Teamster lackey: Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing

screwball

This blog remains largely immune from hate mail, probably because a) it’s readership is miniscule and b) the topics so arcane that few crackpots can work up the energy to put crayon to paper in order to fire off a misguided missive.

Still, just as a blind pig finds an acorn once in a while, the occasional screwball will manage to direct a harebrained epistle my way.

Consider: Last week a hack for the Teamsters Union decided to take me to task for a post I wrote in February 2009 about an area trucking company that had gained a well-deserved reputation for treating its employees particularly well. Mind you, this is a post that’s more than seven years old, but that didn’t stop the commenter, using the decidedly unoriginal nom de plume of “Greg Hoffa,” from wading into the fray, albeit very tardily and very ineptly.

Last Thursday, Mr. “Hoffa” wrote:

“WHY DONT YOU PAY YOUR DRIVERS OVERTIME PAY AFTER 8 hrs in a day or after a 40 hour work week? You are a damn crook, a typical preacher of religion. You must be related to Lyin’ Ted !!! Ps: and don’t tell me you don’t pay overtime because of some ridiculous agricultural law or railroad act. The Teamsters should represent this and every other shady trucking outfit. Pay your drivers what they deserve.”

It’s difficult to say what set off old Greg Hoffa. The point of my story, penned oh so many moons ago, was that a family-owned trucking company, during what was then the heart of the Great Recession, had managed to avoid laying off any of its more than 6,500 employees, the only major US trucking line able to be able make that claim.

My post contained no talk of pay, overtime and certainly no indication that I worked for the company. I don’t and never have. But then again, when it comes to reasoning skills, Teamster trolls are rarely mistaken for the second coming of Socrates.

I didn’t realize blogging made me a crook, and a “damned crook,” at that. As for being a typical preacher of religion, I am again mystified. I keep the proselytizing to a dull roar here, and with good reason. To paraphrase Mark Twain, “We were good Catholic boys when the weather was doubtful; when it was fair, we did wander a little from the fold.”

As to whom “Lyin’ Ted” is I have no idea. Cruz? Turner? Kennedy? Kaczynski?

A good rule of thumb if you’re going to write angry letters is that they should make sense and be based, at least in some small degree, on reality. Also, lay off the exclamation points. Greg Hoffa, you dropped the ball on all three counts.

I will give Mr. Hoffa one point and admit that he was pretty close to being accurate in one of his closing lines. Toward the end, where he wrote, “The Teamsters should represent this and every other shady trucking outfit,” he need only have shortened it to “The Teamsters should represent every shady trucking outfit,” and he would have been right on the money.

New app allows users to rent backyards in crowded cities

tiny urban backyard

This blogger makes no secret of his love of the outdoors. Whether its woods or wilderness; swamps or savannas; fields or fens; meadows or marshes; pastures or plains, I’ll take being outside most any day to being enclosed in the glass and steel of the city.

Yes, there are plenty of interesting things to do in a metropolis, but if I have to pick one over the other, my first choice is always going to be the countryside.

As such, I’ve never understood those that willing live in crowded cities where greenery is almost non-existent and it’s a lengthy drive to romp in legitimate open space.

Apparently in the San Francisco Bay Area, green space is at such a premium that a new sharing app has been launched to allow you rent out your backyard or rooftop by the hour.

Nookzy allows the reservation of small “creative urban spaces,” according to its website.

In fact, it is currently beta testing a selection of backyard-based spas and saunas in San Francisco and Oakland, and is in the process of finding swimming pools and other amenities to list.

It has been called the “Airbnb of backyards,” referring to the website that enables people to list, find and rent lodgings for short periods.

Nookzy users can reserve spaces for as little as 30 minutes and as long as hosts are comfortable with.

Upon booking, guests will receive access permission and instructions, agreeing to host-specified conditions for conduct. During their reservation, guests will receive text message notifications, including when they have 15 minutes remaining in their reservation. Guests may extend their reservation if the space is still available.

I never cease to be amazed by the ingenuity of some. Those behind this app apparently identified a need and have created a means to fill it. Good for them.

On the other hand, I can’t help but feel for kids who live in an environment with so little green space that their parents have to go online to rent a backyard or pool. Seems like a rather Dickensian childhood in some respects.

(HT: Carpe Diem blog)

Addiction, trial and error part of Coke’s humble beginning

john s. pemberton statue

Coca-Cola products are recognized and consumed around the globe. Today, products of the Coca-Cola Co. are consumed at the rate of more than 1.8 billion drinks per day. Compare that with the first year the product we call Coke was “on the market,” 1886, when sales averaged nine drinks a day and tallied just $50 for the entire year.

Coke’s creator was Dr. John S. Pemberton, a Tennessee native who had moved to Georgia to study medicine in 1850. Pemberton was serving as a lieutenant colonel in the 12th Georgia Cavalry (state guards), when he was wounded during one of the very last clashes of the Civil War. On April 16, 1865, at the Battle of Columbus, Ga., Pemberton suffered a serious injury when he was slashed across his chest with a sabre.

During his recovery he became addicted to morphine, like many wounded veterans of the conflict.

Pemberton had the advantage of having been a pharmacist in civilian life, so he sought a cure for his addiction and the following year began work on devising painkillers that would serve as opium-free alternatives to morphine.

Before long, Pemberton was experimenting with coca and coca wines, eventually creating a version of a then-popular patent medicine containing kola nuts and damiana, a shrub native to Texas, Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean. He called his concoction, an alcoholic beverage, Pemberton’s French Wine Coca.

Pemberton moved from Columbus to Atlanta in 1870 and continued to sell his beverage, among other items. He was forced to changed gears in 1886 when the city of Atlanta and Fulton County enacted temperance legislation.

In an effort to provide a non-alcoholic alternative to his French Wine Coca, Pemberton tried a variety of alternatives, ultimately blending the base syrup with carbonated water. He ultimately opted to market it as a fountain drink rather than a medicine.

Pemberton never got rich off Coca-Cola. In fact, he never even kicked his opiate addiction.

Sick, still addicted to morphine and nearly bankrupt, Pemberton sold a portion of the rights to the soft drink to his business partners in 1888 for approximately $500. Later that year he died of stomach cancer.

Pemberton had recognized at least a portion of Coke’s potential and left an ownership share to his only child, Charles Pemberton. Pemberton’s son, however, died from complications related to opium addiction six years later with little to show for his father’s efforts.

Asa Candler, the Atlanta businessman who bought out Pemberton, formed the Coca-Cola Co. in 1892 and ended up making millions of dollars.

Coca-Cola, created by an ex-cavalryman trying to deal with prohibition legislation, is today one of the largest global brands in history.

(Top: Statue of Dr. John S. Pemberton, Atlanta, Ga.)

A reminder of the golden age of sweet potato farming

lexington county 3 19 2016 023

Located in a rural area of Lexington County, SC, is a dilapidated sweet potato drying house. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of a sweet potato drying house, welcome to the club. I, too, had no idea such a structure existed until I happened across it recently.

From its appearance, it’s safe to say that it’s been many a year since any sweet potatoes were cured in the rectangular wooden structure. The building has a single door, four openings in the roof, and four small windows and one larger window. It was definitely not built for comfort.

Estimating its age is inexact at best, but because it was built with round-headed nails it was almost certainly built after 1890 and, from its appearance, most likely before World War I.

The structure recently achieved higher visibility because, after many years of being surrounded by thick woods, the land surrounding it was cleared, leaving it sitting in the open.

When constructed, sweet potatoes were a staple of the American diet. At the beginning of the 20th century the tubers were the second most-important root crop in the nation. Per-capita consumption of sweet potatoes in 1920 was 31 pounds, but by the start of the 21st century that figure had dwindled to just 4 pounds per person, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

Storing sweet potatoes is a relatively straightforward. The bottom line is to cure the tubers, than keep the potatoes dry, to fend off rot, and prevent them from getting too warm or too cold.

The main goal behind curing is to heal injuries so that sweet potatoes remain in good condition for marketing during the winter and to preserve “seed” roots for the next crop, according to the Cooperative Extension Service at the University of Georgia College of Agriculture.

Healing takes place rapidly at 85 degrees Fahrenheit and between 85 to 90 percent humidity, for four to seven days.

Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes in all their glory.

“Curing should start as soon after harvest as possible to heal injuries before disease-producing organisms gain entrance,” according to the Georgia Cooperative Extension Service. “Healing involves production of cells that are very much like the skin in their ability to prevent infection. These new cells form in a layer just below the surface of the injuries. Because this layer is corky, it is commonly called wound cork. Healing is more rapid under clean cuts and skinned areas than in deep wounds where tissue is crushed. The rate of healing differs a little among varieties.”

In the above structure, heaters and exhaust flues were used to promote circulation, remove excessive condensation and prevent accumulation of carbon dioxide produced by sweet potato roots.

The four holes in the roof were used to vent the flues.

After the tubers were cured, the temperature in the storage house was brought down to a narrow range of between 55 and 59 degrees Fahrenheit, with relative humidity maintained at between 85 and 90 percent.

Much below that and sweet potatoes experienced an increased susceptibility to rot and discoloration, and the quality of roots was diminished, hurting their ability to produce sprouts when planted the following season.

It’s unclear how common standalone sweet potato drying houses were. It’s likely most individuals who raised the tubers simply relied on earthen structures, whether dug into banks or put into holes then simply covered with dirt.

Standalone structures like the one shown above would likely have been used by more than one farmer, a cooperative of sorts, or by an individual with an extremely large spread.

(Top: Old sweet potato drying house, located in rural Lexington County, SC, west of Columbia.)

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.

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)

I’ll see your plutonium and raise you one microgram of californium

californium-knows-how-to-party

When comparing apples and oranges, the former sell for nearly double the latter, at least according to what’s available at a nearby grocery store. Yet the price per ounce – 10 cents and 5 cents, respectively – are miniscule compared to some of the world’s rarer materials.

Consider white truffles: An ounce of the prized fungus, which grows for just a couple of months of the year almost exclusively in one part of Italy and is best located by special pigs, sells for more than $140 an ounce. Seem excessive? That doesn’t even begin to compare with some even more expensive items, according to the online publication Visual Capitalist.

Saffron, a spice native to Greece and Southwest Asia and used mainly as a seasoning and coloring agent in food, goes for more than $310 an ounce.

Palladium, a rare metal used in catalytic converters, among a number of items, sells for more $500 an ounce, while gold, the monetary standby of yore, is currently fetching nearly $1,200 an ounce.

Iranian beluga caviar, taken from sturgeon found mainly in the Caspian Sea, brings nearly $1,000 an ounce.

Yet those don’t come close to some upper-end items, according to the Visual Capitalist.

Plutonium, the radioactive element used in the first atomic bomb and employed at nuclear power plants, goes for more than $110,000 an ounce.

The Visual Capitalist estimated that an ounce of high-quality diamonds, nearly 142 carats, would sell for more than $1.8 million.

Finally, californium, a man-made element used to help start up nuclear reactors, would sell for more than $750 million an ounce – if that much californium could ever be produced.

Today, californium can be made only in milligram amounts and is available from the US government for $10 per millionth of a gram, a microgram.

How big would one-millionth of gram of californium be? I don’t know, but it’s probably not something you want to trust the summer intern with.

(Top: Slightly humorous meme in place of image of Californium, which is so small and rare that no decent image of it can be found on the internet.)