Sunday, June 30, 2013

19 Firefighters Killed Fighting Arizona Blaze

Officials in Arizona have confirmed that 19 firefighters were killed on Sunday battling the Yarnell Hill fire some 75 miles to the northwest of Phoenix. The firemen were identified as part of a highly specialized ground unit of the Prescott, AZ fire department known as the Granite Mountain Hotshots.

The Granite Mountain Hot Shots, established in 2002, are an elite ground firefighting crew known for their innovative problem-solving and history of safe, aggressive fire suppression. Members of the crew are highly trained, come from diverse backgrounds, and work long hours in extreme environmental conditions doing the most demanding of fireline tasks.

They carry 40 pounds on their back, may hike in seven miles or more to where they need to work, and work up to 14 hours.

"They have to be ready to leave for an assignment on two hours' notice, which sometimes means missing family events," Ward said. "They have to be prepared to be on that assignment for 21 days, get two days rest at home, and possibly be sent out on another 21-day assignment."

When it's not fire season, the Granite Mountain Hot Shots may help with other emergency situations, including removal of downed tree limbs during winter and spring storms - since they are experts with chainsaws.
Earlier in the month, the Granite Mountain Hotshots and a sibling unit with the US Forest Service were busy fighting wildfires in New Mexico and closer to home with the June 18th Doce Fire in the Prescott National Forest.

The Granite Mountain Hotshots and other units were combatting a lightning sparked wildfire in the mountains outside the town of Yarnell over the weekend when the tragedy took place.
State forestry spokesman Art Morrison told the Associated Press that an estimated 200 homes were also destroyed by the blaze, which fed on dry grass near the communities of Yarnell and Grand Isla.

The sheriff's office has notified residents in the Peeples Valley area and in the town of Yarnell to evacuate.

Earlier Sunday, the fire prompted the evacuation of at least 50 homes in the Buckhorn, Model Creek and Double A Bar Ranch areas about 85 miles northwest of Phoenix.

The wildfire also forced the closure of about 15 miles of state Route 89, the Arizona Department of Transportation announced. The department did not have an estimate of how long the closure would last but advised drivers to use U.S. 93 or Interstate 17 as alternate routes.

The Yarnell Hill Fire prompted evacuations in the Model Creek, Buckhorn and Double A Bar Ranch areas about 85 miles northwest of Phoenix. The blaze also was within 200 yards of the Model Creek School.

Crews cleared brush and did other work around the evacuated homes to help guard against the fire.

On Sunday afternoon, the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office called residents in the Peeples Valley area and in the town of Yarnell, telling them to evacuate.

Two hundred firefighters are now working at the fire, but an additional 130 firefighters and more water- and retardant-dropping helicopters and aircraft are on their way.
Yarnell is a town of about 600 on Arizona route 89 (formerly US 89) between Wickenburg and Prescott, AZ and is the first town northbound motorists will encounter as they drive north out of the desert and into the mountains. Reports indicate that half the structures in the town of Yarnell have been lost.

Millions of Demonstrators in Egypt Take to the Streets Demanding President Mursi's Resignation

A year after his inauguration as Egypt's first new president since 1981, millions of demonstrators throughout Egypt demanded President Mohammed Morsi step down in protests throughout the nation reminiscent of those that forced his predecessor Hosni Mubarak out of office.

Waving national flags and chanting "Get out!", a crowd of nearly 500,000 massed in and around Cairo's central Tahrir Square in by far the largest demonstration since the 2011 uprising that overthrew Mursi's predecessor, Hosni Mubarak.

"The people want the fall of the regime!" they shouted, echoing the Arab Spring rallying cry that brought down Mubarak - this time yelling it not against an ageing dictator but against the first elected leader in Egypt's 5,000-year recorded history.

Huge protest rallies continued late into the night in a mostly festive atmosphere.

While the main protests were peaceful, five people were shot dead in clashes in the Nile valley towns of Assiut and Beni Suef and the oasis town of Fayoum. The Health Ministry said more than 200 were injured in clashes in several provincial towns.

A military source said as many as 14 million people in this nation of 84 million took part in Sunday's demonstrations in sweltering heat. There was no independent way to verify that estimate, which seemed implausibly high, but the armed forces used helicopters to monitor the crowds.

Many demonstrators bellowed their anger at the Brotherhood, which they accuse of hijacking Egypt's revolution and using electoral victories to monopolize power and impose Islamic law.

Others, including some who said they had voted for Mursi, have been alienated by a deepening economic crisis and worsening personal security, aggravated by a political deadlock over which he has presided.

The veteran leaders of Egypt's secular, liberal and left-wing opposition, including former chief of the U.N. nuclear watchdog Mohamed ElBaradei and leftist presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi, joined protest marches in Cairo.

Hundreds of thousands of protesters marched through the Mediterranean port of Alexandria, Egypt's second city, and large protests were reported in at least 20 towns around the country.
Once the sun went down, the number of protesters grew even further. In Cairo and Alexandria, people threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at Muslim Brotherhood offices. Throughout the weekend, those numbers were offset somewhat by pro-Morsi counterdemonstrators wearing hardhats and brandishing sticks.

Before the weekend's demonstrations, the opposition had gathered an estimated 22 million signatures calling for Morsi's ouster. The buildings housing the petition signatures and opposition party headquarters were attacked by arsonists earlier this month, although the signatures were unharmed.

Earlier in the week, a 21 year old American identified as Andrew Pochter was stabbed to death as he was watching an anti-government demonstration in Alexandria. Pochter's family said that he was in Egypt to teach English to children and was to attend Kenyon College in Ohio later on this year.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Today's Train of Thought- The Lake Show, June 29th, 2013

Today's train of thought takes us to Michigan's lower peninsula and gives us a glimpse of one of the few remaining independent regionals in the state.

Operating some 400 miles of track entirely within the state of Michigan, the Great Lakes Central is a fairly recent addition to the shortlines that operate within the wolverine state. In 2006, the Tuscola and Saginaw Bay railway- which was a cluster of former Ann Arbor, New York Central, Grand Trunk Western and Chesapeake & Ohio lines from Ann Arbor, MI to Petoskey, MI- was purchased by Federated Railways, Inc and renamed the Great Lakes Central. While the line has ambitions to operate a commuter rail service in the Ann Arbor area, like most regionals and shortlines, the focus remains on freight.

Traffic for the Great Lakes Central includes plastics, chemicals, coke, lumber, sand, fertilizer, cement and grain and the line interchanges with the Canadian National, Norfolk Southern, CSX, Mid Michigan Rail, Genesee and Wyoming's Huron and Eastern and WATCO's Ann Arbor. Motive power for the Great Lakes Central includes a half dozen former Conrail GP38-2s as well as ten former Tuscola and Saginaw Bay (nee Ann Arbor) GP35s- some of them with ALCo trucks.

Here, contributor Kyle Korionek caught GP38-2s #396 and #397 racing past a venerable grain elevator in downtown Cohoctah, MI on a sunny August 2012 afternoon with an Ann Arbor-bound mixed freight. The train has just finished up doing some interchange work with the Huron & Eastern at Owosso and Canadian National at Durand.

Friday, June 28, 2013

One Man's Trash Fish Is Another Man's Dinner- Fishermen and Restaurants Look to Fish Once Considered Undesirable

A face only a mother could love- and even then, that's kinda iffy. Monkfish- also known as known as goosefish- apparently tastes better than it looks.-Photo courtesy of Katrinshine
With new regulations set to cripple New England's traditional commercial fishing industry, an unlikely group of fishermen, environmentalists and restaurateurs are attempting to come up with new concepts to keep fishermen working and seafood on the menu as limits are placed on cod and haddock.

One such solution is the marketing of 'trash' fish- fish that was once considered a nuisance and undesirable by fishermen- to consumers throughout the east coast.

Most people have only ever seen a scorpion fish in an aquarium. Unless they dine at Carolina Crossroads Restaurant in Chapel Hill, N.C., where they’ll find the spiny, venomous creature on the menu.

It’s called trash fish dining, and it’s catching on with chefs around the country searching for fresh ways to fill their menus with sustainable — and delicious — seafood.

“The fishermen would be like, ‘This is all trash, junk,’ but I said, ‘I’ll pay fair price for it if you’ll bring it back to the dock,’” says James Clark, the restaurant’s executive chef. “Eat some butter-poached scorpion fish and you’ll swear it’s lobster.”

Chefs such as Clark go beyond the usual recommendation to eat small, lower-food-chain fish like sardines, and instead delve full force into little-known local catches that many anglers regard as nuisance or “trash” fish. Clark’s menu also offers triggerfish, drum, white grunt and other obscure species.

Meanwhile, New Haven, Conn., sushi restaurant Miya’s features invasive species such as shore crabs and moon snails. At San Francisco’s Incanto, chef Chris Cosentino serves sea slug, tuna spines and roasted fish heads. And at Arrows restaurant in Ogunquit, Maine, award-winning chefs Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier built a “Trash Fish Dinner” around whiting, mackerel and other less desirable species.

Besides introducing the public to lesser-known fish, these top chefs also are promoting a broader concept of how to eat sustainably from the ocean, a concept that conservation experts say could help secure the world’s seafood supply. Just three fish — shrimp, canned tuna and salmon — account for more than half of all U.S. seafood consumption, according to the trade association the National Fisheries Institute.
The 'trash fish' offerings have proven popular with a number of customers, although there is some re-branding involved. For instance, slimehead becomes orange roughy or the Atlantic goosefish becomes monkfish to make it sound more palatable to potential consumers.

Invasive species like the Asian Carp along the Mississippi River are getting similar treatment. Although there isn't much market for the carp in the Midwest, the state of Illinois signed into a contract with China to sell 30 million pounds of carp the Chinese back in 2010. Although there is carp available in China, the rivers there are notoriously polluted. The carp from the Illinois and Missisiippi Rivers, however, are marketed as fresh and clean offerings for upscale Chinese restaurants

Sports Chowdah Update- Former Patriots TE Aaron Hernandez Arrested, Charged With Murder; Red Sox Kick Wang Around; What's Up Doc? Blockbuster Trades By C's Wipe Away Any Trace of Big 3 Era as Rivers Flows West

PATRIOTS- Former Patriots TE Aaron Hernandez was arrested on charges of murder this week after the body of an acquaintance was found less than a mile away from his N. Attleboro, MA home. I say 'former' because the Patriots cut him within two hours of his arrest on Wednesday afternoon.

The prosecution alleges that Hernandez orchestrated the murder of 27 year old Odin Lloyd during the overnight hours of June 16th and June 17th. Lloyd, a semipro linebacker with the Boston Bandits, had been dating the sister of Hernandez's fiancée at the time of the murder.

According to investigators, after seeing Odin talking to a some people at a Boston nightclub who earlier had a falling out with Hernandez, the tight end summoned two friends from Connecticut. After texting Lloyd, Hernandez and two accomplices arrive at Lloyd's house around 2:30 AM. Lloyd's sister sees him get into a silver Altima and receives a final text message from him at 3:23 AM- around the same time a silver Altima that Hernandez had rented is seen on a security camera driving into a secluded area of an industrial park less than a mile from Hernandez's home. Shortly before 3:30 workers at a nearby business report hearing the sound of gunshots.

The following day, Hernandez returns the Altima to the rental agency and asks for another vehicle, after the driver's side mirror is damaged. Hernandez claims he doesn't know how it happened while getting another vehicle. After Hernandez leaves, the attendant finds a spent shell casing from a .45 pistol. Later that day, Odin's body is discovered at an area where sand and gravel are stockpiled at the North Attleboro industrial park.

A subsequent search of the Hernandez's apartment turned up a clip from a .45 semiautomatic. Investigators also learned that Hernandez's cell phone and home security system were destroyed (likely deliberately) shortly after Lloyd's slaying and the tight end hired housekeepers to scrub his mansion after the slaying.

In addition to Hernandez, police have arrested three suspected accomplices in Florida and Hernandez's hometown of Bristol, CT this week. All of them are facing extradition to Massachusetts to stand trial for their role in Lloyd's murder and Hernandez was denied bail after being deemed a flight risk.

The Bristol County Sheriff also said that police are looking into Hernandez's alleged involvement in a 2012 double slaying in South Boston and that Lloyd may have been killed because Hernandez thought he knew too much.

A civil-suit alleging that Aaron Hernandez shot a man in the face outside a Miami nightclub was filed in a Florida federal court last week as well. Meanwhile, the Patriots announced that they would offer a free jersey exchange to fans who had purchased a Hernandez #81 jersey at the team's shop in Gillette Stadium or through the team's website.

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
RED SOX- After completing a sweep of the brief two game series against Colorado- including Tuesday night's outing where the Red Sox notched 20 hits in their 11-4 win- the Red Sox had a chance to add to their lead in the AL East and cool off the torrid Blue Jays, who had won 17 of their last 22 games in June to put them within striking distance of the AL East lead [although still dead last- NANESB!]. The last time Toronto starter Chen-Ming Wang faced the Red Sox was four years ago while wearing pinstripes, and he lost to knuckleballer Time Wakefield in the Bronx.

Although Wang would get through the first inning without allowing a hit, the wheels came off in the second inning when he allowed 7 runs in just ⅔ of an inning. Dustin Pedroia's two out, two run homer knocked Wang out of the game. With plenty of run support early on, Lester seemed to be cruising along- although he gave up a 2-RBI double to Maicer Izturis in the top of the 5th and allowed two singles to lead off the top of the 8th where the runners eventually came home when Jinuchi Tazawa gave up a sac-fly to Jose Reyes and an RBI groundout to Jose Bautista to make it 7-4. That would be the final, though, as Koji Uehara came in for his second straight save- and like Wednesday's afternoon game against the Rockies, he got all three batters he faced out in order.

Lester went seven complete innings and improves to 8-4 after struggling mightily while Toronto falls back to .500 with the loss. The 7-run second inning was enough for Boston and Dustin Pedroia led the scoring by going 1-2 with a homer and 2 RBI. Lester threw a total of 94 pitches and the seven innings was his longest outing of the season so far. Game two of the four game weekend series will get underway from Fenway Friday night at 7:10 ET. The pitching matchup will feature Allen Webster [0-2; 11.25 ERA] against Toronto's Josh Johnson [1-2; 4.60 ERA] and the game will be televised by NESN.

OTHER SOX NEWS- The Red Sox selected New Castle, IN high school pitcher Trey Ball as their first overall draft pick in the 2013 MLB draft. The 6'6" left from the Hoosier State is the highest selection for Boston since the 1993 pick of outfielder Trot Nixon.

BOSTON CELTICS- Shortly after the NBA approved of an unorthodox trade that sent head coach Doc Rivers to the LA Clippers for a first round pick in the 2015 NBA draft, Celtics GM Danny Ainge orchestrated a blockbuster deal that sent two-thirds of the Big Three to Brooklyn in exchange for Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, Reggie Evans, Kris Joseph, a signed-and-traded Keith Bogans and first round picks in the 2014, 2016 and 2018 draft- plus the right to trade up if the Nets' pick is higher than Boston's in 2017. The Nets will be getting Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce- the longest tenured member of the Celtics. Garnett apparently had to waive his no-trade clause for the deal to go through and have the Nets agree to take on his entire salary through the 2014-2015 season.

The trade was foreshadowed by weeks of on-again/off-again talks between the Celtics and Clippers over Doc's exit from Beantown and landing on the west coast. The Celtics are still on the hook for the final three years and $21 million of his contract. In addition to head coach, Doc was also named vice-president of basketball operations- a position that would give him a greater say in the front office.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

White House Makes War on Coal Official

Front end loader at work at the Jellico Branch National Coal loadout in Turley, TN in June 2009. BA Harrison photo
Well- at least Obama is following through on one of his campaign promises from 2008-

In a speech at Georgetown University this week, President Obama outlined plans to bypass congress and implement strict new emissions regulations on new and existing power plants throughout the USA. The proposals include shutting down the remaining coal plants in the USA through regulatory fiat and freeing up an estimated $8 billion in guaranteed loans to startup green-energy firms [such as Solyndra, Spectra-Watt or Evergreen solar- all of whom filed for bankruptcy or shipped production offshore- NANESB!].

The speech was basically a big middle finger to coal country and energy-producing states like Texas, North Dakota or Oklahoma. Senator Joe Manchin (D- WV) said that the President's proposals were essentially a declaration of war on the American economy in an interview after Obama's Georgetown address.

Similar proposals- such as a cap and trade system- couldn't make it through a House and Senate controlled by the Democrats in Obama's first term, which was why the President announced his intention to bypass congress with these new regulations.

The speech comes less than a year after the media and supporters of President Obama laughably denied that President Obama was even waging a War on Coal or that GOP candidate Mitt Romney would be more harmful than Obama for the coal industry. However, now that Obama has secured a second term, White House officials can openly declare "a war on coal is exactly what's needed" without having to worry about any immediate electoral consequences.

In recent years, the coal industry has been besieged by competition from oil and natural gas while simultaneously being targeted from the left by well funded and politically connected environmental groups. Although coal is also used in the steelmaking and cement making processes, roughly 40% of the electricity generated in the USA comes from coal-fired power plants. Metallurgic coal is also exported to China, South Korea and Europe for steelmaking there, proposed coal export terminals have been facing increased political opposition in the Pacific Northwest. In the traditionally coal-centered economies of western Pennsylvania, West Virginia and eastern Ohio, natural gas drilling in the Marcellus and Utica shales [along with the EPA's previous regulatory burden- NANESB!] has brought more pressure on the coal industry there.

While the Administration's focus on crippling the coal industry may have seemed to benefit the oil and natural gas industries at first blush, Obama also weighed in on the Keystone XL pipeline during his Georgetown speech, saying that the project wouldn't be approved if he determined that it increased carbon emissions. Backers of the pipeline cite a State Department finding from earlier this year transporting the oil sands from Canada by pipeline would emit less greenhouse gases than shipping it by rail.

Unlike President Obama's vaunted 'green jobs', hiring has been brisk around the oilfields in North Dakota and western Texas in recent years and parts of western and central Pennsylvania have seen economic growth due to exploration and drilling activities around the Marcellus shale.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Today's Train of Thought- Hop, Chip and a Jump; June 26th 2013

Today's Train of Thought takes us to the Tarheel State and gives us a glimpse of the appropriately-named Coastal Carolina railroad. The 142 mile line started out modestly in 1989, operating some 17 miles of a former Norfolk Southern branch between Pinetown and Bellhaven, NC.

The Coastal Carolina expanded considerably in 2007 by leasing the original Norfolk Southern line between Plymouth and Raleigh, NC with the yard at Chocowinty, NC serving as a hub. Traffic includes grain, plastics, woodchips, ethanol, stone, fertilizer, paper products, LPG and feed. To accommodate this massive expansion, the Coastal Carolina purchased an array of secondhand power, including former Grand Trunk Western GP9s, a Duluth Missabe & Iron Range SD9M, a former Illinois Central GP11 and ex-Santa Fe GP30s.

Here, contributor Nick McLean caught Coastal Carolina GP40 #95 with a cut of wood chip hopper cars that dwarf the locomotive as it heads out across the Pamlico River in Washington, NC in April 2010 with Coastal Carolina train 119 [and the trestle in turn seems to dwarf the train- NANESB!].

Train 119 no doubt has some work to do between on its run between Chocowinty to Plymouth. The lead unit started out life in 1966 and strutted its stuff for several years not too far from where McLean snapped these photos of the impressive span- the #95 was actually built for CSX predecessor Seaboard Coast Line. However, Coastal Carolina purchased the venerable EMD from the Mississippi Export rail and hastily relettered it before putting it into service.

The Coastal Carolina line through Washington hugs the banks of the Pamlico (at this point its almost considered Pamlico sound) before crossing over. The bridge was part of the original Norfolk Southern and still had a bridgetender to manually open and close the bridge and inspect the train as it rolls past at a leisurely 10 MPH.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Sports Chowdah Update- Boston Ruins, Chicago Clinches Stanley Cup With Pair of Late Goals; Tigers Motor Past Sox in 4-Game Series

AP Photo/Elise Amendola
STANLEY CUP FINALS- A lot can happen in 17 seconds. On Monday night at the TD Garden, a defensive collapse in the span of 17 seconds decided the outcome of the Stanley Cup finals.

The Bruins came into Monday Night's Game 6 losing their last two games and needing a win to force a Game 7 in Chicago on Wednesday night. Game six seemingly got off to a good start with the Bruins pressing the Chicago defense, with Boston outshooting the Blackhawks 12-6 in the first period. Chris Kelly got the Bruins on the board in the first with a goal at the 7:19 mark.

The Blackhawks started out the second period much stronger and Jonathan Toews got Chicago on the board at the 4:24 mark with an unassisted tally.

It wasn't until there was 7:49 remaining in regulation that the Bruins managed to break the deadlock thanks to a Milan Lucic goal, putting Boston up 2-1 with the clock ticking down. With less than two minutes to go, it appeared as though the series was headed to a Game 7 in Chicago's United Center. The Blackhawks pulled the Corey Crawford- a move that seldom pays off- with less than 90 seconds to go. In this case, it didn't pay off because Crawford was barely on the bench when Bryan Bicknell got one past Tukka Rask to tie the game up with 1:16 to go in regulation, deflating the crowd at the TD Garden. All of 17 seconds later, Rask was caught out of position and Dave Bolland managed to find the back of the net, essentially putting the dagger in any hopes for even an OT to force game 7.

So as Chicago celebrates their second Stanley Cup in three seasons, the Bruins are left to contemplate a monumental collapse in the final minute of a do-or-die championship game.

Chicago goes on to win by a final of 3-2 and win the series 4 games to two to hoist the Stanley Cup at the Garden on Monday night. Patrick Kane, who was also on the 2010 Stanley Cup Champion squad, was awarded the Conn Smyth trophy [The NHL's award for playoff MVP- teammate Jonathan Toews received the honor in 2010- NANESB!]. Corey Crawford stopped 23 of the 25 shots he faced in Game 6 while Rask turned aside 28 of the 31 shots he faced, but none so critical as the ones allowed in the final 90 seconds of regulation. Instead of a Game 7 on Wednesday, a parade for the triumphant Blackhawks is scheduled for Chicago's loop on Friday.

Meanwhile, after a lockout-shortened season, its back to the drawing board for the Bruins (and everybody else for that matter) with the start of a much longer 2013-2014 campaign looming around the corner versus a months-long lockout and a season that never happened.

RED SOX- After getting off to a promising start last week by sweeping a day/night doubleheader with the Rays, Boston took to the road for what turned out to be a disappointing road trip against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park.

On Thursday's opener, Lackey gave up all of two runs in his seven innings of work, and altho the Red Sox would take the 3-2 lead on a Big Papi RBI single in the top of the 8th, only to have the Tigers win on a walk-off Jhonny Peralta 2 run homer in the bottom of the 9th.

Boston cruised to a fairly easy 10-6 win on Friday night thanks to Shane Victorino's 5 RBIs. However with Clay Buchholz going onto the DL last week, on Saturday baseball was denied a Buchholz [9-0] vs Max Scherzer [10-0] matchup and instead the Tigers set the tone early as Victor Martinez put Detroit on the board with a grand slam in the 1st inning in what would be a 10-3 rout for Detroit.

On Sunday, the Red Sox had a chance for the series split after taking a 4-3 lead into the 7th, but the Tigers tied it up after Andrew Miller brought home the tying run on a bases loaded hit-by-pitch to Peralta. In the bottom of the 8th, the Tigers would take the lead thanks to a Torii Hunter sac fly and 2-RBI single from Prince Fielder to make it 7-4. Although the Red Sox would get a run back in the 9th thanks to a Gomes RBI double with two away, it was too little too late as Detroit goes on to win by a 7-5 final.

The Red Sox will return to Fenway on Tuesday night for their second interleague series at home, a quick two game homestand against the Colorado Rockies, who are tied with the San Diego Padres for second place in the NL West. Ryan Dempster [4-8; 4.23 ERA] will get the start against Colorado's Juan Nicasio [4-3; 4.78 ERA]. First pitch is scheduled for 7:10 PM and the game will be televised on NESN.

OTHER RED SOX NEWS- The Red Sox have traded infielder Pedro Ciriaco to the San Diego Padres for a player to be names later. Although the speedy utility player had a paltry .216 batting average in 28 games with Boston this year, Ciriaco is batting .333 with four stolen bases and four RBI in 11 games with San Diego so far this season.

Clay Buchholz has been places on the 15 day DL retroactively, starting June 9th. Buchholz has been sidelined since the first week of this month with shoulder and neck discomfort and is expected to throw in the bullpen starting on Wednesday. If the bullpen sessions go well, the Red Sox will likely have him pitch for one of their minor league affiliates before coming back on the Boston roster.

Meanwhile, C David Ross has been placed on the 60 day DL with concussion-like symptoms and the Red Sox sent 3B Will Middlebrooks down to Triple A Pawtucket.

ELSEWHERE IN THE AL EAST- The Red Sox aren't the only AL East team suffering from a rash of injuries. Although they came out of spring training expecting to miss a number of starters through mid-season, but instead of healing, even more starters have been placed on the DL.

The latest is former Red Sox 3B Kevin Youkilis, who missed most of May with a lumbar spine strain and returned to the lineup for a few weeks before complaining of discomfort again during the Yankees west coast road trip last month. After being examined by a specialist, the Yankees announced that Youk will require surgery and will miss anywhere from 10 to 12 weeks to recover.

Perennial All-Star SS Derek Jeter was expected to return around the All Star break, but that timetable has been moved back. Both outfielder Curtis Granderson and 1B Mark Texiera returned from the DL only to return after apparently re-aggravating their injuries a few weeks apart from each other.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS- Somebody break up the Blue Jays!

After being mostly a non-factor in the American League East this season, the Blue Jays put together a franchise-best 11 game winning streak and 15 of their last 19 to put them back within striking distance of the AL East lead. Although they lost to the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday, the Jays are within five games of first place.

The resurgent Jays will travel to Fenway to face the Red Sox once Boston finishes their two game series against Colorado.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Flooding in Southern Alberta Forces Evacuation Multpile Cities, Kills Three

Floodwaters that were responsible for the deaths of at least three people made their way into the heart of Alberta's largest city, forcing the evacuation of at least 75,000 people from their homes over the weekend.
In downtown Calgary, water was inundating homes and businesses in the shadow of skyscrapers. Water has swamped cars and train tracks.

The city said the home rink of the National Hockey League's Calgary Flames flooded and the water inside was 10 rows deep. That would mean the dressing rooms are likely submerged as well.

"I think that really paints a very clear picture of what kinds of volumes of water we are dealing with," said Trevor Daroux, the city's deputy police chief.

At the grounds for the world-famous Calgary Stampede fair, water reached up to the roofs of the chuck wagon barns. The popular rodeo and festival is the city's signature event. Mayor Nenshi said it will occur no matter what.

About 1,500 have gone to emergency shelters while the rest have found shelter with family or friends, Nenshi said.

The flood was forcing emergency plans at the Calgary Zoo, which is situated on an island near where the Elbow and Bow rivers meet. Lions and tigers were being prepared for transfer, if necessary, to prisoner holding cells at the courthouse.

Schools and court trials were canceled Friday and residents urged to avoid downtown. Transit service in the core was shut down.

Alberta Premier Alison Redford warned that communities downstream of Calgary had not yet felt the full force of the floodwaters.
Officials estimate that as many as 350,000 people work in downtown Calgary on any given weekday, but that was not a problem on Friday as most residents and commuters heeded official warnings about travelling to downtown Calgary.
To the southeast, authorities have ordered the evacuation of more than 10,000 residents of low-lying areas around Medicine Hat, AB. Water from the Bow River flows into the South Saskatchewan River, which bisects the town of about 60,000.

The flooding has also affected a number of Indian reservations (called First Nations Communities in Canada) to the south and east of Calgary and residents have been advised to boil tapwater before using it. Nearby schools are closed until further notice as many of them are being used to shelter evacuees.

The Canadian military was activated to help with flood control and evacuation in the province. Canadian Prime minister Stephen Harper, a Calgary resident himself, viewed the damage from above via helicopter.

To the west, the flooding had knocked Canadian Pacific's transcontinental mainline out of commission between Banff and Calgary, leaving some CP freight trains stranded in Alberta or British Columbia as the railroad negotiates with Canadian National and other carriers to accommodate detour traffic. Additional damage, including a washed out bridge, has been reported on CP's Crowsnest subdivision further south.

With a population of one million, Calgary is the largest city in Alberta and fifth largest metropolitan area in Canada. The TransCanada Highway and Canadian Pacific's transcontinental mainline both pass through the city. The city is probably best known as an energy and agricultural hub for western Canada and home of the Calgary Stampede- a 10 day rodeo and exhibition held every July in the city [Organizers of this year's Stampede have announced that the event will go on as planned, despite there being less than two weeks from the scheduled start- NANESB!] Calgary hosted the 1988 winter Olympics and is the home of the NHL's Calgary Flames as well as the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League and Calgary Hitmen of the WHL.

While much of the drilling and refining takes place elsewhere in the province, Calgary has been an administrative center for the oil and natural gas companies operating in western Canada since the 1970s- more than 80% of the gas companies operating in Canada are based out of Calgary. In 1996, the Canadian Pacific Railway relocated their headquarters from Montreal to Calgary.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Blue State Graft Watch- Jesse Jackson Jr Hoping For Reduced Sentence, Claiming Mental Illness

Lawyers for former Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr are hoping for a reduced sentence, claiming that he won't obtain the treatment he reportedly needs for his alleged bipolar disorder.
Federal prosecutors want Jackson to be sentenced to four years in prison.

According to the new memorandum, two psychiatrists who have treated Jackson, 48, for mental health problems have written letters to the court on his behalf. But the memorandum does not name the doctors nor make public their letters. New are representations from Jackson's lawyers about the psychiatrists' views and Jackson's condition.
Similar defenses were used by the lawyers for former Illinois governors George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich. The previous two governors of Illinois are currently in prison on charges of extortion, racketeering and fraud.

While still in office, Jesse Jackson Jr spent several months at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota undergoing treatment for what he claimed was 'exhaustion' starting in June 2012. Despite not being in office for several months, Jackson handily won re-election in his south Chicago Congressional district. Critics note that Jackson's 'mental health' problems weren't documented until a federal investigation into misappropriation of campaign funds began.

In late February, Jackson and his wife- Chicago alderwoman Sandra Stevens Jackson- pleaded guilty to mail fraud, wire fraud and making false statements. Sandra Jackson resigned from her office in late January. Prosecutors have accused the two of using nearly $750,000 in embezzled campaign funds for a number of personal purchases and home renovations. Items purchased included furs, a $43,000 Rolex as well as Bruce Lee, Jimi Hendrix and Michael Jackson memorabilia and plane tickets for Jackson's mistress, Giovana Huidboro.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Today's Train of Thought- Pins and Needles, June 21st, 2013

Today's train of though takes us to the California high desert just west of the Colorado River town of Needles.

Between the Los Angeles Basin and Albuquerque, NM, the fabled Route 66 paralleled the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe's transcontinental mainline, which to this day covers a lot of rugged and sparsely populated territory. From there, both the Santa Fe and Route 66 took dramatically different routes between New Mexico and Chicago- with the Santa Fe going through Colorado and western Kansas and the 66 swinging northeast past Oklahoma City and through the Ozarks on its way to St Louis and Chicago.

With a number of songs and even a TV show written in its honor, Route 66- sometimes known as the Mother Road or Main Street of America- began falling into decline with the completion of the parallel Interstate 40. While decommissioned as a US Highway in 1985, several states mark the former Main Street of America with 'Historic Route 66' markers along the way. Other stretches of the former Route 66 being re-branded state highway 66 in places like Kansas, California,  Missouri, Arizona or Oklahoma.

But as Route 66 fell into decline, the Santa Fe mainline remained an important gateway into and out of the state of California- even after the BNSF merger. The remote nature of the Mojave Desert in California also meant that the Santa Fe had to bring in water to remote towns such as Amboy or Cadiz by tank car- a practice that reportedly continues to this day under BNSF.

The concentration of military facilities around Barstow, CA (the US Army's Fort Irwin, Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow and Edwards Air Force Base) also means that both the BNSF and Union Pacific [via their Salt Lake City- Barstow line- NANESB!] frequently run trains consisting of nothing but military equipment from bases all across the nation destined for the military facilities in the California desert.

Here, contributor Drew Mitchem caught BNSF C44-9W #4955 as it leads a westbound extra consisting of Humvees, trailers, generators, trucks, earthmovers and MRAPs on flatcars as it climbs its way out the Colorado River Valley on Feb 25th, 2012.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Colorado Democrats Facing Recall Over Gun Control Votes

In a first for the state of Colorado, State Senate president John Morse will face a recall after challengers submitted more than 10,000 signatures- more than enough to trigger a recall of a sitting state Senator under Colorado law.

The challenge was mounted by gun rights advocates after the Colorado Springs Democrat voted in favor of new gun control measures that were signed into law by Gov John Hickenlooper earlier this year.
Secretary of State Scott Gessler said the El Paso Freedom Defense Committee had gathered 10,137 valid signatures, well in excess of the 7,178 needed to qualify for the recall ballot. The recall committee submitted more than 16,000 signatures two weeks ago.

The recall has drawn national attention as a referendum on gun control in the aftermath of two mass shootings last year in Connecticut and Colorado.

Mr. Morse, a Colorado Springs Democrat, released a statement Monday on his Facebook page asking for out-of-state help from those in traditionally liberal cities to help fight the recall effort.

“We can get phone lists to you and things like that and have you help from Boston, Massachusetts, or San Francisco, California,” said Mr. Morse in a video message. “So thanks for all that you’ve done and thanks for all that you’re going to do as we move forward to take on this tiger.”

Mr. Morse has 15 days to challenge the signatures, but if his protest fails, the governor will be charged with setting a recall election date between 45 and 75 days from the end of the protest period.

Mr. Morse could also avoid a recall fight by resigning his seat, which would permit a Democratic vacancy committee to appoint a successor. Democrats control both houses of the state Legislature.
While Morse may be the highest ranking Democrat to face recall due to the state's new gun laws, he isn't alone. Organizers have turned in what they hope will be enough signatures to mount a challenge against another Democrat- state Senator Angela Giron from Pueblo.

Shortly before the deadline, a number of people holding signs supporting Giron were videotaped receiving cash from an individual circulating among the crowd before talking to Giron herself. The Giron campaign denied any knowledge of the payments or the individual and accused the recall petitioners of a 'setup'. However after video was played on an NBC affiliate in Denver, the money man was identified as 72 year old Gerald Rosenblatt of Colorado Springs- and a donor to Giron's group, Pueblo United for Angela.

Colorado was one of the few states outside the northeast to enact new gun control laws in the wake of the Sandy Hook school massacre in Newtown, CT or the Aurora, CO theater shooting. Shortly after its passage, most of Colorado's county sheriff's filed a lawsuit seeking to block the laws from going into effect saying many of the provisions are unenforceable and enforcing compliance would divert money and manpower that was sorely lacking.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Doubleheader Sports Chowdah Update- Rask Shines in Game 3; Double Trouble- Ortiz, Doubront Stand Out Seperately in Sweep of Fenway Doubleheader

Harry How/Getty Images
STANLEY CUP FINALS- With the series heading to Boston for Game 3, the Bruins looked to build on some of the momentum they picked up from their overtime win in Chicago on Saturday night- despite the lackluster first period in which they were outshot 19-4.

Even before the puck dropped for Game 3 on Monday, the Bruins got an unexpected assist in the form of Chicago head coach Joel Quinnville scratching forward Marian Hossa from the lineup.

All the scoring for this one took place in the second period, and- fortunately- it was all Boston. Fresh from scoring the overtime game winning goal in Game 2, Danny Paille got the Bruins on the board just over two minutes into the second frame.

Then, with 5:55 remaining in the period, the Bruins got their second power play goal of the series thanks to Patrice Bergeron, with Jarg and Chara getting the assists. Time had just expired on a 5 on 3 man advantage for the Bruins [interestingly, the Bruin's penalty kill unit successfully killed a 5 on 3 penalty for 1:17 against Chicago for Game 1- NANESB!]. While the Blackhawks managed to pressure Rask and the Boston D much more effectively (including a shorthanded opportunity), Rask turned aside 10 shots on goal in the 3rd period, including this one from Andrew Shaw from point blank range on a Blackhawks power play in the 3rd. Boston goes on to win by a final of 2-0 and takes a 2-1 series lead against Chicago. Tukka Rask turned aside all 28 shots faced while Chicago's Corey Crawford stopped 33 of 35 faced on Monday night. The Bruins will look to take a commanding 3 game lead over Chicago tomorrow night. Game 4 will get underway from Boston on Wednesday night at 8:00 ET and will be televised on NBC and CBC.

AP Photo/Elise Amendola
RED SOX- With Baltimore taking three out of four games from Boston over the weekend series at Camden Yard, the Red Sox returned to Fenway on Tuesday for another divisional matchup on Tuesday- a day/night doubleheader against the Rays. Game one was the makeup date for the April 18th game that was rained out at Fenway. In a bit of irony, Tuesday's makeup game was delayed for nearly 3 hours by.....wait for it........rain.

In Game 1, Dustin Pedroia got the Red Sox on the board in the 1st inning with a sac fly. Big Papi got it done for Boston in Game 1 with singles, including a 2-RBI single to make it 3-1 Boston in the bottom of the 3rd. Ortiz then drove home Victorino with an RBI single in the bottom of the 5th to make it 4-1 before the skies really opened up.

When play resumed nearly three hours later, Junichi Tazawa came on in relief of starter Alfredo Aceves and retired the side. In the bottom of the 6th, Jacoby Ellsbury had a 2-out triple and came home on a Victornio triple to make it 5-1 Red Sox- that would end up being the final for Game 1.
While Game 2 starter Felix Doubront has a winning record, his high ERA was cause for some concern amongst Red Sox faithful. Daniel Nava got the scoring started pretty early for Boston with a solo homer that landed in the Red Sox bullpen in the bottom of the 2nd. Doubront, as it turned out, pitched a gem for Game 2, going 8 complete innings- his longest outing of the season- while giving up three hits and walking six batters. Unfortunately, Doubront would not get a decision as Andrew Bailey would come out of the bullpen and give up a solo homer to Rays LF Kelly Johnson to tie the contest up at 1-1. Johnson was he first batter Bailey faced in the 9th, but he would get the next two batters out before walking Ben Zobrist and getting Evan Longoria to ground into a fielder's choice. With the game tied at 1-1, the Rays sent Joel Peralta out to try and get the game into extras. That wasn't meant to be as after walking Nava to open up the inning, he had to face former Ray Johnny Gomes, setting up this.

The Red Sox win it by a 3-1 final thanks to Gomes' walkoff two run blast in the bottom of the 9th. The win gives the Red Sox the sweep of the doubleheader and gives them some breathing room against the O's, who handily beat Detroit on Tuesday.

Wednesday's game will have the Rays' Jeremy Hellickson [4-3; 5.67 ERA] go up against Ryan Dempster [4-7; 4.21 ERA]. First pitch is scheduled for 7:10 ET and the game will be televised on NESN.

Today's Train of Thought- Stopping Power- June 18th, 2013

Today's train of thought takes us to rural northern Louisiana and a railroad town that's better known for being the end of the line for an infamous duo of Depression-era fugitives.

Sometimes known as the Jonquil Capital of Louisiana, Gibsland, LA is a railroad town that is perhaps best known for being where Bonnie & Clyde met their end. The duo met their end off of Louisiana Route 154 south of town when they drove into an ambush set up by Texas and Louisiana lawmen in May 1934. In town, a museum commemorating the ambush that ended Bonnie & Clyde's interstate crime spree was opened by the son of one of the posse members was part of the manhunt that took down Parker and Barrow.

No less than three railroads made themselves at home in Gibsland as well. The east-west line through town belonged to the Illinois Central until the mid 1980s, when successor Illinois Central Gulf spun off lines from Iowa to Louisiana in order to focus on its primary Chicago-New Orleans line.

This included the 1986 formation of MidSouth Rail, which ran from Shreveport, LA to Meridian, MS by way of Vicksburg and Jackson, MS. Within a year of MidSouth's formation, they would acquire a controlling interest in the North Louisiana & Gulf logging railway, a shortline formed in 1901 that ran between Hodge, LA and Gibsland where it would interchange with either the Illinois Central or Louisiana & Northwest- another independent shortline.

By 1994, the Kansas City Southern would acquire the MidSouth, seeing it as a key asset for establishing what would be known as the Meridian Speedway- a strategically located rail line that would link Dallas with Atlanta thanks to cooperation between the KCS and Norfolk Southern.

As KCS continued expansion through the deep south, Texas and Mexico, the Class 1 carrier became less interested in some of the marginal branchlines that were included in the MidSouth acquisition. This included the former NL&G line between Hodge and Gibsland and in 2005, KCS announced they were leasing the line to Kansas-based WATCO (along with other branches in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Mississippi).

In the summer of 2005, WATCO began operations on the somewhat deceptively-named Louisiana Southern [the entire line is located in the northern part of Louisiana- NANESB!], which continues to haul logs, paper and forestry products along the Hodge line.

Three years later, the previously independent Louisiana & Northwest would be acquired by Patriot Rail- which to this day operated between Gibsland and McNeil, AR some 70 miles north.

Here, contributor James Jackson caught WAMX GP50 #5005 thumping across the KCS diamond at Gibsland with a cut of woodchip hoppers for WATCO's Louisiana Southern on May 12, 2006. The lead and trailing units are still in Union Pacific yellow, but the bell on the nose of #5005 indicates that this unit started out life on the Chicago & Northwestern. The middle unit is a former CSX GP38 borrowed from Locomotive Leasing Partners (LLPX)- the unit actually did wear orange during its later days on CSX; the railway set aside a number of older GEs and EMDs for dedicated Maintenance of Way service and would paint them orange.

Once the train clears the KCS line, the gate emblazoned with all the stop signs will be swung 90 degrees to block the Louisiana Southern/Louisiana & North Western line from the KCS mainline. The gate, while not designed to bring a freight train to a halt, is meant to provide a clear indicator of which line is open and which trains should yield.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Democrat National Convention Organizers Claim $500,000 Worth of Electronics Lost or Stolen Months After Charlotte Convention

Months after the Democrat National Convention in Charlotte, NC wrapped up, Convention organizers have filed a police report for lost and stolen electronics worth $465,197. The pricetag for some of the missing has raised some eyebrows and led to speculation that the monetary value of the missing electronics has been vastly overstated in an attempt to collect more than the original price of the items from the insurance company.

'How inflated could it be?' you might be asking yourself. Try $75,537 for a MacBook Pro, $54,250 for a missing Blackberry or $30,503 for a lost iPhone, according to a report filed with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department in May.
Other items reported to have gone missing at the convention included two iPads worth around $15,000 each, laptops listed at $40,000, $34,000 and $25,000 each, and other miscellaneous items worth far more than their list price.

The report claimed that 40 items were reported lost and one item – the most highly valued one, the $75,000 MacBook Pro – was stolen.

The apparently inflated prices were reported in May with the Charlotte Police Department by Kenneth Hardy, deputy in-house counsel for the Democratic National Convention Committee, on behalf of the DNCC Host Committee.

While proprietary software and programs can increase the value of a laptop, Blackberry, smartphone or tablet, companies like Apple [NASDAQ- AAPL] list items like the missing 13 inch MacBook Pro starting at $1199, the police report file by the DNCC Host Committee values the same computer at $75,537- more than a year's wage for most Americans.

The police report filing comes after Duke Energy [NYSE- DUK] announced that they had completely written off a $10 million line of credit and loans for the Charlotte DNC host committee in February.

The Charlotte host committee had repaid just $1 million as of the end of the year and still owed $9 million in loans and another $1 million in outstanding bills, according to the latest filing with the Federal Election Commission.

The financial backing from Duke comes despite vows by Democratic Party officials to put on the convention without corporate cash.

Organizers broke that pledge after they were unable to hit their $36.7-million fundraising goal, drawing $5 million from a separate civic committee financed by companies such as Bank of America, Duke Energy and AT&T to rent the the Time Warner Arena for the event.
a Duke official said that at least $6 million of the money owed to the utility would be written off as a business expense.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Stanley Cup of Sports Chowdah Update- Overtime Pays for Bruins in Game 2 of Cup Final; Red Sox Hang on For Season's First Win at Camden Yards

Charles Rex Arbogast
STANLEY CUP FINAL- Despite an additional day off after Game 1's triple overtime loss at the United Center to the Chicago Blackhawks, the Bruins appeared slow and listless against the Western Conference champs in the first period.

The Blackhawks pretty much spent much of the opening frame camped out on the Boston end of the ice and got on the board when Patrick Sharp buried one behind Rask just after a mad scramble in front of the net where Rask couldn't corral the rebound with at the 8:38 mark. Boston was outshot in the first period by a total of 19-4 and Rask did well just to keep it a one goal game. For a little bit of perspective, this would be the first time Boston had trailed in regulation since the opening period of the deciding Game 5 against the NY Rangers on May 25th.

A much different Bruins team would take to the ice for the second period and after being held scoreless for the entire playoffs, Bruins C Chris Kelly would give Boston the equalizer five minutes into the second period. In that same second period, the Bruins defense would hold the potent Chicago offense to four shots on goal.

Nothing was decided in the 3rd period, so the crowd at the United Center and viewers were treated to their second straight overtime game in the Stanley Cup finals. However, unlike Wednesday night's Game 1, this would not be a triple overtime affair. Six minutes into sudden death OT, Daniel Paille got his first goal of the series to break the deadlock.

The win sends the series off to Boston deadlocked at one game each. Tukka Rask turned aside 33 of 34 shots faced- allowing no goals after Sharp's first period tally- while Corey Crawford stopped 26 of 28 shots faced on the night. After killing a 2-man advantage for a total of 1:17 in Game one, Boston's penalty killing continues to impress, with the Blackhawks going 0-3 on the power play Saturday night. Of course, the flip side of that is that is the Bruins went 0-2 on the power play in Game two. With everything knotted up at 1-1, Game 3 will get underway on Monday night from the TD Garden at 5:00 and will be televised on the NBC Sports Network and CBC.        
Patrick Semansky- AP Photo
RED SOX- The Bruins weren't the only one going to extra-time this week. Despite jumping out to a 6-0 lead in the first inning on Monday, the Red Sox needed 14 innings to get past the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Boston took two out of three from the Rays before heading to Baltimore to start off a 4-game series against the O's. Game one went to thirteen innings, with Baltimore ultimately prevailing by a 5-4 margin. On Friday night, Ryan Dempster pitched well, but it wasn't enough as Boston was shut out by a 2-0 final. On Saturday afternoon, the O's jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead against Boston, but after a leadoff single by Dustin Pedroia in the top of the 4th and a strikeout by Big Papi, the Red Sox got on the board thanks to a Mike Carp solo homer. Johnny Gomes then singled with only one away before coming home on a Stephen Drew RBI double with two away. Iglesias grounded out to end the inning, but the damage had already been done and the Red Sox took a 3-2 lead.

In the top of the 5th, Jacoby Ellsbury would come home on a Dustin Pedroia RBI groundout to make it 4-2 Red Sox and in the top of the 6th, Johnny Gomes belted 1-out solo homer to make it 5-2 Boston and give the Sox some insurance. After pitching 7 complete innings and allowing 2 runs on 7 hits, John Lackey left the game and was replaced by Koji Uehara, who struck out the side in the bottom of the 8th. However, things didn't go so smoothly as Uehara left and Andrew Bailey came on to close out the game in the bottom of the 9th. After giving up a leadoff single to Adam (NOT Pac Man) Jones, 1B Chris Dsvis struck out, but O's catcher Matt Weiters belted a 2-run homer to make it a 1-run game. Shortstop JJ Hardy would then single and the winning run came to the plate in the form of Ryan Flaherty, but he would hit into a double play and end the ballgame, giving Boston their first win at Camden Yard on the season.

Mike Carp went 1 for 3 with a homer and two RBI while Johnny Gomes went 2-4 with a homer and an RBI in Saturday's win. Sunday's game will feature Jon Lester [6-3; 4.12 ERA] going up against Miguel Gonzalez [4-2; 3.71 ERA]. First pitch is at 1:35 ET and the game will be televised on NESN.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Happy Flag Day From Not Another New England Sports Blog!

Jeez....can't believe we're this far June (or 2013) already.

June 14th marks the occasion of Flag Day- perhaps the most underrated US holiday after Armed Forces Day (although the Army celebrates their birthday on the same Date). While President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation in 1916 that recognized June 14th as Flag Day, this didn't necessarily mean that it would be a federal holiday.

Observance of the holiday varies from state-to-state- although since 1937, Pennsylvania is the only state that has recognized it as a state holiday. Cities like Quincy, MA or Troy, NY annually hold parades to mark the holiday- but the longest running celebration of Flag Day is actually the eastern Washington town of Fairfield which has been doing it for over 100 years.

Although during colonial times, different regions identified themselves using different flags [including the Gadsden Flag and Naval Ensign and Bennington Flag- which have seen a resurgence thanks to the Tea Party- NANESB!], the rebellious colonies began using the 'Grand Old Union' banner starting in 1775. The flag at the time utilized a series of 13 red and white horizontal stripes- each stripe representing a colony- while in the upper left corner was a Union Jack (the British flag). Oddly, the Grand Old Union flag bore an uncanny resemblance to the British East India Company banner a few decades later.

By 1777, the Grand Old Union Flag was abandoned in favor of something that would be a little more familiar- thirteen white stars on a blue background in the upper left corner. The next change would come in 1795, when Vermont and Kentucky were added to the union- giving the new Republic's banner 15 stars. This would happen each time a state joined the union, with the last such change that came to the US flag was in 1959, when Alaska and Hawaii were added as the newest US states, giving it a total of 50 stars.

Despite the fact that the textile industry in the USA has been in steep decline for decades, it's still possible to get American flags (or individual state flags) that are actually made in America thanks to New Jersey-based Anin Flagmakers, which operates plants in New Jersey, Virginia and Ohio.

And if those Anin flags are fortunate and play their cards right, they will end up being proudly displayed by gorgeous, scantily clad women in a very public venue- like these two bikini-clad Team USA fans seen above, rooting for the men's national team during matches in the 2006 FIFA World Cup over in Germany.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun Guns- Female IDF Soldiers Facing Discipline After Posting Racy Images Of Themselves Online

Conduct unbecoming- or best recruitment tool EVAH! [even tho' Israel has mandatory conscription-NANESB!]??

A group of new female recruits to the Israeli Army are in trouble with their superiors after pictures of the women posing in their underwear and topless with their service rifles began circulating on the internet.

The statement did not identify the soldiers or give any details about the punishments. Military officials said the base conducted educational lectures to keep soldiers from repeating the offense.

In a statement, the military said the young women, who are reportedly new recruits stationed on a base in southern Israel, had acted in a manner that showed "unbecoming behavior" for Israeli soldiers. "The commanding officers disciplined the soldiers as they saw fitting," it said.

One picture showed the soldiers removing their fatigue uniforms to expose their underwear and back sides. In another, five women posed in what appeared to be a barracks room, dressed only in helmets and a small amount of combat equipment. The faces of the soldiers were blurred in the photos.
Well...MOST of the photos...

But just in case you thought that was the end of it, a little over a week later a video of female IDF soldiers who appeared to be practicing pole-dancing around a rifle in the barracks began circulating online.

In fact, during the 30 second clip, a voice can be heard off-camera telling the women that the video is going to be posted to Facebook [probably would've been hotter if they were using a Galil or Tavor instead on M-4, but that's just me- NANESB!].

While these incidents involving amateur Israeli pin-ups and aspiring pole-dancers in uniform (sort of) appear to be relatively harmless [except, perhaps, to the girls in question, who were likely given the IDF equivalent of an Article 15- NANESB], the conduct has raised concerns about sensitive or compromising data being transmitted to enemies via social media.

The Israeli military began drafting stricter guidelines for using social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Under the new guidelines, troops assigned to classified units wouldn't be allowed to have social networking accounts while pilots and intelligence officers wouldn't be allowed to upload pictures of themselves in uniform or mention they're soldiers on social networking sites.

Every adult in Israel is required to serve once they reach age 18- although exceptions are made for Israeli arabs and ultra-orthodox jews. For an IDF conscript, the required service time is typically three years, although a number of Israelis stay on and make a career out of serving in the Israeli military.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Today's Train of Thought- It's Miller Time! June 11, 2013

Today's Train(s) of Thought takes us to a once dormant corner of western Massachusetts. Although the Hampden County town of Palmer, MA has rightfully earned itself a reputation as a train-watcher's haven, Millers Falls in Franklin county deserves an honorable mention for hosting not one, but two resurgent railroads.

Best known for the Millers Falls Tool company, this Western Massachusetts village of about 1100 is situated at the confluence of the Millers and Connecticut River as well as Massachusetts Route 63 and the Mohawk Trail (Route 2- sometimes known locally as the French King highway). The village is also located at the crossing of what was once the Central Vermont Railroad and Boston & Maine's Fitchburg Division. The railroads that served Millers Falls, MA went into a precipitous decline starting in the late 1960s. The B&M started off the 1970s by entering bankruptcy in March 1970 and the CV's line between the Vermont-Quebec border and New London, CT had always been something of a backwater in the Canadian National system.

Along with the Maine Central and Delaware & Hudson, the somewhat resurgent Boston & Maine was brought into the Guilford fold in the early 1980s, ushering in a period marked by declining traffic, reduced salaries, deferred maintenance, layoffs, shop closures and labor strife. By 1988, Guilford abandoned any plans of operating a unified system stretching from Washington DC to northeastern Maine by declaring the Delaware & Hudson bankrupt. While the D&H would continue running with the New York, Susquehanna & Western as their designated operator for a few years, Canadian Pacific purchased the line outright in 1991. For better or worse, this left the Boston & Maine and Maine Central in the Guilford fold.

Around the same time the D&H was purchased by CP Rail, rumblings began on a possible privatization of the Canadian National Railway and its subsidiaries. Although the Central Vermont had operated as a subsidiary of the Canadian National since 1923, a newly privatized CN began looking to sell off marginal lines [even before privatization, they sold off their former Grand Trunk Eastern line between Sherbroke, Quebec to Portland, ME to Pennsylvania-based Emons Industries in 1989- NANESB!]. So one of the lines that ran through this western New England burgh was basically a wholly owned subsidiary of the Canadian government. To hardly anyone's surprise, the candidates for divestment included the Central Vermont, and they soon found a buyer in San Antonio-based RailTex in 1995. The line's name was changed to the New England Central and new(er) blue and yellow GP38-2s became the mainstay of the NECR fleet.

Meanwhile, Guilford's fortunes were seemingly tied to Maine's paper industry. At the time, Conrail provided the fastest route in and out of New England on their former Boston & Albany mainline between Beacon Hill yard in Boston and the massive former Penn Central yard in Selkirk, NY. If they used Guilford at all, shippers typically preferred the absolute minimum- this typically involved handing off trains to Guilford at Worcester, MA so they could continue to Ayer, MA and points northeast. This meant the underutilized Fitchburg division languished further- although coal trains from western Pennsylvania and general freight was handed off to Guilford by CP Rail at Mechanicsville, NY. While not in direct competition with each other, it seemed as though the Guilford's fortunes faded as New England Central's rose.

In 1998- Guilford's management made a curious move that wouldn't generate much attention until nearly a decade later. They purchased the rights to the name of the defunct Pan Am Airlines. By 2006, Guilford Transportation was re-branded as Pan Am Railways.

Interestingly, this wasn't simply a matter of slapping a new logo on the locomotives and rolling stock and hope that nobody noticed how badly the railroad had sucked for the last 20 years. Earnest efforts were made to retain current shippers and attract new ones or ones that had stopped using them.

By 2008, Pan Am had entered into an agreement with Norfolk Southern to upgrade trackage on the Fitchburg Division between Mechanicsville, NY and Ayer, MA- giving NS access to Boston area shippers. While unit coal trains from Western Pennsylvania continued running to the power plants in Mt Tom, MA and Bow, NH, Pan Am sought to expand upon that.

For instance, First Light Power began experimenting with blending coal from Colombia at the former Northeastern Utilities power plant in Mt Tom. The coal would be shipped from Colombia's Atlantic coast to Rhode Island, where it was then loaded into a dedicated unit train for the Providence & Worcester. From there it would travel between its two namesake cities. Once at Worcester, it would continue to the northwest to the Guilford/Pan Am interchange at Gardner, MA and on to Mt Tom (via Millers Falls and the East Deerfield yard) from there.
In the above image, NERail Photos contributor Bill Wehmeyer caught a Pan Am train at Miller's Falls, MA having something of an identity crisis. Here, Providence & Worcester B23-7 #2201 is seen leading a P&W GP38-2 with unit coal train PWMT [Providence & Worcester interchange at Gardner, MA to the Mount Tom power plant]- heading eastbound on June 15, 2012. The train utilizes P&W power for the duration of its run to the power plant.

Norfolk Southern's investment seems to be paying off for both parties- in addition to traffic destined for the Canadian Pacific at Mechanicsville and the unit coal trains originating on the Norfolk Southern or Providence & Worcester, the Fitchburg division of the Pan Am is also hosting unit grain trains, unit clay slurry trains from the Vermont Railway and dedicated unit trains of crude oil from North Dakota's Bakken Shale that is handed off to them by the CSX in Rotterdam Jct, NY on a weekly basis. Shippers that once preferred to avoid Guilford or the rails altogether are rediscovering Pan Am, with paper and forestry products moving out of Maine via the old B&M Fitchburg division instead of the former Boston & Albany (now CSX) line. In fact, traffic has increased so sharply on the Pan Am that the line finds itself short on locomotives at the moment- in addition to trying to wring every possible mile out of their secondhand GP35s and GP40s or run-through power from CSX, Union Pacific, BNSF and Norfolk Southern, Pan Am has also been borrowing SD40-2s from Helm Leasing and Norfolk Southern to try and fill in the gap.

New England Central- which had operated under the Rail America umbrella since 2000- has been no slouch, either. Hauling seemingly everything from construction debris to America's Cup yachts, New England Central began handling unit ethanol trains in conjunction with the Canadian Pacific, Vermont Railway and Providence & Worcester starting in 2010. The former Central Vermont line also accommodates Amtrak's Washington DC-St Albans, VT Vermonter. Despite sustaining heavy damage during the 2011 Tropical Storm Irene, the NECR was nearing completion on a massive upgrade of their line between Northfield, MA and St Albans, VT that is expected to benefit the NECR, Amtrak and to a lesser extent, Pan Am [which still uses the line to haul salt, plate steel and LPG as far north as White River Jct, VT- NANESB].

Perhaps the most significant development for the NECR has been the sale of parent company Rail America to Genesee & Wyoming holdings at the end of 2012. Within weeks, NECR locomotives were among those in the former Rail America network being repainted in G&W's trademark orange and black.

Above, contributor Gary Senecal caught northbound NECR SD40-2 #6281 leading train #611 as it made its way north across the Millers River trestle just outside of the center of town while a passing storm makes its way east off in the distance on May 8th, 2010. Its not uncommon for NECR trains to perform interchange work with Pan Am at Millers Falls instead of at White River Jct, VT on the Connecticut River line

Despite being a New England Central train, the motive power gives no indication that this is a train belonging to any Rail America railroad- #6281's Conrail markings are very much intact while Florida East Coast SD40-2 #722 still retains its Union Pacific Armour Yellow and grey. By 2011, the former FEC SD40-2s and a couple of blue FEC GP40-2s were re-lettered for NECR, although as of March 2013, #6281 still retained the Conrail logo.