Sunday, August 31, 2014

Qucikie Sports Chowdah Update- BC Kicks Off Season With Bay State Battle; Johnny Gone Lately- Post Manziel Aggies Run Roughshod Over Gamecocks;

NCAA FOOTBALL- And just like that, the college football season is upon us [Yay!- NANESB!].

Thursday night marked the beginning of the first season in which the champions of college football will be decided by a playoff format instead of polls and sportswriters.

This also marked Texas A&M's first game since quarterback Johnny Manziel was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft earlier this year. Texas A&M started off the season ranked #21 and faced #9 South Carolina on the road in Columbia, SC on Thursday night.

Coming into the season opener, the Gamecocks could boast 18 consecutive home wins- the longest active streak on Division 1 Football. Aggies fans worried about A&M football post Johnny Manziel had to like what they saw from sophomore QB Kenny Hill, who had Texas A&M up over the Gamecocks 31-14 at halftime. In the second half, South Carolina had no answers for Hill who would go on to throw for 511 yards and complete 44 of 60 pass attempts and three TDs as the Aggies blew South Carolina out of the water by a 52-28 final. According to the USC press guide- which keeps records as far back as 1962- the previous record for passing yards allowed by the Gamecocks was 485 prior to Thursday night.

ACC- The 2014 Boston College Eagles football season got underway on Saturday with an all-Massachusetts melee, travelling to Gillette stadium to take on the UMass Minutemen.

After a scoreless first quarter, BC took a 6-0 lead on field goals from Alex Howell and Joey Launceford. After halftime, the Eagles managed to pad their lead thanks to a running TD from RB Myles Willis followed by a rushing TD from QB Tyler Murphy to make it a 20-0 game before UMass got on the board with 2:28 to go in the 3rd with a TD pass from QB Blake Frohnapfel to Tajae Sharpe.

However, in the 4th, the Eagles would put the game out of reach with a 43 yard TD completion from Murphy to WR Josh Bordner to open up the quarter and Launceford capped the BC scoring with a 21 yard FG to make it a 30-7 final.

Although Saturday's game took place about 40 miles from Chestnut Hill, the home opener for the Eagles will take place on Friday, September 5th when they host the Pitt Panthers.

ELSEWHERE IN THE ACC- Defending national champions Florida State travelled to Texas on Saturday night to take on Oklahoma State. The Seminoles were ranked #1 heading into Saturday night's game and were able to get by a very game Cowboys [currently unranked- NANESB!] by a 37-31 final. 2013 Heisman trophy winning QB Jameis Winston went 25 for 40 with 370 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.

AMERICAN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE- The Brigham Young Cougars managed to spoil the UConn Huskies home opener and debut of new head coach Bob Diaco on Friday. Thanks to four TD passes from BYU QB Taysom Hill, the Cougars cruised to an early lead and led UConn 28-7 at the half. BYU would go on to win by a 35-19 final at East Hartford.

UConn's homestand at E. Hartford will continue for the next two weeks as they host Stony Brook and Boise State [in that order- NANESB]. Both games are scheduled for a 12:00 PM ET kickoff.

BIG 12- Defending Big 12 Champions Baylor kicked off the 2014 and debut of their new stadium in Waco, TX in style with a convincing win over Southern Methodist University on Sunday night. With former president George W Bush and Heisman winner and Washington Redskins QB Robert Griffin III in attendance, the #10 ranked Baylor Bears routed the SMU Mustangs at newly-completed McClane Stadium by a 45-0 final. Bears starting QB Bryce Petty went 13-23 with 161 yards and 2 TDs before leaving Sunday night's game at halftime and being replaced by Seth Russell who also went 13-23 with 124 yards, a TD and an interception.

NFL- Just a quick reminder that the NFL season gets underway on Thursday, September 4th. The defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks will host the Green Bay Packers with kickoff scheduled for 8:30 PM ET on Thursday night- the game will be televised on NBC.

The Patriots will open up the 2014 season on the road in Miami on Sunday- that game is scheduled to kick off a 1:00 ET and will be broadcast on CBS.

PATRIOTS- The New England Patriots sent backup QB Ryan Mallet to the Houston Texans in exchange for a conditional 7th round draft pick in the 2016 NFL draft. Earlier in the week, new England traded G Logan Mankins to Tampa Bay in return for TE Tim Wright and a 4th round draft pick in the 2015 NFL draft.

BOSTON RED SOX- After the shock of trading Lester [and most of the starting rotation from the 2013 World Series team- NANESB!] away wore off, the Sox had a pretty decent road trip to the Midwest and West Coast where they took two out of three from the Angels and swept the Cincinnati Reds during a brief two-game series at the Great American ballpark.

However, the disastrous homestand that took place once the Sox returned to Fenway was enough to make even the most die-hard and optimistic Sox fan write off the 2014 season as auditioning for the 2015 season. The series began with a split of the 4-game series with the Houston Astros before going 0-7 against the Angels and Mariners.

Boston bounced back somewhat on the road in the AL East, with the Sox taking two out of three from the Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre before heading to Tampa Bay. The Red Sox won the Friday night series opener before being shut out in Saturday night's game by a 7-0.

On Sunday, Boston bounced back nicely by shutting out the Rays by a 3-0 final thanks to a complete game 3-hit shutout by Clay Buchholz. Clay struck out six batters and walked none while getting run support in the form of RBI singles from Christian Vazquez, Mookie Betts and Big Papi throughout the game.

After Boston took two out of three from the Rays over the weekend, Tampa is hoping to salvage a split on Labor Day. To that end, they'll send Drew Smyly [9-10; 3.31 ERA] to the mound to face off against Rubby de LaRosa [4-5; 3.81 ERA]. First pitch for this Labor Day game is scheduled for 1:05 ET and the game will be televised on NESN.

OTHER RED SOX NEWS- Boston 2B Dustin Pedroia may be missing at least a week after suffering from 'concussion-like symptoms' after a collision with Logan Forsyth during Saturday's 7-0 loss. With the rosters expanding on September 1, the Red Sox may not even have to put Pedroia on the DL although if it is a concussion, he will probably miss at least a week's playing time.

EVEN MORE RED SOX NEWS- The Red Sox and Cuban outfielder Rusney Castillo have agreed to terms on a 7 year, $72.5 million contract last week. The sought-after Cuban defector became eligible after obtaining his US P-1A work visa and arrived at the team's Ft Meyers facility last Wednesday to begin workouts.

Although the regular season for the Red Sox minor-league affiliates is nearly over, Castillo may end up seeing time in the playoffs for the Ft Meyers Red Sox in the Gulf Coast League or the Portland Sea Dogs of the AA Eastern League or Pawtucket Red Sox of the AAA International League.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

California Wine Country Rattled by Magnitude 6.0 Quake

"Nooo! Not the wine! Anything but the wine"
California's Napa Valley was struck by a magnitude 6.0 earthquake over the weekend, causing injuries, buckling streets, sending casks of wine tumbling and damaging historic buildings.

The magnitude 6.0 quake, centered about four miles northwest of American Canyon, knocked out power to more than 60,000 people in Napa and Sonoma counties early Sunday and broke dozens of water mains that could leave 600 Napa homes without water for days, according to the city.

Across the region, the quake jolted residents out of bed, forcing some to flee through dark rooms littered with broken glass and displaced furniture. Others evacuated in the face of flames, with only seconds to grab pets, cellphones and other belongings.

Two people were critically injured, including 14-year-old Nicholas Dillon who was stabilized at the hospital’s triage center before he was flown to UC Davis Medical Center, spokeswoman Vanessa deGier said. The boy, who was in serious condition Sunday night, was injured when a brick fireplace collapsed on him, Napa city spokesman Barry Martin said.

The other seriously injured patient was an adult who suffered multiple fractures, deGier said.

The worst damage to buildings appeared to be in downtown Napa and surrounding areas. The quake dealt a significant blow to the city’s efforts to revive its core by renovating historic buildings, many dating to the late 1800s. Among those historic structures, the county’s old courthouse on Brown Street lost a large chunk of exterior masonry and was left with large cracks on the east side of the building.

Main Street’s Pfeiffer Building also suffered heavy damage with bricks falling off the facade, leaving a large pile of debris at its base that spilled onto the sidewalk.

To the south, in Solano County, buildings in downtown Vallejo and Mare Island also sustained some structural damage, leaving several with shattered storefront windows and toppled masonry.

The predawn quake came on a key day for summer tourism and events, including the IndyCar Grand Prix at Sonoma Raceway and the Santa Rosa Marathon, both of which continued as planned. It also hit in the middle of the region’s grape harvest, when wine tasting draws hundreds of visitors to area wineries and restaurants. The timing of Sunday’s quake, in the predawn hours, likely limited injuries to people who would otherwise have been going about their planned activities.

Amtrak suspended their San Jose-Sacramento Capitol Corridor service as tracks in the affected area. Early estimates say the quake has caused nearly $1 billion in damage to the area's wine industry and resulted in the Napa Valley Wine Train cancelling Sunday service.

The California Highway Patrol reported that a number of highways in the Napa Valley were cracked and buckled, resulting in damage and flat tires to some of the vehicles travelling over the damaged roads.

This was reportedly them most powerful earthquake in northern California in more than 25 years- the fault thought to be responsible is the fairly obscure West Napa Fault, which didn't even show up in a 2008 State of California earthquake risk assessment.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Today's Train of Thought- Limited Commercial Interruption, August 24th, 2014

Today's Train of Thought takes us to the Land of 10,000 Lakes- specifically, the gritty commercial, industrial, agricultural and transportation hub that is the Twin Cities.

In this era where seemingly every shortline, regional or industrial switching outfit is affiliated with conglomerates such as Genesee & Wyoming, WATCO or Omnitrax, a shortline operator that doesn't fall under that umbrella is something of a rare find. This is especially true of big-city terminal, transfer or switching roads such as the Minnesota Commercial. Back before there were more than six Class One rail carriers in the United States, the burdensome task of dragging cars from one classification yard to another or switching local industries along the way often fell to entities that jointly owned by the rail carriers serving a given area.

A few such examples exist today- Chicago has the Belt Railway of Chicago, St Louis has the Terminal Railroad Association of St Louis and since 1987, the Twin Cities has had the 150-mile Minnesota Commercial. Going by the MNNR abbreviation, the Minnesota Commercial was the successor to the Minnesota Transfer Railway which was at one time jointly owned by robber barons and fallen flags alike- the Northern Pacific; Chicago, Burlington & Quincy; Milwaukee Road; Chicago & North Western; Rock Island; Soo Line; Chicago & Great Western; Minneapolis & St Louis and Great Northern. By 1970, more than half of these railways would find themselves part of the Chicago & North Western or the newly-formed Burlington Northern. Most of the MNNR's trackage is within Hennepin county and includes numerous spurs, branches and yard tracks. By 1987, when the Minnesota Transfer was reorganized as the Minnesota Commercial Railway, the Rock Island had dissolved and the greatly-truncated Milwaukee Road had been taken over by the Soo Line.

Since the late 1990s, ownership of the MNNR has been more or less divided up between the four remaining Class 1 rail carriers that serve the Twin Cities- BNSF, Canadian National, Canadian Pacific and Union Pacific. The MNNR interchanges with all four of those plus regional Twin Cities and Western in St Paul. The Minnesota Commercial also has something of a following among rail enthusiasts for its tendency to utilize oddball power, such as ALCos, MLWs or rebuilt GEs or EMDs. To this day, a pair of locals serving an industrial park on the north end of the MNNR reportedly utilize a pair of former Green Bay & Western ALCo RS27s.

More recently, the MNNR has moved towards adding older four and six-axle GE roadswitchers onto their roster- including the Santa Fe-rebuilt U36C, reclassified as the SF30C [other examples can be found in Brazil and Mexico- NANESB!]. And like nearby shortlines such as the Wisconsin Northern or St Croix Valley, traffic has heated up in recent years thanks to the oil and gas industry's appetite for frac sand from the upper Mississippi River valley.

Here, Minnesota Commercial SF30C #50 is seen with an MNNR MLW M630 and another 6-axle GE as it charges through the Westminster area of St Paul, MN with more than 100 gondolas of wet sand in tow on the BNSF Midway Sub on May 9th, 2012. According to photographer Brian Kays, the unit sand train also required two B23-7s as mid-train helpers as the Texas bound sand train scaled the line out of the Mississippi River Valley.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

National Guard Deployed to St Louis Suburb After Week of Protests and Looting

After criticizing the presence of 'militarized' police in the St Louis suburb of Ferguson, MO last week, Missouri governor Jay Nixon ordered the National Guard into the city to restore order on Sunday night.

The unrest started last weekend when a Ferguson police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager named Mike Brown. Although some witnesses gave conflicting accounts that claimed Brown was fleeing or surrendering when he was shot, the police claim that there was an altercation before the shooting where Brown tried to take the officer's service weapon.

After the shooting, a number of vigils and protests in Ferguson where demonstrators called for the officer to be charged with homicide took place [there are some unconfirmed reports out of St Louis that seem to corroborate the officer's version of events- NANESB!].

As tensions between citizens and area law enforcement escalated- with looting and clashes with police in riot gear following the shooting- state and local officials decided to hand over authority to the Missouri Highway Patrol and Captain Ron Johnston. Johnson espoused a hands-off approach to de-escalate tensions, in some instances outsourcing public safety to domestic terror groups like the Black Panthers. However, the clashes and looting continued over the next several nights [further agitated by outside groups such as the Revolutionary Communist Party and New Black Panther Party- NANESB!].

Heading into the weekend, Gov Nixon ordered a midnight curfew for the city of Ferguson as the looting and clashes continued. However, looters ignored the curfew and raided a Dominoes Pizza, Family Dollar store, a self-storage unit and an auto parts store. Ferguson police chief Thomas Jackson also released surveillance video purportedly showing Brown committing a strong-arm robbery of a nearby convenience store shortly before the shooting took place, despite pleas from the DOJ not to do so.

An autopsy was also conducted that determined Brown was shot six times- none of them in the back, contrary to early eyewitness accounts. US Attorney General Eric Holder has ordered a federal autopsy of Brown and ordered FBI agents to canvas the neighborhood to search for possible additional witnesses to the shooting.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Australia Scraps Carbon Tax

Australia, the twelfth largest economy in the world, has voted to repeal a costly and contentious carbon tax in a 39-32 vote in Australia's senate last month.

The former Labor government, while introducing a price on carbon, said the move would help slash emissions by 160 million metric tons by 2020. It offered voters billions of dollars in compensation through tax breaks and welfare payments for increased costs stemming from one of the most dramatic reforms ever attempted in the energy-reliant economy.

But after the global financial crisis took hold in 2008, followed by the end of a decadelong mining boom in 2012 that slowed growth and employment in the A$1.5 trillion (US$1.4 trillion) economy, Australian voters turned against climate laws—recognized by the International Energy Agency as model legislation for developed countries—blaming them for rising energy bills and living costs.

The World Bank in May produced a State and Trends of Carbon Pricing report counting carbon pricing programs in 40 nations and 20 regions worth a collective US$30 billion, while also singling out repeal plans in Australia as one of the biggest international threats to the rollout of similar programs elsewhere, given its example.

However, implementation of the carbon tax and other emissions laws proved costly for the then-incumbent Labour Party. Former prime-minister Kevin Rudd was unseated in an internal party challenge from Julia Gillard as his approval ratings plummeted due in part to proposed Resource Profits Super Tax which would've levied a tax of no less than 30% on mining companies should their annual profits pass an annual A$75 million threshold.

As leader of the opposition party, Tony Abbot warned the Australian federal government against spending millions of taxpayer dollars for an ad campaign in support of the Carbon Tax in 2011. During the 2013 elections, Abbot campaigned against Labour's carbon tax scheme, saying it increased energy costs and hurt small businesses.

According to 2011 figures from the US Energy Information Administration, Australia is the world's largest exporter of coal and 4th largest exporter of LNG. The demise of the Resource Profits Super Tax also is likely to increase investment and exploration in the Coober Pedy area of the Australian outback, which is believed to hold as much as 200 billion barrels worth of oil according to multiple reports from last year.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Todays' Train of Thought- Annoying Orange, August 1st, 2014

Today's Train of thought takes us to the Peach State and highlights what is sure to be a source of consternation for commuters in Georgia's second largest city and home to the US Army's Ft Benning.

The 26-mile Columbus and Chattahoochee is one of the newer railways in the Genesee & Wyoming family of shortlines and actually the second one to operating in the western Georgia city of Columbus. The line operates between Phenix City and Mahrt, AL was formed in 2012 but has trackage rights over a stretch of the former Central of Georgia line between Columbus, GA and Birmingham, AL to reach the Norfolk Southern yard in downtown Columbus.

To get the that NS yard, Columbus and Chattahoochee trains have to traverse the Chattahoochee River, which forms much of the boundary between Georgia and Alabama. Once across the river, trains for both the NS and Columbus & Chattahoochee have to traverse several blocks of street-running trackage on 9th street, sometimes snarling up traffic at rush hour in the heart of this city of more than 200,000.

Here, contributor Casey Thomason caught Columbus & Chattahoochee SD40-2 #3348 leading a consist on its way back to the NS yard after picking up loads from the paper mill in Mahrt, crossing the river and trundling down the middle of 9th street on September 7, 2012- just two months after the Columbus and Chattahoochee was formed.

According to the photographer, this was a relatively short train that only took up 2-3 blocks. Longer trains on the Norfolk Southern from Birmingham have to slow down for yard limits while westbound trains only gradually pick up speed, creating a rolling roadblock that leaves soldiers and civilians alike scrambling to fins an alternate route.