Starbucks: The more you know, and all that …

I don’t drink Starbucks for one singular reason: I don’t drink coffee.

I had a half a cup when I was 11 years old and it tasted like boiled tar – or at least what I assumed boiled tar would taste like – even when heavily dosed with sugar and cream, and I’ve never had an urge to repeat the experience.

That said, I can say with certainty that neither me nor my wallet are the Starbucks’ type.

The one time I did stop into the local store and asked for a Coke, I was told in a snotty tone by a 20-something “barista,” who had with more piercings than I cared to count, that “We don’t served carbonated beverages here.”

He said it in a tone as though I’d requested an omelette made from the eggs of the last two California condors remaining on Earth.

I will confess that I’m not certain what Starbucks’ customer training entails, but I suspect shaming and self-righteousness are key components.

(HT: VisibleFriends.net)

Remembering the Miracle Braves and the 1914 World Series

This Saturday’s Atlanta Braves-Oakland Athletics game will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 1914 World Series, in which the Braves and Athletics met in one of the more improbable championship matchups in Major League baseball history.

The game, to be played at Atlanta’s Turner Field, will include a tribute to the 1914 Miracle Braves, who were then based in Boston, and feature both clubs wearing retro 1914 uniforms.

In the 1914 World Series, the Braves shocked the sporting world by sweeping the vaunted Philadelphia Athletics (they wouldn’t land in Oakland until 1968, by way of Kansas City).

By mid-season of that year, however, the Braves appeared en route to a dismal finish. On July 15 they were in last place, 11-12 games behind the New York Giants. They caught fire as the summer went on, though, and won the National League pennant by 10-12 games.

The Athletics, on the other hand, were defending champions, having won the World Series in 1913, and also in 1911 and 1910. Philadelphia had four of the last five American League pennants and was heavily favored.

The Braves didn’t even have a home field to call its own; they had forsaken aging South End Grounds in August 1914, instead choosing to rent Fenway Park from the Boston Red Sox while awaiting construction of Braves Field, which would open the next season.

On paper, the Braves would seem to have been no match for the Athletics. The latter had three future Hall of Fame pitchers in Chief Bender, Eddie Plank and Herb Pennock, along with second baseman Eddie Collins, third baseman Frank “Home Run” Baker and Manager Connie Mack.

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April 1861 editorial shows divided sentiments within US

fort-sumter-bombardment

Among the misconceptions surrounding the American Civil War is that both North and South were monolithic in agreement that their side was in the right and the other in the wrong.

The fact is that there were many Unionists in the South and plenty of Northerners with pro-Southern sentiments, particularly at the beginning of the 1861-65 conflict.

Still, it is sometimes startling to see such counterintuitive views expressed in print. Consider an April 8, 1861, editorial from the New York Herald, titled “Invasion of the South – The Inauguration of Civil War”.

After beginning with a description of Union warships sailing “for parts unknown,” but accepted to be the recently seceded states of the Deep South, the publication writes, “It is thus evident that a bloody civil war is resolved upon by Mr. Lincoln and his Cabinet. After long hesitation, the President has screwed his courage to the fighting point. At what precise spot he intends to commence hostilities or to provoke them – whether at Charleston, Pensacola, the mouths of the Mississippi or in Texas, where there is an evident design to excite ‘domestic insurrection,’ or at all of these places together – does not yet appear; but a few days will unfold the mystery.”

The Herald continues that as of that date, which is still four days before the bombing of Fort Sumter, Lincoln has three options:

 … first, to yield to the Confederate States and to all the slaveholding communities their just rights as coequal partners in the Union, which would have had the effect of healing the breach and reuniting the sections; second, to permit a peaceable and bloodless separation, either in the hope of reunion at a future day, or at least of a friendly alliance for mutual defense against foreign foes, and for the establishment of commercial relations, which, if not specifically favoring the North, would at least not discriminate against her; and third, to wage a war of subjugation against seven sovereign States, which will be ultimately extended to fifteen, to compel them to submit to the authority of the government at Washington, and to pay tribute to it, whether they are represented in its Congress or not, in contravention to the great principle for which the colonies fought and conquered the mother country in the Revolution of 1776 – the principle that ‘without representation there can be no taxation.’

The Herald goes on to display a grasp of history that would be utterly out of place in a newspaper today, stating that the impeding war “ … is a revival of the struggle which took place two centuries ago in England between the Puritan Roundheads and the rest of the nation. The vast majority of the people were against them, but by the military genius and iron will of Cromwell the fanatics were rendered successful for a time, after putting their king to death and deluging their native land with seas of blood.” Continue reading

Local TV news: Exploiting the exploitable since 1955

suspicious flashlight

It has been said that television news is for crabby old white people who are afraid of everything outside their yards, but that’s likely too narrow a definition. TV news instead appears to be geared toward the easily scared of all ages and races, with its ultimate goal being to so paralyze viewers with fear that they’ll be afraid to move and change the channel.

Take a news story from Savannah, Ga., television station WTOC which detailed a Georgia man’s battle with Necrotizing Fasciitis, or, as the station hypes repeatedly, the dreaded “flesh-eating bacteria.”

According to the story, Joseph Allen was fishing in the Ogeechee River last week when he had to get into the water to fix a problem with his boat. He apparently had a sore on his arm and it became infected with Necrotizing Fasciitis. Allen is now in critical condition.

After describing Allen’s symptoms – “The arm that had the little cut on it was now purple from the wrist to the shoulder” – and including a plea from his wife to “try to get the Savannah Riverkeeper, the EPA, and government; someone involved that will clear up this river,” WTOC reported in the third-to-last paragraph that this is “at least the third case (of Necrotizing Fasciitis) reported in Georgia in the last few years.”

Wow: The third case in the entire state of Georgia – 59,425 square miles – in the past few years. And neither of the previous two cases occurred in the Ogeechee River, which stretches nearly 300 miles. I’m surprised the World Health Organization hasn’t quarantined all of North America.

Television news is great for a couple of things: Exploiting tragedies and throwing in quotes from the suffering, even if their comments add no context or visible value to the story.

If this is, as it appears, the first recorded case of Necrotizing Fasciitis in the Ogeechee River, it doesn’t necessarily indicate that there’s a major problem with that body of water. One can’t blame the anguished wife for her comments; she’s upset, is likely no expert on the ecology of the river and probably felt compelled in her time of sorrow to say something.

It’s the media’s job, however, to edit stories so the information provides value to consumers, instead of gratuitously manipulating the suffering.

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Woman passes counterfeit Confederate bill in Utah

fake confederate money

It’s one thing to be duped by someone passing counterfeit legal tender, but it’s hard to have much sympathy for someone who takes fake Confederate currency in exchange for goods or services.

That’s what happened recently in Salina, Utah, where a woman paid for fuel at a gas station with fake $50 Confederate bill in late June.

According to Salina Police, an unidentified female driving a gold ’90s model Ford F-150 with California license plates convinced the attendant at a Premium Oil station to allow her to use the bill to purchase approximately $45 worth of gas, according to the delightfully named Richfield Reaper newspaper.

“After the employee turned on the pump, he was suspicious, so he took the bill to a local bank,” said Police Chief Eric Pratt. “They verified it was not legitimate.”

When the attendant returned to the station, the woman, not surprisingly, had already high-tailed it out of the central Utah town.

And because the $50 bill wasn’t even a real Confederate note, it’s worthless.

“I can tell you it feels like coloring book paper,” Pratt said. “I don’t recommend anyone accepting nonstandard bills like this one as an acceptable form of payment.”

Of course, even if one was somehow taken in by the front of the bill, which has “The Confederate States of America” written in large letters, one might be tipped off that something was amiss by the reverse, which is more akin to monopoly money than legal tender.

Places in the US where fake Confederate currency is accepted.

Places in the US where fake Confederate currency is accepted.

It features the word “Fifty” written large once, smaller two more times, and in numerical form four times, but features no design other than a few geometric patterns.

Not that it’s dissimilar to money printed by the Confederacy 150 years ago, but one would imagine most anyone today would think twice before accepting it.

If the unnamed attendant still has a job, one can’t help but imagine that there are a passel of talented counterfeiters flocking to central Utah for easy pickings.

(Top: The fake $50 Confederate bill accepted by a gas station attendant in Salina, Utah, recently. Photo credit: The Richfield Reaper.)

Racing’s pit stop a synchonized work of art

Auto racing isn’t everyone’s cup o’ tea, but it possesses aspects that transcend sport. One facet which, when done well, can be a joy to watch – and sometimes mean the difference between a driver winning a race and finishing 10th or worse – is a perfectly synchronized pit stop.

For a crew of seven to be able to jack up a 3,300-pound car (twice), change four tires and dump in 24 gallons of gas, all in less than 14 seconds, is an amazing feat.

In racing’s early days, pit stops were lengthy affairs. In the 1950s, according to NASCAR statistics, the average pit stop took four minutes.

By the early 1960s, pit stops would, at best, take a minute or more. Crews would use store-bought jacks and lug wrenches as they worked feverishly to put on new tires and get cars operating at peak performance.

Even the first part of the above video, from the 1950 Indy 500, while it features a (for its time) relatively short 67-second two-tire pit, shows a tire changer banging away at the front tires to loosen the lug nuts. Needless to say, there was little precision in racing’s early pit stops.

Leonard Wood, a former NASCAR crew chief, engine builder and the co-founder of Wood Brothers Racing, changed all that. Wood was the first to devise a means to trim significant time from pit stops.

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Famed one-cent stamp sells for nearly $9.5 million

one cent magenta auction

A tiny piece of paper nearly 160 years old reaffirmed its place as the world’s most expensive item by weight and size.

The famous British Guiana One-Cent Magenta stamp, the only one of its kind, was sold at Sotheby’s in New York earlier this week for $7.9 million – nearly $9.5 million if one includes the buyer’s premium.

It marks the fourth time the stamp has fetched a world-record price over its storied existence and a marked increase from the $935,000 it last sold for, when John duPont purchased it in 1980.

The stamp was produced in a very limited issue in Georgetown, British Guiana, (now Guyana) in 1856, and only one specimen is now known to exist. It features a sailing ship along with the colony’s Latin motto “Damus Petimus Que Vicissim” (We give and expect in return).

The stamp came about after an anticipated delivery of postage stamps by ship did not arrive, forcing the local postmaster to authorize printing of an emergency issue. The postmaster gave some specifications about the design, but the printers, showing an artists’ inclination, chose to add a ship image of their own design to the stamps.

The postmaster was less than pleased with the result and, and as added protection against forgers, ordered that all correspondence bearing the stamps be autographed by a post office clerk. This cursive initials “E.D.W.” seen on the One-Cent Magenta are those of clerk E.D. Wight.

There are several reasons why this stamp reached such stratospheric heights at auction on June 17, according to The Economist:

  • The One-Cent Magenta is the only one of its kind known to exist;
  • It has a fascinating history, having been printed in 1856, just 16 years after the introduction of the first stamps, by a British Guianese newspaper when the colony was in danger of running out of stamps; and
  • There are a growing number of rich people throughout the world, due particularly to China’s turbo-charged economic rise, increasing the premium for collectible items.

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