Good Samaritan hopes for best in deer-car incident

get well

As I sputtered toward the local metropolis Sunday afternoon, I spotted an animal carcass on the side of the road. Nothing unusual there, but tied to the foreleg of the white-tailed deer was a silvery foil balloon festooned with the words “Get Well Soon,” not unlike that pictured above.

Once I comprehended the words on the balloon I started laughing raucously, and asked my daughters if they’d caught a glimpse of the decidedly optimistic note attached to the lifeless ruminant.

Daughter No. 4, blessed with her father’s cynical sense of humor, immediately found the above image on the Internet, and soon we were all laughing.

The Internet also offered up: a roadside memorial to a dead raccoon in Toronto, a dead armadillo and various other deceased deer adorned with get-well balloons and, in a completely serious story, a 2013 memorial that was held in Portland, Ore., for 50,000 bumblebees, honeybees and ladybug, said to have been killed by pesticides.

One supposes the last item would be funnier if not for the fact that more people showed up to honor the “slain insects” than often appear at the funerals of those who die with few family or friends.

Update: I spotted said white-tailed deer on the way into work this morning. It’s condition could best be described as “stable.”

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Shining a light on anti-independence fallacies

Portrait of a boy with the flag of Wales painted on his face.

Among common canards used to thwart peaceful independence movements is the idea that the entity attempting to go its own way is too small, too poor, has too few people, etc.

These were arguments employed by those who opposed Scotland’s independence referendum in 2014, and who resist sovereignty movements in Catalonia and Corsica, among other regions of the world where a segment of the population is pondering an autonomous path.

But the blog Borthlas, focusing on the idea of Welsh independence from the UK – said by some to be impossible because Wales is “too poor” – raises interesting points:

Borthlas turns to a comparison of national per-capita GDP as a means to judge a region’s muscle, admitting that this is not an exact science because per-capita GDP tells nothing about the relative cost of living in a country.

“The population of a country with a low GDP per capita and a low cost of living might actually feel better off than the people of another country where both figures are higher,” the blog explains. “It also tells us nothing about the way wealth is shared out in a country – so the population of a country with a low GDP per capita but where the wealth is evenly shared might feel better off than the people of a country with a high GDP per head and huge inequality.”

But despite those caveats, per-capita GDP is still a good starting point to assess where would Wales fit were it an independent state, Borthlas writes.

  • According to International Monetary Fund figures, Wales would place 24th in the world in per-capita GDP were it independent of the UK, out of more than 170 countries;
  • The World Bank puts Wales at 27th, ahead of more than 150 other nations; and
  • The United Nations ranks Wales 31st place, with more than 160-odd countries beneath it.

Each organization has per-capita GDP figures for a different number of countries; currently there is something like 195 recognized independent nations.

Map of Wales.

Map of Wales.

Wales fares relatively well among European Union nations, as well, ranking in the top half, according to Borthlas.

The real issue why it’s difficult for regions such as Wales, Scotland and Catalonia to gain traction when it comes to independence is multi-fold.

First, these areas are often compared economically to the countries of which they are a part. Wales and Scotland aren’t going to stack up very well against the UK as whole, but then again, neither would England proper. But if there’s a place in the world for the likes of Andorra, Belize, Equatorial Guinea and Liechtenstein, entities such as an independent Wales, Scotland and Catalonia would not only have little problem surviving, but would almost certainly thrive.

Next, traditionalists, and certainly hidebound imperialists, are almost always reluctant to give up that which they have spent centuries holding reign over, for psychological and political reasons.

Finally, the loss of any portion of a nation to independence means a loss of money, one way or the other. Some may point to a region such as Wales and say that it receives significant sums from the UK Treasury. However, Wales is denied sovereign control over its natural resources, including water, mineral and energy exports.

Ultimately, the bottom line tends to be the bottom line these days when it comes to adhering to the concept of self-determination.

Famed explorer detailed Native American languages in 1890

indian language map

John Wesley Powell’s 19th century map of Native American languages, recently highlighted in Slate magazine, was a remarkable achievement that culminated decades of work by the explorer and scientist.

Powell, noted for a three-month expedition in 1869 down the Green and Colorado rivers which included the first known passage by Europeans through the Grand Canyon, produced the map while he was the head of the Bureau of Ethnology, as part of an 1890 annual report.

He stated that the map plotted “linguistic stocks of American Indians,” as they were situated “at the time when the tribes composing them first became known to the European,” according to Slate.

Powell had come into contact with many tribes during his travels throughout the western and midwestern US, enabling him to conduct research and compile information that would go into the making of the above map.

The Bureau of Ethnology was begun in 1879 with Powell as its first director, and the entity worked to build a repository of knowledge regarding Indian languages; this data was later substantially increased through the labors of others.

Powell, unlike many 19th century researchers, remained modest about his accomplishment:

“[The map] is to be regarded as tentative, setting forth in visible form the results of investigation up to the present time, as a guide and aid to future effort,” he stated.

However, historian Donald Worster asserted in his biography of Powell that the linguistic map was a major undertaking: “The classification and map were Powell’s most important achievement as bureau director … and they set the standard for linguists well into the twentieth century.”

The map was publicly displayed at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, as part of a bigger exhibit mounted by the Bureau of Ethnology, according to Slate.

Despite Powell’s efforts and the awareness he might have brought to scholars and possibly a larger audience regarding the depth and breadth of Native American linguistics, it likely did little to improve the plight of the Indian.

The same year that Powell produced his annual report featuring the above map, more than 200 Lakota Sioux, including substantial numbers of women and children, were killed, and another 50 wounded, by US Army troops on the Lakota Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in what became known as the Wounded Knee Massacre.

(Top: Map of “linguistic stocks of American Indians,” from the annual report of the Bureau of Ethnology, vol. 7, 1890.”

Journalist takes Aston Martin Vulcan for spin on F1 course

vulcan top gear 3

Journalism is anything but a growth industry. Cutbacks, mergers and changing consumer habits have resulted in fewer jobs and a dramatically different environment for reporters than even 15 years ago.

Many reporters now find themselves covering an array of beats, everything from town council meetings to local crime to business, all while writing puff pieces on such “events” as parades and festivals.

Yet, there are still a rare few that draw assignments that can only be considered plum. Ollie Marriage could safely be said to have received one of those coveted assignments when he was given the task of putting an Aston Martin Vulcan, valued at $2.5 million, through the twists and turns of Abu Dhabi’s Formula 1 course for TopGear.com.

Aston Martin is building just 24 of the high-end vehicles, and the car is about as close to a rocket ship on wheels as one can purchase from a manufacturer: It possesses a V12 engine that delivers 820 brake horsepower at 7,750 rpm and 575 pound-foot of torque at 6,500 rpm.

The Vulcan features a carbon fibre monocoque structure, a pushrod-actuated suspension with adjustable dampers and carbon ceramic racing brakes. Its horsepower is delivered to the rear wheels through a race-specification six-speed sequential shift gearbox

Not surprisingly, Marriage was impressed with his opportunity to get behind the wheel of a Vulcan.

Here he describes the Vulcan’s speed:

Driver's view from inside Aston Martin Vulcan.

Driver’s view from inside Aston Martin Vulcan.

“One-fifty on the back straight at Abu Dhabi becomes one-six-five, becomes one-seven-five plus. At the 200-meter board I hit the brakes with everything I have. Everything. You can do this when the car currently weighs about 2.5 tons and is wearing 305-width front slicks. The carbon Brembos have massive power and mashing the brakes, knowing you’ll never lock them, trying to release the pressure gradually as the aero grip bleeds away and the car lightens, carrying braking all the way to the apex to keep the nose locked on line – it’s an addictive business.”

He writes that the sensory experience isn’t for the faint of heart.

“Five laps and I’m spent – I start to get a headache, I need to drink, sweat gathers, ears ring. I haven’t heard a word from my engineer on the pitwall, because even with the intercom turned right up, he’s fighting an unwinnable battle against the V12. When someone else goes out you can hear them around the whole circuit, each gearshift, each lift. When they howl down the pit straight, shockwaves battering the grandstands, it’s actually painful. Moments later, you can taste the pungent fumes.”

Of course, driving a Formula 1 course in and of itself would be spectacular; factor in that you’re behind the wheel of ultra-high performance car and it’s difficult to top the experience if you’re a gearhead.

“That was just so cool,” Marriage writes. “Abu Dhabi has no noise restrictions and runs until midnight. I’ve had some ridiculously good moments in my job, but I can genuinely say that each lap in the Vulcan was a privilege, particularly the fast third gear double apex right hander as you plunge down to the glowing purple Yas Viceroy hotel, whapping down two gears, flames spouting, making sure you punish every apex and kerbstone in front of the spectators. Every lap feels naughty. Illicit. Mischievous. Great. Can’t say fairer than that really. Pure magic.”

(Top: An Aston Martin Vulcan is taken through The Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi. Photo credit: TopGear.com.)

Does New Hampshire really smoke like a locomotive?

The interesting graphic above details cigarette sales state by state between 1970 and 2012. While there’s no question smoking has declined in the US over the past 40-plus years, the trend has nuances not indicated in the chart.

If one looks at the map for 2012, the last year shown, cigarette sales are greatest in West Virginia, Kentucky and New Hampshire, with the three states registering 105, 100 and 94 packs sold per resident, respectively.

New Hampshire would seem out of place with Kentucky and West Virginia, two states located firmly in the Appalachians, where smoking is more accepted culturally in a region noted for its blue-collar lifestyle.

On the other hand, a significant portion of New Hampshire now serves as a bedroom community for Massachusetts’ white collar labor force, with the commensurate rise in housing bringing an increasing number of young middle- and upper-middle class individuals into the state, hardly the sort known for consuming large amounts of smokes.

However, it almost certainly wasn’t nicotine-frenzied Granite State residents alone that drove New Hampshire cigarette sales in 2012, but individuals from all of New England.

In 2012, a pack of cigarettes cost $4.86 in New Hampshire, compared to $6.97 in neighboring Maine, $7.60 in Vermont and $8.49 in Massachusetts. Prices were almost as high or even higher in the other two New England states: $8.16 a pack in Rhode Island and $8.85 in Connecticut.

Cigarette sales per capita, 2012.

Cigarette sales per capita, 2012. Click on to understand.

Factor in that New Hampshire has no sales tax and you had a happy hunting ground for those wanting to stock up on cheap cigarettes. And the difference in price made a short drive worthwhile: someone from Massachusetts, for example, who drove over the border to New Hampshire could save nearly $75 on just two cartons (20 packs) of cigarettes.

West Virginia’s average price for cigarettes in 2012 was $4.84 a pack, the lowest in the country. Prices in all neighboring states were higher: Virginia, $5.43; Ohio, $5.67; Maryland, $6.53; Kentucky, $6.56; and Pennsylvania, $6.93. It’s easy to see that residents in border states would likely at least partly drive up sales in a bid to save money.

Kentucky, however, is an outlier. Its price per pack wasn’t cheap – it ranked in the top half of the nation in terms of cost per pack in 2012 – so why did it come in second in per capita cigarette sales?

Looking at the cost of cigarettes in surrounding states, Tennessee, $4.91 a pack; Virginia, $5.43; Indiana, $5.56; Missouri, $5.87; and Illinois, $10.25, all but the latter are cheaper than Kentucky.

However, Kentucky had just seen prices spike due to increases in state and federal cigarette taxes, raising the cost per pack from $4.97 to $6.56.

While some Kentuckians may have been able to cross the border to buy less-expensive smokes in bordering states, it was likely inconvenient for others to do so, due to distance and terrain. And, of course, some people are going to smoke, no matter what the expense. Over time, Kentucky’s per capita rate will drop, but not into the range of, say California or Utah.

And it doesn’t matter how high the government raises cigarette taxes; at some point, smokers will simply begin buying tax-free bootleg smokes.

So while smoking is certainly on the decline in the US, trying to gauge the impact of tax increases on smoking on a state-by-state basis is an iffy proposition. Pushing up the price of cigarettes in one state may simply be driving at least a portion of consumers to surrounding states, particularly if prices are significantly lower.

(HT: Carpe Diem)

Local leader fights for right for employees to remain ignorant

Henry Reilly

One sometimes wonders if parochial politicians realize how narrow they appear when they express close-minded views, or if it’s actually their goal to put forth that perception in the first place.

Henry Reilly, a councillor representing the Mourne area  in County Down on a local council in Northern Ireland, recently wrote a letter to a local publication complaining that area workers employed by the same council were being queried about their Irish language skills.

“Workers are being asked if they have an Irish language qualification, how competent they are in Irish, if they would be willing to deal with enquiries from the public in Irish and if they would be willing to take a course in Irish. Staff are even asked if they would like to take such a course during working hours!” Reilly wrote to the News Letter.

Reilly added that council staff members who had contacted him expressed concern that their lack of knowledge of Irish or interest in learning Irish could harm their promotion prospects.

“It is clear to me that the implication of the audit is that having Irish will be a distinct advantage when working for the council,” he added. “This is wrong and discriminatory against the Protestant community.”

So here we have a government entity which, as part of its responsibility to serve its citizenry, seeks to assess the Irish-speaking capabilities of its employees. Understanding that not all employees may be able to speak Irish, it asks if they would be interested in taking a course in the language during working hours.

The council is willing to pay to enable employees to learn another language, to help them better serve the populace. But an elected official finds fault with that. Not because of the potential cost, or because it would potentially leave the council staff shorthanded during working hours, but because it somehow discriminates against the Protestant community.

As I noted when I first learned of this on the blog An Sionnach Fionn, I wish someone would pay me to learn a second language.

The only thing that’s seems unfair is that the people of Mourne find themselves represented by an ignorant ass who is either kowtowing to a handful of bigots who don’t want to learn Irish because they see it as the language of Catholics, or is grandstanding in a bid to lock up votes for the next election.

I don’t know what the threshold should be for having civil staff learn different languages to serve a polyglot population, but clearly there are many regions that would benefit from having some understanding of the language(s) of those they serve, whether it’s Irish in Northern Ireland, Spanish in parts of the United States, French in parts of Canada, etc., etc.

Public service isn’t about bending the job to the employee’s whims, but adapting to what the populace needs, when possible.

If Reilly has his way, services that could be better provided by a staff at least somewhat conversant in Irish would either go undelivered, or be delivered in a decidedly less efficient manner. Either way, some of Reilly’s constitutents would lose – but he’d rather pander than serve all of the public.

(Top: Henry Reilly, councillor on the Newry, Mourne and Down District Council representing the Mourne area.)

The journey of a lifetime, more than a lifetime ago

HJSmith

Nearly a century ago, as World War I was entering its final stages, a couple from South Carolina made a journey north to perhaps put to rest a ghost of another bloody conflict, one that had ended more than five decades prior.

Mr. and Mrs. Wattie Gaillard Smith of Columbia traveled to Shepherdstown, WV, to visit sisters Annie Licklider and Bettie Licklider Rentch, and to pay their respects at the grave of Smith’s father, Capt. Henry Julius Smith, who had fallen at the Battle of Antietam in September 1862.

Wounded during the bloodiest battle on American soil, Smith, a captain with South Carolina’s Hampton Legion, was evacuated with many other injured men, according to the June 6, 1918, edition of the Shepherdstown Register, in a story titled ‘A Reminder of the Battle of Antietam’.

“Shepherdstown … indeed, was one great hospital, where the churches, public buildings and private homes were thrown open for the care of the suffering soldiers,” according to the publication.

Smith was brought to the home of Grandison T. Licklider, Bettie and Annie’s father, and “he was tenderly cared for and given every attention, but he survived only a few days,” the Register reported.

Henry Julius SmithAfter Smith died, he was interred in Elmwood Cemetery in Shepherdstown, which was still part of Virginia until the following year.

Grandison Licklider sent the captain’s sword, sash and other possessions to Smith’s widow and for some time the two exchanged letters, but with their deaths the connection between the families was lost.

Henry Smith was a 28-year-old attorney when he enlisted on June 15, 1861, as captain of Company D of the Hampton Legion, the unit put together by South Carolina planter and future Army of Northern Virginia cavalry commander Wade Hampton.

National Archives records appear to indicate that Smith, said to have been shot in the heart, died on Sept. 21, 1862, four days after the Battle of Antietam. Smith was one of nearly 23,000 men who were killed, wounded or left missing after the one-day clash.

Wattie Smith was just an infant when his father died, but had always desired to visit Shepherdstown and see his father’s grave, and to thank those who ministered to the soldiers, or the descendants of those who had cared for the fallen.

In the late spring of 1918 he got the opportunity to learn firsthand of his father’s final days.

Wattie G. Smith

Wattie G. Smith

Rentch (1850-1945) and Annie Licklider (1854-1941) were 12 and nearly 8 years old, respectively, when Capt. Smith was brought to their home following the battle, and remembered the Confederate officer very well. They were able to give his son “much acceptable information concerning his father,” according to the Shepherdstown publication.

The Smiths then “visited the grave in the cemetery, and the son expressed great appreciation of the kindness of those who had kept it green all these years,” the Register added.

Smith was a man of some significance in the Palmetto State, having been appointed State Warehouse Commissioner in 1917 by the General Assembly.

Reading this account one is struck by the limitations of travel a century ago. Automobiles were still in their relative infancy and there was no Interstate Highway System; traveling long distances was an iffy proposition given the state of roads. Train travel was more reliable, but it took considerable time to traverse any expanse.

The distance between Orangeburg, SC, and Shepherdstown, WV, was less than 600 miles – a single day’s drive today that requires little more than plugging a destination into a GPS and filling up with gas a couple of times at the innumerable fueling stations along the route – but then was a trek that required serious planning, a good deal of perseverance and no small amount of fortitude.

Near the end of the article, the Register opines that Smith and his wife “were profoundly pleased and impressed with their visit here and we are sure that they will want to come again when they can stay longer.”

It’s unlikely that occurred, though, as Smith died in early 1920, at age 58. Both of the sisters who had been on hand during his father’s final days in their Shepherdstown home outlived him by more than 20 years.

(Top: Grave of Henry J. Smith of South Carolina, among more than 100 wounded Confederate soldiers who were brought to Shepherdstown and later died, and then were buried in the town’s Elmwood Cemetery.)