Family fights for law in memory of daughter

emma2

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.

Continue reading

Lobbyist will sell mother’s soul for fame, cash

burkman

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.

Continue reading

Pissarro works making news outside art world

Boulevard Monmartre, Spring Morning

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.

Continue reading

Hot Pockets: Now even worse for you

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.

Continue reading

A grudging nod to the ‘crusading’ spammer

crusades

It’s taken more than five years of blogging, but I’ve finally come across a spammer who has grudgingly earned my respect.

A recent search of my spam folder showed the usual array of half-assed unsolicited emails, ranging from “Toronto Escorts” (sorry, I’m not an “escort” kind of guy and if I were, I wouldn’t travel 1,500 miles to be “escorted”), to sites for cosmetic surgery loans and cellulite diets.

And, of course, there were the usual abusers of English grammar: “My family members all the time say that I am killing my time here at net, however I know I am getting familiarity daily by reading thes fastidious content.”

But tucked amid the above detritus was this gem, appended on to a post I had written about the gruesome reality of the American Civil War: “This takes into account the view of the Latin Church and medieval contemporaries such as Saint Bernard of Clairvaux that gave equal precedence to comparable military campaigns against pagans, heretics and many undertaken for political reasons. This wider definition includes the persecution of heretics in Southern France, the political conflict between Christians in Sicily, the Christian re-conquest of Spain and the conquest of heathens in the Baltic.”

Oh, this was still spam; the comment came from an individual promoting a Spanish-language herbal remedy website.

But it was several notches above the usual unsolicited monstrosities that are the bane of electronic communication.

Given the nature of the comment and the fact that it had to do with war, if not the War Between the States, I decided to attempt to seek the source of the comment.

It took just a few moments to discover the comment was taken directly from Wikipedia’s definition of the Crusades, specifically, the 20th century description of the Crusades as inclusive of all military efforts against either foes in the Middle East or Europe, at the direction of the Papacy.

So, it appeared, someone had taken the time to cut and paste this comment, rather than randomly generating barely decipherable text – think “All your base are belong to us” – or, as another spammer did, sending a useless shill: “Coach Jerseys – 5850 yuan to 3510 yuan.” (I’ll get back to you after I get my yuan-to-dollars converter fixed.)

Continue reading

Grad to world: I deserve more, now!

Narcissus-Caravaggio

The Huffington Post has always seemed a bit of an odd creature. Described as an online news aggregator and blog, the site offers news and original content, and covers a variety of topics, including politics, entertainment, culture and comedy.

Yours truly isn’t a regular reader of The Huffington Post, but when I came across a story about a 24-year-old recent college graduate unhappy with the low pay associated with her first job – titled “I Feel Like I’m Just Starting My Life And I’m Already Miles And Miles Behind” – I initially thought it was a parody, something along the lines of The Onion.

Consider this excerpt from a first-person account by Monica Simon, a Penn State grad who works full time at an online advertising firm in Philadelphia and earns $23,000 a year after taxes:

“I like it, but it doesn’t pay as well as I’d like it to. So I’ve looked around for other jobs. But really, I can’t find any. I’m thinking about going back to school because I’m not even sure at this point if this job is going to hold out in the future. Right now I’m just up in the air on what steps to take next.”

Comic genius, right? Sadly, no. In fact, there’s more real-life woe-is-me bleating:

“I probably take in about $1,800 a month. My anxiety is constantly high about bills I have to pay,” Simon writes. “My student loans make me so nervous because I have my family co-sign on them. It’s not just my credit on the line. It’s theirs, too. That’s a constant anxiety that I have.

“Sometimes I get paid and then I have, maybe, $150 left over for the two weeks,” she adds. “I really don’t have enough for food and gas, so I rely a lot on my credit cards. I just feel I’m getting way behind where I want to be for my age. I feel I’m just starting my life and I’m already miles and miles behind.”

That’s right, this is no parody. This is an adult woman who is whining because her first job doesn’t, it appears, allow her to assume the lifestyle she expected to walk into right out of college.

Continue reading

Canada to melt down 200K+ gold coins

10-Canadian gold coin

Concerned that its gold reserves would disappear with the outbreak of World War I, Canada withdrew nearly 250,000 newly minted gold coins from circulation in 1914.

The currency, minted between 1912 and 1914, represented the first gold coins ever minted by Ottawa. The coins would spend the next century in cloth bags inside a Bank of Canada vault.

Some 30,000 of the $5 and $10 pieces were offered for sale to collectors late last year, but the remainder will be melted down, part of the Conservative government’s efforts to help balance the country’s books.

The $10 coins sold for either $1,000 or $1,750 each, depending on whether they were classified as “premium” quality or not, according to the Globe and Mail.

Final figures connected with the sale, which just closed, won’t be known until spring, but a mint official confirmed that nearly all coins were sold.

The publication, in fact, described the sale as a creating a bit of gold rush among Canadian collectors.

“It’s the most popular topic for 2013, for sure,” said Michael Wang, a Vancouver coin collector who bought individual coins and also paid $12,000 for a six-coin set. “My wife was about to kill me when I told her I bought this thing.

Continue reading

You better watch out, Santa’s got a ‘brand’

santa logo2Brand Books are often used by corporations and other large entities to highlight inside details, goals and marketing techniques.

Created to help bring consistency to the way a brand is communicated, the goal, to paraphrase one Brand Book, is to provide the necessary tools to present the brand correctly and consistently in any and all forms of communication.

They feature a collection of the brand elements and a detailed description of “the brand.”

Brand Books influence every marketing campaign, communication and product. By covering every aspect of the brand from mission statement and logos to color palettes and typography guidelines, it serves as a strategic guideline.

Brand Books are often, but not always, created by advertising firms, and, not surprisingly, tend to be riddled with ad jargon.

To that end, United Kingdom communication consultants The Quiet Room has spoofed its own profession by creating a Brand Book for Santa Claus, defining Father Christmas’s “entire being as if he were dreamt up by a team of obsessive brand ‘experts,’’ according to PSFK.com.

“The result is the *Santa* Brand Book, which spoofs branding strategies used by companies all around the globe. Some prime examples you can find within the book include a meaningless mission statement, acronyms, excessive jargon, obligatory diagrams, and official style guides for the Santa ‘brand,’” adds the PSFK site.

As the *Santa* Brand Book’s cover states: “*Santa* is a Concept, not an idea,” adding, “It begins with the Hiss of Power and ends with the Ah of Surprise.”

You can view the entire *Santa* “Brand Book” here. It’s not only good for a few laughs, but offers an interesting and instructive insight into how major advertising agencies operate.

(Above: Page taken from *Santa* Brand Book, a spoof created by The Quiet Room, a UK advertising agency. Click to embiggen.)

Bees’ value to agriculture underestimated

bee strawberries

The economic importance of bees is significantly undervalued, according to a European study released this week.

Strawberries pollinated by bees were of far higher commercial value than fruit that was self-pollinated or pollinated by the wind, researchers in Germany reported Wednesday.

Bee pollination strongly increased the commercial value of strawberries by producing well-shaped fruit of increased weight, according to the study.

In addition, it increased shelf life, enhanced coloring and lowered sugar-acid ratios of most varieties of strawberries.

The study, by a team at the Department of Crop Sciences at the University of Göttingen in Germany, comes on the heels of a 2011 report by the UN Environment Program that showed that pollination by bees and other insects contributed about a little more than $204 billion, or 9.5 percent, of the total global value of food production.

But the most recent analysis offers evidence that the 2011 estimate could have substantially devalued the agricultural impact of the bees.

The Germany team conducted its study by planting nine commercial strawberry varieties in an experimental field. Plants were either covered with special gauze bags to allow pollination by the wind or other parts of the plant, or were left open for visiting by bees.

Continue reading

Colonial book of Psalms fetches $14.2 million

Bay Psalm Book

A Colonial-era tome, auctioned last week in New York, easily set a new record as the world’s most expensive printed book.

A first-edition copy of the 1640 Bay Psalm Book was sold at Sotheby’s New York for $14.2 million, breaking the previous mark of $11.5 million, set in 2010, when a copy of John James Audubon’s “The Birds of America” was auctioned.

The Bay Psalm Book, one of 11 surviving examples, was sold by Boston’s famed Old South Church.

The Church sold the Bay Psalm Book from its collection to cover the cost of building repairs and to fund future endeavors after taking a vote of its congregants in 2012, according to a statement issued by its senior minister, Nancy Taylor.

The book is one of two copies owned by the church, which dates to 1669.

The Bay Psalm Book is one of the rarest books in the world and among the finest surviving copies of original 1,700 that were printed, according to Reuters.

The Bay Psalm Book was published in Cambridge, Mass., by the Puritan leaders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Continue reading