Despite very little sleep between ringing in the New Year and a late-morning decision to head for home, Billy Patrick Hutto Jr. was still drunk when he got behind the wheel on Jan. 1, 2012. Not just a little drunk, either, but pickled, smashed, three-sheets-to-the-wind drunk.
Around the same time, inside a Chrysler Town & Country minivan, David Longstreet, his wife Karen and their four children were dressed in their Sunday best and on their way to church in Lexington, SC.
A short time later, Hutto, who had pleaded guilty to driving under the influence in 2009, slammed into the side of the Longstreets’ minivan. David Longstreet was badly injured and his daughter, 6-year-old Emma, sustained massive injuries that would take her life just hours later.
Hutto’s blood-alcohol count was more than .20, despite having ended his drinking binge several hours earlier.
David and Karen would later tell a reporter that their daughter, their only girl and youngest child, was a genuine light in their family.
“Both a princess and a tomboy, Emma loved girly things – her Barbies, her Littlest Pet Shop toys – but was just as happy being with her dad on the riding mower, shooting the last fireworks on New Year’s eve, and riding herd over her doting older brothers,” Karen told a local publication shortly after the tragedy.
Hutto would eventually be sentenced to nine years in prison, but for David, Karen and their family the pain continues.
One way the family has sought to cope with Emma’s loss is to try to effect positive change amid the heartbreak.
They’ve pushed for more than a year for the passage of Emma’s Law, which would require all repeat and first-time offenders with a blood-alcohol concentration of .12 or higher to use an ignition interlock device on their vehicle.
Yet even this common sense measure, a means by which this family can try to gain a small bit of peace from a heartbreaking loss, is meeting resistance from South Carolina lawmakers.
One of the lesser-known aspects of the Soviet Gulag was the brutal slave labor camps located in the mountains of Czechoslovakia following World War II, where prisoners were exploited in order to provide uranium for the Soviets’ nascent atomic warfare program.
Shortly after the end of World War II, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin – recognizing the advantage the US had with its possession of atomic weaponry – sent the Red Army to capture one of the few areas then known to possess material that could be used in the construction of atomic bombs.
The Ore Mountains, which then marked the border between Czechoslovakia and Germany, first gained fame in the late 15th century as the site of a major silver discovery, with the Bohemian town of Joachimsthal taking on special significance as a source of the metal.
Also discovered around this time was pitchblende, a radioactive, uranium-rich ore, which early miners discarded as a waste byproduct.
Only at the beginning of the 20th century was it learned that pitchblende was a valuable commodity in and of itself. Within pitchblende, a variety of uraninite, Marie Curie discovered the element radium, and until the First World War Joachimsthal pitchblende was the only known source of radium in the world.
Also found within pitchblende is uranium. Like other elements, uranium occurs in slightly differing forms known as isotopes. The most common form of uranium is U-238, which makes up more than 99 percent of natural uranium found in the Earth’s crust.
However, another uranium isotope, U-235, while it is makes up less than 1 percent of the Earth’s uranium, is important because under certain conditions it can readily be split, yielding a tremendous amount of energy.
In late 1945 Stalin pressured the Czechoslovak government to sign a confidential treaty that would give Moscow the rights to material from mine, according to Tom Zoellner’s outstanding 2009 work “Uranium.”
So, what to make the Washington, DC, lobbyist interested in introducing legislation that would ban openly gay athletes from playing in the National Football League?
Last week lobbyist Jack Burkman released a draft text of what he has named “The American Decency Act of 2014,” which would not only ban openly gay athletes from playing earning a living in the NFL but would levy multi-million dollar fees on teams that dared to violate the act, were it to be enacted.
Initially, one might simply shrug off the announcement as the ranting of a publicity-seeking jackass.
Yes, it’s hard to believe someone who earns a living from political lobbying would stoop to such a low maneuver, but things like this have been known to happen.
Magnanimously, the bill would exempt teams that build separate locker facilities so that gay and straight players may shower apart. Ah, good. I was so hoping we would find some way to reintroduce Separate but Equal; it was such a hit the first time around.
“I truly believe NFL team owners and coaches do not want openly gay players on their teams because of the issues that will cause and I think they may tell you that if they answered honestly,” Burkman said in a press release. “The morals in this country have dropped so low that it’s sad that a bill like this is even needed.”
Fortunately, because Burkman is a lobbyist he cannot introduce legislation, which must be done by a member of Congress. He claims his proposal has the support of several members of Congress, however.
A streetscape by Camille Pissarro brought more than $32 million earlier this month, more than four times the previous record for a work by the Danish-French impressionist.
Pissarro’s “Boulevard Monmartre, Spring Morning,” a view of Paris painted in 1897, was sold by Sotheby’s in London.
The oil on canvas was part of industrialist Max Silberberg’s collection. Silberberg was forced by the Nazis to sell his artworks in the 1930s and later died in the Holocaust.
Silberberg’s collection also featured works by Manet, Monet, Renoir, Cezanne and van Gogh and was regarded as one of the best pre-war collections of 19th and 20th Century art in Germany, according to the BBC.
“Boulevard Monmartre, Spring Morning” was returned to Silberberg’s family in 2000. It had never before been sold at auction.
The previous record for a Pissarro painting was set in 2009, when “Le Pont Boieldieu Et La Gare D’Orleans Rouen, Soleil” sold for about $7 million. A quartet of the artist’s works entitled “Les Quatre Saisons” brought more than $14 million in 2007.
The new owner of “Boulevard Monmartre, Spring Morning” requested anonymity.
Another Pissarro painting has also been in the news recently.
A couple from California’s Sierra Nevada region last spring stumbled across what is believed to be the largest hoard of gold coins ever uncovered in the US, a treasure that will soon be going up for sale.
The pair was walking their dog on their property, located in the same region where the famed 1849 Gold Rush began, when they came across a decaying canister protruding from the ground.
Digging the can out with a stick, they took their find home, pried it open and, to their amazement, found hundreds of $20 gold pieces, all from the 19th century.
When the couple, who have remained anonymous to keep modern-day prospectors from tearing up their property, returned to the site, they located another similar-sized container and six smaller ones, all full of specie.
In all, the pair found 1,427 gold coins.
Nearly all were $20 Double Eagles, while 50 were $10 gold pieces and four were $5 Half Eagles. Most were minted in San Francisco, but one was a $5 gold piece from the mint at Dahlonega, Ga., which only operated from 1838 to 1861.
The coins dated to between 1847 and 1894 and were stacked in approximate chronological order. The oldest coins were in the first can and the “newer” ones were in subsequent cans.
“The arrangement of coins and the varying condition of the cans suggest they were buried by someone over the course of years rather than the result of a single caper like a bank robbery,” according to The History Blog.
The total face value of the coins is $27,980, but the numismatic value is estimated at more than $10 million.
Every so often, usually during a particularly slow news cycle, one comes across a story of a literary desperado finally returning an overdue library book checked out years, perhaps even decades, earlier.
One such incident occurred last summer, when an anonymous library patron returned “The Real Book About Snakes” to the Champaign County Library in Urbana, Ohio, along with a note of apology and $299.30 in cash to cover the fine.
“Sorry I’ve kept this book so long but I’m a really slow reader!” the culprit wrote in a message to the library. “I’ve enclosed my fine of $299.30 (41 years – 2 cents a day). Once again, my apologies!!”
What makes this example unusual is that the outlaw took it upon himself (anonymous or not, I’m betting the ranch that any book on snakes was checked out by a male patron) to bite the bullet and pay the fine.
Most always, libraries receiving a volume decades past due end up waiving late fees, realizing that fine exceeds the actual cost of the book in question, and also understanding that the return of a work 30, 40 or 50 years past due is more likely to generate good publicity if the library graciously renounces penalties.
That was the case in another example last summer, when the University of Wisconsin’s library received a hardcover copy of “Selected Papers on Philosophy” by William James by mail.
Included with the book was a note indicating that the work had been checked out by one of the writer’s two parents, both of whom had attended the school, although it was unclear which one had borrowed the book on Jan. 13, 1938, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.
The book’s return slip indicated that patrons would be levied a fine of two cents a day for each day overdue, but the family didn’t have to pony up any cold hard cash as the library no longer collected fees on overdue books. Were the old policy still in effect, the fine would have totaled more than $550.
All of which leads me to a confession of my own: I, too, am a biblio-scofflaw.
Fire ants are a major hazard in the Southern US. Whether you stumble onto a colony of these tiny stinging demons or simply stand too near a nest, you’ll likely end up with painful reminders of how appropriately these insects are named.
The mounds – which can approach a density of 1,000 per acre – are usually 1 to 3 inches tall and made of soft dirt, but can sometimes approach a full 12 inches in height. It’s not unusual for a medium-sized nest to hold tens of thousands of ants.
Among environments fire ants like to construct nests is along riverbanks and around ponds. As someone who likes to fish, I’ve discovered many a fire ant nest the hard way.
So, while I have a soft spot for most living things, it is with a child-like glee that, after a day of fishing, I will take occasion to carefully kick ant nests into the water when the opportunity presents itself.
The way I see it, anything that can harm me or my kids – along with any other living creature unfortunate enough to blunder along – is fair game. And if I can help cut down on these invasive pests, even better.
One thing that always caught my attention was how the ants, after being punted into the drink, would cling together. This is no accident, according to a recent study released by scientists from the University of Lausanne in Switzerland.
When faced with a flood, ants use their own bodies to form a raft and rely on the buoyancy of the brood and the recovery ability of workers to minimize injury or death, according to the study, released earlier this week. In addition, the queen ant is placed in the middle and protected on all sides by the rafting ants.
Pity the poor folk whose job it is to market Hot Pockets, those ubiquitous microwaveable turnovers filled with one or more types of cheese, meat, or vegetables.
For years, Hot Pockets were a staple of comedian Jim Gaffigan’s standup routine (see above), in which he effectively ensured that a generation of consumers would associate the food item with indigestion, diarrhea and a variety of other ailments.
There’s likely no amount of money or promotional effort that Nestle, which produces Hot Pockets, could ever come up with to overcome the effectiveness of Gaffigan’s biting ridicule, and now the company is facing another PR nightmare.
Nestle is voluntarily recalling an unspecified number of “Philly Steak” and “Croissant Crust Philly Steak and Cheese” Hot Pockets because they could contain meat that is unfit for human consumption, according to the USDA.
Gaffigan’s gag, of course, is that they were never fit for human consumption in the first place.
Anyhoo, nearly 9 million pounds of beef products were recalled last week by Rancho Feeding Corp. after regulators said it processed diseased and unsound animals without a full inspection, according to the Associated Press.
Old-time newspapers were notorious for printing articles that were long on fanciful stories but often short on verifiable facts.
As such, many curious stories that appeared in papers a century or more ago have to be read with a skeptical eye. Readers then, as today, would view information in printed form at face value, when in reality it was a fraud, whether purposeful or accidental.
In fairness to the folks of the past, researching the validity of printed information was a good bit harder.
Not only was there no Internet to employ for fact-checking, but books were much scarcer, especially among the lower classes, libraries were an anomaly outside big cities and competition among newspapers often meant that outlandish stories were run “as is” and sometimes even further embellished, to get a leg up on rivals.
So when I came across the following story in the July 26, 1899, edition of the Fairfield News and Herald, a Winnsboro, S.C., newspaper, it both caught my attention and raised my suspicions.
The death of Leonard B. Bleeker aged 72 years which recently occurred at Yates Centre, Kas., has revealed a case of self-sacrifice seldom heard of outside the domain of fiction. Three years ago Bleeker went to that country peddling cheap articles and, too old and weary to proceed farther, a kind hearted farmer took him in and cared for him until he died. To the family which befriended him he told the story of his life, reserving for the grave the specific names of persons and localities. He stated that in 1861 he left a wife and five children in Michigan and answered the first call for volunteers. The fortunes of war were against him and for months he lay a prisoner in Andersonville prison. For some reason he was led to believe that a certain other batch of prisoners would soon be exchanged. Among them was a dying man and the two comrades exchanged names and military designations. The soldier died and the death was reported as that of Leonard B. Bleeker, and is so recorded in the war department. The real Bleeker was released after a time, rejoined his regiment and served until the close of the war without communicating with his family. Then he went back and found his wife married to another man. He ascertained that his children were well cared for and then left the community without revealing his identity. Throughout his life he carefully guarded his secret and since going to Yates Centre, was often urged to apply for a pension, but stoutly refused. Even when near death he would not reveal the location of his former home or permit anyone to communicate with old associate(s). He was a man of more than ordinary education and the truth of his story or the possession of a noble purpose in his long sacrifice cannot be doubted.
Indeed, the entire story seems utterly fanciful to us today. But a few things to consider: