiful Marisa Tomei. The humor of the movie adds to it greatness and Michael Keaton is a great villain. Even the teenage love works. Kudos on a wonderful movie. Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man makes a visit or two and he is, as always, great in the role. This movie will hold up on numerous viewings. Strap yourself in!

Thor: Ragnarok (2017):

Rob: 5 stars *****

Comments: This film is a standout!

Scobe: 5 stars *****

Comments: This is a movie with everything. Great humor, great fighting, great story and a new version of the evolving Hulk. You’ll laugh and cringe and watch some interesting events that include Asgard’s destruction.

Black Panther (2018):

Rob:  5 stars *****

Comments: Great movie. We are given a complete, credible and cohesive world filled with complex fascinating characters to care about and a great story. When this world goes back to a semblance of normalcy, I would rather go to a movie theater to see this Black Panther movie again rather than anyone else in the role. The series of villains are each distinct and appropriately villainous and that is part of the fun.

Scobe: 4.5 stars ****1/2*

Comments: This is an excellent movie with one quibble; the villain at the end is just some street punk, albeit with great power, who tackles the Black Panther. Now, the Panther is an almost godlike king of an amazing civilization and he has to fight some guy who should be selling drugs on a street corner. Please, the Black Panther is a Thor-level character of great dimensions and should be opposed by someone of equal stature. The Black Panther needs a Loki! The film has strong roles for a variety of female characters. (The death of Chadwick Boseman, the actor who plays the Black Panther, is a serious blow to the Marvel Universe of fans; me included.)

Avengers Infinity War (2018):

Rob: 4.5 stars ****1/2*

Comments: Time for a trip to the optometrist. There is just too much stuff to follow and it makes me dizzy. This is a fun movie and James Brolin gives us a single villain that stands up to the heroes. Fun movie and I’m glad the sequel came out relatively quickly.

Scobe: 5 stars *****

Comments: It’s on. Thanos intends to kill half the intelligent beings in the galaxy to save their civilizations. That’s genocide on an immeasurable scale. But he must first secure the five infinity stones to give him unlimited power. The Avengers in full throttle attempt to stop him. It will wreck your sleep because of the ending. Another superb Marvel movie.

Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018):

Rob: 5 stars *****

Comments: See Ant-Man above. The same excellent cast with an equally great story that successfully builds on the first movie. Looking forward to #3!

Scobe: 5 stars *****

Comments: What five-star movie is better than another five-star movie? This one is even better than the last Ant-Man movie. Michael Douglas should have gotten a best supporting actor award for his wipe-out performance. Paul Rudd? Amazing. Evangeline Lilly? Wow! and kudos to his sidekicks too!

Captain Marvel (2019):

Rob: 5 stars *****

Comments: The incomparable Brie Larson (The Room) makes this movie a stand out. We are used to seeing ripped and over-muscled male superheroes in every MCU film up to Captain Marvel. It is refreshing to see a lithe Olympic-class gymnast instead of all the beef. Captain Marvel brings constantly intriguing inventive problem-solving skills she learned as an ace fighter pilot to the confusing alternate-world she is thrust into.  Larson is not flashy and instead delves into the subtle complexity of her character. She is always fascinating to watch in every role, especially this one.

Scobe: 3 stars ***

Comments: The first part of the movie is (sorry to say this) quite dull. The lead actress, Brie Larson, does not have the energy of personality to pull off a character who will become the Superwoman of the Marvel Universe. Samuel L. Jackson is great as Nick Fury and the overall concept of the movie is quite compelling. It is a fun watch but not a top-notch Marvel thriller.

Avengers: Endgame (2019):

Rob: 4.5 stars ****1/2*

Comments: Too much of everything for a theatre. The only way to get everything this movie is crammed with is to buy the dvd and spend a week watching it frame-by-frame. That may make economic sense from the producer’s point-of-view but I refuse to do that. Still it’s fun to see every hero in the MCU make an appearance. It’s also fun to the villain vanquished and the universe saved yet again.  The real question is whether killing off heroes will revitalize the MCU

Scobe: 5 stars *****

Comments: Can the Avengers come back from the dead? This movie has it all and a Hulk that you might like or hate. War is hell! Go get that Thanos.

Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019):

Rob: 5 stars *****

Comments: great to see Tom Holland back as Spider-Man.  Watching Jake Gyllenhaal team up with Spider-Man as the co-hero Peter Parker needs is almost as much fun SPOILER ALERT-SPOILER ALERT  as it is to see Jake as the gleefully greedy super-villain that makes Spidey’s ultimate last-second triumph all the sweeter.  The best James Bond movies are the ones with complex and interesting villains and that holds true here.  Well written and well-acted.  Glad to see a bigger part for Happy Hogan; maybe he knows the director.  Spider-Man is my favorite superhero. Part of the fun of rock climbing (since I was 16) is getting as close to being Spider-Man as I can without being bitten by a radioactive spider.

Scobe: 5 stars *****

Comments: Another superb movie. Spider-Man is in a class of his own and Tom Holland and a great script by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers are the reasons for this. Spidey fights great villains and the contests are amazing. The usual cast returns and Spidey’s best friend, Ned Leeds (played beautifully by Jacob Batalon) is a terrific foil for Peter Parker. We want more Spider-Man movies!




The Beautiful AP and I were outside checking on the damage that some fallen branches had caused on our property due to the storm Isaias. I am on one side of our house; she is on the other side of our house.

A fence was hit with a large branch right near the bedroom side of the house. “There’s a totally broken fence over here,” I shouted. “Destroyed the fence and just missed the bedroom by about a foot too.”

“There’s Shweetie asking for food over here,” she shouted.

“Shweetie was on the deck’s railing yesterday asking me for food,” I shouted back. I did give him some seeds yesterday.

We named him Shweetie because almost all Cardinals are shweeties. But this one was our special one.

“Hi Shweetie,” laughed AP.

I went around to that side of the house and sure enough there was Shweetie, the Cardinal, standing on our gutter looking down at us and squawking.

But we needed to check the house so we walked around it. Shweetie followed us around the whole house. He was on the gutters and we were on the ground. Shweetie made sure we were always within sight and sound.

“We have to feed him,” said AP. So when we got to the deck at the back of the house, AP went inside and brought out some seed. Shweetie was on the railing, waiting patiently, about five feet from us. I was talking to him; asking him about his day and how his family was getting along.

When he saw AP approaching with the bowl of food he hopped onto the branch of a nearby bush. Although Shweetie knew us from weeks of contact, since we’d talk to him gently as if he were a member of our household, he was a wild bird and still a bit leery of us.

Shweetie was not like the pigeons in New York City or the gulls in almost all shore towns; such birds have little fear of people. In fact, they will steal food right from your hand you if you aren’t paying any attention.

The Beautiful AP and I sit on our deck almost daily during the COVID shutdown and one day he joined us. Now after months of his daily visits we have met his whole family consisting of Mrs. Shweetie, and his three juvenile daughters.

Shweetie feeds them in the bushes, trees and right on the railing of our deck. He spends hours eating seeds and then regurgitating them into his children’s beaks. The children quiver when he approaches them. Interestingly enough, Mrs. Shweetie has not done any feeding. She is also more skittish than Shweetie, but I think the juveniles take us as part of the landscape.

We delight in their presence and find their family meals more entertaining than anything on Netflix.

“Why don’t people have Cardinals as pets?” I asked. “These birds are absolutely beautiful. The male’s red and black coloration is amazing. Their songs are great too.”

So we looked it up. Cardinals are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. Cardinals cannot be sold as cage birds as they were over a century ago.

Sadly, in the wild Shweetie will probably live only three years. In captivity he could live almost two decades.

As I write this I hear the call of Shweetie outside my window. He has a family to feed and the Beautiful AP and I are ready to help him out. It’s the least we can do for our friend.

Photos by Alene Scoblete

Frank Scoblete’s web site is His books are available on, Barnes and Noble, Kindle, e-books and at bookstores.